Earth911 is honoring the 52 years of Earth Day with 52 Actions for the Earth. Each week through Earth Day 2023, we will share an action you can take to invest in the Earth and make your own life more sustainable. Gardeners love the new year because that’s when the seed catalogs start showing up in mailboxes. If you’ve already canceled all your catalogs, this week, you can take action for the Earth by making sustainable garden plans instead of browsing catalogs for plants you’ll never actually grow.
Action: Plan a Garden
Spending time in the garden is one of the easiest ways to experience the outdoors. And doing garden work makes a lot of people feel closer to nature. But ironically, a lot of the things we do to make our gardens grow aren’t very good for the environment. Lawns are the most notorious. Turfgrass is a monoculture that covers more than three times as much area as any food crop in the United States. Maintaining that massive monoculture results in pollution and health risks from fertilizers, weed killers, and gas mowers. Nearly one-third of all residential water is sprinkled on our lawns.
But lawns aren’t the only culprits. The pesticides we drench our plants in have even more impacts. Pesticides weaken our food, kill beneficial insects as well as pests, and can be toxic to wildlife and kill pets. More than 90% of Americans’ bodies contain pesticide residues. Pesticides and fertilizers contaminate our groundwater and drinking water and contribute to dead zones in oceans.
Even the plants we grow can have a negative impact. Most of the invasive species that harm natural areas were purposely introduced through cultivation, usually as ornamental plants.
Pick Your Project
This may be the year you completely relandscape to create an eco-haven. But it’s easy to dream up projects in January that are too much to manage in July. So make a realistic plan. If starting from scratch is too much, take incremental steps. Consider converting a part of your yard to a more sustainable design.
- Replace your turfgrass monoculture with an eco-lawn alternative.
- Tear out lawn to make room for other things.
- Incorporate more native plants or nativars into your garden.
- Create a pollinator garden in part or all of your garden space.
- Start a vegetable garden.
- Shift toward xeriscaping.
- Plant a tree – with proper planning so it survives.
- Plant an edible hedge to benefit you and the birds.
- Build sustainable stormwater infrastructure to minimize runoff.
Instead of changing what you plant, you could choose to adopt some more sustainable maintenance habits for the landscape you already have. Here are some greener gardening ideas:
- Build a compost bin and learn how to use it.
- If you already have a vegetable garden, consider dry gardening, organic gardening, or permaculture techniques.
- Certify your yard as a wildlife refuge.
- Adopt pollinator-friendly gardening habits.
- Become water-wise in your garden and on your lawn.
- Adopt more sustainable lawn care practices that can save you work, too.
Whatever you decide to do, designing on the fly while you’re at the nursery in the spring is a great way to waste money and plants. Now is the time to figure out how you’re going to make your garden more sustainable in 2023.