Wild Yards: Conflict Management the Wild Way

In our Wild Yards series, we have been discussing the four needed ingredients (i.e., food source, water source, hiding places and a place to raise babies) for attracting wildlife to your garden and why that might be important for creating a diverse environment. Inevitably, conflict will arise between species, human or otherwise. Gardening with ecosystems and habitat in mind is a lot about managing expectations, tradeoffs and tolerance levels. 

If you plant a pollinator garden which includes a diverse array of host plants, guess what? You will have plants with holes in the leaves or entire sections of the plant missing (quiet gasp of horror). If you want a pristine, flawless garden, plant silk flowers from Hobby Lobby and be done with it. That is a truly maintenance free garden! Encouraging wildlife means a change in aesthetic expectations. Wellfield staff attempt to walk a fine line between “world class” display and happily munching insects and mammals. Working with nature is a beauty all its own, as I see it. However, the public or your neighbors have certain expectations (unreasonable or not) that you should not ignore (sometimes at the risk of monetary bereavement).

An important concept in Integrated Pest Management, or wildlife management if you will, is the idea of “thresholds”. Just because you see that darn insect crawling on your favorite rose does not mean you must call in an air strike from on high. There are different tolerance levels, or thresholds, to consider. For growers, there is the economic threshold: how much damage can be tolerated before margin is compromised? For Wellfield, that might be when the damage is greater than the cost of the plant(s), sort of like when a person totals a car. For example, we are very concerned about beavers here, because they can quickly destroy years worth of plants of great value, the backbone of a garden space. There is the more vague “aesthetic” threshold. When does a plant get the uglies? It depends, since beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and if one is committed to inviting a wild party, one might need to adjust their expectations.

Urban sprawl and development is encroaching more and more on wild space, forcing some species to successfully adapt to the urban/suburban environment. With this dynamic, therefore, it is not surprising there is increasing conflict between these competing interests. When you decide to have a wild party in the yard, sending out the invitation, you might get some unwanted guests. Now what? Before you freak out and call the TruGreen cops, ask yourself, “How important is it really?” How important is their presence compared to your goal? Why are they present? Are they responding to a garden pest as a food source? Are they a true threat? It depends. Maybe the enemy of my enemy is my friend. At Wellfield, we have portions of the Gardens where members of the rodent family live out their lives without a threat from the gardener: happy Peter Rabbit and happy Mr. McGregor. However, in other places, we have a zero tolerance policy. Instead of making eradication of all pesky rodents the goal (usually an impossible goal), we manage the population, keeping it within “acceptable” limits, sort of like how Nature does. 

Conflict management of the wild type requires some adjustments on the part of the gardener; learn to pick your battles carefully. The more you structure your garden along ecological lines, valuing diversity, the more free checks and balances nature will provide, easing the workload for those weekend warriors out there. 

Josh Steffen, Horticulture and Facilities Manager

Missed our recent installments in the “Wild Yard” series? Click the links below to catch up!

  • Indoor Oasis
    Cody tells us about how his love of house plants lead him to a career choice, and how too much love can sometimes be a bad thing when it comes to plants! Continue reading
  • Plant Diagnostics
    The plants are in the ground, they are growing and blooming, but now comes the challenge: diagnosing issues some of our plants are having. Here’s what our horticulture team does when they can’t solve the problem themselves. Continue reading
  • Plants Tammy Has Not Seen Before
    Our horticulturalist, Tammy, took a cool field trip to a local nursery and picked up some interesting plants to display in our Sensory Garden. Continue reading
  • Another Kind of Burning Bush
    Peppers are a really popular plant to grow; there are so many varieties to choose from. Lead Horticulturalist Cody tells us about some of his favorites. Continue reading
  • Four Winds
    Elkhart is home to so many great organizations that make the city the vibrant community it is. Wellfield is so lucky to work with one of them: Four Winds Garden Club. Continue reading

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