We’re seeing an increase in the amount of requests from people interested in making the transition to natural products from traditional synthetic fertilizers and pesticides in their home landscapes.
As with the demands for healthier, more nutritious alternatives in eating and the popularity of organically grown food, the healthy trend is also moving into our home gardens. Many of the same organic principles that are now providing much of the fresh produce at our local grocers and farmer’s markets can be applied to the home landscape.
The central idea behind organic gardening and landscaping is to create conditions that allow the soil to develop to its full potential. A healthy soil is thriving with an abundance of microscopic organisms, each performing its own function within a complex food web and its constant recycling of nutrients. Highly concentrated conventional fertilizers with strong mineral salts and acids can destroy many of the beneficial fungi, bacteria and other microbes found in the soil. Adding back in what’s been stripped away makes sense.
In a natural woodland or prairie, the soil is teeming with life. Beneficial fungi are actively breaking down mineral components of the soil into forms that can be more easily utilized by plants. Certain types of bacteria are removing nitrogen from the air and thereby providing this necessary nutrient to the plants. Earthworms are actively recycling dead leaves and providing necessary aeration to the roots of plants. Plant roots are following the tunnels left by the earthworms, growing much deeper than in compacted sterile soils, and thus providing the plant more access to soil moisture during dry periods. Organic landscape practices are designed to mimic this natural process.
Organic- based fertilizers are broken down by the soil organisms, providing slowly released nitrogen for leaf development and also providing food and fiber for earthworms. Many of these organic fertilizers are now mostly plant based, using alfalfa as the primary source of nitrogen. Grass clippings can also be recycled by using mowers with mulching blades that shred the grass into smaller pieces for rapid decomposition and reuse. Lawns are mowed at taller heights, growing thick enough to choke out many types of weeds.