Green Gardening

Boy in vegetable garden

1. Overview

There are many ways to make your garden greener: Composting, native plants, reducing lawn area, using less fertilizer and pesticide, eco-friendly lawn care.

2. Composting

Composting is a great way to reduce the amount of organic kitchen, garden and yard waste from your household, and it helps create a rich soil amendment you can use in your garden. Save yourself time bagging leaves and simply add them to your compost bin. Learn more about composting or how to buy a composting bin from us.

3. Native Plants

Native plants don’t require as much watering or maintenance as nonnative plants. They also provide food and habitat for local wildlife such as beneficial pollinators (bees, butterflies and many more insects) and birds.

4. Expand Garden Beds – Reduce Lawn Area

While a grassy lawn area is desirable for many homeowners, many gardeners are finding that they don’t need quite so much. They are expanding their garden beds along the edges of their property, and reducing the lawn area to the sections that are used more frequently. Adding native trees, shrubs, and plants in these new garden beds is a great way to provide habitat and a broader environmental benefit. Fall is a great time to plant trees and shrubs.

5. Fertilize in the Fall, If At All; Use Less Pesticide

Minimize or eliminate the use of fertilizers and pesticides. Never apply these chemicals before rain is forecast. More tips:

  • Test your soil before adding fertilizer. Your soil’s pH, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium levels have a strong influence on the health of your lawn and should be checked every two to three years. To learn what amendments your lawn needs, you can pick up a soil test kit from the VCE or from a plant clinic at a farmer’s market. The soil analysis test will be conducted at Virginia Tech, costs $10 and the results are emailed to you. For more information on soil testing and gardening, as well as assistance in interpreting your test results, call the VCE Help Desk at 703-228-6414.
  • Fertilize in the fall, if at all for fescue, bluegrass and ryegrass. These are cool-season grasses. When you fertilize in the fall, you help stimulate root growth, which help grasses It’s a misconception that lawns require spring fertilizer applications. Fertilizer should only be applied in response to soil test results and should be specific to the species of grass.

Fertilize in the fall, if at all

6. Eco-Friendly Lawn Care

Many of us want a lush, emerald green lawn, but it doesn’t always turn out that way. The quality of our lawn is influenced by many factors including the type of grass grown, soil, soil pH, nutrient levels and rainfall. Some varieties of grasses are better suited for our climate than others. Different grass types require care at different times of the year.

Lawn care also has an environmental impact. Fertilizers and chemicals applied to our lawns often find their way into Four Mile Run and other local streams. The practices below will help lessen your impact on our local waterways.

  • New lawn? Choose your grass wisely. Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue and zoysiagrass are among the recommended species for northern Virginia. The Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) selecting turf grass website provides Virginia-specific grass recommendations.
  • Mow high. Adjust your mower’s blade height to the highest setting. Higher grass allows for thicker grass with deeper roots that are better able to absorb fertilizer and water. Thicker, higher grass also discourages weeds.
  • Grasscycle. As you mow, leave the grass clippings on your lawn. The clippings must be small enough to filter through the turf grass and down into the soil region. Grass clippings are free sources of nitrogen and phosphorus (components of fertilizer) for your lawn.
  • Sweep it up! Never leave grass clippings in the road or on a hard surface like a sidewalk where they can blow or be washed into a storm drain.

For a healthy lawn, keep you mower on the highest setting

7. Fall Leaf Disposal 

What is the best way to dispose of fallen leaves? Here are four options for handling leaves in the fall. 

Mulch them in as a a fertilizer. Mulch your leaves by mowing over them in the fall. You may need to pass over the leaves with the mower more than once to cut the leaf parts small enough. Like grass, leaves contain phosphorus and nitrogen and are free fertilizer for your lawn.

Compost. Fallen leaves are rich in carbon and can help balance lawn clippings, fruit and vegetable waste, which are rich in nitrogen. Large leaf piles can also be composted on their own. Leaves also provide overwintering habitat for butterflies and other pollinators. 

Put in paper bags or rake to the curb the day before leaf collection. Watch the weather forecast and make sure your leaves are not blocking storm drains. 

What not to do with your fall leaves:

  • Don’t let your leaves fall or wash into storm drains. Leaves can clog them and cause flooding on your street. Storm drains lead directly to neighborhood streams - only rain should enter them. 
  • Don't dump your leaves in a park (or anywhere off your property). If you are going to compost, keep them on your property. 
  • Never burn leaves. Leaf burning emits excess particulate matter and other air quality pollutants. 

8. Garden Talks

Garden Talks are led by volunteers and staff from Arlington Food Assistance Center’s Plot Against Hunger and the Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners at Arlington Central Library on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. from March-October. You can also become a library garden volunteer!