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posted: 3/9/2013 1:00 AM

What smart gardeners know

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  • A dry creek bed is one of the ways the Missouri Botanical Gardens manages water-runoff.

    A dry creek bed is one of the ways the Missouri Botanical Gardens manages water-runoff.
    SHNS photo courtesy Joe Lamp'l

By Joe Lamp’l
Scripps Howard News Service

It happens all the time. I'll get a call or an email from a group wanting me to give a presentation at an event. Eventually, it basically comes down to the same question: "What would you like me to talk about?" The response: "Well, our theme this year is XYZ." And that's how my rather extensive library of presentations has grown. I'll often create a new presentation around what the group would like to hear. Such presentations are also the bases for many of the articles I write for this column. Such is the case today.

The theme of this particular conference was "Smart Gardening." Here are a few key aspects that I came up with.

Managing water

Earth is often referred to as the water planet, since so much of the surface is covered by it. Yet of all that water, only about 1 percent is readily available to us for our various needs -- including watering lawns and gardens.

But considering all the water that's out there, why, then, do we talk so much about water conservation? Because where water ends up after we use it, and how polluted it may become, are the real issues.

The water we conserve today doesn't help the drought in Africa. But such conservation does help keep local sources of water from being depleted. Since much of the availability of water is weather-related, think of conservation as insurance for those times of drought in your area.

Using mulch

If every gardener and weekend warrior would mulch more, we'd use less water, cut down on the chemicals needed to fight pests and diseases, reduce the weed population, improve our soil and have a mulch healthier garden and a better-looking landscape.

This is one truth that is as good as it sounds. Mulch derived from natural products, such as bark or wood, or leaves, grass clippings or straw, all help to do all the benefits mentioned here.

Overusing chemicals

For every action, there's a reaction. I first heard that saying from my dad when I was a young boy. It's true for everything. In the garden, as we blanket our plants and lawns with fertilizers and pesticides, although it may have the intended effect, it's the unintended consequences that we just don't seem to grasp.

When we apply a pesticide, for example, to kill an insect, do we think that a songbird might come along behind that poisoned pest and eat it?

Millions of songbirds each year die because they ingested a pesticide-tainted insect. Do you know that many of the chemicals used to kill weeds are highly toxic to amphibious creatures? Even if you don't spray near a water source, runoff and drift can deliver the same sad consequences.

One of my favorite quotes comes from John Muir: "Tug on anything in nature, and you find that it's connected to the rest of the world."

Organic vs. synthetic

As an organic gardener, I don't use synthetic, manmade chemicals in my garden. Yet that doesn't mean organic products should be used without care. Even the most naturally derived products, like pyrethrum, used as organic pesticides are nonselective, and will kill many creatures they come in contact with. Does that make them better choices?

In my garden, Mother Nature rules. Instead of using chemicals, I try and create an environment naturally, mainly through building healthy soil and planting in the right way, which allows her to do the work. She hasn't let me down yet.

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