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Basic principles of organic gardening

Bobolink (Dolichonyx orizyvorus)
Photo: Raymond Belhumeur

These recommendations apply to all garden themes in the My Space for Life Garden program.

Choose the right location for the right plant

During your preparations, consider the characteristics of your garden and plants. A plant that needs shade and moist soil will be much more vulnerable to disease and pests if you plant it in full sun in dry soil. Moreover, there’s a high risk of it not surviving at all if growing conditions are inadequate.

Consider the amount of sunlight, soil characteristics of the site, the hardiness zone of your area and the space that plants will require when they reach maturity. Favour plants that are more resistant to pests, disease and drought, because they require less maintenance.

Nourish the soil with compost

The best way of meeting the nutritional needs of plants is to nourish the earth and its living organisms, which in turn will nourish the plants. To do that, opt for compost, the gardener’s true black gold. Ideally you’ll make and use your own compost, but you can apply commercial compost as well. Use it, for instance, in preparing flowerbeds or a kitchen garden, or when putting your plants in the ground. Do you garden in containers? Choose a potting soil designed for container growing that already contains compost.

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Fertilize as needed with natural fertilizers

First you have to know that not all plants need fertilizing. Use fertilizers when needed, as complements to compost, especially to correct a mineral deficiency or to meet the needs of the hungriest plants. Opt for natural fertilizers (e.g., liquid seaweed, chicken manure, crab meal). To free up their nutritional elements, most natural fertilizers have to be broken down by the living organisms in the soil. Thus, in addition to feeding the plants, they stimulate the biological life of the soil, which is not the case with chemical fertilizers.

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Covering the soil

Mulch creates a protective layer that keeps soil moist for longer. It offers better protection from extreme weather in addition to limiting the growth of unwanted plants, protecting plant roots and preventing erosion. Opt for organic mulches, which enrich the soil as they decompose, just like shredded dead leaves. Avoid decorative rocks, as well as fabrics and geotextiles, as they interfere with soil and air gas exchange.

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Ensure good water management

Water plants thoroughly, as needed (avoid superficial and frequent watering). It is preferable to water in the morning or, failing that, in the early evening. Always respect the municipal by-laws on water use. Direct the water toward the soil rather than toward plant foliage, to prevent the development of fungal diseases (fungi). Have you thought of setting up barrels to collect rainwater?

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Proper lawn maintenance

To promote deep rooting of grass seeds, mow your lawn to a height of about 7.5 centimeters. That way the grass will be denser and more vigorous. And it will be more drought resistant and less vulnerable to invasion by weeds. Leave the grass clippings on the lawn. They’ll break down quickly and release their nutritive elements.

Aerate the soil if it’s compacted, compost the lawn and fertilize moderately with natural fertilizers.

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Limiting light pollution

Turn off garden lights at night. Avoid skyward lighting, as it can cause changes in the behaviour of birds, insects and other animals.

If necessary, install motion sensors or timers that will turn lights on only as required.

Be tolerant

Your garden will attract a multitude of unexpected guests, most of them insects. Learn to tolerate these new residents, who contribute to the biodiversity of the environment and who in the great majority of cases are harmless or even beneficial.

Should you have a problem with insect pests, disease or weeds, determine whether it’s essential to take action. The beneficial organisms present in the garden (caterpillars, for example) can reduce pest populations. Moreover, vigorous plants growing in good conditions can tolerate the presence of a few unwanted insects or pathogenic fungi. To grow life, we also have to accept the little imperfections!

If necessary, apply cultural, physical or mechanical control methods. As a last resort, if these measures prove to be ineffective and the use of pesticides seems inevitable, use low-impact pesticides, adhering to the recommendations on the product label and to municipal bylaws. Note that low-impact pesticides can also kill beneficial insects.

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