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Southeast Gardening: Organic Gardening Basics

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

Organic gardeners have more choices than ever. See what Lowe’s Southeast garden expert has to recommend when it comes to going green.

butterfly caterpillar

By Glenn DiNella

The Garden Writers Association has a program titled Plant a Row for the Hungry. The idea is to get people to plant extra fruits and vegetables and donate the bounty to local food banks or other charities. I advocate this same technique for wildlife.

Put plastic netting on most of your blueberry bushes, but leave one or two uncovered and see what kinds of songbirds they attract. Instead of dusting or drenching your plants with insect killer (even organic types), consider simply planting extras. If monarch butterfly caterpillars (see above) devour your parsley every summer, set out some extra plants so both of you have enough.

diatomaceous earth

Diatomaceous earth is the ground-up remains of hard-shell algae called diatoms. You can dust this fine, white powder on or around plants or on anthills to kill slugs, snails, and caterpillars; and all types of hard-shell insects such as ants, grasshoppers, Japanese beetles, roaches, and fleas.

You should identify your pest to make sure you kill undesirable types such as cabbage looper caterpillars rather than beneficial bees, lady beetles, or butterfly caterpillars. Follow directions and use a mask when dispensing the product. This irritant is not something you want in your lungs.


For years I was skeptical of the fertilizer product Milorganite. After all, it derives from wastewater treatment plants. But the product is not the waste itself but the heat-dried microbes that have digested the waste. The microbes have been “cooked” at 900–1,200°F to kill any pathogens.

After I read up on Milorganite, I finally decided to give it a try. I like that it’s granular, and easy to dispense with a spreader. I also like that it’s organic and meets EPA and USDA standards.

Also, the N:P:K numbers are low (5-2-0), so it’s a mild, nonburning fertilizer. High-nitrogen fertilizers are okay on occasion, but they become a problem when nitrogen washes into our lakes and streams and kills wildlife -- usually by encouraging the growth of oxygen-depleting algae. In addition to the small amount of nitrogen, Milorganite has 4 percent iron to help green up grass.


Another brand of natural fertilizer I use is Holly-tone. Much the same as Milorganite, it’s all organic, mild, safe, easy to spread, not too pungent, and available at Lowe’s. Holly-tone makes many different formulas, so look for bags labeled for evergreens and azaleas, roses, lawns, citrus, palms, bulbs, flowers, or whatever you grow.

Besides organic contents, such as feather meal, poultry manure, green sand, cocoa meal, and bone meal, Holly-tone contains microorganisms that keep your soil alive. Sterile chemical fertilizers do nothing in this department. Naturally occurring bacteria boost plants’ immune systems and help them fight off various pests and disease.

See all Southeast Gardening Articles.