Lifestyle

Green choices for green gardens help protect the environment

Red flowering currant plants are one of many eco-friendly plants to put in your garden.  - Photo courtesy of Covington Water District
Red flowering currant plants are one of many eco-friendly plants to put in your garden.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Covington Water District

Home gardeners can play a very important role in protecting the environment by making eco-friendly gardening choices as we tend our own plot of land. In today’s world of dwindling water supplies, global warming, and air, soil and water pollution, using environmentally friendly gardening techniques is every home gardener’s responsibility.

Whenever we create a garden, we’re manipulating nature and changing the ecology of our land. We clear away existing vegetation and introduce something new. Non-native plants may not provide the support that our local birds and beneficial insects need to survive. If the new plants are not well suited to our area, they will likely need extra water and fertilizer. The gardener may end up making the choice to use extra pesticides to treat non-native or poorly chosen plants.

Why should we make more work for ourselves and take a chance on harming the environment? Why plant a problem? Gardeners can get in the habit of buying easy care plants that thrive in our area. Native plants like the beautiful red flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum) or the fragrant mock orange (Philadelphus lewisii) are excellent choices, because they basically take care of themselves, once established. Plus our local birds and insects benefit.

Let’s keep soil healthy, use water judiciously and protect biodiversity. We can keep soil healthy by feeding it with organic matter (compost and shredded leaf mulch) instead of chemical fertilizers. When soil is healthy, plants will be healthy too.

We can conserve water by using soaker hoses or drip irrigation, installing a rain barrel or cistern, watering only when necessary and planting drought tolerant plants.

One of Covington Water District’s customers recently wrote about what they’re doing: “To conserve water our philosophy for the past few years has been to water very sparingly (yard basically not at all) and to replace plants that can’t make it with drought tolerant plants that are on the Covington Water plant list (PDF) (we baby the new plantings for a year or two and then it’s up to them to survive or not). In that regard the Covington Creek Nursery has been great: they put signs out when a plant is on your drought-tolerant list.”

Encourage and protect biodiversity by removing invasive species, planting a variety of native plants and using the least toxic pesticide—only when absolutely necessary – if an insect or disease problem arises that requires the need for control. Pesticides are often not necessary if we’re willing to tolerate a certain amount of chewed leaves. Remember, caterpillars need to eat to become butterflies.

Using eco-friendly gardening principles will allow you to enjoy birds, butterflies and bees frolicking in the beauty of your garden, knowing that you made their existence possible by being an environmentally responsible gardener.

For more information on choosing natives for your landscape, visit: http://green.kingcounty.gov/GoNative/Index.aspx.

Katie Swickard is a Water Resources Specialist at Covington Water District, a WSU Master Gardener and serves on the Board of the Lake Wilderness Arboretum. She and her husband are in the process of installing a “rain garden” on their property as one more earth-friendly gardening practice in their landscape.

Learn more about conservation at www.covingtonwater.com.

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