Friday, May 16, 2008

To Be Organic...That is the Question

What does it mean to be an Eco-Friendly Gardener? What does it mean if the label says ‘Organic, Natural, Natural Based, OMRI, Eco-friendly or Contains Natural Ingredients?’

Here are some simple terms to learn about:
'Fertilizers' are any product that contains a mixture of nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium (N-P-K). The number such as 10-6-4, or 5-10 is the percentage of nutrient in the bag. The numbers or percentage must add to at least five or 5%.
‘Organic’ means the ingredients must have been alive at one time. This could either mean plant or animal.
‘Natural’ means minimally processed ingredients, such as rock phosphate. It can also refer to something mined, such as perlite or vermiculite.
‘Organic Based´ means 50 percent or more of the guaranteed nutrients are from an organic source.
‘OMRI’ (Organic Material Reasearch Institute) listed means the product has been approved for organic production, processing and handling. OMRI products are the most desired by those that are true organic growers. The products are tested by an independent institute. For a product to display this seal, it must meet the standards of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program.
'Microbes' in the soil are beneficial bacteria that help break down organic matter into more usable forms that plants can take up.
‘Compost Tea’ is not a fertilizer. A 'Tea' consist of beneficial microbes in liquid form added to the soil to assist plants to take up nutrients by breaking down the organic matter into smaller more usable forms. Soil Soup is a great source of microbes.
'Mycorrhizae Fungi' located on the outside and inside of roots help enable the plant to take up some essential nutrients. They are especially beneficial as a plant partner in nutrient poor soils such as new housing subdivisions. The absence of Mycorrhizal fungi can slow plant growth. Natures Creation Plant and Soil Booster is a fantastic compost that has Mycorrhizal fungi. Not only does it help loosen clay soils, it helps the plant take up nutrients.

Organic vs. Synthetic Fertililzers:
A plant taking up an ingredient such as nitrogen does not distinguish whether it is from an organic or synthetic source. Organic fertilizer generally breaks down more slowly within the soil before it is in a form available for the plant to use. This period can often last several months. So when you have healthy old plants and need to gently feed them, organic products work best. Synthetic fertilizers take a great deal more energy to produce than organic types. This makes ‘organic’ fertilizers the “green” choice. Organic fertilizers are beneficial to the soil and helpful to Mycorrhizae and Soil Microbes. Composted mulches and soil conditioners contain the organic matter microbes feed on. Organic fertilizers are the food that feeds the microbes. Synthetic fertilizers feed the plants and not necessarily the soil. Synthetic fertilizers can be fast acting when a plant needs a boost, such as annuals which are grown for one season. They will need to be replaced yearly if not bi-yearly depending on the time release built into the fertilizer. Organic fertilizers typically have a lower ratio of N-P-K than synthetic fertilizers. Therefore, if one was to use organic fertilizers, more may need to be used in order to achieve a significant improvement to an unhealthy plant.

Choose your products wisely to make sure they help your plants perform their best. Make sure you read the label of ingredients and not just the name on the bag. It goes the same when you food shop. And most of all ask questions. Fine garden centers should have the answers at their finger tips making gardening fun, exciting, successful and Eco-Friendly.

See you in the nursery...LG

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

May Garden 'To Do' Short List...

It's all about putting a list together and then figuring out what you can get done and what you will want to others to do... Fran is the list maker; I am the 'others' that gets it done...

May Projects and Tasks:
* Apply a weed and fertilizer program to your lawn to take out the dandelions before they flower. The fertilizer will nurture your lawn to help fight weeds off in the future. Now that the lawn is 'Lush, and don't I know she likes a Lush Lawn.' We use organic weed controls and fertilizers.
* You pick 'em, I'll plant 'em annuals! No threat of frost in the future, we have cast off our lines and are planting (sailing) away. So after hours Fran and I will shop till we drop. I feel like a kid in a candy store. And the cavities in the garden are all being filled in with color!
* Fran saves time in her busy schedule by adding instant curb appeal with patio floral arrangements and hanging baskets. The drip irrigation I put in at the house makes watering as easy as turning on and off a switch.
* There is nothing like rich nutrient filled soil. Replenish your containers with new potting soil. This was to be last fall's task. But at least the containers got put away. So I emptied them last week... New soil and fertilizer will make your flowers thrive!
* Plant summer-flowering bulbs for additional bursts of vibrant summer color. I always like it when Fran says 'I don't remember planting that.' Personally, I think she likes the surprise. It's just the opposite when I walk into the house and say 'When did you get that?' And she says 'Two months ago. It took you that long to notice...'
* Delphiniums, Phlox, Carnations, Aubrietia, Candytuft, Basket of Gold, Primroses, Coral Bells and Saxifrage are great flowers to add early season perennial color. I mass the color with quantity. I'm not a plant one of this, one of that kind of guy.
* Cut back expired blooms from flowering bulbs (tulips, daffodils) but continue to feed and care for the plants until the foliage has died back naturally. Do as I say, not as I do. I never get this done. And the flowers seem to take care of themselves. Or maybe it is the occasional rabbit or deer we hired to dead head. Hmm...
* Set the stakes next to your taller flowers like peonies early in the season. I never take our stakes out. Fran doesn't seem to mind. It's one less task to keep off our list and maybe yours too. 'Pin Up Stakes' are the best. When used properly you don't see the supports and everyone of your neighbors will ask you why your Peonies don't fall down. I guarantee it! They are well worth the investment of buying them once and having them forever.

Next week: Plant the Veggie Garden. I can't wait for fresh tomatoes, basil, mozzarella and balsamic vinegar...