How to Kill Dandelions in Lawn Organically

Killdandelionsorganicallyinlawn.jpgI just got a nifty tip on how to kill dandelions organically when they are growing in your lawn or in the center of another plant: injection with vinegar-based organic weed killer. You may have found that if you spray non-selective herbicide, organic or otherwise, on your dandelion that you end up with a dead patch of lawn to match your dead dandelion, which is so not cool. You can try getting the long taproot out manually with your soil knife, but it often takes a few tries because if you leave any portion of that taproot, you’re in for another dandelion soon. It’s even harder to get rid of dandelions in the center of perennials or small shrubs, because you don’t want to injure your good plant with vigorous digging at the taproot, and you certainly can’t spray. So when Susan Lewis, maker of Weed Pharm (a food-grade organic herbicide made from concentrated vinegar/ 20% acetic acid), gave me this tip, I was thrilled! [Read more...]

Organic Gardening 101: Learning to Love What You’ve Got (How to Stop Spraying and Start Seeing Beauty Everywhere)

We’ve been talking about how to prevent pests on roses and flowers, and how to treat them organically if you do end up with problems. Today I want to talk about one of the biggest things that keeps us from gardening organically – our expectations and attachments to a specific kind of garden or plant. Expectations are a funny thing – there is so much incredible beauty in nature and the plant world, but sometimes our desire for a certain kind of garden or plant makes the flaws we percieve in our gardens really stand out. Take lawns, for example. I have a wonderful gardening friend who lusts after a perfect, flat, weed-free chemlawn. The problem with that? She has a casual rolling lawn with apple trees and bird feeders dotted through it, and naturally sloping beds around the edges.  All organic. Her lawn is a lovely natural place where she watches the birds and wildlife, and attempts to flatten it out and remove every weed would make it feel out of step with the rest of her gentle country garden. She’d spend more time than she wants to keeping every last weed out organically, and she’d have to get rid of or put concrete under the bird feeders to keep them neat. She knows in her head that a “perfect” magazine lawn wouldn’t fit her lifestyle or the rest of her garden, but… she still dreams of that lawn, and was shocked at my suggestion that she might embrace what she has, and introduce some tough stepable groundcovers to flower within her lawn area – chamomile, or blue star creeper – and run with the meadow-like theme. It’s not just perfect lawns we get attached to, either. Many of us are in love with the idea of a certain kind of flower. Maybe you grew up back east and dream of lilacs in spring, but live in such a mild climate that they don’t really thrive. Perhaps you love roses, and want to grow all the latest hybrid teas, but despair of the black spot come August. Whatever it is for you, coming to terms with what your garden supports and letting go of those things which simply aren’t working will bring you such peace, and will make organic gardening so much easier. A healthy plant that loves where it’s been placed won’t need spraying.

Here’s how to stop chasing the things that aren’t working, and start loving what is:

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Disease-Resistant Roses for the Pacific Northwest

As a professional gardener, my philosophy leans more towards making organic and sustainable choices in the garden, not only because I’m afraid of what long-term repeated exposure could do to my health, but also because I have the power to help so many people make better choices for their gardens. The organic philosophy can be difficult to keep up, however, in the face of over-bred plants like many Hybrid Tea roses. Don’t get me wrong, I love roses! But so many have been bred aggressively for just the blooms, and often breeders of Hybrid Tea roses have ignored factors such as sturdiness and disease-resistance. If you’d like to grow roses organically in the often-damp climate of the coastal Pacific Northwest, here are some varieties which are resistant to disease in moist/ humid climates: Cut-flower roses to bring indoors: Who doesn’t love a bouquet of fresh roses? Most disease-resistant varieties make poor cut flowers, but I’ve tried a number of roses in my clients’ gardens here in the damp Redwoods of Northern California, and these cut-flower roses do great here. [Read more...]

How to Treat Rose and Flower Pests Naturally: Organic Control of Black Spot/ Powdery Mildew, Aphids, and Caterpillars

If you’ve tried to prevent rose problems with the tips in this article, but still ended up with some pests (it happens!), here are the methods I recommend to get rid of pests on roses the organic way. (Obviously, before spraying anything, read the instructions on the bottle and be sure to suit up appropriately – organic choices are usually safer, but that doesn’t mean you want to get it on your skin or eyes.) [Read more...]

How to Treat Rose and Flower Pests Naturally: Prevention

The introduction to this series is here. Preventing pests with good gardening habits is the first step towards having healthy roses and flowers. Healthy plants are a lot less likely to get diseases, while sickly plants become overrun by problems very quickly. Not only that, attending to the basics of a healthy garden will get you better blooms, prettier foliage, and less maintenance overall. [Read more...]

