By Marty Ross
Being a good steward of the environment is part of our horticultural heritage in the Midwest. Our roots are in the farming traditions of the Great Plains. We also have a rich legacy from many environmental champions in our region, including Aldo Leopold, the great Midwestern conservationist, ecologist, and lifelong gardener.
Don’t worry: You don’t need a degree in agriculture or a cabinet of organic substances to nurture a healthy relationship with nature. Smart gardening practices help you save time, energy, and resources, and result in a beautiful and rewarding garden. Here are some ways you can make your garden greener:
Buy organically grown seeds. When you do, you support all organic growers and enterprises. Organic growers raise their seeds without using chemical fertilizers or pesticides that are toxic to birds, bees, and butterflies. It’s the smart way to start an organic garden.
Grow Your Own
You know exactly where your food comes from when you grow it yourself, and you’ll discover that growing lettuce and other crops does not require a big gardening investment. This year try a few tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, or beans, and grow your own herbs. You’ll soon eat the freshest, most delicious food you have ever tasted.
Water is an abundant resource in most of the Midwest, but it is not cheap. Don’t waste it. Use a watering can to deliver water exactly where needed while plants become established. If you need to use a sprinkler to water the lawn or flowerbed, set a timer so you remember the water is on.
Kitchen trimmings—such as onion skins, corncobs, and eggshells—are great ingredients for a compost heap. Buy a compost bin from Lowe’s to speed up the process. Or, if time isn’t a concern, start a pile in a corner of the garden, then load it up with autumn leaves, grass clippings, and kitchen scraps (vegetable scraps only, no meat or cheese). Turn the pile once a month if you like, or just give it time: Everything in the heap decomposes eventually. Add your compost generously to the soil whenever you plant, or top-dress flower and vegetable beds with it. Every bit helps improve your soil.
Our food supply depends on pollinators. But pollinators need our help—the population of essential pollinators has dropped dramatically because of habitat loss and the widespread use of pesticides. Do your part by planting cosmos, zinnias, lantana, and other flowers pollinators love. An abundance of nectar and pollen brings butterflies, bees, and other pollinators to your garden and increases the productivity of vegetable gardens
Leave plenty of room in your garden for our beautiful, low-maintenance, Midwestern native plants. Native asters (black-eyed Susans, coneflowers, phlox, coreopsis, prairie blazing star, butterfly milkweed, goldenrod) and ornamental grasses, such as prairie dropseed, are all naturally adapted to our climate and conditions.
These perennial plants tolerate drought, do not require fertilizer, and are not bothered by pests. They’re loaded with interesting texture, burst with color, and are at the heart of regional Midwestern gardening style.
Be kind to Earth. Follow the lead of our 10 regional gardening contributors and leave a smaller environmental footprint.Learn More