5 Ways to Green Your Garden

Taking your garden green could save you some money -- and the Earth's resources, too.
Taking your garden green could save you some money -- and the Earth's resources, too.

Greening your garden is not just about having the lushest lawn or the most vibrant rosebushes in the neighborhood. Instead, it's about creating a garden you can enjoy today while keeping an eye on sustainability. It's using water efficiently, protecting the quality of air and water supplies, and replacing harsh chemicals with natural, healthy alternatives.

So what's the big deal with going green anyway, and what does your lawn have to do with protecting the environment? To understand the benefits of going green, it helps to understand how the greenhouse effect works. Nearly every item we use throughout the day is manufactured and transported using energy produced by fossil fuels. As these fuels are burned, they release carbon dioxide and other pollutants. These pollutants form a thick blanket across the Earth's atmosphere that traps heat. This trapped heat contributes to global warming, which may one day dramatically impact wildlife, plants, shorelines and human life. By choosing recycled or local products, you can minimize your contribution to this problem and help protect the future of our ecosystem.

In addition to global warming, green proponents are concerned with preserving limited resources, such as the world's water supply. According to the United Nations, at least two-thirds of the world's population is expected to experience water shortages by 2025 if current consumption patterns continue [source: United Nations]. By relying on more efficient methods of watering your plants, you can help reduce shortages and improve access to water in the future.

But a green garden does more than protect future sustainability. Simple greening techniques can offer benefits in real time, providing cleaner air and water supplies to you and your family.

The best part about greening your garden is how easy it is. Sure, you could search garden centers for the perfect chemical fertilizer, or switch to composting and get your fertilizer at home for free. You could fill your garden with exotic flowers and fight an endless battle to keep them alive, or you could switch to native plants and spend your time enjoying your garden instead of struggling against it. Going green is not only the healthy choice, but more often than not, it's the easiest and most affordable choice. Truly sustainable gardening is about finding simple, natural solutions, not about investing in the latest trends.

Did you know that you can recycle tea bags and grass clippings to help your garden grow? Read on to learn how composting can provide eco-friendly fertilizer.

Eliminate Chemical Fertilizers

Store-bought fertilizers will help your garden grow, but may also contain harmful chemicals that can contaminate local water supplies and pollute the air. To keep your garden green naturally, switch to composting. Compost is made from the remains of kitchen and yard waste, including coffee grounds, apple cores, vegetable peels and grass clippings. Virtually any type of organic material can be added to your compost and used as a free source of fertilizer to help nourish your plants [source: Greenpeace].

Ready to get started? You'll need a compost bin, which can be purchased from most home improvement stores. Look for a model with a tightly sealed lid to keep bugs and pests away. Toss in food scraps and other materials, and in about a month, you'll have a natural fertilizer that's completely free of chemicals.

If you need your fertilizer in a hurry, or you have plants that need some extra attention, consider vermicomposting. This super-compost strategy involves adding a supply of earthworms to your compost pile, which speeds up the composting process and creates extra nutrients for your garden.

Composting is a natural way to recycle yard and kitchen waste, and can reduce the amount of trash that ends up on your curb by up to 75 percent [source: Chua].This means less pollution from transporting this trash, and less land dedicated to landfills. Compost also offers a much wider array of nutrients than chemical fertilizers, and can absorb 10 to 1,000 times more water, which means healthier plants and less wasted water [source: US Department of Agriculture].

Grow Your Own Produce

The fruits and vegetables you buy in the grocery store may have traveled a long way to reach your table. Transporting these items contributes to air pollution and the greenhouse effect. In addition, many kinds of commercial produce are grown using chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which can harm the environment as well as your body.

Growing your own produce is a great way to minimize your impact. You'll be able to enjoy your food knowing it wasn't grown using a bunch of unknown chemicals, and there's nothing quite like enjoying a tomato straight from the vine. Plus, once you make the initial investment into this project, you'll enjoy free, fresh produce that doesn't require a trip to the store.

Need inspiration? Start with plants that are easy to grow in almost any climate, including cucumbers, green beans, tomatoes, potatoes, spinach, squash and beans [source: The Boston Channel]. If you live in warmer regions like Florida or the Southwest, take advantage of the sunny climate by planting citrus trees, watermelon and berries. Those who live in cooler climates will find it easy to grow lettuce and other salad greens, which tend to wilt in sunnier areas [source: PBS].

Natural Pest Control

After working hard to grow your garden, the last thing you want to see is insects feasting on your flowers. While it can be tempting to use chemical pesticides, these materials tend to end up in nearby water supplies due to stormwater runoff. Plus, do you really want to cover your lawn and produce with a mystery concoction of chemicals?

Fortunately, there are plenty of natural green techniques that will keep pests away while keeping your garden healthy. One of the simplest tricks is to add plants that bugs don't like. Marigolds, chrysanthemums, lemon grass and citronella plants are natural deterrents for mosquitoes and for a variety of other pests [source: Thacker]. You could also plant herbs such as basil, mint, or garlic to keep bugs away [source: GreenTerrafirma].

Another option for avoiding chemical pesticides is to encourage birds and bats to feast in your yard. These creatures are natural predators for bugs and are easy to attract. Try adding a birdhouse or bat roost, and provide a supply of birdseed and fresh water.

Use Water Wisely

Dwindling water supplies are no longer a problem left for future generations to address. Water shortages are expected to impact the majority of the world's population within the next two decades [source: United Nations]. To protect this limited resource, use green watering techniques, and consider alternate water sources.

One of the best ways to effectively utilize water for irrigation purposes is to spread mulch or compost around your garden. These materials trap water and cause it to be absorbed slowly into the soil, rather than letting it escape as runoff. If your plants aren't thriving, till and aerate the soil to increase absorption. Be mindful of how you use water. Water early in the day so that water isn't wasted to evaporation. Stop watering when you notice runoff starting to occur. Use rain barrels to gather water for your garden, instead of relying on potable water supplies. Rain barrels are easy to install, and will help reduce your monthly water bills while minimizing your impact [source: State of Washington Department of Ecology].

Choose Native Plants
Sunflowers thrive in hot weather -- probably shouldn't plant them in Alaska.
Sunflowers thrive in hot weather -- probably shouldn't plant them in Alaska.

Choosing plants native your to area is one of the best ways to green your garden. These are plants that are able to grow well in the local climate without a lot of care. They tend to be well-suited to local temperature ranges, average rainfall and sun exposure. Native plants are naturally resistant to local predators and pests, and require little or no fertilizer. You'll save water, reduce air and water pollution, and take some of the work out of gardening. After all, your garden should be a pleasure, not a chore. Why fight to keep fragile flowers alive when there are so many plants that will thrive in your area with little effort?

If you live in a hot, dry part of the country, choose sun-loving plants like dahlias, hyacinths, or sunflowers. In cooler regions, or those with less reliable sun exposure, consider violets, pansies and bellflowers [source: University of Texas].Use the native plant selection tool from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center to explore the many varieties of plants native to your area. When planting, pay attention to sunlight and soil conditions to give your flowers the best opportunity to thrive. Set up your garden in a section that has balanced PH levels and the longest possible daily sun exposure for best results.

Combining a well-planned garden with native plant selections can give you a naturally green garden that offers enjoyment now along with a sustainable, healthy future for the planet.


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