February Gardens column

What's Up? Media

Three Small Changes to Help the Environment


JAN. 22, 2021


As I bundle up before the fire and wish spring would hurry up, my thoughts often wander to the joys and activities that are ushered in with the spring’s breezes. Along with getting the bikes tuned up and the barbecue cleaned, those of us who enjoy working on our gardens also know there are tasks and plans that must be addressed. Maybe it’s finally time to have that flagstone path installed, or perhaps this is the spring when you remove that half-dead tree. After what the environment has suffered over the last eleven months, this may be the spring we really commit to doing more to protect and restore the environment.

With that last resolve in mind, here are three suggestions I’ve come across that will reduce our impact on Mother Earth. Each suggestion is easy to implement and sure to make you feel that you are making a positive difference for the environment. 

First, water conservation. 

Of course, we all try to be mindful of water usage in our homes. Our toilets, washing machines, and showers are fitted with devices to help limit the water flow. But, when we step outdoors, our gardens and lawns always seem to be calling out for another sprinkling, a good soak, more water! 

Rain barrels: If you haven’t already done so, you might be ready now to commit to rain barrels at the bottom of each of your downspouts. They’re commonly available at hardware stores, and the children in your life can have fun decorating all the barrels. (They may already have done some of this at school.)

Soaker hoses: Switch out that uncooperative garden hose for a few soaker hoses. You can choose the type that roll out from the downspout, and after the storm they roll up again. The soaker hose allows the water to seep deep into the roots of your plants. Water is not evaporating or, as with my uncooperative sprinkler, watering the sidewalk and sometimes the street.

Grey water-buckets: An easy way to conserve water and keep your potted plants flourishing, both indoors and outside, is the “Bucket Brigade.” All you need are small buckets, one for each bathroom shower. (Perhaps an attractive model, hand painted by some clever artist in your life.) Put a bucket under the faucet when you turn-on the shower to let it heat-up. Instead of sending all that water down the drain, you’ll have a bucket of water to carry to your thirsty plants. 

Gray-water plumbing: If you’re ready to really step up to more intensive water conservation, call in a plumber. Have the drains from your dishwasher and wash machine plumbed to go outside and into a containment receptacle. (There are plans online to give you some ideas.) Unless you’re very handy with PVC pipe, don’t try this on your own.  Expand


Second, natural fertilizer and weed killer:

Nitrogen run-off is a major contributor to pollution and diminishment of plant and animal life in our creeks, rivers, and the Chesapeake Bay. We all know about the damage chemical fertilizers can cause. There are natural fertilizers and herbicides (weed killers) that can feed our plants and get rid of weeds without causing further damage to our waterways. 

Compost: How many times have we read an article or watched a video explaining how to setup a composting site. It’s an excellent way to put leftover food waste and plant matter to use. But, it requires a discreet location to avoid unpleasant odors wafting over your neighbor’s fire pit and pesky critters rummaging through the composting material. So, an alternative for those of us who are reluctant to tackle our own compost bins…natural compost by the bag. You’ll find organic lawn and garden fertilizer by the bag at the hardware store and, sometimes, sold by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and other conservation groups. They’re the best, often containing byproducts from regional fisheries. Farmers sometimes sell bagged manure as well. 

Weed killer: There are lots of recipes online for mixing up a batch of effective weed killer. They usually involve vinegar and sometimes salt. You’ll find one that works for you. They have the added advantage of insuring the safety of children and pets. 

The third conservation resolution is perhaps the most fun, native plants.

While it’s interesting to coax exotic flowers, shrubs, or trees to grow and flourish in our gardens, such pampered plants also demand lots of attention and special watering, fertilizer, and protection from pests. Think about replanting some or all of your flowerbeds with native plants. They’re hardy and attractive, and used to the weather conditions of our mid-Atlantic region. Usually, they require less water and are resistant to regional pests. 

Ivy, Periwinkle, Ajuga, Sedum: You may want to replace parts of your lawn with hardy, green groundcover. Groundcover provides the same rest for the eye contrasting with the showy, taller flowerbeds. Groundcover can provide charming, seasonal blossoms as well. Periwinkle sports tiny, purple flowers in the spring; Ajuga leaves turn deep russet in autumn. Expand


Snapdragon, Petunia, Zinnia, Foxglove: Those flowers we might think of as “old-fashioned” have retained their popularity for a reason—they’re survivors. If you add groupings of these dependable plants to your garden, you’ll add color while saving worry and effort. 

Locust, Gingko, Hickory, Crape Myrtles, and Redbuds: Drought-resistant trees are a boon to our landscapes and our lives. The Shagbark Hickory’s wooly bark is endlessly intriguing. Who can ignore the rosy blossoms and heart-shaped leaves of the Redbuds or the autumnal gold, fan-shaped leaves of the Gingko? (We won’t dwell on their stinky seed balls in the spring.) Crape Myrtles and Honey Locusts are familiar beauties.

After all your work implementing these suggestions, here’s a little hint to impress your neighbors and friends. Everything discussed here—water conservation, natural fertilizers and herbicides, and using native plants—is part of the gardening philosophy with the impressive name, xeriscaping, from the Greek “xeros” or dry. 


About J. F. Booth

I am a writer and educator.
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1 Response to February Gardens column

  1. nlg49@charter.net says:

    Very interesting, but I must admit, I doubt I’ll do any of the three suggestions. I’m bad!!


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