How to Treat Rose and Flower Pests Naturally: Intro

Roses can be tough to grow organically, because they’ve been so over-bred for their honking big flowers that often, breeders paid little attention to disease-resistance. So you end up with these great frankenflowers that look fantastic – until midsummer when the black spot, caterpillars, and aphids move in. But – I admit it – I love roses too! There’s nothing like a deep red rose (grown from home, so it’s fragrant!) to mark a romantic occasion, or a spray of cheery pink roses tucked in a bouquet. So what’s a good organic gardener to do? No worries, dude. While growing roses can be a pain because so many varieties do get insects and diseases, there are a number of very effective things you can do to prevent rose pests and treat them organically if they do arrive. These treatments work for other flowers that get diseases, too. Click the links below to find out how to: Prevent rose pests such as aphids and powdery mildew by using good preventive gardening practices. Kill pests and eliminate diseases naturally using organic and biological (beast-eat-beast) controls. Read about some sturdy, disease-resistant roses that will bloom well for you in the damp Pacific Northwest Learn practical tips on how to love your garden as it is – bugs and all.

How to Kill Thrips Organically on Rhododendrons and Other Plants

Thrips are a tiny sucking insect that pester Rhododendrons (particularly many older varieties) and Azaleas, some evergreen Viburnums, Photinia, and occasionally other plants in the coastal Pacific Northwest. You can tell you have them because your ordinarily green leaves will develop a silvery sheen on them, while the undersides of the leaves will get little black spots from the thrips’ feces. Click here to see the silvery sheen caused by thrips. While thrips can be a hard pest to get rid of, there are some very effective organic and biological controls you can use. [Read more...]

Gardening Basics: How to Apply Mulch

We’ve talked about why a thick layer of mulch, composty soil, and good watering habits are important if you want to garden more organically; it’s all about giving your plants a foundation of good health so that pest problems will be few and far between. Today we’ll talk specifically about mulch: what it is, what type to use, how to apply it, and why mulching is the single most important thing you can do to improve the health of your plants and reduce maintenance time:
Mini fir bark chips used in the garden
Mini fir bark chips used as mulch
Mulching is when you add a layer of wood chips, chipped bark, shredded leaves, or other material to the top of your soil without mixing it in, so that it will hold down weeds, hold moisture in the soil, and contribute positively to your soil over time.

Why mulching is so over-the-top awesome for your garden:

  • A 3” thick layer of mulch will reduce the weeds that come up by 75% or more overnight – it is the single best organic weed control out there. Clients who don’t have mulch are shocked at the difference after we put down a good layer of wood mulch – it smothers the weed seeds that try to sprout from the soil below.
  • It helps your soil hold onto moisture so that you needn’t water so often.
  • It also keeps your soil from getting so compacted when you step on it to maintain your garden, and keeps hard rains and hot sun from forming a crust on your soil’s surface.
  • It keeps plants’ roots cool in summer and warm in winter.
  • It helps support the beneficial micro-organisms and worm populations that keep your soil aerated and help change the existing nutrients in your soil into a form your plants can use.
  • It can help keep some soil-borne bacterial diseases from harming delicate, over-bred plants like many roses.
  • In some cases, mulch can help with erosion control.
For all these reasons, if you want a low-maintenance garden with happy, healthy plants, mulching is the number-one thing you can do to have an immediate, dramatic impact on the time you spend weeding, and the overall happiness of your plants. [Read more...]

Gardening Basics: How to Amend Soil

We’ve talked about why composty soil, good watering habits, and a thick layer of mulch are important if you want to garden more organically; it’s all about giving your plants a foundation of good health so that pest problems will be few and far between. Today we’ll talk about how to know whether you need to add compost to your soil, how much to add, and how to mix it in: Rich soil makes for happy plants Most people have some idea of whether their soil leans towards sand, clay or loam. You can find out what soil type you have here, but for our purposes, it really isn’t important. The main thing to know is that adding compost will help any kind of soil. Got clay? Compost will help the tiny clay particles bind together in larger crumbs that allow for better drainage and less of that sticky clumping. Got sand? Compost will help it hold moisture. If you’re lucky enough to have that in-between loam, then compost will do a bit of both and help your plants stay happy and balanced in their soil home. [Read more...]

Soil, Water, and Mulch: The Three Key Steps to a Healthy Organic Garden

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. [Read more...]

Organic Snail and Slug Control: How to Kill Snails and Slugs Naturally

Garden Snail Snails and slugs are one of the most common pests in the garden, and the traditional pesticide treatment for them is particularly nasty. If you are transitioning to an organic garden, treating snails and slugs differently is an easy (and still highly effective) change that will have a great impact on your family’s health and safety. [Read more...]