Landscapes have entered the next season in their lifecycle in an environment that continues to change. Forests cover nearly 63 percent of New York State, making it one of the most heavily forested states in the northeast. Having met renowned biologist Dr. Alex Shigo and learning about natural systems, Paul Wagner, president of Greener Pastures Organics in Southampton, also learned forests are a top self-sustaining environment. He aimed to translate this idea into his business with a mission to “green-up” the East End, one landscape at a time.
“When the top of a tree breaks off in a storm, mother nature sends in insects and diseases to get rid of it,” Wagner explains, recalling meeting the late Dr. Shigo back in 1992. “It allows others to survive and thrive. Natural biological processes in the forest environment help keep trees healthy. I really took that to heart.”
Though inspired to take an organic approach to landscaping, Wagner, who is a board-certified master arborist and New York State certified nursery professional with a degree in ornamental horticulture, was not quite sure how to measure the forest ecosystem at first. He then met soil biologist Dr. Elaine Ingham, who figured out the different microbes of the forest and landscapes and determined that if landscape soils could mimic forest soils, trees could be kept healthy without much pesticide use. With this knowledge, a successful management program for trees and other plants without the use of pesticides was created.
One of the largest parts of a landscape is the grass. During the fall, Greener Pastures Organics is busy with many lawn renovations, treating insect and disease concerns. Winter is when insects lay eggs, and proactive measures taken now can help prevent any future damage. What may be surprising is that fall is also an ideal time for lawn seeding, which can grow naturally.
“Fall is a great time for grass to grow,” Wagner explains. “It’s not under a lot of moisture stress and generally is not under a lot of any type of stress until the next June. Through these next eight months you don’t have to worry about heavy drought, which gives all of that time for grass plants to mature and grow.”
Weeds will not begin to grow again until next spring, either. Planting and growing grass now will increase density, which will go a long way to choke out weeds in the future. Wagner’s company will also use organic lawn care products to spray and condition lawns for the winter. Sharing that seeding is simple and something people can do on their own, Wagner also suggests mulching trees and shrubs. “You don’t want to do a heavy layer, just two inches maximum,” he says. “It is a great way to protect root systems, get organic matter out and improve soil matter.”
Planting clover in your lawn can help reduce the need for fertilizer by at least 50 percent, says Wagner. It removes nitrogen from the atmosphere and puts it into the soil. In the 1950s and 60s, clover was in grass seed bags for this specific reason. In an effort to pursue the look of the perfect lawn, clover was later removed from seed bags resulting in a larger need for fertilizer.
To mitigate some of the concerns the environment often faces with landscaping work, particularly nitrogen pollution that is a detriment to water quality, Greener Pastures Organics utilizes compost extract in most of their soil applications. Beneficial microbes in compost will help retain nutrients and elements, like nitrogen and phosphorus, from ending up in the groundwater.
“Compost peat ties up the nutrients so they don’t leach,” Wagner says. “The microbes break down toxins in the soil so it doesn’t end up in our drinking water. It’s a major benefit of using organic fertilizer.”
As president of Soil Foodweb New York, a commercial soil-testing laboratory, Wagner and his company’s methods are science-based. Understanding soil microbiology and the importance of protecting the environment, keeping plants healthy, and completing the landscaping tasks at hand, Greener Pastures Organics offers services including plant health care, organic lawn care, soil management, tick and mosquito programs, Beech tree programs, and more.
For more information, visit greenerpasturesorganics.com.