Seasonal Gardening: Safety Of Pesticides, Colored Mulch Boosts Yields and Keep Bare Roots Moist

The Seasons of the Garden column shares seasonal gardening news briefs on the safety of pesticides, using colored mulch to boost vegetable yields and keeping bare roots moist until planted.

| January/February 1988

The Seasons of the Garden column shares seasonal gardening information and tips with MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers. 

Pesticide concern is on the rise. According to a national Gallup poll of 1,500 households, 88% of consumers rank the safety of a pesticide they use as more important than its effectiveness. Indeed, 55% of the pesticide using respondents said their worries about the dangers of using chemical insect controls have risen in just the past three years.

Such concerns are spreading to the commercial landscaping and tree-service industries, as well. The nationwide tree-care firm Davey Tree & Expert Co., for instance, is reducing its pesticide use on trees and shrubs by 75% by using customized sprayers and Safer-brand insecticidal soaps.

A few firms are going 100% cold turkey. Frank Harder, president of Harder Landscape Contractors in Hempstead, Connecticut, has quit using pesticides entirely—after relying on them for 40 years. Why? He felt uneasy about the presumed "short- and long-term innocence" of pesticides, the concerns expressed by his employees who were exposed to the sprays, the high cost of using them and the increasing risk of liability suits. Now he concentrates on cultural methods for maintaining healthy plants, saying, "We believe neglect is the real enemy that is generally fought by chemical warfare." The results? His business is growing, and "we sleep nights."

Even some lawn-care companies have gone organic. Mike Merner, of Charlestown, Rhode Island, dropped the chemical-intensive lawn-care approach when he saw the vicious cycle of dependency it created. Now he runs the Organic Landscape Company and guarantees that the lawns he cares for won't have insect or disease problems. What secret ingredient does he use to maintain such wonderfully robust home turf? Compost. He makes it himself out of livestock manure, fish scraps and plant clippings.

Seasonal Gardening Research Briefs

Colored mulch boosts yields. Red mulch has been found to increase tomato fruit size and number, and white mulch aided pepper and potato production. Research in this area is just beginning, but the future could hold "designer gardens" with rainbow-like arrays of mulch.

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