How to Safely Maintain a Mixed Landscape

Mixing edibles into the landscape with ornamentals creates a beautiful and interesting landscape that is also productive.  However, common synthetic landscape chemicals are not always recommended for use on edibles.  Plants absorb the chemicals we put on them through the roots and leaves.  The presence of these chemicals in and around the edible plant may make the plant and its produce unsafe for you and your family to eat.  So how do you maintain a healthy productive mixed landscape without the use of synthetic chemicals? By using safe organic alternatives to maintain your plants, it is possible to create a beautiful mixed landscape of  ornamentals and edibles without introducing unsafe toxins.

Fertilizers

Organic fertilizers are very popular now and can be found at most local garden stores or online sites.  These fertilizers come in liquid, granular, and pellet forms. Use the fertilizer that is right for your landscape.  Some plants, like roses and blueberries, have special nutritional needs. These nutritional needs can be met by simply using specialized organic fertilizers.  Generally however a simple all purpose slow release fertilizer spread over your lawn and landscape twice a year is all it takes to keep your plants healthy and productive all summer long.

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Compost

Compost is always recommended to improve the texture of the soil but it also adds nutritional value and trace elements to the soil that are necessary for proper plant growth and food production.  Compost can be purchased at most local garden stores but for those gardeners that wish to create their own compost or for more information about the nutritional value of compost in your landscape, please refer to my article on compost that will explain the ins and outs of compost and compost production.   Compost. What’s The Big Deal?

*Hint: In home-made compost, use only yard and grass clippings that have not been treated with synthetic chemicals, especially herbicides.  Synthetic chemicals do not break down naturally and may remain in the compost. If herbicides are present in your compost, you could inadvertently kill your entire landscape when the compost is applied.

Herbicides (Weed Killers)

Weeds are the bane of any garden.  Keeping up with the weeding takes a lot of time and energy. The CobraHead Garden Tool makes this job a lot easier.  See my review of the CobraHead at The CobraHead. An Amazing Garden Tool. But to reduce the time it takes to weed by hand, herbicides can be applied to help control the weed population in your garden and landscape. Although there are a great number of synthetic herbicides on the market, they can be dangerous to humans and animals.  Luckily there are a number of natural herbicides available to help control the weeds in your landscape.

CobraHead and Mini CobraHead
CobraHead and Mini CobraHead garden tools

Corn Gluten Meal:  Corn gluten meal is a byproduct of milling corn.  It is a natural fertilizer that also works as a pre-emergent herbicide.  A pre-emergent herbicide stops the plant from taking root once the seed begins to grow.  Be aware that corn gluten meal will stop all seeds from taking root, including garden and grass seeds.  Read the manufacturer’s directions before using this product if you intend to plant seeds in your garden or over-seed your lawn.

Vinegar Vinegar:  An easy and inexpensive herbicide that is common in most households is plain white vinegar.  Vinegar contains acetic acid which is deadly to plants.  Common household vinegar is safe for humans but manufactured vinegar herbicides may contain a stronger vinegar solution which can be hazardous to humans and pets.  If you choose to purchase a manufactured vinegar herbicide, read the manufacturer’s label for instructions prior to use.

Vinegar works as a herbicide by drying up the leaves of the plant.  It works best on young plants and annual weeds.  It does not kill the root of the plant so several applications may be necessary to kill larger plants or perennial weeds.  To use common household vinegar as a herbicide, simply pour full strength vinegar into a spray bottle and spray on the leaves of the undesired plant.  Vinegar will kill all plants indiscriminately so it may help to use a piece of cardboard to protect desirable plants while spraying.  This will keep them safe from the vinegar spray. Repeat as necessary until weeds are gone.

Fungicide

To prevent outbreaks of fungus in the garden or to treat fungus that is already present, there are several organic solutions.  If one of the following solutions does not work, modify the strength of the solution or try another solution as some fungus is more susceptible to certain treatments than others.

Cinnamon:  Cinnamon is a natural anti-fungal.  It works on many types of fungus but is especially good at preventing damping-off disease on seedlings.  To treat new seedlings growing in starter trays, try sprinkling cinnamon on the soil.  Cinnamon can also be made into a “tea” by steeping one tablespoon of cinnamon in a gallon of hot water.  Leave it overnight to cool.  When it has cooled, filter the “tea”, then pour it into a spray bottle.  Spray the “tea” directly on the plants and the soil.  Spray once a week to prevent an outbreak or to treat a current fungal infection.

013.jpg  Milk:  Milk is also naturally anti-fungal.  Milk works on current fungal infections but also works as a preventative as well. Mix milk (2% works best) and water in a ratio of 1:4 in a spray bottle.  Spray it on the affected plant once a week, making sure to spray the underside of the leaves as well.  Milk works best if it is sprayed on the plant in the early morning or in the evening as it needs to stay moist to kill the fungus. Repeat until the fungus is gone.

Cedar Oil:  Cedar oil, which can be purchased at most garden stores, has been shown to have both anti-fungal and insecticidal qualities.  Cedar oil as an insecticide is discussed below.  Cedar oil as an anti-fungal is applied by spraying the affected plant and works similar to the milk treatment.  Read the manufacturer’s label for proper mixture strength and application instructions.

Insecticides (Bug killers) and Deterrents

Insecticides kill bugs, while other products act as a deterrent.  Attempting to kill all the insects in your garden or landscape is not recommended as beneficial insects, like bees and lady bugs are just that, beneficial. They pollinate your vegetables and eat the destructive insects like aphids.  However, killing or deterring detrimental insects will help keep your landscape beautiful, productive, and comfortable to work in.

