Organic gardening tips: down and dirty |

Organic gardening tips: down and dirty

Nikki Florio

Whether you are starting new landscaping or modifying existing land, being attentive to soil needs and composition can help you green-up your garden and keep your plants healthy and happy. Organic composts hold foundational nutrients plants need in order to thrive in the summer and maintain health throughout the year.


Compost composition: Compost is a soil amendment derived from decomposed organic matter such as leaves, pine needles, grass clippings, and (organic) kitchen waste.

This amendment is used to improve soil structure, often replacing the need to utilize fertilizers. Compost is high in organic matter and nutrients, contributing to its rich, dark color and earthy smell.

Do’s and Don’ts

— Utilize the best combination for making compost.

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— Utilizing a compost bin/pile, mix half “green waste” (grass clippings, fruit/vegetable waste, or any other moist waste), and half “brown waste” (wood chips, pine needles, leaves, shredded newspaper, etc.) and let the microbes do the work. The temperature required for the best composts is 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

— For a healthy compost pile remember never to add:

* Invasive weed plants;

* Meat, bones, fat/grease, skin, or cat or dog or feces;

* Diseased or infested plants.


Mulching is a method of conserving moisture in the soil.

What can mulch do for you?

Mulch can:

— Modulate soil temperatures during extreme heat and cold;

— Prevent soil erosion and compaction;

— Add organic matter to the soil as it decomposes ;

— Repel pests;

— Prevent weeds.

Mulches can be made from bark, grass clippings, straw, bean hulls and organic matter.


It’s always best to avoid a lawn if possible; however, if you must have a lawn here are a few tips for a greener “green” lawn:

— A soil test or soil consultant can tell you what types of fertilizers, if any, you will need.

— Grow the right grass. Choose a drought-tolerant grass that is natural to your region.

— Water deeply and infrequently so the roots of the grass learn to go deep. Early morning watering is recommended so that the surface of the lawn dries off during the day.

— Mow properly. Recycling your grass clippings by leaving them on the lawn will provide about half of your lawn’s fertilizer needs for the season. Keep your mower blades sharp. Depending on the species, lawns should be mowed no lower than 2 1/2 to 3 inches in the summer.

— Avoid synthetic fertilizers and soil amendments. Organic fertilizers and amenders work with, not against, soil microbes creating richer, healthier soils.

— Compost contains beneficial microorganisms that add life to the soil. When organisms within the compost interact with the organic fertilizers, they provide an excellent recipe for a healthy lawn.

For more info visit:

South Tahoe Public Utility District ideas

The district has a range of tips and information for smart watering. We will be featuring a special watering column within the next few weeks. Stay tuned.

Water well.

We would like to thank our wonderful sponsors:

— Kayak Tahoe

— Woodwind Cruises

— Trader Joe’s

— Raley’s at the Y

— Nikki Florio is founder and director of the Tahoe Regional Environmental Education Program. She can be reached at (530) 314-9400 or