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Green Your Garden

In March, winter thaws, signs of spring begin to bud, and green thumbs get to work. If your sights are set on an abundant garden, it’s time to get moving. But the first step to a great garden is research and planning, so before jumping elbow-deep into your soil, bone up on the best practices. We asked local experts for some eco-friendly tricks of the trade, ensuring you grow your environmentally kindest—and lushest—garden yet.

“Healthy soil contains millions of living organisms that provide the nutrients plants need to thrive,” says Tracy Celio, program coordinator of Amador County’s UC Master Gardener Program ( To develop healthy soil and protect the life in it, “feed” the soil with compost, she advises. You can begin by tilling compost into the soil and then putting a handful into each hole when planting. Once plants start growing, add compost around the base of the plants. Additionally, you should continue feeding your soil compost throughout the season. “As plants grow in your garden or landscape, they absorb nutrients and leave the soil less fertile,” explains Tami Kint, director of marketing at Green Acres Nursery & Supply ( "Composted natural amendments will improve your soil and help your plants flourish.”

Mulch is material laid around the base of plants to conserve moisture, suppress weeds, improve soil, and beautify garden beds. It can be made of inorganic materials, such as plastic, landscape fabric, gravel, and stone, or organic materials. “We strongly advocate using organic mulch in landscape projects,” says Rubi Cornejo, marketing manager at Advanced Pavers & Landscape ( “It's a simple yet effective way to maintain a healthy garden ecosystem.” As the name suggests, organic mulch is made of natural materials like shredded bark, leaf litter, or straw, making it a great way to incorporate recycling and reusing when gardening. Organic mulch will decompose with time, enriching the soil it covers. It also helps keep the roots of plants cool and well-nourished, says Cornejo, which, she explains, “significantly cuts down water usage and wards off weeds, reducing the need for chemical interventions.”

Celio advises choosing plants with care. Before plopping anything and everything into your soil, research your location’s climate, weather patterns, soil type, and environmental concerns. Choosing plants that thrive in your area’s unique planting conditions will give your garden the best chance of thriving and minimize the need for interventions like extra watering and chemical fertilizers. Once you’ve determined what grows well in your area, narrow your selection to low-water plants. When it’s time to begin planting, Celio cautions, “Put the right plant in the right place by knowing its sun, soil, shade, and water needs beforehand.” She also advises removing invasive plants that overrun native plants and cause a host of other problems.

“At Advanced Pavers & Landscape, we emphasize the importance of integrating native plants into garden designs,” says Cornejo. Native plants are those that are found naturally in our region and have co-evolved with the indigenous wildlife in the area. Native plants naturally adapt to regional weather patterns, growing conditions, and soil types, reducing the need for additional watering and fertilizers, Cornejo tells us. That means a low-maintenance garden, water conservation, and thriving biodiversity.

Protect our ecosystem by providing food, water, and shelter for insects, birds, and other animals, advises Celio. How do you do that? Firstly, she suggests practicing responsible pest management to solve your garden problems. Reduce the use of pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers that harm the insects and wildlife seeking shelter in your garden. Secondly, plant native plants. Cornejo says native plants “provide a natural habitat for local birds, bees, and butterflies, enhancing the area's ecological balance.” 

“Composting is the natural way of turning yard trimmings and fruit and vegetable waste into rich, dark amendments for your soil,” explains Kint. Although composting may sound intimidating, it doesn’t have to be. Conquer composting this spring with these top tips from Kint.


1.    Choose your system: a bin, drum, or open pile.
2.    Chop materials to about 2” for efficient composting.
3.    Mix 1-3 parts “browns” (woody, dry materials) and 1 part “greens” (moist, green materials).
4.    Turn the pile regularly; this helps maintain a balance between air and water and lends to the quicker decomposition of materials.

Compost “greens” for nitrogen:
•    Fruit and vegetable waste
•    Grass clippings and young weeds that have not yet gone to seed
•    Flowers
•    Coffee grounds and tea leaves/bags
•    Well-composted herbivore manures

Compost “browns” for carbon:
•    Coffee filters
•    Wood shavings, sawdust
•    Chopped woody prunings and dry leaves
•    Pine needles (careful; they influence pH)
•    Straw
•    Eggshells

by Nelly Kislyanka
High five image © N Felix/ - Hummingbird image © Above Four Media - Composting 101 image © Sanhanat -