You can help nature by simply doing nothing

July 22, 2011|Celeste Maiorana
  • Nature's gardens, Garrapata Beach, Calif.
By Celeste Maiorana

This is my final column.

As a volunteer with other work obligations, I intend to turn my attention to developing a forestry outreach program that is less deadline-driven. I have enjoyed having this forum to share forestry facts and some ideas on how individuals can promote natural ecosystems by making small, incremental changes in their activities and lifestyles.

Today, I will concentrate on the virtue of doing nothing.

Recently I read a news article about a new and supposedly improved herbicide for use on lawns to suppress the growth of broad-leaved plants. Sadly, this herbicide seems to be killing some trees around which it is applied also. The death of these trees is an unfortunate and unintended consequence of the desire to create a pretty green monoculture of grass.

And that's the way it is with actions. Unless we're careful, our rather ordinary desires can be responsible for a cascade of negative events.

Returning to the lawn, we could skip the fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, but still mow it. The lawn would continue to be green and flat but would eventually be invaded by friendly nongrasses like violets. Violets, of which there are many native species, are the host plants of the caterpillar of the great spangled fritillary. The beautiful butterfly will then dance over your flowers.

This lawn won't need to be watered either, as the dominant plant species will change through the season, adapting to different temperatures and moisture. Lots of time, energy and petrochemicals will be saved.

You could also mow less often. Not only will that save gasoline and your energy, it will allow the clovers to flower for longer periods and provide food for bees, and the pesky rabbits and deer who will otherwise head straight for your flowers and vegetables.

In the perennial garden you could allow a wilder, less managed look, which will save you from weeding so much and provide some unexpected visual delights. But here you might want to be a little selective: asters, yes, pokeberry, no.

In the fall, don't clean up. The seeded flower heads provide food for birds long into the winter, and the standing brown vegetation absorbs the energy of the sun and moderates the temperature of the ground when a deep chill comes in winter with no snow on the ground.

Don't rake and dispose of the leaves when they first fall. Your shrubs and perennials will naturally trap the leaves as the fall winds blow them around the yard. Leaves on the ground make terrific natural mulch and fertilizer, and important habitat for many plants and animals. Eventually, they will settle into a stable pattern and you can remove them from the undesirable locations to the garden areas. Leaves are a terrific addition to the vegetable garden. I like to use white oak leaves to mulch strawberry beds. They're durable and a lot less seedy than straw.

And, spend some time doing mostly nothing. Not watching television, not listening to music, not surfing the Internet. Relax outside, on porch or deck or under a tree, contemplating, communing with the outdoors and using no more energy than it takes to keep your brain and body functioning. Do turn off the lights and the air conditioner when you go out.

Celeste Maiorana is a member of the Washington County Forest Conservancy District Board. Visit the board's Web site at to learn more about forest communities and projects you can do.  

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