Landscape diversity is not often a consideration when the average homeowner is planning their landscape design. Even some professionals fail to consider the diversity of the plantings that they use in their designs. All too often, both groups fall back on over-used varieties and species, and their decisions are based more on the cost of plants rather than the health of the ecosystem on which they are working.
There is more to even our urban landscapes than curb appeal for your property. In the densely built areas of most urban neighborhoods, the native plants have been replaced almost entirely by non-native species and varieties. Such changes mean that the entire ecological system of huge areas has been changed, most often negatively.
Landscapes such as these cease to provide habitat and food for native species of animals, birds, and insects, all of which are necessary for a healthy ecosystem to exist. What we have created is an artificial ecosystem that requires constant human intervention to continue to grow. The net result is the landscape requires the constant application of artificial fertilizers, insecticides, and herbicides that are intended to do the job that would be done by the natural species that would inhabit a more diverse landscape.
How Do We Make the Change
We first change by increasing our understanding of how a diverse landscape looks in the wild. An understanding of why diversity is important is necessary, as well. If we are going to create landscapes that mimic the natural diverse ecological systems, we must understand the hows and whys of those natural systems.
Accepting that everything in nature is connected, including us, is at the center of our understanding. The plants that attract the caterpillars that morph into the beautiful butterflies and moths also serve as a food source for birds. Many species of birds are the primary control system for a wide array of other insects that, lacking a healthy and diverse bird population, become pests. Toads eat slugs. Voles and mice eat a multitude of underground and above ground small creatures and seeds that turn into pest problems and weeds. Diversity in native planting in a landscape encourages further diversity in the ecosystem which leads to a healthier balance.
Unfortunately, even when native plants appear in local urban landscapes, diversity is seriously lacking. Many estimates show that in the average landscape design, only a fraction of the available native plant library is used in the landscapes. In some areas, this utilization can be as low as 1%
The challenge is to broaden our library of plant choices. Unfortunately, for many home gardeners, the library of plants is limited by what the local garden store or big box garden center stock. For professional landscapers, this can be an economic decision based on the cost of plants as well as what is available from local suppliers. When large purchasers continually specify only a limited list of varieties, that is what the local wholesalers and retailers will provide.
It is also important to consider the native terrain and soil conditions. Native plants are adapted to native soil conditions. The concept that we must always amend or condition the soil to achieve the “perfect loam” is a fallacy. BY using native plants that are soil adapted and climate-adapted, we can avoid the expense and time of trying to achieve that “perfect loam.”
The goal then is threefold.
- Create a more diverse ecological system
- Use a wider range of native plants in the landscape design
- Mimic the local ecological systems as closely as possible.
The results of working toward this goal are to:
- A healthier and more diverse eco-system in the landscape
- A return of native species, both plant and animal, to the eco-system.
- A less demanding landscape that requires less artificial inputs.
The result is a balanced landscape. Predators and pests are balanced naturally, requiring less artificial intervention. Natural control is achieved in the ecological system and a healthier overall environment results. We benefit by the diversity in our landscape, fewer requirements for artificially supporting the environment, and a healthier natural ecosystem on the whole.
Links and Resources
For more information about organic gardening, lifestyles, and living, visit our website at West Texas Organic Gardening.
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