The environmental problems we face today look so serious it can be disheartening to even try to think about ways that we can make a positive difference. But little things like planting a garden DO make a difference.
Gardens help the environment in so many ways. Every square foot of space we use for gardening is less space for environmentally harmful lawns. Every plant we plant helps reduce carbon dioxide. Every piece of food we grow ourselves reduces our carbon footprint and the overall use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers.
If you’ve been thinking about starting a garden or wondering if it’s worth it, I can say it definitely is. Here are six ways that growing a garden can help make your life “greener” literally and figuratively! Plus, be sure to read the 3 things you’ll want to be sure to consider before you start.
Save the Earth – Plant a Garden
That may sound like a bit of an overstatement given the problems our environment is facing these days. But planting a garden is a very effective action you can take to help the environment.
Rethink your lawn.
The sprawling green monoculture lawn that we have become so used to in this country may look beautiful but it’s a damaging choice when it comes to a healthy environment.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Americans use 10 times more pesticides per acre to keep their lawns looking perfect than farmers use on their field. The pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers used on lawns can cause serious health issues like breathing problems and even cancer in humans and our pets. You can read more about that at the National Institute of Health website.
Not only do lawns require a lot of chemicals and irrigation to keep green and pretty they also totally wipe out habitat for bees, butterflies, and other insects as well as natural food sources for birds and other wildlife.
In a lawn filled with just one kind of grass – there’s nothing for our pollinators to eat. We studiously kill off dandelions to keep that perfectly green and flawless look and forget that dandelions are one of the first food sources for our bees in the spring.
So, rather than looking at your yard as a place where there’s a large swath of monoculture grass that you could add a garden to. Why not look at it as a wonderful area to have a garden with maybe just a little patch of grass in it. Maybe a small enough patch that you could easily use a manual push mower on it. You know the kind, the old fashioned one with no motor, no noise, no carbon emissions.
Now that we’re starting to think about a different way of looking at our yards and understanding why we might want to replace that damaging monoculture lawn. Let’s see how else planting a garden can help save the environment.
Reduce your carbon footprint by growing your own food.
Vegetable gardening is an awesome way to help the environment and live a greener life. When you grow some of your own food you cut down on the transportation costs (and pollution) from having to move the food you eat long distances from the field it was grown in then to your grocery store and then to your house.
I’m not saying you need to become self-sufficient with your garden, although if that’s your thing and you can that’s AWESOME! Some of us just don’t have the space or time or the right kind of environment. I have an extremely shady yard. It’s hard to find enough sun to have a big vegetable garden. As the trees grow each year it gets harder and harder. You might be in the same situation.
But many of us can grow some of our own food. Even if it’s just a couple of tomato plants on a balcony. All plants help remove carbon dioxide from the air and that helps battle climate change. Doing something is much better than doing nothing!
You might be surprised at how much food you can grow in a small space. If you’ve never checked out Mel Bartholomew’s book on Square Foot Gardening you’ll want to take a look. This book has been out since 1981 so you can always find used copies of it. There is also a Square Foot Gardening Foundation website that you can check out that tells you all about the method.
The Square Foot method works great even for very small lots and in urban areas. This is the method I tried when I first started a vegetable garden. My tomato crop and squash crops were amazing! (We won’t talk about the pea crop. Not sure what happened there!)
If you can’t grow a garden that supplies a significant portion of your food don’t worry. The next best thing is to buy locally. The less distance your food has to travel the lower you’ll keep your carbon footprint.
You have control.
One of the awesome things about growing your own garden is that you can grow organically! When you plant your own food you know what’s on it. You don’t need to use harmful pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers. Every little bit of food we can grow without those is helpful to the environment.
The more you grow the less you’ll be dependent on commercial growers who may not think twice about using copious amounts of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides to maximize their crop yield.
Gardening gives you a reason to compost!
Food waste is a serious problem in the U.S. The FDA estimates that we waste 30-40 percent of the food supply. That’s about 133 billion pounds of food! WOW!!
Three of the best ways to reduce food waste and keep it out of landfills are:
- only buy what you know you will eat,
- be sure to use up leftovers, and
- compost any food scraps or wasted food items that you can.
Vegetable scraps, dead leaves, coffee grounds, fruit peels, so many things can be composted to keep them out of landfills.
AND – when you have a garden you have a great place to use all that wonderfully rich fully composted material!
Help save water by reducing runoff.
Runoff occurs when rain falls or snow melts faster than the ground can absorb it. When water hits the ground and runs straight into a drainage ditch or nearby creek or lake, it carries with it any pollutants it picks up on the way. This might include pesticides used on lawns, or oil from a driveway or bacteria from pet waste.
If rain has a chance to sink into the soil without carrying these pollutants to other water sources it’s much better. Gardens can help absorb rainfall much better than hard, non-porous surfaces and often better than lawns.
So rather than having large paved areas in your yard or garden for patios or driveways, consider planting more ground cover type plants that will absorb rainwater and reduce runoff. You can read more about the problem with stormwater runoff here at the U.S. Department of Energy & Environment’s Website.
Gardens provide great wildlife habitat and food sources.
I know with my first attempt at a vegetable garden I certainly provided some great natural habitat and food for the bunnies that loved to eat every single thing they could get their furry little paws on! But that’s not what I mean here.
By planting flower or vegetable gardens you can provide food for butterflies, bees, birds and other wildlife. You can find out more about plants that are good for this purpose in this post I wrote about 10 Plants that Can Help Save the Environment.
Growing a garden can be beneficial for these and even more reasons. But there are a couple of things you’ll want to be sure to consider before you plant to make your garden as healthy and eco-friendly as possible.
First, grow organically.
I know I mentioned that when you grow your own food you are in control and so you know exactly what, if anything, has been sprayed on your plants. If you are using a bunch of chemicals in your garden that aren’t eco-friendly, then you aren’t doing the planet a lot of favors. So how can you help ensure you’ll get a good crop without having to rely on a lot of “chemical help”?
The best thing I can advise is to really choose your plants carefully to be sure that they are suitable for your area and you aren’t in an uphill battle from the start. If you know you don’t have rich loamy soil (oh how I wish I did) then look for fruits and vegetables that do well in poorer soils. If your yard leans to shade rather than sun, take that into consideration as well. Some vegetables will grow just fine with less than full sun all day. Some won’t. So do your research and choose wisely and you’ll be able to have a much more carefree, chemical-free garden with abundant produce as well.
Second, mulch, mulch, mulch!
Gardens can be less needy in terms of water than a big green lawn – IF you set yourself up correctly from the start. The best thing you can do to hold moisture in the soil is to mulch your garden. Not only will this reduce the need for water, but it will also reduce the need for weeding! So that is definitely a Win-Win!
If you are in a drier climate where you know you’ll need to water regularly you might consider a drip irrigation system. This will put the water exactly where you want it, at the roots of the plant, and will use a whole lot less water over the growing season.
Third plant perennials.
I love gardens but I’m not always crazy about the work they entail. In spring it’s great because I’m excited, but sometimes my interest can wane a bit as the months go by.
Perennials are awesome because you plant them once and they come back time and time again with very little (or any) additional work. So consider planting things like blackberries, raspberries, currants, strawberries, asparagus, rhubarb, dwarf apple trees, or other kinds of plants that will come back year after year without any additional expense or much additional work.
Six Great Reasons!
So now you’ve got 6 great reasons for planting a garden to help benefit the Earth. Planting a garden in your back yard might seem like a really small thing. You might be thinking, “that won’t do much.” But seriously, all those small things do add up! If we each do our part, we can keep this planet as healthy as possible.
Thanks for reading and thank you for caring about our Earth!