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Should You Mulch Your Garden?

Mulching is a farming or gardening technique that involves covering the ground and planting into that soil cover or “mulch.” In a mulched garden or farm, you will rarely see any bare soil, and weeding and cultivating are kept to a minimum.

Cucumber seedlings growing in mulch

What Does Mulching Do?


Mulching serves many purposes. It is especially good at suppressing weeds. Without access to sunlight, a weed may sprout, but it will not grow. Weeds need light to fuel their photosynthesis processes.

Another important advantage of mulch farming is the reduction of moisture loss due to evaporation at the soil surface. When the soil is covered, it is more difficult for sun and wind to dry it out. This preserves moisture and prevents crust formation.

Mulch methods also tend to support a soil environment which is friendly to the biological life in the soil. With no soil disturbance and with constant access to moisture, the soil environment becomes much more friendly toward soil biological life. Soils that are regularly disturbed by weeding and cultivating generally have much less beneficial biology. It is now known that the biological life of the soil contributes substantially to the health and vigor of the plants.

What Materials Can You Use to Mulch?


There are many materials which can be used for mulch. While bags of colored bark chips may be favored in a landscape situation, there are many other possibilities in a farm or garden. These include:

  • Plastic or other manmade mulch
  • Straw or hay.
  • Deep compost on the soil surface.
  • Rolled down standing grass or legume crop. (Desired crops are planted into the crop that has been laid down.)

Potential Mulching Pitfalls


Mulched soil is slower to warm up in the spring. For that reason, some gardeners rake off the mulch to let the soil warm up before planting. Raking the soil bare, at least in planting areas, also allows for better seed-soil contact. Some mulch farmers find it easier to use plant starts, rather than seeds. After plants are well established, the mulch can be moved back.

Mulch provides habitat for small creatures such as slugs and mice. If such pests move into your garden or farm, you may need to trap them or invite their predators in for a treat!

Why You Should Mulch Your Garden or Farm


In spite of these challenges, experienced gardeners and farmers know that mulching allows them to enjoy greater productivity with less effort. Utilizing deep mulching with hay and straw and never disturbing the soil over seasons and years is an excellent method to preserve moisture, control weeds, and allow the soil biology under the mulch to regenerate itself. This preserved and renewed soil will support your crops and allow the full genetic potential of the plants to be realized.

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How Nitrogen Fixing Bacteria Work

Nitrogen fixing bacteria can literally make nitrogen out of thin air! If you have these soil-based powerhouses in your garden, they will fertilize your plants for free. If you want to know more about the details of this process and how to make it work for you, read on.

There are several common soil bacteria that are capable of taking atmospheric nitrogen from the air and soil. Upon absorbing nitrogen as a gas, nitrogen-fixing-bacteria change it into nitrate or ammonia. Both nitrate and ammonia are plant absorbable forms of nitrogen that a plant can use. Plants use this nitrogen primarily to produce plant proteins.

The enzyme that is responsible for this nitrogen reduction process is called nitrogenase. It is found in specialized cells and microbial colony environments where there is no oxygen. Oxygen is known to destroy this enzyme through oxidation processes. There are many types of bacteria that can create specialized oxygen-free zones where they create nitrate and amonia.

Nitrogen Fixing Bacteria that Live on Plant Roots


The grandfather of microbial nitrogen fixation is the bacteria in the genus Rhizobia. 

These bacteria form a symbiotic relationship with only legume plants, like soybeans, green beans, clover, and alfalfa. They form nodules on the root system.

Inside the nodule is an oxygen free zone where the nitrogenase enzyme reduces atmospheric nitrogen to nitrate and ammonia. The bacteria and the plant have a mutually beneficial relationship. The bacteria take certain food sources from the plant and in return they provide nitrogen to the plant.

(In this image you can see nitrogen-fixing nodules on clover roots.)

Nitrogen Fixing Bacteria that Live in the Soil


Another important type of bacteria that has the ability to provide nitrogen to plants is cyanobacteria. Cyanobacteria are beneficial bacteria in the soil that are free living. Cyanobacteria do not form nodules on plant roots. Instead, they work within the soil.

Nostoc commune is one type of cyanobacteria that can take nitrogen from the atomosphere and soil and transform it into nitrogen that plants can use. These cyanobacteria grow as chains of cells. On the chain, some of the microscopic cells will form what are called heterocysts. Inside the heterocyst is an oxygen free zone. The heterocyst is the place where the nitrogenase enzyme reduces  atmospheric nitrogen to plant available ammonia. This ammonia is released into the soil chemistry and is then absorbed by plants.

The Easy Way to Use Nitrogen Fixing Bacteria


Although it may sound complicated, the bottom line is simple: If your soil is rich in nitrogen fixing bacteria, your plants will require much less nitrogen fertilizer.

