7-Step Guide to Organic Gardening
Go organic - it saves hives!
More and more people are choosing organic gardening methods because they no longer want to use toxic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides around their children and pets, nor do they want to poison our environment. But there is another reason to go organic – it works! Organic gardening methods work in cooperation with the complex science of nature to enhance the health and growth of our plants. Organic gardening methods give our plants just what they need, increasing productivity and pest resistance in our landscapes, gardens, and lawns. The main principles behind organics are simple! Follow these steps for a healthier, more beautiful garden and landscape.
1. Start with compost.
Compost improves soil texture, permeability, drainage, as well as fertilizer and water-holding capacity. High quality compost also adds nutrients and beneficial microorganisms. These microbes make nutrients available to plants and can help prevent diseases.
- After planting trees and shrubs, rake in 1-2″ of compost across the top of the whole planting area, avoiding the stem or trunk.
- On lawns, add ¼” to ½” of good quality compost on top every spring and/or fall; water in.
- Each year in spring and fall, add 1” to 2” on top of existing flower & vegetable beds & over the root zones of trees and shrubs.
- To create new flower and vegetable beds or containers:
- Where there is sufficient soil depth, mix in up to 50% compost with the native soil.
- Wherever new soil is needed for raised beds, or large planters, use a weed-free, compost-rich garden soil.
- Whenever planting in containers, use a good quality potting soil.
- When planting seeds, use a seed starter.
- For a quick boost of beneficial microbes, nutrients, enzymes, & more, spray compost tea.
Know the Difference!
– Compost –
Refreshes existing soil, loosens & aerates
– Garden Soil –
New soil for raised beds/planters and pots larger than 20gals
– Potting Soil –
A mix specially formulated for pots and containers smaller than 20gals
– Seed Starter –
A very light, fluffy mix, suitable for seeds and propagation
2. Use only organic fertilizers, amendments, and supplements.
A study conducted by Texas A&M University with the City of Austin Grow Green program proved that organic fertilizers outperformed others in producing better “color and density.” It was proved also that organic fertilizers do not pollute our grandwater as synthetics do.
Liquid soil activators stimulate microbes, improve soil texture, and help remove salt and toxin build-up.
Seaweed contains trace minerals and plant growth stimulators. Drench new transplants to stimulate rooting. Foliar feed tomatoes to promote flowering and fruit set. Drench and/or foliar feed any plant to improve cold hardiness, increase heat tolerance, and help prevent disease and pests. There are numerous products onthe market that contain seaweed.
What does N-P-K mean?
N = Nitrogen
For leafy growth
P = Phosphorus
For flowers, fruits, and roots
K = Potassium
For nutrient transport within the plant and other critical functions
3. Mulch bare soil.
Mulching 2 or 3 inches deep helps to prevent weeds, conserves moisture, regulates soil temperature, and helps prevent disease. Avoid piling mulch onto the stems of plants.
4. Choose native and well-adapted plants.
Native and well-adapted plants are easier to maintain, use less water, and are less prone to disease and insect attack. Reduce the size of the lawn, especially St. Augustine, and plant more trees, shrubs, hardy perennials, ornamental grasses, and groundcovers. Consult the following resources for examples of suitable plants.
- Grow Green: Native & Adapted Landscape Plants (Free hard copies are available in our store.)
- Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
- Garden Guide for Austin and Vicinity by Travis County Master Gardener Association
- Plants for Texas by Howard Garrett
- Native Texas Plants by Sally & Andy Wasowski
5. Water carefully.
Using native plants and mulching properly greatly reduces the amount of water needed in the landscape. For most established plants, it is better to water deeply and less frequently rather than shallowly and often. Along with mulch, consider using drip irrigation or soaker hoses to deliver the water directly to the soil, minimizing evaporation.
6. Control weeds organically.
Most weeds grow best in poor soil. Improving soil texture and fertility and adding compost can thwart weeds. Also, weeds can’t get a foothold if bare soil is mulched.
7. Preserve beneficial organisms.
When you kill beneficials, you inherit their job! Beneficial soil microorganisms, as well as visible critters like earthworms, support vigorous plant growth and can even ward off diseases. Beneficial insects and other wildlife, such as ladybugs, lacewings, ground beetles, spiders, lizards, birds, wasps, and garden snakes, help to keep pest insect populations in check. Learn to identify garden allies and protect them! Do this by avoiding chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and using even organic pesticides sparingly, if at all. The key is early detection and ID, then implementing the least toxic strategy.
8. Enjoy the fruits of your labor!
It’s an optional step, but easy to do!