How to Go Green: Gardening

Hey green fingers, how green does your garden really grow? If you suspect that your pastoral idyll is breeding more toxic chemicals than prize hybrid-tea-rose bushes, then read on, my earth-moving friend. We'll have you footloose and pesticide-free yet, whether you're an intrepid landscape designer earnestly shaping topiaries to reenact the Fall of Troy or an apartment dweller content with a couple of potted begonias. The only question you need to ask yourself: Can you dig it?

Back To Top Λ

Top Green Gardening Tips

  1. Keep it real
    You know what they say about Mother knowing best? Well, Mother Nature never needed to steal sips from a chemical cocktail of pesticides, weed killers, and chemical fertilizers to keep her act together. Nix the poisons and layer on some all-natural compost, instead. Call in beneficial insect reinforcements to wrestle pesky garden pests to the ground. Who needs to play Command & Conquer when you have battlefield drama unfolding before you in real time?

  2. Make compost from kitchen scraps
    Compost like a champ by throwing in your vegetable waste, instead of allowing it to be trucked off to the landfill. Known as "gardener's gold," compost enriches soil fertility by giving it a shot of high-powered, plant-loving nutrients. Aside from stimulating healthy root development, the addition of rich and earthy compost also improves soil texture, aeration, and water retention. Why waste your hard-earned cash on commercial products when the real deal is free for the taking? Speed up the process with the help of earthworms or go wriggle-free (if you're the squeamish sort).

  3. Buy recycled
    If your delicate aesthetic sensibilities balk at the idea of reusing yogurt or takeout containers to house your hydrangeas, check out the myriad environmentally friendly planters and raised-garden kits now available. It takes less energy to recycle something than to mine virgin materials, so whether you choose recycled copper, plastic, or even rubber to anchor your tender shoots, it's all copacetic. Admire your handiwork and eco-smarts while lounging on recycled lawn furniture.

  4. Grow your own food
    Buying organic produce can admittedly get pricey, so how about growing your own food instead of painstakingly manicuring that lawn for the umpteenth time? An estimated 40 million acres of the 48 contiguous American states are covered in lawns, making turf grass the United States' largest irrigated crop. American homeowners apply a cringe-worthy tens of millions of pounds of fertilizers and pesticides to their lawns, often at many times the recommended levels. All that for little more than ornamentation. It's time to return to the use of gardens as food sources--you won't find fresher (or cheaper) eating anywhere else.

  5. Join a community garden
    Urban dwellers bereft of a yard shouldn't fret: You can still get in on the hoeing and growing action by signing up for a plot at your local community garden. Community gardens typically have a communal composting area, as well, so if you don't have room for one of those triple-duty rotating barrel composters in your home, here's your hookup.

  6. Go native
    Now that you've learned some of the merits of "de-lawning" your home, consider replacing the ol' putting green with native and indigenous plants, whether they're cactus gardens in Arizona or bottlebrush grasses in Northern Michigan. Already adapted to local conditions, native plants are easy to grow and maintain, generally requiring less fertilizer and water, as well as less effort to rein in pests.

  7. Harvest rainwater
    Adding a rain barrel is an inexpensive and effortless way to capture mineral- and chlorine-free water for watering lawns, yards, and gardens, as well as washing cars or rinsing windows. By harnessing what's literally raining from the sky, you'll not only notice a marked dip in water costs, but also a reduction in stormwater runoff, which in turn helps prevent erosion and flooding. Pop a screen on top of your barrel to keep out insects, debris, and bird missiles, and make frequent use of your water supply to keep it moving and aerated.

  8. Water with care
    While we're on the subject of water, adopting a few smart-watering habits will do much to stretch out your supply, especially during dry, hot spells in the summer. Adding mulch and compost to your soil will retain water and cut down evaporation. Plus, soaker hoses or drip irrigation only use 50 percent of the water used by sprinklers. Water early in the day so you can avoid evaporation and winds. And the best place to drench your plants? Directly on those thirsty roots.

