Using a rain barrel to collect and store water for the garden is just one aspect of making your gardening techniques more environmentally friendly. If you’ve taken the step to install and use a rain barrel, or two or three, why not continue working toward a “greener” garden with these easy steps.
The rain barrel is the easiest way to recycle water. It allows you to collect and use storm water runoff before it ends up in the storm water treatment system. This water is perfect for watering the garden, watering house plants, washing the car, washing windows, and other processes for which you do not need potable water.
In addition to saving water in rain barrels connected to the downspouts, you can also save water from the shower or the sink while you’re waiting for the water to heat up. Keep a few five gallon buckets near the bathroom for collecting water. You can then pour it into the rain barrel for storage.
Lower Pesticide Use
Pesticides kill not only the “bad” bugs, but they also kill the “good” bugs. Most pesticides work indiscriminately—whether they are organic or not. They kill all of the insects around, including beneficial insects, like ladybugs. You will help your garden grow if you can cut back or completely eliminate pesticide use. If you must use pesticides, try to spot-treat, rather than spraying everything. Many insects will feed only on a few types of plants, and won’t migrate to another plant grouping if you spot-spray.
Beneficial insects such as ladybugs, lacewing larvae, praying mantis, pirate bugs, and others will eat the adults, eggs, or larvae of insects that harm your plants. Help boost their numbers by keeping pesticides to a minimum.
Throwing away food scraps is like allowing storm water to go un-collected. Each time you cook, you bring a potential gold mine of nutrients into your house. Put the food scraps from plant materials (onion peels, citrus peels, apple peals, ragged lettuce leafs, etc.) to work in the garden by composting. You can compost in a bin, pile, or compost tumbler. The most important aspect of composting to ensure that it is successful is to balance “green” and “brown” materials. You will need a mix of fresh food scraps, coffee grounds, fresh leaves or grass clippings (the green), and dried leaves or shredded newspapers (the brown). The balance between carbon and nitrogen, sometimes called the C:N ratio, is what allows bacteria and fungi to break down the whole foods into nutrient-rich soil that you can use in the garden.
Native or Well-Adapted Species
It would have been hard to miss the push to garden with native species over the past few years. There are several reasons for this, not the least of which is that these plants are much easier and less costly to maintain than non-native species. Plants that are adapted to a particular climate zone need less supplemental water, food and care than finicky hybrids and non-natives.
Now, more than ever, consumers can find a wide range of native plants from which to choose for their gardens. Local nurseries are the best place to find these plants.
Reduce Lawn Space
A lawn reduction revolution is underway. Leading the charge is LawnReform.org
There are some people who advocate complete lawn removal and replacement. For most homeowners, that is not economically feasible-at least, not at one time. You can maintain a healthy lawn with much less input when you follow these lawn care tips:
- Water deeply and infrequently
- Set the mower blade high (3 inches for Kentucky bluegrass)
- Get a soil test before fertilizing
- Keep mower blades sharp
- Aerate and top-dress with compost once a year
- Control weeds using corn gluten as a pre-emergence herbicide, and hand-pulling larger tough to eliminate weeds.
You can also reduce the amount of lawn you have, or replace areas that don’t have heavy foot traffic with buffalo grass and groundcover.
Planting a rain garden in a naturally low area of your yard, or at the output of the downspout is another way you can treat rain water without sending it to a storm drain. Read more about planting a rain garden.
The National Wildlife Foundation has been promoting habitat gardening for many years now. You can become a certified habitat garden, and send away for a sign to put in your yard. You don’t have to do that to make a big difference in the lives of migrating and resident wildlife. All habitat gardens have three components:
Animals need the same three basic things that humans need to stay alive. You can provide food by planting native plant species that bloom at a variety of times, and set seed at different times. Shelter in the forms of shrubs and grasses is perfect for most backyard wildlife. Providing a clean bird bath as a water source will help birds clean their wings safely.
Let the installation of a rain barrel be one of many steps you take to make your garden more environmentally friendly.