Environmentally Friendly Garden Booklet (Word Document)
Healthy plants are a direct result of a healthy soil. It
is that simple; feed the soil and it will feed the plant.
Soil is alive. One cup of healthy soil contains more microbes
than there are people on Earth. The microorganisms in the
soil are an essential component of the web of life because
plants depend on them for their survival, and we and other
living creatures depend on plants.
Without plants we would have no food or oxygen; terrestrial
life would cease. Plant roots release nutrients to the soil
to nourish the billions of microorganisms that in turn will
convert mineral and organic material into a form that the
plant can absorb. These organisms also protect the plant from
pathogens and pests.
Through the process of digesting and assimilating the remains
of dead plants and animals, soil microbes release carbon back
into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide that plants need to
conduct photosynthesis. This is an integral part of the life
cycle. Synthetic chemicals, improper watering and compaction
destroy microbes and macro organisms like earthworms, arthropods
and mammals that all live in the soil, breaking the soil food
web cycle. Read more to learn about the structure of soil,
the organisms it contains, and the practices that can help
or harm it.
Select the right plants for the location. For example, plants
that thrive in dry, sunny conditions will not thrive in a
damp, shady location. Plants native or adapted to your area
are disease and pest resistant, drought tolerant, generally
cold hardy and attract beneficial insects. Plant diversity
attracts diverse wildlife and creates a healthier ecosystem.
What steps should you take to plant trees, shrubs, flowers,
vegetables and grasses?
Maintenance of your Garden
Visit this website for a wealth of information on gardening without toxic chemicals. Short "How To" videos will educate you about numerous subjects ranging from how to make compost tea, to soil testing, to controlling weeds. http://www.safelawns.org
Once your garden is up and growing, it's not so much digging in the dirt that's going to keep you busy as much as the daily maintenance. Here are some helpful hints for maintaining your garden.
Irrigation: Over-watering weakens plants, increasing
chances of disease and promoting runoff that pollutes
our waterways. Conserve water whenever possible. Earth
is 70% water with only 2.5% fit for human consumption.
Much of that is threatened. When soil contains 4–5% organic
matter, it holds more than 4 times the amount of water than
soil with only 1½–2% organic matter, conserving
water, thereby reducing erosion and runoff.
Fertilization: Remember healthy soil feeds the
plant. Avoid artificial, high-nitrogen, water-soluble
fertilizers because they can harm the soil and the ground
water with the salts that they leave behind. Large doses
of soluble Nitrogen create succulent growth. The abnormally
thin plant cell walls are easily penetrated by pathogens
and become a magnet for insects. Root development is diminished
and forced shoot growth raises water requirements. As
Howard Garrett says,
"Feeding your plants nothing
but nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (N-P-K)
like feeding your kids nothing but white bread."
Plants need at least 18–20 elements, not just three. Apply
high quality compost, seaweed extracts, alfalfa meal,
organic fertilizers like Microlife, rock powders and more.
Sending your bags of leaves to the dump is equivalent
to throwing fertilizer away. Leave grass clippings on
your lawn. Deep feeding your trees does not make sense
because the top 4" of the soil contains the microbes
that feed the tree.
Organic Treatment for Turf and Beds in Houston (Word Document)
Fertilization, Pests, Weeds, Trees (Word Document)
- Organic Fertilizers Suggested (Word Document)
- Disease, Pest and Weed Control: Stressed plants
are disease prone and attract insects. Stress can be the
result of poor plant selection, compaction, nutrient-deprived
soil, poor irrigation practices, poor pruning, and poor
mulching. The so-called bad bugs account for only 1–2% of
all insects; the rest are the beneficial insects that will
keep the bad bugs in balance. Artificial chemical pesticides
don't discriminate. They harm the good guys along with the
bad and also kill other forms of wildlife that are essential
to a balanced eco-system, such as lizards, frogs, turtles,
birds. Often they are very unhealthy for humans as well.
Controlling diseases and pests organically is not difficult
or expensive. An application of high quality compost will
solve many of your problems. Cornmeal is an excellent fungicide
for diseases like brown patch. Weeds are messengers telling
you that something is wrong with your soil. Vinegar is an
Mowing, Trimming, Pruning: Raise the cut of the
grass to allow more root mass and deeper roots that consume
less energy. Higher cutting creates a denser canopy that
shades the soil and reduces soil temperature and moisture
evaporation. Removing more than 1/3 of the grass blades
during mowing can arrest root growth for more than a month.
Prune trees in the winter while they are dormant. Pruning
should preserve the natural character of a tree or shrub.
Heavy thinning should be avoided because it will weaken
the root system. Removal of lower limbs will stress the
tree by making it less stable in high winds. When removing
branches, avoid flush cuts and long stubs that slow healing.
Preserve the small stub called the "branch collar."
Mulch and Compost: All mulches and composts are
not alike and names can be misleading. They should smell
sweet, reminding you of the smell of a damp forest floor.
Beware of mulches and composts that contain pieces of
shredded pallets and chemicals that are often added to
give them a black color. Composting turns the material
into a dark chocolate brown; no dyes or chemical are required
to achieve this color. When selecting a mulch, steer clear
of those that contain bark, but be aware that almost any
mulch is better than bare soil. Bark robs plants of nitrogen
and creates nutrient tie-up problems. Consider adding
an inch of finished compost before you add mulch because
it contains a huge number of beneficial microbes.
An excellent choice of mulch for gardens, flower beds
and potting mix is "Aged Native Hardwood Mulch"
(Aged means composted - this is key). The feedstock
for this wonderful mulch is "Native Hardwood Mulch"
which consists of ground fresh green tree and brush material,
not bark. Composting kills pathogens and weed seeds
and allows the beneficial microbes to multiply. Native
Hardwood Mulch that is not aged is used as a special purpose
mulch to break up gumbo clay. It works well over a layer
of compost and its lighter color is beneficial for some
plants and can brighten shady areas. While Pine Bark is
cheap, it is a poor choice because it contains turpentine
that kills microbes, floats out of beds, attracts fire
ants, and depletes nitrogen. "Hardwood Mulch"
is made primarily from the bark of any hardwood tree like
hickory, elm, pecan, mesquite, oak, etc. In the Houston
area, Hardwood Mulch is usually oak bark. Hardwood barks
contain tannic acid that kill microbes and attract termites.
John Ferguson, owner of Nature's Way Resources
in Conroe, Texas, offers this ranking of different mulches:
aged native mulch (excellent); pine straw (very good);
aged leaves (good), but they should be shredded and partially
composted and they can blow away; cedar flakes (good),
but should be composted to break down growth suppressing
oils; cypress bark (medium to good); shredded hardwood
mulch (fair to good), but it can form a tight mat which
is resistant to water; shredded pine bark (poor). Living
mulches are low growing plants such as grasses, groundcovers
and shrubs that keep the soil covered, shading and cooling
it in summer and keeping it warm in winter. To mulch your
trees correctly, extend the mulch to the drip line. Do
not allow the mulch to touch to trunk of the tree. You
should be able to see the root flare. When you apply mulch
to other plants, leave a gap of 1–2" from the trunks
Further Reading on Mulch and Compost
A satisfactory plan is a realistic plan. Gardens don't stand
still as there are always shrubs to prune, grass to mow and
leaves to rake. First, consider the purpose of your garden
and the type of garden you want. Then study the these principles
- Balance of shape, size and colors
- Proportion and unity
- Contrast of textures
- Focus of views
- Safety and convenience
- Ease of maintenance
Be sure to group your plants according to similar water needs.