  9. Bring on the butterflies and bees
    Provide a pesticide-free sanctuary for our pollinator pals, such as butterflies and bees, by growing a diverse variety of native flowers they're particularly drawn to, such as wild lilac, goldenrod, and lemon balm. (Gardens with 10 or more species of attractive plants have been found to entice the most bees.) If you haven't already heard, we're in the throes of a major bee-loss epidemic, which is causing beekeepers in North America and Europe much hand-wringing. Because pollinators affect 35 percent of the world's crop production--and increase the output of 87 of the leading food crops worldwide--extending a little hometown hospitality could go a long way.

  10. The power of 4
    Get hip to four "R"s of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's GreenScapes program: Reduce, recycle, reuse and rebuy. You want to reduce your output of waste to ensure you're using materials efficiently. Reusing compost and tree clippings for mulch, or rainwater for watering take up little time and energy, but offer plenty of environmental bang for your buck. Recycling saves resources, while rebuying means seeking products that meet your needs, but are more environmentally friendly than your usual purchases--take, for instance, solar outdoor lighting versus electric-powered fixtures.

Back To Top Λ

Green Gardening: By The Numbers

  • 1500 lbs: the amount of garbage the average person throws out each year, according to Mark Harris, the author of Embracing the Earth (Noble Press, 1990). Expect to haul only 375 pounds of trash to the curb annually if you compost.

  • 400 percent: the percentage of total vegetables consumed, that were produced in 'victory gardens' planted in homes, schools, and farms during World War II.

  • 19lbs/person: the amount of tomatoes consumed per person in the US each year - not counting the tomatoes used to whip up sauce and ketchup. In fact, the United States is second only to Italy in its consumption of tomatoes per capita.

  • One third: of all garden plants sold in the United States are tomatoes, according to the Seed Savers Exchange.

  • 40 million: acres of lawn exist in the United States, and are the single most irrigated crop, according to NASA. Don't forget to weigh in the fact that it takes 238 gallons of fresh, usually drinking-quality water per person, per day, to keep our lawns pert and verdant.

Back To Top Λ

Where To Get Green Gardening Supplies

Abundant Earth
Clean Air Gardening
Fox Farm Fertilizer
Grassroots Environmental Products
Green Home
Greta's Organic Gardens
Mountain Rose Herbs
Northwest Builders Network
Planet Natural
Seeds of Change
Viva Terra
Back To Top Λ

Green Gardening: From The Archives

Dig deeper into these articles on gardening from the TreeHugger and Planet Green archives.

Here are four non-toxic gardening aids.

The Ecocube is a modern, sustainable framework for vertical gardens.

How green is your garden shed?

Toronto artists pimp the common garden shed.

Find organically grown heirloom vegetables, herbs, and more at Matchbox Garden & Seed in Toronto.

These collapsible garden chairs, made from sustainably manufactured plywood, are chic and portable.

Tear off a matchstick and plant a garden.

Talk about TCOB: here's a business card that sprouts greens.

Book Review: The Australian Fruit & Vegetable Garden from The Diggers Club.

Dr. John's Mini Gardens: The 100-Foot Diet? explores what can happen when you grow your own food.

Rest your tush on this wearable garden stool.

Lazy gardening idea: Just add water.

The Waterwise Garden is an extensive resource available in book and digital formats.

It doesn't get more local than your own garden.

Too posh to dig? Hire help from Harrod's.

The latest in organic farming: Booze as pesticide.

For urban dwellers: Leopoldo's City Vegetable Garden.

Solar birdbaths and fountains can help your backyard garden grow with the power of the sun.

Here are some good reasons to buy locally grown landscape and garden plants.

Visit the Duchess of Northumberland's Poison Garden.

MoMA's ghastly artificial garden draws brickbats.

Eco tip: Cleaning out the garden to prepare for winter.

Solar Bud: garden and path lighting from Luceplan to light your way at night without plugging in to the grid.

Here's some groovy green garden furniture from salvaged teak timber.

Recycled planters for the garden are part of a planet-friendly container gardening plan.

How to create a "rubbish" garden; more here 

Garden local and find out which plants are native to your area.

Learn something with the organic garden as classroom.

