Common sense in the garden: Mulch, don't overwater and use chemicals judiciously

As the author of The Green Gardener's Guide, I've written the book, literally, on essential ways to green your garden while protecting the planet. But at the risk of hindering future sales, if I had to narrow it down to just a few things, the following list will get you well on your way. Joe Lamp'l, Scripps Howard News Service

1. Right Plant, Right Place: If there were only one bit of advice I'd give for creating the healthiest garden possible, it would be to put the right plant in the right place. Plants in distress shut down or try to divert energy in an effort to survive. Often our misguided solution is to pour on the fertilizer or pesticide, when all that was probably needed was to change the plant's location.

2. Mulch, Mulch, Mulch: Applying about a 3-inch layer around trees and plants helps retain moisture, moderates soil temperatures and suppresses weeds. In addition, a protective mulch barrier blocks many soil-dwelling diseases from exposing themselves to foliage and infecting plants. Even as it breaks down, mulch is improving your soil with valuable organic matter.

3. Feed the Soil: Healthy soil is alive with creatures that play vital roles in water uptake, nutrient availability, soil drainage and moisture retention. Provide natural amendments like compost, aged manure and organic matter to fortify what's already there.

4. Water Deeply, Infrequently and Responsibly: One of our worst offenses is how we waste water in our gardens and landscapes. More plants die from overwatering than not. Plants respond more favorably to infrequent, deep watering, as close to the root zone as possible, rather than short applications often. Deep watering promotes deep root growth, which in turn promotes more vigorous top growth and a more drought-tolerant plant.

5. If Using Chemicals, Act Responsibly: By applying the other steps mentioned here, you'll eliminate many problems that would otherwise require chemical intervention. Quite often, however, the bigger problem with using chemicals lies with the person applying them. We incorrectly think that if a little is good, more is better. Stick to the label instructions, keep on target and use them only as a last resort.

6. Select Tools That Don't Pollute: Lawn mowers, weed whackers and blowers spew greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Fortunately, battery-operated and electric models are now formidable replacements, and there are plenty available.

7. Manage Horticultural Waste Properly: Being a greener gardener also means making wise decisions when disposing of waste such as plastic pots, yard debris and chemicals. According to the USDA, about 65 percent of any landfill is unnecessary because it can be composted or recycled. Moreover, 25 percent comes from compostable yard debris and kitchen scraps.

Joe Lamp'l, host of "Garden SMART" on PBS, is a master gardener and author.

Common sense in the garden: Mulch, don't overwater and use chemicals judiciously 10/30/09 [Last modified: Friday, October 30, 2009 8:22pm]

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