Natural Lawn and Garden Care
Some 100 million pounds of pesticides are used by homeowners in homes and gardens each year, even more when commercial companies are added in. Suburban lawns and gardens are known to receive far heavier pesticide applications per acre than most other land areas in the U.S., including agricultural areas.
Lawns and landscapes are often overlooked when a healthy environment is being considered for our homes. This is primarily because a home is frequently our largest investment and we want it to look its best for maximum value. There just don’t seem to be any alternatives to the chemical tread mill. Another reason is that, sadly, we have bought into the chemical companies’ massive marketing campaign that says we should surround ourselves with large lawns that are 100% weed free. Even with their chemicals that is not practical, or possible!
The best that can be said is that is a great coup for the chemical companies because once you begin using their quick fix silver bullets it is hard to stop. We are actually making our lawns chemical junkies that will go through terrible withdraw pains if we back off. The reason is that these chemicals and acidulated petroleum based fertilizers have killed all the beneficial soil microbes God placed in the soil to keep a balanced functioning system. We view the soil as nothing more than a medium to hold our plants up and into which we dump things to receive the desired affect.
The amount of chemicals needed to sustain such expectations is staggering. They are making us, our children, and our pets sick. Studies show that these hazardous lawn chemicals are also drifting into our homes where they contaminate indoor air and surfaces, exposing children at levels ten times higher than preapplication levels.
Of 30 commonly used lawn pesticides, 19 are linked with cancer or carcinogenicity, 13 are linked with birth defects, 21 with reproductive effects, 26 with liver or kidney damage, 15 with neurotoxicity, and 11 with disruption of the endocrine (hormonal) system.
Of those same 30 lawn pesticides, 17 are detected in groundwater, 23 have the ability to leach into drinking water sources, 24 are toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms vital to our ecosystem, 11 are toxic to bees, and 16 are toxic to birds. With numbers like this, the only logical question becomes: is this really necessary and what can we do to stop or prevent this kind of contamination?
You can have a beautiful lawn and landscape without using toxic poisons that endanger your family’s health and pollute our ground water. Imagine your peace of mind with a landscape safe for pets, plants, and people. The key is to build a healthy living soil teaming with beneficial microbes that work for you.
- “It is not a chemical vs. organics question. Everything in the world is chemical. The point is that the two words, “chemical” and “organics,” have become the passwords for two philosophies.
- ‘“Chemical” represents the university taught approach to force-feeding the plants using synthetic fertilizers and trying to control nature using synthetic pesticides.
- “‘Organic' represents the approach of working with nature to improve soil health and using only products that increase the chemical, physical, and biological balance in the soil”. J. Howard Garrett
Create a Healthy Foundation for Your Lawn and Garden
So what can you do to reduce or eliminate the toxic chemicals from your outdoor living space? Healthy living soil is the key to your success in landscaping or gardening. Your soil is not just media holding up your plants into which chemicals are added. A properly managed soil is a healthy living system that will feed your plants while discouraging and destroying pests. Follow these simple steps to begin the process of restoring and improving the beneficial life to your soil:
- Have your soil tested by a reputable lab that does a complete soil analysis. You wouldn’t allow the dentist to start drilling your teeth before taking an x-ray. The same principle applies to fertilization. Don’t add anything to your soil until you know what is there and what is missing. Adding too much of one thing could cause problems, deficiencies, or toxicities with something else. Only add what you know you need. We take soil from surface level to about three inches deep in 10-12 spots around your landscape to make up a good composite. Then, our lab provides the following information in a soil analysis: pH, Total Exchange Capacity, Base Saturation, desired calcium to magnesium ratio, exchangeable hydrogen, the amount of nitrogen, sulfate, phosphates, calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, boron, iron, manganese, copper, zinc, salts and chlorides present. From this, we can make accurate recommendations for correcting the soil in order to give you a healthy landscape requiring less time and money.
- Balance your soil according to the recommendations from the soil test. Now you can safely add the nutrients and amendments that will correct deficiencies and repair the biological and physical structure of your soil. It can take months to change the soil chemistry so it is important that you get started right away.
- Stop using artificial pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. These products will destroy beneficial soil microorganisms and earthworms. While they may bring temporary relief, they guarantee you will have to keep using them and create an environment ripe for other attacks. Don’t apply anything to your soil that does not encourage life.
- Aerate soil. Increase the air in the soil through mechanical aeration or conditioners if needed. Healthy soils need oxygen and that includes the soil microorganisms.
- Build soil organic content. Florida’s sandy soil is almost always to low in organic matter. Use compost to prepare beds and gardens, and to stimulate lawns. Stimulation of microbiotic activity in the soil is the most important way of building soil organic matter.
- Add mulch to all bare ground. Natural mulch preserves moisture, helps to eliminate weeds, and keeps the soil surface cooler which benefits earthworms, microorganisms, and plant roots. Cover bare ground under trees and shrubs and in vegetable and flower gardens with 1” of compost and 3” of shredded tree trimmings or bark mulch.
BUILDING ON YOUR NEW HEALTHY FOUNDATION
Now that you are restoring vital soil life, be careful not to upset the balance. Here are a few tips to keep in mind to sustain the natural system that will work for you 24 hours a day.
- Plant only adapted species
Always plant varieties that do well in your specific environment. Plant annuals and vegetables in the proper season and, if you plant them, be prepared to loose tropicals (including citrus) in the winter.
Irrigate your lawn and landscape deeply and infrequently to encourage deep roots. A weekly application of .75”-1” is sufficient in the winter. In the summer time you may need two applications per week. Shallow frequent watering results in shallow root systems that are susceptible to drought and pests. Less water will be required as you increase the mineral level in your soils. Use your yearly soil lest to keep the mineral level where it needs to be.
- Foliar Spraying
Spray fruit trees, lawns, shrubs, lawn and gardens during periods of stress with a good biological stimulant. This encourages healthy growth and reduces pests. A good stimulant may include molasses, fish emulsion, compost tea, vinegar, kelp, or other ingredients. The best will have a combination of products to provide, feed, and establish beneficial microbes.
- Encourage biodiversity
Introduce beneficial insects and protect those that exist. Plant herbs that attract these insects. Install bat and purple marlin houses. Use only organic fertilizers.
Lawns are frequently mowed to low. Most lawns thrive when cut to 3-4 inches tall. Some species, like Bermuda, are best kept at 1-1.5 inches tall. This will give you a strong healthy root system that is resistant to drought, heat, and freezing. Never remove more than 1/3 of the grass height in one mowing. Let the grass clippings and mowed leaves remain on the lawn. They are a great source of nutrients and will add to the soil structure. Always use sharp blades for a clean neat cut that does not damage grass. Mower blades should be sharpened after every eight hours of use.
Just like in your lawn, you should never remove more than 1/3 of the plant anytime you prune. Anything more will cause stress and make the plant susceptible to pests and temperature extremes. Prune Azaleas right after flowering. Later pruning will remove next years bloom. Do not perform Crape murder on your Crape Myrtles! Yearly pruning will encourage more blooms but sever pruning weakens the tree. Stick to the 1/3 rule on all your shrubs and trees.
Your lawn and landscape can bring you great satisfaction and extend your healthy living environment outdoors. If you will follow the basic principles described above you will be well on your way to a beautiful landscape. If you need more information or are a “do it yourselfer” who would like to purchase safe lawn and landscape products please contact Jeff Brower of Organic by Design, LLC by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit our website at www.goorganicbydesign.com.