Experts share tips for ‘going green’ in the garden

by Emily Canning-Dean

With spring in full swing, gardeners are preparing to get their gardens in tip-top shape, but many want to do so without using a lot of fertilizer, pesticides and other chemicals.

For those who want to minimize the use of chemicals, Ashley Kulhanek and Kim Hawkins of the Ohio State Extension’s College of Agriculture and National Resources have a lot of tips to offer.

“We always recommend starting out with soil testing,” Kulhanek said. “So often, people just throw fertilizer down because that it something they always did.”

Hawkins added that many state universities have soil labs where an individual can send in a sample of their soil and have it tested in exchange for a nominal fee.

“It is relatively inexpensive, and they can tell you what kind of nutrients the soil needs,” she said. “Here in Ohio, we tend to have a lot of clay soil, but there are things we can add to make the soil lighter and better.”

Kulhanek said adding compost is one way to improve the quality of the soil.

“Good organic matter can help to add nutrients to the soil,” she said. “You just want to make sure you don’t use plants that are diseased in the compost.”

“Leaving the leaves on the beds in the fall will also save you some work,” Hawkins said. “They will for the most part decompose.”

Kulhanek said that natural predators such as ladybugs, praying mantis, lacewings and predatory beetles are a gardener’s friend when it comes to controlling garden pests.

“You can encourage these natural predators in your landscape by having diverse plants at different heights that bloom across the seasons,” she said. “These help pollinators and encourage insect predators that will be helpful with controlling pests.”

Kulhanek added that it is a good idea to spend regular time in your garden and keep an eye on plants to catch any problems early.

“If you notice something wrong, you may be able to prune it away before things get out of hand,” she said. “A good strategy is to tolerate some damage. You can have some feeding damage from certain insects. But maybe you can hand pick or cut something back if it is getting out of control.”

When it comes to weed control, Hawkins said a densely planted garden is a good option.

“When it is densely planted, the weeds won’t be as exposed to the light,” she said.

Hawkins also mentioned that OSU Extension offers a lot of resources to any gardeners who have questions.

Gardeners can visit and click on the Ask an Expert link to connect directly to a master gardener online.

“There are also a lot of fact sheets and answers to frequently asked questions,” she said.

Hawkins also said that most OSU Extension county offices have helplines. She said the Cuyahoga County helpline is 216-429-8200 ext. 1. The Summit County office can be reached at 330-928-4769, and the Medina at 330-725-4911

“You can ask your question and leave your phone number and someone will get back to you within about 48 hours,” she said. ∞