You shun plastic straws and carry your own tote bags to the grocery store (well, most of the time). So why not continue the green theme in your garden and plant with the planet in mind?
Low-water, zero-waste, and chemical-free options abound for both flower beds and containers. And by embracing green gardening, you can help improve your yard's soil quality and attract beneficial pollinators. To get started, try some of these green gardening techniques below.
1. Use green containers
Milk jugs, yogurt cups, and egg cartons are all reusable and free for starting seedlings.
"Just make sure you place egg cartons on a cookie sheet or something else that holds water as they're porous," notes landscaping expert Chris Lambton, host of DIY Network's "Yard Crashers" and "Lawn and Order."
He also reuses Solo cups left over from parties (poke holes in the bottom and transplant tomatoes into them as they outgrow egg cartons or other small cups).
Feeling creative? Make your own seed containers from folded newspaper (most publishers use soy ink, which is nontoxic). Newspapers are biodegradable, and the whole thing—paper, dirt, and seeds—can be planted in the ground, explains Susan Brandt, the plant pro at Blooming Secrets, an e-commerce gardening site.
Two other green containers include Mason jars (excellent as succulent planters, says Brandt) and peat pots.
"Peat cups are made from natural fibers and can be planted directly into the garden without causing root shock," reports Chris Cassell, director of sustainability at Lowe's.
2. Add a rain barrel
Catch rain in just about any type of container, and then use it to water your garden.
"Plants benefit from rainwater as it's free of the chemicals and minerals found in tap," says Cassell. If you install rain barrels around your downspouts, you'll really save on your water bill, too.
A word of caution: Make sure rain barrels are installed correctly so they don't cause flooding around your house, and elevate them to fit your watering can under the spigot, suggests Lambton.
3. Go chemical-free
Roundup or any pesticide is a no-no in an eco garden. Instead, try neem oil (an organic pesticide extracted from the tropical neem tree) for bugs and liquid seaweed and compost for fertilizer, says Lambton.
"Neem oil has low toxicity and, when mixed with water, it can be used as an insecticide, fungicide, and miticide," says Cassell.
4. Water wisely
Don't just spray willy-nilly and then walk away. There's a smart (and green) way to hydrate your garden. The pros say to water early in the morning, when there's usually less wind and temperatures are lower. The result? Water is absorbed more effectively and less is evaporated.
If you can, use a drip irrigation system or soaker hoses, which are most effective at watering at soil level, says Brandt.
5. Make some DIY fertilizer
Yes, you can make your own fertilizer. Cassell says to find a hidden corner of your garden where you can layer grass clippings and fallen green leaves with brown materials like dried-up leaves and even coffee grounds. Cut larger pieces into smaller ones, add water to the pile and top with garden soil.
"Turn your mound during the season to expose the ingredients to oxygen and then use it in the spring as fertilizer," he says.
Grass clippings can also be applied as mulch. Pine needles are another green mulch pick as they acidify soil, says Brandt. Try it on azaleas, which are acid-loving.
Or got a compost heap for your kitchen scraps? Compost can also be used as fertilizer—just spread it on your flower and vegetable beds to add nutrients and beneficial microbes to the soil.
So how do you know when your compost is ready?
"Check for a good earthy smell in your compost, and be sure it's dark in color and feels crumbly," notes Cassell. If it's not quite ready, give it more time (ingredients that are still decomposing can attract unwanted pests). Here's more on how to make compost.
6. Attract plant pollinators
Nothing is greener than a bunch of butterflies and bees circling your flowers to pollinate the plants. And don't forget hummingbirds, moths, flies, and even some beetles—they all move pollen from flower to flower, says Cassell.
Plants that'll attract these important creatures include catmint, lavender, cosmos, calendula, butterfly flower, sunflowers, sweet alyssum, and lantana.