Green Resolutions for the New Year
By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
With mention almost daily in the media of global warming and environmental
issues, now is a good time while making resolutions for this coming year to
think green. Here are several ideas how you can practice “green gardening”,
avoiding or lessening negative impacts on the environment. In some cases
you may be having a positive environmental impact.
Put as little as possible into the local landfill.
Recycle cardboard, cans, and compostable materials. Wash and reuse plastic
pots, or return them to your local garden store for their use if they have such a
program (if not, perhaps you might encourage them to do so). Using clay
pots, where possible, avoids using plastic pots originally derived from fossil
Start a compost pile.
Add to your compost grass clippings, dead leaves, plant residues, and other
organic matter. Add vegetable kitchen scraps, but not meat scraps. Use the
compost to enrich the soil and to improve plant growth. Make sure you turn
the pile often, and add the right proportion of ingredients (carbon and
nitrogen sources), to ensure you get good quality compost.
Use alternative controls for pests and diseases.
These might include biological organisms. The pesticide Bt, made from a
bacterium that attacks specific caterpillars, is a good example. Mechanical
controls include such methods as picking off beetles, and trapping slugs
under boards or in beer. Cultural controls include more spacing to promote
air circulation and reduced disease, or even proper mowing to lessen
Apply pesticides and other horticultural chemicals only as a last resort.
When using, use them prudently, read all label precautions and follow label
directions. Scout your susceptible plants at least weekly for pests, and deal
with them before they get out of control. Realize that pests in low levels may
do little harm. Diseases may be a result of poor culture. Look for disease
resistant varieties. When using chemicals, choose least toxic ones. A diversity
of plants, even some weeds, can promote beneficial insects. Using pesticides
may kill them.
Store any pesticides properly, and dispose of old ones or empty containers
Keep them in areas or cabinets where children and pets can’t get at them, or
spill them by accident. Have materials such as kitty litter and plastic bags
handy in case they do spill. Check with local waste disposal facilities on
proper handling to dispose of old chemicals and empty containers.
Use cover crops and mulches instead of herbicides.
Minimizing tilling of soil and disturbance, or using no-till, will keep weed
seeds from reaching the surface where they germinate in the light. Cover
crops and organic mulches keep weeds down, as well as adding valuable
organic matter to soils. Synthetic weed barriers are good around annuals,
trees, and some shrubs, but not perennials (they keep them from their natural
spreading). Keep in mind some of these fabrics need mulch on top to keep
them from breaking down in sunlight.
Use fertilizers only as needed.
Use organic forms if possible and available. Good compost and organic
matter in soils lessens the need for fertilizers. Synthetic fertilizers can add
pollution to waterways if overused, and require fossil fuels to manufacture.
The natural gas used to manufacture 200 bags of lawn fertilizer would heat an
average home for a year. Each 40-pound bag of fertilizer contains the fossil-
fuel equivalent of 2.5 gallons of gasoline. Get a soil test kit from your local
Extension service office. Test your soil yearly if possible, and different areas
of your landscape if they have different crops and culture. You may find you
need to add little if any fertilizer, or only certain ones.
Other ways you can lessen your impact of gardening on the environment
include mowing properly, developing a landscape to minimize mowing,
using “green” tools and equipment that don’t use fossil fuels, conserving
water, installing a rain garden, choosing landscape plants to minimize
maintenance, using landscaping to reduce home energy use, creating wildlife
habitats, and planting trees to provide oxygen and reduce carbon dioxide.
Perhaps you can think of some more?