By Rachel Bertsche
If you’re a gardener looking to go green, start by giving yourself a pat on the back: You’ve already taken the first step. The single act of growing food and flowers is a nod to the environment. “What could be simpler and more earth-friendly than putting a seed in the ground and watching its progress? It’s an amazing miracle,” says Sharon Lovejoy, author of Trowel and Error: Over 700 Tips, Remedies and Shortcuts for the Gardener.
If you really want to amp up your green thumb -- and thumbprint -- all you need to do is roll up your sleeves and dig in. Make it more fun by involving the whole family. “Kids can be involved in all parts of gardening,” says Lovejoy. “Just don’t ever say ‘Let’s go work in the garden.’ It’s ‘Let’s go play in the garden.’”
To keep your garden healthy and safe for the family and the earth, Lovejoy suggests following these easy steps:
1. Use natural pesticides and fertilizers.
It’s hard to imagine that gardening could be bad for the earth, but plenty of pesticides and fertilizers do more harm than good. “The great thing about natural fertilizers is that they replenish the soil without filling it with all sorts of chemicals that can run off into our waterways,” says Lovejoy. “Also, many of the harsh chemical fertilizers kill beneficial insects and active microbes in the soil. People hate to hear this, but spiders do 80 percent of the pest control in your garden, so it’s good to have them.”
2. Skip the hose, opt for rainwater.
Set out rain barrels -- or any kind of bucket -- to collect rainwater from your roof, then use it to water your garden. “You can cover it with a little bit of screen if you’re worried about mosquitoes laying eggs,” says Lovejoy. “It will save money on your water bill too.”
3. Water your plants early in the day.
A typical household uses more water outside than in, so conservation is key. Lovejoy suggests doing all your watering in the morning. “In the middle of the day, you lose so much to evaporation. You don’t want to give everything up to the air,” she says. Instead of watering multiple times a week, Lovejoy encourages gardeners to water only once but deeply. “One inch of water should soak to a depth of 4 to 12 inches on your lawn. I do a 6- to 8-inch soaking each week to develop long, healthy roots and grass.” Early morning watering is more family-friendly too, since putting everyone to work outside in the high midday heat is a sure recipe for grumpy kids.
4. Buy recycled equipment -- or make your own.
If you’re going to use a rubber hose or plastic hand tools, opt for those made from recycled materials. Making garden equipment can double as a great DIY project for the whole family, too. “They sell things to go around trees so you don’t hit them with a weed wacker. Instead, you can just take a plastic milk jug, cut off the top and bottom, and make a slit down the side to concoct your own tree collar,” says Lovejoy. “[You can also] start plants in old milk containers or make cloches for stuff you want to protect out of the tops of plastic water bottles.”
5. Go native.
Gardeners often opt for exotic plants rather than what comes naturally to the environment. It may look fancy, but it’s not so eco-savvy. Growing plants that are native to your region provides food and shelter for wildlife like butterflies and hummingbirds, and requires fewer pesticides and fertilizers since the plants are already adjusted to the soil. “Natives are perfectly designed with your area so they’ll fit in with all the weather in your state,” says Lovejoy. If you don’t know which plants are native to your region, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (Wildflower.org/plants) lists them all by state.
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