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Ed Rosenthal’s
Protect Your Garden

Review by Ann Ralph

Oakland’s Ed Rosenthal is a marijuana expert, a grower, researcher, writer, teacher, and activist who stands at the center of a movement to promote the growth and decriminalization of marijuana. As such, he’s had occasion to study and practice gardening principles in challenging conditions for some 40 years. In his new book, Ed Rosenthal’s Protect Your Garden: Eco-Friendly Solutions for Healthy Plants, Rosenthal turns his attention to the common nutrient deficiencies, pests, and diseases that beleaguer gardeners of every kind. The result is a useful, photo-rich, and well-organized compendium of plant problems and solutions, a pared-down version of the Ortho Problem Solver with an emphasis on natural remedies.

Every page of Protect Your Garden contains a revelation of one kind or another. You’ll find such juicy conversation-starters as: how milk can provide a defense against powdery mildew, why breezes promote sturdier plants, and how to make a pepper spray. You can read about the great locust invasion of 1873–1878, the last to occur in the United States, and explore charts explaining the similarities between ants and people, the differences between black and brown rats, and which predator mite attacks which pest.

Rosenthal keeps readers on track by deliberately narrowing the field of possible problems to those that commonly confront home gardeners. Color-coded sections on pests, diseases, nutrients, environmental stresses, and controls provide overviews of good general practices and answer these questions: How common is the problem? What does the damage look like? Where is it found on the plant? Clear photographs of insects and ailments, symptom descriptions, and prevention tips help gardeners identify troubles and their causes. There is discussion about why plants, insects, and diseases behave the way they do, explanations of cultural practices, and information on various biological and low-impact controls that reduce the likelihood of recurrence.

Chapter 4 contains some crucial advice for gardeners: “Make sure you know a plant’s requirements and preferred conditions when considering acquiring a plant or attempting to grow a crop.”

In my experience people too often try to banish insects and disease without attending to underlying cultural stressors. We should look to prevention and the simplest interventions first. Some situations easily resolve with changing seasons and corrections of light, water, and compost, and it’s worth considering that a balance of insects has a place in the organic garden. Predators require prey if you want them to stick around. I like to recommend Rosenthal’s targeted and least invasive remedies before turning to the broad-spectrum products he includes like Spinosad and pyrethrum, which can disrupt natural systems.

Readers might have a hard time sorting out best first approaches from a slate of alternatives, and they will find no discussion of such common fruit-tree diseases as codling moth, brown rot, fireblight, peach leaf curl, and shot hole fungus, which are curiously absent. Those considerations aside, this smart, comprehensive, and entertaining volume packs a lot of value into a small and affordable package. A good resolution depends on a good diagnosis. Protect Your Garden is a valuable place to start before you lose yourself in the Internet jungle of advice on plant pathology. ♣