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Basic Organic Gardening: Easier Than You Think

by | Apr 26, 2022 | Gardening | 0 comments

It’s easy for home gardeners to cultivate a lush lawn and garden without resorting to the chemical fertilizers and pesticides that threaten our waters, wildlife, families, and pets.

Common sense, good garden practices, natural fertilizers, and alternative pesticides are the foundation of organic gardening.

To go organic, you’ll need to:

  1. Stop using all synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
  2. Start recycling organic matter, composting, mulching, and building soil health with organic products.
  3. Use native and well-adapted introduced plants.

We’ll show you how.

Weak plants are more inviting to insect pests than healthy plants. Sound gardening practices that ensure plant health are the best natural protection against insects and disease.

Building a Solid Foundation

Start by combining native soil with a soil amendment, such as steer manure, sheep manure, pine bark, peat moss, or gypsum.

Keep your garden mulched, pruned, weeded, and adequately watered. Use plants more resistant to unwanted insects.

Planting Your Organic Yard & Garden

  • Scraping away existing grass and weeds to prepare your plant beds.
  • Add a 4 to 6-inch layer of compost: lava sand at 40-80 lbs; organic fertilizer at 20 lbs; and wheat/corn/molasses amendment at 30 lbs per 1,000 sq. ft.
  • Till native soil to a depth of 3 inches.
  • In your planting layer, don’t use introduced ingredients like concrete sand, peat moss, foreign soil, and pine bark.
  • Shrubs and flowers need more compost. Groundcover can get by with a little less.
  • Add greensand to black and white soils and high-calcium lime to acid soils.
  • Decomposed granite serves as an effective amendment for all soils.

Organic Fertilizing

  • Apply an organic fertilizer two or three times per year.
  • Use foliar feeding during the growing season. Spray turf, tree and shrub foliage, trunks, limbs, and soil at least once a month with Garrett Juice.
  • Add volcanic sand, such as lava sand at 40-80 lbs per 1,000 sq ft.
  • Add dry molasses and humate for the first few years of growth.

Mulching Practices

  • Mulch all shrubs, trees, ground cover, and food crops with 2 to 5 inches of shredded native tree trimmings to protect soil from sunlight, wind, and rain.
  • Mulch also inhibits weed germination, decreases watering requirements, and stabilizes soil temperature.
  • Avoid Bermuda grass, which may have herbicide residue, and use other natural mulches instead.
A garden with freshly applied mulch

A garden with freshly applied mulch

Watering the Organic Lawn & Garden

An organic gardening program will reduce your need for water. That’s good news in Southern California!

  • Water only as necessary.
  • Add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar per gallon of water when watering pots.
  • Use 1 oz of liquid humate in acid soils.

Mowing the Lawn

  • Mulch clippings into the lawn to return nutrients and organic matter to the soil.
  • Add any excess clippings to your compost pile.
  • Don’t allow clippings to leave the site.
  • Don’t use line trimmers around shrubs and trees.
  • Mowing requirements vary with growing conditions and the type of grass you plant; Buffalo grass needs less mowing than any other variety.
Power mower cutting the grass

An organic gardener should compost with organic clippings only.

Weeding the Lawn & Garden

  • Pull large weeds by hand. Work on soil health for overall control. Mulch all bare soil.
  • Avoid synthetic herbicides, such as pre-emergents, broad-leaf treatments, soil sterilants, and especially the SU (sulfonylurea) herbicides, such as Manage and Oust.
  • As a last resort, spray broadleaf weeds with full-strength vinegar combined with 2 ounces of orange oil and 1 teaspoon of liquid soap. Commercial products are available.

Pruning Plants

  • Remove dead, diseased, and conflicting limbs.
  • Don’t over prune.
  • Don’t make flush cuts — leave branch collars intact.
  • Don’t paint cuts except on oaks in oak-wilt areas when pruning in the spring.
  • Remember that pruning cuts hurt trees. Pruning is done for your benefit, not for the benefit of your plants.


Compost is nature’s fertilizer. You can make it yourself or buy it at Anawalt and start it at any time of the year in sun or shade.

  • Almost anything organic can go into compost — grass clippings, tree trimmings, food scraps, bark, sawdust (from untreated wood), rice hulls, weeds, nut hulls, and animal manure.
  • Mix the ingredients and pile the material on the ground, or use a compost bin.
  • The best mixture is 80% vegetative matter and 20% animal waste, although any organic mix will compost.
  • Oxygen is a critical for composting. Use coarse and fine-textured ingredients to promote air circulation throughout the pile. Turn the pile periodically to accelerate the composting process.
  • Water is another critical component. A compost pile should contain the approximate moisture of a squeezed-out sponge to help the living organisms in it work their magic.
  • Compost is ready for the garden when the ingredients are no longer identifiable. The color will be dark brown, the texture soft and crumbly, and it will smell like the forest floor — and not, well, a compost heap.
  • You can apply rough, unfinished compost as a topdressing mulch around all plantings.
A man puts vegetables into a compost bin.

Composting kitchen scraps.

Making Compost Tea

Manure compost tea is an effective foliar spray because of its mineral nutrients and naturally occurring microorganisms.

