Seven Steps to an Eco-friendlier Garden

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Seven Steps to an Eco-friendlier Garden

If there were only one bit of advice I’d give for creating the healthiest garden possible, it would be to put the right plant in the right place.

Plants that are growing in the most appropriate conditions are genetically programmed to thrive. When a plant is in distress, it will shut down or try and divert precious energy to some other function, all in an effort to survive. Unfortunately we unknowingly look at that sad plant or tree and pour on the fertilizer, or pesticide. That’s the worst thing to do. It’s like asking you to run a marathon when you have the flu! The vast majority of problems related to our plants come from improper placement. And that leads to the indiscriminate and inappropriate use of chemicals when all that was really needed was to change the plants location to the proper setting.

Feed the Soil

Every plant benefits from soil that is amended with a variety of organic matter. There is an entire ecosystem going on below the surface and it should be loaded with beneficial microbes and nutrients that allow plant roots to take up everything they need to thrive. When soil is healthy, it is alive with a complex array of creatures that all play a vital role to water uptake, nutrient availability, soil drainage and moisture retention.

Creating this type of soil is not difficult. In fact, it’s quite easy. No matter where you start, from sandy to heavy clay, adding a mixture of compost, leaf mulch, ground bark, etc. all breaks down over time and in the process, that just-right balance occurs. But we destroy that opportunity with over applications of salt-based synthetic fertilizers and pesticides that can disrupt this delicate balance. Feeding the soil means providing natural amendments that compliment what’s already there while minimizing foreign products that adversely impact what nature provides.

Mulch, Mulch, Mulch

One of the easiest things we can do to make our garden less dependant on water and chemicals is to mulch and mulch generously. Applying about a three-inch layer around your trees and plants will do so much. First, it acts like an insulating barrier that helps retain moisture and moderate soil temperatures. Mulch is the best natural weed suppression there is. It blocks light to the soil surface where many weeds would sprout when given access to sunlight. In addition, a protective mulch barrier blocks many soil dwelling diseases from splashing up onto foliage and infecting plants.

But to be really eco-friendly when using mulch, make sure it is “Certified” by the Mulch and Soil Council. Only then will you know for sure that it’s free of unacceptable materials such as arsenic from treated wood. Certified mulch carries a seal on every approved bag.

Water Deeply, Infrequently, and Responsibly

One of our worst offenses at being more eco-friendly is how we waste water, especially in the garden. It’s almost always too much and then it’s often at the wrong time. More plants die from over-watering then under. First, plants respond more favorably to infrequent but deep watering, rather than short applications often. Deep watering promotes deep root growth, which in turn promotes more vigorous top growth.

Yet even deep watering can lead to runoff, which is equally bad! So as you water, do so at or as close to the root zone as possible. By so doing, you keep water closer to the target, minimize the risk of evaporation and plant disease caused by prolonged periods of wet foliage.

Ditch the Chemicals or use them Carefully

This is not a mandate to bag your chemicals, but I strongly suggest you learn to live without them so as to avoid the temptation or reaching for them when you don’t quite know what to do. First, by applying the steps mentioned so far, you’ll eliminate many problems that would otherwise require potential chemical intervention. In fact, it’s the use of chemicals that often is the catalyst for creating bigger problems.

For example, using non-selective pesticides can have a long-term adverse affect. These products often have more affect at killing beneficial insects that haven’t developed as much genetic resistance as many traditional garden pests. Consequently, the good guys die, the bad bugs live, and now there are no natural predators for the pests. The end result is a population explosion of the bad guys and a cycle that can only be improved over time and abstinence of the chemicals.

Yet the bottom line is that the biggest problem with using chemicals is often with the person applying them. We believe that if a little is good, more is better. Simply not true! Stick to the label instructions; keep it on target and use only as a last resort. Chemicals that land off target are rarely without consequence.

Select Tools that don’t Pollute

The StaySharp™ Max reel mower combines patent pending technology with Fiskars exclusive design features to deliver a reel mower that looks and performs dramatically different than other reel mowers.

It’s a funny thing; as much as gardeners do to promote so much beauty, in the process they do a lot of not-so-pretty things to the environment, including the use of tools that spew plenty of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Lawn mowers, weed whackers and leaf blowers are some of the biggest culprits. Fortunately today there are lots of eco-friendlier substitutes for the gasoline-powered tools that are just as effective but have little environmental impact. Battery operated and electric models are now formidable replacements and there are plenty to choose from.

Even manual reel mowers have made a strong comeback lately. It’s my mower of choice and I love the added benefit of how quiet cutting my lawn is with these human-powered machines. The simplicity and no-fuss ease of operation makes this important maintenance task a real joy again. See related article "The Reel Mower's of Green County" »

Manage Horticultural Waste Properly

Being a greener gardener doesn’t stop at home. It also means making wise decisions when disposing of horticultural waste such as plastic pots, yard debris and chemicals. One of the biggest culprits to greenhouse gas emissions comes from landfills. And according to the USDA, about 65% of any landfill doesn’t need to be there because it can be composted or recycled. Moreover, 25% comes from our yards and kitchens, virtually all of which can go into the compost pile.

So as you do your part to green your garden while protecting the planet, remember to consider anything that leaves your property may be undermining your efforts for better stewardship at home. Shop for plants that come in biodegradable pots, find a source that will take back your plastic ones, compost everything you can and leave those autumn leaves at home as a great amendment to your landscape beds.

There are plenty of other ways you can start gardening in a more environmentally responsible way, but starting with one of all of the steps above will get you well on your way to making a big difference!