Organic Gardening 101: How to Begin Gardening Naturally and Have Happier Plants

I’ve been asked a lot lately about organics in the garden. “How do I kill snails around my vegetable starts?” is a common question. “Does anything organic really work on roses?”

I even spoke with one gardener who felt chained to her Miracle-Gro routine – having to laboriously water it in every two weeks. It was heartbreaking to me that Miracle-Gro had done such a marketing number on this sweet person that she was going far out of her way to use something that I consider actively bad for her plants and soil!

If you want to move more towards using organics, I can assure you it’s fun, it’s easy, and while a few organic controls are more expensive or time-consuming than their traditional counterparts, in the end, I truly believe you save time and money through supporting your garden’s natural cycles.

After all, the organic philosophy is about establishing a balance in your garden so that your garden is more able to take care of itself. It may take time and money initially to put down a 3” layer of woodchip mulch, but if you imagine that an hour of weeding a week turns into a half hour a month after mulching, you can see that the benefits catch up fast.

In the coming weeks I want to talk about some of the steps you can take to help your garden be healthy without using chemicals that are harmful to you, your children and pets, and our groundwater.

We’ll talk about:

How to prevent most pest problems: soil, water, mulch.

Whether weed barrier/ landscape fabric is a good choice for your garden.

How to control snails organically and why traditional snail bait is so nasty.

How to control thrips on Rhododendrons and other plants using organic and biological controls.

Organic pest and disease control on roses and flowers: getting rid of black spot, aphids, and caterpillars organically:

Prevention of pests in an organic garden.

How to treat pests in an organic garden (organic sprays and biological controls).

How to adjust your vision of beauty to allow and appreciate some imperfection.

That all being said, there’s certainly no negative judgment from me if you prefer to use some traditional methods of control. I personally just feel a responsibility to use the least harmful methods of control that I can, because as a landscaper, I have an opportunity to have a greater impact than most people do in just their home gardens.

But I do think that in these tough times, many of us are finding solace in growing our own food, spending time outdoors, and connecting with our garden in a deeper way, and this often leads us to question whether that blue fertilizer or box of snail-killing sawdust is really the safest and most effective choice.

If you’re like me and wanting to move towards using healthier alternatives in your garden, check out these articles on how to deal with pests and problems organically.

If you’re interested in this series, you may also like my article on controlling weeds organically using vinegar and other methods.


  1. says


    I’m looking forward to following this series on organics, I’m sure I’ll pick up lots of tips. Like you, I advocate the use of organics especially as the first course of action.

    The other day I was working in a client’s garden and noticed most of her peony’s, which were in bud but not blooming yet, had brown leaves. I assumed it was a fungus but had never seen such damage so early in the season. I cut off a few leaves and went to her local garden center to see what they thought the problem was and how they would recommend treating it.

    Immediately the owner said it was a fungus and handed me a chemical fungicide. He told me how to use it and said to be careful because it is ‘powerful stuff’. I asked him if he had any organic alternatives ( I could see a few organics across the aisle) and he did recommend one but only after saying it was ‘going to be so much more work’ and I ‘might not be happy with the results’.

    All in all it was an interesting encounter and spoke volumes about why many people are skeptical about organic solutions.

    Debbie R’s last blog post..GOOPs… I Think I Bought the Wrong Tree!

  2. says

    I am amazed at the ignorance of new gardeners – until I remember my own early days in the garden. But I think we all need some hubris to begin. And the learning never stops. I really like your blog – and your climate.

    commonweeder’s last blog post..Monday Muse

  3. Airlia says

    In my heart of hearts, I yearn for a yard of milkweeds for Monarchs. Though, that would probably turn my future neighbors all psycho. I never get to have any fun :)

  4. says

    Debbie – wow, yes, you are so right. It’s tough – I think people who work in nurseries have a particular responsibility and opportunity to make a difference in this regard, and yet they are overbusy and underpaid, and it makes it hard for them to take the time to both learn all the alternatives available and then spend the time with customers to help them understand how everything works. Good insight there.
    Susan – me too!
    Commonweeder – I feel the same way. I recently read Amy Stewart’s From the Ground Up and it really helped me remember my own early gardening days. I felt both nostalgic and oh-my-gosh-how-did-I-ever-succeed-at-any-of-it when I remembered my own early days so clearly.
    Airlia – that is so you! I can imagine you frolicking in the milkweeds with Monarchs fluttering about. The butterfly queen…

    Genevieve’s last blog post..Organic Snail and Slug Control: How to Kill Snails and Slugs Naturally


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