Episode 123: Howard Garrett | the Dirt Doctor | Dallas/FortWorth, TX



This morning I got an email from a member of my audience who said he’d been listening to my recent 2-part episode 120 with Liz Krieg where we were talking about Organic Lawn Care. I mentioned, wouldn’t it be nice if someone started a certification for landscapers so they could teach their customers? Probably the biggest lesson I have actually learned since I started this podcast is how toxic people’s lawns are where toddlers and dogs play and learn to crawl! And Jon Moore from Australia from the World Organic News who started his own podcast you might want to listen to! And in episode 39 of the Organic Gardener Podcast Angie Shcnieder from the Schneider Peeps said:

Who or what inspired you to start using organic techniques?

… The Dirt Doctor in Fort Worth Texas had a radio show on Saturday mornings who specialized in Texas Growing. Howard Garrett which is where we learned the most in the beginning.

How did you learn how to garden organically?

Yes from reading his books for pest and disease control his books have been very helpful. His book Texas Bug Book: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, was very helpful.


Organic Lawn Care by Howard Garrett  

Howard Garrett - Texas Bug Book

Texas Bug Book • The Good the Bad and the Ugly – Howard Garrett 

Teaching Natural Organic Certification Classes at the Texas Organic Research Center Howard Garret is on a mission to make everyone go Organic!

Tell us a little about yourself.

Well, I started in the golf course and landscape business a long time ago after getting out of the Marine Corps, back in 1972! is when it all got started

I actually started my radio show and column in the Dallas Morning News, since 1989!

Back in the day when we started, I didn’t know, anything about organic gardening at all. My daughter Logan who became the announcer on my show in second grade and she still is … Is the reason I converted over, I saw her do what all kids do, she put things in her mouth …she was the reason I, started looking into organic gardening, I had no idea what organic gardening meant. I knew the basics of what people did vegetable gardning ag type things, and I converted those ideas over to landscaping. I read everything I could get my hands on, and develpoed my own techniques.

The fascinating part was how easy it was, landscaping has more tolerance, if you foul up with food crops you lose your whole thing, where with landscaping if you fail, you just pick yourself up and dust yourself off.

And not only that, more people have lawns, I mean everybody has a lawn, ok not everybody has a lawn, but way more people have lawns then gardens!!!

fix things and go on

doesn’t mean you can’t do farming

easier to do the landscaping


It’s a paradigm problem

most people do what other people are doing.

hire a contractor

for mowing or and don’t ask what the are doing?

dallas, fort worth area, and all of Texas, we have gone a long way towards organics. “My Mission is to convert the world to organics”

I’m on in the Forth Wroth area and Bob Webster is on in San Antonio

John Dromogole in Austen cover the state with organic gardening talkshows. Now with syndicated  in 210 markets. Mike McGrath is covering Pennsylvania in several states with his NPR his organic gardening program

doing what you are doing with the podcasts and internet kinds of things

the natural organic program works better

it’s not just because, it’s simply works better

we can show people how to save 40-50% on their water bill, one reason doing the organic approach.

Also, in Episode 50 David Salman talked about , that when he been working in New Mexico,  is he went the organic way is because he wanted his customers to be successful, and then he liked to educate the people who worked in his nursery more because he felt it was the most efficient and effective in their drought climate…

One of the first things I did here in Dallas, was to help one of the most famous, one of the largest is Lambert, and Lambert’s landscape company convert to organics. And they do a lot of high end customers, they probably don’t even know they do organics. They just do it, it’s their policy, and then other people hire them because they do the organic approach. 

There’s a dozen or two from small to medium size. Dallas/Fort Worth area. you won’t find, many around the rest of the United States, but you’re starting

Tell me about your first gardening experience?

I don’t even remember, I’m from an agricultural family

In the sweet potato business, watermelons? and peaches?

