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How to create a sustainable garden?

How can we create a sustainable garden?

Sustainable Garden in the backyard
Sustainable Garden in the backyard of a house.

Contrary to most beliefs, building a sustainable garden is far easier than employing numerous artificial means. A sustainable garden is one where every aspect retains its natural way, rather than human interventions. This method minimises inputs and depends on the natural ways to support foliage.

Building a sustainable garden only requires a thorough knowledge and understanding of how the vegetation of a region survives. Hence, a careful study of the flora and fauna is the first step towards developing a sustainable garden.
Besides, there are a few common steps that need to be followed when building a sustainable garden. These are as follows:

Developing a sustainable landscape and maintaining the same

Choosing the right patch of land and developing the same holistically is a very important factor. This involves understanding the area’s inherent ecological challenges and providing solutions for the same. These challenges can be multi-fold and deal with erosion, water conservation, leaching of nutrients etc. The target of sustainable landscaping is to preserve the existing mineral and water content, reduce wastage and prevent water run-off.

Ideally, we should not compact the soil. The well-tilled soil is airier and more capable of absorbing water, thus preventing run-offs. This will also allow plant roots to spread extensively under the surface. This brings us to water conservation. Water, mostly in the form of precipitation, is the largest source of groundwater. We should design a soil drainage in such a way that it allows maximum percolation of water underground. Also, over-tilling is harmful, as it leaches the soil of its nutrient reserves. Recycling materials and using composts are natural ways to boost the mineral content of the soil.

Choosing sustainable plants

More often than not, native plants are the strongest plants to survive in a region. Foreign species have to be provided with a lot of support to help them pull through. Sustainable plants can solve several problems. They can drought-resistant and ineffective to local pests and diseases, thus reducing costs associated with maintenance. However, native plants need not necessarily be the only susceptible plants. Sometimes, exotic species may add the necessary biodiversity to the ecosystem. But we must be careful while adding exotic species to the mix. Sometimes, these plants turn into weeds, destroying the local vegetation.

The upkeep associated with sustainable plants is minimum and can be easily provided. This is in contrast with the high-cost maintenance required for growing unsuited plants. Also, plants can be arranged in a way that they themselves can act as a control for light and rain, in the form of tall trees (to provide shade) and shrubbery (to allow greater percolation of water).

Using sustainable breeding and maintenance processes

Even a small bath tub can serve as a ground for sustainable garden
Old bathtubs are the best accomodations for sustainable plants

Nature has her own ways of maintaining a forested land. There is never so much growth is a forest as to suffocate the existing life forms. It is also not too sparsely covered so as not to provide sustenance to the ecosystem. Sustainable gardens, similarly, we should treat them with as little mechanized interventions as possible. Our forefathers did not own bulky mowers and tractors. Manual labor, though difficult, is the mildest way of pruning and harvesting.

Creating a sustainable garden is a study in the ways of nature. Barring sudden extinctions, nature has always allowed evolution and the ultimate creation of resilient species. We as humans need only mimic her ways and gain results that will outlive a single generation.

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Eco-garden; what it is?

What is an eco-garden?

An eco-garden is short for ecology garden or ecosystem garden. As the name suggests, it is the best of both worlds. To get to the bottom of this concept we need to understand the properties of both an ecosystem and a garden.

Eco-garden around houses
Eco-garden around houses

What is an ecosystem?

An ecosystem is a biological setup, in which several organisms live. Each organism performs a role. This is beneficial to both other organisms as well as the entire ecosystem. The ecosystem also includes inanimate components like air, water, soil, nutrients etc. They too play their role in supporting the existence of this biological setup.

Several nutrient cycles and energy flows characterize an ecosystem.  These characters enable the living and inanimate components to derive benefits from each other. Existing climatic system acts as a moderator in this process. An untouched ecosystem can be characterized by a high degree of biodiversity in terms of both flora and fauna.

