In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
August, 2009
Regional Report

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Gambel's quail will patrol your yard for insects.

Insects Support Wildlife in the Landscape

I was on my hands and knees, weeding my friend's landscape so it would look good when his family arrived for a week-long stay. Dusk was falling, it was difficult to see, but I was on an obsessive-compulsive, weed-yanking mission. When it comes to plants, I'm not a careful thinner or regular pruner. (To illustrate my lack of diligence in this arena, here's a recent quote from my Vermont-based gardening buddy when she came to Arizona for a visit: "Your backyard kind of scares me. I'd be happy to trim it for you." I took her up on the generous offer, she did a magnificent job, and I've penciled her in my planner to visit again, same time next year!)

But weeds? Get outta my way. I'm the cleanest weeder I know. Hula-hoes, weed scrapers? Sissy implements. I obtain self-righteous satisfaction toiling on my hands and knees with a hand tool and fingers, applying just the right amount of force to feel that "thook" as I yank yet another pernicious pest from the soil. Surely I'm not the only gardener who finds a productive weed eradicating session to be as beneficial as a trip to the spa?

Back to my friend's landscape. As I was weeding, a pest-control truck arrived in a neighbor's driveway. The operator got out, started unraveling his hose, and called out, "I have an easier way to do that." I responded that weed-pulling was therapeutic for me and good exercise, and he good-naturedly said that he wouldn't want to take away anyone's fun.

I could have pointed out that the neighbor's front yard is devoid of life, whereas insects in my friend's yard support native birds, like curve-billed thrashers, as well as a robust resident lizard who does morning push-ups in front of the kitchen window. (Its name is Donna the Iguana, even though it is not an iguana or a girl.)

Insects are an essential part of the food chain, and Donna and friends need a dependable supply of pesticide-free insects to eat. If you'd like to attract native birds and lizards to your landscape, it's as easy as reducing or eliminating regular pesticide sprays. Dozens of gardeners have described to me what a positive difference that simple change made. Folks whose yards had been on regular spraying schedules for years sometimes experienced an initial increase in undesireables, such as crickets and roaches, but within 6 to 12 months, Mother Nature created balance, sending a wide assortment of birds and lizards to take over pest-control duties in a very effective fashion. Give it a try!


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