Creating an environmentally friendly garden is a major step towards reducing your carbon footprint. While many of us are starting to realise the importance of eco-living, our gardens often go ignored and untouched. However, with so much emphasis on environmental issues, now is the perfect time to start taking more control.
You will reduce your carbon emissions by approximately two pounds for every pound of fruit and veg that you grow. It takes energy to grow produce commercially – fuel in tractors, transportation costs, etc. – and many farmers still use harmful pesticides and petroleum-based fertilisers. Almost all of this energy comes from fossil fuels, and by the time the fruit and veg leaves the farm they’ve done far more damage than good. Growing your own produce doesn’t just have environmental benefits, it can also yield a return that equates to 10-17 times the amount of your initial investment.
Regardless of whether your garden has a productive or aesthetic focus, there are many small ways to make positive changes. This guide has been designed to help you get on the right track, even if you don’t have any previous experience.
Creating your own compost heap is the perfect starting point. By recycling general garden waste you will not only help reduce landfill waste, but will have a constant supply of fresh compost that can be used around your garden. Your plants will benefit a great deal with this addition to the soil and it will cut down your manure or compost costs the following year.
Buying a Compost Bin
Your choice of compost bin is literally unlimited. Building your own makeshift composter is the best way to have something that fits with the general aesthetic of your garden; however, if this isn’t an issue you can find cheap and sturdy offerings at virtually any garden centre.
Picking a Suitable Spot
Place your compost heap on a level, well drained spot in order to get the best results. This will speed up the process and help worms get inside and start breaking it down. Nature has given us the perfect disposal unit for compost as worms love living in dark moist environments.
Using the Right Waste
Natural garden waste is fast to break down and will provide moisture and nitrogen. Household waste generally takes a little longer to rot, but will provide more carbon and fibre, and will cause air bubbles to form on the inside. Having a mixture of both is the key to creating top-quality compost.
Compost can be created using a surprising amount of household waste, such as:
- Raw vegetables
- Crushed egg shells
- Fruit peel
Almost all garden waste is suitable, such as:
- Fallen leaves
- Grass cuttings
- Wood cuttings
- Old plants
Certain things can severely harm your compost heap, such as diseased plants, weeds, soiled nappies and pet droppings. This can cause your compost heap to attract unwanted pests. In addition, household items in the form of glass, plastic and metal are not suitable.
Get the Right Balance
Balance is the key to good quality compost. If it’s too wet, add dryer waste, while if it’s too dry, add damper waste. It should also have enough air. You can create little pockets by adding scrunched up pieces of cardboard to the mix.
Give it a Regular Airing
Just like tools and machinery, a good compost heap requires a bit of fine tuning every now and then. Regularly turn the compost heap to give it an airing and to balance out the waste. This will also yield faster results.
When your compost is ready the bottom layer will be a dark brown colour with a soil-like consistency that’s spongy to touch. Decent compost is very rich in nutrients and will greatly improve the quality of your soil when spread over flowerbeds. Fundamentally compost heaps not only reduce household and garden waste, but suppresses weeds and eliminate the need for harmful fertilisers and pesticides.
Water is a precious resource that is vital to the life of your garden. Mulching, collecting rain water and landscaping with drought-resistant plants is the key to limiting your water consumption. Gardening can take up to 70% of the UK’s water supply when at peak demand. This causes water companies to use groundwater and streams to supplement the supply, which can have a devastating impact on the surrounding environment.
Look After Your Soil
Mulching flowerbeds, plant pots and hanging baskets will improve soil structure and help it to retain moisture – this is because it reduces evaporation. In addition, it will give your garden a neat and tidy appearance.
Water at the Right Time
Knowing how much water your plants require isn’t nearly as difficult as it seems. Most people over-water their gardens and only check the surface level for moisture; however it’s what’s underneath that really counts. Check that the soil is roughly a spade-level deep, and if it’s damp just leave it. In addition, it’s also better to water plants during the evenings as it will evaporate less.
