I bought my home in 2012, and with it came a free sense of responsibility for the property. This sense compelled me to observe and learn from my property. Over five years, I’ve been impressed by the land’s ability to recover from disturbance and endure the onslaught of the seasons — I’ve come to value its resilience.
My property, like yours, has a natural capacity to be resilient. Despite losing branches to snow, trees recover. Though spring rains sweep away topsoil, hearty wild plantain and violets soon reclaim the bare ground. In the droughts of summer the forest floor, covered with a thick mulch of decaying plant matter, retains enough moisture to support phlox and mallow. Everything seems to carry on without me.
I’ve learned that my property’s resilience, however, is helped or harmed by my activity. The irony of the previous examples is that they can indicate landscape problems. Even as my property demonstrates an ability to endure disturbance, it displays fragility.
The oak tree on the slope beside my driveway often looses branches in snow and wind. This indicates a problem. As I observe the crown I notice a great deal of die-back. It turns out that the root flare of the tree has been covered by a mound of stone and accumulated organic material. This retained too much moisture against the sensitive base of the tree and caused it to rot, irreparably damaging the oak. Though I have removed the mound, it is unlikely the tree will survive. I’ve learned just how important it is that I keep moisture-retaining material away from the base of trees.
Spring erosion likewise indicates landscape trouble. Water rushing down hillsides during heavy rains has accumulated over hundreds of square feet and followed the path of least resistance down the slope. In order to prevent this from happening, I have implemented land features like swales, ponds and strategic ditches that slow the water and disperse it over the land so it can maintain healthy water levels in the soil, not sweep it away.
Summer droughts often left me reaching for the hose to water a sensitive garden. The forest floor demonstrated a simple solution: mulch. Just as the material around the base of my oak tree retained moisture, a 2-4 inch covering of organic-matter mulch helps retain soil moisture. While it decays it will also nourish beneficial organisms, promote good fungal growth, and generally support the vitality of plants. Combined with water dispersing land features, well situated, well mulched garden beds can often withstand extensive periods of drought without a drop from the hose.
My yard’s natural resilience amazes me, but it is not a foregone conclusion. I can impede its ability to recover from disturbance and reduce its capacity to endure the onslaught of the seasons. Because I value its resilience so much, I have invested in learning from it. Do you value your land’s resilience?
Reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Timothy Zieger is a Wyoming County Penn State University Master Gardener trainee. Joshua Arp (email@example.com) is celebrating the healthy birth of his new son.