Gardeners may be custodians of the planet, but there are plenty of ways to make the nation’s favourite hobby even greener. Follow our action plan for enhancing biodiversity, gardening in tune with nature and ideas on how to make your garden greener…
1 Get tough on plastic
It’s estimated that more than eight million tonnes of plastic end up in the world’s seas every year, leading to the alarming prediction that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the oceans than there are fish. Our gardens are teaming with plastic from plant pots to propagator lids and seed trays. When buying plants, look for stock growing in taupe pots, which can be recycled, unlike black plastic containers. Wooden seed trays are an alternative to plastic, but must be cleaned, as damp or decaying timber can harbour pathogens.
2 Plant great companions
Instead of reaching for chemical bug spray for plants when pests attack, grow insect repellent plants to deter unwanted invaders – or lure bugs away from crops. For example, French marigolds grown close to tomatoes in greenhouses can ward off whitefly with their pungent scent. Nasturtiums make a great ‘sacrificial crop’, acting as a magnet for aphids that would otherwise infest nearby kitchen garden crops such as beans. Garlic chive is a good choice to grow close to carrots, as it deters the pesky carrot root fly.
3 Care for pollinators
It’s reported that 97% of wildflower meadows have been lost since the Second World War – a shocking decline that’s taking its toll on beneficial pollinators. Sowing a mix of wildflowers, even if it’s a small patch in a border or container, will throw a lifeline to insects. When shopping, look out for the Royal Horticultural Society’s ‘Plants for Pollinators’ logo, which adorns a host of plants such as varieties of crocus, buddleja, heather, lavender, ivy and nigella, all of which are loved by insects and bees. Opt for single flowers and avoid varieties with double or fancy blooms, which can hinder insects trying to reach the pollen.
4 Love your lawn
Lawns aren’t just a quintessentially British garden feature; grass provides a host of environmental benefits. Lawns absorb vast quantities of rainwater, helping to reduce the risk of flash flooding in built-up areas, while providing a natural habitat for insects. A stretch of grass helps to absorb CO2, while grass can be notably cooler than paving to walk on in summer. A lawn is nature’s own air conditioning and drainage system.
5 Green-up your roof
Mini rooftop gardens on sheds, bin stores and outbuildings provide vital habitats for insects and birds, while reducing rainwater run-off and improving air quality. Green roof gardens are highly ornamental but can be susceptible to drought, so choose plants carefully. Sempervivums are a popular choice, while mat-forming types of sedum are as tough as they are attractive.
6 Target weeds naturally
For decades, weeds have been zapped with synthetic herbicides such as glyphosate, but more gardeners are seeking eco-friendly solutions. Look out for chemical-free weedkillers labelled as ‘natural’ or products certified by Organic Farmers & Growers (OF&G). Some will be based on ingredients such as pelargonic acid, which is found naturally in pelargoniums and destroys cell walls, rapidly drying out and killing weeds. If you prefer not to spray, a sharp hoe is a valuable tool, slicing off weeds below the soil surface. When hand-weeding, dig out as much of the root as possible, as it’ll help to prevent re-growth.
7 Make a wildlife pond
Miniature ponds are a haven for wildlife and quickly attract newts, frogs, dragonflies, toads and many other biodiversity-enhancing insects. These fish-free aquatic features don’t have to be large or expensive: a barrel or trough will do the job. Aquatic plants can enhance the pond’s appeal, but nature will rapidly colonise a new feature without human intervention.
8 Green-up front gardens
According to the Royal Horticultural Society, more than five million front gardens now contain no plants while half a million front gardens have been completely paved, often for off-street parking. However, cars and plants can live in harmony. Opting for permeable paving or gravel can result in a more eco-friendly hardstanding, while flanking boundaries with hedging creates nesting sites and shelter for birds. Introducing containers or window boxes is one of the simplest ways to provide a source of nectar and pollen.
9 Offer insects shelter
With gardens increasingly regarded as ‘outdoor rooms’ and paving and decking replacing greenery, natural shelters and hibernation areas for wildlife are in decline. Bug hotels, readily available at garden centres, provide attractive hideaways for beneficial pollinators including ladybirds and lacewings that feed on plant pests, as well as mason bees that pollinate plants. Or leave a small pile of logs in a quiet corner of the garden: birds will visit to feast on insects that make their home in decaying wood that’s covered with moss and lichen, while log piles create a safe, natural habitat for frogs and hedgehogs.
10 Join the rechargeable revolution
To reduce your dependency on fossil fuels, why not consider replacing older petrol-powered garden kit at the end of its life with cleaner, greener rechargeable cordless power tools? The evolution of lithium-ion battery technology, with power packs that can often be interchanged between lawnmowers, hedge trimmers and nylon cord trimmers allow gardeners to tackle tough jobs with ease while being kinder to the planet.
11 Choose eco-friendly sustainable furniture
Investing in new garden furniture can take its toll on your wallet but the environment need not pay a heavy price. Look out for timber that is FSC-certified, meaning it has come from sustainably managed forests or recycled sources. If long-lasting plastic furniture is on your shopping list, garden centres offer expanding ranges made from recycled plastic.
12 Introduce biological controls
Rather than reaching for pesticides, try biological controls. Introducing predators – often nematodes or tiny wasps – will result in these clever critters tracking down and killing plant pests in gardens and greenhouses. Whitefly, red spider mite, slugs, chafer grubs, carrot fly and vine weevil are just a handful of nasties that can be targeted with biological controls.
13 Go peat-free
Peat-based composts were traditionally regarded as the finest growing medium for seedlings and young plants. However, the mining of peat bogs – valuable wildlife habitats that have a remarkable ability to store carbon dioxide – is increasingly regarded as an environmental no-no. Luckily, lots of good peat-free compost is readily available. Follow the #peatfree hashtag on social media for gardeners’ recommendations of the best brands.
14 Water wisely
A garden sprinkler can use over 1,000 litres of water per hour, putting a massive strain on drinking water supplies in hot summers, and running-up metered bills. An alternative watering system involves laying soaker hose (porous pipe)at the base of the plants. This will help deliver water exactly where it’s needed. If you’re keen to avoid buying plastic water butts, old troughs, baths and tanks readily found at reclamation yards can be sat under downpipes on greenhouses and sheds, where they’ll fill-up fast with precious rainwater.
15 Control slugs naturally
Slugs and snails are Britain’s number one plant-wrecker, but there’s no need to reach for pesticides to prevent flowers and veg from being decimated. The slug-killing chemical ingredient metaldehyde was withdrawn in 2019, paving the way for greener alternatives. Look for organic slug pellets based on natural ingredients such as ferric phosphate. Slug-killing beer traps can be bought, or simply sink an old yoghurt pot into the soil and fill with cheap lager – a proven way to lure molluscs to a drunken end.
We’d love to hear your greener gardening and eco-friendly gardening tips so please let us know in the comments below!
Marc Rosenberg bio
Marc Rosenberg is a freelance garden writer and editor. A former journalist with Amateur Gardening and Horticulture Week magazines, he holds seven Garden Media Guild Awards. Marc has written for publications including The Garden magazine, BBC Gardeners’ World and RHS online.