As a professional landscaper, I get to see and diagnose a lot of garden issues. I find many people at wits’ end, spraying for pest problems and dealing with unhappy plants. Most of the time, the pest problem or grumpy plant shouldn’t be looked at as the problem itself – more accurately, they are symptoms of a bigger issue in the garden.
Think of it this way – if you only ate junk food and never drank any water, you’d expect some health problems to start showing up. But treating just those health problems, the symptoms of that lifestyle, wouldn’t solve the real problem. When gardening organically, we look to prevent problems rather than treat them once they arrive.
The Holy Trinity of Plant Care: Soil, Water, and Mulch
A healthy soil is going to provide the nutrients plants need to do their best, while regular, deep watering keeps them hydrated and healthy. A good thick layer of mulch supports both your soil and watering habits by contributing nutrients, holding moisture in, and keeping the structure of the soil soft so that the plants can actually reach the nutrition that is there.
Is all this stuff really necessary?
You might be thinking that plants in the wild don’t need all this extra care– they do just fine on their own. That’s true in one respect, but then, you have different conditions and expectations of plants in your home garden than you do in the wild.
Think about it: plants in the wild are allowed to fall and decompose, adding organic matter to the soil. It isn’t a big deal if their leaves are chewed as long as they are successful at reproducing and outcompeting other plants. And many have a short period of bloom that’s structured more for pollinators’ pleasure than our own, and then they go dormant.
In a home garden on the other hand, we want plants to look good year-round. We have a weakness for large flowers and tasty fruit, and those plants have usually been bred more for those attributes than for surviving without our care.
Even if you plant natives, the conditions usually aren’t the same as in the wild – perhaps your soil has been compacted by construction, or you haven’t allowed centuries of plant matter to break down in your soil. Maybe your natives rely on being in a forested understory or having great drainage, while you’re in the suburbs or have clay soil.
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