Plant Selection

Organic Gardening, or more simply put 'Gardening the Natural Way', is rapidly growing in popularity.

Below is a document with a brief introduction to this method as recommended by Bella Vista Garden Club member, Tony LiCausi.

Quotation from Malcolm Beck - Continued



Books exist in most any region of the country that recommend and explain the best plants to use. Using native plants of a particular region is becoming more popular and this practice fits well with an organic program. These are also adapted plants that have been introduced from other parts of the world.

I prefer native plants when possible, but the key is to use varieties that will like their new home, making them easy to grow and economical to maintain. In most cases, natives are well adapted and have developed resistance to most harmful insects. Centuries of natural selection have given native plants the ability to survive without pesticides or high levels of fertilization, particularly if they are grown in a healthy soil. 

Nature doesn’t allow monocultures. Neither should landscape architects or gardeners. When choosing plants (native or introduced), select a variety so that insects and harmful microorganisms will not have one target group. Look at what happened to millions of American elm trees all over the United States to understand why a diversity of plants is best in the long run. Large monoculture plantings have been devastated. 

Another reason to use well-adapted plants in the landscape is water usage and conservation. Water conservation becomes a more serious issue each year and the careful selection of plant materials can make a significant impact on irrigation needs since water requirements vary greatly from plant to plant.  

Do yourself a big favor by spending some time at your local bookstore, nursery, library, county agent, urban forester’s office, or local college or university, learning about the best plants for your area. Then select a variety of plants that will meet your aesthetic and horticultural needs.

My best advice for the selection of trees, shrubs, vines, ground covers, and flowers is to invest in all the local reference books and get the free literature from the botanical gardens, zoos, park departments, and civic garden clubs. Talk to several nurseries and look at the plants you are considering in different landscape situations. Don’t be afraid to try some experiments, but build the framework of the landscape with tough, pest-resistant, adapted varieties. 



They have been planted for years for their culinary and medicinal uses, but now there’s growing interest in another use. Herbs make wonderful landscape plants. Many are drought tolerant and grow in almost any well-drained soil. They provide color, texture, and wonderful fragrances. Herbs also give us help with insect control and make excellent companion plants for our vegetable and ornamental gardens. They fit perfectly into an organic program because they should only be fertilized with natural fertilizers and they should never be sprayed with pesticides. There are bush-type herbs such as salvia and rosemary. There are excellent groundcovers like creeping thyme and pennyroyal mint. There are many beautiful flowering varieties such as yarrow and sweet marigold. Herbs also have effective insect controlling qualities. Here are some of my favorite herbs to use as landscape plants. I’m not pooh-poohing the medicinal and culinary uses - quite the contrary - I just like for you to have something else for you to think about.  BASIL - BORAGE- CATNIP - CHIVES - COMFREY - DITTANT OF CRETE - GARLIC - SCENTED GERANIUMS - ELDERBERRY - GARDEN SAGE - LAMB’S EAR - LEMON BALM - LEMONGRASS- LEMON VERBENA - MINT - MULLEIN - PERILLA - PINEAPPLE SAGE - ROSEMARY - SAFFRON - SALAD BURNET - SOUTHRNWOOD - SWEET MARIGOLD - TANSY - THYME - WORMWOOD - YARROW.

Most herbs will do best in well-drained beds made from a mix of compost, rock minerals, and native soil. The best location is full sun in mornings and at least some protection from the afternoon sun. It’s amazing how old-fashioned things like organics and herbs have come back so strongly. The reason is simple - they work so well. Herbs also have effective insecticidal qualities. Here are some of my favorites that can be planted among the other vegetable and ornamental plants to help ward off the listed pests.

Herb Pests Warded Off

Basil Flies and mosquitoes 

Borage Tomato worm 

Garlic Aphids, beetles, weevils, borers, spider mites

Henbit Most insects

Lamium Potato bugs

Marigold Many insects

Nasturtium Aphids, squash bugs, white fly

Pennyroyal Ants, aphids, ticks, fleas

Pyrethrum Most insects

Rosemary Cabbage moths, beetles, mosquitoes and slugs

Rue Beetles

Sage Moths

Spearmint Ants, aphids

Thyme Cabbage worms and many other insects

Lavender Ants

Tansy Ants

Onion Cabbage moths




Proper drainage isn’t an option - it’s a must. If a site doesn’t drain, it won’t work, and plants won’t grow properly. Biological activity and proper nutrient exchange will be slowed or stopped - it’s that simple. Drainage can be accomplished with surface and/or underground solutions. Any system that works is a good system. There are many organic products that will improve the physical structure and the drainage of any soil, but it’s still a great benefit to start any project with proper grading and drainage techniques that will get rid of excess water as quickly as possible. 

In residential and commercial projects, I recommend and use under-ground drain lines (perforated PVC pipe) set in gravel for hard-to-drain areas. Using pipe and gravel to drain tree holes can often be the difference between the success and the failure of newly planted plants. A ditch filled with gravel to the soil’s surface is an excellent and inexpensive tool to drain water from a low spot. Use no filter fabric. It will clog up at some point and cause drainage problems. 

Liquid biological products can also help improve drainage by stimulating the beneficial organisms in the soil. Aerated compost tea works well. Micronized products that contain mycorrhizal fungi are also excellent.


Trees are the most important landscape element and the only element that actually increases property value. They are the structural features of the landscape and, besides being pleasing to look at and walk under, provide significant services such as blocking undesirable views, shading the ground and other plants, providing protection for wildlife, improving the soil, and providing delightful seasonal beauty.  

