Beauty in the eye of the organic gardener
It is possible for anyone to start landscaping organically. Lauren Shiner, the owner of Tampa Landscape Designs, which specializes in customized landscapes, has been doing it for seven years. "When I grow food and pull it off the plant, I can put it right in my mouth, as opposed to some things that you buy at the store and you don't know what you are eating," Shiner said. To abstain from using chemicals, Shiner suggests planting enough herbs, vegetables and fruits for all the bugs and caterpillars, too. She also said when plants are healthy, they have a natural ability to fight off the pests. But if the garden needs a creature-fighting but plant-friendly boost, sprinkle around a few iron phosphate pellets, Shiner said.Jeanette Yates, broker and owner of Weichert Realtors-Yates & Associates, said there is even a more natural approach to weeding out the insects. "If bugs are on a tree or plant, just take them off and squash them," said Yates, who gardens as a hobby. "You don't have to spray something in order to kill the bugs." Shiner's organic garden is full of tomatoes, strawberries, squash (butternut squash in the fall), watermelon and black-eyed peas. She also has herbs, including dill, basil, parsley and cilantro. Shiner admitted an organic garden isn't necessarily the neatest plot in the neighborhood: "It's a mess. All the rows look like they are running into things. It is very hard for OCD people, but if you want to be successful, it's the way to go." Shiner practices "sister planting," which was an American Indian technique that helps plants nourish one another. For example, peas can be planted next to corn to give the pea plants a trellis, and squash can use the pea leaves as ground cover according to Shiner. However, practice makes perfect. Shiner admitted her first attempt at growing tomatoes was a bust; they were black on the bottom. The tomatoes were naturally low in calcium, she said, so she learned that adding gypsum to the soil will help the calcium and also raise the alkalinity. "You don't do this seven years and learn right the first time," she said. As for Yates, she likes to grow things that are native to Florida. "It helps the soil, and they don't require as much water," said Yates, who became an organic gardener because of her asthma and allergies, which make her "sensitive to chemicals." Yates also suggests planting according to water needs. "Don't plant high-water-needed plants near the low ones, as you'll give some plants what they need and drown others," she said. She said organic landscaping can be good for pet owners and families with children, but few homebuyers ask about organic landscaping. "It's all about the curb appeal, and sometimes people also are concerned if it looks like something will need a lot of water or maintenance," she said. "Organic isn't as important to people right now as is the overall landscaping."