Conservation Issues for Gardeners
Gardening is ranked with fishing at the top of America's favorite outdoor hobbies. Gardening gets people outdoors, motivates them to exercise, and makes our surroundings more beautiful. In practice, however, some of our efforts may be harmful to us. By changing some of our habits and our expectations, we can enjoy the benefits while reducing the risks.
The greatest change we need to make is for us to adapt our gardens to the existing conditions instead of changing the garden to meet the requirements of certain plants. Specifically, stop planting plants that require constant attention to survive and focus on plants that thrive in your garden's conditions. We can learn the appropriate plants by trial and error, by talking with other nearby gardeners, and by doing a little research. The plant sheets on this website reflect our successes and failures. They may be helpful for gardeners in and around the Jacksonille area.
In Florida, we tend to take for granted one of our most valuable resources: fresh water. Florida's pioneers worked to drain wetlands, control flooding, and channel off excess rain fall. Waterways in cities have been polluted with industrial waste, erosion, and sewage. Meanwhile, modern Florida's steadily growing population is demanding more and more fresh water. Reportedly, one of the greatest uses of water in Florida is irrigation of our lawns and gardens.
One way to reduce our garden water consumption is to reduce the size of our lawns by replacing parts of the turf with drought tolerant shrubs and herbaceous perennials. In most of Florida, it is not necessary to make your yard look like a desert. Lots of leafy, colorful flowering plants are sufficiently drought tolerant to survive without irrigation once they are established. Examples of drought tolerant flowering plants include beach sunflower, blanket flower, lily of the Nile, pentas, plumbago, rosemary, thryallis, trailing lantana, and wild sage. Most trees and shrubs are more drought tolerant than turf. Noteworthy drought tolerant trees and shrubs include American holly, Cherokee bean, citrus, fall-blooming cassia, live oak, pindo palm, and Walter's viburnum. Irrigate your drought tolerant plants when they are first planted and then slowly wean them off the irrigation. Once their roots have spread widely in the soil, they may never need watering again.
Fertilizing makes a temporarily change in the soil for the purpose of growing plants that are not well suited to our conditions. Dissolved fertilizers run off into our waterways, causing algae blooms and other water pollution problems. Often, a garden's poor soil is the result of the grading and filling done by builders when preparing the land for construction. Most poor soils may be improved by the addition of organic material. Organic material is added to soil by the rotting of mulch, natural leaf fall, and the addition of compost. Note that a dramatic improvement of soil almost always results in an increase in the number and vigor of weeds. An alternative to improving your garden soil is to select plants that can succeed in poor soil without fertilization. Many of our drought tolerant plants will grow a little slower but will succeed without any fertilization. Sometimes fertilizers are needed to help a young plant establish itself. When a fertilizer is needed, properly applied slow-release fertilzers probably cause less water pollution than typical fertilizers that release their minerals immediately.
Chemical pesticides are toxins. They include insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides. Some of them are toxic only to insects while others are toxic to people, too. Pesticides can build up in our environment and wash off to pollute the land and water around us. The worst pesticides have been removed from the market in recent years but many of the remaining pesticides can be dangerous if misused.
Besides toxicity to unwanted insects and people, pesticides.may kill beneficial creatures like honey bees, butterflies, earthworms, birds, and fish. Generally, populations of pests are balanced by natural means. Pesticides upset that balance by killing beneficial organisms, making the garden even more dependent on chemicals. Many fungal problems are cured when a plant is grown in the right location. Weeds can be controlled by pulling them, mulch, and dense groundcovers. If necessary, control insects with insecticidal oils and soaps, by bacterial sprays (Bt), and by the old-fashioned method of stepping on them.
Certain circumstances may warrant the use of pesticides but most of us can greatly reduce our use of chemical pesticides with just a little extra work.
POWER TOOLS AND EQUIPMENT
Emissions from gas-powered garden equipment are not controlled as emissions are controlled in cars. If you have a small lawn, consider an electric mower. For a larger lawn, be sure to maintain your equipment so it can be its most efficient. Learn more about pollution from lawn mowers and other gas-powered lawn and garden equipment on the website of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Control of invasive plants costs taxpayers millions of dollars each year. Invasive plants crowd out native plants and are not as valuable for for wildlife as our native species. Still, we continue to use some of these plants in our gardens. Get familiar with this problem by visiting the website of the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council at http://www.fleppc.org/.