A successful sustainable gardening program is built by incorporating various practices and ideas that encourage as much compatibility among diverse organisms as possible.
The following strategies are practiced at Lotusland. But note, they are not compatible with the use of chemical inputs, such as pesticides, that can be toxic and degrade biological systems.
Many of these strategies are easy to implement and can begin or add to a green garden maintenance program.
Green Waste Recycling – Composting
Garden green waste is managed on site in compost piles and returned to the garden as mature compost, which improves and maintains healthy soil. Green waste that is difficult to compost, such as fibrous agave leaves and palm fronds, is taken to the Santa Barbara County Mulch and Green Waste Program.
Lotusland also uses large quantities of mulch, including organic material from the Santa Barbara County Mulch and Green Waste Program, as well as wood chips from tree companies.
Weed management is predominantly performed mechanically and through extensive mulching throughout the garden. Organic herbicide is used occasionally to control weeds coming through gravel mulch, such as in the cactus garden.
Recycling attachments on Lotusland lawn mowers return finely chopped grass clippings to lawns. The clippings soon decompose and release valuable nutrients into the soil, greatly reducing the need for fertilizer. Clover is a welcome part of the main lawn, as it provides biodiversity, attracts beneficial organisms to the garden, and fixes nitrogen from the air. Lotusland’s lawn area is used for many public functions, such as Members’ Family Day, and is managed without any pesticides.
Nutrient cycling occurs in many garden areas at Lotusland, so the need for supplemental fertilizer has been reduced or eliminated altogether. In garden areas where supplemental nutrients are needed, organic fertilizers are used. They benefit soil food web organisms and reduce the risk of underground water pollution. Avoiding compaction (reduced air space) is a key to maintaining soil fertility.
Disease Suppressant Soil
Soil management has a very high priority at Lotusland. An on-going effort is underway to increase the soil disease suppression capabilities throughout the garden by increasing organic matter in the soil. This helps provide natural management of soil borne diseases.
Insectary areas are established throughout the gardens to increase the quantity and diversity of beneficial insects that promote a balanced insect ecology, and to lessen damage by pests to plant collections.
Supplemental releases of beneficial insects are occasionally made at Lotusland. Limited applications of Bacillus thuringiensis are made on those rare occasions when caterpillars cross the damage threshold. Even though environmentally safe, its use is limited because of a negative effect on butterflies. The use of antagonistic fungi to combat pathogens, and of beneficial fungi to strengthen host plants, is also widely used.
Snails are controlled by a nontoxic material that breaks down into an iron compound that plants can use as a nutrient supplement. Gophers, a continuing problem, are controlled by trapping with stainless steel snap traps and gopher populations are reduced by local predators.
Root Disease Management
Supplemental drainage has been installed in selected gardens to reduce root rot incidences. This, together with the soil management practices listed above, has greatly improved root health of plant collections. Sub-surface drainage, healthy soil and mulching also contribute to improved root health.
Compost Tea for Disease Control
Foliar (leaf) disease management relies on routine applications of compost tea. Compost tea provides a film of living beneficial organisms that suppress disease and feed plants by providing a steady source of nutrients. The tea does not kill pests or disease pathogens, but is an effective preventive.
Sanitation of tools, machinery and even boots is a very effective way of limiting the spread of many plant diseases. For example, at Lotusland, pruning tools are disinfected between uses on susceptible plants. After rinsing the tools with water, a quick spray of WD-40 helps to prevent corrosion. A standard disinfectant procedure can ensure that pathogens are not spread from an infected plant to a healthy plant.