Three generations of women gardening

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As spring approaches, there's no better time to start gardening. However, when working in the yard, don't forget about the impact your personal garden can have on the environment. Charlie Nardozzi, senior horticulturist for the National Gardening Association, and Ellen Ogden, food and garden writer and garden coach, offer 10 tips for successful green gardening.

Keeping things simple
Woman planting orange flowers

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If you're a new gardener, keep things simple. Ellen says people have a tendency to plant a garden that's too large and then end up with a backyard mess. One of the benefits to growing a small garden is that it lends itself to a more positive experience. "I was always seeing weeds when it was too big," she says. "It can be stressful rather than enjoyable."
Shop with the earth in mind
Packets of seeds

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Rule of thumb: Steer clear of anything in a plastic bag. Keep in mind that there are a lot of gardening practices that aren't very environmentally friendly, especially when it comes to buying from nurseries, Ellen says. One way to avoid this is to purchase seeds instead of plants. If you're looking to use plants,but still want to be as green as possible, find nurseries that recycle the plastic used to package each plant.

Think local
Lush assortment of plants in a garden

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Find out what vegetables and greens are native in your area. "Native plants are adaptive to the climate and temperature extremes. ... They won't need a lot of extra water because they'll be adapted to the natural water supply in that area," Charlie says. 

Also, buy plants that are going to grow comfortably within your space, Charlie says. The better plants fit, the less inclined you'll be to buy pesticides and fertilizers.

What about your soil?
Woman preparing spring flower bulbs in soil

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Start with healthy compost. The best kind contains yard waste as its base, Charlie says. This can include unseeded grass clippings, hay straw and old plants from your garden. If you buy your compost in bulk, check that it's crumbly, with no more than a few small pieces of leaf or twig left in it. "What you put in the soil will ultimately be feeding what you're growing," Ellen says.

Also, Charlie suggests using mulch to preserve moisture. You won't have to water your plants as much, he says, and it prevents the growth of weeds, which steal water from your garden.

What can you plant successfully?
Man holding homegrown tomatoes

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If you're looking for success, Charlie says you can count on lettuces, mesclun mixes, tomatoes, summer squash and zucchini. In fact, many vegetables are resistant to a variety of insects and diseases, which will help keep you from turning to pesticides and herbicides in your garden.

Room to breathe
Tiger lily

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It's important to appropriately space out your plants in order to keep them healthy. However, use the space your have, Charlie says. If you plant wisely, you can really get an abundance of growth from a very small space.

An eco-friendly watering method
Water in a bucket

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When the dark clouds roll in, put rain buckets under your gutters and collect that extra runoff to water your garden. Both Charlie and Ellen recommend using a drip irrigation system in place of an overhead sprinkler system to keep your garden hydrated. Although the pipes are made of plastic, these systems are much more efficient and are sure to save water, especially for trees and shrubs.

Talk to your neighbors
Senior citizens gardening together

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Keep tabs on what's going on in yards around you. If the gardeners next door are treating their plants with herbicide, Ellen says to not be afraid to ask them not to spray on windy days. Good fences make good neighbors, Ellen says.

In addition, try sharing a garden with your neighbors. You'll minimize resources, and everyone will enjoy the growth. "It's nice to collaborate," she says.

Give yourself a hand
Woman gardening by hand

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A little dirt never hurt anyone, and staying away from gas-powered and electric tools is much better for your soil and the environment. Ellen suggests using a push-type lawn mower, even if you have a big lawn, and says that when she digs by hand, she keeps her soil at a better consistency since she can feel it as she works.

Patience is a virtue

Mother and child gardening

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Think of gardening as a long-term project: There's no rush. Don't take shortcuts, and don't think that using a chemical to eradicate weeds is a safe way to go, Ellen says. "So many people will spray weed killer because they want instant growth," she says, "But keeping your own piece of paradise as environmentally-friendly as possible will nurture your body, mind and soul."   

Find more tips to keep your garden growing in The Gardening Club