Steve Renquist

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November 17, 2013
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Extension Spotlight: Work within natural systems to achieve low-input gardening

During the past year we have seen a number of events in Oregon in which beneficial insects like honeybees have been killed by applications of pesticides, even when applicators were following the pesticide labels for other targets.

It is the goal of our Master Gardener program and Oregon State University Extension to teach people how to manage landscapes and food gardens in a low-input, sustainable way. Working within natural systems isn’t always the easiest way to garden. It requires a great deal of knowledge about soil, plants, insects, disease, weather, watering and more. However, I find satisfaction in using knowledge rather than products to resolve problems. This style of gardening we teach is referred to as low-input gardening.

Low-input gardening is a systems approach to gardening. It starts when you plan your landscape. You need to ask yourself, “What plants will do best in my yard, given the soil, exposure, and drainage?”

Think about which plants will best adapt to our climate and require the least amount of irrigation water. Consider which are the hardiest against insect and disease pests, and will provide you with enjoyment but not too much work. Once you’ve chosen the plants for your site with these traits in mind, you have already reduced the potential amount of necessary watering, fertilizing and pest control.

If a problem does arise in your landscape, you should first look at the cultural methods you’re using and learn to be patient with the chemicals. For example, if you’re raising roses and struggling to control black spot or powdery mildew, you should plant varieties that are resistant to the diseases. Plant your roses in full sun, not shade, and prune them each winter to maintain an open canopy. It’s also a good idea to keep your sprinkler water off the foliage. By attacking a problem using this method, you can dramatically reduce the need for fungicides to control disease.

You can use integrated pest management methods for most insect and disease problems. These methods involve using cultural and biological control before resorting to chemicals. If you garden long enough, you may have a problem with insects or disease that will require the help of a pesticide. When this happens, look first for the softest, least toxic chemical control. By doing so, you create a safer gardening method for you and nature.

If you need help with any of these processes, call the Master Gardener plant clinic for advice. Or think about registering for our Master Gardener class, which begins on Jan. 7, 2014. You can sign up now at the OSU Extension office. To learn more about low-input gardening visit the office at 1134 S.E. Douglas Ave., Roseburg.

Steve Renquist is the horticulture Extension agent for Oregon State University Extension Service of Douglas County.  He can be reached by email at or by phone at 541-672-4461.

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The News-Review Updated Nov 17, 2013 04:37PM Published Nov 17, 2013 12:04AM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.