Thinking about pursuing organic land care? A recent article in HortTechnology written by an Extension team at Rutgers included tips from organic landscapers already in the business about getting started.
- Unlike today’s traditional lawn/landscape management, organic land care is not “one-size-fits-all.” There are no tidy numbered step-by-step programs of what will happen through the year presented in a brochure. Instead, practices must be tailored to the individual site.
- The science behind organic land care is emerging: Be prepared to spend a lot of time on continuing education to stay current and to understand the underlying principles upon which the practices are based.
- Experiment on site. “Ease” a site into organic management by incorporating techniques systematically rather than all at once. The article suggested that core aeration and compost top dressing on turf could be a place to begin as you ease both the landscape and customer into organically managed land.
- Organic fertilizers work slowly and rely on soil microorganisms to be converted into usable form for plant growth. Be aware that organic products may require patience on the part of the crew and customer. In a world of instant gratification, that may be difficult.
- While there’s been a surge in organic pest management products, knowing which are most effective under what conditions is challenging and results can be spotty. Management of some issues that would have been chemically treated in the past, may be better managed culturally: For instance, changing mowing habits for weed control rather than using an herbicide.
- While many landscapers believe customers are willing to pay more for organic land care, Rutgers’ panel of experienced land care practitioners say the focus should be on the value provided: “a beautiful, healthy landscape for them and their family.”
- Not all customers will tolerate transitioning to an organically managed landscape. For some, weeds are intolerable. The transition phase takes a lot of time – read: patience for the client and landscape crew.
- Understanding how to make and use compost tea is challenging and may be made more complex if good sources of compost aren’t available.
- Staff training and in-field monitoring is an ongoing challenge to ensure practices are adhered to.
The HortTechnology article was written about Rutgers’ new Organic Land Care Extension Program for Landscapers. The program was developed because of a lack of nearby organic land care training programs and spurred by the popularity of the Rutgers organic lawn care program. The 5-day Organic Land care training course is based on USDA National Organic Program practices on how to transition a landscape to organic practices and taught by 20 university experts.
The nascent organic land care industry has little science upon which to base recommendations, yet is a growing part of the landscape market. “The lack of universally accepted standards for organic land care has led to confusion in the landscaping industry and the general public over what organic land care actually means,” the authors write.
Landscapers who successfully completed the Rutgers program are listed on the program’s website by county.
Development and Early Assessment of an Organic Land Care Extension Program for Landscapers by Michele Bakacs, Amy Rowe, William T. Hlubik and Jan Zientek, Department of Agricultural and Resource Management Agents, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, HortTechnology, February 2016; 26. http://horttech.ashspublications.org/content/26/1/89.abstract
Rutgers Organic Land Care Certificate Program http://njaes.rutgers.edu/organiclandcare/organiclandcarecertificationprogram.html
Additional organic land care resources cited in the article:
- Northeast Organic Farming Association Organic Land care Program http://www.organiclandcare.net/about/mission
- Oregon Tilth https://tilth.org/resources/organic-land-care-accreditation-faq/
- Society for Organic Urban Land Care (Canada) http://www.organiclandcare.org/
- Be Green Organic Yards NY (New York Department of Environmental Conservation) http://www.dec.ny.gov/public/65071.html
NewTerrain March 16, 2016.