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Biodiversity benefits both the garden and gardener

The Baltimore Sun

What does "diversity" have to do with gardening? It seems to be the new catchphrase.

You probably mean "biodiversity," which is a concept that's as old as Mother Nature. What's new is the realization of what a big bonus biodiversity is to the gardener. A natural landscape has a mixture of many species of native plants. It provides food and habitat for a host of native animal species, such as insects, birds and amphibians.

These species eat pest insects and pollinate plants. When their food source on one plant is finished, they can move to another type of plant. This keeps beneficial species in your garden.

Most pests are specialists, attacking only one species of plant. In a diverse landscape, plant diseases and pest numbers don't tend to build up, because there isn't enough of any one plant to support a huge population of pests. Biodiversity is a win-win concept for the gardener and the garden.

I am planning a new garden and would like to test the soil beforehand. Can I submit a sample for testing during the winter, or do I need to wait?

Winter is a good time to have your soil tested. First, get a clean bucket and shovel. Take a slice of soil to a depth of 8 to 10 inches from several holes, stir the mixture in the bucket, and from that mixture reserve about 1 cup to be the test sample.

We suggest that you let the soil dry for a day or two before packaging it for mailing. That way you don't have to pay postage on moisture. While the soil is drying, you can choose a soil-test lab from our Comparison Chart of Regional Soil Testing Laboratories. We'll send you a soil-test bag for mailing, if you like.

Checklist

Don't store firewood inside your home. Bring in only enough to burn at one time. Insects living in the firewood will emerge and disperse inside your home.

As food becomes scarce during cold weather, skunks, fox, coyote, opossum, raccoons and other wildlife will come closer to homes. Remove food sources such as pet food and keep trashcan lids tightly secured.

Ellen Nibali, horticulture consultant, works at Maryland Cooperative Extension's Home and Garden Information Center, and David Clement is the regional specialist. The center offers Maryland residents free gardening information. Call the center's "hotline" at 800-342-2507 or e-mail plant and pest questions through the Send a Question feature at hgic.umd.edu.

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