When I was a kid, I didn’t have any interest in it, it was just something I had to do back in those days. I really  didn’t get interested in gardening at all until I was a junior at Texas tech, and I had changed my major 3 times from advertising art to buisness to horticulture course. I took a horticulture class kind of accidentally because it sounded easier then chemistry, and part of that course was a lab where we had to design a residential landscape. I caught on to it quickly and enjoyed it and ended up doing the project for the people in addition to mine and talked to the head of the department and transferred over and converted over, my degree program being landscape architecture and park administration. That was really my first experience working other then the field

I love that for so many reasons, I always tell my kids etc, you might not know when you go to college and you learn about things that you don’t know, and you also learn about things you do not want to do! What a great story about how you got to what you do now!

toehr then having


What does organic gardening/earth friendly mean to you?

Welll, it’s very simple,

that you stop doing 2 things that are very important

and then you start doing one thing you

the first is stop using synthetic fertilizers are


salts, they’re very inefficient they’re not good in any ways.

stop using synthetic fereitlizers.

stop using toxic chemical pesticides

people think because I put it in that order, the fertilizer first and the pesticides 2nd  I put it in that the most important that I’m not that concerned about the pesticides

they’re bad for your health.

they aren’t necessary

With the organic prorgarm you reduce the pressure from the pests

because you have healthy soil and healthy plants and the have a natural resistance.

when pests do pop up, which they’re going to , because we’re always pushing the envelope

we try grow something that’s not perfectly adapted,

fungal diseaeses , even bacterial

viral disesases


we have organic techniques for controlling these pests, that are non-toxic ways to go. That’s the program as far as what you stop

you do that with

rock minerals


speeds up the process

moves the soils in the direction we want to go, where were trying to push the soil to is

just the opposite of what the syntthetic fertilizers and pesticides do.

stop using pestiviesd,

start building carbon, organic matter, build the micro organisms, and if you do those 3 things, the rest is all a piece of cake?

How did you learn how to landscape organically?

I saw my daughter putting things in her mouth, when she was 9 months old and I started looking into organic gardening. I looked into it, the thing that’s different about me, started in college, I just never went totally along with the crowd, I was always asking questions and looking at things from a different standpoint.

looking at this natural organic approach, the first person I asked was to a PhD frined of mine, and I asked him about organic gardening

He said, “Oh there’s no possiblie way to do that, it’s not cost effective, it’s not gonna work.”

That’s the story line all the university people used at that point in time

a great percentage of them ha

have goetten into organics

some people who have made the conversion over

To get into organics you have to be able to go out on your own, you have to take responsibility for yourself… I’ve written colunns, stories, and they are on my website at Dirt Doctor.com about what organiaphobia which is the term I give those people that say it won’t work and that the checmial way is ok.

The Five Things of Organaphobia

  1. People don’t understand organics so they tend to stick with what the are comfortable with, what they don’t know how to answer the questions don’t know how to do it.
  2. fear of taking that responsibility if you go one you can’t blame your peers, or some university, you have take the responsibility yourself or blame the Dirt Doctor!
  3. Another is money, some people make their money from pesticides – researchers get their money from Montanatos and Scotts and Orthos of the world, it’s understandable.  It’s difficult to get people to go a different way if it affects people’s pocketbooks.
  4. People unable to see it’s an option, if you are stuck in a paradigm is
  5. Most important inability people have of saying that I’m wrong, that I’ve been wrong, and  admitting they made a mistake that there is another way, then the way I’ve been going. I’ve never had that problem,  I’ve changed in the landscape architecture , I would change it 3-4 times, I would drive people crazy sometimes. .. I was always looking for a different approach, way to make it better . . . That’s a big hangup for a lot of people. The problem is people have learned a certain technique from their University, or peers, or instructors and it’s difficult to say all that stuff is wrong and I’ve learned a better way to go and here it is.

Especially when it’s someone has told people the chemical approach is bad and stop doing it. There’s a real difficulty for people who are immersed in their own way.

I guess I could see that, we’re all kind of like that in a way, change is always difficult.

Tell us about something that grew well this year or a way for people to incorporate natural landscaping into their own yard. 

