7 Eco-Friendly Garden Practices to Adopt for Earth Day

If you want to nourish Mother Nature while growing food as sustainably as possible, these 7 eco-friendly upgrades are perfect for Earth Day! Garden expert and former organic farmer Logan Hailey explains why and how these simple efforts can make a tremendous difference for local ecosystems, waterways, and waste reduction.

Earth Day gardening. Close-up of a woman's hand planting a young basil seedling in a peat pot into the soil. The gardener is wearing a blue shirt. The basil seedling has vibrant green leaves that are smooth, glossy, and tender. These leaves are oval-shaped with a pointed tip and serrated edges, arranged in pairs along the stem.

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Gardening is one of the most eco-friendly activities you can do. Avoiding synthetic chemicals and reducing pollution are obvious first steps, but you can take your garden to the next level with environmentally conscious practices that support native wildlife, conserve water, and reduce waste. Earth Day is the perfect holiday to reinvigorate your landscape with nature-loving upgrades. 

Earth Day (April 22) began in 1969 when Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin witnessed a terrible oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, that polluted miles of seawater and coastal ecosystems. Inspired by student anti-war protests and ground activism for environmental causes, Nelson recruited a young activist named Denis Hayes to organize educational events on college campuses. 

The first Earth Day took place in 1970 and inspired over 20 million Americans to demonstrate their passion for environmental causes, ultimately leading to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and many other eco-friendly laws, like the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. 

Gardeners around the world now participate in Earth Day activities to show their support for ecological preservation. What better way to support Mother Nature than to plant an eco-friendly garden and grow your own food? 

Let’s dig into 7 of the best practices you can implement for an epic Earth Day garden

7 Earth-Friendly Garden Practices

Not all gardening is eco-friendly. We know that large-scale industrial food production is destroying soil, waterways, and biodiversity at astonishing rates. Moreover, many modern home landscapes are highly dependent on synthetic chemicals, polluting fertilizers, lots of water, excessive machinery, and soil disturbance. While they may yield beautiful lawns or ornamental shrubs, these types of intensive garden techniques often do more harm than good for local ecosystems

Here are some simple Earth-conscious shifts to ensure your garden enhances local wildlife while meeting your aesthetic and culinary needs. 

Plant Native Species

Close-up of a bee pollinating the flowers of Asclepias tuberosa plant. The Asclepias tuberosa plant, also known as Butterfly Weed, is distinguished by its vibrant display of fiery orange flowers atop erect stems. The flowers form dense clusters and feature five petals with intricate, star-like structures, drawing in pollinators with their nectar-rich blooms. The plant's narrow, lance-shaped leaves are a deep green hue and grow in opposite pairs along the stem.
Planting native species supports local wildlife and conserves resources.

The number one easiest and most eco-friendly thing you can do in your garden is to plant native species! Whether you choose flowers, berries, fruits, shrubs, or trees, native species provide a wealth of benefits to local wildlife and are naturally adapted to your region. “Native” means these plants are endemic to your local area. They have evolved for thousands of years to grow in the soil, moisture, and weather conditions of a given region. 

Most importantly, these plants have all the resources needed to support the bees, butterflies, birds, and other wildlife that live nearby. Most cities have destroyed the habitat for local wildlife, driving many species to endangerment. Every time you grow native plants and wildflowers, you are helping these beneficial bugs and animals to return to their habitats and proliferate, ultimately providing more aid to humans.

Imagine what your yard or neighborhood looked like before humans lived there. It might have been covered with lush grasslands, a biodiverse forest, or a drought-tolerant desert landscape. Rather than using tons of water and maintenance to upkeep imported plant species from across the world, you can cut down on labor and resources by growing plants that already know how to take care of themselves.

Native Plant Considerations

The best native plants for gardeners include:

Butterfly Host Plants

Certain native wildflowers, like butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) are larval host plants for the caterpillars of important butterflies like monarchs.

Pollinator Plants

Bumblebees and carpenter bees are just a few of the buzzing beneficial pollinators that rely on specific local wildflowers to proliferate and provide pollination services to our crops.

