Going Green – in your garden

By Laxmi Natarajan

Reduce, Reuse and Recycle : we hear this everywhere today. Small changes in our everyday life go a long way towards a better environment and prepare us for a greener lifestyle.  Driving hybrid cars (or not driving a car), using alternate modes of transport, conserving electrical energy at home (insulation, using lights only when you need it, using green lights) and yes, using a clothesline, particularly in summer season, are all the things to do to be green.

Last weekend I visited a green event hosted by the City of Belmont and was fascinated by the number of green vendors.   The green industry is taking off in all walks of life.  From the smart car to Segway, Argon filled double paned windows to Compost bins – all these contribute to having clean and less polluted air and a healthier planet.

"Home is where one starts from” said T S Eliot and if you are a gardener, your home garden is a wonderful place to start.  Here are some practical suggestions to get you on the road to being green and eco-friendly.  

The approach to a sustainable gardening mimics nature where everything is recycled (water, debris, nutrients) endlessly. Water conservation, energy conservation, building a healthy soil, reducing the garden waste, creating a wildlife habitat for birds and insects are some of the keystones in a green garden.

While planting new flora, consider choosing California native plants or a mix of plants that are locally adapted. This helps conserve water and require less maintenance in terms of fertilizers and pesticides. Another benefit is that native birds, insects, and other wildlife have evolved with native plant species and are able to use the fruits, nectars and habitat these plants and trees provide.  Select disease resistant plants and try to include plants that attract beneficial insects in the landscape.

Grow an Organic garden.  Organic gardening is growing food/plants without using chemical pesticides, herbicides and inorganic fertilizers that pollute our soil and water. It relies on the use of beneficial insects, diversity of plants, and the use of compost to supply the soil with nutrients.  

Eliminate or minimize lawns.  Lawns can be beautiful and are a visual treat when maintained well but they are also one of the serious offenders of the green philosophy.  Lawns use up to ten times more toxic chemicals per acre than commercial farming.  Use of lawn mower for an hour creates as much air pollution as driving a car 100 miles.  The average 2000 square foot lawn requires 10,000 gallons of water per month to maintain, the same amount of water in an average swimming pool.  So, if you need to have a lawn (maybe for children to play), consider green-alternatives – make a smaller lawn or consider synthetic turf installation.

Group your plants in the landscape by their water needs. Install efficient irrigation systems (drip system, timers etc).  Use mulch in the garden to retain moisture and prevent drying out of the soil.  If possible install rainwater collections or gray water system.

Build a healthy soil in your garden: Amend the soil with compost. Add mulch to reduce weeds and to maintain moisture. Protect your soil from compaction.  Reduce kitchen and garden waste by investing in a compost bin and creating an active compost pile and add that to create a fertile and living soil.   Vermicomposting is a great way to reduce your garbage and reap rich benefits all around. All you need to start is a shallow bin that allows air to circulate, newspaper bedding and worms. The worm castings are a great fertilizer for plants. Check out the book “Worms eat my garbage” by Mary Applehof to understand how to make rich compost out of your garbage using a worm bin and worms.

Integrated Pest Management, which is the science of resolving pest problems by the use of natural resources, avoiding the use of chemical pesticides and a multi level approach of using natural controls to stop the pests in the garden is a great way to be earth friendly. IPM techniques can be as simple as planting companion plants to attract beneficial insects, introducing beneficial insects to your garden or making your own pesticides from ingredients you may already have on hand such as borax, ammonia and beer. IPM controls are preferable to chemical pesticides. However, when it is absolutely necessary to use a pesticide, choose the least toxic product.

Reuse pots, landscape materials like pavers, soil, lumber, concrete (broken concrete blocks from driveway can be reused to build dry walls). Explore the latest green concepts such as permeable pavers and pervious concrete (to reduce water runoff).  You can find a lot of these used materials on Craig’s list and Ebay.  Contact your local tree trimming company to see if they provide free mulch (chipped wood and leaves from trimming the trees).  They may not be the best looking mulch but they are free and go towards reusing natural materials.

Save energy by placing deciduous trees on the west side of the house to provide shade during the summer and allow sunlight to warm the house in winter.  Use hand or electric tools as opposed to tools powered with gas.  Select local garden products and buy supplies locally.  Use outdoor lights that are energy efficient or solar powered and of course include a space in the garden for a clothesline.

The best way to start a Green garden is to adopt a few measures at a time and start incorporating them into your life little at a time. So go ahead and pick your thing to do and live the mantra Reduce, Recycle and Reuse!!

Go Green and Stay Cool!

Some sites to visit for more information:
Composting –  http://www.composters.com
Vermicomposting – http://www.wormwoman.com
Green building exchange – www.greenbuildingexchange.com
San Mateo County Recycle works – http://www.recycleworks.org
Integrated Pest Management – http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/
California Native plants – http://www.cnps.org

Laxmi Natarajan is WNI's resident expert on gardening issues. She will take questions from readers on the subject via our feedback form. She also runs Bagicha, a landscape design firm in the Bay Area. 

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