There are a couple of the most famous, involved in my own garden. One is the gingko when my daughter Logan was born back in 1985ish. At that same time she was crawling around picking things up and putting them in her mouth, the Gingko tree was about 8 feet tall and an inch and half caliper, it’s competing for the largest tree in the Dallas Fort Worth area, have the reputation and rightly so for being slow growing, but myt free is not it puts on anywhere form 12’s of new growth a year.

some years 20-18 feet in length

Ginko Tree

It grows very fast, it’s an extremely large plant now,

we have lots of videos and photos about it on Dirt Doctor.com

One it’s been in an organic program from day one and growing in healthy soil, something from the tree that I recognize, I dramatically exposed the trunk flair, the part that flairs out, and horizontally and if exposed properly is a very dramatic part of the tree, you can even step on the flair growing out laterally and it is part of the trunk!

teach people do to that to all sorts of trees, orgniametal trees, fruit trees, shade trees. It’s the combination of those two things:

  • organic program from day 1
  • open flair

Gingko one of the most ancient trees on earth, more important for it to be in organic,

then other trees


oaks and maples, and hybrids,

this trunk fair exposure,

The other plant that I have is that tauhgt a lesson for everytbody

cooking bay, probably the largetst bay in Texas, maybe one of the largest ones in this zone, we’re in zone 8

people try to teach people

say it over and over again, that Bay is not hardy outside here in the winter in this zone, that you have to keep it in pots and protect  itand move it in and out and everything.

My bay started out like a little 6 inch pot, moved it up to a 12 inch clay pot, finally I put it in the ground and it has now been outside in Dallas, TX for 35 years! We’ve had some extremely cold winters during that period of time. And the lesson it teaches is, under the organic, have a full hardness zone, cold haridineess.

By going organic we give plants a 4-5º protection of winter hardness. So that along with some of the other techniques that we use, help us grow a wider range of plants.

I totally agree with that, when they did there test farms, their original test farms only produced better maybe in the beginning is only in ideal conditions. 

And then I have to ask is that a Bay leaf, that you cook with.

You said something that Rodale says, I’ve see other organic people too, is that thought process that the organic program doesn’t work well right at first, you have to be patient for it to finally work.

I dont’ agree with that at all, onr of main things I have done, and we have a non-profit organization, the Texas research center.org

is who is presenting the certification course that we’ll talk about later. We don’t believe that it’s slower, that you can’t have good production in the first year. The secret is you have to know what you’re doing, you have to know how to use the techniques on the first year, on the front end the

first year

into the native soil, a lot of people think you have to have raised beds and have all new material, or take out the existing soil and start with fresh soil, we think that native soil is a very important part of the bed, we even like to inoculate potting soil with a little bit of native soil so you get those native micro-organisms

if you use compost and organic

primarily organic rock

zealite, that I recommmend, along with sugars, primarily molasses

blend that into the soil in the beginning you can have good production your very first year.

They are right that production gets even better then that long term.

just like using in having to have

soil gets better and better with

one of the greater cost savings is that you never have the conversation that the chemical people have that goest something like this well that bed is own out so we need to pull the material out, that conversation never comes up. The soil

gets better and better, with every application, forever

What I was thinking that you have to keep increasing the number of checmials you add..

final cost

Is there something you would do different next year or want to try/new?

We’re always looking at new ideas, and thinking about what could work even better. One of the things that I do is I love to get tips form listeners and readers

competitiors don’t want to hear about ideas, some of the things that are the coolest things some of the things I recommend, come from listeners, for example I was recommending cornmeal as a disease control and cure.

from plants

in the soils

One of my listeners had he had tried that, but had cured me talking about cornmeal, and he had come up with a new ideal, he and his wife had had toe nail fungus forever, he heard me talking about it working on plants and so they tried to make a slurry from it and from that we had farmers and ranchers try it on all sorts of various fungal issues for plants, livestock, and kept coming up with cornmeal functions to cure fungal diseasses

athletes’ foot,

And we had people who come work out on the field everyday, that wear boots, but they didn’t watnt ot go to the trouble of making a liquid so they just tossed some cornmeal in their boots and eliminated fungus and athlete’s foot.

kind of fun to see what else will come out of things that we have recommended before

one of the most interesting things about cornmeal is that it was taught to me from a fellor

who ran the Texas A&M research station in Stevensville TX they had discovered it serendipitously, when researching peanuts, they noticed that when a corn planting followed a peanut experiment on the farm they didn’t have the fungus rhizotopia be a problem on their peanuts when they told me that, I took that info and started applying it to other fungal diseases.

