YARD AND GARDEN
Use compost to give your plants nutrients and to help break up heavy soils. If you don’t make your own, many nature centers sell bags of organic compost. Use a pitchfork to lift and mix the soil if you have one it helps protect the condition of the soil.
Mulch can help the ground retain moisture to help water go to plant roots, not to evaporation. The best mulch is raked leaves, which have the advantage of breaking down over time to provide nutrients to the soil. Alternatively, use compost as your mulch. If you prefer a more groomed look, buy organic mulch. Mulch also helps deter weed growth.
Even if you are not in an area suffering from drought, Earth in general is having a water crisis, and we all need to be water-wise. The best times to water are in the morning before 10am and in the evening after 7pm. If you live in an area with assigned water schedules, stick to them! Water deeply to help roots establish, then wait a few days to water again. Toughen up those plants to help them deal with drought! Collect rainwater in rain barrels, and be water-conservative when washing dishes, washing hands, brushing teeth, and taking a shower! Remember to water the soil not the plant--overhead watering can lead to fungus and other diseases, so get low when you water -- use drip irrigation and/or soaker hoses for maximum watering efficiency!
Buy plants that are native to your area. They require less water and less fertilizing and are better adapted to the weather conditions of your area. And they are more bug resistant! Native plants also help native wildlife by providing the very sources of food and nesting/housing areas the animals need. And you want wildlife to come, because a balanced ecosystem means a healthy yard.
Reduce Your Lawn
Getting rid of non-native grass by planting native perennials and building paths or seating areas keeps you from having to waste water to keep your grass green and being tempted to use chemicals on your lawn. Plant wildlife-friendly native plants, and it's a win-win for you and the environment!
Stop don’t grab that Round-Up! There are easy ways to take care of weeds. The first choice, of course, is to dig them up, getting their roots out. Don't let them get to seed stage before you pull them, either. But if you just feel you have to spray something, use boiling water or vinegar! The acetic acid in vinegar can be a great plant killer, but it is not selective so be careful in your application to get the weed and not its perennial neighbor. If you can’t get up all the root of a weed, you can also pour some vinegar into the hole to kill the remaining tap root. Pour boiling water or vinegar into cracks and crevices of walkways and driveways to get those hard-to-pull-out weeds. Heating the vinegar can increase its acidity for further effectiveness.
Another way to help control weeds is by using mulch and other barriers. Sheet mulching, using layers of compost, newspaper, etc., is one way to kill off Bermuda grass and other weeds, but this method involves a few months and a lot of patience, and if you have the time (and the patience), go for it. I tend to remove weeds by hand and then cover with mulch, pulling any remaining weeds if they crop up.
Remove as much of the weed as you can while wearing gloves and long clothing (wash everything immediately). Any remaining root system, spray vinegar directly. Hot vinegar can make the acidity even stronger. If you have a poison ivy reaction, vinegar supposedly also helps soothe the skin.
Grow Companion Plants
Some plants help others thrive because of their ability to attract or repel certain insects and sometimes because of their scent or their chemical changes in the soil. A couple of classic examples include growing nasturtiums or marigolds with your veggies. Nothing's guaranteed, of course, but why not put the odds in your favor by pairing up companion plants?
Strive for a Balanced Ecosystem
By planting native plants, you reduce the need for fertilizers and excessive watering. Native plants are naturally more pest resistant and conditioned for local weather, and the right kinds of native plants will provide food and shelter for other wildlife to come to your yard. Having a water source available will invite birds, bees, frogs and toads, and dragonflies to your yard, and they will pollinate your plants and/or eat your pest bugs. Ultimately you, your plants, and wildlife will all work together, and your yard will naturally be more healthy, and possibly even thrive.
Keeping the Beneficial Bugs
Learn to recognize which bugs are beneficial in your garden, and let them live. They are the natural predators of your evil bugs, or they are the pollinators of your plants, and sometimes both. Never ever use a generic insecticide, and always read about even organic pest controls before you use them, as they could harm pollinators and other beneficials.
Love the Weird and the Creepy
Worms, snakes, praying mantises,spiders, lizards, dragonflies, hornets, and wasps -- they are gardeners' allies. If you see them, thank them for eating your bad bugs and then ignore them.You want them in your yard.
Sprinkle coffee grounds in your garden bed to keep cats out of your soil. I have not yet tried this, but I read about it. Vinegar also repels cats, but vinegar kills plants, so stick to the coffee grounds, which have the advantage of adding nutrients to the soil. Alternatively, buy a dog. That's a joke! I have both, haha.
Plant deer-resistant plants in areas deer have access to. Also, sprinkle dog fur or human hair around your plants to help keep deer away. It helps you avoid putting up wire to keep the deer out! Nothing is guaranteed deer resistant in a drought, though. Please don’t feed the deer population numbers are out of control, and Lyme disease and other tick-carried diseases are spreading.
Pour boiling water on their colony careful not to pour onto the root system of any plants nearby. I always boil two large pots the first one for the main colony, the second one to get any ants on the exterior. Vinegar helps keep ants away, too, but be careful where you place it because it kills plants.
Supposedly they don’t like the smell of vinegar, so placing small containers might help keep them away. I don’t have rabbits (yet), so I can’t test this out. Be careful that the vinegar won’t spill onto your plants, however.
Set out small dishes with beer to trap and drown the slimy little creatures.
Every gardener has their nemesis, and aphids are mine. Ladybugs are your aphid-eating friends, as are lacewings, so it's important that you recognize their larvae. Beyond that, I handwash the aphids off my plants, occasionally using a soapy spray, and as a last resort, the high-pressure spray.
So far I'm still figuring out how to best handle these annoying insects. So far, my shoe and dreams of chickens are winning.
Vegetable-specific bugs and pests
Check on your garden everyday, and watch for signs of invading bugs. Pick off what bugs you can and drop them in soapy water. Make use of shadecloth, row cover, chicken-wire, and whatever else might deter your veggie-loving pests from getting your harvest.
Make sure that you empty any containers that might have standing water, and if you have a small, still pond, be sure to add a fish or two to eat any mosquito larvae, or use an organic mosquito dunk. A fountain or waterfall is usually enough to keep mosquitoes from laying eggs in other ponds.
I will add more tips as I learn them myself, and if you have any other tips, I welcome them!