  • Fill any container half full of compost. Finish filling it with water.
  • Let the mix sit for a few days, then dilute and spray it on the foliage of plants.
  • A rule of thumb is to dilute the leachate down to one part compost liquid to 4 to 10 parts water.
  • When ready, the spray should look like iced tea.
  • Strain the solids out with old pantyhose, cheesecloth, or similar material.
  • Full-strength tea makes an excellent fire ant mound drench mixed with 2 oz molasses and 2 oz orange oil per gallon.
  • Add vinegar, molasses, and seaweed to make Garrett Juice.

Dealing with Pests Organically

Here are some ways to control insects in your garden naturally:

  • Interplant repellent crops and flowers. Certain plants produce strong odors or cause abnormal insect development. Planting repellant vegetation close to vulnerable plants offers protection. Examples of repellant plants include marigolds, onions, garlic, and hot peppers.
  • Provide food, water, and shelter for birds. Birds can help keep your insect population in check.
  • Use beneficial insects to counterbalance insect pests. Ladybugs, lacewings, trichogramma wasps, and praying mantis fall in the “beneficial” category.
  • Apply neem oil, insecticidal soap, or an organic bug spray from Anawalt Hardware & Lumber.
Black caterpillars on a leaf.

Most pests can be controlled organically.

Controlling Plant Diseases

  • Spray Garrett Juice plus garlic and/or neem for black spot, brown patch, powdery mildew, and other fungal problems.
  • Add baking soda or potassium bicarbonate for more serious problems.
  • Treat soil with horticultural cornmeal at 20 or so lbs/ 1,000 sq ft.
  • Typically, organic gardens have few disease problems. The best control method is prevention through soil improvement, avoiding high-nitrogen fertilizers, and proper watering.

Garlic-Pepper Tea Insect Repellent

  • Fill a blender with water and liquefy 2 bulbs of garlic and 2 cayenne or habanero peppers.
  • Strain off the solids. Pour the garlic-pepper juice into a 1-gallon container.
  • Fill the remaining volume with water to make 1 gallon of concentrate.
  • Shake well before using; add 1/4 cup of the concentrate to each gallon of water in a sprayer.
  • To make garlic tea, omit the pepper and add another garlic bulb.
  • For extra potency, add 1 tablespoon of seaweed and molasses to each gallon.
  • Always use plastic containers with loose-fitting lids for storage.

Garrett Juice (foliar spray and soil drench)

  • Mix the following per gallon of water: 1 cup of compost tea or liquid humate, 1 oz liquid seaweed, 1 oz blackstrap molasses, and 1 oz apple cider vinegar.
  • To make a mild insect control product, add 1 oz of citrus oil per gallon of spray.
  • Add 2 oz of citrus oil per gallon to make fire ant killer.
  • When spraying plant foliage, don’t use more than 2 oz of citrus oil per gallon of spray.
  • This mixture also works as a soil detox product.

Dirt Doctor’s Potting Soil

  • Mix 8 parts compost, 4 parts peat moss or cow peat, 4 parts lava sand, 2 parts decomposed granite sand, 2 parts cedar flakes, 1 part zeolite, 1 part horticultural cornmeal, 1 part dry molasses, and 1 part greensand.

FAQ: Organic Gardening

Q: Why choose organic gardening over conventional methods?

A: Organic gardening is sustainable, reduces chemical use, and supports healthy ecosystems. It promotes biodiversity and soil health and reduces the gardener’s carbon footprint, making it an environmentally friendly choice.

Q: What kind of fertilizers can I use in organic gardening?

A: Organic fertilizers are derived from natural sources, such as compost, green manure, bone meal, or seaweed. These organic materials enrich the soil with nutrients and improve soil structure.

Q: How can I control pests in my organic garden?

A: Organic pest control involves crop rotation, interplanting, using natural predators, barriers, and homemade remedies like soap sprays. These methods keep pest populations under control while being safe for plants and the environment.

Q: Can I start an organic garden in any type of soil?

A: Success largely depends on improving the soil’s health by adding organic matter like compost. Over time, this will improve soil texture, fertility, and water retention.

Q: How much more expensive is organic gardening vs. conventional gardening?

Q: Organic gardening might require a higher initial investment in time and resources to establish natural pest control and fertility systems. However, over time, the reduced need to purchase chemical fertilizers and pesticides can actually result in savings.

Q: Is organic produce really healthier?

A: Organic produce contains far fewer harmful chemicals. Some studies suggest that organic produce may have higher levels of certain nutrients. However, the most significant benefits are environmental health and sustainability.

Q: How do I know if seeds are suitable for organic gardening?

A: Look for certified organic seeds. This ensures the seeds were produced without synthetic chemicals and are non-GMO. Many seed suppliers offer a range of organic seeds suitable for organic gardening practices.

Q: Can I still garden organically if I only have a small space or balcony?

A: Organic gardening is adaptable to spaces of all sizes. Container or vertical gardening are great options for tight spaces, allowing you to grow various plants organically with limited square footage.

Q: How can I transition my existing garden to organic?

A: Transitioning to organic gardening begins with phasing out chemical inputs and introducing organic matter into your soil. It also involves adopting practices like companion planting, cover cropping, and developing biodiversity to support a healthy ecosystem within your garden. This transition might take a season or two, but the environmental and health benefits are well worth it.

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