Native Shrubs

Instead of choosing non-native or invasive ornamental shrubs, these native bushes add beauty and privacy to your garden with less effort. Often, the berries and leaves support local birds with food and nesting spaces. They also attract reptiles who help you control pests in your garden.

Native Trees

Why plant a tree from the other side of the world when you can instead choose a native tree species that naturally grows in local forests? Incorporating native trees into a home landscape ensures long lasting shade for your house, aesthetics for yard, and habitat for wildlife.

Pro Tip: It is very important to choose native species that are specific to your area. Just because a plant is native to the United States does not mean it is endemic to your region. For example, a “native wildflower blend” that includes bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis), Drummond’s phlox (Phlox drummondii), and Texas lantana (Lantana urticoides) would be great for a Texas wildflower bed in your garden, but it would be completely unsuitable for a garden in the Pacific Northwest.

The native wildflowers in the northwest are completely different because those plants are more adapted to rainy weather, clay soils, and forested landscapes. Moreover, a wildflower blend for Western Oregon would be entirely different from the native plants recommended for Eastern Oregon because the mountains running through the state divide it into distinctive growing regions. 

Climate and soil can vary drastically across a single county, state, or country. Check with your local university extension service or a local native plant nursery to ensure you’ve selected species from your particular area.

Switch to No-Till Gardening

Close-up of preparing a garden bed for planting. A gardener levels the soil using a garden rake. The soil is loose, lumpy, dark brown in color. Parsley plants grow in the bed nearby.
No-till gardening promotes soil health and robust crop growth.

Tillage is a form of soil disturbance most commonly associated with plowing or rototilling the soil to create a uniform bed. In contrast, no-till gardening aims to minimize or eliminate soil disturbance to support the intricate food web of soil microorganisms that live beneath the surface. No-till practices enhance soil structure, grow healthier crops, and conserve moisture while simultaneously helping to suck carbon out of the atmosphere and store it safely in the ground.

The benefits of no-till gardening include:

  • Healthier crops with stronger immunity to pests and diseases
  • Reduced need for fertilizers because soil microbes make nutrients available to plants
  • Better water infiltration (the water won’t pool up on the surface)
  • Better water retention (the soil won’t dry out as quickly)
  • Less annual weeds (disturbing the soil brings weed seeds to the surface)
  • Less perennial weeds (tilling chops up the roots of perennial grasses and weeds, making them spread more quickly)
  • Richer, loamier soil and improved soil structure over time

Tilling is like putting your soil into a giant blender and grinding it to tiny particles. In contrast, no-till practices preserve the structural integrity of the soil, so microorganisms and water have places to “hang out” underground. How can we nurture the soil while still ensuring it is soft and fluffy for our vegetables and landscape plants?

Soil is like the Earth’s thin, fragile skin. It is the uppermost part of the Earth’s crust with a thickness that is equivalent to the paper skin of an onion. You wouldn’t excessively exfoliate your skin or scrub the upper layer of your epidermis to pieces with aggressive methods, so you shouldn’t do this to your soil either! 

Soil is our most precious resource as gardeners and as human beings who wish to live on this planet for a long time. Unfortunately, soils are being degraded and destroyed at faster rates than they can be replenished. In the century-and-a-half since industrial agriculture began, humans have degraded over 24 billion tons of fertile soil (33% of the Earth’s soil!) through tillage, chemicals, and erosion. You can do your part as a gardener by preserving this precious resource.

Here are a few ways to switch to soil-friendly practices:

Leave Roots Intact

Instead of ripping out plants when they are done producing, chop them off at their base so the roots can stay in place to decompose and fuel soil microorganisms like mycorrhizal fungi and nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Only pull out plants by the root if they are diseased.

Layer on the Compost

Add a 1-2” thick layer of fine sieved compost to the top of your beds every season. This acts like a mulch and an amendment to suppress weeds, improve water retention, and prepare a seedbed without disturbing the lower soil layers.

Try Raised Bed Gardening

If your native soil is poor, avoid renting a rototiller to chop it up. Instead, you can build soil from the ground up by installing an open-bottom raised bed.

