Plants for organic gardening

Organic gardening is all about natural cycles – life, decay and renewal. It is important to choose the right plants for the job.
Once you’ve prepared your soil in line with organic practices, you need to give Mother Nature the best chance of producing a spectacular garden for you. To do so, plant the correct plants for the correct purpose.

Companion planting

Companion planting is part of the organic approach and is done to improve plant health, increase crop yields, deter pests, attract beneficial insects and to reduce the incidence of disease. Here are a few suggestions to get you started – if you want to know more about companion planting and all the benefits thereof, there are many good books and websites on the subject.
Plants that attract pollinators and predators: Calendula, coriander, dill, fennel, parsley, feverfew and yarrow.
Plants that help with pest control: Mint, lavender, rosemary, alliums, wormwood, marigolds, nasturtiums, autumn chrysanthemums, pyrethrum, tansy and feverfew.
Sacrificial plants or insect trapping plants: Nasturtiums, basil, nicotiana and calendula.
Plants that prevent disease: Garlic, chives and stinging nettles.
Plants that improve the soil: Peas, beans, clover, buckwheat, lupines and mustard.

The good news!

You don’t have to cook up home-made concoctions to deter insects and prevent diseases anymore, as it is now possible to stock your garden shed with commercial organically certified insecticides and fungicides that are eco-friendly, safe and convenient to use.

A manufacturer of a whole range of organic products for pest control offered the following advice on their website:

  • Spray in the coolest part of the day, when beneficial insects are less active.
  • The products are only active for 12 hours after spraying, so if you are trying to treat an insect feeding at night, it stands to reason that you should spray late in the afternoon so that the insecticide is still active when the insect feeds.
  • Aim for balance. If you remove all the insect ‘pests’ you will not attract birds. If you get rid of all the caterpillars, you won’t have the butterflies – some of which are essential pollinators.

The right plants

Plants that can adapt to your climate and soil are more likely to flourish than the impulse buys we all fall for. Go mainly for indigenous plants, but don’t forfeit the exotics altogether. The secret is to pick those that are advertised as disease resistant or approved winners. Growers spend countless hours in the hothouse developing new hybrids from old classics, and their main goal is to produce the same flower power with the minimum of hassle.

More good news!

Seed companies in South Africa have come a long way with high-yield vegetable, herb and flower seeds, and they have also given us a much wider variety of modern cultivars and heirloom types to choose from. This makes it possible to grow anything you need organically, from sowing to harvest.
You can also feed all your plants with natural fertilisers, which are mostly chicken-manure based. These fertilisers require much less water, don’t burn plant roots, and release their nutrients slowly and continuously. Organic liquid plant boosters and growth stimulants to make seedlings and cuttings strong are fish- or seaweed-based, and totally natural.

Organic fertiliser

Organic fertiliser is the oldest form of plant nutrition and is still very popular under gardeners today. Organic fertiliser is naturally slow releasing with natural Carbon to better the retention of nutrition in your garden soil. This substantially lessens the loss of nutrients through maceration. In spite of the long duration the nutrients are kept in the soil, the pellets are easily broken down so will not be picked up by your lawnmower.

Organic fertilisers promote the activity of micro-organisms in the soil that break down plant nutrient elements into a form that is available for the plants absorption abilities. Regular fertilisation with organic fertiliser strengthens cell walls of the plant which in turn leads to less water required and a plant that is hardened to extreme temperatures.

Organic fertiliser contains the three most important nutrient elements known as: Nitrogen (N), Phosphate (P) and Potassium (K). It also contains many important micro- elements that plants require for healthy growth such as Iron (Fe), Manganese (Mn), Copper (Cu), Zinc (Zn) and Barium (B) to name but a few.

Mother Nature’s rules

Don’t overdo anything!

  • Thick layers of compost up against the stems of plants will make them rot. Layers of compost should not be more than 10-15cm thick. Most mulches, like bark nuggets, straw and grass clippings, still need to break down and should be in thinner layers and replaced more often.
  • Even a thin layer of kraal manure that is not well decomposed could kill off your whole garden. Never buy the ‘cheap’ loads sold by street vendors – buy from reputable sources.
  • Apply organic fertilisers strictly according to the rules on the container. They are slow releasing, formulated to supply nutrients over a specific time frame, and can be applied all year long. Over-feeding will encourage soft and sappy growth that’s prone to attack by pests and diseases.
  • Water deeply and less frequently.
  • Remove all diseased leaves and stems immediately, to stop problems from spreading.
The Gardener