Sustainable Gardening

Pest and Disease Control lady bug

Healthy soil and diverse plantings of healthy plants resist damage from unwanted insects.
These pests are not as effective and may even be confused, as well as controlled by the beneficials drawn by the diverse plantings in the yard.

* Meet the Beneficials Poster - pdf

Mulching the soil
with wood chips/shreds, partially composted leaves and other woody materials helps protect the soil, maintain balanced soil temperatures, increase water infiltration and retention, and helps improve soil texture and prevent soil compaction, control erosion, reduce weeds, as well as providing a slow release source of organic matter (food) for the microorganisms (microherd) in the "Soil Food Web."
Healthy soils breed healthy plants and gardens that are not as susceptible to various attacks from insects and disease.


In spring especially, slugs and snails are attracted to new growth. Containers full of beer divert slugs and snails, so they crawl in and drown. You can also go out to your garden at midnight with a flashlight and kill many of them, or help them into the saucer. After a couple midnight visits, the plant saucer or tuna can full of beer should keep down any problem. They like "Budweiser" beer best and it can be old (even over a month old) and flat or even going moldy; they still are attracted. If your slugs and snails don't like the beer, try spraying the foliage with caffeinated coffee; it works in Hilo HI.
Spreading coffee grounds around your plants may help as well.

Early in spring, aphid queens (they can fly) lay eggs on some tender new growth on plants (mostly on the bottom side of leaves). The young aphids can be washed off the new rose buds, or other new plant growth with water (with a hose) and are unable to crawl back up the plant.


You may get some other nibbling guest here and there but don’t run for the bug spray. If your plants are growing organically and are healthy, the damage is generally cosmetic and rarely is a major threat. It’s better to have food or flowers with a few holes than covered with poisons. All this adds up to a healthier planet and a healthier environment for your family. Another consideration is food security. People are becoming more aware of the importance of local food and wanting to know about where their food comes from.

If you get mildew on a plant, it could be that there is too much overhead watering from sprinklers or from mother nature. Spray with a solution of 1-to-3 milk to water. This is the recommended level in the Netherlands where milk is a Department of Agriculture approved fungicide. This also works for black spot and rust on roses. Many people use kelp spray (Maxicrop) which strengthens the plants. It is best to pick off leaves that are heavily covered with black spot or rust and remove any of these dropped leaves from the bed, unless you add mulch over the leaves.

It is important to know that over time, compost, worm castings and a high quality mulch will heal a depleted soil or a sickly soil biology.

Every year that you garden organically
and add fresh organic matter yearly, your garden becomes more healthy and pests and diseases become less of a problem. Eventually, with simple management practices, there are no real problems; just an ever-changing ecosystem.

* See Keeping Soil Healthy


honeybees on sunflower


Weed Control

"Weed" is not an exact category of plant, only a convenient way of referring to a plant for which you can at present find no use!!  ~ Moira Ryan, biologist, garden author
Weeds - pull out or mow the offenders, then mulch, mulch, mulch. It is always easier to pull up a weed when it is small, so observe for new "weeds" when you are watering or working your beds.

The concept for sheet mulching is to utilize the microorganisms to break-down the weed sructure, just as all other green materials are broken-down in the soil.

nutgrassFor difficult weeds, like nutgrass, crabgrass, or sometimes bermuda grass, the process is a little more difficult & takes longer.

In a small area, you can try to pull out most persistent weeds, such as nut grass or bermuda grass with a hand trowl before you start. For very poor, heavily compacted soil conditions this can open up the top few inches without completely destroying the soil structure. Or you can mow them and leave them to breakdown. In fact the freshly mowed weed material will help with the microbial activity and break-down of the weed bed.
* In controlling nut grass, which seems to be the worst offender, the process will take longer for the microorganisms to do their work. You can pull out any nuts you see near the surface. The weed is attached to little thin roots that have "nuts" in the ground (as deep as 6 feet) that are supplying food to the upper green part of the weed. When you carefully dig down, you need to follow the root to get the nuts. The soil needs to be moist (not soaking wet) as you do this. Or you can just leave the soil undisturbed - in time (18-24mo.) the nuts will be depleted.


1. Make sure the soil is moist after a good deep soaking.

Soak newspapers in a 5 gallon or larger bucket (until they are almost pulpy) and lay the sections or the whole thickness of the complete daily paper at a time on the soil/weeds. You want to completely cover the bed by overlapping the paper sections by at least 3 inches, so the depth of the papers is more than an inch thick. A lot of newspaper is needed for this (do not use the shiny advertising sections).
3. Cover the newspaper with cardboard that has been soaked. If you can get the cardboard from large appliances, this is best as it is very thick and large. Remove packing tape, metal staples etc. Soak the cardboard in 30 gallon garbage cans (or larger) until soft. Overlap it as you did the newspaper.
4. Cover the whole bed with mulch to a depth of four inches or more. Water the mulch well. (optional: add 1/2 to 1" compost before mulch layer)
5. Continue to keep the bed moist (don't let it dry out) to keep that barrier solid and the microorganisms (microherd) happily breaking down the organic matter (which includes the weeds), therefore developing good healthy soil and a weed free area. (put your hand 3-4" into mulch to check for moisture)

6. After six months to a year the mulch will start to disappear and you will need to add more. If a weed makes its way through (you should not get but a couple), pull it carefully and replace the layers, making sure it still has paper, cardboard and mulch covering it.


7. You can plant young individual plants in the area, (waiting 3-6 mo. is recommended). Cut a small hole through the paper/cardboard that is left and push back the mulch. Make sure not to dig a hole larger than the small root ball and put the layers back in place. Then replace the top mulch layer, leaving a couple inches of space around the tender stems so they don't suffer from disease.
* For nutgrass, the soil will need to be covered like this for up to 24 months. The concept is to utilize the microorganisms to break-down the weed structure and deplete these "nuts" which are waiting to gain access to the light from above and start over again. It is said that the "nuts" can remain viable for 18 months, but just in case, we recommend waiting 24 months to make sure.
* There is no other natural alternative to get rid of nutgrass other than digging out all the soil down about 6 feet deep and replacing it. Not really an option. Chemicals don't do the job either, (if you were willing to do that to your soil).

For other weeds, like bermuda grass, crabgrass, or dallisgrass your problem should be taken care of the first year.
Burning "hard to reach" weeds: Flame Weeders are an alternative for persistent weeds that come up between concrete, bricks, or other hard to get to areas.