Use the Right Quantity
Light sandy soils generally need more watering than heavy soils; while clay-based soils require less frequent watering, but much larger quantities. As a guideline, most plants require approximately 24 litres of water per square metre every 10 days.
Plant Drought Resistant Plants
If you’re landscaping have a long hard think about how much time you’ll have to manage your garden. Lavender, palms and verbena, for example, require far less water than most other plants and could be more suitable if you’re looking for something easy to look after.
Even in the driest parts of the UK you can collect up to 24,000 litres of water each year. The average water butt holds around 160 litres and refills very quickly, leaving you with more than enough to feed your garden.
Reuse Old Water
Contrary to popular belief the majority of household cleaning solutions aren’t harmful to plants. Reusing grey water (water collected from baths, showers and sinks, etc.) is certainly a viable option. You can purchase greywater diverters for very little, which will divert water from your home to a storing facility. Just make sure the water doesn’t contain any bleach or disinfectant as it will harm the soil and could cause health problems.
Install a Watering System
There are four primary forms of watering system; sprinklers, hoses, seep hoses and automated irrigation systems. Sprinklers are the most effective for soaking large areas; hoses require the most work, but allow you to only water where is needed; seep hoses can be buried under compost or mulch in order to water large rows of established plants without the risk of evaporation; automated irrigation systems allow water to trickle into designated areas, but are generally the most expensive.
The only way to truly understand your plants and how much water they’ll require is to get stuck in and monitor their dampness manually. Remember that conditions will change on a seasonal basis; therefore, it’s worth monitoring your water levels several times per year to ensure you’re on the right track.
Improving Air Quality
Outdoor air quality is one of the most overlooked elements of environmentally friendly gardening, especially in urban areas that are more exposed to chemicals and gasses. Planting certain trees can improve the overall air quality in the direct vicinity, which can help other plants to flourish.
Create a Water Feature
Water features and ponds are great for improving the purity of air. Steady streams of water are not only beautiful and tranquil, but can remove harmful pollutants. Having nice fresh air will help your plants and soil remain moist and healthy.
Plant Larger Trees
If possible consider planting trees such as conifers, beech tees and magnolia. What’s great about these species is that they’ll blend with virtually any form of landscape design, and provide cooling shade for your other smaller plants in the summer. In addition, you’ll be surprised by how much a few larger trees will reduce noise pollution.
Add Some Gypsum
Gypsum is a natural, high nutrient material that’s recommended for soils that have clay-like consistencies. It’s a non-toxic element that doesn’t adjust the pH of the soil and isn’t harmful to humans or animals. Gypsum will loosen soils to improve water and air penetration, which can improve the air circulation in the immediate area.
Plants absorb carbon dioxide and breathe oxygen. They are a crucial part of our existence; therefore, their importance should not be understated. The simple addition of some trees and a water feature will do wonders for the air quality of your garden.
Using Pesticides and Fertilisers
Soil quality is at risk from many man-made pressures. Pesticides produce some of the most harmful substances in the everyday garden. If you are operating on a commercial level it’s important that you’re familiar with the rules and regulations set out by The Pesticides Safety Directorate (PSD). While it seems more convenient to use pesticides, there are plenty more environmentally friendly alternatives that can be just as effective.
Buy Organic Alternatives
There are no “non-toxic” chemical pesticides on the market, be it organic or natural. If you really must use pesticides make sure they’re 100% organic and contain natural chemical compounds that don’t harm humans or the environment. Organic products have very low toxicity levels and pose very little risk to warm-blooded animals.
Interplanting is the process of planting different species of plants in rows in order to prevent pests. For example, one row may house the pest, while the other may house the predator. Interplanting is a technique used in organic farming; however, it can be just as effective in the everyday garden.
Hang Up Birdfeeders
There’s no better way to control slugs, snails, caterpillars and other plant-destroying mini-beasts than inviting birds to feast on them. Place a few bird feeders and nesting homes around your garden to encourage them to come down and visit.
