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Publication: GCA Pamphlets, Good Gardening Practices

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Good Gardening Practices to Protect Your Environment

Know requirements of your plants
Know your soil and prepare it properly
Plan correctly
Know your enemies (and your friends)
Water wisely
Mulch to reduce water usage and weeks
Prune correctly
Compost garden waste

Choose the Right Plant

  • Consider the amount of light, pH, soil type (wet, dry, clay, sandy) before planting.
  • Diversify by using more than one kind of plant suitable for the site. Encourage genetic diversity by using heirloom and saved seed.
  • Plants native to the gardener’s area may be more tolerant of local weather conditions, pests and diseases which can make them a better choice.
  • Choose plants that are appropriate to your climate and USDA Zone. Learn what is considered an invasive plant in your area and remove it from your garden.


  • Test your soil with a kit or use your county extension service. The results will determine the pH and N-P-K (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium).
  • The pH should be close to 6.5 for most plants. Extreme pH values dramatically reduce availability of essential nutrients in the soil.
  • If a pH correction is necessary, add ground dolomitic limestone to increase pH and powdered sulfur to lower pH
  • N-P-K are essential plant elements and may occur naturally in the soil, but can be augmented with fertilizers. Use organic fertilizers with slow release N If fertilization is necessary, use organic fertilizers instead of chemical types. They feed and build the soil naturally, improve soil structure, increase soil’s water-holding capacity, and encourage earthworms and soil microorganisms.
  • Nitrogen (N) can be found in fish meal, cottonseed meal, fish emulsion, earthworm castings, alfalfa meal, blood meal, and soybean meal. Nitrogen-fixing crops can improve soil condition and include green manures and leguminous plants.
  • Phosphorus (P) can be found in bone meal, kelp, fish meal, and rock phosphate (a natural source of phosphorus).
  • Potassium (K) is available in wood ashes, kelp and greensand.
  • Compost contains low levels of N-P-K and minerals which it slowly releases to your plants when spread in the garden. Using compost may eliminate the need for additional fertilizer. Other minerals needed by plants are boron, calcium, manganese, magnesium, molybdenum, sodium, and sulfur.

Watering: Water is a resource that needs conserving. Gardeners can set the correct example by determining when to water, how to water, and how much to apply.

  • Collect rain runoff (rain barrels under gutter downspouts), use rain gauges and water timers, and water only when necessary. Water deeply, not often.
  • Don’t water between 10 am and 4 pm because of high evaporation loss. The best time is early morning to prevent diseases. Soaker or drip hoses provide water without the evaporation caused by sprinklers and prevent erosion and runoff.
  • Water systems with moisture sensors can greatly reduce water usage.
  • Gray water may be available in your town and can be used in your garden.
  • 2-4” of mulch reduces the evaporation of moisture from the soil. Pine bark mulch is preferred – it is a byproduct of the timber/paper industries. When it breaks down, it adds organic matter to the soil. Ground up leaves, such as oak, and pine straw are also good choices. Stone mulches complement Xeriscaping, the practice of using plants that need little or no water. Don’t pile mulch around plant stems or tree trunks.


  • Integrated Pest Management (IPM) should be practiced.
  • Monitor your plants for pests or diseases. Identify and remember bugs are not always bad bugs. There are several good books in our Sources list for identification.
  • An organic control is the first line of action, if any action is needed. Insecticides or fungicides should not be used unless absolutely necessary. Access weekly tips at for further updates.
  • Add bird and bat houses to the property. Birds and bats eat bugs.

