Going green in the garden

The Daily Ardmoreite
Pat Neasbitt
Master Gardener

The best way to garden green is to work with nature as much as possible. Right now in southern Oklahoma the weather is controlling everything about our gardening activities. Just in the last few weeks we have had one of the worst freezes in history and are still waiting to see if some of our plants survived. The temperatures are still getting into the 40’s at night, so we need to wait on planting warm season plants or have protection ready. I'm thinking it may be another one of those crazy Oklahoma gardening seasons where we go from winter to summer and skip right over springtime. That's so stressful on the plants, and they will need extra TLC to help them thrive. The following are suggestions for “going green” in your garden.

• Work With What You Have. Know what kind of soil you have and what the pH is. Growing in water-logged clay is different from growing in quick-draining sand. Know where the sun is in your yard at different times of the day and for how long. Know which plants will grow well in your area and put them where they will be happy. If you put a plant that needs shade in full sun in your Oklahoma garden, you are dooming it to a quick death.

• Good Soil Is The Key To A Good Garden. It's true that if you feed the soil the soil will feed the plants. Get a soil test, and follow the recommendations. Improve the soil, no matter what kind it is, by adding organic matter. Some of the best things to improve your soil are leaves and compost. Don't till the soil any more than necessary - it destroys the structure and disrupts the living organisms in it. It is absolutely imperative that you don't work the soil when it is wet. Put compost around established plants to feed the roots.

§ Mulch Everything. Use organic mulches such as chopped leaves, untreated grass clippings, compost, and shredded bark. Wait until your flowers and vegetables are up and growing well and then add a 3" layer of mulch around them to conserve moisture, regulate soil temperature, smother weeds, and break down to build soil fertility and feed the plants.

• Don’t Use Pesticides - Use IPM - Integrated Pest Management. Let the birds, butterflies, and beneficial insects take care of insect control for you. If you think they need a little help, use a sharp spray from the hose, hand picking, or insecticidal soap. Pesticides destroy all wildlife, including the good guys. If we kill all the insects, there will be no food source for wildlife and they will go where they can find what they need to survive. Healthy plants can withstand a little nibbling from the bad guys. Organic pesticides are still pesticides, so don't think just because it says "Organic" that it is safe. Some of the most lethal substances are organic: Nicotine, Ricin from Castor Bean plants, Cyanide, Digitalis, Foxglove, Arsenic, and many others.

• Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Refuse, and Rethink. You've heard it before, but we need to make a conscious effort to put it into practice. Use your waste plant materials from pruning and deadheading to make compost. Don't bag the leaves; mow them so they add nutrients to the lawn. If you do bag leaves, recycle them by shredding and using in the compost or as mulch around your plantings.

• Conserve Water. Water is our greatest natural resource. We’ve certainly seen this every summer just how much effect it has on our gardens. No matter how often you water with a hose, it just isn’t the same as rain from Mother Nature. Lawns use more water in the landscape than anything else. Mow the grass high, leave the clippings on the lawn, and use organic lawn care products that are safer for our families, our pets, and the environment.

If we all do our part by "Going Green" on our own little piece of the earth, we can give Nature a helping hand to conserve our resources and create a healthier, more beautiful place to live. Happy Gardening!