The 411 on Four Organic Products

kate wilson by Kate Wilson,
Oakland Nursery Hortculturalist    image2

You’ve decided to grow organic! Great, whatever the reasoning behind you’re decision I’d like to support you and your organic gardening efforts. My favorite bonus to growing organic is barefoot gardening!

Having a healthy garden from the soil up is the most important step to warding off pests and diseases. And if you’re just starting out organically you need to build up your soil profile (we’re offering a free lecture on this in September) to obtain happy healthy plants. The most sustainable ways to change your soil into a goldmine of loose, nutrient rich organic matter of awesomeness takes time. And in the meantime, there are some organic pest and disease management products that can help bridge the gap.

If you need a little help in the garden we want you to make sure your efforts aren’t wasted in buying something you don’t need. Here are need to know terms to keep yourself straight – the 411.


Insecticidal Soap: A long chain of fatty acids that break down insect’s protective coating while not harming plants. Safe for edible and non-edible plants. Direct contact is needed to be effective. Do not use when beneficial insects, such as honey bees, butterflies, lady bugs, etc. are present. And only effective on insects, will not be helpful if you have a disease issue.

Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis): A naturally occurring soil bacterium disease that is fatal to the larva stage of certain insects. Applied to the leaves of plants in the evening, worms and other insects will ingest it, get sick, and die. Note: It is harmful to moths and butterflies, so don’t use it if you’re trying to protect monarch or other “good” butterflies!

Diatomaceous earth: The fossilized remains of marine phytoplankton, DE works when sprinkled on and around your plants. When an insect or worm comes in contact with it, DE scrapes and cuts them open, killing the pest. Works well for slugs too! Note: must be kept dry to work!

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Horticultural oils: These oils have been around for decades and are harmless to people, animals and it evaporates quickly. The oil either suffocates insects or acts as a poison. Please be mindful when you spray because it can effect coloring on sensitive plants (such as, Blue Spruce or Blue Rug Juniper). Also, it should be used in moderate temperatures.

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Neem Oil: Botanical insecticide, repellent and fungicide. BAM. Seriously, it’s extremely useful. Very low toxicity to humans, birds, bees and many other beneficial insects. I’m currently trying it out on the leaves of my raspberry bramble, because Japanese beetles of been out in full force. I usually just pick them off into some soapy water- but I’m going on vacation. I’m not going to allow those little jerks to take over while I’m gone, nor do I expect any of my lovely neighbors to swing by and knock off any for me. I’ll report my findings and let you know if Neem Oil deters Japanese beetles in addition to all its other pros.

Keep cool and Happy Gardening!

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