Pest Control:

Aphids, Mites:

  • Strong jet of water to wash pests away; repeat as needed
  • Insecticidal soap or a wash with mild detergent solution and a water rinse
  • Ultrafine horticultural oil

Scale, Mealybug

  • Ultrafine horticultural oil
  • Spray with 70% isopropyl alcohol


  • Yellow sticky traps
  • Insecticidal soap
  • Ultrafine horticultural oil


  • Beneficial nematodes Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) (Bacillus popilliae is milky spore disease and is specific for the grub of the Japanese beetle)

Caterpillars, Bagworms see Sources list for information to identify good and bad caterpillars

  • Handpick
  • Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt)
  • Neem oil—do not use if near ponds, streams or wetlands

Gypsy moths

  • Sticky tape around tree trunk
  • Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) Cutworms (different treatments for different stages)


  • collars around seedlings
  • Beneficial nematodes
  • Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt)
  • Trichogramma wasps

Grasshoppers, Colorado Potato Beetles, Harlequin Bugs, Japanese Beetles, Striped and Spotted Cucumber Beetles, etc.

  • Handpick
  • Beneficial nematodes
  • Pyrethrum
  • Neem oil—do not use if near ponds, streams or wetlands
  • RotenoneS

Plant Diseases: Plant diseases can be bacterial, fungal, or viral.

Bacteria cause wilting, galls, rots, blights, or spots. Ways to minimize infection include washing of leaves with soapy water or spraying with a copper formulated product. Another spray is a mixture of: 1 gallon water + 2 Tbsp. dish detergent + 2 Tbsp. baking soda + 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil.

Fungi cause rot in seeds, roots, and fruits as well as in new growth. Controls include a sulphur dusting powder or spray, copper fungicide, or the above mix. Clean up garden by removing diseased plant material to reduce fungi. Prune to increase air circulation.

Viruses cause yellowing, stunting, and malformations of a plant and its leaves. No cure; dispose of plant carefully. Rotate crops of plants to interrupt life cycles of pests and plant diseases.

Weeding: A weed is a plant growing in the wrong place. Weeding eliminates competition for space, nutrients and water. Air circulation is improved with weeding which reduces risk of diseases. Hand picking before going to seed is the best control environmentally, but most labor intensive. Mulching is very effective. Spray weeds with white vinegar. Use weed removal products with low toxicity and rapid decomposition. Always read labels and follow instructions. Spot spray rather than broadcast. Spray at dusk after bees have returned to their hives.

Pruning: Prune out dead, diseased or crossing branches. Pruning correctly may limit insect and disease damage. Use sharp tools to reduce damage to plants. Bypass pruners are preferred as they do not mash the stem. Keep tools clean by dipping in isopropyl alcohol to prevent diseases from spreading from plant to plant. Prune flowering shrubs right after flowering. Waiting several weeks may eliminate next year’s blooms.

Composting & Recycling: Composting is an essential practice; it reduces waste and creates healthy soil. The rule of thumb is 2 parts carbon waste such as oak leaves to 1 part green such as plant prunings or non-animal kitchen scraps. Compost takes anywhere from 1 month to 1 year to make, depending on conditions such as the mixture, temperature of the pile and outdoor temperature, sun/shade, and moisture. Compost is available at garden centers and some city recycling centers. Garden waste that cannot be recycled in a compost pile due to lack of space should be discarded in biodegradable bags or, if picked up curbside, put into reusable containers such as trash cans. When possible, purchase plants growing in fiber pots that can decompose in your compost pile or in a pot that can be reused or recycled.


Natural Disease Control by Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG) 718.622.4433

Natural Insect Control: The Ecological Gardener’s Guide to Foiling Pests by BBG

The Natural Lawn and Alternatives by BBG

Going Native Biodiversity in Our Own Backyards by BBG

Butterflies Through Binoculars for East Coast or Florida by Jeffrey Glassberg

Caterpillars by Peterson First Guides/Amy Bartlett Wright

Garden Insect ID and Control Guide by Clemson University/Cooperative Extension Service

Gardens Alive catalogue has environmentally friendly products, 812.537.8650 (Indiana)

American Pie (Public Information on the Environment) 800.320.apie, for questions.

Invasive Plants; Weeds of the Global Garden by BBG

Invasive Plant List available from GCA or your State’s Native Plant Society or

The New American Lawn brochure - GCA’s websites