The climatic conditions determine the course of an ecosystem. The ecosystem itself can also dictate the course of the climatic conditions. The very concept of global warming rests on this principle. All natural processes go hand in hand. A disruption in one system will ultimately impact the entire natural way.

What is a garden?

Image of an ideal garden
Ideal garden around the house

A garden is a slice of an ecosystem. It is a milder version of one, in fact. A reasonably designed, modern garden is a collection of plants. It is either potted or planted directly in the soil. The garden includes microorganisms like bacteria and fungi. They add nutritive value to the soil. Insects like bees, wasps, and butterflies act as pollinators and help in propagation. Besides natural precipitation, gardens are fed with water manually as well.

The difference between an eco-garden and a full-fledged ecosystem is that the former lacks in diversity. Also, it involves more than the natural shape of human intervention.

How can we combine both of them?

In order to get the best of both worlds. It is necessary to include attributes of both an ecosystem and a garden.

The first step would be to prepare the ideal soil. We can do this by developing compost using organic scraps. Plus decomposing the same over days. Then mix this compost with the soil to boost the nutrient levels. For the maintenance of a drainage of the soil; we should till the soil (preferably manually). Drip irrigation and rain-water harvesting techniques are ideal in mimicking the natural sources of water.

Further enrichment of soil can be obtained by using organic wastes. We generate organic wastes in our daily lives (egg shells, coffee grounds, vegetable peels). The diversity of vegetation can be maintained in a garden, simply by allowing indigenous foliage to grow. Native species are more resilient and grow with minimum inputs. In the course of time, pests and diseases affect plants. The best way to deal with them is by using organic deterrents like potassium bicarbonate, baking soda etc.

Ultimately, breeders have the following opinion. Maintaining the eco-garden is far simpler than working on a high-bounty one. High-bounty one involves a lot of chemical supplements and is much costlier. The eco-garden is environment-friendly and a holistic solution to our gardening needs.

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How to Lower Soil pH with Vinegar?

Soil pH. You can lower Soil pH with Vinegar. Soil and Environment play a crucial role in the growth and development of a plant. It is only through the soil, that the plants get their nutrients.

Alkaline soils lack some nutrients like Manganese, boron, phosphorus, etc. Plants that thrive well in acidic soil like rose, blueberries, etc. may have limited, problematic growth in alkaline soil.

So we might what to change the nature of the soil to suit our plants. One common household item used to make the soil acidic is Vinegar.

What is Vinegar?

Vinegar is varying concentrations of acetic acid, mixed with water. It is formed as the end-result of a chemical reaction between sugar and yeast.

Alcohol and carbon dioxide are released by this reaction. Alcohol further reacts with oxygen and bacteria in the air to form acetic acid and water. This is the organic method. You can create Acetic acid by a chemical process involving methanol.

How to lower Soil pH?

  1. First, take a soil test to determine your soil pH. The values vary across various zones and depths in your garden. But it can give you a rough idea of what needs to be done.
  2. Based on how much you want to lower the soil pH, decide on vinegar. Household vinegar or plain or distilled white vinegar has about 5% acetic acid. It is safe and harmless to use. Horticultural vinegar is a solution with higher concentrations. It has about 20% acetic acid. One should excise caution if you decide to use it for a quick fix.
  3. Plain vinegar has a pH of about 2.7. Adding water does not alter their acidity. But your water has a pH that varies across regions. In most tap water, well water is alkaline. Test the pH of your water with a pH tester to determine the hardness.
  4. Then, add vinegar to water (Not the other way round). Ideally, you can add 2 to 9 tbsp of vinegar to one gallon of water. Test the water using the pH tester after adding the vinegar. If the desired value is reached, stop adding vinegar. Note down how much vinegar was added.
  5. You can put this diluted mixture into the soil using a watering can or hose. You can inject it into the irrigation system. Based on your garden size, the amount of solution required to alter the soil pH changes.
  6. Do not add the vinegar to the water in your reservoir. If the vinegar is unpasteurized or contains alcohol or sugar residue, it can react to form more vinegar – Mother of Vinegar. The reservoir might become laden with scum-like vinegar.
  7. Continue watering your soil with vinegar at regular intervals. Test your soil pH frequently. Bacterial action can degrade the strength of acetic acid over time. Hence this will only be a temporary fix unless repeated.

