Ecological Land Care is, in essence, a landscape philosophy that looks to emulate the way nature organizes itself within an environment to provide food and water to all of the many plants, animals, fungi and microbes that reside there - all without the need of outside fertilizer, pesticides or irrigation. Ecological Land Care is all about recognizing and nurturing the positive relationships that exist between the many living things in a landscape, while also creating a living, artistic expression that inspires and satisfies the innate need for beautiful textures, colors and forms. By following the Key Principles of Ecological Land Care, it is possible to transform any landscape from a barren and bland resource hole into a living, productive, symphony of organic interaction.
It is estimated that in the United States, over 40 million acres of land is devoted to lawn, that all-American symbol of suburban landscaping that offers little to no function. But what if we did something more with those 40 million acres? What if, instead, we designated all of that land to a diverse selection of plants that were adapted to the location’s specific conditions and provided beauty, but also supported a diversity of other species, all with their place and function in supporting the overarching community? With such a transformation we would be converting more atmospheric carbon dioxide into stable forms stored in the soil, enhancing the water storing capacity to buffer against times of both drought and flood, enhancing the viable habitat of pollinators and other crucial beneficial insects, and providing cleaner air, cleaner water, and more beauty.
I believe this is an attainable vision, but it is only attainable if we all work together to bring it to fruition. It can be easy to take small steps towards creating a more resilient and healthy landscape in our own backyards. Some great things that you can do at home without much cost or effort include...
Don’t Use Pesticides or Herbicides
It may seem like an easy solution to weeds or pests, but from a broader perspective, the damage inflicted on surrounding life forms, especially the little-understood yet critical soil microbes, is a high price to pay. Healthy plants are the best defense against pests and invasion.
A Late Spring Clean-up is the Best Spring Clean-up
Though it can be tempting to start clearing away the leaves at the first sign of spring, there is much to be gained from delaying the clean-up until spring is well established. The duff (leaves and minimally broken down plant matter) is home to many overwintering bumble bee and butterfly species who rely on this protective insolation to survive the sudden cold snaps that characterize the early spring. These insects provide important functions in the landscape including pollination and act as food for many birds and higher organisms. It’s recommended to wait until the apple trees have finished blooming to clear the duff from your yard.
Plant Appropriate Perennials
Picking plants that are appropriate for a site can have tremendously beneficial consequences on a broader landscape level. These are plants which have adapted to the local conditions of temperature, precipitation, soil characteristics and living community. Plants that are not adapted to the checks and balances of the local biological community (i.e. invasive species) offer few positive interactions within the environment while dominating the available resources. Native plants on the other hand, have evolved in combination with the other plants, animals and microbes around them, and tend to have the highest number of beneficial relationships throughout the ecosystem.
Reduce Your Lawn
Replacing even a small portion of existing lawn with a diverse planting of appropriate species can be a great place to start, even an area as small as 10’x10’ can provide a habitat and food to support other organisms, as well as enhance soil structure for better water infiltration and storage capacity.
Some native perennials for your new garden!
A small company rooted in Great Barrington, MA, Sassafras Land Care offers education, design, installation and maintenance services for projects big and small with a core goal of creating ecologically beneficial landscapes that provide function as well as beauty.