Dish soap  Dish SoapDish soap in an excellent insecticide.  It is safe and effective for use in the landscape and garden.  Insecticidal soaps may be purchased at most garden stores. Always follow the manufacturer’s directions for use.  To use regular dish soap as an insecticide on your plants, mix one tablespoon dish soap with one tablespoon olive oil or liquid vegetable oil in a spray bottle and fill the bottle with water.  Spray down the affected plant being sure to wet the leaves on the top and bottom.  Do not spray plants in direct sunlight as this may cause a condition called sun scald (sun burn) on your plant.  Also, some plants may be sensitive to dish soap so if in doubt, test the dish soap mixture on a small portion of the plant first and wait a few days.  If the plant remains healthy, it is probably safe to spray down the entire plant.

Dish soap insecticide works on contact with the body of the insect and has no residual effects so a few hours after treating your plant, use a hose or spray bottle with clean water, to wash down your plant and remove any soap residue and dead insects.  Repeat this process every three days until all signs of infestation are gone.

Cedar Oil:  Cedar wood smells good and has been used for hundreds of years to deter insects.  Cedar oil, when sprayed on the lawn, will deter fleas, ticks, mosquitoes and many other pest insects. There is a caveat.  Cedar oil will also deter beneficial insects like bees and butterflies so do not use it on plants that are in need of pollination, including garden vegetables and fruit trees, and in butterfly gardens.

Cedar oil is not harmful to plants, animals, or humans. It can be purchased at most garden stores or online.  Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for proper application.

Diatomaceous Earth:  Diatomaceous earth has been used for many years as an effective insecticide.    It is silicon dioxide that comes from the fossilized remains of ancient algae that is mined from the ground.  It is non-toxic and safe for home and garden use.  Diatomaceous earth is generally sold as a powder and remains effective as long as it stays dry.  It can be used in the house any place insects hide or it can be used in the garden either on the ground or as a dust to protect plants from harmful insects.

The powder is comprised of sharp microscopic pieces that cut the insect’s underside causing damage leading to dehydration and death.  It works best on soft bodied insects like aphids and gastropods like slugs and snails. Even though diatomaceous earth is non-toxic, care should be taken not to breath in the dust or get it in your eyes due to the substance’s sharp microscopic texture.  Using gloves and a mask is recommended to apply this product and always read the package instructions for proper use.

Beer or copper for Slugs:  Slugs can be a problem for any gardener.  They chew holes in leaves and can devastate plants in a short amount of time.  As I have already covered this topic thoroughly in a previous post I will simply add the link here:   The Trouble With Slugs  Mixing edibles into the landscape with your existing ornamentals can be extremely appealing visually as well as a productive use of your landscape space. With careful  organic plant maintenance, your plantings will be safe, productive, and very beautiful!

Happy Gardening!

Quote of the Day

“You’ve got to out on a limb sometimes because that’s where the fruit is.”

-Will Rogers, American Actor

Bonus Quote:

“The trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit.”

-Moliere, French playwright and actor

 

 

 

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Compost. What’s the Big Deal?

First, what is compost?  Compost is simply organic matter, such as grass clippings and leaves, that have been decomposed down to what looks like brown chunky dirt. Micro-organisms such as bacteria and fungi, and macro-organisms such as insects and earth worms, are responsible for the decomposition process. The resulting decomposed organic matter contains nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous that are essential for healthy plant growth.  Think of it as giving a vitamin supplement to your favorite plant to make sure it stays vital and healthy.  Amending the soil with compost either before planting or adding it around your existing plants boosts the vitality of your landscaping. Your plants will thank you with beautiful flowers, abundant fruit, and healthy greens and roots.

Second, how do you compost?  Gardeners have many different methods of composting. No one way is the “right” way. Some gardeners build fence-like structures with removable walls to hold compost while others purchase compost tumblers that can be rotated 180 degrees to speed the compost process. Some gardeners take a hands-on approach to their compost by adding water, purchasing bacteria or worms,  adding specific percentages of brown or green organic matter, and turning the compost at specific intervals all in an effort to speed the composting process. These methods are absolutely effective in creating nutrient rich compost for your garden.

I am a simple gardener, however, and I like to let Nature do what it does naturally. Organic matter will naturally degrade over time without human intervention.  My compost pile is just that, a pile. I don’t turn it. I don’t amend it.  I simply pile leaves, garden refuse, and kitchen scraps on the pile and let nature take over. (But, my dog does take a hands-on approach every now and again in his attempt to find the tasty kitchen scraps!) Every spring, I dig at the bottom of the pile and I scrape fresh compost out with a shovel to spread in my garden. This method works for me but each gardener must choose the method that works for them.

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Compost pile: Picture by Wanette Lenling

Each gardener must determine if and how they are going to create their compost pile. Research different methods if you have never composted to see what would work best for you. Also be aware that some homeowner’s associations may not allow simple compost piles due to the messy look or smell, so the gardener may need to purchase a tumbler or build a bin in order to hide the compost. Experiment with the method that works best for you to create organic compost to add the essential nutrients to your soil for beautiful healthy plants.

For more complete and in-depth information on composting, check out this great website from the Illinois extension office. https://web.extension.illinois.edu/homecompost/science.cfm

Happy Gardening!