Lady beetle Organic Alterntives

 Soil Preparation          Nutrition          Weeds          Disease          Pests          Irrigation

Soil Prepreparation:

Using organic soil amendments helps sustain a nutritional balance of nitrogen, carbon, oxygen, and other major and minor nutrients necessary for healthy plants. As compost and organic mulches break down, they produce humic acid that helps correct pH problems in high lime soils. It also creates a friendly environment for beneficial soil fungi. All of these factors increase nutrient availability to the root zone. Soil innoculants are commercially available and can help "jump-start" poor soils once they have been amended.

Mulching with organic material around trees and shrubs and in flower and vegetable beds will help the soil become soft and airy, hold more moisture and require less irrigation. Side dress with compost to provide a steady supply of nutrients. We have created new planting beds from hard, dry soils by mulching with a 12-inch layer of leaves and compost for a few seasons.

A current theory suggests that tilling your garden every year may not be the best thing to do. As beneficial fungi establish in organic soils, they form mats of mycelia that are destroyed by tilling. Tilling may also bring new weed seed to the surface where they may germinate. With regular application of organics, tilling isn't necessary every season.


In addition to the nutritional benefits of organic mulches and compost discussed above, there are a few other amendments that will improve plant nutrition and soil quality. Texas green sand applied at 50 lbs. per 3000 square feet will provide a slow and safe supply of available iron to prevent chlorosis. Epson salts can give faster relief for yellow foliage. Early test results are also showing the benefit of broadcast applications of cornmeal.

Coffee and tea grounds contain up to 2 percent nitrogen. Organic kitchen refuse can be composted and added to the garden. This returns nutrients and organics to the soil while reducing household waste.

An application of soil and root fungi and bacteria has proven very effective on landscapes that have been restored to organic management. It is best applied after two or three years of non-chemical care.


Don't let the weeds have your vegetable garden in any season. They consume nutrients, moisture, and drop seed there (and everywhere else you don't need them). Use your fall leaves (and live oak leaves in early spring) to mulch around shrubs, vegetables, annuals and perennials. This discourages germination of exposed weed seeds. If your neighbors still dispose of their leaves, ask them to drop the bags in your yard. Additional leaf mulch will increase the organic biomass in your garden.

Corn gluten meal is effective as a pre-emergent weed control in the garden and in container plants. Because it is short lived, application timing is important for seasonal germinators.


Baking soda can be applied once or twice per year for control of black spot and powdery mildew on roses & other susceptible plants. Pick off and rake up infected leaves and spray soil surface as well. If more applications are needed, use Potassium bicarbonate to prevent a salt buildup for the backing soda. (4 tsp potassium bicarbonate & 1/4 tsp dish soap in one gallon).

Corn meal has also been found to control fungal diseases. Spread 1 to 2 lbs. of whole ground corn meal per 100 square feet around plants susceptible to root rot, brown patch, powdery mildew, or black spot. Our tests show corn meal effective in controlling pond algae when broadcast on the surface.

Experiments are underway using molasses and seaweed extract that appear to increase resistance to foliar diseases and cold damage. We will post the results upon completion.

Insect Pests:

Once chemical pesticides are no longer present in the garden, the natural predators and parasites of insect pests will begin to return. Some natural pest controls are commercially available. Allow a few cilantro, dill, fennel and parsley plants to flower. They serve as host plants for beneficial insects and produce seed for next year.

Discourage beginning spider mites on veggies and other plants by spraying foliage with liquid seaweed extract. Treat advanced infestation with 1/4-cup buttermilk and 2 tbs. flour completely dissolved in 1-gallon water. Spray all surfaces of the plant, especially the undersides of the leaves.

Grubs, fleas, chinch bugs, termites, and even ticks to some extent, are controlled by seasonal applications of beneficial nematodes The need to be applied early in the season for tick control. Although we didn't know what to expect the effect on non-target soil life to be, earthworms were not affected and fireflies actually increased!

Fire ants are controlled to some extent by beneficial nematodes. Otherwise, use ant baits based on Insect Growth Regulators, or IGRs. Use them carefully as they can affect native ants as well. Get your neighbors to cooperate in a fire ant control program. Collaborate at the next neighborhood association meeting!

Grasshoppers and other leaf chewing insects can be controlled by the use of a bacteria know as BT. It does not affect bees, birds, and other non-target life. Be careful where you apply it as it can affect desirable butterfly larvae. Apply in the evening after the sun is no longer directly on the leaves surfaces.

Orange oil controls beetles, fire ants and weeds by contact spray. Refined vegetable oils such as "Sunspray" can be used to control scale insects and whitefly larvae.


Its kind of fun and can save you money just to get out and watch your automatic sprinklers run through the cycles. Make sure all heads, drip emitters, and soakers are still the appropriate style for current garden conditions. Keep up with weeds and unwanted tree seedlings that rob water and nutrients from other plants in the shrub and flowerbeds or lawns. Start raising lawn mower height to help shade root zone and avoid removing too much leaf tissue at once.

Fall leaves can be collected and used as mulch under trees, shrubs and other plants. By Spring, the leaves will be well on their way to humus. Live Oak leaves that fall in the Spring will provide a mulch that will last through the swarm weather.
Soil surfactants break the surface tension of water and dramatically increase water penetration into the soil. A natural surfactant is now being made from an extract of the Yucca plant. So far, we haven't seen any burn from this product, and results have been impressive.

It only makes sense to run your sprinkler systems in the early morning hours when evaporation will be lowest and winds won't blow the sprays onto non-target areas. (Mosses and Selaginellas are exceptions, preferring an evening shower so they can metabolize the extra water before exposure to hot sun)


These are a few suggestions that will help you be successful in gardening by cooperating with nature! Visit often to see new results and suggestions.

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