Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
August, 2006
Regional Report

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Beneficial lady bird beetles, praying mantids, and nematodes for pest control -- on display at Penn Atlantic Nursery Trade Show.

Enviro-Friendly Ways

It's easy to be dazzled by the array of shrubs, perennials, and trees at the Penn Atlantic Nursery Trade Show (PANTS). The newest hydrangeas, latest clematis, startling chartreuse conifers -- so many plants to covet, so little time (and space)!

At July's PANTS in Atlantic City, I was on a mission -- scouting for environmentally friendly fertilizers and pest control products. The enviro/garden market has grown due to demand, said sales people. Consumers are more health conscious, better educated, more environmentally aware. Parents with children, people with pets, young new homeowners, mature Boomers want healthy lawns and gardens.

We're making the nature connection. We want to encourage butterflies and hummingbirds to flit from lobelia to butterfly bush in our backyards. We want to feel comfortable watching our youngsters run barefoot on the lawn.

Beneficials in the Bag
In the predator/prey world, beneficial insects feed on destructive insects. We gardeners can use that natural cycle to help our plants. At the BioLogic Company booth at PANTS, clear plastic bags full of scurrying ladybird beetles and praying mantis egg cases hung above a microscope. Ladybird beetles eat aphids and scale insects. Praying mantids consume soft-bodied insects such as caterpillars and grasshoppers. Letting beneficials loose in the garden means a feast extraordinaire as predators devour pests munching plants' leaves, petals, stems.

Beneficial nematodes mixed with water and applied to soil will control Japanese beetle larvae, root maggots, borers, cutworms, and fungus gnats. Naomi Pye of BioLogic encouraged me to look into the microscope at these translucent wriggling creatures in SCANMASK. They and other beneficials are fragile; they'll die if too hot or too dry. Be wary of buying them from a catalog, Pye cautioned. Check to see if nematodes are alive by mixing a small amount with water then viewing through a pocket microscope.

Feed Soil and Microbes
Healthy plants start with humus soil full of minerals and organic material for microbes to break down into plant food. Often our soils fall short so we fertilize plants to make them flower. Using natural fertilizers and soil amendments is more sustainable approach.

New to market -- Bradfield Organics alfalfa-based fertilizers for lawn, garden, and veggies also contain molasses, sulfate of potash, humic acid, and meat meal. I use alfalfa meal in all my gardens so am eager to give this a try.

At the "roots" booth, account manager John Hunt explained that landscapers apply this nonsynthetic fertilizer -- poultry and animal byproducts, kelp meal, and humic acid -- to improve soil when planting. The M-roots version has mycorrhizae -- helpful fungi that extend a plant's root system in poor soil. "It's nice when you can do something that's good for the environment and, oh, by the way, it's very effective," Hunt said.

Elsewhere, sales manager Kevin Burrows introduced a new, similar product -- PlantSure Plus with Gels in packets or bags. "Pour this poultry compost-based fertilizer with mycorrhizae in the hole at planting time to get the transplant through those critical 12 to 18 months," Burrows said.

My eye was on pink BulbSure with peppery capsicum to repel rodents!

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