Smart twist on 2014 Smart Gardening Conference

The Smart Gardening Conference on March 8 hosts nationally-known entomologist Douglas Tallamy to share how “smart plants” invite nature to your backyard.

False indego and butterfly weedLast year, Michigan State University Extension horticulture educators launched a campaign to help gardeners become “smart” about the choices they make in their own backyards. Earth-friendly messages were developed to equip home gardeners with research-based knowledge that equates to actions that are environmentally savvy and “smart.” When choosing plants, using garden chemicals and fertilizers, and applying water, gardeners need to understand the long-term impacts on their surroundings. The entire effort can be summed up by six words: Smart Soils, Smart Lawns and Smart Plants.

A Smart Gardening Conference will be held in Grand Rapids, Mich., at DeVos Place on Saturday, March 8, 2014, that will serve to channel enthusiastic gardeners towards adopting “smart” practices at home. Five presenters, revealing insights on topics such as smart garden design and smart soils, will culminate with a look at how we can get more out of our garden while being conservation-minded.

To bring home the message about smart plants, nationally-known entomologist and author Douglas Tallamy is lending his expertise to help gardeners choose plants that make wise ecological sense as well as being easy on the pocketbook. Tallamy’s message connects our everyday actions at home to the balance that sustains nature’s food webs. Tallamy believes that humans generally think of themselves as “outside” the system that keeps our planet green and yet our actions, no matter how small, can affect just how green we are— and will be.

Native plant community
Native plant communities provide dynamic ecosystems that support nature’s food web.
All photos in article: Rebecca Finneran, MSU Extension

For example, we all know that American’s love their lawns, and yet scientists have proven that lawn grasses require a fair amount of care to keep them green and healthy. Water, fertilizer and pesticides are all apart of building the perfect, palatial lawn, right? Keeping that in mind, Tallamy says an effort to reverse this on your own property, no matter how small, can lead to monumental ecological impacts.

If we think about reducing lawn area – no, not getting rid of lawns, but just reducing our lawns by half – we could create 20 million acres of habitat for creatures such as insects and birds; the biodiversity that runs our ecosystems. Tallamy says, “So, imagine this is more space than any of America’s National Parks!” Replace some of your lawn with a “pocket meadow,” plant an extra tree and add shrubs to your empty flowerbeds. These spaces filled with native perennials, grasses, trees and shrubs provide vital ecosystems that help nature’s special relationships thrive.

Reflecting globally about how we move plants around the world, says Tallamy, is also at the root of this idea. Yes, we all love our garden plants, but a large portion, I would daresay, are not native to this part of the country. As development continues to eat up habitat, Tallamy notes that a home garden filled exclusively with non-native plants simply throws off the balance of nature.

To get more information about how to enroll in the 2014 Smart Garden Conference in Grand Rapids, Mich., contact MSU Extension’s Ginny Wanty at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or download the brochure.

Michigan State University Extension’s horticulture educators will be presenting Smart Gardening in a variety of ways at three public shows in Michigan during 2014. The Novi Cottage and Lakefront Living Show on Feb. 27-March 2; the West Michigan Home and Garden Show on March 6-9; and the Lansing Home and Garden Show on March 13-16 will host a variety of free seminars, informational booths and be the site to “ask the experts” from MSU Extension about your gardening questions.

For more information on a wide variety of Smart Gardening articles, or to find out about Smart Gardening classes and events, visit

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