Financial Literacy for Everyone

Green Your Garden to Save Green

Many of us are beginning to stock up on seeds and starter plants in preparation for our spring gardens. Before you head to the garden store, consider what you are paying to maintain your garden. Statistics show that lawn and garden watering make up at least 40% of our total household water use, directly impacting our utility bills. Whether you're planning your spring garden, landscaping a new house, or you just want to make your yard more environmentally friendly and affordable, these tips are for you. Selecting native plants, using specific landscaping materials and changing small habits in caring for your yard can mean significant savings on heating, cooling and water bills throughout the year–and have a positive impact on the environment. Here are a few insider tips for a garden that's as sustainable as it is affordable.

Plant native plans. If you haven't heard the term "naturescaping," it means creating a beautiful, low-maintenance garden using plants that are native to your area. Native plants tend to be more cost-effective because they tend to require little water and fewer pesticides and fertilizers. Since many non-native plants are grown elsewhere and imported, they require more care and, often, transportation from other regions, which has a negative impact on the environment. As an additional benefit, native plants tend to better support and attract local birds, insects and wildlife. And if your garden is already chock full of non-native plants, don't worry. You can slowly replace non-native plants with native options over time.

Lose the lawn–or minimize it. According to U.S. News and World Report, a 1,000 sq. ft. lawn requires 10,000 gallons of water per summer to maintain. Using that much water for a lawn carries a big price tag–in terms of your water bill and the environment. If you're thinking of planting a large lawn, consider enlarging planting beds or installing patios or a rock garden instead. If you have a large lawn already, consider replacing all or part of it with other landscaping. For inspiration, take a look at these beautiful lawn-free landscapes.

Landscape with green materials. Before deciding to use specific materials in your garden landscape, it's important to look not only at the price tag, but to ask yourself: how long with this material last? Will it help absorb or retain storm water? Is it free of toxins that could leech into the soil, plants or air? Is it reusable or recyclable? Generally, using salvaged or recycled materials makes for more cost-effective landscaping. Stone and gravel have smaller carbon footprints than brick or concrete. And mulch is very useful in garden beds because it inhibits weed growth and reduces water needs.

Minimize your use of pesticides and fertilizers. Not only are they expensive, pesticides and fertilizers consume significant energy and emit carbon gasses. A more eco and cost-conscious approach is to add plants and flowers to your garden that will detract insects, like marigolds, chrysanthemums, lemon grass and citronella. If your garden is composed of all or mostly native plants, you are also less likely to need pesticides in order to keep plants healthy and insect-free. Natural and low-cost alternatives to pesticides and fertilizers are boiling water and vinegar, both of which can kill most weeds if applied directly, or 10 ounces of 3% hydrogen peroxide in 1 quart of water. This can be used as a fungicide and insecticide on trees and plants, as well as a weed killer. Most of these materials are incredibly affordable–and available in most household cupboards or at a local grocery store.

Create your own compost. With just a tightly sealed compost bin and some food scraps and other materials, you can begin to create your own natural fertilizer. Not only will it be low-cost to free, it can potentially save you waste management fees. And because it will be completely free of chemicals, you will ensure a healthier garden for yourself and the environment. You can use composted materials in place of potting soil and as a natural fertilizer for your yard. Here is information on creating your own compost pile from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Plant trees and shrubs near windows. The US Department of Energy estimates that planting trees in specific places around a home can lower energy consumption (and costs) by up to 25 percent. Shading your air conditioning unit, walls, windows and roof and blocking direct sunlight coming into your home is one way to keep your home cooler without using energy into the summer. Similarly, blocking wind in winter can help reduce the costs of warming a home in winter. Dense, low evergreen trees such as camellia bushes and oleanders are excellent options for shielding windows.

While you may not be able to employ all of these tips at one time, slowly incorporating them into your landscape and garden care routine will pay off.

To find out about water conservation in your garden, making landscaping decisions according to your microclimate and more, review this tool kit on landscaping with native plants, available through the Environmental Protection Agency.

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