gardens" is not a redundancy. Planting your little corner of the
world in grass or flowers or vegetables is great, but there are better
or worse ways to benefit the air, the soil and your own health. For a
more ecologically healthy garden, consider the following:
ē Recycle your plants. Putting out leaves or grass clippings with
the garbage, and then buying mulch and fertilizer, may be the silliest
practice in the world. Instead, develop your own little ecosystem,
where todayís plant waste becomes tomorrowís plant food.
With a mulching mower, grass clippings wonít hurt anything if
theyíre left on the lawn. But if you use the bag attachment, it will
fill up with excellent mulch material. Lay clippings down 2 or 3
inches thick, leaving holes for your garden plants, and weed problems
will be minimized for the summer. And come fall or next spring, youíve
added organic matter and nutrients to your soil.
The same goes for leaves. Mow over them twice, the second time with
the bag attachment, and youíve collected a protective winter blanket
for your garden beds.
ē Compost. Itís another way to use plants efficiently. Donít
use any animal products or waste, but toss in kitchen vegetable scraps
and yard waste. You can buy or make a bin, or just start a heap in a
place where the neighbors wonít notice it. A healthy heap wonít
smell bad. Compost is a fine top dressing for perennial beds, and
annuals (including vegetables) appreciate a trowelful in the bottom of
the hole where theyíre planted.
Over time, compost and appropriate plants will improve soil, slowly
turning the local clay into black, crumbly plant nirvana.
If composting isnít for you, garden stores offer organic
alternatives. Or take a look in your fishpond: Rob Green of Stano
Landscaping in Milwaukee recycles the gunk that collects in his
filter. "Itís a nasty, repulsive mixture, but itís great for
ē Pick the right plants. "Keeping plants healthy is one of
the best defenses," says Pat Williams of Johnsonís Nursery.
"If youíre trying to grow your sun plant in the shade, itís
never going to be healthy." Like any other predators, insects
will go for the sick or weak plants first, and gardeners can head them
off by choosing the right location and giving the right care.
"We all want to experiment," says Herb Rasmussen of Sandy
Bottom Nature Center in Delafield, but some plants donít grow here
naturally for a reason. Ask horticulturists at garden centers for good
options, and watch how your plants respond.
ē Use natural weed control. "Weeds are the messengers of
poor soil," says Darrell Smith of Earthcare Natural Lawn and
Landscape. But a simple technique to crowd them out, he says, is to
set your mower higher, perhaps at 3 inches. Longer grass (which has
deeper roots) means less sun and soil for weeds.
Similarly, in flowerbeds, Greenís favorite weed control strategy
is "overcrowd your plants." A bed full of flowers will have
no room for weeds.
ē Minimize chemicals. Identify your specific problem and seek a
specific solution, rather than randomly dumping the inventory of a New
Jersey refinery onto your property. "Itís sad to see people
carry away bags and bags of chemicals to fix a situation that isnít
a situation," Green says.
Much insect damage is superficial and temporary. "Wait and
take a deep breath, and many times the bugs are gone," says
Williams says people make the same mistake with pesticide as with
medication: "If a little bit is good, then a lot is better. Thatís
when you get into environmentally unsafe situations."