Soil pH – Uses and Limits

In addition to lowering the soil pH, vinegar also acts as a herbicide on plants. It deters the growth of weeds in the soil. Acetic acid can dissolve insoluble calcium salts, which will flow away with rainwater.

But, if your soil is very much alkaline-rich in lime, the base will neutralize the acidity of the vinegar. Hence vinegar might not have any effect on your soil pH. Vinegar affects only the soil it touches.

It is a safe cost-effective method to lower soil pH. But, it is not a longstanding efficient solution for large-scale use.

Conclusion – How to Lower Soil pH with Vinegar?

Change the pH of the soil gradually. Sometimes even after multiple amendments, you might not get the results as per your expectations. Work patiently, or choose an alternative – construct raised beds or choose another ideal plant for your soil.

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Adjust Soil pH after Planting

How to adjust soil pH after planting

Adjust Soil pH after Planting. Soil pH indicates if your soil is acidic, neutral, or alkaline. While most of the plants grow in any type of soil, some plants have specific soil requirements. Soil pH affects absorption of nutrients from the soil by the plants. In some cases, minerals are unavailable for absorption by plants. So based on the soil pH, we choose the appropriate plant. Or, we alter the soil based on our choice of plant.

Things to Consider while adjusting soil pH after planting

Even if you begin with an ideal soil, over time the soil pH changes due to a number of factors. Excess use of chemical fertilizers can alter the soil pH. Heavy rainfall or too much watering can drain your soil of the essential nutrients and can change the soil pH. Similarly, pollutants and resulting acid rain can make the soil acidic. Excessive farming of a crop can lower the pH. E.g. Legumes. So we need to take corrective measures, as often as possible, to revert the soil pH.

Analysis of How to Adjust Soil pH after Planting

pH scale for various soils

Begin by taking a Soil Test at various depths across various areas for an appropriate result. Along with the soil pH, test result also gives us the list of nutrients and minerals absent in our soil. Even if the soil pH is appropriate, lack of some nutrients can cause inconsistencies in plant growth. If we have to alter the pH as well as supply a specific nutrient, we can choose an amendment correctly based on the results.

How to Raise Soil pH

  • Fluid lime and pelletized lime can immediately raise soil pH. Hydrated Dolomite lime can be added if magnesium is also deficient. Adding lime improves phosphorus and calcium availability in acidic soil. The high amount of lime can hinder potassium and magnesium absorption by plants.
  • Highly soluble potassium carbonate can be used instead of lime as part of irrigation. It acts quickly, reaching greater soil depth. But it is a synthetic material.
  • Wood ash that is produced from unpainted wood can also be used sparingly, instead of lime in sandy soils to raise pH.
  • Oyster shell flour, crushed egg shells, or, aragonite can be used to increase the pH.

How to Lower Soil pH

  • Adding organic material like treated manure, green manure, compost, alfalfa meal, peat moss, pine needles, etc. to your alkaline soil, improves microbial activity, reduces pH, improves soil, and increases phosphorus availability. But it lowers pH gradually.
  • Similarly, humic acid and fulvic acid in powdery or liquid form can be mixed with seaweed to lower the pH.
  • Vinegar or citric acid diluted with water can lower pH of the alkaline soil.
  • Synthetic fertilizers like Aluminum sulfate and ammonium sulfate are acidifying. They quickly lower pH and you should use them cautiously. Elemental sulfur is organic, requires bacterial action to lower pH and is slow. Copper sulfate chelated with citric acid may be used if copper is also deficient in the soil.

How to apply?

While adjusting soil pH after Planting, these amendments can only be added on the surface. So, it will alter the pH of the soil only to some depth. Mix powdery forms with water to use as liquid fertilizer. Take care to avoid direct application on roots, leaves or other plant parts. The pH of water differs – most tap water is alkaline, while rainwater is acidic. Take this into consideration while diluting the mixture. Take soil test at regular intervals, to check the progress. Continue altering your pH, only if required.

