The key to minimal maintenance and a low input approach is Gardening Without Fear. The solution to gardening without fear is twofold: being empowered to garden successfully and being relaxed and tolerant. If we are fearful, we will react to every little problem, worry and criticize ourselves. Then we might seek an immediate solution like some poison.
We have been guided to believe that we need these petroleum products by companies that sell them. In fact, these products weaken the support systems of plants and make them more vulnerable to diseases, pests and drought. The truth is—we don’t need them.
At Harlequin’s Gardens, we have been operating a commercial nursery for 26 years selling healthy plants without pesticides, fungicides and without herbicides.
1) Nature is basically good, dependable and self-balancing. Most insects and most fungi are actually beneficial.
2) Nature is intelligent and durable. For example: If we are not poisoning the bees, they know just what to do to pollinate our crops so vegetables will form. If we use neonicotinoids, bees will become confused.
3) Just eliminating the poisons, life will return and the garden will get stronger and healthier.
4) But doing nothing is obviously not the only solution. If we want low maintenance and minimal inputs, we have to provide nature what it needs.
5) Healthy Soil supports Healthy Plants supports Healthy Bees and healthy food for people.
6) Healthy Plants defend themselves by being able to make chemical defenses so they have few pests which means less work and better looking plants, and more food.
7) Flowers that bloom through the whole season support beneficial insects that pollinate and remove insect pests before we see them. If we provide water, trees and shrubs and unpoisoned insects, there will be more birds. And birds are beautiful and mostly beneficial.
8) A non-toxic environment with lots of Life=lots of Food for everybody; so beneficial insects, fungi and birds take up residence in our landscapes and are present when pests arrive.
Oil thinking is not just about the 3 kinds of poisons, the fourth element is chemical fertilizers. These fertilizers are made from natural gas and are deficient in the micronutrients which are important in supporting the health and immune functions of plants. Oil thinking is the old 20th Century method of supporting growth and volume with resulting weakness and deficiency in nutritional value. And when the weakened immune systems of plants attracted pests, the oil solution was just to kill the pests with poisons.
The 21st Century approach is called Biological Thinking. With this understanding, fertility is not a product made from oil, it is a biological process that we can support by feeding the soil life which makes fertility.
Nature is very powerful and if we partner with Nature, and provide real nourishment, Nature will give back real bounty of food, beauty, privacy and a healthy local ecosystem.
B. Practices-Actions and Non-actions
1) For both lazy gardeners and smart gardeners, Before we put plants in the ground, nourish the soil. Then the plants will be healthy and have few pest problems.
a) Our Colorado soils are deficient in nitrogen and organic matter: add organic fertilizers and local composts not made from feedlot steer manure, and not from human sewage.
b) Provide plants and microbes with oxygen by mixing expanded shale or sqeegee gravel or coarse compost into very tight clay soils. For normal clay soils, just add compost. Don’t overwater: soils that are watered more than twice a week don’t have room for life-giving oxygen.
c) Mulch after planting to hold in moisture, keep down weeds and support the soil life.
2) Watering: It’s a fact-more plants are killed by overwatering than by underwatering. Water deeply and less often. Except for veggies and containers, no more than twice a week; for xeriscapes, no more than once a week. To determine how long to water: dig 2″, 4″,6″ to check if moist, dry or soggy. Moist is good. Save water: get an expert to install drip irrigation
3) Right Plant in Right Place: If we plant the wrong plant (that is, one not adapted to Colorado conditions like blueberry, azalea, Pin Oak, astilbe) OR if we plant the right plant in the wrong place (like putting a Big Sage in the shade or a dogwood in full sun) then we will need to water too much, or deal with too many pests or the plant will die without extreme care.
4) Don’t reach first for the poison if there is a problem. Practice Integrated Pest Management (IPM) First observe, determine if the pest is actually a problem (if only 10% damage, it is barely noticeable and will be feeding the beneficial insects, then apply a cultural solution, and only if necessary use a non-toxic spray.
5) Support soil biology: a) spray or drench with compost tea once a week or once a month. b) inoculate plants with mycorrhizae when planting. c) feed soil with organic matter d) water and mulch.
6) Freedom Lawn: just mow whatever is there, aerate once a year, use Corn Gluten to reduce weeds, fertilize twice a year with organic fertilizer, water once or twice a week, mow 3″ high with mulching mower, topdress with fine compost every 2 or 3 years. Remove a wide border and plant pollinator plants OR Replace the lawn with a meadow and only mow a border.
7) Take classes, consult with Cooperative Extension or local nurseries about specific problems
8) Reduce labor by using more shrubs than perennials and by filling bare areas with attractive, nutritive mulch. Leave a few bare areas for native bee habitat.
9) If a plant doesn’t respond to normal care, remove and compost it or try it someplace else. Try a different plant in that spot. Ask staff at Harlequin’s Gardens for a more successful alternative.
10) Relax: combine appreciation with respect, patience and tolerance. Remember: always allow a 10% population of insect pests to feed beneficial insects living in the garden. And remember: if we don’t see some holes in our plants, we are not feeding the birds.
If there is enough beauty and health, the neighbors won’t notice a few imperfections.
And if we are providing the basics of care and nourishment and not weakening Nature’s own capacity to care for itself by using toxic chemicals, then we can relax without fear, because we will have little more to do than basic weeding and cleanup.
by Mikl Brawner