Gardening Creates a Healthier Environment

The very act of gardening brings you more in tune with your environment. During National Garden Month®, National Gardening Association (NGA) encourages everyone to garden wherever they live, and to do so in an environmentally responsible way.

Gardens, no matter how small, are a microcosm of the larger environment. Although what we do in our small backyard, container garden, or community garden plot may seem insignificant, it really does matter. Imagine if each of the 82 million households that garden followed environmentally responsible lawn care and landscaping practices, such as growing well-adapted plants, watering and fertilizing correctly, mowing and pruning properly, avoiding invasive plants, using pesticides judiciously, and preserving wildlife habitats. The effect on the overall environment would be dramatic.

Based on NGA’s 2004 Environmental Lawn & Garden Survey, we know that more than 19 million home gardeners currently are or are planning to follow more environmentally responsible gardening techniques. To help these gardeners and encourage others, NGA is implementing a list of environmental lawn and garden practices for all Americans to follow.

Follow Environmental Lawn and Garden Practices

NGA, along with representatives from the lawn and garden industry, other national non-profits, and the federal government, has created "Environmentally-Responsible Lawn Care and Landscaping Guidelines" for professional and home gardeners to follow. To construct a baseline of how environmentally responsible U.S gardeners currently are, NGA created an Environmental Lawn and Garden Scorecard. We surveyed 2000 gardeners asking how often they follow 12 environmentally friendly practices recommended in this report.

Unfortunately, the results show that we have a way to go. NGA’s Research Director Bruce Butterfield reports, "A majority of U.S. households followed only 3 out of 12 recommended environmentally friendly lawn and garden practices. Less than half of all households followed the remaining 9 simple environmentally friendly practices."

Responses to the Environmental Lawn and Garden Survey show that:

  • 67% of those surveyed keep their yards safe, clean, and well maintained to add beauty to their home and neighborhood
  • 65% water their lawns and plants only when they need it and use water wisely
  • 53% read and follow the label carefully when using pesticides and fertilizers
  • 45% leave grass clippings in place on their lawn
  • 43% keep fertilizer, pesticides, and yard and pet waste out of water sources and off pavement
  • 42% choose and use the right plants in the right spot for their climate, sun/shade, soil, and rainfall
  • 42% apply mulch around trees, shrubs, or garden areas
  • 39% cut their lawns at the highest recommended mower setting
  • 32% identify lawn and garden problems, and research appropriate control methods before using insect or weed pesticides
  • 28% recycle yard waste by composting grass clippings, leaves, and other organic material
  • 26% learn more about how to best care for their lawns, specific plants, soil, and wildlife at home
  • 25% use only well-adapted or native plants in their landscaping and remove poorly adapted, exotic, or invasive plants

Obviously, with a little effort from everyone, we can vastly improve the health of our environment.

Select Well-Adapted Plants

Start by choosing the right plants for your yard. Every gardener wants to have beautiful, low-maintenance plants that fit the landscape. First, look for trees, shrubs and perennials that are best adapted to the climate, soil, and pest populations in your area. They are more likely to survive any vagaries of the seasons. Examples of these plants are often available at public gardens and arboretums in your area.

Avoid Invasive Plants

The flip side of the plant selection coin is avoiding invasive plants. Through the centuries, people have introduced invasive plants to North America. Colonists brought favorite ornamentals and edibles with them, and well-intentioned people established exotic species for food, animal fodder, erosion control, and the like. Unfortunately, since these plants didn’t evolve here they have no or very few natural enemies, so they grow aggressively and crowd out native plants. Familiar examples are purple loosestrife, which invades wetlands, and Oriental bittersweet, which overtakes forests. Some states, such as Connecticut, are implementing strict bans on the sale of invasive plants.

What You Can Do

In the end it all comes back to your backyard and neighborhood. Take the initiative to follow the 12 environmentally friendly lawn and garden practices listed in our Scorecard. Ultimately, being environmentally responsible is a way to invest in the health of your family, neighbors, and the wider world. Plus, you’ll be an inspiration for other gardeners.

Even if you don’t have a backyard or garden, you can still participate. Join others to help care for public green spaces in your community. Public gardens offer courses to get you out in the green, and volunteer opportunities for those who want to make a difference. Contact our National Garden Month partner, the American Public Gardens Association (www.aabga.org), to find a public garden in your area. Many offer classes on responsible gardening practices and, of course, have great examples of tress, shrubs, and flowers best adapted to conditions in your yard or neighborhood.

Visit our National Garden Month Web site (www.nationalgardenmonth.org) for more ecologically friendly landscape tips.


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