Eliminate Harmful Practices 

4. Eliminate Harmful Practices 

The first three pillars of sustainable horticulture describe what gardeners can do to achieve a resilient, ecologically balanced garden. This fourth principle focuses on what not to do—harmful practices that must be avoided. Even if the other pillars are implemented perfectly, the system will fall apart if these harmful practices are engaged in: They simply are not compatible with an ecologically based garden and will result in the garden ecosystem being thrown out of balance. 

Conventional synthetic treatments are the primary source of harm. Lotusland has moved away from the use of harmful synthetic pesticides and fertilizers which can pollute water sources, damage soil ecosystems and harm people and animals. These products also cause a number of problems in terms of plant health. Adopting sustainable practices makes the use of these synthetic products completely unnecessary. 

Synthetic fertilizers

Use of synthetic fertilizers will hamper efforts to address pest problems and to build healthy soils. Synthetic fertilizers provide a rush of nutrients that forces weak, lush growth which is attractive to pest insects that feed on plants. These products also disrupt soil biology, resulting in depleted soils. In comparison, organic fertilizers feed soil organisms (rather than feed plants directly), resulting in slow, steady growth that is less attractive to pests. Ditch the synthetic fertilizers you may have relied in the past and replace them with the soil-building inputs discussed in Build Healthy Soils.


The work of the third pillar, Create Habitat, will be diminished by the use of insecticides. Learn to tolerate low levels of pest insects instead of responding with these products. 

A balanced garden ecosystem relies on the presence of some pest insects to serve as prey for beneficial species. Insecticides harm not only target pest species, but also kill beneficial species that help manage pests naturally and many of which serve as important pollinators.  


Many synthetic herbicides are potentially hazardous to human health and may impact soil biology. Where appropriate based on plant selection, use a 3-4” layer of mulch to suppress the growth of weeds while also contributing organic matter to the soil. Use a string trimmer, hoe, or hand pull weeds that do appear – ideally before they go to seed in order to control their spread. In situations where weed control isn’t possible by these methods, opt for organic herbicides. 


Rodenticides are poisons used to control rats, gophers, and other rodents. Like insecticides, rodenticides pose a risk to more than just the target species. Rodenticides are attractive to non-target animals, including domestic cats and dogs. These products work their way into the food chain, resulting in the secondary poisoning of non-target animals – such as when a bird of prey consumes a rat which has ingested rodenticide. Rather than contribute to this ecosystem harm, Lotusland encourages the presence of predator species (birds of prey, snakes, coyotes, bobcats, etc..) that help to balance rodents naturally. Other methods to control rodents include the use of low wire fencing to keep rodents away from sensitive plants, and the breaking up of rat nests when discovered. Snap traps can also be used to help control rats and gophers when necessary.

Soil Compaction

Loose soil is the basis of a healthy ecologically balanced garden. Soil compaction can be a major, and often overlooked source of poor plant health. Compaction results in fewer pore spaces and lower oxygen content in the soil which can alter the composition of soil biology. Compacted soils are also less able to absorb water and are more susceptible to run-off. Furthermore, plants cannot develop extensive root systems in compacted soil, resulting in poor plant health.  

It is very difficult to return compacted soil to its natural state, so the best practice is to prevent soil compaction. Stay out of planting beds as much as possible, especially when soils are wet after heavy rain or deep irrigation. Postpone projects in planting beds until soil has had a chance to dry out. Establish defined paths through your garden to concentrate foot traffic.  

Where compaction has occurred, one method of decompaction is radial trenching which involves digging trenches radiating out from the base of a plant and backfilling with compost. This method allows plants to develop new roots in the loose, fertile soil of the trenches and has resulted in great success in addressing declining plant health at Lotusland. 

See Landscape For Life’s Strategies for Avoiding Soil Compaction and Restore Compacted Soils

Eliminate Harmful Practices Resources 

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Aloe Lutescens