Plant Bright Plants
Ladybugs and lacewings are more attracted to brighter flowers and plants, and feed on harmful pests such as blackfly. Placing candytufts, marigolds or sunflowers near aphid infested crops can keep them under control.
Set Up Traps
Traps may be somewhat of any eyesore; however, if you’re gardening for functional reasons rather than aesthetic, they can be much better than using chemicals. Hang up yellow sticky sheets to catch flying insects and place yogurt pots filled with milk or beer in your soil to catch slugs – crushed eggshells and grapefruit halves can also be highly effective.
The purpose of fertiliser is to replenish the nutrient status of soil; however, use it incorrectly and it can have adverse affects. Like Pesticides there is a difference between organic, natural and synthetic fertilisers.
Use Organic Fertiliser
Organic fertilisers are slower acting than inorganic fertilisers as the larger organic molecules need to be broken down by soil organisms before the nutrients are released. Due to the way in which they are produced organic products are much more appropriate for green gardening.
Add Some Compost
Before you start using fertilisers in your garden add some compost to the soil – preferably from your compost heap. Even just a light sprinkle can be enough to bring your soil and plants back to good standing and reduce the amount of fertiliser you require.
Check the Consistency
Applying the right amount of fertiliser is paramount. All plants require nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potash (K), which is demonstrated by the three numbers on the back of commercially available products. Consider purchasing a soil test kit so you can measure the pH levels and make more informed decisions about restoring balance.
Remember that fertilisers and pesticides are not a substitute for poor gardening practices; they should be used only as a supplement. For more information about how to use fertilisers and pesticides visit the Royal Horticultural Society.
Protecting Wildlife Habitats
Populations of hedgehogs, sparrows and stag beetles are declining in the UK. Managing your garden to the benefit of the local wildlife could provide some much needed refuge for small mammals and birds. You don’t have to be an expert to take part in wildlife gardening; simply knowing the few rights and wrongs will make a world of difference.
Build a Bird House
A bird house or bird table could save small birds from dying during the winter when food and shelter isn’t readily available. If possible try to keep it in a raised area – hanging on a fence for example.
Segregate Your Garden
If you have a large garden consider segregating it to help different animals. Blackbirds like to forage for worms in short grass, while longer grass can provide cover for small animals that are trying to escape predators.
Install a Pond
Ponds aren’t just pleasant to look at, they can provide a valuable source of water for birds, dragonflies and other flying insects.
Build a Log Pile
Not all dead wood is completely useless. Rather than putting larger chunks of rotting logs into your compost heap, stack them in the corner of your garden. A log pile will attract slugs, grubs and caterpillars; provide a source of food for the birds; and may even give a temporary home for a wondering hedgehog.
Avoid Using Peat
Avoid using peat and other forms of alternative compost. While they may enhance the condition of your soil and plants, peat extraction destroys natural wildlife habitats.
Use Native Plants
Try to use plants and flowers that are native to your area. If you’d like to buy “wild flowers” make sure they’ve been cultivated from seeds rather than dug up.
Use Organic Deterrents
Deterring pests from your garden is far better than killing them. You need some pests in order to maintain a healthy garden; therefore, encouraging diversity is a positive. Using natural deterrents, such as fences, barriers and copper wiring won’t get rid of all of your pests, but could limit their population.
You don’t have to turn your garden into an overgrown mess to make it more animal friendly; in fact, making just a few small changes could provide so many benefits. There’s nothing like looking out of your window and seeing your gardening efforts appreciated by the local wildlife. According to Wildlife Trusts there are over 16 million gardens in the UK alone. If everyone took care of them it would make a huge difference to the natural world.
With so much attention on reducing greenhouse gasses, there’s never been a better time to address environmental issues. Landscaping gives you the perfect opportunity to start making eco-friendly changes. If you’re new to the process, feel free to begin slowly and learn along the way. No change is too small.
Wheelbarrow of Compost: SuSanA Secretariat
Bags of Mulch: Phil Roeder
Garden Pond: Satanoid
Pesticides and Fertilisers: Kit Reynolds
Birdhouse: Christian Bortes