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4 Ways to Grow a Greener Garden

By Mara Strom

Planting and maintaining a garden is a great way to teach children and adults alike about the important messages of Earth Day.

While gardens add undeniable beauty to our lives, the act of planting and tending to a garden is for more enriching than what meets the eye. Gardening teaches us to appreciate the bounty and delicate balance of nature, to understand our tremendous impact on the natural environment, and to seek out strategies that will reduce waste while conserving resources.

Can you dig the challenge of growing a greener garden this Earth Day? Start by reading up on these four simple greenscaping techniques, then grab your kids and head outside.

Create some compost

Instead of using chemical fertilizers, which leach poisonous toxins into the roots of your fruits, vegetables and flowers, switch to all-natural composting. You can buy organic composting at your local nursery or online, but why not create your own compost pile with food scraps and yard trimmings.

Young kids really enjoy saving scraps and adding them to pile. For older children, turning the compost can be a real learning experience, too -- not to mention a physical challenge.

When the compost is ready to be spread, it will make a great additive that enriches your soil, decreases erosion and increases water retention. Plus, because it's completely natural, you can feel good about feeding your family straight out of the garden.

Composting for beginners

Quick guide to composting

How to use compost (including instructions for container gardening)

Mulch it naturally

Tired of fighting weeds? A great way to prevent weed growth is to use mulch -- and the best kind of mulch is the completely natural kind. Haul some untreated wood and leaf waste over to your local gardening store and ask them to chip it for you. Spreading the chips over your garden beds will keep weeds at bay, add nutrients back into the soil and help retain moisture. If you don't have old logs at your disposal, other great sources of natural mulch include grass clippings (from non-chemically treated lawns) and pine needles.

Conserve water

"Conserve water" might seem like pretty old-fashioned advice. But that's just because water has always been at a premium - and no more so than during the hot months of summer. Start your water conservation efforts by consciously running your sprinklers at night or in the early hours of the morning, when evaporation is less likely. If you have a larger garden or yard, consider installing an automated irrigation system -- you will know you're saving water when you see your water bill cut in half that first month. An even greener solution to water conservation is using barrels to collect run-off rainwater for watering your garden and even lawn.

Harvesting rain water: It's not just for the developing world

Video demonstration of water harvesting techniques

Reuse and recycle your garden tools

Before you invest in a lot of new garden equipment, take a look around your garden shed, basement or even kitchen for some items you might be able to reuse. For example, you don't need costly plastic contraptions to grow and protect new seedlings. Start your seedlings in old (well-washed) yogurt or cottage cheese containers; make a quick shelter for them by cutting off the bottom of a plastic milk jug. If you need larger gardening equipment, talk to a neighbor about pooling your resources. Be sure to responsibly recycle your used lawn mower oil and tires. And when you do need to buy new tools and equipment, look for ones that are made from at least partially recycled materials. Decorative stepping stones are now made from reused glass and faux railroad ties are being built from recycled plastic bags.

Benefits of recycling used lawn mower oil

Recycled plastic lumber

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