Going native

Posted: Friday, March 19, 2010

In 1978, when I moved to Sterling from Anchorage, I sold my lawnmower and swore I'd never have another.

My place doesn't lack a lawn because I'm cheap or lazy, but because I like it without one. The minimalist, natural look helps it maintain a sense of place. The way I see it, I've disturbed the land enough without planting something that will require me to use fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides that will kill the native plants and insects, the ones some people call "weeds" and "pests." As a bonus, not having a lawn to maintain gives me more money and time to spend on more important things, such as fishing. That I actually am cheap and lazy is beside the point.

Over the years, I've noticed that people who have lawns and gardens with exotic plants and trees seem to be in constant conflict with wildlife.

I don't worry, as some of my neighbors do, that a moose will eat my trees, or that fireweed or wild roses will take root. While moose do browse the wild willow bushes on the edge of my driveway, they don't bother my native alder and spruce trees. And fireweed and wild roses are among my favorite flowers.

You may not think the native plants, bushes and trees that were there before your house was built are as pretty as the ones at the nursery, but they likely are the friendliest to the local birds and animals. Our native plants survive harsh weather, require no fertilizing or irrigation, and resist most pests and diseases.

The long-term effects of the chemicals in pesticides and weed killers are unknown, but the labels on the products give an indication of the short-term hazards.

The reverse side of the label on Ortho's Home Defense Max, which contains Bifenthrin, warns: "This pesticide is extremely toxic to fish and aquatic invertebrates. Do not apply directly to water. Drift and run-off from treated areas may be hazardous to aquatic organisms in neighboring areas."

I've always wondered what becomes of birds that eat bugs that are sick and dying from a pesticide.

I also wonder about the chemicals that find their way into the groundwater, the source of most of the water we drink.

If you get an urge to "improve" something natural, remember:

* The native plants, bushes and trees that were present before your house was built likely are the best for our native fish and wildlife.

* Most of the changes you make to the natural habitats around your house will have negative consequences to fish and wildlife.

Lawns, gardens, pastures and paved driveways displace wildlife and are sources of water pollution.

* It's possible to have a lawn and garden without using toxic chemicals.

* If you're determined to use chemicals, use them strictly according to directions, and never use more than necessary.

* When getting advice on lawns and gardens, be skeptical. Most nurseries like to push exotic plants and trees.

If the advice-giver sells a product, whether a hazardous chemical or something supposedly "green" or "organic," learn about it before you buy or try it on your property and loved ones.

None of us live a pollution-free lifestyle.

The least we can do is to limit our destruction of natural Alaskan habitats and our pollution of the waters we claim to love.

Info about earth-friendly lawn care, landscaping and solutions to water pollution:



Les Palmer lives in Sterling.

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