Maintaining a healthy lawn and garden not only makes a home more attractive, it also has environmental benefits. Flower and vegetable gardens can be homegrown and pesticide-free sources of food and inspiration. Healthy lawns, coupled with trees and shrubs, can help prevent soil erosion. The care and attention you give to proper gardening, landscaping, and yard care can pay dividends to both your health and the environment.

At first thought, lawn care might not seem like a major contributor to pollution. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, however, estimates that 17 million gallons of fuel are spilled each year just in refueling small engines—more than the Exxon Valdez spilled in the Gulf of Alaska accident in 1989—and that 10 percent of all air pollution is caused by our nation’s 89 million small engines. In fact, one hour of operating a gas-powered mower generates as much pollution as driving a new car for eleven hours.

All homeowners can help Vermont’s wildlife, forests, lakes, rivers, and ponds by maintaining their lawns and gardens in an environmentally conscious manner.

Consider these one dozen ways you can care for your lawn and garden:

  1. Use organic gardening techniques, such as netting or companion planting to keep insects from plants, pull weeds instead of using herbicides, and cover your garden with plastic in the fall to prevent weed germination. Many commercial pesticides and herbicides are poisons that may cause serious damage to your skin, eyes, nervous and respiratory systems, and internal organs. Applied around the home, many pesticides and herbicides build up in plants and soil and in the organisms that eat those plants. As they work their way up the food chain, they may become more concentrated. If you feel you must use chemical pesticides, be sure you know the identity of the pest you want to control, purchase the right product, and carefully follow label directions.
  2. Use compost made of decomposed leaves, grass clippings, animal manure, vegetable trimmings, and kitchen vegetable waste to fertilize plants and enrich garden soils. Never use chemical fertilizers near a well or body of water.
  3. An effective, general purpose insect repellent can be made by blending six cloves of crushed garlic, one minced onion, one tablespoon dried hot pepper, and one teaspoon pure soap in four quarts hot water. Let the mixture sit one to two days and strain before spraying on plants. Or, place one cigarette in one quart water overnight, strain, and spray.
  4. Lawns help control soil erosion, but their care and maintenance can contribute indirectly to both air and water pollution. One significant way of reducing pollution related to the care of your lawn is to use a reel mower rather than a power mower. Manual yard tools, such as clippers, are especially handy for small jobs.
  5. If a reel mower isn’t practical for your yard and you need a power mower, make sure you change your lawnmower’s oil and clean or replace its air filters regularly. Get periodic tune-ups, maintain sharp mower blades, and keep the underside of the deck clean. Also, avoid spilling gasoline when refueling your mower.
  6. Perform soil tests every three to four years to determine the amount of nutrients necessary for a healthy lawn. Contact your local soil conservation district for more information and test kits.
  7. Don't give your lawn a crew cut. Clipping the lawn too short or too frequently weakens the grass and allows weeds to grow faster. And leave the grass clippings on the lawn to serve as a natural fertilizer, or compost them along with other yard wastes.
  8. Don’t mow your entire backyard. Even a small amount of lawn allowed to go wild can provide habitat for many small wildlife species, including songbirds and butterflies.
  9. Consult your local nursery for advice on selecting plants suited for the site characteristics. Use mulch to reduce weed growth and evaporation.
  10. Avoid over-watering your lawn or garden. Excessive watering can cause chemicals to leach into groundwater and can make plants more prone to disease.
  11. Bar and chain oil made from canola or sunflower oil has superior lubricating qualities and is non-carcinogenic.
  12. Above- and below-ground pools require sanitizers and algicides to maintain water clarity and to ensure proper water quality. To prevent pool-related pollution, use bromine-based sanitizers rather than chlorine-based pool sanitizers. Dispose of pool acid at a household hazardous waste collection event or program.