With the spring gardening season well underway, albeit several weeks later than many of us would have liked, it starts us thinking about our connection with nature and the importance of conserving and protecting our natural environment as we finally get our hands dirty working the soil. In our efforts to beautify both our gardens and surrounding environment, we often fail to see the forest for the trees. While we toil away weeding, planting and mulching, many of the common garden practices people undertake are not only time consuming, but in the long run, they are often costly, detrimental to the environment and horticulturally pointless.
Take for instance the bagging of grass clippings. These clippings contain many of the same chemicals we put down on our lawns each year as fertilizers. Removing and discarding the clippings just increases the need for added nutrients. Instead, focus on soil health. Leave the clippings on the lawn, aerate and adjust the pH when needed and your lawn will thrive. Leaving the clippings does even more than help reduce your need for fertilizers.
Municipalities spend a fortune on garbage pickup so reducing the number of pickups in a neighborhood can lower the costs to the taxpayer, while reducing the CO2 emissions from the disposal trucks. For those looking to take it a step further, start a home compost pile for garden waste and vegetable scraps, then shred your autumn leaves on site using you lawnmower at the end of the season.
I am a new homeowner, having purchased a home with soil that has been depleted of all nutrition for decades. This in spite of the long-term contract the previous homeowners had with both a landscaper and a lawn treatment company. Last fall I watched stunned as my neighbor packaged up over a dozen plastic bags of leaves and placed them out for disposal.
While I considered sneaking out under the cover of night and “stealing” them from the curb, I decided to ask for them instead. They obliged, and I shredded them on the lawn (after the kids jumped in them), making a small pile that I used to mulch my dry, dusty, painfully dead soil. Make no mistake, it will be several years before I will have the rich soil I desire, however I do take pride in instantly reducing the local waste stream as well as taking a first step towards a more sustainable yard.
In reality, this is a minor step. I’m not foolish, and recognize that my impact will not be felt globally, or even locally. It is however, a small step that requires no new laws, regulations or taxes. I also recognize that there are many more things to be done. Home composting alone can take a large chunk of material out of the waste stream lowering municipal costs.
Coffee grinds, vegetable peelings and eggshells alone add valuable nutrients to the soil, and keep a few hundred pounds off the sanitation trucks a year. Even more interesting to me and my kids is the impact on biodiversity. Our compost pile is less than a year old, and consists of a wood framed 3 x 3-foot structure, yet it attracts dozens of species including worms, flies, beetles and countless microorganisms. I have found few things more exciting in the garden than watching my children use their toy microscopes to look for “cool stuff” and learn how to identify the beetles from the ants.
In short, horticulture and gardening can be a destructive and wasteful practice, it doesn’t have to be, and in reality, it should be the opposite. As homeowners we can easily reduce garden waste, water use and chemical applications while increasing our yards biodiversity, and make our home gardens a great example of what can be done on a large scale, and across many aspects of our daily lives.
—Eric C. Morgan