While gardening can seem like a green hobby, certain activities, such as mowing the lawn, using peat-based composts and even buying plants, involve a great deal of natural resources, which all contribute to your garden’s carbon footprint.
But you don’t have to garden in a resource-heavy way. There are plenty of small changes you can make that will reduce the impact you and your garden have on the planet.
Here, we’ve listed 12 ways to reduce your impact by making small changes to the way you garden, but also ways to help fight climate change, too. Our gardens have potential to store huge amounts of carbon, as well as mitigate some of the effects of climate change such as flooding risk, urban heat island effect and loss of biodiversity. The more you can do in your garden the healthier the planet will be – we can all make a difference.
Dig a pond
We already know that ponds increase garden biodiversity and help prevent flooding by slowing down the flow of water in heavy rains. But did you know that ponds also store carbon? A recent study suggests that in the sediment accumulated at the bottom of ponds, there’s potential to hold more carbon per square metre per year, than equivalent areas of grassland and woodland.
Plant a tree
It’s thought there are 27 million gardens in the UK. If there was one extra tree planted in each one, there would be 27 million more trees across the country, without any farmland being compromised. It’s widely accepted that planting trees can make a dramatic difference to he climate, with some absorbing up to four tonnes of carbon dioxide over 20 years.
Composting food and garden waste stops it going into landfill or being incinerated. In landfill, biodegradable waste breaks down anaerobically, producing the greenhouse gas methane, thought to be 70 times more harmful than carbon dioxide. By composting such waste instead, you can reduce the production of this harmful greenhouse gas. What’s more, composting waste results in a fantastic soil conditioner for your garden, which you can use as a mulch or as part of a potting mix.
Use hand tools
Power tools are designed to make gardening quicker and easier. But they can clock up a hefty carbon footprint, especially if they’re petrol powered. Consider swapping your petrol mower for an electric one, and using hand tools rather than hedge trimmers, leaf blowers and strimmers. You will spend more time doing these jobs, but you may find you prefer to take things more slowly and quietly – gardening is supposed to be relaxing after all!
Grow more plants
All plants absorb carbon dioxide, so the more plants we grow, the more carbon dioxide is absorbed. Grow climbing plants such as ivy up walls and fences, and grow trees and shrubs wherever possible. What’s more, growing plants up the side of your house can help regulate temperatures, keeping you warmer in winter and cooler in summer (think of them as nature’s air conditioning). This can reduce use of central heating and air conditioning, further reducing your carbon footprint.
Grow plants from seed
Pot-grown plants are usually grown in large nurseries, where they’re exposed to artificial lighting and heat, and then transported in lorries to individual garden centres across the country. Most are grown in peat (see more about using peat, below). By contrast, by growing plants from seed, you reduce enormous transport costs, can sow them at the right time of year (therefore reducing the need for artificial heat and light) and use a peat-free compost. To further reduce your carbon footprint, buy seed from local seed swaps and gardening groups, or save your own.
Grow you own food
All food has a carbon footprint, related to how much land, water and other resources are used to produce the food product, plus how many ‘food miles’ are involved with transporting the food to your plate. Growing your own food, particularly crops such as tomatoes, aubergines and peppers, can dramatically cut the food miles of your meals, and therefore your carbon footprint. Home-grown food is much tastier an nutritious than shop-bought food, too.
Make your own mulch
Mulching your soil annually can help lock in moisture, feed plants and encourage healthy bacteria and fungi to grow, resulting in healthier plants. You can buy ready-made mulches such as horse manure and bark chippings, but these heavy bags are transported nationally, resulting in a significant carbon footprint (not to mention the carbon footprint of the animals the manure came from, or the trees cut down to make the bark chippings). Make your own mulch using compost, shredded prunings or leaf mould, or visit a local stables to collect your own manure from pasture-grazed horses.
This may seem an unusual one for gardeners, but digging the soil is bad for the planet. Our soils hold huge amounts of carbon dioxide. By digging them we expose soil to the air and release CO2 and other greenhouse gases. Improve soil and suppress weeds instead by using mulches, weeding by hand and growing green manures. Keep that carbon below the surface!
Use peat-free composts
Peat bogs store huge amounts of carbon. By using peat-free compost we can help ensure peat bogs remain intact and carbon dioxide isn’t released into the atmosphere. Sadly, most multi-purpose composts contain peat, and the peat-free options at garden centres are limited. We can all do our bit by asking garden centres to stock more peat-free composts. In the meantime, there’s a huge range available to buy online – if you can, buy in bulk to reduce transport costs.
Make your own fertiliser
The production of artificial fertilisers and pesticides is very energy intensive, and therefore clocks up a large carbon footprint. But it’s easy to make your own. As well as feeding your soil, use comfrey and nettle solutions to feed your plants throughout the growing season, and encourage natural predators and use home-made solutions to control pests. Over time, by using fewer artificial chemicals, you will notice you have fewer pests as the garden reestablishes a natural balance.
Reuse and recycle
Simply by using less, we can cut our carbon footprint. This means looking after the stuff we have: wipe down and oil garden tools, wash and carefully store existing plastic pots, propagators and cloches, and buy secondhand items where possible.