I found out that the brown patch on turf was rhizotonia, and then recommended it for that and recommened it for other diseases in turf, like gray leafs pot

low and behold cornmeal works by stimulating a beneficial microbe, tricoderma is a fungus that functions as a beneficial but it will override the pathogens and take them out

you control the disease, without putting out something that kills at all, it simply stimulates a beneficial microbe, that overrides the pathogens in the soil.

That’s why the chemical fungicides, dont work,

don’t realize how the chemicals, and people don’t realize how dangerous they are.

don’t work because they are indiscriminate. They kills the beneficial microorganisms is as well as or better then they kill the pathogens

you end up creating  this vacuum where the pathogens grow back first and you end up with this situation that the pathogens are worse then they were to begin with.

So that’s one of the advantages of the organic program, you’re

I’ve got a bunch of books, I’ve written about 15 books, they all have the word TEXAS in them, as I’ve expanded my teaching, across the country, that’s been a bit of a problem but really they are applicable, if you adjust 2 things, one is timing, when you do things, that obviously varies from north to south, and you adjust certain plants, obviously we grow different things in Oregon, then we do in NY  or Texas.

How you plant a plant, how you do pruning trees, how you control insects, do basically anywhere in the world,

how that matters

last 2 books that I did are the two that are the least regionalized, the

Organic Management for the Professional (which isn’t just for the professional)

just covers things in detail and a lot of homeowners want that too.. .

the other is Organic Lawn Care book,

grass techniques and management for grasses in the south and obviously about Northern grasses like blue grass and like fescue

just the basic program

all my books go into a little more detail into specific situations.

backgrounds about

we say we don’t recommend something like glyphosate or a synthetic fertilizers, we give great detail about those products.  Glyposate is probably the one that is most ubiquious, and it’s used as growing, except with the organic people

It’s such a brilliantly marketed product, almost as safe as water, breaks down as soon as it hits the grass, doesn’t affect animals, animals don’t have the pathway in the body for the glyphosate for animals to damage. Yes, mammals don’t have the pathway, but the bacteria in the gut of wildlife, livestock, pets, and animals, the bacteria do have that pathway. 

that’s why it’s so incredibly dangerous it’s hurting the gut of all life and health of animals is directly dependent on the gut, that’s where all health issues .

we now know, and there is data continuing to build

documente int eh Texsas website as well as Dirt Doctor

showing this direct relationship which is roundup and degenerative diseases

including cancer, parkinson, alzheimers, up and to including autism in kids…

My episode #9 was with Dr. Stephani Seneff from MIT who talked about it. I grew up with my Mom, who was like we’re not gonna have that on the lawn. And I know neighbors would drive her crazy. I remembered as we were talking David Schmetterling talked about how native plants help save water. 

Native plants are very important! But no matter what kind of plant, the most exotic thing, the organic program saves 40-50% on the water any plant because it creates this environment where the soil holds water at just the right level

when you build beneficial bacteria and nematodes that should be in the soil, the soil it changes character completely, and changes structure because of  the glues that are being held together , it changes color, it changes fragrance, the ease with which it can be worked

soil that is made healthy by organic techniques, it breathes better and on the other hand will hold just the right amount of moisture for a much longer period of time. the beneficial fungus grows on the roots of most plants,

microrizy: what it actually does is create much bigger and healthier root systems that can access water more efficiently from a greater distance

trace minterals form the soil better, all of those things working together creates a situation you simply don’t have to water is all

proven by a project I started on organics down at Houston, I had spoken at  fundrainsing evnet a thte RiverOaks and many residential properties, and they asked me if we could do it on a commercial basis,

corporate head quarters

golf courses and all sorts of big properties. And I said there’s no reason not to

