Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
March, 2001
Regional Report

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An organic substitute is available for almost every chemical product on garden center shelves. Ask your garden center or nursery horticulturist for organic controls.

Growing an Earth-Friendly Garden

With the spring gardening season almost upon us, it's time to consider changing some old gardening practices. For me it means no longer using an arsenal of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. I'm starting small: doing at least one thing to make my garden more earth friendly this year.

Why Be Earth Friendly?

The reason I need to take this big step is that I feel some of us are poisoning the food we eat and the earth we live on with our gardening practices. If I sound passionate on this subject, I am. I have been a professional gardener for over 25 years, and many of those years were spent working for large companies whose management believed that the chemical road was the easiest. I have probably sprayed 10,000 gallons of pesticide in my career, and I choose not to do it anymore. The damage to my body is done. But for the sake of my children, and grandchildren, I'm asking everyone to give up just one garden chemical for good and try an alternative method.

Buying Pesticides

Just today I saw a woman in the nursery looking for a "cure" for her roses. She was looking at products that even many commercial growers and professional gardeners don't use anymore because they're so toxic, such as chlordane, which does irreparable nerve damage but is still available to kill ants around your home, and Diazinon, which kills fish and aquatic life. Unfortunately, some of these products are still on garden center shelves.

Easy Organic Gardening Methods

Luckily, we don't have to use chemicals to grow a healthy, productive garden. There are many easy methods to reduce chemical pesticide use. For example, try laying down a thick layer of newspaper mulch around your perennial bed, then mulching over the paper with ground leaves. This technique saves water, recycles newspaper, cuts down on weeds, and costs less than herbicides. Plus your perennials will be healthier next season.

Another trick is planting peas to improve garden soil. Members of the legume family, including peas, beans, vetch, and clovers, have a symbiotic relationship with a bacteria in the soil. The bacteria live on the plant roots and in exchange fix atmospheric nitrogen for the plant to use. When you till under the legume crop, the nitrogen stays in the soil for other plants to use, so you don't have to fertilize with nitrogen when you plant your next crop.

Composting for Healthy Soil

One of the best practices to promote healthy soil is to start a compost pile. If you're not ready for composting, you can just spread grass clippings over your garden beds and turn them under. You'll be improving the texture of your soil without using chemical fertilizers, which contain harmful salts and ammonia. Not only will your garden grow better with the added compost, by not using chemical fertilizers you'll be helping stem the flow of pollutants into the groundwater and making for a safer world for everyone.

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