Live and let live

I’ve gotten a couple of questions in the last week or two about what we do in the gardens to manage pests and diseases. Although a lot of you already know the answer, I don’t seem to mind repeating it for anyone who doesn’t. The short answer is: Nothing! We do not use any kind of chemical pesticides or fungicides for the sake of our own health as well as that of our volunteers, visitors, members, camp kids, pollinators, beneficial insects, birds and other wildlife. (That said, I believe Dan has sprayed some sort of bunny deterring pepper concoction in the Vegetable Garden. Not that it has worked. Also, the trees, shrubs, and lawns are managed differently.)

The long answer is: In the gardens, we try to keep plants healthy and stress-free by providing them with fertile soil (easy because the soil here is lovely) and adequate water. We amend the soil with compost, both our own and the biosolid and yardwaste mix (top grade and certified pathogen-free) made by Bristol’s composting facility, and we mulch with shredded leaves and buckwheat hulls, both of which add organic matter and aerate the soil as they break down.

We welcome insects, and the birds that eat them. We do minimal clean-up of seedheads and stalks in the fall to leave some habitat and cover for birds and insects over the winter. We have even started construction on an insect apartment house. (They’re all the rage in Europe.) It’s made of white oak, faces south for winter warmth, and we will continue to fill it with bits and bobs that that will provide nesting sites for solitary bees, lacewings, spiders, and any other critters that might find it cozy. The section with the slots is intended as a butterfly shelter but I read recently that they don’t really use those. Looks cool though.

It’s the visitors to our Rose Garden who have the hardest time believing that we don’t spray fungicides, etc. Honestly, we don’t need to. I know I’ve said this a million times already but here it is again: along with choosing disease-resistant roses, and giving them great soil and adequate water (about an inch per week), we also fertilize them 3 times over the season (in April as they break, in May/June just before peak, and in August for their last flush) using a slow release organic granular fertilizer (Espoma Bulb-Tone); we rake out the spotty leaves twice weekly; and we hand-pick Japanese beetles. But the real reason the roses look healthy is because there are other beautifully blooming plants in that garden that draw everyone’s attention away from a few yellow or lacy leaves.

In the gardens, we live and let live. Don’t you?

5 thoughts on “Live and let live

  1. Did you really mean to say that you use Espoma Bulb-Tone (instead of Rose-Tone) on your roses? If so… why? I’d love to know more about that…

    Kim, It’s true! We started using that when we couldn’t get Electra anymore. We like the ratio (3-5-3) because of the higher phosphorus content (which – I know you know this – promotes root and flower production) and have decided to keep it simple by using that one for everything. And by everything I mean we also mix it into our potting soil, and give some of our annuals and tender perennials a little sprinkling when we plant them. -kris

  2. Kris, I’m so glad you shared this. It’s all about balance in the garden. You need “bad bugs” to sacrifice for the “good bugs” sake. Folks get so freaked out about insects unnecessarily.

    A few weeks I noticed a smattering of aphids on a few plants around the nursery, nothing horrible really, but at the same time we noticed a few baby praying mantis in the garden. I knew there would be more as we had egg sacs everywhere it seemed. Now, no matter where I look there is a praying mantis going to work, grooming plants meticulously for me. They are our best pest control, along with spiders and birds for the summer.

    Kathy, I love that you have a praying mantis workforce. I hope you point them out to customers! (Could be a good promotion – Buy five plants, get an omnivore for free?) -kris

  3. I agree wholeheartedly with your approach. So many companies/people take the defensive approach and respond to outbreaks of insects and disease, when in fact if you proactively provide the correct environment (as you mention) the plants aren’t prone to disease and infestation. Some pests you just have to deal with…

    Reed, I’m afraid the bunnies are in that last category. The hawks just aren’t eating enough of them and we’re having trouble growing beans. If only they ate purslane… -kris

  4. Lovely. I do virtually the same thing. I mostly squish here and there. Love your photos and such.~~Dee

    Hey Dee! Thanks for kind words! and squishing is SO much easier than staking. -kris

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