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Resolution: Become a green gardener in 2008

Now is a good time while making resolutions for this coming year to think green. Here are several ideas how you can practice green gardening, avoiding or lessening negative impacts on the environment. In some cases you may be having a positive environmental impact. Put as little as possible into the local landfill. Recycle cardboard, cans, and compostable materials. Wash and reuse plastic pots, or return them to your local garden store for their use if they have such a program (if not, perhaps you might encourage them to do so). Using clay pots, where possible, avoids using plastic pots originally derived from fossil fuels. Start a compost pile. Add to your compost grass clippings, dead leaves, plant residues, and other organic matter. Add vegetable kitchen scraps, but not meat scraps. Use the compost to enrich the soil and to improve plant growth. Make sure you turn the pile often, and add the right proportion of ingredients (carbon and nitrogen sources), to ensure you get good quality compost. Use alternative controls for pests and diseases. These might include biological organisms. The pesticide Bt, made from a bacterium that attacks specific caterpillars, is a good example. Mechanical controls include such methods as picking off beetles, and trapping slugs under boards or in beer. Cultural controls include more spacing to promote air circulation and reduced disease, or even proper mowing to lessen turfgrass diseases. Apply pesticides and other horticultural chemicals only as a last resort. When using, use them prudently, read all label precautions and follow label directions. Scout your susceptible plants at least weekly for pests, and deal with them before they get out of control. Realize that pests in low levels may do little harm. Diseases may be a result of poor culture. Look for disease resistant varieties. When using chemicals, choose least toxic ones. A diversity of plants, even some weeds, can promote beneficial insects. Using pesticides may kill them. Store any pesticides properly, and dispose of old ones or empty containers safely. Keep them in areas or cabinets where children and pets cant get at them, or spill them by accident. Have materials such as kitty litter and plastic bags handy in case they do spill. Check with local waste disposal facilities on proper handling to dispose of old chemicals and empty containers. Use cover crops and mulches instead of herbicides. Minimizing tilling of soil and disturbance, or using no-till, will keep weed seeds from reaching the surface where they germinate in the light. Cover crops and organic mulches keep weeds down, as well as adding valuable organic matter to soils. Synthetic weed barriers are good around annuals, trees, and some shrubs, but not perennials (they keep them from their natural spreading). Keep in mind some of these fabrics need mulch on top to keep them from breaking down in sunlight. Use fertilizers only as needed. Use organic forms if possible and available. Good compost and organic matter in soils lessens the need for fertilizers. Synthetic fertilizers can add pollution to waterways if overused, and require fossil fuels to manufacture. The natural gas used to manufacture 200 bags of lawn fertilizer would heat an average home for a year. Each 40-pound bag of fertilizer contains the fossil-fuel equivalent of 2.5 gallons of gasoline. Get a soil test kit from your local Extension service office. Test your soil yearly if possible, and different areas of your landscape if they have different crops and culture. You may find you need to add little if any fertilizer, or only certain ones. Other ways you can lessen your impact of gardening on the environment include mowing properly, developing a landscape to minimize mowing, using green tools and equipment that dont use fossil fuels, conserving water, installing a rain garden, choosing landscape plants to minimize maintenance, using landscaping to reduce home energy use, creating wildlife habitats, and planting trees to provide oxygen and reduce carbon dioxide. Perhaps you can think of some more?

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