Gardening might seem like the most environmentally friendly hobby option available, but use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers and certain gardening methods can render gardening less than optimally ecological. Luckily, it’s not difficult to adopt “green” habits for your green hobby.
Lynn Jenkins, past president, newsletter editor and 10-year member of the Indiana Organic Gardeners Association, offers easy-to-implement suggestions for a healthy, organic lawn and garden.
Lawn care no-no
Cut back on fertilizing to once or twice a year. “It’s the biggest water polluter in Indiana,” Jenkins claims. “Unless you have a newly established lawn, you don’t need phosphorous, which gets into the ground water.” She suggests fertilizing in September because fall is the best time for weed control, and advises November for a second application if you feel it’s necessary. Don’t fertilize in spring or summer — a reawakening lawn doesn’t need it in the spring and a drought-stressed lawn is better off without it in the summer.
Many lawn care services put customers on a regular schedule to fertilize year-round, but Jenkins says your lawn may not need it so frequently. Nor does your lawn need an irrigation system. “Indiana has a good water supply. Besides, frequent watering creates a shallow-rooted lawn, which leads to other problems.”
She laments the over-use of chemicals and their legacy in our lawns. “Clover and violets used to be part of our lawns. But now, people want pristine green lawns. [Using chemicals], they killed violets because they consider them broadleaf weeds. The result is that they got rid of fritillaries — butterflies — who need the violets for egg laying.” She suggests keeping a “wild” area in your lawn for plants needed by butterflies and other insects.
According to Jenkins, 95 percent of insects are either beneficial or do no harm. Therefore, she advises caution in pesticide use. “Don’t over-react and kill everything.”
There are natural alternatives for bug control: birds. Jenkins recommends reducing the size of your lawn by planting trees, shrubs and other plants that provide food and shelter for birds and other animals. “Make it a wildlife garden; appreciate birds and butterflies as well as flowers.” Not only does this plan reduce your need for chemical pesticides, but it also provides privacy and an appealing setting for your home.”
Beneficial treatments for lawns include aerating, which Jenkins says can be done any time of the year, and cutting grass with a mulching mower. “It adds nitrogen and takes the place of [chemical] fertilizer.” Despite what some people fear, a mulching mower doesn’t create thatch. A shallow root system — often caused by frequent watering — creates thatch.
IOGA’s philosophy is “feed the soil, not the plants,” and that’s exactly what compost does. It creates beautiful lawns and helps flowers and vegetables attain their best production. Much of the soil in Indiana has a heavy clay base that requires amending for good gardening. “Compost is the best additive; it’s the best fertilizer. If you can’t do your own compost pile, you can buy a good quality composter. It can be simple; composting is not a complicated job. Soil is alive,” Jenkins instructs. “We should respect it.”
Jenkins reports a groundswell of interest in organic gardening methods. “Moving toward most natural methods is a process consisting of steps along the way.” IOGA can help gardeners along their journey.
IOGA is a group of “mostly average backyard gardeners who happen to be organic.” They meet four times per year for presentations, meals, Q&A sessions and an annual plant auction. More information about the association is available online at www.gardeningnaturally.org.