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For those of us with green fingers as well as a green conscience, finding new ways to be more sustainable when we garden is important. So before you roll up your sleeves, dust off your hand tools and don your gardening gloves, give some thought to how you could get into more eco-friendly gardening habits.
To help you get started, here are four greener gardening resolutions to make, along with all the information you need to put them into practice.
1. Mow your lawn less
If ever there was a good excuse for being a little more lax with your mowing regime, this is it! While a patch of neatly clipped lawn is a standard feature of many British gardens, it can be a wasteland for biodiversity.
However, the charity Plantlife, which works to restore and protect wildflower meadows throughout the UK, says that mowing one patch of your lawn less from March to September, and particularly in May, can give wildflowers and the pollinators that depend on them a real boost.
“May is a crucial month for flowering plants that need to get a firm foothold but we are not advocating never mowing after May,” explains Oli Wilson from the National Plant Monitoring Scheme. “Plantlife guidance across the year recommends a layered approach to the garden cut, where shorter grass is complemented by areas of longer grass. This two-tone approach boosts floral diversity and nectar and pollen production through the year.”
Last year, gardeners who took part in the Plantlife 'No Mow May' campaign reported a whole range of plant species appearing in their lawns, including wild strawberry, snake’s-head fritillary and even wild orchids, along with dozens of different bees, moths and butterflies.
2. Use less plastic
It’s a notoriously thorny issue, if you’ll pardon the pun, but once you’ve planted out bedding in your borders, what do you do with the plastic pots the plants came in?
If your local authority accepts plastic bottles and food tubs in its kerbside collection scheme, you should be able to add terracotta-coloured plastic plant pots to your recycling bin. You can check – or find a local plastics recycling point – using the Recycle Now Recycling Locator.
However, as things currently stand, the widely used black plastic plant pots can’t be recycled at all because the pigment in them can’t be detected by the sorting equipment at most recycling plants.
The future is taupe
Things are changing, though. Over the last few years, the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) has worked with plant retailers, first to develop and then to roll out the new taupe-coloured plastic plant pots that you've probably seen popping up in garden centres. These can be detected by waste sorting machinery so are more straightforward to recycle.
In the meantime, check with your local gardening centre to see if it collects black plastic plant pots for specialist recycling, or re-use existing pots lurking in the shed.
‘Consider re-using pots where you can for seed sowing and re-potting rather than buying new,’ advises Guy Barter, Chief Horticulturalist at the RHS. ‘Just rinse them out with warm water and detergent before using again to kill off any diseases.’
Alternatives to plastic pots
Many garden suppliers stock biodegradable paper, bamboo, grass and wood pulp pots and seed trays, which are a great alternative to plastic pots if you’re growing plants from seed.
Try making your own biodegradable seedling pots from old newspaper, using the Pat a Pot Gardening Kit (£19.95) or plant seeds in wood pulp-based, bio-degradable Peat-Free Pots (£8.99 for 96). These can be planted directly in soil, where they will break down.
When you’re sowing seeds or planting out seedings, opt for plant labels made from natural materials over plastic ones, like these Slate Plant Labels (£9.39 for 10).
Buying bare root plants can be economical and does away with plastic plant pots altogether, although plastic may still be used to package your order. You’ll need to plant them soon after purchase or delivery, though.
3. Use less water
We all want our gardens to look their best throughout the summer, and this often requires regular watering. Try these water-saving ideas to reduce your garden’s drain on the mains water supply in hotter weather.
Choose drought-tolerant plants
A little careful planting planning and plant selection now will pay dividends later in the summer as far a watering is concerning. Guy Barter advises: "Plant up thirsty sites such as raised beds, containers and hanging baskets in sunny or windy spots with low-water-need plants such as lavender, pelargoniums, sedum and thyme. And don’t forget that many garden favourites are drought tolerant once established, including roses, most common deciduous shrubs and some evergreens including Choisya and Mahonia."
Install a water butt
A 200L water butt will only hold enough water to fill around 11 water cans, which doesn’t go far in hot weather, so if you have the space, install more than one!
Apply mulch to flower beds
Spreading a layer of slate, pebbles or stone chippings on the surface of flower beds can help retain moisture in the soil. Apply mulches in mid to late-Spring, once the ground has warmed and while there is still plenty of moisture in the soil.
4. Use sustainably sourced wooden hand tools
Although garden hand tools can’t be classed as ‘single-use’ items, if you’re serious about eliminating plastic from your garden entirely, choose tools with FSC-certified wooden handles as you stock up for the gardening year ahead.
The Burgon & Ball Hand Trowel (£11.99) is made from FSC-certified wood, has a rust-resistant stainless steel head and comes with a lifetime guarantee. The same applies to its Hand Fork (£11.99), and other products in the range.
Once dry and clean, a little Linseed Oil (£3.50 for 500ml), applied with an old cloth, will help preserve the handles.
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