I recently taught a class on gardening greener and thought the information may be useful to those of you that would like to be a little “greener” in the garden and didn’t have the time to attend one of my “Wheelbarrow Series” classes. So, I have decided to put together my top greener gardening tips.
Don’t fight your site. People try to plant the wrong plants in the wrong places and end up with dead plants, frazzled nerves, and no money. Basically, gardeners need to decide what type of site they have and then plant accordingly. If you have a full sun location, don’t try to grow impatiens there, alternately, if you have a full shade location, don’t plant roses there. Basically pick the right plant for the right location and you will spend less time and money on gardening and more time enjoying. This is not only “greener” but a lot less trouble as well.
Concentrate on the soil. There is an old organic gardening saying, “Feed the soil and let the soil feed the plants.” Now I am not saying go totally organic but conventional gardeners could take heed. There is an ecosystem in the soil and keeping that balanced makes for healthy soil and healthy plants. There are 600 million organisms growing in one teaspoon of soil! All soils have bad guys and good guys. The bad guys cause root rots, disease, and tie up nitrogen and nutrients. The good guys eat the organic matter and release nitrogen and nutrients for plants as well as they inhibit the growth of the bad guys so they can’t infect your plants. So, feed the soil compost and organic matter and let the good guys go to work for you. That doesn’t mean you can’t use your conventional fertilizers also. My personal gardening philosophy is to use the good in both organic and green and conventional and have the best garden possible. One last note on soil, a healthy soil makes healthy plants which in turn makes plants more disease resistant and less appealing to diseases and insects.
Make a compost pile. This not only makes great organic matter to add to your garden but also keeps organic matter out of the landfills. Just about anything organic can be added to your compost pile including plant debris, newspaper, leaves, etc. Compost is basically free fertilizer and it doesn’t take any fossil fuel to make. Your favorite fertilizer like 10-10-10 does take fuel to make and ship to your garden center.
Hide your garden sprayer. Many gardeners tend to go overboard with pesticides when they see a few bugs or think that there might be some coming. Think of fighting insects like fighting a war, would you use an atomic bomb when a water gun would work? Would you kill thousands of innocent civilians just to kill one terrorist? The number one insecticide of choice is Sevin, well guess what sevin kills a lot of insects good and bad! If you have cabbage looper, don’t spray something like sevin that will kill the lady bugs and lacewings instead select something like dipel which is a natural bacteria that only kills caterpillars. We need to be smart gardeners! I am willing to bet that if you use selective pesticides you will notice over time that your overall insect problem will actually decrease.
Stop being a perfectionist! I use to garden this way, one chewed leaf or one blight spot and the fungicides and insecticides where coming out in force. This is not only an unhealthy way to garden but it’s also a pipe dream. There aren’t going to be perfect looking plants, this is not a perfect world and nature doesn’t need to be perfect. Did you know for instance that potatoes can be 50 percent defoliated and still have the same size crop as it would have if you had sprayed them every week with pesticides and they lost no leaves? I am not saying don’t try to keep good looking plants but nothing has to be perfect. For those of you out there that just can’t stand a dandelion or a little clover in your lawns take a step back and think about what is important and keep in mind that all of those extra fertilizers and herbicide applications are ending up in our ground water.
How do you have good looking plants without being a perfectionist pesticide carrying fool? Well, first of all you can pick off damaged leaves, you can mechanically crush egg masses, you can remove disease infected leaves or plants to limit the source of the problem, and you can apply mulches and keep down weeds mechanically (Use a hoe sometime. It’s good exercise.). One last note on keeping nice plants without a lot of chemicals, don’t water at night or late in the evening. The longer leaves stay wet the more likely you are to get disease infestations, also don’t work in wet plants you could be spreading diseases.
Homemade pesticides aren’t necessarily green. Many of our cleaning agents aren’t good for the environment either. If you want to use safer or organic pesticides, buy them. The ingredients have been tested and they are safe as long as you follow the label directions
Reduce, reuse, and recycle, this is the motto for staying green and helping the environment for homeowners but you can follow this in the garden as well.
Reuse old pots, flats, packs, and containers. To keep down the chance for disease transfer and root rots wash and rinse the pots in a 10% bleach solution before using. If you don’t need the pots, ask nurseries or schools if they could use them. You might even ask the local recycling center if they can be recycled.
Use large nursery containers for the patio. Just put some nicer containers in front to hide the pot. Also, those mineral tubs farmers use to feed cattle can be painted up nicely with a plastic paint and turned into expensive looking planters. Make biodegradable pots out of newspaper.
You can also recycle mulch bags or better yet buy mulch in bulk and eliminate the bags all together. You can also add a little shredded newspaper to the bottom of containers to keep the soil from washing through the holes until the plants get established. You can also mix a little shredded newspaper into the planting media to help hold moisture.
Use online catalogues instead of having mail order catalogs sent to you. Save pruned branches for stakes and trellises instead of hauling them to the dump.
Only mow your lawn 3 inches or higher. This allows your grass to be tall enough to smother out some of the weeds and will help it become more drought tolerant. Mowing short stresses the turf, causes it to dry out faster, and allows the sun to hit the soil allowing weed seeds to germinate. Also, higher mowing heights means less mowing!
Go native. By planting native plants you can increase the wildlife that is willing to come onto your property. Birds, butterflies, and hummingbirds all have native plants that they are familiar with and are actually more likely to visit than newer cultivars and plants that aren’t native to our area.
Also, native plants tend to be less fussy and more likely to tolerate the extremes in our weather. It’s a good thing to increase the number of native species especially at a time when plants such as kudzu, purple winter creeper, Japanese knotweed, multi-flora roses, and yes burning bush are infiltrating into native habitats and smothering our native species. The problem with exotic species is that they don’t generally contribute to habitat development and aren’t food sources for our native wildlife.
I could go on and on about gardening greener but it’s not about just giving ideas to be “greener” and more sustainable in the garden or even in everyday living it’s about leaving this planet in better shape than we found it. If we all pitch in and do a few little things, they add up to make a big impact and hopefully a cleaner and safer environment for future generations.