Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Now that we are staying at home, it is a good time to look at how you can help the earth in your own yard.
Earth Day is a good reminder to all of us that our planet needs our help. The right time to take action to help our planet is today. Not tomorrow or next month or next year.
You can find many virtual celebrations taking place over the next few days. Search online for Earth Day and find inspiration from what others are doing to reduce pollution, slow climate change, encourage wildlife, protect water quality and more.
What to do in your own yard
There are a number of things you can do in your own landscape to reduce your environmental impact and help make the earth greener.
Plant a tree
Trees help the earth in numerous ways. Trees:
Store CO2, which helps with climate change by reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.
Reduce energy use by keeping your house cooler in summer.
Clean the air, reduce runoff and filter rainwater.
Attract birds and wildlife.
Make your yard and neighborhood more beautiful.
There are many tree species that grow to the right size for an urban or suburban yard. Here is a list of small trees from Great Plant Picks and shorter lists from Northwest Horticultural Society and Swansons Nursery. Or ask for ideas at your local independent nursery.
Attract pollinators and other good bugs
The best way to attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies is to grow flowers that produce nectar. Plant flowers that bloom at different times of year so you can help pollinators throughout the growing season.
Here are a few lists of flowers that attract pollinators.
Other good bugs, such as lady beetles and green lacewings, will help keep aphids in check. They are also attracted to plants that produce nectar.
There are also beneficial insects that live in the ground, such as ground beetles, rove beetles and centipedes. They eat other garden pests. Low-till gardening practices will help them survive.
Read more about specific beneficial insects and how to attract them in the ‘Good Bug’ photo guide.
Attract birds and other wildlife
Birds and wildlife are losing critical habitat, such as forests and grasslands, to development. To attract them to your yard and help them survive, you need to provide food, water and shelter.
Food: Most birds prefer to eat insects. Nectar-producing plants attract beneficial insects, which provide food for birds.
Water: Provide a pond, birdbath or other source of water. Keep plants near the water pruned so cats can’t hide nearby and attack birds.
Shelter: Plant a wide array of shrubs and trees to provide places for refuge and nesting. Leave dead branches and dead trees as perches.
Consider becoming a certified Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary.
Reduce or eliminate pesticide use
“Pesticides” include insecticides, herbicides, fungicides and similar products. When rain washes them off the landscape, they contaminate our streams and lakes. Even low levels of pesticides can harm aquatic life like fish, frogs and insects.
Reduce pesticide use by choosing native plants or plants that are adapted to our climate. Here are some native plant resources. And Great Plant Picks has extensive lists of plants that will thrive in the maritime Northwest.
Keep plants healthy with the right amount of water and organic fertilizers. Healthy plants will be less susceptible to insects and diseases, so you won’t be tempted to use pesticides.
Grow a thick, healthy lawn that can outcompete weeds. And don’t expect to grow a perfect lawn with absolutely no weeds. Here is an infographic we created on essential lawn care tips. And check out our YouTube playlist on natural lawn care.
Protect water quality
Add a thick layer of mulch to garden beds to reduce runoff, feed the soil and reduce irrigation needs in the hot summer. Here is some information from Swansons Nursery about how to use mulch and our video about choosing and using mulch.
Reduce runoff with a rain garden, cistern or permeable pavers. You may even get a rebate on installation.
Turn part of your lawn into garden beds. The soft soil and mulch in garden beds absorb water better than do lawns.
Choose organic or slow-release fertilizers, which feed plants slowly over time. They are less likely to run off into nearby streams and lakes and harm water quality.
Reduce water use
Choose drought-tolerant plants, and group plants with similar watering needs together. Here is a list of drought-tolerant plants from Sky Nursery and a brochure on drought-tolerant landscaping from WSU Extension.
Use efficient irrigation methods such as water timers and drip irrigation. Find out about better ways to water on our YouTube playlist on watering.
Grow your own organic food
Plant a vegetable garden and feed your family fresh, delicious food all season.
Incorporate edible plants, such as blueberries and fruit trees, into your landscape. Here are some tips on edible landscaping from the Seattle Times.
Switch to a battery-powered lawn mower
Gasoline-powered lawn and garden equipment emit harmful air pollutants. Rechargeable battery-powered mowers help make the air cleaner and your neighborhood quieter.
Spend time outside appreciating nature. Relaxing and enjoying the colors, scents and sounds in the garden reduces the stress of daily living. It also helps us remember why our planet is worth protecting.
Share outdoor experiences with your children and friends. It may motivate them to help the earth.
Other things you can do to help the earth
If you’d like to take a big step, an article in Forbes says the most effective way to save the planet is to eat a vegan diet.
For smaller steps, here is a list of 10 simple choices for a healthier planet from NOAA’s National Ocean Service.
There are plenty of other lists available online of steps you can take. Choose a few actions that work for you. Everything helps!
Reprinted with permission from In Harmony Sustainable Landscapes