By JOSE GERMAN
For Montclair Local
ose German is a New Jersey environmental activist, Essex County certified master gardener and Montclair resident. He is the founder of the Northeast Earth Coalition.
The June rain gave our gardens an exuberant and, in some cases, out-of-control look. Each season requires a different maintenance approach, but during the summer gardens need some special care. Let’s help our gardens do their best during the summer heat.
A holistic gardening approach
Holistic gardening goes beyond organic gardening to consider the interaction of all functions of life. Not only are you trying to grow the best things you can for your family’s table, but you are also creating an ambiance where sight, sound, smell and touch are in balance. Holistic gardening means working with nature to create an area where plants and animals work together to provide the healthy soil needed. During the Montclair Film Festival, we saw the documentary “The Biggest Little Farm.” It was amazing to see how our beliefs about the natural, holistic approach to gardening that we have supported for years was validated.
Everything is connected, and we are all related. The quality of the soil is the cornerstone of gardening. Diversity plays an essential role in nature. When we recreate a harmonious environment in our yards, we mimic the perfect balance of nature and we see how wildlife flourishes, including pollinators, birds, and other beneficial wildlife. We need to create a nature-inspired cycle of birth, growth, death, decay, and rejuvenation in our yards. This practice reduces waste and creates compost that add nutrients to our soil. This cycle can be complemented by collecting rainwater in a rain barrel.
We need to keep this cycle running, since it is an ongoing process, where having a balance is critical. It doesn’t matter the size of your ecosystem; it is full of life and possibilities (yes, your yard is a micro eco-system!).
For example, I try as much as possible to minimize waste. Our yard cycle is very simple: We have a large diversity of native plants, including flowers, shrubs, and trees. We grow vegetables for our meals, and leftover vegetable scraps from the kitchen are composted. We have a rain barrel to store water from the roof, and we use it to water the garden and to prepare compost tea for fertilization. Green materials from ornamental plants and shrubs are also composted. At the end, we return the nutrients to the soil as compost and start the cycle again. Keep in mind that even small changes can disrupt this balance and stress your plants.
As we move forward into the hot days of the summer, here are some gardening tips to consider:
- Mix compost into the soil around your flowering plants and in your vegetable garden. The added organic material not only feeds the plants but also helps the soil retain moisture during the long, hot summer days.
- If you did not have time to add a layer of mulch earlier in the season, you can still do it now. Consider using mulch from last fall’s leaves if you have any available, but straw works well for mulching vegetable gardens. A layer of mulch both suppresses weed growth and helps prevent the soil from drying out.
- Water occasionally as needed when your plants seem dry, and then water them deeply, focusing on the roots. Wet leaves are susceptible to fungus, and superficial watering encourages shallow root growth. Water as early as possible in the day since dampness at night also promotes fungus.
- Remove dead plants and do deadheading to encourage continuous flowering.
- If you want to do pruning, do it early in the morning to reduce stress on the plants.
It is important to remember the therapeutic value of gardening. The naturalist John Burroughs said, “I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” If you are overwhelmed at work or intimidated by the challenges that you face in society, the act of gardening helps to provide the grounding that gives you the physical and mental strength to deal with these issues. Gardening can be its own form of meditation.
According to Thomas Jefferson, “No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden,” and the iconic American fashion designer Oscar De La Renta said, “Gardening is how I relax. It’s another form of creating and playing with colors.”
Use your garden as much as you can. If you are growing veggies, use them during your summer outdoor cooking and barbecues. Invite friends and neighbors and show them what you have accomplished.
Think about the advantages of having a low maintenance, sustainable and holistic garden. Remember that planting native plants is good for the environment, and, once established, they do not need to be watered. Most importantly, most are perennials and will come back stronger every year. There is no fresher or healthier food than what you can grow within steps of your kitchen.
Enjoy the summer and your time in the yard without sacrificing your spare time.