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Organic Land Care

By Dave Alba

It seems like everyone these days is making claims of being organic, green, or sustainable. The landscape industry is no exception. How do you know if these “green” claims are real? Sometimes it’s hard to know. 

Now, there is a program that identifies and accredits sustainable landscape practices: the Oregon Tilth Accredited Organic Land Care (OLC) program. Tilth’s new OLC program has created a set of standards and guidelines that define sustainable landscaping practices while offering a widely recognized accreditation for landscapers.

Organic Land Care

The primary focus of Organic Land Care is to improve the health of the landscape, protect the environment and eliminate any harmful practices. In 2009, with a team of concerned landscape professionals and individuals, Oregon Tilth released the Organic Land Care Policies and Standards, which can be downloaded from the website (, and the Organic Land Care Field Guide, which offers a comprehensive view of the foundations and applications of organic land care and is available for sale on the website.
The Organic Land Care Policies and Standards sets consistent standards for sustainable landscaping practices. These standards are intended to reduce or eliminate the use of environmentally degrading substances and fossil fuels while emphasizing soil health and natural cycles. 

The OLC program prohibits the use of most synthetic pesticides. By reducing the use of pesticides, we can lessen the risk of pesticide exposure and related health problems. Pesticides absorbed by plants or insects can accumulate in the food chain as birds, fish, other wildlife and people feed on the contaminated organisms. 

Instead of using pesticides, the organic practitioner can, for example, attract beneficial insects with nectar rich blooms. Organic weed control includes hand-pulling, mulching, or using a flame torch. Ultimately, learning to tolerate some pests, thereby relying less on pesticides, leads to a more sustainable landscape.
The OLC program is also working to reduce the amount of fertilizers used in the landscape. Most synthetic fertilizers are not allowed, while the application of natural fertilizers requires a soil test prior to application. This prevents over applications of fertilizers and helps reduce contamination of water supplies by storm water runoff. Storm water runoff can also be reduced through the use of pervious hardscapes, rain gardens and various bioretention methods. 

In OLC, use of fertilizers is also reduced through plant selection and placement: by using site-appropriate plantings or by landscaping with native plants, the landscape will rely less on fertilization. Compost and compost tea can be used as a natural fertilizer to promote soil health and fertility.

OLC practices also work to reduce the use of fossil fuels and decrease air pollution. By using a closed-loop system in which inputs and outputs are reduced, the organic land care provider can greatly reduce emissions. On-site compost, for instance, can be a great benefit to an organic landscape. The policies and standards also prohibit the use of two-stroke, gasoline-powered equipment, except for chainsaws.

OLC accreditation

The OLC program is providing regularly scheduled training and networking opportunities for landscape professionals. The first annual Oregon Tilth Organic Land Care Accreditation training was held at Clackamas Community College in January 2010. As a result, 22 landscape professionals have applied for Oregon Tilth OLC accreditation. A complete list of accredited professionals is available on the website. 

A one-day OLC workshop for landscapers will be held on August 19th at Clackamas Community College. This will be an intensive workshop focusing on OLC principles and applications, including soil health and plant pathology. Register on-line at the web site.
The next opportunity for accreditation will be on the last week of January, 2011. The 2nd Annual Organic Land Care Accreditation Training will be held Monday through Friday, January 24th – 28th 2011, at Clackamas Community College. This is a five-day training for landscape professionals focusing on organic landscape practices including soil building, Integrated Pest Management, sustainable landscape design, organic weed management, marketing organic land care, storm water management, tree care, sustainable resources and more. Accreditation is offered to those who attend the annual five-day training, pass an examination and agree to abide by the program requirements and standards.

Organic land care practitioners

So, if you see an advertisement for a local landscaper boasting an Oregon Tilth logo, with the words “Oregon Tilth Accredited Organic Land Care,” then you know that that professional is committed to sustainability. Check out the web site for a complete list of current Organic Land Care Practitioners:

Dave Alba is the OLC Program Manager and can be reached at; (541) 908-1194.


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