Organics The Real Dirt

August 14, 2009

How to Plan Your Organic Garden

A successful organic garden depends upon growing a wide diversity of plants, including as many native plants as possible, in order to attract wildlife and useful pest predators. The result will inevitably be informal. There is, however, no reason why an informal garden should look neglected or untidy and, indeed, there is every reason why it should not. Pests and diseases go hand-in-hand with a slovenly approach to gardening; a neat and tidy garden, where regular cultivation keeps unwanted weeds at bay and where you remove rubbish before it has a chance to accumulate, is bound to be more efficient and productive.

My own belief is that a garden is essentially a personal place, and so its final design must be something that you have conceived and put into practice yourself. We all have the innate creative ability to transform that muddy patch of ground outside the back door into a beautiful, productive and, above all, enjoyable place in which to be. And bear in mind that, no matter how inexperienced you are, nature will give you a hand along the way.

First, take account of the physical characteristics of your garden – the soil type, the direction it faces and so on. Second, draw up lists of the features that you need to include in your garden such as windbreaks, or trash storage areas – and the features you would like, such as a vegetable garden, compost bins, a greenhouse or a terrace. Then, before you start any real gardening, draw up a plan of your garden and work out where you want to site things in relation to each other. These principles apply if you are starting a garden from scratch, taking over an established garden, or simply changing to organic gardening.

The Physical Characteristics of Your Garden

When contemplating the overall plan of your garden, consider its physical characteristics, such as the direction it faces, your local climate, and the type of soil you have to work with – clay, peat, silt, sand or limestone.

The features that are within your power to change, or improve, include drainage and the quality of your soil and the contour of the land. The techniques for improving them, however, will vary according to the soil type of your situation.


Organics The Real Dirt

August 14, 2009

Organic Lawn Gardening

Do you your yard, or is it only your benign gateway to the outside world? If you’re like me and you play games with your children on the grass, you’ll want to define a needed area and keep it regularly maintained. Do you have a primary spot where guests often congregate? This space, too, will require definition, since guests rarely like to party in knee-deep wildflowers. Keep in mind, though, that this space does not need to be turf; terraces, a deck, patio, gazebo, or porch may cost more than grass initially, but they’ll often pay you back in time, aesthetics, and property value.

As for those areas where no games are played nor guests wined and dined, consider the alternatives. Trees, surrounded by ground covers or mulch, require far less maintenance than turf in the long run. Many shrubs, which offer varied points of interest throughout the different seasons, can grow for years with little attention once established.


Even if you want to stick with turf as your primary landscape feature, you can vary the maintenance program depending on usage and location within your yard.


It’s far better to make a realistic assessment of your time in the beginning and don’t grow more lawn than you have occasion to maintain. A standard rule is that a 5,000-square-foot lawn takes about an hour to mow with a 21-inch rotary mower and up to a half-hour longer with one of those manual push-type reel mowers. You could mow an entire acre in an hour with the right piece of equipment, but then you’re getting into significant expenditure.


Will cats and dogs be running across the lawn and tracking it into your house on a regular basis? Do you put out the welcome mat for birds, deer, and other wildlife, or would you really rather they stay away? Both of these answers should dramatically impact your lawn care decisions.


If you have kids playing games on the lawn, consider all the factors before applying any unnatural lawn additives. According to numerous studies, children have been proved to be significantly at risk from many lawn and garden chemicals.


Lawn care products that come into the home on the bottom of paws is also of great concern. Synthetic fertilizers and pesticides will, in time, break down in contact with soil, sun, and rain, but these same materials may never break down if they become lodged in cracks in your flooring or in the weave of your indoor carpeting.


When it comes to wildlife, natural lawns attract more birds, insects, and other critters than a synthetically treated lawn of the same size. Large open swaths of any kind of turf, however, are not as welcoming to wildlife as gardens of trees, shrubs, and flowers. If you grow grass right up to the foundation, with no trees or shrubs nearby, you’ll have a hard time attracting birds to a feeder. They like to have the cover of a tree or shrub close by. Similarly, deer and some other critters will generally stay off a lawn unless an apple tree or a juicy yew shrub invites them in.


One of the most important evaluations you can make, right up front, is an honest assessment of sunlight throughout your yard. Full sun, needed by the majority of grasses, is defined as at least six hours of direct sunlight between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Full shade, not favored by any lawn grasses, is two hours or less of full sun during those hours. Homeowners who have yards with heavy shade should consider planting a shade-loving lawn alternative, installing hardscape, or laying down mulch, rather than watch a patch of sun-loving lawn grass struggle to survive. Remember: not all bare ground needs to be covered by grass, especially if the site isn’t conducive to it.


Although this is a guide celebrating lawns, I encourage everyone to also think of trees as a major part of the landscape. If you do have more than six hours of full sun, you may be thrilled to have a nice tree cast shade over at least part of your property during the heat of the