Many gardeners (especially beginner gardeners) assume that their favorite, local greenhouse is relatively organic. Whether they shop at a big box store for garden plants or a small neighborhood nursery, it just seems to me that many gardeners just assume that the herbs and vegetables they buy from a retailer will be free of chemical pesticides. Basically, we trust the people we shop from, and that’s natural. Unfortunately, our trust is sometimes misplaced.
If you’re like the majority of gardeners, you grow some plants from seed, you buy some starter plants from stores throughout your area, and you may even dabble in perennials for your landscaping. What you may not realize, however, is that the retailer you buy your plants from—whether big or small—may not use organic growing methods to produce their plants. In fact, many retailers (including gardening stores and nurseries) do not even grow many of the plants they sell themselves, so they may not even know what pesticides and insecticides have been used on the plants they’re selling.
If you’re committed to keeping an organic garden and supporting organic farming, there are a few ways that you can sleuth out which nurseries and retailers stock organically grown herbs and vegetables, and which ones may not be as “all-natural” as they seem.
3 Signs You’re in an Organic Nursery or Greenhouse
Ladybugs, Lacewings & Hoverflies, Oh My
Without a doubt, if you’re in an organic greenhouse, you’re going to see lots of beneficial predatory insects. Greenhouses that stick to organic gardening methods are typically swarming with good bugs like ladybugs and hoverflies, whereas greenhouses that do not are often a bit of a “dead zone,” with few insects in the area. In fact, once you’re familiar with how an organic nursery “feels” and smells—how everything buzzes with life and the activity of the little insect lives that help support its balanced ecosystem, and the a pleasant, “earthy” smell in the air—a non-organic retailer can actually feel downright weird. Suddenly you notice the absence of ladybugs and their wicked-looking larvae, the synthetic smell that hangs in the air, and how everything seems very quiet. No bees, no ladybugs, no dragonflies in flight: Just lonely plants on display waiting to be bought.
Marigolds in the House
Look around your favorite greenhouse. Do you see packs of marigolds strategically placed amid the vegetables and herbs? If so, chances are that your greenhouse uses plants that repel insects as part of their organic pest-control methods. Marigolds are probably the most well-known plant for repelling insects, and they are a popular choice for organic nurseries (because they help control aphids, tomato hornworms and whiteflies). So, if you see lots of marigolds around, you’re probably in good hands!
Do you know what osmocote is? It’s a synthetic controlled-release fertilizer that can be found in soil, and soil with osmocote will look like it has tiny white or colored pebbles in it. These little balls are called prills, and they are balls of fertilizer which are covered in a soya bean oil coating. Now, some sellers may say that their osmocote is “organic,” but be warned: They may just be referring to the fact that their osmocote contains “natural” ingredients and isn’t a synthetic fertilizer (which many fertilizers are).
Typically, organic farmers and growers don’t use osmocote, and instead use truly organic fertilizers, compost and other conventional organic gardening methods to keep soil fertile. So, take a peek at the plant soil. Do you see osmocote? If you do, chances are that your nursery may be “green” but not organic.
How to Be Sure: Ask
If you’re still unsure if your plant provider is organic, ask. And, if keeping an organic garden is important to you, there are at least two things that you can do to help growers get the message:
- Support organic growers in your community. Whether it’s at farmers’ markets and co-ops or an organic greenhouse in your neighborhood, if you’re lucky enough to have an organic grower in your area that sells truly organic starter plants, show your appreciation and spread the word.
- Ask for organic. Whether it’s a big box store or your favorite nursery, every type of business has something in common: a need for satisfied customers who keep coming back. If enough people push for organic starter plants, more greenhouses will see the market and feel the pressure to cater to it. And, if you’re familiar with the dangers of neonicotinoid pesticides, be sure to ask what types of pesticides they use.
Special thanks to Heath’s Organic Greenhouse & Nursery in Sugar Hill, New Hampshire for their help with this article!