Restore the natural balance in your garden

What does it mean? Restoring the natural balance?? Well, it means living in harmony with your garden. It means being mindful that every action in your garden has a reaction. It doesn’t need to be a drastic overhaul, but you might need to change your thinking.

Dump the toxins

We need to retrain our gardening ethos and methods and stop killing things that don’t suit us. Stop and think before you reach for the spray gun. First look at what the problem is? Is it an insect? If it is it is bound to have a natural predator. In other words it is a meal for something. If you step back and allow nature to move into your plot the right predators will move in. Sometimes their lifecycle is completely in tune with that of their prey : Like the ladybirds, which lay their eggs on nettles, where often a spring flush of aphids are feeding. The ladybird larvae, which incidentally look like scary bugs, will feast on the aphids and then pupate into adult ladybirds that also eat aphids.

ladybird feeding on aphids
Ladybirds are natural predators of aphids.

Many insect eating birds, like the tits will regard a flush of aphids as a tasty snack. Not to mention those caterpillars eating garden leaves. It isn’t always instant, and you may have to work at it, but by dumping the toxins and stopping spraying, you give other creatures a chance. Sure, there are some garden beasties that do do untold damage in the garden. Lily beetle for example. But if we grow plants that are the larval food of minibeasts, we are going to get them on our patch. It is a weigh up sometimes. You can manually remove the problem, but understanding that plants are the bottom layer of the food chain is a good place to start.

If you grow your own food or eat your produce do you want to eat leaves and fruit dressed with chemicals? I don’t. Can you leave some of your garden weeds to flower and feed the pollinators? Or to host their larval partners that need them to grow into adults? If you need to weed do it manually or use Richard’s glyphosate free Double Action Weedkiller.

Here at Richard Jackson Garden we try to find kinder, cleaner ways to garden in tune with the environment and have a range of products to help you tackle your garden dilemmas that are organically approved and/or based on natural ingredients.

Natural food

If you feed the birds you are already starting to think about nature. Let’s look at the birds overall. Apart from the huge enjoyment factor that they bring to our lives, the garden birds are also a key player in the ecosystem and food chain. Though we supplement their food by feeding them, they also need a rich supply of natural food. Different birds eat different things. Some are seedeaters and relish the seed that our garden and native plants produce. Teasels for example are a popular food plant for goldfinches, which also eat dandelion seeds. Some are fruit eaters and will feed on berries, crabapples and other wild and garden fruit. But many of our garden birds eat insects. Have you ever watched a robin or a blackbird scuffling through the garden leaves? They are looking for tasty grubs. And some of those grubs are the garden ‘pests’ that feed on our plants.

Blackbird foraging for grubs
Blackbird foraging for grubs.

So, our plants and also our weeds or wildflowers are food for insects that are food for the birds that we love. And food for other creatures like frogs and toads, slow worms and hedgehogs. Some of the plants are wildflowers, native plants and also things we call weeds. But these are an important layer of the food chain. Caterpillars rarely destroy plants, sometimes they do a kind of Chelsea Chop and the plants grow back stronger (see link to our article on the ‘Chelsea chop’ at the bottom of this page). And of course many of the adults are butterflies and moths that are essential pollinators too! If you need to pick the caterpillars off, put them on the bird table. Or scatter them on the floor for ground feeding species. Wash aphids off plants with a jet of water, or pinch out affected shoots and place on the bird table.

Soil matters

Just as our plants form the bottom layer of the food chain, our garden soil is another layer that grows the plants and supports the plants as they grow. The soil is a living environment, rich in microbes, mini beasts and moisture and nutrients for our plants. Good soil health is the keystone for a healthy garden. If you start with the soil and feed the soil the rest will come. But improving the soil can take time. The very best way to improve it is to add masses of well-rotted natural material often referred to as organic matter. Fortunately there’s a really easy and cheap way to get lots of fantastic organic matter, you need to start a composting system, or two. You can transform the fallen leaves, the grass clippings, cardboard and paper waste and your kitchen peelings into a rich, crumbly soil conditioner. Have a read of our helpful articles on making garden compost and then have a go (see links at the bottom of this page).

Kitchen waste is great for making garden compost, especially with a HOTBIN Composter. Image: HOTBIN

Growing for pollinators

You need every layer of the food chain to keep nature healthy and in balance, that means falling in love with all the stages, from the ‘weeds’ that support larval stages, to the caterpillars that eat our plants and then morph into ephemeral beauties, like butterflies and moths. Right through to the flowering plants that offer nectar rich prizes for our pollinating pals. Pollinators may also be predatory insects feeding on other insect species. Hoverflies eat a range of garden ‘pests’ both as adults and in their larval stages, but they are also food themselves for insect eating birds.

Monarch butterfly on pink zinnia
Monarch butterfly feeding on the open flowers of zinnias.

Pollinators need energy rich nectar to sustain their activity and some of them, like the bees, collect pollen to feed their offspring. Growing open flowers with easy access to the nectaries makes feeding more efficient for insects. Long tubular flowers are only suitable for the long tongued insects and double flowers often sacrifice nectaries for extra petals. Grow a range of different flower shapes to cater for different needs. See link at the bottom of this page for our article on ‘Growing for pollinators’.

Water Wise

Water is essential for life, whether you add a birdbath or a water feature you are providing a source of water for wildlife. Remember to make a shallow edge for creatures to drink easily and escape from the depths. Construct a ladder to exit from deeper pools. Create a boggy area to encourage different plant species and provide nesting materials for birds and mason bees. Keep the water clean and topped up especially in warm weather.

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