Sustainable Landscaping and Gardening
By: Susan Littlefield
Sustainability is a word we hear often these days, in many contexts. But what exactly does it mean? In its broadest definition, it means practicing environmental stewardship so that we meet our present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Sustainable practices can come into play in agriculture, energy use, combating global climate change, preservation of our oceans, resource and water use -- really, any way in which our human activities have an impact on the natural world around us.
While it's important to encourage sustainability on a large scale, we can also have an impact through the decisions and practices we adopt as individuals. One way to do this is to incorporate sustainable, ecologically sound practices into the gardening and landscaping we do around our homes. It may not have the global impact of government actions on greenhouse gas emissions, but it can make our own corner of the world a better space, both for ourselves in the present and others in years to come.
Take Care of the Soil
As with so much of gardening, a great place to begin is with the soil. Enriching your soil with organic matter will help it absorb water and drain well, resulting in better plant growth and less water run-off. Adding organic matter such as compost will support the many beneficial organisms that contribute to healthy, living soil that sustains plant growth with less added fertilizer. It also helps the soil lock up carbon that might otherwise go into the atmosphere. Growing a winter cover crop or summer green manure will not only add organic matter, but prevent the erosion and carbon loss that can occur when soil is left bare. Making compost from your garden and kitchen wastes keeps these materials out of landfills and completes the circle of recycling and renewal in your garden.
Trim Your Garden's Carbon Footprint
Think about the energy use that goes into your landscape, from the gas used to run a lawnmower to the energy required to manufacture, package, and ship synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. A gas-powered mower gives off smog-forming pollution and carbon dioxide. Reducing lawn size and using a push mower are two strategies for maintaining a more sustainable lawn.
An enormous amount of energy goes into the manufacture of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides; the production of herbicides with which so many lawns are regularly doused generates more carbon emissions than other kinds of pesticides. Using organic fertilizers, compost, and non-chemical pest and weed controls not only makes your landscape more climate-friendly, it makes it safer for you, your kids and pets, not to mention the birds and bees.
It's not just the growing parts of the landscape that can have an environmental impact. If you're buying wood lawn furniture, make sure it comes from non-threatened tree species by choosing products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and locally manufactured, if possible. Concrete manufacture is extremely energy-intensive; consider other materials for patios, walks, and drives.