Conclusion – How to Adjust Soil pH after Planting

Mulching with organic material can help prevent draining of nutrients during heavy rainfall or watering. Similarly, adopt such natural organic methods which promote sustainable farming, to achieve and maintain the soil pH.

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Why do some Plants have Red leaves

Red leaves on a plant

Red leaves. Why do some plants have red leaves. Lush greenery is a delightful sight. The pigment chlorophyll is responsible for this green color. We can also find other colors – red, yellow, orange, purple, etc. in a plant’s flower or fruit. Even leaves that are commonly green, have variations at times. It is due to the increased presence of accessory pigments like carotenoids, xanthophyll, flavonoids, etc. Flavonoids like anthocyanin and betalain like betacyanin give the leaves its red-purple color. Red leaves appear chiefly in plants growing in acidic soil. Betalains are found only in some plants. E.g. Amaranth, beets, etc.

What’s in a Colour – Why do some Plants have Red leaves?

Chlorophyll is present in all the leaves to carry out photosynthesis. The accessory pigments like carotenoids aid in photosynthesis, act as antioxidants, help dissipate excess energy, and protect the leaves from adverse temperature conditions. Though they are always present in a leaf, their color becomes visible when the chlorophyll level in leaves decrease. E.g. Oak trees during fall. Certain species of plants, produce either anthocyanin or betacyanin, under a variety of conditions. These pigments serve the same purpose as the accessory pigments but do not directly participate in photosynthesis. Xanthophyll content is presumed to be less in such red-leaved plants.

Seasonal changes a reason for plants red leaves

Lack of sunlight and cold conditions in winter are not ideal for photosynthesis. So, some plants start losing their leaves in fall. To make that happen, chlorophyll production reduces in leaves and leaves are cut off from the tree gradually. The other colored pigments become visible during this time since chlorophyll is less.  Extreme dry conditions or short sunny days with cold nights will be stressful for plants. Metabolism reduces, excess sugar accumulates in the leaves and causes the production of anthocyanin. Anthocyanin helps to protect the leaves from excess heat and light, UV radiation, etc. It helps trees recover whatever residual nutrients are present in the leaves.

Nutrient deficiency induces red color

 

Deficiency & Stress can cause red leaves

Red leaves can also be caused by a deficiency of Phosphorus, Magnesium or Potassium. Magnesium is an integral part of chlorophyll and its deficiency affects photosynthesis. Such nutrient deficiencies decrease chlorophyll level. White spots appear on the leaves. When anthocyanin is present, the leaves turn red. Herbicidal spray can also cause a reaction and turn the leaves red. Leaf injury, the infection causes breakdown of chlorophyll. Leaves produce red pigments to repair the injury. E.g. Red Beet leaves produce Betacyanins

Leaf development

Extreme temperature can kill young leaves. Young leaves are yet to develop; hence, they have less chlorophyll to carry out photosynthesis. Hence red pigments are visible. E.g. Rose leaves in frost. Similarly, inside the canopy of the tropical rainforest, we can find many plants with red leaves. These are shade-loving plants. So excess sunlight can damage the leaves. Hence, plants produce anthocyanin to protect them from high-energy light.

Ornamental plants

Sometimes redness occurs as a result of cell mutation. Sometimes we culture plants with red leaves for various purposes. E.g. Japanese Red leave Barberry. Short-day plants like Poinsettia, survive with short-day and long nights. By artificially inducing long nights (12 hours of darkness), chlorophyll is decreased and we can trigger anthocyanin production in these type of plants. The Bracts of poinsettia bloom into red leaves.

Why do some Plants have Red leaves – Conclusion

In short, plants respond to changes in the environment, temperature, light, and other external conditions. The reddening of the leaves is an adaptive mechanism to cope with these changes. These are reasons why do some plants have red leaves?