10 Ways Gardeners Can Be Kinder to the Planet
You can help save the world in your own backyard with a compost bin, a kitchen garden, and a reel mower. Here’s how to go green in the garden.
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1. Lose the Lawn
Plant a no-mow lawn instead of traditional, thirsty grass and you’ll use less water, fertilizer and pesticide. You’ll also cut down on air pollution because a lawnmower produces as much carbon dioxide in an hour as a car driven more than 400 miles. Alternatives to grass include creeping herbs, sedge, a rock garden, lilyturf or a wildflower meadow. If you can’t give up your lawn, at least swap your gas-powered mower for a human-powered rotary push mower.
2. Plant Trees
Putting shade trees near your house will cut your cooling costs by as much as 30 percent because you won’t need to run the air conditioner as much in the summer. If millions of us plant trees, electrical plants won’t have to make as much electricity. That’s good because they produce nearly a third of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions each year.
3. Grow Some of Your Own Food
You’ve heard you should eat local. Here’s why: the average food item has traveled 1,500 miles from where it’s produced to your plate. All those food-hauling trucks burn a lot of fossil fuel and pump greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. Plant a garden and you’ll have fresh food just outside your door, no cross-country trip required. Fresh veggies taste better too.
4. Skip Synthetic Fertilizers
Those chemical fertilizers you put in the ground end up in oceans, lakes and rivers where they cause algal blooms that kill marine life. Fertilizer runoff is one of the leading causes of water pollution. Another reason to skip synthetics: They’re made by burning petroleum products, which pumps greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Use organic fertilizers like cow or chicken manure or sea kelp instead, and amend your soil with compost to make it more fertile.
5. Start a Compost Bin
Throw your food scraps and yard waste in a composter instead of the trash. You’ll send less garbage to the landfill and reduce the amount of greenhouse gases those landfills emit. See, your carrot peels, coffee grounds and grass clippings generate methane in a landfill. In a compost bin, they turn into natural fertilizer for your plants. Mixing nutrient-rich compost into your soil to make your plants strong and disease-resistant. Compost will make them grow like crazy too.
6. Say "No" to Chemicals
Don’t spray poison on those weeds. Pull them out instead. Use your muscles, not chemicals. Use organic methods to get rid of bugs too. Herbicides, along with pesticides, can contaminate soil and water, and harm birds, beneficial bugs, and plants you didn’t intend to get rid of. Worst of all, the weed spray and bug killer you put in your garden ends up in oceans, lakes, and streams, contaminating the water supply and killing marine life.
7. Set Out a Rain Barrel
Conserve our depleting supply of fresh water by collecting the free water that falls out of the sky. Collecting and reusing rainwater protects water quality because it diverts runoff that’s filled with chemicals, fertilizers and other pollutants before it reaches rivers and streams. And rainwater is better for your plants than tap water. It’s nutrient-dense and full of bacteria and microorganisms your plants and soil need to be strong.
8. Discover Diversity
Make your garden an ecosystem, not a monoculture. Plant a diverse variety of annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees to make your garden stronger and less vulnerable to disease, pests and drought. A mix of plants also creates habitats for birds and other wildlife and feeds bees that pollinate about 35 percent of the world’s food crops.
9. Bring the Green Indoors
Dirty air isn’t just an outdoor problem. The air in your house and workplace is full of toxic VOCs produced by chemicals in furniture, computers, carpet and some cleaning products. Houseplants filter the bad stuff out of the air and replace it with good old oxygen. So put plants in your living and sleeping areas. The best air scrubbers are Boston ferns, spider plants, peace lilies and Sansevieria.
10. Choose Native Plants
Opt for plants that nature designed to grow in your area. When a plant’s a local, it won’t need as much water, fertilizer or help from you to thrive. Natives are less vulnerable to pests and diseases too, so you won’t need toxic bug sprays and weed killers. They’ll also provide shelter and food for birds, pollinators and wildlife that are losing their habitats to development.