Lazy Habits in the Habitat Garden
February 1, 2020
I’m not a neat and tidy gardener at home. Sometimes I’m downright lazy. After working on clients’ gardens during the week, I would rather read a great novel or walk with a friend than dig into hard work on the weekend.
But, you know what I’ve learned over the years? A lot of my passive habits lead to a richer garden – one where native bees nest, poppies volunteer, and soil fertility grows on its own.
Not all lazy habits are equal, though. It’s lazy to spray glyphosate to kill benign weeds like winter bittercress. It’s lazy to whack away at your plants without taking the time to educate yourself about proper pruning. It’s lazy to blast your landscape with a leaf blower. These are the kinds of old guard landscape practices that break my heart on behalf of the unnecessary destruction to plants and animals, not to mention the missed opportunity for habitat and beauty.
In the habitat garden, where you’re looking to “build it and they will come”, gardening can be all the right kinds of lazy. You can:
1. Leave “fall clean up” until late winter. Standing stalks of perennials and grasses provide nest sites for native bees and are more interesting to look at than your neighbor’s neat and tidy scene. You’re likely to get free flowers volunteering from seeds if you leave your pruners holstered and allow the salvias and poppies and coneflowers to stand and ripen their seeds. That is, if you leave enough for the seed-eating songbirds, too!
Raking, another typical fall chore, is best left to the paths and patios. Letting leaves from deciduous trees blanket your beds over winter is the best way to imitate Nature in her soil building wisdom. Forget about that insect armageddon machine of a leaf blower.
2. Neglect weeds. Some of them really aren’t evil, even if marketers have led you to believe they are. Little winter bittercress is edible, provides food for our earliest pollinators, is fun for kids to make go “pop” and only germinates where the soil is bare. Dandelions aren’t the devil either. Wise women herbalists and insects galore adore this common “weed”. Habitat gardeners take the time to get to know which weeds are worth the diligence of prompt removal (hello black medic) and which can be allowed to do their thing with minimal and timely intervention.
3. Let your trimmings lie where they fall. When you go to cut back your perennials and grasses in late winter, go ahead, be a slacker, leave the bleached and browned bits lying in the bed. You get free, soil building mulch and keep stalk-dwelling insect nests right where they need to be – in your biodiverse ecosystem of a garden. The debris will decompose, melting into the earth as the the robust growth of your plants reaches up throughout the growing season. Only disease prone foliage need be completely removed to the yard debris bin. Target the leaves with blackspot or rust and leave the rest. You’ll have more free time to watch and wonder at the mysteries of life in your garden.
4. Stop shearing all of your shrubs into meatballs. Really. It’s okay to let bushes be bushy. Actually they’ll be healthier and you won’t inadvertently whack off the flower buds in your frenzied paranoia to maintain order. Commercial landscapers are addicted to shearing everything on their weekly mow and blow rounds. Don’t do as they do! Most flowering shrubs thrive without any pruning. I like to give a light trim right after flowering to shape it up a bit or remove totally wild hairs, but I save the shears for a very limited list of shrubs that tend towards legginess: Mediterranean sub-shrubs like lavender, rosemary and santolina being the main ones. Work like an artist with your pruners, with restraint (aka informed laziness) and a respect for the natural branching of the plant. There’s nothing artistic about a meatball. It’s just a lot of extra work.
4. Put your feet up and space out. This is what your garden is for. If you planted well, you don’t need to work your tail off to enjoy a beautiful garden. Your life is busy enough. Let your garden be a sacred place for relaxation.
I know that the shift from neat and tidy to natural and idle can be a hard thing to embrace, especially when you’re used to a certain look. It’s okay to cut back anything that bothers you in it’s brown mess. Not everything has great winter structure. And it’s okay to relentlessly pluck little winter bittercress if it drives you crazy whenever you spy it. There are lot’s of “right” ways to garden. My hope is that you’ll welcome a bit more passive enjoyment in your garden. You deserve a break, and so do the insects and birds that perish with too much heavy handedness.
Leave me a comment below. I want to hear how you’ll get lazy in your garden!