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Gardening: Resources for enriching the plants and animals in your backyard.

Habitat Resources: Organic Gardening

Two important parts of organic gardening are eliminating pesticides and eliminating fertilizers.

Important! When you pitch your pesticides, dispose of them properly through a municipal or county toxics disposal program.

Eliminating Pesticides
In the natural world, virtually everything is sought out and "eaten" by something else. In the American garden, insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides often take the place of healthy soil and mechanical and natural controls. Pesticides are meant to kill. If there is a safe pesticide, it is one that kills only the target organism and leaves no trace in the environment. Few pesticides meet these very selective criteria.

What you can do:

  • Select and maintain pest-resistant plants adapted to your area --native plants generally have few pest problems.
  • Use organic gardening techniques --healthy soil building techniques, companion planting, herbal pest sprays, and crop rotation.
  • Learn to recognize and care for natural pest controls, such as ladybird beetles, beneficial wasps of many sizes, birds, toads, parasitic and predatory flies, and many others.
  • Intervene if you must. Try hand removal or spraying pest insects with water. If this fails, try biological controls, traps, or a dust such as diatomaceous earth --a silica substance that kills soft-bodied insects such as aphids.
  • If you must use pesticides at all, use them with proper handling and safe disposal methods. Start with the least toxic type, such as an insecticidal soap. Steer clear of broadspectrum insecticides, such as SEVIN or DIAZINON. Contact with these chemicals will kill virtually any invertebrate.
  • Control weeds through appropriate fertilization and liming, adjusting mowing height, and mulching.

Eliminating Fertilizers
Most commercial fertilizers boost plant growth rapidly. Too commonly, these high potency fertilizers are used in excess, and end up as phosphorus and nitrate pollution of ground water and small streams. Poisoning of aquatic life and severe oxygen deficiencies may result from these chemicals reaching our water sources.

What you can do:

  • You can reduce fertilizer potency and application rates and still improve plant health. "Natural" fertilizers, such as composts and pasteurized manures, are preferable, as they release a much greater variety of nutrients more slowly.
  • If commercial fertilizers are used, choose a slow releasing fertilizer.
  • Make and use compost in the landscape and save landfill space.
  • Plant cover crops like buckwheat and clovers. These plants add or "pump up" nutrients to the root zone and physically improve the soil.
  • Try composted sludges, which are derived from sewage or industrial processes. Request a fact sheet listing possible contaminants before purchasing or applying composted sludge to be sure it does not contain heavy metal or chemical contamination.
  • Grow native plants. Many native plants will grow very well with only an annual application of leaf mulch or with an annual cultural practice, such as mowing or burning.



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