Zero-Waste Gardening

Save money and the environment by reducing the amount of resources that goes into your garden. Our zero-waste gardening tips will get you started.

| March/April 2013

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  • Yard and kitchen scraps can be transformed into high-quality garden fertilizer for free, reducing your home's trash output and saving you money.
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Growing a garden is an excellent way to produce some of our own food, get exercise and spend time in nature. But with water, fertilizers, tools and more, gardens can become a major consumer of resources. With a few smart techniques, you can reduce the amount of input your garden requires, making your garden and yard cheaper, healthier and lighter on the planet.

Water-Wise Landscaping and Gardening

Water is one of the biggest investments we make into our gardens and yards. In many areas, more than 50 percent of municipal drinking water is used on landscapes, says Andrea DeLong-Amaya, horticulture director of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas.

Growing plants that are native to your microclimate is one of the most efficient ways to conserve water. “Regionally native plants are adapted to local temperature and rainfall, minimizing the need to supplement with municipal water,” DeLong-Amaya says. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center offers a slew of resources to locate the best native plants for your area, with specific listings of plants by state at

Choosing native plants will help reduce your reliance on irrigation, but food crops will likely still need watering. You can provide free, recycled rainwater to your plants by installing a rain barrel—essentially a large, covered container installed directly below the gutter downspout—to capture storm runoff (make sure it’s legally permissible in your area first). Simply connect your barrel to hoses or use it to fill watering cans. Rain barrels are easy to make, or you can purchase one from a garden supply store such as Clean Air Gardening or Gardener’s Supply Company.

You might also consider installing a graywater system, which can divert household wastewater from your home’s bathroom sinks, tubs, showers and clothes washing machines (but not kitchen sinks, dishwashers or toilets) to storage tanks for outdoor watering. Check state and local laws for applicable restrictions. To learn more, search “graywater” or “greywater” and your state or city name, or read our article about the basics of graywater systems.

No matter where you source your garden water, make sure you’re using it efficiently. Drip irrigation or soaker hoses deliver irrigation directly to plant roots slowly over time. Make sure to inspect your irrigation system monthly for clogs, leaks or breaks in the lines. “Look for puddles, moist spots that don’t drain, algae stains on stones or pathways, plants that may be rotting due to excess water from a leak, or plants that are dry if the irrigation isn’t hitting them,” DeLong-Amaya says. “As seasons change, reevaluate your plants’ watering needs. It may be that you can back off on water after the driest part of summer or turn off the system completely during spells of high rainfall.”

5/12/2014 10:11:09 PM

Great point about gardens using resources. I also enjoyed the watering tips. I would just add one thing—for those in areas where mosquitoes are an issue, it’s important to keep in mind that if water is left sitting it can become a breeding ground. I know someone who has a rain barrel, and although they do use it for water, there are often long periods of time where the water sits unused. Unless you want your garden to become a playground for mosquitoes (and unpleasant to be in), it’s important to keep on top of the water situation.

4/21/2013 1:47:43 PM

You might also be interested in seeing the Rainwater Hub:

The Rainwater Hub actually channels water up to 150’ away from a downspout. Which means you can move rain barrels away from the home and into the yard where water is needed and convenient.

It does this using gravity and regular garden hoses alone!




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