Food isn't the only thing that grows in a garden; you can grow life skills in the garden, too.

Art in the garden: Duchy Originals' sustainable furniture.

Easily garden indoors with AeroGarden Aeroponics.

Here's how to create a DIY hydroponics garden.

London's "Sunshine Garden" is a sustainable water saver.

Have a gander at the chicest hydroponics system we've seen.

Here's how to plant an edible forest garden.

Illuminate your flower pots with solar power.

Check out our review of the 2007 Chelsea Flower Show.

The Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens lends a hand.

Have a look at this indoor mini-greenhouse with smart LEDs.

Wisconsin gets in the mix with Milwaukee's new sustainable garden park.

Take action and become a guerrilla gardener.

Help avoid colony collapse disorder and start a bee-friendly rooftop garden.

TreeHuggerTV: Edible Estates takes a look at the next big thing in home gardening.

Free trees and plants in Nebraska is just one way to support more gardening.

Kew Gardens researches herbal remedies to common maladies.

Planting gardens could help keep chemicals out of your city's water.

We love Hen + Hammock's sustainable garden products.

Sun Feather's natural bug protection keeps pests away, the non-toxic way.

Sustainable Gardening Australia helps home gardeners down under.

Blueplanetsmart is one cool composter.

How sweet it is: Carshalton lavender.

The latest perk: The office veggie patch.

Sean Canavan: Guerrilla Gardener Extraordinaire.

The Offshoots Permaculture Project gives hands-on demos.

Here's a water-wise tip: Water plants with recycled bathwater.
The Seed Project is a global environmental installation.

Read up with this Book Review: Food Not Lawns.

Get crafty and make your own newspaper jiffy pots.

Who woulda thunk it: sweet potatoes reduce the heat-island effect.

Organic farms and college campuses are a green match made in heaven.

A green restaurant's green garden: smart and sustainable.

Michael Pollan goes hunting to find out more about eating local and eating green.

Check out TreeHuggerTV: Urban Homestead and learn more about old ways in new cities.

Move over bamboo, lantana's the greener choice.

Get ready for summer with a grass chair, a chair that you grow in your yard.

Edens lost and found -- great American cities restored.

How can we eat local all year-long? It's not as easy as you'd think.

A sustainable and serene bench to go in your garden.

Extend your vine crop with this bamboo/inner-tube cucumber trellis.

Get smart with the first organic gardening book to take on climate change.

Mobile Landscape Intervention Unit to the rescue.

There's a jungle in Madrid's train station.

Here's how to plant a window box.

We review Grow Organic: 250 Tips and Ideas
Community Composting Network: hot rotters in the U.K.

TreeHugger Picks: Spring gardening ideas will help get you started each spring.

EcoForms' sustainable planters and pots
Kenji Planter made from cellulose fibers
Dave Pollard's Lawn Care Tips
Gardenopoly: A TreeHugger board game
Back To Top Λ

Further Reading on Green Gardening

Feed your brain with more green gardening info from these other worthwhile sources.
Organic Gardening is your one-stop resource

You Grow Girl isn't your grandmother's gardening society

Heavy Petal: Gardening from a West Coast, urban organic perspective

Earth Friendly Gardening for a healthier planet

The Green Guide talks green gardening supplies

Click this way for more about organic pest control
The Dirt Doctor is in

The guide to bee-friendly gardens
Organic lawn care for the cheap and lazy
How to convert a lawn to a native meadow or woodland
How to start a community garden
Another guide to starting a community garden
Native Plant Finder
Make your own recycled planters
Garden organically in the U.K.

Help these Canadians make every lawn a garden
Learn how to compost
Chat with other organic gardeners online
Read more about organic gardening
A boatload of organic-gardening tips
Mother Earth News has much organic wisdom

Reduce water cost and storm runoff with homemade rain barrels
Five cool make-it-yourself gardening gadgets
Find out more about gardening in Australia
The Worsted Witch has a roundup of sustainable gardening tools

Tags: Ecology | Gardening | Milwaukee | Permaculture

Best of TreeHugger