Four Tips for Reducing Your Garden's Carbon Footprint

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You've heard the tips a hundred times: change your light bulbs, install a programmable thermostat, wash your clothes in cold water. They're all good ways to save energy, save money, and reduce your climate impact. But they have one other thing in common: they happen inside the house. So what can you do outside to reduce your carbon footprint? Plenty. Here are a few tips for making your lawn and garden a little greener this year.

Plant smarter. The good news is, all plants absorb and store carbon. But the amount they store and the length of time they store it varies, says the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). So the choices you make in your yard and garden matter. You probably already know the importance of choosing native species over invasives; natives typically require far less water and fertilizer, and provide better support for birds and beneficial insects. Trees and woody shrubs are particularly good at storing carbon for the long haul, says NWF. (They can also provide shade for your home, which reduces cooling costs in the summer, another energy and climate saver.)

Consider devoting some of your yard space to a vegetable garden, too. Besides savoring your own fresh produce, you'll avoid the well-documented carbon-intensive shipping and production impacts of commercial crops.

Power down. Every year, millions of Americans fire up gas mowers, blowers, weed whackers, and other power tools in their yards, using hundreds of millions of gallons of gas in the process. In fact, we spill 9 million gallons alone, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. On top of being a carbon-intensive fuel source, gas emits harmful vapors that have been linked to respiratory ailments and cancer, says the EPA. So knock off this hazardous habit and make the switch to a push mower, rake, and other simple tools. Sure, it takes a bit more elbow grease – but your lungs, and the lungs of the planet, will thank you.

Get rich. Soil, that is. And do it without using synthetic fertilizers. Besides containing toxic chemicals that pollute surface and groundwater and have been linked to human health problems, conventional fertilizers require an energy-intensive manufacturing process, says NWF. Choose an organic fertilizer instead – or, better yet, use compost and mulch created from your own yard waste. According to the Garden Club of America, gardeners in this country use three million tons of fertilizers each year; you can help reduce that load, and still give your soil a healthy boost. (For more on composting, visit the Boston Natural Areas Network.)

Say goodbye to grass. This is akin to the “all of the above” option on a multiple-choice test. Because of the maintenance they require, lawns are responsible for emitting more carbon than they store – four times as much, according to one recent study from the University of California-Irvine. Replacing your lawn can accomplish all of the items above, including increasing carbon storage through careful selection of native plants, decreasing the need to use power mowers and other tools, and decreasing the need for synthetic fertilizer application. It’s a win all around, and it can make your home a model for others to follow – you might just inspire a carbon-neutral neighborhood