What is Organic Land Care?

Have you ever heard of organic land care (OLC)? If so, have you ever wondered how it works, or more importantly if it works without the use of synthetic chemicals? 

OLC in its fundamental nature is based in science, observing overall best cultural practices, common sense and implementation of a project correctly. A common misunderstanding about OLC is that it’s a mere swap of synthetic for organic product – it is instead a complete paradigm overhaul, meaning there can be a significant learning curve depending on one’s existing landscape background. 

Essentially, OLC is an ecological approach to landscaping. I would surmise that it was coined “organic land care” because it is probably the most recognizable for the general public. Anything with the word “organic” will hook people and therefore raise awareness.

The Rutgers Cooperative Extension Organic Land Care Working Group defines OLC as “a holistic approach to landscaping that improves the natural resources of a site by fostering cycling of resources, promoting ecological balance and conserving biodiversity”.

Expanding on the Rutgers definition when we refer to organic land care in the landscape, we look at the whole landscape as a complete living system. Within this system, all living things are considered, from microorganisms in the soil, planting native or non-native/non-invasive plants to attract natural/native wildlife and pollinators, proper planting (refers to the right plant right place theory and observing the proper planting depth of a plant), water usage/conservation and appropriate cultural maintenance practices.

If you are a professional currently using “conventional” means (IPM, intergraded pest management or just a completely old school synthetic program) to maintain your landscapes or a concerned citizen just beginning to explore the idea of organics in the landscape, OLC will be an eye opening journey. You will begin to see how we seemingly, without a second thought to the damage we cause as a society, adversely impact all living flora and fauna that sustain us.

The problem stems from the general public seeing all types of sub-par work on a neighbor’s property, in a shopping mall or business complex and assumes that this is the way landscapes should appear and be maintained, which couldn’t be further from the truth. It is frustrating and difficult to understand how, in a residential neighborhood, someone could accept their plants struggling and barely clinging to life, and trees dying after a year or two of their initial installation as being acceptable or normal. All the while the landscape next door is flourishing with healthy plants full of vibrant colors and trees three times the size as theirs and never ask themselves why or how. There is a lot of perception changing that needs to take place if OLC is going to become the norm instead of exception.

Before considering the journey into becoming an organic land care practitioner, one should be willing to adapt to a zero-tolerance or extremely low tolerance use of synthetic herbicides, pesticides, fungicides or fertilizers and only use them, if ever, in extreme cases. It is critical that this philosophy is understood and strictly adhered to. There are companies that claim to be organic or provide organic treatments and truly are not. Cutting corners under any circumstance is not acceptable. The application of a synthetic when used in OLC is presently termed a “rescue treatment” and is one that should only be considered when all other organic means have been exhausted and proven unsuccessful. There are many opinions that vary on whether or not rescue treatments should even be allowed at all. There is ongoing debate on how acceptable or not acceptable rescue treatments actually are and what parameters would deem that a synthetic application be appropriate.

Although OLC as a sector is relatively new to the landscape industry, the concept of working in harmony with one’s local ecology is age-old. Perhaps you already live a more sustainable life, or maybe you are new to the process. Either way, OLC can spread into every part of your life and be a truly intense experience. Once one’s perception is changed regarding their immediate surroundings, awareness regarding topics such as the food you consume and the way you live inside your home and office (e.g. utilizing less toxic cleaners or detergents) can blossom. OLC can lead to a complete shift that will change us all for the better. 

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

Written by Richard A. McCoy