Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Oooh, many good articles... The Green Guide's e-newsletter today (get a subscription; you won't regret it!). Can't post them all, so I'll choose my favorite:

Green Guide 119 March/April 2007
Gardeners, Get Ready!
by Erica Glasener

You've perused catalogues full of luscious descriptions of plants throughout the winter, the farmer's market is brimming with blooms, and now that spring is here, it's time to plan and prepare your garden. Once soil temperatures warm up to between 65 and 70 degrees F or higher and the threat of frost has past, you're set to transplant seedlings or sow seed directly in the garden.

As you prepare, take time to examine the "bones" of your landscape. Do you have a balance of evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs? Have plants matured, changing a formerly sunny garden into a shady spot? You can use a hose to decide where new beds will be added. Lay it on the ground and move it around until you are happy with the bed lines. Visit your local Arboretum or Botanical Garden to find out which plants thrive in your region. And if frosts still threaten, you can cover blooms at night with a sheet, but make sure to remove it during the day when temperatures warm up.

What To Grow?
As you select plants and flowers, pick those appropriate to your region, and buy a few extra in case some die during the year. Incorporating native plants will be helpful—they require less water and, having evolved in the region, resist insects and diseases better than non-natives. In damper climes, certain plants, such as bald cypress (Taxodium distichum), Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica) and deciduous hollies like Sparkleberry (Ilex), will not only tolerate wet soils but will thrive. And don't forget the wildlife: Berried shrubs like native Viburnums will attract songbirds and other avian life to your yard (but be careful to keep cats away). Refer to regional gardening books and plant societies for recommendations about what to plant in your garden (see "Resources" below).

This year enjoy the fruits of your labors literally—grow your own organic vegetables. All you need is six or more hours of direct sun, good garden soil, water and a little patience. Plant when the temperature is right: Crops like lettuce, radishes, spinach and other greens don't mind slightly cooler soil temperatures, but tomatoes, watermelons, squash and pumpkins (as well as many flowers) need warmer soil and air to flourish. Even if you just have a couple of large pots, you can easily grow cherry tomatoes, basil, hot peppers and other herbs.

Weed, weed, weed. Pull weeds as soon as they appear. Any weeds you eliminate now will not set seeds, which means less work throughout the rest of spring. Clean up the garden if you didn't do it in the fall. Leaves should be raked off beds and put into a compost pile. With certain plants like roses, garden phlox and camellias, dead leaves should be destroyed. A soil test (see below) is an inexpensive way to find out what nutrients may be lacking, as well as determine the acidity (pH) of the soil. The results will help you select an appropriate organic fertilizer to add for your vegetables or ornamentals. By amending your soils you can also prevent problems like blossom end rot of tomatoes, caused by a lack of calcium, or yellow leaves, caused by a lack of iron.
Once a garden plot or planting bed is weed-free, top dress it with compost (two inches deep) and let it sit until early spring when you can till it into the soil.

The Test
Find your local USDA extension service at and they can give you details on how to bring a soil sample to them (there is a nominal fee, which is usually less than $10).

Taking the sample:

Start with a clean trowel and bucket.
1. Take ten hearty plugs or scoops of soil (each plug should be four to six inches deep).
2. Mix the ten plugs together once they have been collected in the bucket.
3. Remove stone, grass, worms and other materials. Scoop out two 8-ounce cups of soil—a representative sample from a particular area. Repeat these steps for areas with different types of soil. Let the Extension Service know the types of plants you plan to grow, and they can test it for individual plants like azaleas or tomatoes.

Pest Control
Americans apply over 100 million pounds of pesticides and herbicides around their homes each year. And children of parents who use pyrethroid insecticides around the home have higher urinary levels of those pesticides than children whose parents don't, according to Environmental Health Perspectives (see Food for Thought: Healthy Habits for Back-To-Schoolers and Beyond). Common insecticide ingredients such as 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D), atrazine and dicamba have been shown to harm mouse embryos at times equivalent to the first week after conception in humans. So keep these chemicals away from your children and out of our waterways by using pesticide-free methods.

An earth-friendly approach to control slugs, whether in the vegetable garden or the hosta bed, is to recycle the black cell packs your vegetable starts or annuals come in. Place the empty containers upside down near the base of plants. As the plants mature, hide the cell packs under the leaves. Each morning, check the containers for pests, and if you find any, simply throw the container away with the pests inside (or, if you don't wish to harm them, leave the slugs in an empty lot). Another easy method for slug control is to use grapefruit rinds (1/2 of a grapefruit with the meat scooped out). When the slugs crawl into the rind, dispose of it.

More pest control tips:
*Know the rodents and other animals that might visit your garden; visit your local USDA extension for information.
*Remember that a strong blast of hose water will blow insects off your foliage without applying a single chemical.
*When all else fails, use barriers like chicken wire to protect your prize tomatoes—I tried drenching mine with hot pepper spray and the rabbits attacking them just laughed.
So get your hands dirty this spring and enjoy your hours outdoors. The care you put into preparing your soil and getting plants from better sources will mean less time spent worrying over pest and disease problems and more bounty to share with your neighbors.

This Organic Life: Confessions of Suburban Homesteader by Joan Dye Gussow (Chelsea Green, 2002, $19.95)
Pest Control: Bio-Integral Resources Center: information about pest management,
For more information about organic pest control visit
Lawn Care Product Report,
Native plants: Native Plant Societies of the U.S.,
Native Plant Conservation Campaign,
Tools: "Pay Dirt For Gardeners," GG #119
Greener Garden Supplies Product Report,

"To be conscious that you are ignorant is a great step to knowledge." ~ Benjamin Disraeli (1804 - 1881)