Friday, May 06, 2011

In praise of bare spots in the garden

Eastern tailed blue butterfly on clover
Some gardeners consider any exposed earth as a blemish in need of a cure, be it mulching or reseeding the lawn and watering. But in a well balanced ecosystem even bare spots have a place, and a very important one at that.
How so? Because they provide habitat and housing for an array of unappreciated garden helpers. We should know more about them. The list is long, so I will not try to cover them all, just illustrate a few interesting ones.

Butterflies. We all love butterflies and associate them with flowers and nectar drinking, but the fact is that after they fill up their tummies with nectar; they still need other nutrients, salts. One way of getting the needed salts is to take them from moist soil. It is not uncommon to see a group of butterflies, either all of the same species or several species amiable mixed together, basking in the sun while sticking their long tongues on the wet soil to extract some minerals or drink some water. Many gardeners attract butterflies by providing flowers for nectaring and plants for feeding their young. It helps to go a step further and provide them with some much needed bare ground.

Clustering of bee nests next to a parking lot

Bees. Bees are the most important pollinators, not just honey bees but the countless species of solitary bees. Most species of bees don’t make hives like honey bees. Instead they lead solitary lives, each one tending her own brood. Some nest in hollow twigs or similar holes, but the great majority nest in tunnels underground. Sometimes they cluster their nests near each other creating veritable towns; other times they take advantage of any small patch of bare soil and build their nests there. In general they prefer sunny and well drained spots.

Square headed wasp at her nest

Solitary wasps. Just like bees there are numerous species of solitary wasps that nest in the ground. Many wasps visit flowers for nectar and perform some pollination. But, perhaps more importantly, they hunt for insects to feed their young. A healthy population of solitary wasps would cut down the need for pesticides significantly. Solitary wasps, as well as solitary bees, are not likely to sting and even if they do so when molested their sting is very mild.

Tiger beetle stalking its prey
Tiger beetles. Another form of pest control is the very colorful metallic green tiger beetle. Tiger beetles belong to a group called ground beetles for obvious reasons. They spend most of the time on or in the ground. Tiger beetles are ferocious hunters of insects. If you provide them with some bare soil you can count on them for keeping pest populations down.

In summary, bare spots contribute to the balance of the garden ecosystem. They provide food or habitat for a number of garden helpers, namely pollinators and pest controls. When you consider all their benefits you wonder why we are so unwilling to tolerate them. Shouldn’t we look at them as an integral part of the garden? There are some gardeners that intentionally make some sand piles and make sure that no pesticides get to them.

Beginners Guide to Pollinators and Other Flower Visitors

List of articles


Sunnyside Dru said...

we have cleared lots of dirt in the area around the garden, now the trick is to keep it clear! com'on Tiger Beetle live here please!

Joan Sessions said...

we have large patches with all little bee holes in them...i mean likce twenty five in one spot