Print This Page

Basic Organic Program



The approach that works better in every way.

Stimulating and maintaining healthy, biologically active soil is the key. Avoid doing anything that hurts the life in the soil and apply only inputs that benefit the life in the soil.


1. Stop using all synthetic fertilizers, toxic pesticides and other synthetic chemicals that harm beneficial life. High-nitrogen fertilizers are salts and harmful to the soil. Nitrogen-only products are even worse.

2. Build soil health with aeration, compost, rock minerals, sugars, microorganism products and shredded native tree trimmings mulch.

3. Plant native plants and well-adapted introductions, water carefully, mulch bare soil and use low to no-toxicity pest control products.


Bed Preparation - Scrape away existing grass and weeds; add compost, lava sand or other rock minerals, organic fertilizer, cornmeal, dry molasses and till it all into the native soil. Excavation of natural soil and additional ingredients such as concrete sand, peat moss, foreign soil and pine bark should not be used. More compost is needed for food crops, shrubs and flowers than for turf, ground- covers and native plants. Add greensand to black and white soils and high-calcium lime to acid soils. Decomposed granite, rock phosphate and zeolite are effective for most all soils.


Fertilizing - Broadcast organic fertilizer to the entire site 2-3 times per year at 20 lbs. per 1,000 sq. ft. Foliar feed all plants during the growing season, at least monthly with Garrett Juice. High-nitrogen salt fertilizers, Miracle-Gro and other soluble crystal-type products and Osmocote are not acceptable in an organic program.

Mulching - Mulch bare soil around all shrubs, trees, ground covers and food crops with shredded native tree trimmings to protect the soil from sunlight, wind, rain, weed germination, to decrease watering needs and mediate soil temperature. Other natural mulches can be used, but avoid Bermuda grass hay because of herbicide residue. Also avoid pine bark, cypress mulch, rubber products and chemically-dyed wood products. Do not pile mulch on the stems or trunk flares of plants.

Watering - Water only as needed. The organic program will reduce the frequency and volume of water needed. Add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar per gallon of water when watering pots. Use 1 ounce of liquid humate in acid soils. Garrett Juice can be used in either case. Be careful of drip irrigation systems because it is difficult to avoid dry and/or water-logged spots especially in groundcover beds and turf. Watering from above with sprinklers is usually best.

Mowing - Mow turf as needed and mulch clippings into the lawn to return nutrients and organic matter to the soil. Put occasional excess clippings in the compost pile. Don’t ever let clippings leave the site. Do not use line trimmers around shrubs and trees. Buffalograss lawns need less water and care than other grasses.

Weeding - Hand pull large weeds and work on soil health for overall control. Mulch bare soil in beds.  Avoid all synthetic herbicides including Roundup, 2,4-D, MSMA, pre-emergents, broad-leaf treatments, soil sterilants and the SU (sulfonylurea) herbicides such as Manage and Oust. Spray noxious weeds as needed with vinegar-based, d-limonene or fatty acid herbicides.

Pruning - Do not “lift” or “gut” trees. Remove dead, diseased and conflicting limbs. Do not over-prune. Do not make flush cuts. Leave the branch collars intact. Do not paint cuts. All of this is artificial and hurts trees.

Insect Pests - In general, control insect pests by encouraging beneficial insects and microbes and spraying with Garrett Juice mixtures. Spray minor outbreaks with plant oil products including orange oil, garlic-pepper tea, and essential oils. Avoid all pyrethrum products, especially those containing piperonyl butoxide (PBO), petroleum distillates and other contaminants. 

Diseases - Most diseases such as black spot, brown patch, powdery mildew and other fungal problems are controlled by prevention through soil improvement and avoidance of high-nitrogen fertilizers and proper watering. Outbreaks can be stopped with sprays of potassium bicarbonate, cornmeal juice, diluted milk or the commercial product PureGro. Viruses are controlled with diluted hydrogen peroxide.

Soil Amending - Apply compost, rock materials such as Cinderite lava sand, granite, basalt or zeolite and dry molasses to all planting areas. Use products that introduce and/or stimulate beneficial microbes in the soil.

Treating Sick, Weak and Stressed Plants – Apply the entire Sick Tree Treatment which is explained under Guides on the Home page of The Dirt Doctor Website.

General Tonic Spray and Soil Drench - Garrett Juice Garrett Juice Pro, which contains bacteria and mycorrhizal fungi.

Garrett Juice - Mix the following per gallon of water: 1 cup of compost tea or liquid humate, 1 oz. liquid seaweed, 1 oz. molasses and 1 oz. apple cider vinegar add 1 oz. liquid fish to make Garrett Juice Plus. To make a mild insect control product, add 2 oz. of citrus oil per gallon of spray.  When spraying the foliage of plants, don’t use over 2 ounces of orange oil per gallon of spray. This mixture also works as a soil detox product if you are just starting your organic program. It is also an excellent soil drench and root stimulator.

See the full Garrett Juice Guide

Potting Soil - Potting soil, as opposed to native soil, loam, dirt, or landscaper’s soil, is what should be used in pots - no matter what the crop. I do not recommend peat moss potting soils. Peat moss is anti-microbial. Microbes don’t grow well in it. That’s just the opposite of what we want. On the other hand, peat moss is excellent for storing bulbs, potatoes or shipping food or other perishable material that would otherwise decay. Potting soil should not be sterile as some recommend, but alive and dynamic. It should be light, loose, well-aerated, fertile, full of microorganisms and have the ability to stimulate quick and sustained growth. My favorite basic ingredients are compost, natural rock minerals, and sugars such as dry molasses and cornmeal.

My latest recommended potting soil formula is as follows: 50% Compost, 10% decomposed granite, 10% zeolite, 10% Cinderite lava sand 5% alfalfa meal, 1% greensand and beneficial microbes (bacteria and fungi).

For more information, watch the Organic Overview Video and visit the Guides section of The Dirt Doctor Website.


  Search Library Topics      Search Newspaper Columns