Many people have organic landscaping on their minds. Often times folks want to either 1) reduce chemical exposure to children and pets or 2) landscape in a more eco-friendly way. No matter the reasons you can have a beautifully maintained landscape without the use of synthetic fertilizers or chemical compounds. In Portland, Oregon this can sometimes be a struggle with the damp environment our outdoors provides. You can enjoy your organic landscape without sacrificing a well-groomed look. You too can be an expert on organic landscaping in Portland Oregon by following these 8 steps steps to start your landscape off right!

Two women orgnically landscaping in Portland Oregon

Organic landscaping in Portland Oregon. 8 steps to start off right!

1. Organic Soil Testing

Having your soil tested is highly recommended to ensure the success of your organic landscaping program. There are 3 common tests used to determine the full scope of your soil structure. Here is a brief overview of the benefits of each test.

  • Biological Testing: This determines the concentrations of bacteria, fungi, protozoa’s and nematodes. This is important as many plants have different nutrient systems and may require unique concentrations of specific fungal or bacterial levels to thrive.
  • Chemical Analysis: This will determine your soil ph, CEC (cation exchange capacity)-measures fertility, nutrient absorption, and the capacity of ground water to be protected from cation absorption, levels of potassium, phosphorus and nitrogen and soluble salts.
  • Textural Analysis: This will provide the ratios of sand, clay and silt in soil. This ratio is an important piece of knowledge as it will tell you how likely your soil is to retain moisture and nutrients. For example, soil high in sand would not retain moisture well.

2. Organic Soil Management

Often times, imbalanced soil nutrients are the root cause of lawn/plant disease and excessive weeds. Restoring and maintaining the soil nutrient cycle is the heart of any organic landscape program. The benefits of this approach include improved nutrients, moisture availability/retention, disease suppression, aeration, and degradation of harmful pollutants achieved through a non-chemical process. The soil tests performed will determine the amendments needed for your soil.

EXPERT TIP: Adding mycorrhizae and compost can restore beneficial fungi and bacteria. 

3. Organic Compost

If you are not composting food scraps (don’t let the city of Portland have your compost) and yard debris, get busy now. Compost is like gold to organic landscapers. You can add this nutrient rich amendment to your soil which aids in a thriving environment for beneficial bacteria, fungi and protozoa. There are many ways to compost; including, hot composting, cold composting and compost tea (each serve different purposes).

EXPERT TIP: In general, turf, perennials and grasses thrive with higher bacterial concentrations; while trees and shrubs benefit from higher fugal concentrations. 

4. Organic Lawn

Having a lush, green lawn is possible with organic gardening. However, it will be more labor intensive than traditional lawn maintenance; therefore, preventative measures are very important. Here our 3 keys steps in keeping an organic lawn healthy:

  • Regular fertilization (every 6-8 weeks or as needed)
  • Aerating & overseeding twice per year (once in fall and spring)
  • Properly managed irrigation. (See tip 5)

5. Irrigation Is Key To Organic Landscaping

Letting a lawn get too wet, invites disease, letting a lawn dry out and become dormant, invites weeds. This is can be seen in lawns allowed to go dormant; often the thriving parts of the lawn are the weeds. Keeping your lawn properly irrigated with choke out weeds and encourage growth of grass.

EXPERT TIP: Consider a sub-drip irrigation system. Sub-drip system’s are highly effective and eco-friendly-reducing watering time to mere minutes per day. 

6. Organic Weed Control

Weed control is the often the biggest struggle in an organic landscape. You can choose a pre-emergant weed control. Corn gluten is often used for this, however please note once applied it is unsightly. Organic methods of controlling weeds are:

  • Keeping a thick layer of bark dust or bark compost in your beds. This is the most effective method of controlling weeds. Check out the benefits of bark dust here.
  • Hand pull them
  • Pour white vinegar on them
  • Smother them with newspaper
  • Pour boiling water on them
  • Eat them – many weeds can be eaten including dandelion the roots, leaves and flowers. Please check with an expert before consuming any vegetation.

EXPERT TIP: Apply bark at a minimum depth of 2″ for weed control, 2.5″ is preferred. If you are being quoted on installation make sure you ask the depth of the quoted bark is. 

7. Always Plant Natives & Avoid Invasive Species

Planting native plants is key to any organic landscape.  We have all seen an english ivy take over, which looks like yard is being consumed, or mint spreading like wild fire. It is very important to compile a list of native plants to use in your landscape. Don’t let your landscape undergo a hostile plant takeover, using native plants reduces unwanted spreading and excess need for weeding. If you want to plant fast growing/spreading plants such as mint, use pots or raised beds to control their spread.  Check out our blog on 4 invasive species to never plant by clicking here.

8. Correct Planting, Pruning & Placement

Correct pruning, planting and placement of plan material is essential to organic gardening. The following are a few techniques to ensure your landscape gets a good start:

  • Avoid mishandling plant material, as damage can cause future problems
  • Plants should be installed using sound horticultural practices
  • Add mycorrhizae and organic fertilizer to planting pocket prior to installing plant
  • Corrective pruning of inner and outer foliage encourages natural growth pattern, increases photosynthesis, enhances the health of the plant, and reduces wind resistance. This included proper technique of pruning, i.e. angled cuts.
  • Choosing optimal planting areas is key to encouraging healthy plant material. This includes  proper light requirements and uninhibited space for plant growth. All too often we hear “this plant has gotten to big”. This is a prime example of “right plant, wrong spot”. A plant cannot get too big, rather the spot chosen is wrong

By now the thought of organic landscaping should bring a smile to your face. The main take-away of this post, which is essential in maintaining a healthy organic landscape is, prevention! Taking preventative steps will keep unnecessary cleanup and lost plant material to a minimum. Trying to salvage a landscape is much more difficult than keeping one up.

If you think you could use a hand getting a jump start on this task, contact us today!