Hugelkultur

Also known as lasagna gardening, this ancient method involves layering twigs, sticks, manure, leaves, straw, and compost to create a rich soil blend that decomposes over time, enriching the ground beneath and promoting a thriving ecosystem of soil microbes.

Use Tools Gently

When hoeing or raking, there is no need to shove the tool through the soil and chop up all those vital soil clumps. Instead, focus on the shallow upper inch and move slowly. Your back and arms won’t be as sore!

Catch Weeds While Young

The best time to weed is during the “bean thread” stage, when the weeds are easy to pull out without agitating the soil. Keep up on weed maintenance so you don’t have to churn through the soil with too much force.

YouTube video

Collect Rainwater and Reuse Water

Close-up of a rain barrel full of water in a garden, among flowering plants. The wooden rain barrel is a rustic and charming water collection vessel. Its cylindrical shape is complemented by metal bands that encircle the barrel. There is a metal pipe running from the roof of the house through which rainwater flows directly into the barrel.
Collecting rainwater is a great way to nurture plants and save on water bills.

Summer droughts are increasingly long and intense in many areas of the world. Rainwater collection is an easy way to maximize water retention during the wet season and conserve moisture during the dry season. You can save money on your water bill while ensuring your plants get all the moisture they need.

Rain barrels are widely available and easy to install. They work by diverting water from the roof gutters of buildings into a cistern or tank that can hold the water for irrigation or even drinking. In arid regions, this is particularly important because rainfall is sparse, and aquifers are often polluted or depleted.

You can also reuse water from your home to irrigate your yard and garden. For example, at Kevin’s Epic Homestead, he diverts water from his shower and laundry machines to pour out of the house into the landscape outside. If you use all biodegradable soaps, this method can actually boost plant growth and soil health while saving water. 

This video explains more about how gray water systems work and how they can help you create a more eco-friendly urban homestead this Earth Day:

YouTube video

Compost Your Food Scraps

Homemade organic compost. Close-up of kitchen scraps lying on the soil in a sunny garden. There is also a plastic bin and a small plastic shovel on the soil. Kitchen scraps consist of vegetable scraps, vegetable and fruit peels, herbs and others.
Transform kitchen scraps into nutrient-rich soil for an eco-friendly garden.

Every food scrap from your kitchen has the potential to nurture your soil and create a more closed-loop system in an eco-friendly garden. “Closing the loop” is a huge goal for many sustainability advocates because it creates more self-sufficiency. 

Instead of relying on external resources like compost, soil, or fertilizer, you can use the food scraps from your kitchen to create your own rich amendments that go back to fuel the garden and grow more food. This cycle becomes increasingly better over time, creating healthier soil and more nutrient-dense ingredients for your family.

Composting may seem like a complicated chemical process, but it is actually quite simple as long as you remember three key elements:

  1. Greens: Nitrogen-rich materials like food scraps, manure, and grass clippings need to be balanced out with carbon-rich “browns.”
  2. Browns: Carbon-rich materials like leaves, straw, and paper should ensure that the compost breaks down properly without becoming stinky or anaerobic. You should use 3-4 times more browns than greens.
  3. Aeration: Oxygenation ensures that the pile heats up and cools down properly, decomposing the materials into a luscious organic amendment. One of the biggest mistakes beginner composters make is forgetting to turn the pile. You must flip your pile or use a compost barrel tumbler to keep airflow and prevent it from going anaerobic.

If you prefer worms to do more of the work, try out vermicomposting. It has similar principles to composting but doesn’t require the pile to heat up. Vermicomposting is also better suited to urban gardens and small spaces.

Avoid Synthetic Fertilizers

Close-up of a gardener's hand applying organic fertilizer to Brussels sprouts. These fertilizers are granular, irregular in shape, and dark brown in color.
Switch to organic fertilizers for eco-friendly gardening and healthier plants.

Synthetic fertilizers, particularly nitrates, are very harmful to natural ecosystems and waterways. If you want to be more eco-friendly in honor of Earth Day, stop using chemical fertilizers in your garden. Instead, choose slow-release organic fertilizers that supply plant nutrients gradually and boost soil fertility over time.

