If you’re concerned about the environmental damage caused by overuse of pesticides and herbicides, and worried about chemical residues in food, then it’s time to think about organic gardening. Here are some good tips on how to garden with nature, not against it.
Organic gardening focuses on healthy soil. Adding organic matter improves soil structure, aids drainage, introduces air spaces that enable plant roots to penetrate and encourages beneficial soil wildlife (such as earthworms) to thrive.
Organic gardeners – like nature – aim to feed the soil rather than the plant. Adding bulky organic matter builds a highly friable, water-retentive and fertile soil. The result is strong and healthy ornamental plants and vegetables that grow and crop well and are naturally resistant to pests and diseases.
Sources of organic matter
The best source of organic matter is home-made garden compost. Well-composted fallen leaves are also excellent as a mulch. Spent mushroom compost and seaweed can be used though they should be composted first. Animal manures are less popular now, following BSE.
Organic gardeners avoid chemical fertilisers as they can cause pollution problems as well as allowing plants to grow ‘soft’. Soft plants are more prone to attacks by pests and diseases after being force-fed.
Avoiding pesticides enables natural predators to thrive and hold garden pests in check. The less you spray, the less you will need to spray. You can also control pests by including barriers and traps, and encouraging natural predators by growing plants that attract them into your garden. See Wildlife Gardening and Pest Control for more tips.
Prevent weeds by covering the soil surface with ground cover plants or a thick mulch.
When clearing new areas, cover the ground to exclude light then dig out any remaining persistent weeds. Use old carpets or black polythene, anchored down with bricks, for about six months before planting.
See Controlling Weeds for more tips.
This is essential in the vegetable garden and helps prevent soil diseases and pests building up.
By planting companion plants you can disguise the smell of other plants, and so confuse pests that locate plants by smell. Grow garlic, for example, between rows of carrots or among roses.
Or planting marigolds close to tomatoes and cabbages discourages attacks by cabbage white butterflies and whiteflies. These plants also attract hover flies that, in turn, consume aphids.
Organic Gardening Dos & Don’ts
If you’re committed to a natural, healthy approach to gardening, but don’t quite know where to start, you’re in the right place. Here we take a look at the top dos and don’ts for going organic in your garden.
- Manage the whole garden organically – not just the fruit and vegetables
- Make the garden ‘wildlife friendly’, encouraging natural creatures to control pests
- Learn to distinguish pests from predators
- Play to your garden’s strengths, capitalising on its particular characteristics
- Make soil care a priority
- Make compost and leaf mould to feed the soil
- Reuse and recycle, to cut down the use of finite resources and reduce disposal problems
- Use organically grown seeds as far as possible
- Consider the environmental implications when choosing materials for hard landscaping, fencing, soil improvement and so forth
- Collect rain water and reduce the need for watering by improving the soil and growing appropriate plants
- Make local sources your first choice
- Use slug pellets
- Use herbicides
- Use preservative-treated wood
- Use genetically modified varieties