By Sylvan R. Kaufman, Ph.D., Sylvan Green Earth Consulting, Denton, MD
Whether you garden to grow prize-winning tomatoes, to beautify your landscape, or to attract butterflies, learning the principles of ecology can help you create a healthy, sustainable landscape. Ecology is the study of how organisms interact with each other and their environment. As gardeners we think about the colors and textures plants give to a garden and whether they contribute food or fragrance. We choose where to plant a particular plant thinking about its needs for sun, water, and soil types. We learn to protect plants from pests and diseases and to watch for pollinators and seed dispersers. The principles of ecology can tie together all of these practices by taking into account the climate and soils of the region, the adaptations plants have to grow well under particular conditions, the helpful and destructive animals or fungi attracted by certain plants, and the cycles of water, energy, and nutrients in our landscape.
If you think of your garden and landscape as an ecological system, you begin to see the connections between plants, soils, animals, fungi, water, and sunlight.