Val Van Meier writes a monthly column for the Nelson Agricultural Commission.

Gardeners are scientists at heart; we are always experimenting by trying something new. At our home, four years of spring violets, dandelions, paintbrushes, and various wild flowers have created an interesting experiment. Most of our front lawn is now wild during spring and summer to feed the native pollinators. When we started doing this we were curious to find out what the lawn would look like over several years and who would feed on our flowers. Would certain plants take over? Native bumblebees, tiny bees (I haven’t identified), flies, butterflies & moths visit our lawn today. An increase in fireflies on the front lawn provides summer entertainment.

Not until late July or August will we mow the growth. We have a mulching blade on our mower that throws the plant matter up, cutting it several times before it settles. This cut plant fiber is small, settles down between the blades of grass to decompose and adds nitrogen to the grass roots.

It’s a win-win scenario as far as I’m concerned. Less time spent mowing, it feeds the native pollinators and more moisture stays in the soil during dry spells because when we do cut it, we leave it at least four inches high.

A few weeks back during a dry spell, I evaluated our backyard. Planning what to cut and what to let grow. Wide paths are key to help with ticks. (As well as wearing rubber boots*) Just the thought of ticks climbing on me makes me itch! Tall growth will allow the milkweed, goldenrod, and New England asters to grow, feeding the Monarch butterflies, and other pollinators.

Two years ago we had a trench dug from the back door to the new solar panels. In spring that former trench area drains poorly, creating a muddy mess to walk over. In summer the plants that grow don’t thrive and dry out quickly. In contrast to this is an area where I collected leaves in the fall, mulched and left in place. This improved area grows tall and green early in spring reflecting the healthy soil that was created by years of mulched leaf matter.

Back to the trench area, clearly, the soil where the digging occurred needs improving by adding mulched leaves in the fall and perhaps wood chips this summer. Yes, wood chips. Research by agricultural scientist Abigail Maynard demonstrates that wood chips absorb nitrogen from the top two inches of the soil and soil microbes, fungi, decomposing insects and foot traffic will break down the chips. In two to three years the soil will be improved substantially. I like to think the wood from trees will nourish my flowers in years to come.

*NH State Entomologist recommends wearing rubber boots because ticks don’t climb up the rubber.