It might seem foolish to set New Year’s resolutions for going green in the garden. After all, gardens are already green, right?

Well, maybe or maybe not, depending on your approach. The following are 15 steps that we can all take to tread more lightly on the earth.

1. Eliminate chemicals.

Rather than reaching for the most potent synthetic herbicides and pesticides that may carpet-bomb everything in sight, look for more gentle ways to treat your specific problem. With the trend toward going green, more companies than ever are offering natural and organic controls.

Once the weather warms up, you can release beneficial insects, such as lacewings and ladybugs. Also, don’t dismiss the power of the hose. Strong, regular blasts from a brass nozzle cranked to high pressure do wonders for knocking back aphids and other soft-bodied, sap-sucking bugs.

2. Compost.

Whether you start a brush pile or buy a bin, composting is a great way to recycle garden waste right on your property. Plus, you’ll keep kitchen scraps (fruits, vegetables, bread and pasta — not meat, fat or dairy products) out of the trash. The finished product is a terrific, endless source of nutrients for your plants, and won’t cost you a dime, once you’ve set up the pile or bin.

3. Tune up irrigation.

Watering by hand and hauling portable sprinklers around an entire garden wastes a lot of water. Instead, install drip irrigation in planting beds, and pop-up sprinklers for ground covers and lawn. Adjust your sprinkler heads so that they don’t wet the pavement or send water flowing into the street.

Automate your system. Invest in an irrigation controller that allows you to stretch intervals between watering to two weeks or more. Make sure the controller has a rain delay feature — and remember to use it. Water early in the morning, before warmer day-time temperatures contribute to faster evaporation and afternoon winds send sprinkler spray swirling all over the neighborhood.

4. Install a graywater system.

These systems divert drainwater from washing machines, showers, bathtubs and/or bathroom sinks to the garden. Rather than installing a system yourself, you may be better off finding a licensed landscape contractor or plumber to do the work. Visit for information.

5. Install a rain barrel.

Rain barrels work well for short-term watering needs. Unfortunately, most of our rain falls within just a few months, so any rain stored in barrels won’t sustain a garden for an entire dry season. They are far more effective in areas where rain falls intermittently throughout the year.

However, rain barrels are still terrific storage devices. During the last drought, we put buckets in our bathroom to capture shower water before it heated up, then dumped that water in a rain barrel to water plants later on.

6. Install a rain garden.

Rather than collecting rain for future irrigation, a rain garden prevents runoff by trapping water onsite. A series of berms and below-ground rubble pits retains the water and causes it to percolate into the soil below. Deep-rooted trees especially appreciate the effort.

7. Plant natives.

It only makes sense to plant natives and other like-minded Mediterranean species that thrive in our natural cycle of warm, dry summers and cool, wet winters. These plants will be healthier and happier. You won’t have to water as often. And by planting a diverse selection, you’re much more likely to attract and provide habitat for birds, butterflies and beneficial insects that will help keep pests at bay.

8. Minimize hardscape.

Paving and other types of hard surfaces prevent rain from reaching the soil. They also — depending on how they’re positioned — contribute to runoff. Keep concrete and asphalt to a minimum, or consider swapping them for porous hardscape, such as interlocking pavers, flagstones or other material that has joints and is set in sand and gravel.

Hardscape also contributes to what’s called the heat island effect. Dark materials, in particular, hold heat, which warms the surrounding environment. By installing lighter-colored materials, you’ll reduce the effect.

9. Plant strategically.

By planting deciduous shade trees on the south and west sides of your home, you can reduce your energy bills. The leafy trees will ease your need for air conditioning during the summer. When they drop their leaves in winter, the extra sunshine will help keep your residence a little warmer.

10. Grow your own food.

Home-grown and fresh-picked taste better. Plus, you’ll reduce your carbon footprint by eliminating the transportation of commercial crops from farms to markets to your home. Be sure to plant only what you truly like. There’s no point in having a tree filled with persimmons or bushels of zucchinis if you won’t eat them.

11. Reduce or eliminate lawn.

Vast sweeps of turf may be appealing. Most people know how to care for turf, so it may seem like an easy form of landscaping.

But lawns are labor intensive. They require mowing once a week, fertilizing on a regular basis and an ongoing effort to keep out weeds. They also need substantially more water than natives or Mediterranean plants that could fill the same space, yet require pruning and care only a few times a year.

If you must have lawn for your kids or pets, consider replacing your gas mower with an electric version. While electric mowers still take energy to power, they don’t spew pollutants as they zigzag across the grass.

12. Mulch lawn clippings.

Use a self-mulching mower that chews up the grass as it cuts, then leaves a trail out the back of the mower. Or bag the clippings, then spread thin layers throughout the garden to improve the tilth and attract earthworms and beneficial soil microorganisms.

13. Update outdoor lighting.

Change out incandescent flood lights for new, energy-efficient bulbs. A trip to any home improvement store will present an array of low-energy options. Out in the garden, use low-voltage or solar fixtures. Check what your bulbs are illuminating. Avoid pointing any fixtures directly at your neighbors.

14. Sweep, don’t blow.

Set aside your gas-powered blower and get out a broom or rake for cleaning up. It’s good exercise and eliminates emissions and noise pollution.

15. Enjoy your garden.

Spend time outside. Set a bench in your front yard, or a hammock in the back. The more time you take to relax and enjoy the outdoors, the more in tune you will become with the seasons and natural rhythms. And the more aware you become, the more tenderly you’ll treat your garden.

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Disposing Your Garden Chemicals

If you’ve been gardening for any length of time, you probably have accumulated garden chemicals — pesticides, herbicides and even fertilizers — that you’ll never use.

Go through your shelves and pull out the unwanteds.

But do not throw them in your trash can. They are considered toxic and should not go to the landfill with your regular household waste. Instead, box them up and take them to your city or county’s household hazardous waste collection facility.

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