Plants just like us need a healthy environment to grow and bloom. They also need to be properly taken care of like new-born babies. Every little detail matter if you want your plants to be healthy and fruitful for a long time. The major elements that affect plant growth are light, water, nutrients, temperature, air and biodiversity. All the living and non-living things interact among themselves to create an environment or an ecosystem in which the plants can develop at their full potential. Let’s talk about different ways they can affect the growth of plants and how can we contribute to their well-being?
What do you mean by ecosystem?
In simple words we can define ecosystem as a community of various life forms, whether big or small, lives in perfect harmony with each other along with the non-living components like soil, air, water etc. This means that directly or indirectly we all depend upon each other for survival. For example, a bee or an insect feeds on nectars of flowers, small birds feed on the insects and large birds feed on the small birds. The size of ecosystems doesn’t matter. They can be big or small. The important thing is each component should contribute towards a successful goal of sustainability.
How to create a good ecosystem for plants?
The very first thing to do is to increase biodiversity in your backyard. Grow different types of plants which complement each other. Plant native trees and add bird houses to provide food and shelter which will attract birds. Add flowers and shrubs to make your garden more colourful and attractive. This will attract butterflies and pollinators. These small insects will also feed on small pests which can be harmful for your vegetables and will restrict the use of chemicals. Don’t restrict yourself with the conventional plants which are expected in a garden. It’s your space so utilise it in the best possible way.
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Climatic factors include light, temperature, moisture, and so on. Proper sunlight is necessary for the plants to synthesise food through photosynthesis. Sunlight also influences the temperature of surroundings. Plants require proper temperature to grow.
During summer season, maintain proper levels of moisture by watering the plants regularly. We can also use green nets or fibre sheets to create shades for the plants which are susceptible to high temperatures. If you live in an area where summer is hot and dry, the best way to successfully develop your home garden is to plant trees like neem and wild almond which have large canopies. They will provide shade and will maintain the temperature of the garden in favourable limits for the plants.
Soil nutrients and fertilizers
Soil is perhaps the most important component of an ecosystem for plants as it provides a substrate on which plants can grow. Plants absorb water and nutrients from soil through roots. The microorganisms present in soil help in biodegradation of waste products and leaves.They also convert minerals and nutrients into forms which can be used by the plants. You can grow your own organic vegetables using organic fertilizers.
A good gardening soil consists of sand (0.05 to 2 mm particle size), silt (0.002 to 0.05 mm), and clay (less than 0.002 mm) in the ratio 4:2:2. Organic matter and compost should be added at a regular basis to maintain the fertility of the soil. Build your own composting pit in a corner of your backyard. This pit can be used for creating compost of waste from your kitchen and dried up leaves from the trees of the garden.
It is the environment which is in immediate vicinity of the plant. The temperature, humidity and microorganisms present in the periphery of a plant constitutes its microenvironment. To keep a plant healthy and happy it is very necessary to maintain an optimum microenvironment. The temperature near the body of the plant, the amount of humidity, sunlight hours and the microbes present near the plant should all favour a proper development of the plant. Only then it can thrive at its best.
Just imagine yourself as the plant. We need a proper environment to perform our best,whether at work or even at home. We install air conditioners in summers or apply humidifiers in rainy season to keep ourselves comfortable. In the same way plants also require optimum surroundings. This can be achieved by growing trees which have a cooling effect in summer, watering the plants regularly, hoeing the soil and by providing proper fertilizers for nutrients and minerals.
Companion planting and intercropping
The practice of growing different plants on same land simultaneously is known as companion planting. Growing different combinations of plants make them more efficient as they would differ in their growth habitat, nutritional requirement etc. Intercropping is beneficial for us too as it utilises the gardening space in the most efficient way possible.Intercropping can be a little tricky as choosing the right combination of plants is very necessary. Try and choose plants which complement each other rather than competing. Growing tall plants and trees will protect smaller plants and herbs form the scorching heat of sun. Planting beans, peas and legumes will help in replenishment of soil with nitrogen. Leafy vegetables have shallow roots while trees and larger plants have deep penetrating roots. Growing them together as companion crops will help in utilising minerals and nutrients from different depths of soil.We have made a list of crops which can be interplanted in a home garden.
On the basis of maturity duration –
Vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli or cabbage take approximately 6-8 weeks to mature. The space between these plants can be utilised by sowing vegetables or salad greens like lettuce, spinach or microgreens that take lesser time to mature and be ready for harvesting. They keep the soil moist and suppress weeds too.
On the basis of height –
Some plants are shade loving while some require proper photoperiod or sunlight for development. The space between tall plants like corn, tomatoes or okras can be utilised to grow small leafy plants like cilantro, kale, pak-choi, lettuce etc. The leafy plants cannot survive the scorching heat of sun in a tropical country like India. They need partial shade which can be provided by cultivating them between tall plants or crops.
Utilising the vertical space –
The trees in your garden can provide a perfect platform for cultivating vine vegetables. Vines like cucumbers, melons, bottle gourd, bitter gourd or pumpkins can be grown by using trees as a substrate. They will get a proper support for growing and utilise the space which cannot be used for any other purpose.
How to manage your home garden?
There are a few things which you can do on your part in order to accomplish a perfect balance and cause minimum disturbance with your presence.
- Whether big or small, every backyard needs to be maintained properly in order to create a sustainable environment.
- First and foremost, limit the use of chemicals to create an organic vegetable garden.
- Plant native species and manage the pest and diseases with natural remedies.
- Use the dried leaves from trees and other plant wastes to create compost which will be useful in nourishing the garden.
- Mow the lawn as less as possible to save the insects and earthworms.
- Create a proper drainage system to avoid water logging. Stagnant water creates a foul smell and attract disease causing mosquitoes.
- Turn off excessive lights as they may scare the birds or can cause disturbance in their sleep cycle.
- Regularly trim large trees as they can attract myriad animals which can be dangerous to us.
- Lawns can be included but they are not a necessity.
Do your bit by creating a sustainable ecosystem which nourishes our surroundings. Try and save as much water as you can, avoid chemicals, switch to composting and minimize waste. Choose native plants over exotic plants to support biodiversity of your area.
Plants usually require attention from us in the beginning of their life cycles. But once they have reached their full potential, they can pretty much take care of themselves. All you need to do is to enjoy their beautiful presence and harvest the fruits of your labour.
If something is not eating your plants, then your garden is not part of the ecosystem!
Matsuoka, R.H. and Kaplan, R. 2008. People needs in the urban landscape: analysis of landscape and urban planning contributions. Landscape and urban planning, 84(1): 7-19.
Bates, G.H. 1935. The vegetation of footpaths, sidewalks, cart-tracks and gateways. Journal of Ecology, 23(2): 470-487.
Rybak, C., Mbwana, H.A., Bonatti, M., Sieber, S. and Muller, K. 2018. Status and scope of kitchen gardening of green leafy vegetables in rural Tanzania: implications for nutrition interventions. Food Security, 10(6): 1437-1447.
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