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Sonoma County Gazette
Get out and enjoy the natural gardens of the Sonoma Coast.
Get out and enjoy the natural gardens of the Sonoma Coast.

Using Plants that
Thrive Where You Live 

Mar 31, 2019
by Roger Raiche David McCrory, Planet Horticulture


Garden Terroir

Wine production is a big part of our local culture and economy and brings along with it our hospitality and many supported industries. Our wines rate among the best in the world! Terroir, a term that almost every wine producer uses today, is the French term defined as how the taste of the wine is an expression of the soil and sense of place that the grapes are grown in. 

Wilflowers should be easy to find in many parts of the county.To experience real terroir, we need to respect our terroir and avoid using chemicals and pesticides. Supporting “organic” or ecologically respectful wine producers, farmers, nurseries and food producers as much as possible supports change in this area. Commercial landscape spaces, neighborhood associations, and home gardeners, can also contribute positively to our environment. To experience the real expression of our landscaped spaces, we need to use plants that like what our soil and microclimate and minimize the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Planet Horticulture believes in an organic gardening approach to both installation and maintenance of landscapes. We believe that gardens and landscapes function best when plants are situated in the right place, in appropriate soils and irrigated properly (or not if that is what they prefer). Using plants that thrive where you live eliminates a lot of the intervention – often chemical – when plants are grown in the wrong place, soil, and moisture regime.

Healthy tasty vegetables can be grown even where little ground exists.Feed. If you are using plants that are not adaptable to your soils, manure amendments contribute to activating the soil and making it more fertile. There are a wide variety of organic fertilizers available when you need to feed. Sea kelp, manures and other natural materials are the best way to feed your plants ecologically.

Mulch. Mulching keeps the soil soft, aerated and temperatures moderated. An adequate mulch also makes weeding – perhaps everyone’s least favorite garden activity – less necessary, and those weeds that come up easier to remove, or bury. In areas where plants require more nutrients, a good quality compost, combined with mulching can make a profound difference. Bare dirt promotes masses of weeds, hard soil crusts, depleted moisture – and is in many ways the enemy of quality soil.  Some mulches, especially very close to structures, can be contribute to potential fire fuel. You may use less mulch in these areas or have your moister zones closer to structures.

Mow instead of spraying. Mowing areas not specifically planted is far preferable to the herbicide – scorched earth solution. Mowing high and dry grass can reduce fire fuel and is an important maintenance chore.  In our summer dry climate, mowing can occur infrequently – just enough to keep vegetation low, but allowing roots to occupy the soil and the plants often to produce flowers that can attract pollinators and provides habitats for them. 

Prune. Pruning should be done periodically to keep certain plants in the desired height and size range. This promotes fresh new growth and often, flower and fruit production. Pruning can renew declining plants and to eliminate excessive debris. Hedging, while sometimes useful for certain effects, tends to deny the inherent shape and character of plants – reducing them to geometric blobs, often eliminating the flowers or seed which are important in a nature friendly living landscape. Pruning should enhance the character and features of the plant. A diverse garden allows for seasonal adjustments without a massive demand of time.

Western azalea is a magnificent native shrub for the April garden.Problem plants. Many people, for unknown reasons, insist on trying to grow plants that have constant problems, anemic look, diseased foliage, mildew, or attract every pest in your neighborhood. Just get rid of them. Find plants that thrive and may give a similar effect. Some examples include black spot and mildew susceptible roses. Don’t use chemical sprays for these plants to keep them pristine. Choose among the many rose varieties that are more resistant to these problems.

Don’t freak out. Just because insects appear on your plants doesn’t mean it’s time to bring in the napalm. The more diverse a garden is, the more diverse the insects and pollinators will be.  Pollinators have many intricate interactions, which for the most part, plants can easily live with, indeed some need. Don’t expect every leaf or flower to be perfect, plants are part of the food chain. The balance between pest and predator can only achieve a balance if they are left to do their thing. Diversity in planting, also helps to assure that when damage occurs, it will be sporadic and not ruin an entire planting.  A common example of this is in spring when aphids often cover new rose buds.  Don’t freak out, take a closer look.  You will likely see that lacewing insects are feasting on these aphids.  The proliferation of the aphids will create food that will feed beneficial insects that will control the aphid populations for the rest of the season. Get the most joy out of your garden terroir by encouraging alternatives to chemical treatments.   


Garden for the Planet By Roger Raiche David McCrory



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