It is for all these reasons that trees need to be planted correctly so that their root systems develop properly, providing a long, healthy life with a minimum of problems. 

Here’s how to plant trees organically - the natural way. Almost all trees these days are being planted poorly, and the most serious infraction is planting too deep. When the top of the root ball and the root flare are buried in the ground, circling and girdling roots are hidden and many trees today are blowing over as a result. Even if that never happens, when soil is too high on the trunks of trees, the covered bark tissue stays moist all the time, and plant growth is dramatically slowed or even stopped.

Trees that are too deep can be uncovered with the Air Spade or by hand, but the solution is to plant trees correctly in the first place. You will notice that I also do not recommend staking, wrapping trunks, or using other unnecessary and damaging techniques. Here are the details: 

1. Dig an Ugly Hole

The hole should be dug slightly less shallow than the same depth as the height of the ball. Do not guess - actually measure the height of the ball. Never plant trees in slick-sided or glazed holes such as those caused by a tree spade or auger, unless the slick sides are destroyed at planting. Holes with glazed sides greatly restrict root penetration into the surrounding soil, can cause circling roots and consequently limit proper root development. 

2. Run a Perk Test

Simply fill the hole with water and wait until the next day. If the water level does not drain away overnight, a drainage problem is indicated. At this point, the tree needs to be moved to another location or have drainage added in the form of a PVC drain line let in gravel running from the hole to a lower point on the site. Another draining method that some-times works is a pier hole dug down from the bottom of the hole into a different soil type and filled with gravel. A sump from the top of the ball down to the bottom of the ball does little if any good. Positive drainage is critical, so do not shortcut this step. Spraying the sides of the holes with compost tea or hydrogen peroxide will help root establishment. 

3. Plant High

Most trees are planted too deep in the ground. The root flare is part of the trunk and should be placed above ground. Remove burlap, excess soil, and mulch from the surface to expose the true top of the root ball. The top of the root ball should be slightly higher than the ground grade. When planting balled and burlapped plants, it’s okay to leave burlap on the sides of the ball after planting, but loosen at the trunk and remove the burlap from the top of the ball. Remove any nylon or plastic covering or string, since these materials do not decompose and can girdle the trunk and roots as the plant grows. Studies have shown that even wire mesh should be removed to avoid root girdling because wire does not break down very fast. When planting from plastic containers, carefully remove plants and tear the outside roots if they have grown solidly against the container. Never leave plants in containers. Bare-rooted, balled and burlapped, as well as container plant materials should be planted the same way. When planting bare-rooted plants, it is critical to keep the roots moist during the transportation and planting process. 

4. Backfill with Existing Soil

Place the tree in the center of the hole, making sure that the top of the ball is slightly higher than the surrounding grade. Backfill with the soil that was removed from the hole. This is a critical point. Do not add sand, foreign soil, organic material, or fertilizer into the backfill. The roots need to start growing in the native soil from the beginning. When the hole is dug in solid rock, topsoil from the same area should be used. Some native rock mixed into the backfill is beneficial. Adding amendments such as peat moss, sand, or foreign soils to the backfill not only wastes money, but is detrimental to the tree. Putting gravel in the bottom of the hole is a total waste of money. 

5. Settle Soil with Water

Water the backfill thoroughly, making sure to get rid of all air pockets. Do not tamp the soil or air pockets will be formed and roots will be killed in these spots. Settle the soil with water only. 

6. Do Not Wrap or Stake

Trunks of newly planted trees should not be wrapped. It is a waste of money, looks unattractive, harbors insects, and leaves the bark weak when removed. Tree-wrapping is similar to a bandage left on your finger too long. If you are worried about the unlikely possibility of sunburn, it is much better to paint the trunk with a diluted latex paint that matches the color of the bark. White is OK too.

Staking and guying is usually unnecessary if the tree has been planted properly with the proper earth ball size of at least nine inches of ball for each one inch of trunk diameter. Staking is a waste of money and detrimental to proper trunk development of the plant. In rare circumstances (sandy soil, tall evergreen trees, etc.) where the tree needs to be staked for a while, connect the guy wire as low on the trunk as possible and remove the stakes as soon as possible. Never leave them on longer than one growing season. Staking should only be done as a last resort - it is unsightly, expensive, adds to mowing and trimming costs, and restricts the tree’s ability to develop tensile strength in the trunk. It can also cause damage to the cambium layer. Remove all tags. 

7. Do Not Prune

It is very bad advice to prune at planting to compensate for the loss of roots during transplanting or planting. Most trees fare much better if all the limbs and foliage are left intact. The more foliage, the more food can be produced to build the root system. Even the low limbs and foliage should be left on the tree for at least two growing seasons to aid root and trunk development. The health of the root system is the key to the overall health of the tree. The only trees that seem to respond positively to thinning at the time of transplanting are field-collected live oak, yaupon holly, and a few other evergreens. Plants purchased in containers definitely need no pruning, and deciduous trees never need to be thinned.

8. Mulch the Top of Ball

Mulch the top of the ball after planting with one inch of compost and then three inches of mulch tapering to zero inches at the tree trunk. This step is important in lawn areas or in beds. Do not ever plant grass over the tree ball until the tree is established. Do not build soil dykes for water. They are unsightly, unnecessary, and create a maintenance problem.