My yard is like all the others in my neighborhood of similar new construction. It was a barren, sterile landscape of hardpan soil and over-irrigated lawn and one lonely flowering pear (Pyrus spp.) tree that leaned a bit to the left.
So of course like any obsessed plant-lover, the first thing I did, even before painting my children’s rooms or changing the locks, was to plant some border shrubs and a few flowers.
While spending much time outside with our children, I noticed there were no birds (other than a flock of pigeons that took up residency on my neighbor’s roof), no bugs, no bees, no squirrels.
So different from my upbringing back east and it made our manicured block feel unreal and a bit like a post-apocalyptic science fiction movie where all forms of life ceased to exist.
As I continued obsessively planting, and watering my slowly emerging garden, I started noticing the wildlife move in. First it was the bees, attracted to the salvia and gardenias, and then the hummingbirds came to visit the spirea. After many wheelbarrow loads of compost and soil – did I mention there is hardpan soil here in Vacaville!? – much to my delight, I found worms in my flowerbeds. My children use every opportunity to tell me how weird that is!
Fertilizer was always something that confused and intimidated me as I knew just enough about it to be dangerous, therefore I was always reluctant to use it. It all just seemed too complicated; which one to use before the growing season, after the growing season, when your plants have yellowing spots, when your plants aren’t flowering, when your plants aren’t growing.
Equally as confusing as fertilizer was insecticides. So crippled by my fear of killing or maiming one of my far too few and precious plants, (and like any good procrastinator), I just did not use anything at all. As it turned out, this was the reason why I had bees, bugs and birds in my yard.
While I was busy patting myself on the back for all my “do-gooding for the environment,” I did have the occasional aphid outbreak and I have had to forfeit my very special Hibiscus syriacus ”Aphrodite,” which is devastated every year by the persistent little infesters. I am just too lazy to go at it with the Neem Oil, so I just keeping watering and pruning. Maybe next year I will see the fruits of my labor in the beautiful fuchsia-colored blooms it gives. If not, well, I feel it is a small price to pay for the peace of mind of a relatively pesticide free yard where my children do their grudge match wrestling in the grass, pick flowers, make daisy chains and yes, collect dandelions from my lawn for the lizard named “Lucky” who lives across the street.
Trying to figure out the what, when and where of fertilizers and pesticides was a lot of work for a lazy plant lover like me but sometimes we all need a little help keeping our gardens healthy and productive.
I have found organic fertilizer takes much of the guesswork out of it and still provides spectacular results. If your plants are healthy they can withstand many pests such as common aphids. Most organic fertilizers are simple to use and can be applied at any time.
I like to make a “tea” from the fertilizer, which delivers the nutrients down to the roots. I simply dilute one part fertilizer and four parts of water into a watering can, let stand 24 hours and water.
Your local garden center can help you choose the right fertilizer for your needs and assist you in how to use it. It gives my garden a “healthy glow” without giving the plants so much new growth as to attract chewing pests and avoiding the need for insecticides.
I also like to use (in small doses) manure I get from my friend’s very generous horses. I would have to use that sparingly as my very close neighbors do not appreciate the “earthy aroma” and beneficial attributes as much as I do. My dogs do however appreciate my thoughtfulness, but that is another story!
I feel good knowing that when I see those signs on the curb that say “Flows to the Delta” my family and I are doing the best that we can to not add to the burden of keeping that water and the environment clean.
Whether it is keeping the street and sidewalk clean so debris does not flow into the drain or not dumping toxic materials into the street or using environmentally friendly yard maintenance products.
None of this is very hard to do; it just takes thought and care for what is precious.
Now when I look at my yard four years later I only feel pleasure without the burden of needing to kill every weed in my grass or every bug in my garden. This type of imperfection is OK with me.
Sharon Rico is a Master Gardener with the University of California Cooperative Extension office in Fairfield. If you have gardening questions, call the Master Gardener’s office at 784-1322.