Planting Not-Plants

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Sunday, April 23, 2017 - 16:58

Leptinella squalida ssp. squalida growing between rocksI had high hopes of attracting lizards into my garden. I went to great lengths to learn how to do so. I read scientific papers on what they ate and where they live. I talked with an ecologist. Turns out it's jolly unlikely to ever happen. But! But everything I learnt benefits all the other animals that might want to visit, or live in my garden... and it turns out that means healthier plants, too. New Zealand has two types of lizards, geckos and skinks. The first is a climber, the other a runner. They live in nooks and crannies. So does their food. Lizards eat anything smaller than themselves, bugs, berries, nectar. Birds eat the same things. Every effort put into welcoming lizards benefits birds. 'Planting' logs, garden waste, and rocks create these niches.

Big animals eat little animals which means the key is to find the lowest link in the food chain. That'll be bacteria, fungi, and other microbes. We then ask, "What do they eat?". Well they eat poo and dead things. So the question becomes, "How can I get more things to shit and die in my garden?". The lazy answer is to do nothing. Eventually nature will make this happen. But not in a timely manner. Fungi eat dead wood, bacteria eat dead greens. They have small mouths so it's helpful to have worms, millipedes, slaters, and other detritivores to break them into smaller pieces. But small bugs get eaten by bigger bugs and animals, so they need heavy things to hide under. Rocks and logs are perfect. They tend to be damp on the underside which helps to prevent the bugs from drying out. They also need protection from frost over winter. Leaf litter and garden trimmings are perfect insulators. Dead, hollow, stems are a favourite for ladybirds to hibernate in. So if every square metre of our garden has a rock, a log, and some dead plant matter then we maximise the population of little critters and therefore every animal further up the food chain.

 Yellow Admiral (Vanessa itea) basking on rockLet things that grow in our garden die in our garden. Much is made of putting garden waste in a compost bin. Composting in place is an alternative (see photo above). In nature leaves fall underneath the tree that they come from. Over time layers build up. At the bottom is a nutrient rich, thin, black line. We can mimic nature by throwing our garden waste under shrubs and trees, and out of sight areas. Layers of prunings, grass clippings, pulled weeds, build up in alternating layers. Decomposition will occur at a lower temperature allowing a diverse range of bugs to thrive and deliver the nutrients directly to the roots of plants nearby. Less effort, no unsightly bins.

Creepy crawlies live under rocks. The tunnels are from burrowers and the thin white threads that are the roots of plants. On lifting the rock a number of arthropods jumped out of the hole.Rocks allow animals to warm themselves, crawl under for protection, and slow evaporation. Lizards and butterflies are among the animals that take advantage of sun warmed rocks to bask in the warmth. Overtime smaller rocks will disappear under foliage, but the nooks and crannies will still support many small animals. Evaporation is slowed by the bulk of the stone. Plant roots seek out the dampness and it helps them during dryer times. Many invertebrates and lizards also like the humidity underneath and the protection from predators that they give. Below is an example of placing smaller stones that will soon be covered by foliage:-

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