In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
January, 2008
Regional Report

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Gator Guardian by artist Bill Broadus personifies organic attitude.

Going Organic

Once considered "old timey," then "hippie chic," organic is now the cool and responsible way to garden. You may not have thought about it, but you're probably going organic already in some ways. When you choose locally adapted plant varieties, put mulch around plantings, and start a compost pile, you are practicing organic gardening principles. Take the next steps this year by using water more efficiently with soaker and drip systems, focusing on soil improvement, and choosing less toxic methods of battling insects and weeds.

Watering
Smart water systems of all sorts -- automated, manual, in-ground, and others -- are now available for container gardens and home landscapes from small to large. The savings in water will return your investment in short order.

Organic Matter Works Wonders
When gardeners improve soil, roots grow more efficiently to produce thrifty plant growth. Any species growing at its best will be better able to resist or withstand the inevitable pests that will attempt trouble. Amending our native soils with organic matter improves the root zone. Sandy soils hold water more dearly, clay and gumbo soils drain more efficiently.

Perhaps the best approach to adding more organic practices to your gardening regime is a simple one: blanket every bed and the entire lawn with an inch of compost. If you have plenty or if your community makes compost, use that, but sift it (as through a mesh) so small pieces can fall into the lawn and be worked into the beds more easily. Bagged composts are widely available, too. Spread it once or twice a year, no matter what else you do or don't do organically, and your soil will be better able to sustain all types of plants.

Wait on the Poison
Organic or not, most pesticides and herbicides work because they are toxic to something. Organic pesticides often work more slowly than chemical controls, especially when they work by repellling or interferring with feeding; and they linger for a shorter time in the environment. But the first step in solving garden pest issues is identifying the problem early, using physical controls and cultural practices to the extent possible, and then selecting the least-toxic product labeled for that particular problem. It's a shift in attitude, to be sure, and one you will never regret.


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