Our Transition from Conventional to Organic Land Care

As a gardener, I’ve never favored the use synthetic materials as means of insect and disease control. I have persistently paid close attention to plants and planting them in accordance with their cultural needs and suiting their cultural needs to a specific site to eliminate stresses that would otherwise cause pest outbreaks or poor performance in the landscape. 

Around 2005 we changed our company’s maintenance practices from what was a hybrid organic philosophy, to a completely organic maintenance philosophy which includes a more sustainable approach to design, plant heath care and organic turf care with a greater focus on soil health. With a 30 year gardening background and a major emphasis on plants and their culture, the changes to the design and maintenance component of our company have been insignificant. However, a much larger importance was placed on the use of native, non-native/non-invasive plants, incorporating edible plants into the landscape and the removal of exotic invasive plants. 

The largest learning curve was the development of our organic turf care systems. The decision to begin managing turf came about in 2005 when I came to the realization that we were doing all this great organic work in our perennial gardens all the while walking around in third party synthetic turf treatments. It just seemed like a natural progression. When we began exploring the idea of maintaining turf organically there was not as much information available as there is now, which in retrospect is a good thing. I had to have a complete understanding of how organic turf systems worked from soil to seed, to the continuing care that is needed. 

With some excellent mentors and many classes and seminars and most importantly some wonderful, very open-minded clients that let us use their properties for test plots, we have successfully offered organic turf programs to our clients. In the long run this absence of immediate information made our organic turf systems better and gave me a better understanding of what problems could occur and how to proactively handle problems when or if they arise.

As a quick example of where we came from then to now, our original turf systems had corn gluten as a chief fertility input for our programs, and we learned quickly that corn gluten was not the panacea to organic turf care as it seemed to be touted. The reason being is that due to the excessive amount of nitrogen in one application and the amount of granular corn gluten needed to achieve the pre-emergent herbicidal affects that were desired, a number of problems arose from the use of corn gluten. Now we use no corn gluten and rely on turf density and minimizing turf in shaded problematic areas.

Today, information on organic systems is much more readily available now and organic products help make the learning curve less steep. However, organic(/minimum risk 25b) exempt products should be used sparingly and not solely relied upon as a problem solver. These products may aid as buffer while your turf transitions and your clients’ mindset and expectations are also transitioning. No matter what or how much information is handed to you regarding OLC, nothing can beat field experience.

To learn more about what we do, visit us at www.mccoyfinegardens.com.

Written by Richard A. McCoy