Environmental stewardship begins at home. While it's important to encourage stewardship and sustainability on a large scale, you can also have an impact through the decisions and practices you adopt as an individual. One way to do this is to incorporate sustainable, ecologically sound practices into the gardening and landscaping you do around your home. Creating, maintaining, and enjoying an environmentally-friendly landscape, garden, or outdoor living space benefits you, your family, the community, and all the life that shares the environment with you. It may not have the global impact of government actions on greenhouse gas emissions, but it can make your own corner of the world a better space now and in years to come. Here are some simple things you can do to help make your garden a greener, more sustainable place.
Adding organic matter such as compost to the soil will help it absorb water, drain well, and support the many beneficial organisms that contribute to healthy, living soil that will sustain plants with less added fertilizer. It also helps the soil lock up carbon that might otherwise go into the atmosphere. Making compost from your garden and kitchen wastes keeps these materials out of landfills and completes the circle of recycling and renewal in your garden.
Think about the energy use that goes into your landscape, from the gas used to run a lawnmower to the energy required to manufacture, package, and ship synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. A gas-powered mower gives off smog-forming pollution and carbon dioxide. Reducing lawn size and using a push mower are two strategies for reducing your landscape’s carbon footprint. Using organic fertilizers, compost, and non-chemical pest and weed controls not only makes your landscape more climate-friendly, it makes it safer for you, your kids and pets, not to mention the birds and bees.
Deciduous trees planted to shade the south side of a building reduce the energy needed for summer cooling, but allow winter sunshine in to add warmth when it's needed. Evergreens planted as windbreaks help decrease the energy needed to heat a building in winter.
Mow the grass high to encourage deep rooting and shade out weeds. Let the clippings remain on the lawn when you mow to recycle their nutrients back to the soil. Time your lawn fertilizing to benefit your lawn the most and reduce the likelihood of polluted runoff. Northern cool-season grasses will benefit most from a main feeding in early fall, while southern warm season grasses are best given their main feeding in late spring. To make sure the fertilizer you put down helps your lawn, rather than running off to cause problems in the watershed, use one that has at least 50% of its nitrogen in organic or slow release (water-insoluble) form. Sweep up any fertilizer that lands on driveways and sidewalks as you spread it, and avoid fertilizing right before heavy rain is predicted.
Rain water that runs off your property can pick up pollutants and excess nutrients that end up in streams, rivers, and lakes. Make sure that any gutter downspouts discharge on to lawns or gardens, not on to paved areas. Consider building a rain garden, a planted depression to collect runoff and hold it so that it can soak into the soil.
For pollinating and beneficial insects, birds, butterflies, toads, and more, make your garden a welcoming sanctuary. Minimize your use of pesticides, even organic ones. Plant a wide variety of nectar, pollen, berry, and seed producing plants, with an emphasis on selections native to your area. Provide a source of water, such as a bird bath for feathered visitors.
Devote some space to edibles and you'll not only get delicious, fresh vegetables, herbs, and fruits to enjoy; you'll reduce your carbon footprint by not purchasing produce that's been shipped many miles to the supermarket. You may even find yourself saving gas as you make fewer trips to the market and more to your sustainable garden!