Your green thumb may not be so green. Perhaps, surprisingly, gardens can cause major environmental hazards. No matter how lovely your landscape, if it’s not grown with care, attention and sustainable practices, you’ll be causing a lot of harm than good to your local ecosystems. The winter season can be especially problematic, because – especially in colder regions – growers often adopt wasteful practices to accommodate the chilly weather.
Per acre, home owners use ten times more chemical pesticides and fertilizers than farmers use on commercial farmland. Once it rains, chemical runoff affects surrounding lakes and streams. It can also course into native groundwater and drinking wells.
In addition to harming local wildlife habitats and waterways, contaminated water can cause important health issues in young kids, seniors and others with compromised immune systems.
Home owners are notorious for wasting water, often using automatic sprinklers to water their lawns and gardens. Many of us also pollute the air with gasoline-powered lawnmowers and different devices. In one hour, a two-cycle engine lawnmower emits a similar quantity of exhaust as a car driven 350 miles.
While this may not seem like plenty of damage on an individual level, multiply it by the number of households in your neighborhood, and so by the households in your city. The problem adds up pretty quickly.
What Is Sustainability?
In popular culture, environmentalist buzzwords have almost become interchangeable – but in practical terms, they are actually completely different. Here’s a breakdown of some words you may have heard.
- Organic. Organic fruits and vegetables are fully grown without the use of GMOs or any artificial pesticides or fertilizers. It’s not a synonym for sustainable. Organic standards as designated by the USDA are advanced, and a few large-scale organic agricultural operations have garnered criticism for lack of sustainability.
- Local. Local foods are foods fully grown within a given radius, but the definition changes according to institution and individual. Anywhere from some miles to some hundred miles can be considered local, depending on whom you ask.
- Seasonal. Seasonal foods are fully grown and harvested on a relatively natural timeline, and then eaten once they are ripe. They’re not usually preserved or transported long distances.
- Sustainable. Maybe the most nebulous of those definitions, sustainability refers to some combination of all of the above. In its essence, sustainable gardening means the nutrients removed from the soil are replenished without artificial input, like synthetic chemicals.
Here are some ways to reduce your impact on the environment, and even contribute positively to your local ecosystem.
1. Prevent Soil Contamination
When it snows, melted water can carry contaminants like pesticides and fertilizers that are in your soil. Even if you don’t use these additives, soil alone will pollute lakes and streams. You can combat soil contamination by storing your soil properly. If you retain additional soil it in your garage, ensure that you have a door with a steel frame that won’t bend or crack in the bad weather. As a bonus, if you warmth your garage, insulation can facilitate cut costs over the winter months.
While garages are great for inside management, what about soil that’s outside? When considering your outside garden, sloped land is particularly prone to runoff. Build tiny terraces or retaining walls to stop soil contamination. Shrubs and ground covers at the perimeter of your garden can also help your soil from getting into water sources.
Composting could be a great and cheap way to handle natural refuse that would otherwise be sent to landfill, and it’s also a significant boon to gardens. Install a do-it-yourself or store-bought bin in your garden to contain material like leaves, grass clippings and different yard wastes. Autumn leaves are a wonderful carbon-rich additive and may facilitate offset high levels of nitrogen. Ensure you take away invasive weeds or weeds that have gone to seed, or you’ll risk introducing these problem plants into your garden later on.
Food wastes are also compostable, but you’ll need to be choosy regarding what you include. To avoid attracting animals or unhealthy odors, don’t compost fatty wastes, cheese, meat products, cat litter or diseased plants. Fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, eggshells and tea bags are all good contenders for healthy backyard compost.
Turn and aerate your compost frequently. Finished compost may be a natural part of the Earth’s recycling system, and it may be mixed into your soil or spread over your beds as a slow-release fertilizer.
In winter, keep your compost warm and well insulated to make sure it stays active. Additionally, keep your compost piles well covered to stop rain or snow from falling directly on them, as too much wetness can smother the active agents. If you live in an area that gets plenty of precipitation, a compost tumbler could be a good way to help your piles stay dry.
3. Incorporate Native Plants
Plants that are local to your area are hardy and, once established, won’t need fertilizer. Most native plants are perennials. With a bit facilitate, they’re self-maintaining, because they reseed onsite. Exotic perennials may be adapted for your local surroundings, but they don’t support beneficial wildlife. Native plants house and feed predator insects, that prey on pests and mitigate the necessity for insecticides. They also facilitate pollinators and butterflies to thrive.
Some invasive plants, like purple loose-strife, buck-thorn and autumn olive, are illegal in certain areas. whether or not your area permits the cultivation of these plants, it’s best avoided, as the spread of those plants is very problematic across the country.
As you consider your gardening plans for the winter, take a look at the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map to see the average minimum temperature for your area. This will assist you to select plants that are a lot of likely to thrive.
4. Water Wisely
You‘ll still need to keep to a watering schedule in winter, because failing to do thus could cause roots to weaken underground. When plants develop in spring and summer, they will begin growing normally, but their underdeveloped roots can cause them to fail in the long run.
However over-watering will drown your plants and is also tremendously wasteful. The average american uses around two hundred gallons of water each day – and roughly half of that quantity goes toward landscaping and gardening. Only a very little portion is truly taken up by plants, and the rest is wasted as runoff.
Native plants are already adapted to your region and climate, so they don’t need much – if any – supplemental watering. Perennial flowers have deeper-growing roots than annuals, so they do a better job of preserving water. A shallow layer of wood chip mulch can help all your plants reduce storm runoff and stop evaporation.
Sustainable gardening does more than mitigate the negative environmental effects of a poorly managed landscape. It also has some wonderful positive effects, like improving biodiversity. By growing local shrubs and trees, you’ll facilitate the landscape offer shelter to birds, tiny animals and helpful insects – all of which facilitate reduce pest outbreaks.