FORT LAUDERDALE — Kermit the Frog liked to say, "It's not easy being green." Little did he know that one day many of us would agree with him.
Being "green" or eco-friendly is politically correct. Recycling. Low- or no-VOC paints. Hybrid cars.
But how can you become an eco-gardener? Do natural pest controls really work? And will being green mean you will become a slave to your garden?
Carol Whitaker, owner of Pink Shovel Landscapes in Fort Lauderdale, is dedicated to creating naturescapes and teaching home gardeners about green gardening. She describes it best on her Web site, www.thepinkshovel.com.
"Just because your landscape has green plants in it, doesn't mean it's green," Whitaker says. "Green means sustainability, creating and maintaining a landscape which conserves and preserves our energy, our water, our natural resources, our environment and our way of life, and promoting an environment that will endure and provide into the future."
Here is her advice for making your garden green:
What are the worst things a gardener can do?
People often plant too deeply, and the plant goes into stress, deteriorates and dies. This is especially true with trees. Plant shrubs and trees at the same depth as they were in the pot. Second is the overuse of chemicals that can go into soil and end up in storm-water drains and our water supplies.
What are the best things a gardener can do to be green?
One of the best things you can do is plant a tree canopy in the front and back yards. Shade trees are more important than palm trees because they supply oxygen, prevent stormwater runoff, reduce air-conditioning costs and provide shelter for wildlife. People just don't plant enough shade trees.
What is the biggest trap for items that appear to be green but aren't?
One of my biggest pet peeves is everyone says to use recycled mulch. But people don't read the labels and realize how the product was made. Some of these mulches can actually hurt the environment. Red mulch is a prime example. Everyone loves it because it is pretty, but scientists have found it can have unsafe levels of arsenic and formaldehyde.
Red mulch is made from lumber debris. A study of the debris by Helena Solo-Gabriele of the University of Miami and Tim Townsend of the University of Florida found potential problems. Dyed landscape mulch that contains wood treated with CCA (chromium, copper and arsenic) can raise the arsenic in soil to unsafe levels. Read the labels carefully and avoid those that use particleboard or plywood.
How do you control pests in a green way?
I use dishwasher soap with water . . . or I use vegetable oil. It's a topical, but doesn't kill continually. Even with poisons you have to repeat treatment every seven to 14 days. Use 1 or 2 teaspoons of dishwasher soap per gallon of water. I go with 2 teaspoons and find it doesn't hurt the plant. This treatment works on aphids, thrips, scale and mealybugs.
How do you avoid chemical fertilizers?
One of the best preventive measures is to increase the quality of your soil. You can amend it with composted manure. This makes for healthy plants and roots that are more resistant to disease and you will be less likely to need to use fertilizers. You can find composted manure at any garden center. I like cow manure, and it seems to be readily available.
What do you think about grass, pro or con?
I am not a big fan of grass. . . . Some people use ferns as a ground cover. If you must use grass, I like Empire Zoysia.