Even More Options
Gardening naturally does not mean abandoning all chemicals and simply letting all those predators have free range and first taste of all your hard work. When necessary, use a host of naturally derived, perfectly safe chemicals to ensure the balance doesn't get out of whack. Here are some commonly available natural insecticides listed in order of their strength. Start with the mildest treatment to limit inadvertently damaging beneficial insects.
- Neem oil--a naturally derived oil from the neem tree that controls a wide range of insects, including beetles, caterpillars, and thrips
- Insecticidal soap--soapy water that suffocates insects
- Diatomaceous earth--a natural powder that kills soft-skinned insects, such as caterpillars
- Pyrethrums--strong, naturally derived pesticides that kill pests such as beetles, aphids, and caterpillars on contact
What About the Weeds?
If a "natural" garden breeds images of shoulder-high grass and spending your weekends battling the Bermuda, breathe deeply--there is hope. The best way to minimize how much effort you spend weeding is to prevent the weeds from having a chance to grow. Here are some easy tips to do just that.
- Don't let weeds go to seed.
- Cover exposed soil with straw mulch, or purchase some landscape fabric.
- Water only the plants you are trying to grow. Water deeply and infrequently.
- Plant your vegetables close enough together so they will create a "living mulch," with the mature plants' leaves touching one another. This also keeps the soil cool and prevents moisture evaporation.
Keys to a Successful Natural Garden
1. Use lots of compost to build up soil health.
2. Encourage a diversity of insects by having flowering plants in the garden all the time.
3. Select disease-resistant plants from reliable sources, and buy only healthy seedlings.
4. Don't leave soil exposed to eroding winds, rain, and passing weed seeds.
"Gardening Naturally" is from the June 2007 issue of Southern Living.