Every year, record-breaking droughts, floods or wildfires, as well as outbreaks of diseases and insects, take their toll on garden and landscape plants nationwide. Although it’s impossible to fully insulate your gardens and landscape against damage, there are steps you can take to rejuvenate affected plantings and build more resiliency into your plantings.
1. Embrace Diversity and Avoid Monoculture
Follow nature’s example and create varied plantings that incorporate numerous species, rather than relying heavily on one or two plants. Heed the lesson learned by southern gardeners who planted long hedges of red-tip photinia, and then found themselves faced with ugly, defoliated shrubs when a leaf spot disease spread quickly among these over-planted shrubs. A mixed planting is much less likely to be decimated by an outbreak of disease or insect pests, or succumb during drought or flood. Sure, a few plants might be affected, but your entire hedge won’t fall victim— an unsightly and expensive loss. Mix it up in the vegetable garden, too. For example, plant flowers among your edibles or grow herbs between your tomato plants.
2. Rebuild a Healthy Ecosystem
Healthy soils are teeming with beneficial microbes that break down organic matter into plant nutrients and help roots absorb them. They also keep harmful microbes in check. Extended periods of droughts and flooding kill beneficial microbes, so it’s vital to replenish them. Adding organic matter, especially compost and worm castings, is the single best way to rebuild underground ecosystems. Adding organic matter isn’t a one-time effort, because organic matter gets “used up” as it’s broken down. Incorporate organic matter each spring at planting time to get plants off to a good start. Apply organic mulches, such as shredded bark and pine straw around perennials, shrubs and trees to keep soil cool and moist. It’s also a good time to test your soil for nutrient levels and pH. Revitalize depleted soil in vegetable gardens by adding kelp meal or use our Raised Bed Booster Kit. Adjust soil pH with lime (raises pH) or sulfur (lowers pH). If you have concerns about contamination from flooding, contact your local cooperative extension service for their recommendations.
3. Go Native
Plants that are native to your region are adapted to your climate and usually able to withstand all but the most extreme weather conditions. They also support native birds and beneficial insects that can help keep pest insects in check. Native plants encourage native pollinating insects to take up residence– this is especially important if you’re growing anything that needs pollination, including apples, blueberries, cucumbers and pumpkins. If you’re replanting damaged perennials, trees and shrubs, consider replacing some of them with native species. Winterberry, for example, is a shrub native to the eastern U.S. The female plant produces berries that attract birds. (Note that it requires a male plant for pollination.) Choose plants that thrive in your specific growing conditions (“right plant, right place”). A plant that needs full sun won’t reach its full potential in a shady spot; a plant that prefers dry soil will succumb in overly wet soils.
4. Nurture Your Above-Ground Ecosystem
Keep in mind that, by far, most insects you see in your landscape are either beneficial or benign. Only a small percentage is harmful to plants. Minimize pesticide use by protecting plants from pest insects with barriers, such as garden fabric, or by hand picking, if practical. Learn to tolerate a few pests. (If you kill all the aphids in your garden, the native ladybugs that would normally keep the aphids in check will fly away in search of a meal.) If a pest outbreak occurs, use a targeted spray that causes minimal damage to other insects. Create an inviting habitat for birds and bats that help keep caterpillars, mosquitoes and other pesky pests in check.
5. Boost Your Plants’ Resistance to Disease
Healthy, vigorous plants are better able to bounce back from dramatic environmental and weather events and other challenges. Starting at planting time and throughout the growing season, ensure plants receive adequate water and nutrients. If you’re choosing new plants, look for those identified as resistant to diseases common in your region. For example, some apple varieties, such as Liberty, are resistant to apple scab fungus. Apply water to the soil, keeping foliage dry to minimize the spread of disease. Space plants properly and support vining plants on trellises to improve air circulation, which also helps keep diseases in check.
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By Delilah Onofrey, Suntory Flowers
Photographs courtesy of Suntory Flowers
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