What is Green?

Many people use the labels "green," "eco-friendly," and "sustainable," when it comes to gardening or landscaping, but what do they really mean?

As I sat down to write "Sustainable Gardening for Florida" back before 2009, I explored this topic (I consider "sustainable" and "green" to be synonyms.) and here's what I used as my working definition.

Sustainable gardening and sustainable landscape management employ techniques that:

· have minimal impact on the environment--from using little or no artificially produced chemicals, (pesticides, herbicides, quick-release fertilizers) to reducing the use of powered devices in the care of the landscape.  All those string trimmers, leaf blowers, and lawnmowers not only pollute the air, but they also cause noise pollution.

· make the best use of available resources.  Using rain barrels to collect rainwater, arranging garden areas to make use of rainwater overflow, mulching bare soil to preserve moisture, and enriching soil with composted weeds, grass clippings, leaves, kitchen waste, and other plant parts.
· save the gardeners and property managers time and money.  For example, when hard-to-mow drainage ditches are replaced with easy-to-maintain rain gardens planted with native plants that tolerate that environment, significant savings in time and the cost of running machinery are made.
· provide diversity in the landscape.  Reducing the size of mowed areas and planting native trees, shrubs, and understory perennials not only adds interest to the landscape, but also replaces green space and habitat that has been removed for development.
· reduce the carbon dioxide and increases oxygen.  The larger plant biomass increases the amount of photosynthesis--that magical chemical process where green plants absorb sunlight and transform carbon dioxide and water into sugar with oxygen gas as a byproduct.
· offset some of the heat absorbed and stored by urban/suburban buildings, roads, and other hard objects.  Landscapes with more trees, shrubs, and understory perennials will absorb more of the stormwater and increase the transpiration, which puts water vapor into the atmosphere and reduces the average temperature.

· increase habitat for wildlife including birds, bees, butterflies, and other critters.  The sustainable landscape supports an active ecosystem, where plants, microbes, insects, and other animals all depend on one another.
· prevent damage to underground infrastructure.  In other words, don't start digging until you know the location of underground utilities, pipes, and more.  In May 2007, the Common Ground Alliance launched a nationwide 811--"call before you dig" number.  This program assumes that you'll also look up to locate above-the-ground utilities, and plan your landscape to avoid them.
· prepare for disasters such as hurricanes, fires, and drought.  Designing your landscape to withstand or minimize damage when a disaster strikes is sustainable, because after the disaster you may have fewer repairs and fewer plants to replace.  For instance leaving a 30-foot defensible space around buildings in a firewise landscape may keep the fire at bay.  If you remove or prune trees that might damage your property before a hurricane, then you may reduce the cost of recovery.

While what we do in our yards may seem insignificant when thinking about the global issues such as climate change, there are many millions of gardeners and together we are a huge force FOR nature.