Green gardening is a confusing term. Gardeners talk about their love of nature, but in reality what we’re doing is manipulating nature and short of growing a field of weeds, it will remain so. So the easiest way to garden greener is to work more cooperatively with nature. Here are 5 easy steps to make your garden greener.
1. Stop Fighting Your SiteTake a good, objective look at where you are gardening. Many gardeners skip right over the site evaluation. They know they want an English cottage garden, or sun loving tropical plants or maybe an alpine rock garden. Many of us want to try a little of everything.
If you are constantly adding lime or sulfur to your soil, if you have to fertilize every week, if watering takes up more of your time than gardening and if you are constantly wondering why, despite these efforts, your plants aren’t thriving, there’s a good chance you are trying to grow the wrong plants.
What Should You Do?:
- Have your soil tested. At the very least, know what the pH is and whether it’s quick draining sand, hard baked clay, rock ledge or something in between.
- Watch for sun exposure patterns. At what time does the sun reach your garden bed, how long does it linger, is there anything blocking full exposure and when does the sun leave the area.
- Call the Master Gardeners at your local Cooperative Extension office and ask for a list of plants that are recommended for your area and then select the ones that are suited to your site. Give particular emphasis to plants native to your area.
- Put plants where they will be happy. Shade lovers will waste water in the sun. Sun lovers will languish in shade and attract problems and pests. Acid lovers will never get enough nutrients if planted in a high pH... A plant grown in inhospitable conditions will demand more and more attention.
2. Focus on the SoilThe old organic gardening adage, "Feed the Soil and Let the Soil Feed the Plants", does so much more than reward you with great looking plants. There’s more going on in the soil than expanding plant roots. There’s a whole world in there, teaming with life forms that contribute to one another. Synthetic fertilizers may provide a quicker fix, but a healthy soil can sustain itself and your plants for the long run.
If you are growing annual flowers or vegetables, you are going to need some supplemental feeding during the growing season. It’s exhausting to keep blooming and producing without a rest. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still use an organic fertilizers that will contribute something to the soil while feeding your plants. Synthetic quick fixes are like a having a cup of coffee after you’ve pulled an all-nighter. You think you’re fine, but your body knows better.
What Should You Do?:
- Get a complete soil test. Find out what nutrients are missing in your soil and add amendments accordingly.
- Enrich the soil before you plant your garden. At the very least, add 3-4 inches of decaying organic matter and work it into the top couple of inches of soil.
- Till the soil as little as possible. Tilling breaks up the soil's structure and disturbs the organisms living in it. Of course, if your soil is too hard to plant in, some tilling will be necessary.
- Side dress established plants with compost or composted manure. This will slowly replenish the soil where you needs it most - by the plant’s roots.
- Don’t leave the soil uncovered. Bare soil allows rain and erosion to wash away nutrients and gives weed seed a chance to take hold. Use a layer of organic mulch around plants and plant a cover crop on beds that are left fallow.
3. Put Down the SprayerPerhaps the easiest thing we can do to garden greener is to stop trying to spray away every problem. Worse still is when we spray without knowing what the problem is.
What Should You Do?:
- Identify the problem - or if it even is a problem - before you try to fix it. Walking through and checking your gardens daily will alert you to small problems before they get out of hand. One or two chewed leaves are to be expected. Look for the cause before you pull out the big guns. If you see a colony of insects or an egg sack, then take appropriate measures. That might mean simply removing the egg sack.
- Know if it’s an insect or a disease. A good dose of fungicide may poison an insect, but no amount of insecticide is going to cure a fungal disease. And some insects are good for the garden, so you don’t want a spray that is going to kill everything in its way.
- More is not better. Read and follow label directions. Even organic pesticides can be dangerous if over used.