Landscaping with naturally occurring combinations of local plants is often more cost-effective and less water and energy intensive than landscaping with exotics because native species are adapted to local soils and climates. Native species typically reduce environmental as well as monetary costs because they require less fertilizers, pesticides and fossil-fuel based management. Where non-native communities (like lawns) are desirable, reduction of total area and careful selection of the species mix and management practices can minimize negative ecological impact. Ecologically designed landscapes often require more labor and planning up-front, but then require less maintenance and are more economical over the long run. A variety of ecological landscape management practices are employed at AJLC. Over the summer and during the semesters, student interns help to plan, plant, prune, weed and harvest from the ecosystems within the center.
In early stages of ecological development, considerable efforts are generally necessary to prevent exotic plants and aggressive native species (e.g., cattails, burr reed) from out-competing slower growing species. Algae blooms can also overrun the pond surface and consume sunlight to the detriment of other pond organisms. Once a diverse plant, animal and microbial community has taken firm hold and ecological processes have become well established, management needs become much less intensive.
Gardening organically requires design and maintenance practices that simulate processes operating in natural ecosystems. These include: encouraging biodiversity by planting multiple varieties of different crop and annually rotating crops among beds; replenishing soil organic matter and nutrients by adding compost, planting cover crops and including nitrogen-fixing legumes; relying on natural predator-prey relationships to keep pest populations in check.
Integrated Pest Management
Using “biological controls”, for example by introducing natural insect predators, minimizes the need for pesticides. Ladybugs are effective natural predators for common garden and orchard insect pests and have been employed as pest control agents in the garden, on saplings, and even indoors in the Living Machine greenhouse. Garlic sprays and insecticidal soap are biologically-based insecticides that are periodically used in the Living Machine greenhouse, and the outdoor landscape when the need arises.