America Natural sells the Soil Tech product, Microp, which is based on cyanobacteria as a biofertilizer soil inoculant. OMRI listed for use in organic agriculture, Microp is the easy way to put the power of nitrogen fixing bacteria to work in your garden.

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How to Get Rid of Wild Parsnip

Every summer our customers ask us, how can I get rid of wild parsnip (or poison oak or poison ivy or other itchy weeds) without using glyphosate?

If you want to get rid of itchy weeds without using chemicals, our OMRI listed Phydura may be the solution for you. This natural weed-killer contains clove oil and other natural ingredients to destroy weed foliage while you watch. Within hours you will see the leaves of sprayed plants shriveling and dying.

And yet, Phydura is so pure it can be used in organic agriculture. And unlike other products, Phydura will not linger in the root system of plants. That means it will be safer for children, pets, and the environment. But it also means that repeat applications will certainly be necessary if you are dealing with perennial weeds such as poison oak, poison ivy, poison sumac, or wild parsnip. These plants have extensive roots that will not be directly affected by a burn down herbicide such as Phydura.

Poison Parsnip in bloom

Leaves of three, let it be!

If you  want more detailed directions for getting rid of weeds, hop on over to our longer blog post on how to get rid of poison parsnip without using chemical herbicides. But if you already know you need a safer alternative for weeds around your home, park or school, check out our OMRI listed Phydura weed killer today!

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Do I Need to Prune My Flowering Shrubs?

Are you looking at your beautifully blooming shrubs and wondering if you should be pruning them to keep them looking their best?

Well, you can relax. The truth is, most flowering shrubs don’t need a lot of pruning. They aren’t like boxwoods and other bushes which are generally pruned into tidy, restrained shapes. A loose, breezy look is part of their casual charm.

Flowering shrubs tend to grow in gently rounded shapes and most of the time they don’t need to be pruned more than once a year to maintain this look.

The Best Time to Prune Flowering Shrubs

If you need to shape or cut back a flowering shrub such as a Forsythia, Quince, Azelea, or Lilac, it’s best to do it as soon as the blooms fade. You can even do it while they are actually blooming and enjoy the trimmings as a nice bouquet!

Can I Trim My Flowering Shrub in the Summer or Fall?

Aside from emergency damage control, you should avoid pruning flowering shrubs later in the year. That’s because these bushes tend to form new flower buds very soon after blooming. If you wait too long after bloom-time, new flower buds will already have formed and you will be cutting those off, making it impossible for the plant to bloom next year.

Of course you can and should remove damaged branches whenever necessary. But, If you prune extensively in the summer, fall, or winter you won’t get many blooms in the following spring.

So if you see a few branches on your flowering shrub that should be cut back, why not do it now and enjoy the blooms indoors as a bouquet? That way you can enjoy your blooms inside and outside, this year and next year–what could be better!?

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Dynaweed: Natural “Weed and Feed”

Have you ever wished there were an easy, non-toxic way to make your lawn look better? Well, if so, have a look at Soil Tech’s Dynaweed.

  • Dynaweed controls weeds and fertilizes established plants at the same time.
  • Dynaweed can be used in a spreader or applied by hand.
  • Dynaweed is safe to use around children, pets and even prized perennials

Sound too good to be true? Well, it’s not. Dynaweed is made from corn gluten meal. Corn gluten meal acts as a pre-emergent herbicide. That means you put it on before weeds start to grow. It works by killing the feeder roots of sprouting seeds, so you need to apply it early in the spring, about the time forsythia and daffodils begin to bloom. 

When Forsythia bloom, it is time to apply Dynaweed!

Dynaweed won’t harm established plants or people or animals, so that makes it really easy to work with. And it contains roughly 10% nitrogen, so it feeds your plants while you are preventing weed growth!

Who Uses Dynaweed?

Grounds managers at parks and schools often look for non-chemical alternatives and they have had success with corn gluten meal. Harley Carter, athletic director at a private school in Fairfield, Iowa learned about corn gluten meal from Soil Technologies, Inc. He was looking for help with his unirrigated soccer field. It had initially been seeded in a mix of bluegrass and rye. But, “the grass hadn’t grown in well and the field was in dire need of weed control,” he said.

He decided to give Dynaweed a try. Dynaweed can be applied in both the spring and fall. But the playing schedule was so busy that Carter was only able to apply it in the spring. Never-the-less, after 4 years of use Carter said, “It takes time, but there’s no doubt that it works. Our soccer field looks as good as anybody’s in the league.” 

With spring in the air, order Dynaweed now and be ready for a better looking lawn. Naturally!

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Fall Gardening To Do List

Fall is the time when last year’s clean up meets next year’s preparation. But don’t let fall garden chores get overwhelming–use this handy checklist to remind you of what needs to be done and why.

