How to Celebrate Earth Day All Year Long
Updated: Jun 20
For more than 50 years, we have set aside a day in April to focus on and lend our support to environmental protection. With sustainable choices for your garden, however, you can be ecologically responsible all year long.
Earth Day started in 1970 after two politicians - U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson, Democrat of Wisconsin, and Congressman Pete McCloskey, a California Republican - co-chaired an effort to create a series of teach-ings on college campuses about the environment and threats to it. The date, April 22, was chosen because it was a weekday that fell squarely between Spring Break and final exams, and organizers felt this would maximize the number of students who would attend.
But the organizer of that first event recognized the potential of attracting many more people to the cause and reached out to a wide range of organizations and faith groups to be part of the first day. They also came up with the name Earth Day, which drew national media interest.
The result was that on April 22, 1970, about 20 million Americans (about 10% of the total population of the United States at that time) attended rallies in the streets, parks and auditoriums across the country to protest on behalf of Mother Earth. It is still the largest single day protest in history.
While the initial focus of Earth Day was confronting issues like oil spills, polluting factories, and loss of wilderness and wildlife, the movement has expanded over the years to include the things that we as individuals and families can do to help the environment.
Gardening is a big part of those efforts.
Plant a Tree
One of the most impactful ways you can improve the environment hands down is by planting a tree. Trees clean the air, prevent rainwater runoff, provide a home for animals and can even save you money. Here’s how:
Photosynthesis. Trees absorb harmful carbon dioxide and release oxygen back into the air. Not only that, trees also can absorb pollutants like nitrogen, ammonia, and sulfur dioxide. According to the Arbor Day Foundation, it is estimated that just one tree can absorb 10 pounds of polluted air each year and release 260 pounds of oxygen.
Prevent soil erosion and flooding. Trees reduce erosion from leaf to root. The canopies of trees serve as a flexible screen that protects the earth and reduces the force of wind and rain. Meanwhile, the complex root systems under trees prevent soil compaction and help water soak into the ground instead of just flowing over the surface.
Provide a wildlife habitat. Trees provide nesting sites, food and shelter for birds and other critters.
Conserve energy costs. If you plant your tree strategically, it will provide shade during the summer and shelter from cold winter winds, which can both reduce your utility bills.
Sustainable and organic gardening takes a little planning, but it is easy to do. Among the easiest things you can do to create an eco-friendly garden include these practices:
Go Native and Naturalized. Discover the many beautiful plants that are native (or have adapted well) to our region. They are easier to grow and sustain because they are already suited to the rainfall, soil and climate in our region. Because of this they tend to require less effort – and even less water – to grow
Use Mulch. A nice covering of mulch is another easy way to create a healthy garden that benefits the ecology. Mulch prevents your soil from drying out, suppresses weeds, and adds nutrients to the soil.
Try beneficial insects and organic pesticides. From lady bugs to neem oil, there are many methods of getting rid of pests without using harmful chemicals.
Composting epitomizes one of the tenets of environmentalism – the power of recycling.
When you take food scraps and yard waste and compost them, you not only create a superb organic fertilizer, you also keep those items out of our landfills. That’s a huge impact as food scraps and yard waste together account for about 30 percent of what we throw away.
The key to successful composting is knowing what you should – and shouldn’t – put in your compost bin. Good items include fruits and veggies, eggshells, coffee grounds, nut shells, shredded newspaper, cardboard, grass trimming, leaves, woodchips and even hair. No-no’s include meat, fish, and most fats, like grease and lard, all of which can cause odor problems and attract pests like rodents and flies. Avoid charcoal ash, pet waste, diseased plants, or yard trimmings that were treated with chemical pesticides, as they can include substances harmful to your garden - or yourself!
Once again, it looks like we’ll be having another dry summer in northern Arizona this year. For gardeners, this raises the dilemma of how to enjoy growing flowers and foodstuffs during a time when conserving water is not only ecologically desirable; it’s a necessity.
The key is cultivating a garden that is functional and attractive but also “water wise” by using one or all of these methods:
Install a drip irrigation system. Hand watering delivers water at such a high rate, you reach the surface of the soil and the rest is lost to evaporation or runoff. Drip irrigation, by contrast, uses far less water and penetrates the entire root system. It also trains the roots to grow more deeply which gives your plants a better chance of surviving and thriving. When you hand water, your plant’s roots stay at the surface of the soil because that is where the water is and will dry out more quickly because they are closer to the sun.
Maintain your garden. And by that, we mean don’t skip on the weeding and pruning. Not only will you keep your plants healthy, but it will also help to conserve water because your landscape plants will not have to compete with weeds or spent blooms for water.
Use rain barrels. Take advantage of the monsoon season by putting out rain barrels to store and use rainwater in your garden.
Warner’s Nursery will be holding several classes as part of our “Root Camp” series that deal directly with conservation and eco-friendly methods of gardening. In April, we’ll be holding classes on garden planning and how to select trees for our micro-climates; in May, we’ll have sessions on organic gardening and composting and in June we’ll feature classes on native perennials and drip irrigation systems. You can learn more by visiting warnersnursery.com.