10 Ways to be Green this National Garden Month

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April is National Garden Month. With a tough economy and concerns about global warming, pollution, and health on the rise, April is the perfect time to kick off some new habits that address these issues, while making your lifestyle healthier and your community stronger. By focusing on your own yard and neighborhood, there are a number of simple things you can do to green up your lifestyle and the planet, starting today!

Grow Vegetables — Vegetable gardening is hot (see our research tip below). When the economy sours, people turn to the garden. Consider growing some vegetables this spring in your yard. A few tomatoes, squashes, and cucumbers can produce pounds of vegetables for your kitchen. If you're ambitious, a 20-foot by 30-foot vegetable garden can yield more than 300 pounds of produce valued at more than $600. That's quite a savings.

Garden In Containers — If space restricts you to patios or porches, container gardening is a great way to grow your own vegetables, herbs, and even fruits. With the new, improved self-watering containers, you can grow many common vegetables in pots without worrying about daily watering. Choose varieties bred for containers, such as 'Bush Big Boy' tomato, 'Hansel' or 'Gretel' eggplant, 'Black Pearl' hot pepper, and 'Raven' zucchini. You can also grow most varieties of bush beans, greens, carrots, beets, cucumbers, and broccoli in large containers.

Join a Community Garden — If you want a big garden but don't have backyard space, consider joining a community garden. With more than 1 million community gardens nationwide, chances are there's one near you. By paying a small fee, you can rent a plot of land where you can grow all the vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers you like, strengthen friendships with your neighbors, and take an active role in greening your community. Many community gardens include a water source and till the soil for you.

Create an Edible Landscape — Edible landscaping uses edible trees, shrubs, and flowers (e.g., blueberries, gooseberries, dwarf apples, dwarf cherries, pansies, daylilies, and nasturtiums) in your yard instead of plants that are purely ornamental. These edible alternatives are equally beautiful, require only a little extra care, and produce abundant crops of delicious fruits.

Plant a Native Tree — Arbor Day is the traditional time to plant trees across the country. This year, plant one for National Garden Month, too, and make it a native variety. Native trees are well adapted to the growing conditions in your area, making them less likely to have problems with weather extremes, pests, and diseases.

Start Composting — Composting may not sound like fun, but it's easy to do and when you compost grass clippings, leaves, vegetable scraps, weeds, and old plants you reduce the amount of yard and kitchen waste headed to landfills. You also help to reduce the amount of fossil fuels needed to transport that waste and you create a valuable soil amendment for your yard.

Mulch — If there's one gardening technique that will save you time, money, and effort, it's mulching. Simply adding a layer of organic mulch (straw, bark chips, leaves, etc.) around trees, shrubs, vegetables, and flowers reduces the amount of water you need to grow those plants and the amount of time you spend weeding. That means more time enjoying your garden and less time working in it!

Build a Rain Garden — A rain garden diverts storm water runoff that might otherwise overwhelm the sewer system and pollute nearby streams and lakes. Instead, this kind of garden collects the storm water in your yard and allows it to percolate into the soil. Your rain garden will benefit the environment, and if it's planted with flowers that thrive with some seasonal flooding, such as iris and Joe-pye weed, it will also be a beautiful, low-maintenance feature in your yard.

Plant a Median Garden — Sidewalk medians are barren strips of grass between the road and the sidewalk. Often, they look abandoned. You can spruce up the median in front of your house by getting permission from the city to plant low-growing flowers in the space. Moss rose and alyssum are two tough annuals that do well with little care. Their bright blooms will put a smile on pedestrians' faces and perk up your neighborhood — they might even inspire other families to plant a median garden!

Garden with a Friend or Neighbor — Gardening is great. Gardening with a friend, relative, child, or senior is even better. Consider offering to share your garden beds with a friend, start some container plantings together, or sign up for a community garden plot together. You'll quickly find that gardening isn't just about the quantity of produce or the display of flowers you can grow, but also about the friendship and connections you can build within your community.

Visit NGA's Web site for more great ideas on how to participate in National Garden Month this April.

Research Tip

In 2008, the number of people growing vegetables increased 10 percent over previous years. The National Gardening Association (NGA) anticipates that number will increase by 20 percent in 2009. Home vegetable gardens average 600 square feet in size. NGA estimates that a garden of this size can generate, on average, more than $600 of organic produce. Multiplied by the number of food gardeners in the country (36 million households), NGA estimates that American food gardeners are producing more than 21.6 billion dollars of produce a year.

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