1- Remove diseased or pest infested plants. If you don’t, you make it easy for the same pests and diseases to find your plants next year. (Of course other plant debris can be composted.)

2- Get your soil tested. Some nutrients can be added in the fall to give plants a running start in the spring. Cover crops and/or compost can also be used to improve your soil.

3- Remove grass around fruit trees. Having growth near your tree trunks makes it easy for

Pile of fall leaves with fan rake on lawn

Fall leaves can be turned into next year’s compost!

mice and other pests to create nests there.

4- Fence against rabbits, deer, mice. In the dead of winter these animals often turn to eating tree bark. To keep rodents from damaging your trees, make a cylinder of ¼ inch hardware cloth with a large enough diameter to stand a couple inches away from the trunks of your fruit trees. Bury it a little way into the ground and anchor it securely to a post. (Of course deer will require much larger fencing.)

5- Chase off moles and other ground dwellers. Using a repellent such as Chase Mole in the fall may cause these pests to leave now and stay away all winter!

6- Plant garlic, daffodils, and other bulbs. Planting in the fall gives bulbs a chance to start their root growth early for better growth in the spring.

7- Use cover crops or mulch to prevent erosion and preserve soil. Bare soil tends to wash away with winter thaws and spring rains. Cover your soil to keep it where you want it!

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Customer Testimonial: Nemastop

At America Natural, satisfied customers are our business! Recently we heard from a customer whose boxwoods were diagnosed with pathogenic nematodes. They didn’t want to use harsh chemicals so they tried Nemastop and were very pleased with the results. Here’s the story in their own words:

We have over 400 large boxwoods on our property that were having serious problems. We had them tested and found that they were being damaged by pathogenic nematodes. I was very worried because the loss of our boxwoods would devastate our landscape. I found Nemastop online and decided to give it a try because I wasn’t going to use the heavy chemicals that were recommended.

Nemastop worked wonderfully! I’m very pleased with the product. This year I’ve made five treatments of Nemastop and we’ve had no die-back at all on the boxwoods. I’ve recommended it to several arborists and research people.

Nemastop is pretty amazing stuff. I’m very impressed with it.

– R. H. Port Matilda, PA

lawn and hedge in a summer park

Prevent Nematode Damage with Nemastop

Whether it’s Boxwoods with  nematodes or some other problem, let America Natural help you find  natural solutions for your pest control or fertilizer needs.

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How to Get Rid of Wild Poison Parsnip Without Using Chemical Herbicides

It’s a common dilemma– you want to get rid of rash causing weeds, but you don’t want to get a rash in the process.

Poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, wild parsnip, cow parsnip, giant hogweed and other weeds can all cause significant irritation. Any one of them can make the next few weeks of your summer itchy and miserable. Over the past few years, poison parsnip, or wild parsnip, has become a more and more widespread problem across the US.

How to Identify Wild Parsnip

Wild parsnip often grows along roadsides and if nobody mows it, by midsummer it will be several feet high and covered with masses of small yellow flowers in an umbrella shape (like carrots or dill). The leaves have a sawtooth edge. During the first year of growth, you may see only small rosettes of these leaves.

Wild_Parsnip_Wikipedia 07112016

At some point, usually during the second year, the plant will send up a tall stem and an attractive yellow umbrella shaped cluster of flowers. While it is in bloom it is easy to identify and you still have time to eliminate it before it forms seed heads and plants a bumper crop for next year! 

Sap from the stem, leaves or flowers of the wild parsnip can react with sunlight to cause burns on your skin. The reaction is called “phytophotodermatitis.” The rash can look a bit like a sunburn. It may include blisters and generally appears within a couple days of contact with the plant.  Discoloration can last for several months.

How to Get Rid of Wild Parsnip

Use caution when working around wild parsnip and other rash-causing plants. No matter what your weed problem, follow these 6 easy steps to get rid of the weeds without using harsh chemicals and dramatically cut your chances of getting a rash from these weeds.

1- Cover Up— Wear protective clothing. Long pants, shoes and socks, long sleeves and gloves are all musts. Protective eyeware is also a good idea. You don’t want the saps or oils from these plants to get on your skin or in your eyes.

2- Keep Your Distance— Work at arm’s length whenever possible. Rather than getting your face down in the weeds, use long handle tools or mowers to keep yourself at a distance from the plants and to help you avoid the saps and oils that cause the problems. Individual plants can be cut off below ground level with a sharp spade or a dandelion fork. But larger patches of the weed may have to be mowed or eliminated with a brush cutter.

3- Stay Cool— Work during the cooler part of the day and on cloudy days, if possible. Sunlight, sweat and heat can all increase the rash causing potential of these plants.

