Intro to Organic Landscape Basics


Intro to Organic Landscape Basics
  • Posted February 23, 2012

The benefits of going organic with our food are easy for most of us to list; better taste, higher nutrients, reduced intake of chemicals and protecting the environment. We don’t typically eat our landscape plants however, so the generic “protecting the environment“ may not seem reason enough to make the extra effort we perceive would be needed for an organic landscape. The effort, however, doesn’t have to be much more than for non-organic landscapes and is certainly worth the benefits achieved.

Organic landscaping is based on the use of natural, non-chemical techniques and creating ecological balance. Benefits of organic techniques include healthier soil, plants, animals and people within the landscape’s scope, protection of groundwater within and beyond it, and over the long run, reduced costs and higher effectiveness than non-organic techniques. No need to be overwhelmed by thoughts of compost piles and homemade bug potions – unless you want to – organic landscaping can be done with convenient, prepackaged, readily available products. The first thing to apply, however, is a bit of forethought!

Any plant can be grown organically, but thoughtful selection and placement makes the task easier. Genuses such as Papaver, Pennisetum or Yucca thrive in dry, sunny spots, whereas Astilbe or Hosta would need extra watering and attention just to survive. Plants are more certain to be strong enough to survive pests and fend off disease if matched to the planting site’s soil type, how saturated or well-drained it typically is, and the quality and quantity of light it receives.            

Well-planned watering also increases plant health, strength and disease resistance. Traditional sprinklers often result in a lot of waste to evaporation and runoff and can create a disease friendly environment by leaving the foliage of susceptible plants wet. Soaker hoses, especially the type that “sweat” water, are ideal for beds and borders and are the choice of many organic gardeners. They bring water directly to the soil, making for deeper, stronger root systems and less frequent watering, thus conserving water. Choosing less thirsty plants, such as Lavandula, Gaillardia or Perovskia, for areas of the landscape that are typically drier, will also conserve water.

Feeding can be done less intensively with organics as well. Synthetic fertilizers often destroy beneficial soil micro-organisms and promote fast, weak plant growth leading to more feeding to try and balance things out, and to the need for pesticides to protect the resultant unhealthy, susceptible plants. Natural fertilizers break down and supply nutrients in a manner, and at a rate of speed that is much more compatible with plant and soil needs, leading to a healthier outcome for both. Traditionally, manure and compost were the top organic option, but now packaged organic fertilizers are readily available.

The organic landscape will obviously include insects, many of them “beneficials” that prey on damaging ones. Birds, which thrive in organic landscapes, will happily strive to devour any remaining bad bugs. So, take time to observe and identify pests before deciding if you need to provide supplemental control  with organic pesticides or can leave things to Mother Nature. Unlike synthetic pesticides, organic ones won’t lead to pests with evolved resistance. This is similar to antibiotic resistance and leads to the creation and excess use of additional chemicals in the battle to off offending pests. Care should still be taken to only use them at recommend rates and, again, to defer to Mother Nature’s checks and balances first.

Resources and supplies for organic landscaping are readily available. The Internet and your County Extension office can assist with plant selection, fertilizer suggestions, and pest identification and treatment recommendations. My Garden Insider’s Digging Deeper section also has Helpful Reference Links of value to organic gardeners. Organic landscaping supplies can be found at garden centers, hardware and home improvement stores. The retail price of organic products is consistent with, and often less than, that of chemical products - encouraging news for anyone contemplating a switch to organics.

Dawn Sherwood
About the Author

Dawn Ochsner is a landscape designer and garden writer.


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Intro to Organic Landscape Basics
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