Not all gardening is eco-friendly. As much as you might want to believe that growing anything benefits the environment, the truth is that gardening can require a whole host of unsustainable and even environmentally detrimental activities. Seeming gardening essentials like fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides can poison the soil, and it isn’t always advisable to waste finite resources, like freshwater.
Fortunately, just because some gardening practices aren’t eco-friendly doesn’t mean that you have to stop gardening to save the planet. Here are a few smarter, more sustainable ways to keep your garden, so you can enjoy your outdoor space and benefit the Earth.
Modern gardening relies heavily on a bevy of chemicals to help plants grow and keep out unwanted pests. Unfortunately, the use of chemicals in gardening, while convenient, isn’t sustainable; all chemicals can have grave long-term effects on the environment. In particular, gardeners tend to gravitate toward three deleterious chemical products: inorganic fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides.
Inorganic fertilizer is a combination of macronutrients that plants require — nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium — in high concentrations to promote growth. Improper use of fertilizer can lead to the buildup of salts in your soil, which will harm your plants. However, the primary environmental hazard of inorganic fertilizer is runoff: Because plants cannot absorb those macronutrients quickly, groundwater and storms carry those nutrients away. Unfortunately, inorganic fertilizer runoff tends to come together in bodies of fresh water, where it triggers an algae bloom that chokes any other nearby life.
Fortunately, inorganic fertilizer is easy to replace with organic fertilizer. You might consider composting your kitchen and yard waste to use as garden fertilizer, or you can pick up bags of healthy, organic fertilizer (which typically consists of bone and blood meal, manure and special types of rocks).
Though most herbicides tend to be non-toxic to humans and other animals, like inorganic fertilizer, herbicides can leach into your surrounding environment and interfere with the healthy growth of natural plants. Plus, chemical herbicides must be administered expertly; otherwise, they will harm the plants you want to grow in your garden.
There is a variety of organic herbicides you can try, some of which you can mix at home using household ingredients like vinegar and soap. However, the greenest strategy is pulling out weeds and unwanted volunteers. You can buy a number of purpose-made tools to help with weed elimination without poisoning your garden.
Most gardeners know that pesticides are dangerous, to both the environment in general and any people or animals that make use of your garden. Pesticides are indiscriminate in their destruction of life; studies have found that upwards of 95 percent of pesticides miss their target species and instead affect the health and wellness of surrounding creatures, to include beneficial bugs (like bees and mantises), birds and mammals.
Instead of using pesticides, you should use pest-repelling plants throughout your garden. Especially fragrant flowers and herbs tend to ward off pests that threaten more delicate plant species; the best pest repellants are lavender, marigolds, basil, mint and petunias. You should also strive to foster an ecosystem that attracts helpful critter populations, which will out-compete with pests for resources and drive them off.
In dryer areas of the country, more than 60 percent of a home’s water use can be devoted to maintaining landscaping.
Fresh water is a finite resource, and pouring gallons upon gallons of it on your garden isn’t exactly sustainable — but your plants do need water to survive. Here are a few ways to be water-wise in your garden:
Before the modern age of agriculture, farmers would plant different types of crops in the same fields, not just to increase the productivity of their land but to offer their plants the benefits of symbiotic growth.
While planting pest-repelling flowers and herbs is a form of companion planting, plenty of companion plants help the soil retain moisture for longer periods.
You can find guides to companion planting, which include when to plant different groups of crops and what advantages each element adds to the garden system.
When it rains, your garden gets a free, sustainable drink — and what’s more, rainwater’s softness and neutral pH is healthier for plants than water from your tap.
You should try to trap as much rainwater as possible to disperse onto your garden instead of relying on more expensive and less sustainable city water. Rain barrels come in a range of sizes to suit your gardening space.
White water is clean from the tap; black water contains human waste, and gray water is lightly used water from sinks and appliances.
Often, gray water contains traces of food, grease, dirt and cleaning products, making it unsuitable for you to drink, but your garden will gladly soak up gray water and make good use of it.
Typically, gray water goes into the sewer (or your septic tank) as waste, but if you can install a gray water system in your house, you can make twice as much use of your water, thereby conserving it.
There are several things you can do to reduce the environmental impact of your garden and make it a truly green space. By adhering to these two big Cs of sustainable gardening, you are taking major steps toward making your lifestyle fully eco-friendly.
I'm Ann Katelyn, Creator and Chief Author of Sumo Gardener. Since I was a child I've always been fascinated with plants and gardens, and as an adult this has developed into my most loved hobby. I have dedicated most of my life to gardening and started Sumo Gardener as a way to express my knowledge about gardening with the hope of helping other people's gardens thrive.
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