Green Gardening – Organic Alternatives

Composting is an easy and cheap way to garden organically since all the ingredients are readily available in your landscape and home. All you have to do is build or buy a compost bin and water and stir on occasion.

Compost should include Carbon-rich ingredients such as leaves, hay, and straw along with Nitrogen-rich ingredients such as grass clippings, weeds, and vegetable and fruit peels.

More N-P-K, please. Fertilizers contain Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium, elements that are essential for plant growth. While you can find pre-mixed organic fertilizers in your local nursery, there are other organic materials that introduce these elements to the soil and plants. To learn more about fertilizers, see How do I choose a fertilizer for Southern Living Plant Collection Varieties under “Care Tips.”

Nitrogen-rich ingredients include grass clippings, weeds, and fruit and vegetable peels. Homemade compost (as mentioned above) can be loaded with Nitrogen and provide balance when mixed with materials high in Carbon. To learn how to make your owncompost from leaves, click here.

Bone meal powder increases Phosphorus and is known to help roses and bulbs bloom more and larger flowers. If not wanting to use an alternative made from animals, try rock phosphate for similar results.

Greensand sandstone raises Potassium without affecting the soil’s pH level.

For acid lovers. Introduce more acid to the soil with tea, vinegar, coffee grounds, and saw dust. Coffee grounds increase acidity as well as Nitrogen and sawdust increases Carbon – a balanced combination when used together. Acid-loving plants from the Southern Living Plant Collection include the Southgate® Rhododendron series, October Magic® Camellia series, Yewtopia® Plum Yew, and 'Golden Dawn' and 'Grand Primo' Narcissus'Big Daddy' Hydrangea blooms in blue when acid levels are high.

Raising the pH. If your soil is too acidic and you need a higher pH, try wood ash, eggshells, and lime. Wood ash from a wood burning stove or fireplace increases Potassium and dried, broken egg shells increase calcium. Lime is the most common treatment, but if your soil has high amounts of Magnesium (not good for plants), choose a calcium-rich ingredient like the egg shells. If you prefer your 'Big Daddy' Hydrangea blooms pink, bring in the alkaline ingredients. To find out how to test your soil's pH level, click here.

Ants and fungus, oh my! While ants are not typically listed among other plant insects, they can do some damage and the actual health of your plant does not explain their presence. Fungus can also be a problem, especially if watering at night so the plants don’t get scorched from afternoon rays. Try cinnamon powder and vinegar! These two ingredients repel ants and fungus and vinegar is even known to kill some weeds.