In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
June, 2005
Regional Report

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Sustainable gardening in our region means using products and practices that don't threaten our precious environment.

Treading Lightly

Readers who consider themselves old hippies will remember the term "sustainable" as it applies to lifestyle. In the 1960s, it was a widely espoused concept of leaving the Earth in better shape than we found it: zero population growth, back-to-the-earth, and nuclear nonproliferation were among its watchwords. But "sustainable" also translated into growing your own food, creating backyard wildlife habitats, and municipal recycling programs. Today's gardens of all styles often reflect its influence. If you have solar garden lights, backyard compost bins, or soaker hoses, you're practicing forms of sustainable gardening.

Simple Starts
The big idea of sustainable gardening is to lower your impact on the natural environment while cultivating the home landscape. It can mean a shift in attitude as simple as using your own raked leaves as mulch instead of bagging them for the curb and buying pinestraw bales. Choosing native and well-adapted plants, amending soil with organic nutrients to build up what even native plants use up, and practicing good garden sanitation are smart ways to easily increase the sustainability of your garden.

When you walk the garden daily to pull a few weeds and stomp a hornworm in the tomatoes, you're reducing the use of chemical products. While we're all glad to have those serious options available when dealing with equally serious pest invasions, their production is very resource-intensive. The more garden dilemmas you can deal with by using cultural practices, the less strain you put on those resources. By taking this personal approach to global issues, you contribute to a healthy environment at home and across the planet.

Recycle Everything
An old Southern saying goes, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without." Today's recyclers interpret this to mean one should find a way to reuse the multitude of stuff we accumulate, or risk drowning in it. A case in point is plastic gallon jugs of milk, juice, and water. They do not decompose, and many municipal recycling programs do not accept them. The same is true for plastic liter bottles.

Fortunately, there are at least five ways to recycle both in the garden, instead of sending them to the landfill and buying other plastic items while compounding the drain on oil resources it takes to produce them. Use these ideas and find more of your own, so the garden we all share can be sustained for future generations.

1. Cut the bottom out and slip the jug over small transplants to protect them from cold and critters. Keep the top on at night and remove it in the daytime to vent the air inside.

2. Poke holes in the bottom and sides of the jug and bury it next to a hill of pumpkins or luffa gourds as a reservoir for these hungry and thirsty vines. Keep it filled with water and fertilizer all summer.

3. Mix a gallon of fertilizer and water in a jug for feeding houseplants. It's an instantly correct gallon measure, has a top, and isn't too heavy to lug around the house.

4. Cut off the top at a wide angle and use the handled remains as a scoop for potting soil and organic matters

5. Going on vacation? Poke just a couple of holes in the bottom of a jug, fill it with water, and place it next to tomato plants or in large containers to keep them watered while you're gone.


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