Hate to be the one to break the news, but Kermit the Frog was wrong. It really is easy to be green, especially when it comes to gardening. In fact, a good number of the things gardeners can do to benefit both the garden and the environment will save time and trouble for the gardener, too.
Throw out the rake, not your back
Green scheme: Leaving grass cuttings on the lawn is a natural way to restore lawn nitrogen levels and aid water retention.
Bonus: Saves the time and physical exertion required for all that raking.
How-to: After mowing, just leave grass cuttings on the lawn. As they decompose, they return nitrogen to the soil and prevent the moisture in the grass from evaporating too quickly. This is best done with shorter clippings – long cuttings may be too heavy for the growing grass, and will cut off valuable light and moisture.
Haul in the hose
Green scheme: Using a drip irrigation system minimizes the risk of the depletion of your soil from water run-off.
Bonus: Saves time, exertion and water, as well as reducing the weed population.
How-to: Who hasn’t spent hours, hose in hand, spraying gallons of water across garden beds? The practice is time-consuming, wastes water, depletes soil nutrients and can result in a repetitive strain injury for your wrist. Automatic or hose-attached sprinklers aren’t much of an improvement, as the wastage and run-off problems still exist. Instead, try drip irrigation. Simply lay perforated plastic piping throughout the garden bed and turn on the faucet so that a small trickle of water runs through the pipe for as long as it takes to thoroughly wet your soil. This process provides just the right amount of moisture to the plants. For more details, consult a landscape irrigation specialist or call City Farmer at (604) 736-2250.
Green scheme: A natural recycling process, mulching acts as a slow-release fertilizer for your garden, suppresses the growth of weeds, and helps retain moisture.
Bonus: You save time otherwise spent raking and weeding. Mulching feeds the garden naturally, thereby preventing many of the problems associated with over-fertilizing. It also reduces the need to water the garden.
How-to: (a) Place organic materials such as leaves, compost or wood chips around your plants. The recommended rate of application is 22.5 kilograms of mixed organic matter to each nine-square-metre area. This layer will suppress weeds and help prevent moisture loss. Compost and leaf mulch also add nutrients to the soil. As the mulch breaks down naturally, all you need to do is occasionally add to it. There is, however, a down side to mulching. Heat-loving plants don’t like it as it restricts the amount of sun reaching the base of the stem. It also attracts slugs, which like to hide in the organic debris.
(b) Sheet mulching has the added benefit of creating an “instant” garden. Instead of digging up sod and trucking in soil when making a new garden, try this method: Place newspaper or an old wool rug on top of the soil. This acts as a conditioning layer. Place a dense 7.5-centimetre layer of weed/seed-free mulch on top of the conditioning layer, and plant directly into the mulch. For more information on sheet mulching contact North Shore Recycling (604) 984-9730 or check out www.agroforester.com/articles.Sheet_Mulching.html
Some weeds are good, especially seaweeds
Green scheme: Seaweed decomposes faster than land plants and is higher in some nutrients, such as potassium, making it an ideal mulch material.
Bonus: Eliminates the time and cost of adding extra nutrients to the soil.
How-to: Seaweed, such as dried eelgrass, is great mulch for peas and beans. In addition to discouraging weed growth, it breaks down faster than land plants, thereby quickly adding nutrients to the soil. Be sure to rinse off the excess salt before adding the seaweed to the garden.
Prune, don’t shear
Green scheme: Hand pruning allows shrubs to grow naturally, and reduces the use of electricity.
Bonus: Saves you time and energy.
How-to: Trimming shrubs into definite shapes takes a lot of time and, if you’re using electric shears, requires a lot of energy. Instead, prune by hand, making thinning cuts to give a more natural shape to the plant. That way, when one branch grows faster that the others, you won’t feel the urge to rush out and cut it back to the uniform length. In general, a less-manicured garden and lawn takes far less work.
Tea times two
Green scheme: Tea is naturally rich in tannic acid, making it an excellent composting material to add to your plant pots.
Bonus: Using tea bags in your potted plants helps prevent overwatering and also reduces the need to fertilize.
How-to: Forget putting rocks in the bottom of your plant pots. Instead, use biodegradable tea bags. A used teabag placed into the bottom of a plant pot will absorb excess water and prevent leakage. As the teabag breaks down, it will help feed the soil.
Save the slugs
Green scheme: Instead of considering them the enemy, let slugs help you to keep your yard tidy.
Bonus: Nature’s clean-up team can take on some of those tasks you’d rather avoid.
How-to: Slugs aren’t picky about what they eat, so have them take on some of the more unpleasant chores around the garden. If you’re lucky enough to live in an area with unpaved lanes, collect slugs from your garden and put them in the lane where they can eat the weeds. This is especially helpful if the lane is lined by a hard-to-weed hedge. They’ll also take care of cleaning up any animal feces that are deposited in the area.
Green scheme: Planting a winter cover crop adds nitrogen to the soil, while the root system hangs onto your soil in wet areas.
Bonus: In the spring, the cover crop acts as a mulch to save you time weeding and feeding your garden.
How-to: After autumn harvesting, plant a crop of winter rye or red clover. When the heavy winter rains begin to fall, the crop’s roots will help retain valuable soil. Plow the crop under in the spring. The decomposing plants act as a mulch and will return nitrogen to the soil.
The grateful dead
Green scheme: Dead seed-heads and grasses provide important food and shelter for birds that winter in B.C.
Bonus: No need to spend time deadheading. This also reduces the cost and time spent providing commercial seeds for wild birds.
How-to: Leave seed-heads on perennials to provide an excellent food source for birds. Similarly, don’t cut back grasses such as pampas grass, which can provide a cozy winter habitat for birds. The grass will also benefit, as waiting until spring to cut it back gives the roots more protection from winter’s elements.
Throw ’em a line
Green scheme: Installing “wicks” into your plant containers saves water. This is an especially good method for hot summer days when water use is restricted.
Bonus: Water “wicks” extend the time between watering.
How-to: When planting containers in the spring, bury a cord in the soil and run it out through the bottom of the container. Drop the free end into a large milk jug or plastic bottle full of water. The planted containers will “wick” up the water whenever they are thirsty, extending the time between watering, and helping you get through the hottest days of the year without needing to water your container plants three times a day.
Janet Collins is a freelance writer based in Vancouver.