Bio ben


part of the Eastern museum System, it’s 8 acres or something like that and beautiful formal gardens, they instructed the curator to go Organic and he fought it, and he said we can’t afford to take a chance on insects he kept saying he said you can’t make a formal garden

But they said, the River Oaks Garden Club, women, own the place, and they said Well, were going organic as of today so they forced him to do it, and he continued to be negative about it and he thought he was gonna probe to them it wasn’t gonna work. So he had kept records in the past.

it took him only a year, because he saw his cost for reduction in pesticides and fertilizers, because he had  a reduction in pests, but they were basically the same, but what really went down by 50% was the water bill!

proven it on golf course projects,

acrsoo the board

whether it’s

directly related to the health and biologically


fungus growing on the roots of plants.

I love that, because so many golf courses are always like, No we can’t do that… no we can’t do that. ..

the reason for that, I deal that with them all the time,

the country club I belong to

don’t believe it

superintendents do what they learned in school, what they learned to do themselves and what A&M and the USGA tells them to do, because it takes the monkey off of their shoulders, that way if they lose their greens, which they all do, they  lose their greens because of the synthetic approach…

There are few golf cousres that are doing organic techniques or some version of it. Very few who are doing 100%

the paradigm is so incredibly powerful and the money is all on the side of the pesticides.

Which activity is your least favorite activity to do in the garden.

I don’t know what that would be I like doing. I really like doing the gardening myself, I really like trimming trees.

The one thing I don’t do I bring people in, is tree pruning way up in the trees, I’m 68, I don’t like climbing around in high places anymore. I enjoy doing the pruning.

techniques and

philosophy, I think a lot of tree pruning is overdone. Too many lower limbs are cut off plants

a lot of trees, there’s a misconception  that trees need to be thinned on an annual basis.

If they didn’t want all that foliage they wouldn’t grow it. Theres things that needs to be done, blocking a view or bashing into the car or the house or the driveway or something

if there’s too much weight growing  in one direction

most pruning is done of our benefit, rather then for the trees benefits. We try to get people to eliminate the tree pruning

one of the worst things besides over pruning, un

doing flush cuts, that don’t preserve the branch collar cause cavities rot develop in trees, rot and cavities. We try to get people to think about pruning in the right spot and preserving that natural collar.

when a limb falls off of  a tree in the forest, it leaves part of a branch, the stub is prat of the branch collar is part, and that’s why it’s important to

What is your favorite activity to do in the garden.

I like helping people save trees, getting the bases of trees, uncovered. We learned about the technique and now we do seminars on how to use the commercial device to take save

Air spade, it looks like a sandblasting machine, but it only puts out air, and you can expose the flare without hurt the tree tissue. Expose circling and grilling roots that are damaging, and cut off the birds nest roots that are trying to get up to oxygen, we also teach people how to removes base of soil with hand tools, being very very careful.

one of the tools is the best is a horse brush, it has really sharp bristles, and you can brush the soil

a little moisture

brush the soil areas from the bases of trees

Great photographs on Dirt Doctor.com showing trees that are too deep in the ground and how they are exposed.  If any of your listeners can get our newsletter is free, a lot of people are already taking it, sign up on the form… it’s a weekly newsletter.

We have some fruit trees that we might need some help with…

Fruit trees then to be the most abused as far as being planted too deep in the ground

where there’s a graft or union, if you plant a tree at that height, 8-10 inches too deep in the ground.

most problems people ask me about fruit trees, can be directly solved by uncovering flare, almost all have been planted too deep in the ground. 

I had to expose every tree on my own property, because years ago, I was cavalier about it, not careful about the height of trees,

planted but once you expose them you can almost hear them sigh this sigh of relief and start growing better and producing better, if they’re flowering trees they flower better and the disease and insect problems drop by simply doing the exposure

step one of a procedure I call the

Sick Tree Treatment

as a way to solve a

red tip pherenias that were dying because they were inbred with a problem, being inbred to a susceptible to a root fungal disease. So we came up with this idea of a doing a souped up version of the organic tree program

step one

remove the soil form the base

uncover the flair. Most important part.