Chemical fertilizers may seem like a miracle at first: they provide a rapid dose of nutrients that boost plant growth almost instantly. However, most synthetic fertilizers are made from petroleum byproducts that require a ton of energy to produce. Fertilizer labs contribute to massive carbon dioxide emissions.

Synthetic fertilizers also pose more risk to your plants, soil, and local waterways. If you’ve ever had a problem with nutrient burn or over-fertilization, synthetic products may have been to blame. These highly concentrated fertilizers can easily overdose your plants, causing them to turn yellow, wilt, and even die. Slow-release organic fertilizers are gentler on plants because they come from natural resources like feather meal or manure. However, you still want to follow dosage instructions regardless of the type of product.

Moving away from synthetic fertilizers can help improve your garden ecosystem over time by reducing the amount of salts in your soil. Applying chemical nutrients leads to salt accumulation that harms beneficial microbes and can eventually make grounds inhospitable to plants.

Moreover, these chemical nutrients can leach into the water and harm aquatic life. Synthetic nitrate fertilizers are the single greatest cause of the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as water pollution in many other parts of the world.

Use Biocontrol Instead of Pesticides

Close-up of ladybug crawling down the branch of yarrow plant under the sun in the garden. The yarrow plant presents itself with a graceful, fern-like appearance, characterized by finely divided, feathery leaves. Rising from a basal rosette, its stems shoot upward, reaching heights of up to several feet, adorned with clusters of tiny, flat-topped flowers that resemble miniature daisies.
Encourage natural predators like ladybugs for chemical-free pest control.

We all know that chemical pesticides are bad for the planet. Rachel Carlson’s Silent Spring was a monumental book that catalyzed the Earth Day movement by documenting the widespread pollution and negative health impacts of agricultural pesticides. So, how can we prevent pest infestations in our gardens without using these chemicals?

Biocontrol offers a promising solution. Biological control is a form of ecological pest control that relies on natural predators to eat garden pests. Predatory insects like ladybugs, lacewings, parasitic wasps, predatory beetles, and spiders. These “good bugs” work day and night to devour pests, so you don’t have to worry as much about “bad bugs” eating your favorite plants.

But before you release a bunch of ladybugs in your garden, plant beneficial flower species instead! Releasing store-bought insect predators may not actually cut down on pest pressure and can even cause invasive insects to outcompete native ones. It is much cheaper and more effective to attract native beneficial insects by creating a habitat for them. This will ensure that they create a home in your garden to supply biocontrol benefits for years to come.

These plants are excellent for beneficial insects that help with biocontrol in your garden:

  • Sweet alyssum
  • Yarrow
  • Flowering dill
  • Flowering fennel
  • Coreopsis
  • Queen Anne’s lace
  • Rocky Mountain penstemon
  • Sunflowers
  • Buckwheat
  • Coriander
  • Angelica
  • Calendula
  • Marigolds
  • Most native wildflowers

You can even install bat boxes to help with mosquitoes or let your cat roam around the garden to help deter rodents. Biocontrol happens on any level of the ecosystem by facilitating wild interactions between predators and prey.

Beware! You must avoid pesticides in order for beneficial insects to work their magic! Pesticides don’t only kill pests— they harm beneficial insects and pollinators, too. Controlling pest infestations may not be instant, but biocontrol can create long term sustainability and a more biodiverse garden.

Reduce Garden Waste

Ironically enough, many plant-growing tools sold in modern garden stores are loaded with single-use plastics and flimsy materials that eventually end up in the landfills. From nursery trays to drip lines to plastic mulch, many mainstream landscape supplies are non-biodegradable and may not last very long in the garden. 

If you want to grow your food while simultaneously reducing waste, here are some eco-friendly swaps:

Use Recycled Paper Pots for Root-Sensitive Crops

Close-up of recycled paper pots containing young seedlings. The seedlings consist of short stems and pairs of small oval looking green cotyledons.
Opt for recycled paper pots for eco-friendly seed starting.

