In the Garden:
Mid-Atlantic
June, 2011
Regional Report

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Nature-based gardening products and a suburban-friendly chicken coop reflect our increasing interest in "greener" gardening and food production.

The Customer Speaks; The Industry Listens

"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe."
--Conservationist and foremost naturalist John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra, 1911

We gardeners are connected -- to the earth, to each other, to the palpable cycle of life. If fortunate, we see and feel and smell the process, the ebb and flow of beauty. We enjoy the flowers and fruits, marvel at the spider's web wet with morning dew, nudge the worm from the hot, hard sidewalk into the cool, soft grass.

Even in that idyllic world and state of mind, we can still be plagued by pests or poor soil or frustrating weather. So we go to our favorite garden center for horticultural first aid, guidance, new ideas, and fun stuff.

Have you noticed the sea change to many more natural, safer gardening supplies? The shift's scope recently surprised me -- lots of new, nicely packaged, eco-friendly products on shelves previously filled with chemicals. Microbe-based fungicides and pesticides, insecticide granules of clove and thyme. Even the odor tells the story -- more earthy, less industrial.

What's happening? I asked David Green, owner of Primex Garden Center in Glenside, PA. "No doubt about it," he said. A number of things are making gardening "greener," including customer demand, changing technology, more effective naturally-derived products, and government legislation restricting phosphorus in lawn fertilizers.

"We're listening to our customers," Green explained. People are asking for effective, safe, environmentally sound products. They're willing to pay more -- from 10 to 20% and up -- for non-toxics such as liquid corn gluten for weed control.

The biggest change is in more, better, naturally-based insect control products, Green said. "Now there are a lot of choices that are easier to use and give good results." Application amounts and frequency are different than the chemicals we're used to though. For best results, YES, read the directions.

The broad-spectrum, microbial insecticide spinosad flies off the shelf. It kills many pests on contact and by ingestion, yet has low to moderate environmental toxicity. The all-in-one insecticide neem, from seed of the neem tree, and multi-purpose horticultural oil continue as favorites.

People are starting to understand that plant health depends on healthy soil, Green's observed. "That's really encouraging. You've got to get the soil right first. Otherwise everything else is a waste of time and money." Improving the soil from day one means needing to use less fertilizer less often later on.

Among new soil improvement materials are peat-free potting soil with enriched with earthworm casings, fast-working liquid lime to neutralize soil acidity, and gypsum to improve heavy clay soil structure. Popular tried-and-trues remain, including kelp, fish emulsion, bat guano, worm castings, and alfalfa meal.

"The weed killer world has changed very little," Green said. Newer types of products burn foliage with citric acid or vinegar -- a temporary control. Systemic herbicides remain the solution for immediate, permanent demise. "We're hoping to see selective weed killers."

Gardeners still want to have fun. Enjoy fresh eggs and have poultry manure too. How about a chicken coop small enough for most any yard?


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