Gardening… it seems like a no-brainer way to reduce your environmental impact and actually create something sustainable, something of the land.
But, the truth is, most gardens are less than eco-friendly. The pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers are among the biggest perpetrators of a less-than-eco-friendly garden world. Even the type of mulch you use in your garden can put your garden at risk of being less-than-eco-friendly. Then you have to look at how you maintain your garden with mowing, edging, they style of fertilizing you do. The list goes on and on and on.
But these are simple fixes. You can easily create an eco-friendly garden that truly makes you the model of “sustainable” and friendly toward everything in your garden.
Go Organic, Go Targeted
There are plenty of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers out there, but many of them aren’t exactly eco-friendly. By going organic, you can still have the same beautiful garden while being safe for the environment and people, as well.
You can also add a little bit to your garden by dosing your soil with organic nutrients, like blood meal, bone meal, cottonseed meal, fish emulsion, greensand, and rock phosphate. Scotts Miracle-Gro has also come out with a line of products called Organic Choice, which is made up of eco-friendly ingredients. This should be compared to their other fertilizers that are non-organic. Espoma Company has also been coming out with natural and organic fertilizer solutions since 1929.
Here’s the thing about traditional pesticides: they are incredibly effective at killing bugs that inhabit your garden, but the fact of the matter is that only about 3 percent of bugs that live in the garden are considered pests. The other 97 percent are neutral or actually beneficial to your garden. So why kill them off?
There are pesticides out there that are selective killers, in that they only kill off the actual pests in your garden. For example, there is a synthetic pesticide out there that includes the ingredient imidacloprid. Rather than being applied to the surface of the plants, this ingredient is applied to the soil, which then allows it to be absorbed by the tissue of the plants. It is completely safe for the plants, but when ingested by the bugs that chew or suck on plants, it is fatal.
Here are a few other selective pest controls:
B.T. (Bacillus Thuringiensis) – This is effective on many larval pests such as worms, caterpillars, and mosquitoes.
Milky Spore – A bacterial that sits in the soil and is fatal to the white grubs that become Japanese beetles.
Spinosad – This is registered by the EPA. It must be ingested by the insects in order to have any effect, so it has little effect on insects that suck and are non-predatory.
In order for these to have the most impact, they must make contact with the insect or pest. Natural insect repellents often include the active ingredients Neem oil, pyrethrins, canola oil, mild soaps, and highly refined oils.
While most man-made insecticides are long-lasting and highly effective, this does not mean they are the best bet for your garden or the environment.
Disease control products are the same way. While they may last a long time and, ultimately, are incredibly effective, they also place a heavy footprint on the environment.
Disease control can be incredibly efficient and eco-friendly. There are solutions that include milk, baking soda, and some cooking oils, for crying out loud! There’s also a product out there called GreenCure. The active ingredient is potassium bicarbonate, which is the same exact ingredient that is active in most food processing. This particular mix has been found to kill over 25 different types of plant disease, including black spot and powdery mildew. It’s also safe and organic.
Herbicides are one of the worst offenders when it comes to being less-than-eco-friendly. There are plenty of products out there to help control vegetation you don’t want in your garden, but almost none of them are eco-friendly. Herbicides typically kill of most vegetation in the garden, which means you have to be extra careful to not kill your prized plants.
You do have options, though.
You can use vinegar at 20 percent concentration to get rid of vegetation, but you’ll need to be careful with this because it is non-selective, in that it will kill anything it comes into contact with. Natural, though. You can also use clove and citric oils to get this done.
Another option (a little less practical one) is to use a propane-fueled flame device. These will kill the plants in question down to the root and are incredibly effective. You don’t even have to completely char them – the damage will be done when the heat from the torch kills the cells in the plant. This usually takes a few seconds per plant. Just be careful because you are using an open flame.
Responsible Chemical Use
If you must use less-than-eco-friendly options, you can at least do so responsibly. Be sure to read the directions on the labels. As with anything else, these mixtures have been highly tested for effectiveness, so follow the directions. This is no time to do your own experiments.
The best time to apply chemicals is in the late afternoon/early evening. Most insects that are non-threatening do their best work in the morning and afternoon, so applying your chemicals during this time can certainly harm their eco-system.
Mulch is often made up of ground pallets and pressure-treated wood, which is usually chemically treated. But there are now industry standards for mulch. For something that is safe for your garden, look for MSC Certified products at your local hardware store.
These small changes go a long way in maintaining a sustainable garden that is friendly to the insects that helps our gardens and also to the environment. So, pull out those vegetarian recipes you’ve been wanted to try and prepare for a whole year of great meals.
Diane Kuehl is a freelance DiY/home improvement professional. She lives in Springfield, Illinois with her husband and two kids.