Recycled paper pots are the perfect Earth Day gift for yourself or a gardener friend. Instead of starting seeds in plastic containers, paper pots can be filled with soil and planted directly in the ground because they are biodegradable. This is especially advantageous for root-sensitive crops like cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, and sunflowers. 

Usually, these crops are prone to root disturbance if they are moved from a standard seed tray into the ground. But with the paper pot, you don’t mess with the root system at all! Instead, the seedlings can establish in a cozy, protected environment and then grow straight into the ground once the paper pot is buried in the soil. The paper is strong enough to hold its shape during seed establishment yet thin enough to decompose once it is moist and planted.

Alternatively, you can let your seeds start almost “naked” by using soil blocks. The soil blocker method uses moist cubes of soil compressed into shape without any liner or tray. Seeds can be sown directly in the center and the seedlings rapidly establish without the need for any container. The risk of transplant shock is significantly lowered, and you don’t have to worry about rootbound seedlings because the roots are not constrained by a pot.

Choose Durable Multi-Use Seed Starting Trays

Close-up of starting seed trays on a wooden table. These starting trays are plastic and have recessed cells filled with fresh soil.
Upgrade to durable seed starting trays for a lifetime investment.

Flimsy nursery trays can crack or completely fall apart after just a few uses. They are recognizable by that icky plastic-crinkling sound whenever you squeeze their sides, much like a single-use water bottle. Rather than creating more landfill waste from nursery trays, you can invest in durable multi-use seed starting trays that will last for a lifetime. This can completely eliminate single-use plastics in your garden! 

Epic Seed Starting Trays are transforming the gardening world by combining rugged durability with outstanding seedling performance. No more rotten seeds or root-circling struggling seedlings. The strategically-placed airflow holes ensure that oxygen constantly reaches the soil and your seedlings stay healthy, rather than being constrained to a non-aerated nursery pot. Better yet, the easy-access thumb holes at the bottom of the trays make transplanting a breeze. Simply poke your finger up from the bottom, and your seedlings easily slide out from the container for quick planting with minimal root disturbance. 

But one of the coolest things about these trays is— they are practically invincible! You can drop them, step on them, and use them for 10+ seasons, and they will reliably keep their shape. The eco-friendly BPA-free plastic is made in the USA from recycled materials and is UV-protected, so it doesn’t degrade in the sun.  

Mix-and-match several colors, sizes, and cell numbers into a rugged universal bottom tray so you never have to rely on flimsy breakable nursery trays again. 

Avoid Breakable Plastic Planters

Close-up of growing young rosemary and thyme plants in fabric pots. Rosemary is a woody perennial herb with slender, needle-like leaves of gray-green color. Thyme is a low-growing herb with small, oval-shaped green leaves.
Upgrade to sustainable fabric grow bags for long-lasting planters.

Container growers often struggle with cheap pots and planters that break over time. Plastic planters are particularly problematic because, once they crack, you can’t really fix them. They can also constrain plant roots and lead to conditions that may cause root rot. If you’re tired of throwing cheap pots in the trash, consider upgrading to a sustainable fabric alternative.

Grow bags are the best option for replacing breakable planters because they’re flexible, portable, non-rippable, and long-lasting. It is easy to move grow bags around, and they offer a lot of extra drainage to plants. Epic Grow Bags are made from BPA-free 100% recycled PET felt to ensure a sustainable and functional plant environment.

Final Thoughts

Many environmental changes focus on large-scale solutions that most of us have no control over. Fortunately, we can control what happens in our homes and gardens. Planting native plants supports wildlife and ensures habitat for local bees, butterflies, and birds. 

Switching to no-till soil management, slow-release organic fertilizers, and composted food scraps ensures healthier soil and waterways. Saving water and diverting gray water can cut down on your water bill and preserve local resources. Reducing waste and switching to durable, sustainably-produced products creates less trash in the landfill and longer-lasting tools in the garden. 

When in doubt, consider planting regionally native wildflowers or a tree this Earth Day! Gardeners are doing vital work to save our planet and grow healthier food for future generations. Thank you!

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