Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
July, 2004
Regional Report

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Blooming cilantro attracts beneficial insects and then sets seed for consecutive crops.

Gardening Organically

The byword of organic gardening is "Feed the soil, not the plant." Healthy soil is the basis of healthy plants -- ones that resist pest attack and produce lots of food and flowers for us to enjoy. With attention to bulking up the native soil with organic matter, your soil is transformed into a spongy factory of beneficial microorganisms that sucks up and holds water and air and enables plant roots to easily extract the nutrients they need.

Once the soil is enriched, the mantra becomes "Mulch, mulch, mulch." Adding more organic matter each time you mow the grass or accumulate a batch of leaves benefits the soil in a multitude of ways:
1) moderates soil temperature so it's not too hot and not too cold,
2) holds moisture so your time and money spent watering lasts for a long time because it doesn't evaporate,
3) deters weeds by keeping the soil surface dark so seeds don't germinate, and any that do are easy to pluck because their stems are gangly as they reach for the light,
4) continually breaks down and is incorporated into the soil by worms and other critters so plant roots have a wealth of nutrients to absorb.

The trick, as with compost piles, is to apply thin layers of each ingredient so you achieve a mix that "breathes" and avoid the fearful stinkiness that results from the exclusion of air.

Irrigation techniques help plants to remain healthy, or not! Ninety-five percent of plant problems stem from overwatering. We gardeners love our plants to death with water! Here are some guidelines for effective watering:
1) Water deeply to get the water down through the natural root zone of the plant;
2) Water slowly to enable different soil types to absorb the moisture without runoff; soaker hoses or bubblers are ideal;
3) Water only when the top couple of inches of soil are dry. You want to train those roots to grow way down to reach moisture so they get lots of nutrients and don't fry when it's hot;
4) Sprinkle foliage every week or so to wash off dust (top surfaces of leaves) and any pests setting up housekeeping (underneath sides of leaves);
5) Set your automatic watering systems to water only in the mornings -- 2 a.m. to 7 a.m. -- to lessen mildew and other disease problems.

Pest Control
Planting a variety of edibles and ornamentals is the way to confuse pests, since they can't hone in on their favorite meal when there are too many fragrances mixing them up. Instead of a single patch of tomatoes, scatter them around the garden space and interplant with everything else.

Attract beneficial insects like ladybugs, lacewings, and hover flies that'll eat any errant pests. Their favorite plants are daisy-shaped (like cosmos and coreopsis) and upside-umbrella-shaped (like carrots and dill).

Observation is the key to catching problems. Just walk through your garden a couple of times a week to see what's happening -- what new buds are developing, what leaves are being munched, which plant needs some additional watering. You'll easily see where ladybugs are gorging on early-spring aphids and where midsummer squash bugs are becoming too numerous for your comfort.

First, recognize that there have to be a certain number of pests for the beneficial insects to continue eating. Next, blast the pests with water from a hose to dislodge them -- many won't find their way back. Then, start stomping and smashing! Lastly, use a botanical or biological insecticide, like Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) or other appropriate to the particular pest, applied only to that pest in weekly doses. After three weeks, all the surviving generations will have met their demise.

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