Organic...natural...sustainable...carbon-neutral...earth-friendly. We have seen and heard these terms with increasing frequency, in association with food, clothing, buildings, office supplies...and of course, gardening! The good news is that there are now many more options and opportunities to be able to garden with an eye toward the safety of yourself and your family, your pets, the birds that visit your yard and even the groundwater that eventually makes its way to local streams and rivers. We have learned that the individual gardening choices we make do indeed have an impact beyond that of our garden gate.
We also know it can get a little confusing, with all the products and choices out there; so here is a brief overview to hopefully help you navigate the world of “natural gardening” products:
“Organic” & “Natural:” As it relates to fertilizers, soil amendments and other products for the garden, “organic” means that its origins are from animal and/or plant material (bone meal or hemlock bark, for example), which contain carbon. Rock phosphate, however, though “natural,” does not fall under this definition and so technically cannot be called organic. But as a working definition the term “organic gardening” has evolved to mean using organic and naturally-derived products, as opposed to synthetics -- those that are artificially or chemically-created in a laboratory.
Beneficial garden products can also be derived from naturally-occurring chemical compounds. A great example of this is Sluggo and Worry Free Slug and Snail Killer. The main driving ingredient here is iron phosphate, a naturally-occurring chemical compound. It is very effective for controlling these perennial pests, but unlike their synthetic counterparts, is not hazardous to your pets, birds, or the soil.
Please note that though not carbon-based and therefore not “organic” by a chemist’s definition, some of these non-synthetic pesticides (including insecticidal soap, copper, and neem oil) are acceptable in certified organic food production.
Also, please be aware that even some “organic” or “natural” pesticides nevertheless carry some risks. Pyrethrins are a perfect example. Derived from the seed casings of Pyrethrum plants (Chrysanthemum cinerariaefolium), they are potent insectides, and are also biodegradeable, making them considered to be much safer than synthetic options - but note they still can be irritants to humans (eyes, skin, respiratory system) and a hazard to aquatic life.
So, the bottom line is that it is important to read labels and follow directions carefully when using any garden product!
At Portland Nursery, you'll find everything from ladybugs to nematodes, neem oils to pyrethrins, copper soaps to copper tapes. We feature organics fertilizers and soils from Whitney Farms, E.B. Stone, Black Forest, Sun Gro, and Down to Earth. And we’re here to help you find the information you need so you can garden “naturally.”
For more information and ideas, visit Metro’s natural gardening page.