4- Use Herbicides Wisely— If you don’t want to use a systemic herbicide, then your alternative is a burn down herbicide, such as Phydura. Use this to attack plants you can’t uproot or mow. Because this type of herbicide attacks the foliage and not the root, it will take more than one application to kill the plant. However, even if you don’t succeed in killing the root, you will have slowed the spread of the plant. If you eliminate the leaves, stems and flowers late enough in the summer, plants like poison parsnip won’t have time to make seeds before winter hits. If you miss your window and seeds do form, apply a pre-emergent herbicide, such as Dynaweed in fall or spring, to help keep those seeds from sprouting. And if you can learn to identify the first sproutings of this noxious weed, that is the ideal time to spray them.

5- Be Careful With the Debris–Do not burn or compost wild parsnip plants that have been cut down or dug up. If possible, leave the stems to dry out completely at the site. Carefully dispose of plant material in black plastic bags and leave in direct sun for a week or more. Contact your municipality to determine if the bagged plants can be sent to your local landfill site or not.

6- Cut the Grease— Wash up immediately after all your hard work. Include your tools in this clean up, and remember to launder your clothing separately. Most important, of course, is to remove any oils and saps from your skin. Use a grease-cutting detergent. Consider using special soaps that are designed to remove the rash causing saps and oils from your skin and clothing.

Controlling perennial weeds takes consistent effort. But with time and attention you can bring poison parsnip under control and avoid suffering its itchy rash.

For more about identifying rash causing plants, click here for an illustrated guide put out by the University of Illinois.


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Natural Pest Control Guide

Summer is wonderful, but sometimes it seems like every pest in the world is lunching in your garden. Not to worry–American Natural has got your back. Next time you discover that your backyard has become Nature’s Dining Commons, consult this handy Natural Pest Control Guide to see how American Natural can help.

fallow deer calf ( Dama ) portrait while looking at camera

Deer can be a challenging garden pest to control.


Controls: Fencing (must be 8 feet tall or use two shorter fences), Aromatic Deterrents

Products: Garlic Gard, Plant Pro-Tec Garlic


Controls: Fencing + Underground Barriers

Products:  Garlic GardPlant Pro-Tec Garlic 

Moles, Gophers, Armadillos

Controls: Underground Barriers, Castor Oil Products

Products: Chase LiquidChase Granular 


Controls: Zappers, Traps, Aromatic Deterrents, Insecticides

Products: NimBio Sys, Milky Spore, PyGanic, Dipel Pro DF, Nemastop, Perma-Guard D20, Perma-Guard D-21, Perma-Guard DE, PureSpray Green, Cedarwood Oil

Mold, Mildew, Fungus, Pond Scum 

Controls: Increase airflow, avoid watering in the evening, microbial inoculants, anti-fungal products

Products: PureSpray Green, Fungastop, Pond Kleen, Green Clean Granules, Green Clean Tablets


Controls: Hand weeding, suppressants, sprays 

Products: Dynaweed, Phydura

As you can see, American Natural has got a wealth of products to help you protect your garden from hungry critters. Just click on any of the links above to learn more.

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Avoid Gardening Injuries–Work Smart!

Although it doesn’t take place in a gym, there’s no doubt that gardening can be a workout!

Like any physical activity, you may need to approach garden work a little carefully to avoid injury. Follow these tips to stay safe and keep yourself enjoying gardening all season long.

Image of female farmer working in the garden

Don’t let constant leaning hurt your back– Choose tools that let you work upright, and use them that way!

  • Choose your tools wisely and take good care of them. Take your height into account when you are selecting long handle tools. If you are tall, longer handles may help you stand up straighter. D ring grips can be added to increase leverage. Keep your shovels and hoes clean and well sharpened so you can work more efficiently.
  • Start small. Most gardeners will tell you that their first garden was too much to take care of—don’t let this happen to you! Start small. Proponents of square foot gardening say it is possible to grow enough vegetables for one person in as little as 16 square feet. That’s just 4 feet by 4 feet!
  • Design with maintenance in mind. Things like raised beds, mulch, and drip irrigation can make it easier to maintain your garden throughout a long summer.
  • Stretch before and after. Hoing, raking, lifting, bending, kneeling, squatting. They can all use muscles that are not used to working quite so hard. Stretch a little before you start to discourage injury and again at the end to decrease sore muscles.
  • Pace yourself. Take the time to sit and rest between tasks. Incorporate a bench or a stump in your garden design, or bring a bucket you can turn over and sit on.
  • Alternate Tasks. Prevent muscle fatigue by moving back and forth between tasks that use different parts of your body.
  • Stay hydrated. Bring water with you and drink small amounts often.
  • Bring your own shade. Wear a hat, bring an umbrella, or work in the early morning or evening hours when the sun’s rays are not so strong.

With a little care, gardening can provide great exercise as well as delicious produce. And that’s a better deal than any gym membership around!

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