University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Anytime News Article


Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
“Green gardening”, avoiding and lessening negative impacts on the environment while providing positive impacts, is becoming of interest to many gardeners with the increased concerns over our environmental future.  Some of these include recycling, composting, using alternative controls for pests and diseases, minimizing use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, and using cover crops and mulches.  Here are a few more.

Mow properly.  This means regular as needed, and high (two to three inches).  During summer when soil is moist and grass is growing, you may need to mow twice a week.  However, I often see many still mowing as much during dry periods when grass isn’t growing.  Then you may get by with mowing every 10 to 14 days. Mowing high keeps grass less stressed, resulting in fewer if any chemicals for problems and maintenance.  Leaving grass clippings recycles organic matter and nutrients back to the soil.  If you do collect grass clippings, add them to your compost.

Develop a landscape plan to minimize mowing.  Even making curved edges to beds, rather than sharp corners, and avoiding cul-de-sacs of lawn will minimize mowing.  Large areas under trees are often better suited to massed groundcover plants than lawns.  Leave large sunny areas that aren’t heavily used unmowed, or mow only once or twice a season.  Consider adding wildflower meadows, keeping in mind these can be difficult to get established and last long term.

Use “green” tools and equipment.  If you can use a rake or broom or hand edgers, avoid the power blowers and string trimmers.  This gives you exercise as a benefit, and for the environment lessens the use of fossil fuels, air pollution, and noise pollution.  If a small lawn, consider an electric or even reel push mower.  If you have an older lawn mower, upgrade to a newer one if feasible as these pollute less.  Keep in mind the pollution from one hour of lawn mowing has been equated to driving a car 100 to 200 miles.  An estimate from Yale University is that more than 600 million gallons of gas are used yearly in the United States just to trim and mow lawns.  Small engines like leaf blowers and trimmers often pollute more than mowers.

Conserve water.  Water may become a key crisis of this century. Almost three dozen states currently experience at least some water shortages.  Use mulches to conserve water.  Soils with lots of organic matter require less water.  In very dry areas, plant drought tolerant or xeriscape plants.  Use trickle or drip water systems, and only as needed.  Overhead watering can waste up to half the water just to evaporation into the air.

Install a rain garden.  These are gardens designed to capture storm water runoff, preventing it from entering waterways before sediment has been filtered out.  Up to 70 percent of pollution in our waterways in some areas has been attributed to storm water.  Rain gardens allow sediment and contaminants to settle out before the water moves on.  Clay soils are not good for these, sandy soils being ideal.  A mix of native perennials and shrubs can make such gardens quite lovely.  Keep them watered until established, and weeded, as you would other gardens.

Choose landscape plants and plans to minimize maintenance.  Allow shrubs to grow natural, and choose ones for shapes desired.  This will lessen or avoid trimming (usually done with electric or gas-powered hedge trimmers.)  Avoid planting trees and shrubs that will shed leaves where not desired, so will need removing (such as with leaf blowers).  Choosing the right plants for the right site can avoid excess use of fertilizers and soil amendments.
Use landscaping to reduce home energy use.  Shade trees have been estimated to reduce energy used for air conditioning by 15 to 50 percent.  The net cooling effect of a young, healthy tree equals ten room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day.  Ground temperatures can drop by 36 degrees in as little as five minutes when shaded.  Deciduous trees, those that lose their leaves in winter, shade homes in summer and allow warming from sun in winter.  Evergreens planted on windy sides of buildings act as a windbreak, reducing winter heating bills up to 25 percent.  Keep in mind accessories too.  Use solar-powered lights for night lighting, for instance.

Create wildlife habitats and food sources with your landscaping.  For food plants choose plants to provide seeds, berries, nectar, nuts, fruits, sap, or even pollen.  For water, provide a bird bath (even one heated in winter), a small water feature or water garden, and even shallow water puddles for butterflies.  For cover, provide evergreens, dense shrubs, thickets, wood or rock piles, a wooded area, and groundcovers.  A diversity of plants and habitats is ideal.

Plant trees.  In one year, an average tree produces enough oxygen for a family of four.  One tree will absorb the carbon dioxide from four cars, every year.  Planting trees remains the cheapest and most effective means of drawing excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Trees also reduce energy use around buildings as already cited.

Make this the year to keep the environment in mind when planning the garden and landscaping, choosing plants, and providing care through the season.

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