Photo above: Water Oak (Quercus Nigra) Didn’t know they don’t shed their leaves in the fall. Notice the orange sky.
Not so long ago, recommended gardening practices revolved around routines such as tilling before planting, the widespread use of broad-spectrum herbicides and pesticides, concrete to fill in tree cavities, using only chemical fertilizers, and the planting of primarily non-native plants.
Fast forward to the “here and now,” and we see gardening has changed. A LOT. But NOT for everyone.
- The use of compost and mulch is recommended far more often now than 30 years ago. (The brown pile on the ground in the photo above is mulch.)
- Suggestions to remove a water-hogging lawn (a monoculture) and replace it with more sustainable ground covers or plants
- Saving your “ugly” leaves to use as mulch or to put in your compost.
- We no longer fill tree cavities with cement.
- Native plants are promoted more often.
- Suggestions now are NOT to use landscape fabric. It’s kinda’ worthless.
In a recent talk given by Brent Heath from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, he recommended the use of compost over bone meal when planting bulbs. (Bone meal used to be a bulb-planting standard.) Finally, the most current advice for vegetable gardening is no longer to till but to layer organic matter on the soil and simply plant in it or to use a raised bed if the soil can’t be easily re-mediated.
Why do I bring this up? Is it that important?
I think it’s extremely important.
Newer gardening recommendations are often research-based, not just tradition, hearsay, or the advice of big ag and those corporations who stand to make money off of their gardening products. Unfortunately, sound plant research is sometimes drowned out by the companies who want our dollar.
Our basic knowledge of what plants need has changed based on updated research. For example, we’ve learned diverse microbial activity in the soil is crucial to plant health, which is why compost is recommended. We’ve learned to respect the activity of certain insects that eat other garden pests. (We don’t kill ALL insect just because they are insects.) We’ve learned planting perennials and trees in the fall is frequently better than planting them in spring,
If gardeners would only take the time to research what’s out there to augment their knowledge, it could make such a difference, but I find a lot of home gardeners don’t. Instead, they run to the Big Box store, grab Miracle Gro, and expect it to take care of all of their gardening needs.
I believe real life examples are important so here are a few:
I have a friend who is a long-time gardener. She started gardening at least 10 years before I did. She took a 3- hour college credit horticultural course in the early 1980’s, and this is where most of her knowledge is derived. Some of her knowledge is on target, but some in my opinion, is dated.
When I told this friend that I planned to plant a vegetable garden, she immediately advised me to till up the bed. In moving to east Texas and to lovely sandy loam, I decided to plant directly in the ground versus using a raised bed. I did some research and decided I’d use the lasagna method—layering cardboard, leaves, and then mushroom compost–on top of the existing soil and to plant directly in this.
My friend wasn’t happy about my veggie garden choice. She implied I was making a mistake by not tilling. She had never heard of the lasagna method. I told her nicely that by using the lasagna method, I’d have fewer weeds because tilling often brings weed seeds to the surface and that I’d read tilling can affect the tilth of the soil for a very long time.
Her response was she liked weeds. It’s hard to argue with that, and I didn’t.
Next, when I casually mentioned I planned to make newspaper pots for a few of the vegetable seeds I wanted to grow, she advised newspaper pots weren’t durable even though she’d never tried them herself. She told me she used peat pots implying I should also use peat pots. (I didn’t tell her peat is a non-renewable resource.) I still made newspaper pots, and they worked fine for my needs.
Photo above: Hole in my pecan tree. Is it owl-occupied? Maybe. Notice the sky is still orange.
I encounter this “I won’t change,” and “I don’t need to do research” and “I’ve ALWAYS done it this way” attitude a lot. It’s the same attitude I see in folks who say global warming (climate change) does not exist, and their evidence for this are statements like “It still got cold this winter.” or that they’ve experienced floods before or (and this is a REAL example) I was told climate change was made up by the government to control us, and the cooling is skewed because official temperature readings were taken in the shade.
Another example? Back in Austin, a coworker’s neighbor killed their on-the-fence-line tree by accidentally spraying it with an herbicide. The neighbor never once read the herbicide’s instructions. He just *knew* what he was doing. The herbicide was supposed to kill the dandelions.
Even when it’s obvious a garden practice isn’t working well, people still refuse to investigate why or to change. For example, a neighbor mounds mulch up against the trunks of shrubs and trees. Water can’t get through 6” of mulch, and the mulch could be rotting the bark of the shrubs. Four shrubs die (all of different varieties) and are replaced and mulched in the same manner. Three more shrubs die and so forth.
Not wanting to sound like a “know it all”, I give my neighbor an index card with a web address that discusses the effects of volcano mulching and what happens when you mulch up against trunks. As far as I know, he never went to the web address, and his new shrubs and trees continue to die, and he continues to replace them.
I realize I’m preaching to the choir in this blog, but the push back in terms of garden change is surprisingly strong. People don’t want to change. They do it the way they do it because that’s the way they do it.
In regard to wildlife and climate change, I believe home gardens (all put together) can make a positive impact. Plant a tree. Feed a butterfly. Feed the earth. Don’t kill all insects with pesticides. To do this effectively, we generally need to be on the same page and many gardeners aren’t. They don’t want to read or investigate. Why?
And my point is? How do you educate people who refuse to be educated? If these people believe the sky is orange, I’m clueless how you prove it’s not because even facts don’t seem to matter.
Got answers? I’m all ears.