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Tuesday Tip: 5 ways to green your garden for spring

Illustration of a garden

March 20 is the first day of spring. And if you have a garden, you’ve probably started thinking about what improvements you’ll make this year. Here’s an idea: Make your garden greener.

But aren’t all gardens green? Actually, some gardens are “greener” than others: They’re more eco-friendly. They work with nature, not against it, functioning smoothly as ecosystems unto themselves and thriving without the chemical intervention of pesticides and artificial fertilizers. A green garden may not look like the Jardins du Chateau de Versailles, but it gives a natural satisfaction that no prefab garden can.

Here are five tips to make your garden greener.


Go native

Choose plants that are indigenous to your region. They’re well-adapted to the local climate and soil conditions, so they’ll be healthier than non-native plants and they’ll grow happily with less water and less care. They’ll attract local birds, butterflies, and other insects because they provide the nectar, pollen, and seeds these creatures look for.

When you go native, your garden will be a sustainable and dynamic natural ecosystem that displays the natural beauty and diversity of your local area. And you’ll find a native garden easy to start these days because gardeners everywhere have come to appreciate the advantages of native plants and many native plant nurseries have sprung up to serve them. Just Google “native plant nursery.”

Avoid chemicals

You don’t need pesticides to battle garden pests. You don’t need herbicides to eliminate weeds. You don’t need synthetic fertilizers to grow vibrant plants. There are natural alternatives to all of the above – and they’re better for you and your garden. And remember, as biological-control pioneer C.B. Huffaker once said, “When we kill off the natural enemies of a pest, we inherit their work.”

To discourage pests like aphids and leaf miners, encourage beneficial insects like ladybugs, lacewings, and spider mite predators. When you use pesticides, you kill these hardworking “good” bugs as well as the “bad” ones. Toxic pesticides also damage your soil by exterminating a lot of the beneficial organisms that live there.

If slugs and snails are a problem, there are natural remedies for them as well. Lay down a rough barrier of crushed lava rock, nutshells, coarse gravel or wood ashes. Soft-bodied slugs and snails will avoid crawling across it. Wrap a ribbon of copper tape around pots and they won’t climb up because the copper causes an unpleasant shock to their nervous system. Put out a small container of beer and slugs will crawl in and drown – perhaps happily.

If you have weeds, weed killers are a tempting option – one squirt and they die. But herbicides are not only carcinogenic, they run into streams and rivers and cause damage on a planetary scale. Instead, pull weeds by hand. Approach it in the right frame of mind and you’ll find it relaxing. Or try a mixture of vinegar, salt and liquid dish soap, which withers weeds naturally with multiple applications.

While you’re at it, sign our petition calling on Kroger to stop selling food containing bee-killing, brain-harming, and cancer-causing pesticides and commit to selling more organic food. Add your name here.

Invite insects

Insects are good for your garden. Bees and butterflies pollinate your flowers, fruits, and vegetables. Wasps, flies, ladybugs, lacewings, and beetles eat pests. Step one to attract insects is to plant natives. Step two is to offer different sources of nectar – including shrubs, trees, and flowers – that bloom from spring to fall. Step three is to avoid pesticides. They kill the beneficial bugs as well as the destructive ones and they poison the environment in general.

Provide shelter for insects. Bees, butterflies and other pollinators need protection from predators and the elements as well as a place to raise their young. An old log in a sunny spot makes a good home. Drill a few holes in it and you’ll attract native mason bees. They’re solitary, docile and the most effective pollinators in North America.

If you like butterflies – who doesn’t? – choose plants that appeal to them. There are dozens to choose from. And remember that butterflies need water. They appreciate a birdbath, and they like muddy puddles because the puddles provide salts and nutrients as well as H2O.

Be bird-friendly

Birds play a vital role in your garden ecosystem. They eat slugs, snails and damaging insects. And, of course, they’re just a joy to have around. Bushes and trees with fruits or berries will attract birds but a feeder provides a more reliable source of food. Get your seeds from a knowledgeable shop to ensure you have the right varieties for your local flock. Keep your feeder free of old seeds and place it far from sources of cover where cats can hide. A birdbath is important not only because birds like a bath, but because seed-eating birds need water to wash the seeds down. Add a few stones for birds to stand on.

Hummingbirds are a constant source of color and enjoyment in a garden. They also appreciate a birdbath, and they need nectar as a source of energy for their almost-perpetual motion. If you have a feeder, fill it with sugar water that’s one part sugar, four parts water but never honey, artificial sweeteners or dyes. Hang it in the shade so the sugar won’t ferment. Also, plant flowers – especially red or orange tubulars – which hummingbirds like as well as a feeder. And, again, avoid pesticides. Hummingbirds eat insects for protein and they feed their chicks a diet of almost exclusively arthropods.


Compost contains nutrients your plants need for good health, including nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. It encourages bugs, worms, and microorganisms that create rich soil. It enhances drainage while retaining moisture. And a compost pile is the perfect place to toss your kitchen scraps and garden leaves, instead of the garbage can.

All you need to get started composting is a corner of your yard to start your pile – and patience because it will take time for your compost to “cook.” While you wait, consider the lesson that compost teaches: the natural cycle of decay and growth. In nature, there is no “waste.” Waste is a human phenomenon. In nature, every plant and animal is part of our planetary organism and every end sustains a new start.

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