Organic lawn, tree, and shrub care that works in concert with nature’s own system of checks and balances is ideal for developing a healthy, sustainable landscape, and reduces the use of chemicals and pesticide products. The proactive organic approach lays the groundwork for healthy turf and plantings, and can avoid costly problems later.
The foundation of a successful organics program is to maintain optimal soil conditions; this begins with a full site evaluation and soil test. A pH range of 6.3 to 6.9 is the level at which many nutrients are most available. The soil sample may reveal past soil treatments and help create a series of corrective measures and future maintenance plans. Perform periodic soil tests to identify new or continuing problems and to monitor your program’s success.
A holistic integrated pest management (IPM) approach can sharply reduce costly and toxic pesticide use in many situations. Spraying with garlic oil kills fleas and repels ticks and mosquitoes; horticultural oil applications produce good results against egg masses and immature insect stages. Less toxic chemicals are now available, which work at low doses and are labeled as low-risk pesticides. When needed, use IPM spot treatments instead of blanket spraying of chemicals to ensure that beneficial insects remain.
Tree trunk injections are a very effective way to treat arbor disease, and the closed system leaves no chemical residue behind. One set of injections can last up to 2 years. During this process, fertilizers and growth regulators can be added to maintain the trees’ health while keeping growth in scale with the buildings and surroundings – and cutting your pruning expenses.
Your landscaper or arborist should walk the entire property regularly to gauge the potential for, or evidence of, diseases and pests, thereby limiting the need for chemical treatments. This practice will help you budget and plan in advance for anticipated treatments and applications.
Natural sources of nitrogen help increase the soil’s organic content. Some natural sources are feathermeal, bone meal, blood meal, and kelp. Biostimulants and micronutrients improve soil structure and aid in superior uptake of vital elements, such as nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus, which improve overall plant vigor and endurance.
In colder weather and stressful periods, natural additives and alternative fertilizers, such as calcium nitrate, potassium-based fertilizer, and compost tea, will improve the turf’s resistance to disease. Multiple sources of nutrients assure that they will be available over a range of climatic changes.
Always use the proper seed blend and vary the plantings in any landscape; biodiversity is one of Mother Nature’s cleverest tricks for achieving balance. Keep mower blades sharp, and recycle nitrogen-rich grass clippings to improve organic matter. Cut at 3 to 0.5 inches to shade the soil (especially during summer months) and discourage weed growth. Over-seeding in the fall will be the most effective and friendly weed killer next spring; weeds cannot emerge through thick, healthy grass.
Water longer and less frequently – no more than 3 days a week. The water will penetrate further into the soil, encouraging root growth and health. Check your facility’s sprinkler system to ensure that the rain sensors are set properly to avoid unnecessary operation and water waste.
Combined, these steps create a healthier eco-system on your site and a healthier environment for your tenants.
Mike Cioffi leads the lawn maintenance and organics divisions at Borst Landscape and Design in Allendale, NJ.