The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Going Green in the Garden

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

"Going green" is this year's buzz phrase. "Going green" in the home. "Going green" in the office. One would think the greenest place on earth would be the garden. Once upon a time the cycles of gardening life were forever-green. People grew their own food from seeds they saved from last year's garden. Plants were fertilized with manure gleefully given by the local barnyard animals. Now everything from the seeds to the fertilizer gets shipped in from the far corners of the world; but it doesn't have to be that way.

"Going green" involves reusing, recycling, and reducing, but also rethinking. Rethinking how we do things in the garden.

Go local – for plants, fertilizers and mulch. With each item we should be asking ourselves, "how far did it travel?" and "is the packaging environmentally smart?" If starting your own transplants from seed doesn't work for you, buy plants from garden centers and nurseries that grow their own plants or contract with local growers.

Rethink bagged anything. Instead of buying bagged peat moss as a soil amendment, start your own compost pile. Or buy compost and mulch from Landscape Recycling Center or other local producer. Landscape Recycling Center is located at 1210 East University Avenue in Urbana, next to Ambucs Park. Urbana residency is not required to purchase materials. PH: 217.384.2393 Also check with local arborists to see if they have shredded mulch available. Check with horse stables about withdrawals of their deposits.

Rethink garden pots. Along with diapers and plastic bottles garden pots have become "landfillers". Fortunately some pots are being made from petroleum alternative materials. Look for pots made from peat, paper, rice hulls, wheat straw, corn, and even coconut fibers. Some such as wheat straw pots are meant to be planted with the plant while others such as rice hull pots are designed to be broken and placed in compost piles.

Check with your waste hauler about recycling pots. Not every plastic is recyclable but generally if pots have the recycling symbol on the bottom they can be recycled with other recyclables. When purchasing plants, check with the garden center to see if they will accept returned pots.

Rethink water. Consider landscaping with durable native plants such as coneflower and little bluestem. If watering is necessary, use soaker hoses and drip irrigation to efficiently water landscape plantings. Check soil after half hour of soaking to determine proper watering period. An inch of water will wet an average of 6-15 inches of soil, depending on soil type.

Going green can also mean going grey. Grey water from showers, bathtubs, dishwashers, washing machines, and sinks can be used to water plants.

Reconsider rain barrels. An amazing amount of water runs off roofs. Consider one inch of rain over 1,000 square feet of area yields 623 gallons. Rainfall at the rate of 1 inch per hour will yield about 10 gallons per minute per 1,000 square feet. It doesn't take long to fill a few barrels of free, unsoftened water. The kind of water plants love.

Rethink pest control. Learn to live with some damage from insects. Get accurate identification to determine proper management. Choose least toxic pest control methods. Your local county UI Extension office can help with identification and control methods. Look under your county name or University of Illinois in the phone book or go to

Once you finish reading this newspaper, shred it and put it in the compost pile. Newspapers can also be moistened and used under heavy layers of wood mulch to reduce weeding and conserve moisture.

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