Monday, March 30, 2009

It's Not That Easy Being Green (or is it?)

Kermit the Frog famously told us it's not easy to be green. And in many ways, I think he may be right. It would be a lot easier to throw all my trash away, instead of separating for recycling. It would be a lot easier to spray every ant wandering my yard with pesticides, or to buy the Miracle-Gro readily available at every store instead of scouring the internet for organic alternatives. But surprisingly often, being green is actually easier than the alternative.

In an article from this month's National Wildlife magazine, Janet Marinelli asks "How Green Is Your Garden?" She highlights yards in California where the gardeners have created gardens that help reduce carbon emissions. Pictures highlight landscapes full of blooming flowers and cool green oases, all intended to require minimal watering, chemicals, and upkeep from power tools.

Janet's article includes Six Ways to Save Energy and Reduce Your Yard’s Carbon Footprint. In an effort to consider if it really is harder to "be green", I'm going to dedicate my next series of blog posts to considering these six tips, all of which we've employed to some extent in My Florida Backyard. I'll let you know what we've done to comply, and how they rate on a difficulty scale of 1 - 5, with 1 being ridiculously easy and 5 being a heck of a lot of effort.

For now, here are the six tips, with full and complete credit given to National Wildlife magazine, published by the National Wildlife Federation, April/May 2009 edition.

1. Reduce the size of your lawn. Better yet, consider eliminating it entirely. Families with young children require only a small area of lawn where the kids can play. Everyone else can manage without turf by creating patios for living space, enlarging planting beds or installing a rock garden.

    Tip: Consider replacing your lawn with a native wildflower meadow. This will provide habitat for wildlife and requires no watering after its young plants are established. Since introducing plants to your property that are not indigenous to your region can contribute to ecological problems, ask your local native plant society which species are appropriate to cultivate.

2. Use hand tools instead of power equipment. When you reduce the size of your lawn, for example, you’ll only need a push mower.

3. Choose materials with low-embodied energy. Brick and concrete have large carbon footprints compared to gravel and especially wood. Used brick and other recycled materials are good choices, too.

4. Emphasize woody plants that capture more carbon than fleshy herbaceous species. Create a flower meadow or vegetable patch, but plant most of your property with low-maintenance native trees and shrubs, preferably those that also provide food and nesting and resting places for birds and other wildlife. Again, choose species native to your region.

5. Plant trees and shrubs where they will block winter winds and provide shade in summer. This will reduce the amount of energy required to heat and cool your home and thus reduce your carbon footprint even further. The particular landscape strategy depends on your climate.

    Tip: For more details, see "Landscaping for Energy Efficiency," a booklet produced for the U.S. Department of Energy and available online at

6. Minimize, or better yet eliminate, the use of fertilizers and pesticides on your property. Use compost and mulch produced from garden trimmings to enrich your soil instead, and use native plants that are naturally pest resistant.

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