Having started a good soil management programme, the next level of support for plants is above ground.
Apart from general geographic climate, most gardens have individual micro-climates. In colder areas, a sheltered north-facing slope has an advantage over general conditions and in warmer areas, a shaded, exposed south facing slope is at a disadvantage. And while dips and valleys offer shelter from winds, they can also trap frost. This affects general garden plans and specific plant choice. Take the time to look at the big picture and long time frames as you plan your garden.
Most plants need shelter from prevailing winds, frost, excessive sun and rain. A garden may need permanent general shelter such as solid fences, or even particular plant shelters such as cold frames/greenhouses. Wherever possible incorporate living shelter in the form of trees and shrubs as this adds to the biodiversity of the garden.
A wide variety of plants and animals in their natural environment is an essential organic gardening principle. Planting many varieties and species has many benefits including:
- Extending cropping seasons
- Attracting beneficial insects by providing food and habitat
- Providing a variety of compost and mulch material
- Assisting pest control by attracting predators and making target plants harder to find
- Helping prevent disease build-up and spread
- And it’s aesthetically pleasing
The Right Plants
No matter what else you do right in the organic garden, if you put in the wrong plants you will have problems. Choose the right plant:
- For the environment – locally grown/proven varieties e.g. disease/frost resistant/water needs
- For the soil type – free draining, damp, acid, alkaline
- For your purposes – taste, eating fresh, processing
- Certified/clean/GE-free seed
Minimise plant stress by making the growing site as hospitable as possible:
- Protected – shelter from excessive wind/rain/sun/shade
- Barriers against pests – plants, moats, sand/shell trails, catch crops
- Companion plants for pest/disease prevention, pollination
- Space utilisation e.g. runner beans/corn, salad greens underneath brassicas
- Design – pests won’t decimate entire crop
Water is an increasingly precious resource, it’s conservation is vital. Climate change is now making it hard to predict weather patterns, and traditional wet and dry seasons can’t be relied on. Take water needs into account at every step of your gardening career:
- Where possible choose drought-resistant plants. This is more likely to apply to shelter and ornamental plants, but don’t try and grow heaps of thirsty crops in an already dry climate – at least try and create a micro-climate.
- Group water needy plants together to keep watering to a minimum area.
- Shelter growing areas from drying winds.
- Conserve soil moisture with mulches, catch crops, shade providing plants e.g. lettuces under brassicas.
- Investigate recycling grey water especially for ornamentals, and other non-food-producing plants.
- Water early in the morning or later afternoon. Watering in the heat of the day causes evaporation, possible leaf scorch and humidity leading to fungal disease.
- Water the soil around the plant, not the leaves.
- Water deeply and infrequently to discourage roots coming to the surface where they may be damaged or dry out.
- Collect rainwater e.g. through a down-pipe diverter, or in containers around the garden.
Content from Organic Gardening – A Guide by Organic NZ, published by the Soil & Health Association.