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To Don’t List

What Not to Do to Keep Your Garden Healthy


While it is easy to list all the things that are waiting to be done in the garden, sometimes it is helpful to list some of the things that shouldn’t be done in order to maintain a healthy garden ecosystem. Here are a few to be mindful of.

Don’t waste water. More water is not the automatic panacea for plants. In fact, plants respond to drowning in much the same way as they do to dehydration—they wilt. By monitoring the actual moisture level in the soil (use a soil probe or shovel) and watering only when it is dry, plants can grow better root systems that will support a better above-ground structure.

Don’t use artificial substances. These include fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides. Yes, they are seductive, and the megastores will try to slip an extra sale in at the checkout counter, but they are bad for any garden. Strive to create a balance between the recycling of nutrients that soil microbes and other organisms provide with the addition of natural organic materials (hopefully those that were collected from the garden through minor pruning and regular leaf-fall, although supplemental mulch materials will not hurt). More natural insect predators will appear and keep the pests in check, and that layer of mulch will smother most of the weeds.

Don’t squeeze plants into spaces they will soon outgrow. There is simply no excuse for over-planting. All the plants at the nursery come with tags that detail their ultimate size. If they don’t, ask, and if the salesperson doesn’t know what a particular plant will become, ask for the Western Garden Book by Sunset—every good nursery keeps one under the counter—and look it up. Heed their good advice about spacing.

Don’t pull that cord—on the leaf blower, the lawn mower, the rototiller, the edger, or any of those other gas-powered garden implements. There’s no reason not to use gardening as the healthful activity that it can and should be. Raking, pushing a sharp-bladed rotary mower, and moderate turning of the soil with a good old shovel can burn calories and increase respiration and heart rate. Nice workout, in other words.

Here’s one to-do: It’s spring, and that means the season for organized garden tours. Besides satisfying the natural human voyeuristic bent, garden tours are great places to get ideas. Whether it is a solution to a particular design problem or just an interesting new plant combination, it helps to see what other gardeners have done with their passion.

On Sunday, May 1, there is a garden tour that can satisfy that curiosity and make participants feel virtuous while contributing to a worthy cause, too. The Women’s Board of the Community Arts Music Association (CAMA) has organized their annual fundraiser, the Hidden Gardens of Montecito Tour. Participants will be taken via Santa Barbara Trolley to peek behind the walls at four private gardens. There will be wine and hors d’oeuvres and a chance to win plants through a raffle. And, of course, there will be music. For tickets and more information, call 966-4324 or visit camasb.org.

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Virginia Hayes, curator of Ganna Walska Lotusland, will answer your gardening questions. Address them to Gardens, The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa St., S.B., CA 93101. Send email to vahayes@lotusland.org.

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