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GARDENING: Protect our species

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As stewards of the land, we must find ways to care for our flora and fauna and safeguard our environment for the future

The 49th Earth Day will be celebrated on Monday in more than 190 countries to promote environmental awareness. This year’s theme is Protect our Species, a reminder that ecosystems are facing serious threats, with one in five of the world’s plant species threatened with extinction. Forty percent of the world’s bird species are in decline, as are 75% of insect populations in some parts of the world.

The declining populations and decrease in foraging habitats are due to urban development, invasive species, deforestation, agriculture, over-harvesting, pollution, climate change and pesticides.

The Western Cape’s floral kingdom is the smallest and richest of the world’s six floral kingdoms and a Unesco World Heritage Site. Many plants are threatened with extinction because invasive plants overwhelm local plant species, block waterways and change the natural fire ecology. Critically endangered fauna include the geometric tortoise, Table Mountain ghost frog, micro frog and montane marsh frog.

How can you help?

Be observant

Report sightings of target species online at www.capetowninvasives.org.za. Current target animal species include the house crow, guttural toad, German wasp and European paper wasp, mallard duck and common myna.

Report sightings of the invasive German wasp (Vespula germanica). Picture: Richard Bartz

The latest threat to local trees, the polyphagous shot hole borer is a tiny black beetle from Asia that tunnels into trees, both exotic and indigenous. The beetle carries a fungus named Fusarium euwallaceae, which eventually kills the tree.

On April 3, eight trees infested with shot hole borer were discovered in Oldenland Road, Somerset West. The trees, which included American sweetgum and London planes, were removed by the city’s Invasive Species Unit. Report sightings at www.capetowninvasives.org.za/shot-hole-borer.

Attend a conference

Attend symposiums and conferences and learn about controlling invasive species and the restoration of land.

The natural habitat of the blushing bride (Serruria florida) is threated by invasive plants like pine and hakea species. Picture: Lukas Otto

The Centre for Invasion Biology, in collaboration with the SA National Biodiversity Institute, will hosting the National Symposium on Biological Invasions from May 15 to 17 at Waterval Conference Centre in Tulbagh. More info at https://sites.google.com/view/biological-invasions-symposium/home.

Cape Town is the venue for the 8th World Conference on Ecological Restoration in September, jointly hosted by the Society for Ecological Restoration and the SA Water Research Commission.

Delegates from Africa and around the world will be debating the challenges of restoration programmes on all continents. The theme is Restoring Land, Water and Community Resilience, inspired in part by Working for Water and their successful integration of ecological, economic and social goals under one framework.

The Working for Water programme, launched in 1995, has provided work and training to many, and has cleared millions of hectares of invasive alien plants using chemical and mechanical methods and biological control.

Volunteer

Many endangered plant species have lost most of their habitat and are found only in small areas along road verges and in urban landscapes.

Remove alien plant species from your land and join volunteers who remove alien invader plants. Join the network of volunteers who monitor populations of threatened plants in the field as part of the Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers programme. See www.sanbi.org.

In your garden

Cape Floral Region plants are showcased at the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show, held in London annually in May. Picture: Alice Notten

Introduce suitable habitats for species in the form of hedges and windbreaks; fruit orchards and flowering shrubs and trees. Grow local plants for pollinators. These habitats also provide shelter and nesting for birds; host plants for butterflies and moths to lay eggs on and food for caterpillars.

Loss of wetland habitats threatens dragonfly populations. Create a mini wetland for plants and a wildlife-friendly environment in your garden, wherever there is run off on a slope into a depression.

Build a wall of horizontal logs for insects – a bug “hotel”. Compost heaps and logs provide a pantry for foraging birds and insects.

Beneficial insects include spiders, wasps and lizards, which eat mosquitoes and other flying insects, and praying mantis which feast on flies, caterpillars, moths and beetles. Frogs and toads eat flies, slugs and snails. Ladybirds eat aphids.

A chameleon-friendly garden needs large and small shrubs with varying diameters of stems for young and mature chameleons. Chameleons eat flies, moths, butterflies and small grasshoppers.

Easter Weekend in the garden

What should you do in the garden this long weekend?

Pretty it up with an Easter focal point. Picture: Lukas Otto

◆ Plant new trees and shrubs and give an autumn dressing of a balanced fertiliser to established trees and shrubs, but not fynbos, as chemical fertilisers or animal compost will burn the fine roots.

◆ Plant seedlings of calendulas, nemesias, pansies, Iceland poppies, stocks and violas now to give them time to establish while the soil is warm. This is the main month for sowing sweet pea seed in well-prepared soil.

◆ Plant bulbs for spring in well-drained, composted soil. Plant large bulbs 10-15cm apart and small bulbs 3-5cm apart. Mark the area where bulbs are planted with a layer of light-coloured sand to avoid digging them up, or piercing the bulbs with a fork, before the leaves appear.

◆ Plant a winter soup garden. Vegetables need at least five hours of sun a day and excellent drainage.

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