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First Steps: Organic Land Care

Yes, you can do it

Thinking about creating an organic environment outside may seem like a daunting task, but by understanding some basic principles anyone is capable of doing it. In its simplest form organic gardening is a method of growing plants as part of a natural system rather than growing a plant for its own sake. The guiding principles of organic gardening and land care are Do No Harm and the Precautionary Principle. Keeping these in mind, we can create low-impact, self-sustaining, healthy eco-systems around our homes just by updating a few of our gardening and land care practices.

Here are a few steps to implement:

Take a hike

Go out and find which plants naturally grow in native soils and see how they interact with each other. Selecting the right plant for the right place helps reduce the need for inputs later on.

Go west, young man

Western Massachusetts that is—to the UMass Soil and Plant Tissue Testing Laboratory. Order appropriate soil tests to determine soil pH, extractable nutrients and percent of organic matter at a minimum of every three years, or at recommend intervals. Follow the prescription designed specifically for your property.

Shop till you drop

Buy healthy, locally grown plants from reputable nurseries. Remember to “drop the pot” and inspect the plant’s roots. Look for a rooting system that is free of pests, has good structure and is not bound up in its container.

Location, location, location

Properly siting plants can help conserve energy in your home. Deciduous trees to the south help cool during the summer months and provide sun exposure during the winter.

Water, water everywhere

Follow a watering schedule that provides no more than an inch per week, only when needed, and only in areas that need it. Water early in the morning (before you take a shower early) to help prevent the spread of plant disease.

Food, glorious food

Treat lawns and gardens to an annual smorgasbord of finely finished compost of your own making. Recycle and reuse those leaves and clippings rather than trucking them away. Apply no more than ¼? at a time so you don’t smother the plants.

A bee, or not a bee

Take time to recognize the difference between “beneficial” and pest organisms (insects, fungi, etc.) in the landscape. When the system is in working order a balance is struck that is not only fascinating, but efficient.

Better to be pruned to grow

Even a properly sited specimen may need some pruning to improve its structure and health. Other reasons for pruning include safety, flower/fruit production and aesthetics. Often it is better not to prune than to prune improperly.

Clean up after yourself

Seasonal  clean-ups are required to keep your landscape in tip-top shape. Spent stems, leaves  and flowers make for excellent compost stock but can harbor pests if left on the landscape for too long.

Article originally written for Naturally New England.