Going Organic? Find Out What You Need to Do to Get Started Growing Healthy Lawns & Gardens

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Like many home gardeners, you have decided to stop using synthetic fertilizers, soil amendments, pesticides and herbicides, but going organic is a process rather than an overnight transformation. Soil that has been fed a diet in synthetic fertilizers often has poor microbial activity or an imbalance of nutrients. Here’s a round-up of steps you can take to turn your nutrient-starved soil back to a more productive and thriving home for your plantings.

1. Get a Soil Test

If you plan on going organic, you should first know the state of your soil. A soil test will tell you exactly what’s missing or what nutrients are out of balance. You may actually need no additional  soil amendmentsfertilizer, or compost, so a soil test is a small initial investment that will save you time and money in the long-run. Contact your local cooperative extension about doing a test.

2. Get Composting

Garden Composting Tip from Great Garden Supply

The secret to healthy soil is microbial activity. To get those bacteria and fungi growing, they need food, and adding compost to your lawn and gardens is one of the best ways to do that. Composted yard waste and composted kitchen scraps provide food to our little microbial friends (and food for earthworms too) that they need to thrive and multiply. They in turn, break-down that compost, making nitrogen and other important nutrients available for your plants. You can buy ready-made  compost bins, build one, or just set aside an area in your yard for open-pit composting. If you haven’t started composting and want to add some to your soil, you can also order high-quality screened compost by the yard, or purchase bagged composts online.

3. Pick the Right Plants

Finicky plants that are pest or fungi magnets will make your life as an organic gardener a nightmare. If you are putting in a new garden bed, look for native plants or newer disease-resistant varieties right for your climate and region. The same advice applies if you are putting in a new lawn – seed with a high-quality grass seed—even consider planting a  low-input grass seed that needs less water and fertilizer. For veggie gardens, try to grow types that are grown locally or look for seed types that are resistant to common diseases in your area, and consider companion planting.

Selecting plants that are bred for your hardiness-zone, soil type, or rain-fall level is a better strategy than constantly needing to baby plants that aren’t suited to your growing conditions.

Organic Garden Products - Are they Right for You?

Now that you have a primer on soil testing, composting, and plant selection, it’s time to start learning about how and when to use organic gardening products.

So what does “organic” actually mean and why does it matter? Strictly from a chemistry standpoint, something is organic if it is carbon-based (made from something that was once alive). However, over the years, people have come to think of organic products as ones that are found in nature or are manufactured in a sustainable way. No matter what type of product you use in your garden, it is important to read the product label and follow directions carefully.

Where Do Organic Fertilizers Come from and How Do Organic Fertilizers Work?

Organic fertilizers can come from several different sources, animal waste (chicken, cow manure, and earthworm castings for example), animal byproducts (blood meal, bone meal, lobster compost), or decomposed plant matter (peat, compost). Each type of fertilizer has varying levels of Nitrogen, Potassium, and Phosphorous.

Generally, organic fertilizers are considered slow-release fertilizers. That is, the fertilizer must first be broken down by soil microbes before plants can use them. That’s why you can apply organic fertilizers at almost any time of the year, but you should expect that plants won’t benefit for a few weeks or even months if the soil is cooler (soil bacteria slow down in cold weather). Luckily, many organic fertilizer companies make “quick-release” formulas too. Look for “quick release” or “water soluble” on your organic fertilizer labels if you want a more fast-acting fertilizer, which can be handy if you are putting in a new lawn, flower-bed, or vegetable garden when the weather is cool.

What Does (N-P-K) Mean and Why is it Important?

Garden Tip - Get Your Soil Tested - Great Garden Supply

Different types of organic fertilizers have varying levels of Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P), and Potassium (K). A good way to remember what the N-P-K means is to know the saying, "Up, Down, and All Around," which means Nitrogen is for making your plants grow "up", Phosphorous helps plants grow healthy roots "down", and Potassium helps plants grow in size in general "all around."

In the spring, Nitrogen is what turns your grass green and helps plants put out leaves. Phosphorus helps plants develop longer, thicker root systems, and it helps them grow seeds, flowers, and fruits (the non-leafy parts of the plant). Many gardeners switch to a higher phosphorus fertilizer when they want to grow bigger flowers and fruits. Potassium helps in the overall metabolic activity in plant cells. When plants don’t get enough potassium, they don’t use water very efficiently and don’t respond well to stress like heat or common plant diseases like fungal infections.

A balanced fertilizer, one where the N-P-K levels are all equal, is generally considered a good all-purpose fertilizer that you can apply at almost any time of the year. If you buy one fertilizer all year, a  balanced fertilizer is probably your safest bet.

View this quick video on Going Organic!


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  • Organic Gardening
  • Organic Lawn Care
  • Seed Selection
  • Organic Fertilizer
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