Since 1984, when we started publishing our gardening newsletter, Hort-Ideas, we've watched many new horticultural developments take root and grow (or wither away). Some of these are turning into definite trends that—for better or for worse—will most likely influence your gardening in the coming years.
The amazing neem! The insecticide of the future is neem, a biological pesticide derived from a tropical fruit tree. Its active ingredient, azadirachtin, has been found to slow or stop the feeding of more than 150 pest insects and mites, including Japanese beetles, aphids, whiteflies, and thrips. Yet it appears to have little adverse effect on mammals, adult honeybees, or earthworms. Because neem acts systemically (translocating throughout plants after being added to the soil), the EPA currently is cautious about approving its use. Trend: Neem may largely replace conventional insecticides in home and market gardens.
The killer bees are (still) coming. For years, U.S. officials have been worrying about the impending—and apparently inevitable—invasion of South America's Africanized bees. But the "killer" bees aren't all bad. Latin American beekeepers are already learning how to join what they can't lick. They use larger smokers and better protective clothing and locate hives away from the public. Since the bees are aggressive foragers that can thrive in areas where traditional honeybees do not, some countries even have higher honey yields than before. Trend: Africanized bees may well form the basis for a new American apiculture.
A low-spray apple a day. Thanks to the dedication and persistence of a few orchardists and researchers, we know much more about growing apples with minimal pesticides than we did five years ago. Better disease-resistant varieties and innovative trapping techniques are also helping. Trend: Amateur and commercial low-spray apple growing is here to stay.
Here come the bug suckers! Oversized vacuum cleaners for sucking pest insects off crops are now routinely replacing chemical insecticides on New York, Massachusetts, and California farms. Smaller vacuum devices have been developed for use indoors. Trend: Hand-held "garden vacs" for home use are likely to appear in the near future.
Booming bio-control. More and more commercial greenhouse growers are using beneficial insects to control pests. In turn, supply houses for bio-controls are springing up from coast to coast. Trend: Bio-control techniques will become the rule, rather than the exception, in both commercial and private greenhouses. Eventually these methods will even be used in homes and offices with indoor plants.
Mushrooming mushrooms. Interest in growing unusual types of mushrooms (especially shiitakes) is burgeoning. There are now a number of companies dedicated to providing spawn for exotic mushrooms, and there is much research on highly intensive indoor production techniques. Trend: Do-it-yourself mushroom growing has developed into big business!
A few "quick takes":
Trend: Fabric ("floating") row covers, created to extend the growing season, have turned out to be so effective at screening out insect pests that they're becoming almost indispensable for pesticide-free gardening.
Trend: Volunteers in the Master Gardener program will continue to become more numerous and proficient, helping budget-strapped Extension Services provide top-notch aid to home gardeners in more and more states.
Trend: Sadly, practical, grower-oriented horticultural research at land-grant universities is being largely replaced by high-tech, industry-oriented biotechnology research.
Trend: The discovery that some temperate-zone plants flourish indoors just as well as the standby tropical species do has the potential to "redecorate" homes and offices.
Trend: Now that it's been shown that pesticidal mineral oils don't damage most ornamental plants when used during the growing season, these effective insect controls will be enthusiastically adopted.
Greg and Pat Williams raise most of their food on a small farm and publish Hort Ideas, an e-newsletter on gardening research and products.