Garden in Smaller Footprints: 10 Tips for a Low-Carbon Garden

As much as half of household water use can be attributed to landscaping and garden uses, and a good amount of fossil fuels go into producing and using garden tools and equipment. Prepare for spring with these 10 tips to create a yard and garden that support your local ecosystem and reduce your dependence on fossil fuels.

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It’s easier than ever to find solar landscape lights.

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1. CUT THE GAS. Leaf blowers, lawn mowers and weed-whackers use inefficient, two-stroke engines, which exhaust as much as 30 percent of their fuel mixture unburned. Instead, use people-powered devices such as rakes, brooms, push mowers, hand clippers and saws, and skip the gym on lawn-care day.

2. PASS ON THE GRASS. Grass is a heavy consumer of labor, money and chemicals.  Start trimming down grassy spaces by growing native plants, evergreens or shrubs and adding rock features or other water-free landscaping.

3. GO NATIVE. Invasive species are taking hold of fragile natives in damaged ecosystems, affecting biodiversity on a grand scale. You can help by planting low-maintenance natives, which support local ecosystems and require little water and zero chemicals.

4. CULTIVATE EDIBLES. Almost every yard has space for a small vegetable garden or mini-orchard. Food gardens reduce grassy areas, and eating homegrown provides fresher food and eliminates the fuel required to deliver produce to your grocery store.

5. LIGHTEN UP. Solar outdoor light fixtures are now widely available. For existing fixtures, use efficient bulbs. Install adjustable motion sensors on porch lights so they pop on only when needed.

6. THINK AND PLANT BIG. Plant as many large trees as your site will allow. They’ll cool your house in summer, shelter wildlife, control erosion and absorb tons of overly abundant carbon dioxide. Choose deciduous trees for your home’s south side, so the winter sun can warm your home.

7. COMPOST. Using compost made from leaves, yard clippings and kitchen scraps means you can buy less commercial fertilizer, eliminating the unnecessary cost as well as the energy expended in its production, packaging and delivery.

8. BUY SECONDHAND GARDEN TOOLS. They work just as well and cost less. If you must buy new, look for products made with recycled materials, choose durable warrantied options and avoid plastic.

9. BUY GARDEN SUPPLIES IN BULK. Many garden stores sell bulk cover crop seeds and other soil amendments. Bring them home in all those bags you’ve been meaning to reuse.

10. RECYCLE OLD LAWN AND GARDEN TOOLS. Give them away to a local charity or on craigslist

Facts for your lawn- and garden-care awareness

Low-Maintenance turf grasses or grass/herb/flower seed mixtures require less mowing. Check with your local agricultural extension service or garden store about what’s appropriate for your region.

Operating a commercial gas-powered leaf blower for half an hour produces roughly the same carbon emissions as driving a light-duty vehicle 7,700 miles at 30 mph.
—California Environmental Protection Agency

The amount of gasoline Americans spill every summer filling gaspowered lawn equipment exceeds the amount of oil spilled in 1989 by the Exxon Valdez oil tanker.
—Environmental Protection Agency