Step 2

aerating the root system.

on a big shrub lon a

or a tree

the base

aerare the root zone of a woody plant, you have to aerate the whole product. Stick holes in the ground, pull plugs

liquid way of creating is to buy hydrogen pyroixeide from the grocery store, it’s oxidyinzing same way it kills bacteria on your hand. It kills eight at first and then it starts to floculate the soil, causing this fluffilness effect. You don’t do it over and over again, just the one time

Rest of the Sick Tree Treatment

Apply Amendments:

  • compost,
  • rock powders,
  • sugars/ molases

mulch with shredded native  tree trimmings, my favorite MULCH!

spray with a mixture we call Garret Juice, which is

  • compost tea
  • apple cider vinegar
  • molasses
  • seaweed

apple cider vinegar an ingredient,

or you can buy commercial product.

So the molasses goes in with the Garret Juice? I never heard of that stuff, sounds good though…

What is the best gardening advice you have ever received?

Go organic!

And Being open minded

one of my friends from the past, who wrote the forward to my book Landscape Design Texas Style. One of my books that not even in print anymore. The foward was written by STanly Marcus, the thing that Stanely taught me was to be open minded, and learn new things, not be close minded, listen to people and read and that’s probably the best advice I try to do…

Always keep a mind like an open parachute!

Is there a favorite tool that you like to use? If you had to move and could only take one tool with you what would it be?

Air spade is a commercial product. There’s also one called an air knife, that’s a similar device with a different manuafactureer.

One that is probably, well there’s 2.

One is a stirrup hoe or a push pull hoe, has  metal device on the end of a regular wooden handle, it’s spaced like a stirrup on a saddle, but it swivels a little bit, but you do a push-pull action the most efficient way to weed, best thing I’ve seen of any device I  have ever seen

The other thing is a probe which is important especially for an organic gardener, one of the tenants of the program is to only water when needed and not over water. And to determine when to water, something you have to do yourself, it’s something you can’t set up on a schedule. Varries on every side depending on slope and so

to determine what the soil is doing moisture wise

Commercial product called a pipe probe, theres photographs again on the resource library in my website.

if people want to see what I look like

fiberglass shaft, to push into the ground.

bullet on the ten o f a fiberglass

no dials or gages

by the feel

the other two problems

that one cost about $20.

you have to buy it

the other one you can get for free if you play golf,

breat the head off an old driver

hack saw

golf clubs now have a rubber grip

go to a pawn shop and buy a golf club for 50¢ or a dollar

sharpened wooded pencil

the exposed wood will pick up

you can tell very easy on a

let the soil dry out, as you water again, you let the soil pulse

we do it outside, in pots

we want the air breathing in as the moisture goes away

breathing or pulsing of the soil….

A favorite internet resource?

Dirtdoctor.com is very loaded

Texas Organic Research Center.org

not-for-profit 501C3

datat is backing up all the things we don’t recommend and do recommend

I thknk the internet is full of good info

buyer beware

great info form a host of different websites

if anyone sees something on our website

they disagree with or something they think we haven’t covered enough

our goal is very simple…. to convert the rest of the world to convert to organics!

Well that’s a very important mission!

Final question- if there was one change you would like to see to create a greener world what would it be? For example is there a charity or organization your passionate about or a project you would like to see put into action. What do you feel is the most crucial issue facing our planet in regards to the environment either in your local area or on a national or global scale?

The non-profit Texas Organic Research Center.org that we’re associated with, people help to contribute it does not have a lot of recess

if cities could do one thing, push everything in this direciton. They would make it illegal for homeowners, to put on the curb in leaves and bags and ground up tree trimmings to take to the landfill. They just simply stop doing that, and force to get home owners to use those on their own sites. IT would

  • it would save tax money
  • it would improve the property owners, as people used it as much.

If course, there would need to be some set up for people who just couldn’t do that didn’t have the resources, were handicapped or old, etc.

  • makes them be used…
  • saves tax dollars helps everybody across the board.
  • leaves, trees grassclippings…

So just to make sure its the Texas Organic Research Center.org

How do we connect with you?


on Facebook

Texas Organic Research Center.org

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