5 steps to starting and maintaining an organic garden

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What would encourage you to make your garden organic? For Howard Garrett, it was his granddaughter.

“She was on the porch with me, picking things up and putting them in her mouth,” he says. “I didn’t want to use anything toxic around my little girl. I had no earthly idea what organic gardening even was at that time.

Garrett, 74, is a Dallas-based horticulturist, author, and YouTuber known as the Dirt Doctor (or simply “Dirt” to his golf buddies). Since the episode with his daughter 35 years ago, he has made a career out of convincing people that organic gardening is safer, easier and cheaper than using chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.

For example, when gardeners focus on maintaining healthy, organic-rich soil, it retains more water, Garrett says. “Just watering alone, when you go the natural biological route as we recommend and teach people to do it, you save 40-50% on your water bill.”

If that’s not enough inspiration, consider Theresa Martz. Focusing on soil and mulch, Martz, who describes herself as “nearly 80,” spends just 10 minutes a day weeding her flowers and the 2,500-square-foot vegetable garden she maintains in northern Virginia for decades. Martz blogs about organic gardening at TendingMyGarden.com and is the author of OOrganic Gardening: Cutting the Hype to the 3 Keys to Successful Gardening. She wonders why no one would garden organically.

“I don’t use all these chemicals,” she says, instead enriching her soil with leaves, pine trees, straw, plant residues and other organic matter. “It’s so easy if you follow nature’s path.”

If you’re considering making the switch from conventional to organic, it can help to have some patience, says Mark Highland, founder of Organic Mechanics Soil Co. of Modena, Pa., and instructor at Mt. Cuba Center, a botanical garden near Wilmington, Delaware.

Don’t expect a beautiful organic garden the first year — there will be a transition period, says Highland. “I think humans put too much pressure on themselves to be perfect,” he says. “No garden is ever perfect.”

But it might also be easier than you think to switch to organic gardening. “I bet a lot of [people] are more organic than they think,” says Highland, noting, however, that “it can feel overwhelming in a world of choice.”

To make it less overwhelming, consider this basic five-step approach.

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