Cultivating a green garden is a delight, whether it’s outdoors or on your windowsill or rooftop. You can grow your favorite flowers in small sunny spaces and produce a serviceable supply of vegetables in containers on your deck.
Starting a savvy garden
Starting a garden can either cost a lot, or take a lot of time. A trip to a local plant nursery is a good way to get a jump on a lush garden, but costs can add up. One savvy cost-saving strategy is to plant heirloom seeds. Heirloom seeds produce some of the tastiest, most nutritious tomatoes, peppers and herbs. These seeds are the open-pollinated kind that generations have saved so they can grow the best varieties again and again.
Most seeds today are hybrids or genetically engineered, and while they may grow faster and be more disease resistant, heirlooms top them for taste and genetic variety. Planting and saving heirloom seeds helps keep diversity alive and available to future generations. For a good source of seeds, I like Seeds of Change.
The closer your garden is to your home, the greener, or less toxic, you’ll want to keep it to limit the time you spend breathing in chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Some people worry that green methods won’t work as well as harsher products. But why not give it a try, especially in you have small children and pets. Also pregnant women need to be especially careful with garden chemicals.
Natural fertilizers are easy to find and to use. Eco-friendly gardening materials are available everywhere now, even at Amazon.com, The Home Depot and CVS stores.
TerraCycle makes plant food and fertilizer using worm castings packaged in recycled soda bottles.
Plus you’ll find some helpful books (listed below) that tell you specifically what to do to create and keep an amazing green and natural California garden.
Get Rid of Pests The Natural Way
Yes we want to encourage honey bees, butterflies, ladybugs, and other beneficial wildlife to our gardens, but other wildlife may not be so wonderful close to home.
You want the bad bugs to stay out of your garden and your home, but you want to stay away from toxic pesticides, too. What do you do?
The best option: practice green pest control, especially near your personal living space. “Pay attention every day so you can catch pests and pick them off,” says Joe Lamp’l, aka joe gardener, author of Over the Fence with Joe Gardener and The Green Gardener’s Guide.
If your plants are already infested with aphids, choose the solution with the lowest environmental impact, which may be as simple as a strong blast of water.
You can even order something like 1,500 ladybugs for around $12 and let them help you do the job naturally.
Here are some natural strategies for keeping the bad bugs at bay.
Nontoxic Pest Control in the Garden
- Light attracts insects, so keep outdoor lights turned off at night.
- Keep the area close to your home free of rocks, ground litter, firewood, and piles of trash– they serve as a welcome mat for roaches, scorpions, centipedes. While you’re at it, trim back trees and bushes so bugs won’t use tham as ladders to your windows.
- To get rid of ant piles in your yard, pour hot, soapy water down the entrance to the ant hills.
- For aphids and other plant destroying insects, try a mixture of Ivory Soap, water, and vegetable oil.
- Add worm castings to your soil. Worm castings improves soil structure and also help you deal with aphids, whiteflies and other bad bugs. An enzyme calledhe chitinase in worm castings is absorbed by the plant, and it kills sucking and chewing bugs when they eat the plant leaves.
Natural Pest Control inside the Home
Want to continue with natural pest control inside your home? It may not be easy but it is doable. Try these five ways to control bugs naturally.
- Properly caulk and seal doors, windows, sinks, and showers.
- Keep your kitchen free of crumbs, including underneath the sink and refrigerator.
- To route out roaches, lightly dust the area they frequent with boric acid.
- To give ants the axe, mix a cup of sugar with 3 cups of water and 4 teaspoons of boric acid. Put it in a jar, wrap the jar with masking tape, drizzle some of the mixture on the side of the jar, and poke several small holes in the top. Leave the jar(s) out for the ants to find and carry back to their ant colonies.
- Stop crawling bugs in their tracks with a nontoxic sticky product like Tanglefoot.
3 Books to Benefit your California Garden
1. California Native Plants for the Garden, by Carol Bornstein, David Foss and Bart O’Brien.
Written by three California native-plant horticulturists, this book provides detailed advice on local landscape design, installation, watering, pruning, and pest control.
Along with 450 full-color photos, it includes practical tips on how and where specific native plants will grow, helpful native plant recommendations and suggestions for where to buy them.
2. California Native Gardening: A Month-by-Month Guide, by Helen Popper.
If you want to know not only how but when to fill your garden with native plants in California, this book is for you.
Popper’s monthly guide helps both beginning and experienced gardeners, with tips and tasks specific to each season. Also includes fun design ideas along with core gardening techniques.
3. The California Wildlife Habitat Garden, by Nancy Bauer.
She shows you how to turn your yard into living ecosystem. Beautiful full-color photographs and easy-to-follow recommendations will inspire you to create your own sanctuary for birds, bees, butterflies, and humans.
What I like best are Bauer’s simple and affordable methods for creating a biologically diverse, environmentally friendly garden.