Organic Horticultural Benefits Alliance – Lecture in Houston review

Green Grow Organics founder Sam Sittlerle, our business development director, Mary Nethery, and our friend Hector Navarro attended the Betsy Ross lecture in Houston Tuesday evening. Our hosts were the OHBA. A fantastic evening of learning and discussion about how to get carbon back into the ground. Analyzing soil structure and seeing where a property is, before deciding where we want it to be, is critical. Deciding what kind of landscape we want to produce and what end result we want is key.  Many local landscape architects and organic product manufacturers as well as property managers were present.  A great turn out and discussion ensued of some of Betsy Ross’s projects in the Houston area as well as the George W. Bush Library on the SMU Campus in Dallas.

OHBA is a community focused organization dedicating to educating all individuals, gardeners, homeowners, landscapers, schools and truth seekers on the real world application and benefits of organics, so that our community not only survives but thrives, as the world moves towards organics and sustainability.

Betsy Ross is our friend and mentor. She is the founder of Sustainable Growth Texas.  Green Grow Organics is working with Betsy on the City of San Antonio’s first chemical-free project, starting soon.  The Lackland Corridor Gateway project is the 1st phase of a multi-phased project along Military Drive.  Creating these safe, healthy, natural environments has untold benefits.  We carved a significant savings out of the project by following natural biological horizontal construction methodology, rather than chemical-conventional, which is all too prevalent.  Fortunately, our industry, municipalities and institutions are moving toward this methodology.

Look for more of these projects on the horizon as the GSA (General Services Administration) has moved to SITES Standards, which are the environmentally-friendly standards the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center helped develop.  It is a bit odd since LBJWC is not fully-organic.  Regardless, it’s a great move for the earth and for all its creatures.

Fungal Issues in the South Central Texas Landscape: A Basic Primer

Fungal issues arise in our landscapes for a variety of reasons and cause any number of unsightly conditions, and worse, demise in our plant material. Some of the fungal diseases we experience in the South Central Texas Region are:

  • Powdery Mildew,
  • Black Spot,
  • Cotton Root Rot, and
  • Oak Wilt fungus.

We approach these issues by understanding ‘the disease triangle’ – the connection between the plant, the disease-causing organism, and the environment.

Many fungal issues arise from foliage remaining wet for long periods of time and in extended periods of temperatures in a certain range. Careful consideration of irrigation settings, especially during an odd bought of drought or intense seasonal rains, is crucial to successful landscape management. Watering in the early morning is best, to allow foliage to completely dry before nightfall. Leaves are the plant and tree’s lungs. They do not “drink”, they merely breathe.

Proper pruning techniques will save many a fungal issue from arising. Roses are very similar to Crape Myrtles in structure and pruning requirements. They both require excellent internal air circulation. Crossing branches and heavy foliage on the interior of roses and crape myrtles can lead to wet foliage and powdery mildew, which appears grey and crystalline, folding and contorting leaves. Roses will develop Black Spot when foliage is kept wet by improper irrigation rotor heads rather than the preferred drip irrigation. (See diagram for proper pruning techniques to avoid fungal issues in roses and crape myrtles).

041105308_pruning_lagerstroemia_xlg pruningdiagram


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Proper spacing of plant material, based on mature size, will also save many fungal issues. Overcrowded foliage is more susceptible to wet conditions by nature of the foliage density.  Shrubs can be pruned to achieve ideal branch configuration and to eliminate overcrowding and tangled branches. Planting a variety of cultivars, rather than wide swaths of monoculture, help create a well-integrated, multi-faceted garden that encourages beneficial inhabitants.

Powdery mildew and black spot can both be treated organically, with many recipes and opinions available online. Organic controls include neem oil, made from the neem tree in India. Neem has been found to be nominally effective for powdery mildew, and more effective as a broad spectrum, natural insecticide. Baking soda and a dormant oil or liquid soap mixture can be sprayed early on at first detection. Spraying every two weeks will usually deter further development of powdery mildew. Vinegar and even common mouthwash can be used to deter fungal disease. 1 part to 3 parts water is a good rule, but always test foliage to check any particular sensitivities and dilute mixture accordingly. 1 part milk and 2 parts water have been discovered to combat disease while also boosting a plant’s immune system. In any spraying task, wear good rubber gloves and if windy, wear eye and nose protection for any mixtures containing mint, citrus, alcohol or peppers.

Good hygiene in the garden is a very effective tool to combat disease. Keep the base of all plant material clear and free of mulch. Expose the flare root of all trees. In rose gardens, keep foliage exhibiting Black Spot, off the ground, or it will merely keep a cycle of disease going. Dispose of diseased plant matter carefully and do not add to your compost pile.  3-5% organic matter in landscape soils and under turf grass will keep a healthy ecosystem that will feed on organic applications of “biologicals”. We flip the ‘disease triangle’ on its back by building proper, balanced soil biology, planting a variety of cultivars and knowing the early signs of any fungal issue. Set your landscape up for success and know that there are many completely safe, non-toxic methods of help available, should your garden succumb to weather and a “fungus amongus”.

Stay tuned. In our next blog post, we will address Cotton Root Rot and Oak Wilt, A Basic Primer.

Beneficial Insects: The Lacewing

At Green Grow Organics and Metroscapes Landscaping, we work to implement IPM. Integrated Pest Management.

One of our very favorite beneficial insects is the Lacewing, Chrysopidae. They are translucent and somewhat iridescent, pale green with coppery eyes.  Simply magical to see them rising out of my boxwood every year. They lay their eggs at night, singly or in small groups. Typically lacewing will lay their eggs on plants where aphids are prevalent.

Lacewing eggs on thin protective fibers

Lacewing eggs on thin protective fibers

Very voracious predators, the larva, are also called “aphid lions” or “aphid wolves”. They eat aphids, thrips, mealybugs, whiteflies, scale insects and other small flies. Unfortunately, they do eat some butterfly eggs and small beetles. But generally speaking, they do much more good than harm. They eat over 200 prey weekly.  The adult lacewing doesn’t eat predators, but they lay eggs that emerge in 7-10 days.  Cyclical release of beneficial insects is the way to stay on top of predator issues in the garden.

From tiny eggs, through the larval stage to adult.

From tiny eggs, through the larval stage to adult.

Encourage beneficial insects by discontinuing the use of broad-spectrum pesticides. Our 100% organic methods are designed to protect tiny creatures…….especially the magical ones that fight many of our battles for us in the garden. Each time we see them, we imagine a belly full of destructive aphids. And we thank them.

One of the prettiest beneficial insects in our gardens

One of the prettiest beneficial insects in our gardens