Mitigate extreme weather

Departments - Straight Talk | Honest insights from an IGC expert

5 easy, Earth-friendly lawn and gardening practices that can help your customers make a difference.

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March 20, 2019

Composting is still a mystery to many homeowners. They need step-by-step instructions and easy-to-use compost bins to get them actively composting. .
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Weather is rarely a mild event here in Texas. More like a wide-swinging pendulum that hits extremes on either end of its journey. That said, there’s no denying the extremes are getting more extreme. Hot is getting hotter, cold is getting colder, and it doesn’t seem to just rain anymore — it floods. Storms don’t just blow through anymore — they rage.

No matter where you live, you’re no doubt seeing significant weather changes and extremes due to climate change.

What does this mean for gardeners and your green industry business? Mandatory adaptation. We’re all going to need to be more Earth-conscious in our gardening and business practices if we have any hope of keeping what we have now. But it’s easy to get overwhelmed and discouraged when you don’t know where to start.

Consider creating quick tips for your customers that outline specific Earth-friendly practices and products that are simple to understand and execute. Here are a few of my top tips to get you started:

1. Start with soil

Improving soil health and reducing erosion (stabilizing soil) should be a top priority for gardeners and green industry pros alike. Rebuilding soil microfauna and flora by adding organic matter and encouraging good aeration is a good place to start. Healthy aerated soil can better sustain healthy stands of trees, shrubs, and lawns to reduce erosion and mitigate water runoff (a huge source of water waste in urban environments). Discourage bare soil in urban environments. Plant something!

Using cover crops in veggie beds and landscape beds is another great way to protect and build soil health. Most cover crops are very easy to grow — you just need to have the right seed at the right time — and know when to turn plants under into the soil as agreen manure.

Teach customers that in order to feed your plants, you need to feed the soil first.

2. Cut the gas

I hate leaf blowers with a passion. They are horrible noise and air polluters. As an industry insider who has run plenty of maintenance activities directly, blowers are often a crutch for landscape maintenance employees looking to fill time. They are used too often and for too long, for tasks that should instead require a little bit of elbow grease. Add gas mowers and weed-eaters, and you have a recipe for out of control air (and noise) pollution. Homeowners just copy what they see us doing.

Sure, power tools have their place. But leaf blowers used in landscape beds do terrible damage to plants and the soil. They can severely compact soil and expose plant roots. Use them on hardscape surfaces but reduce or restrict their use in areas with soil.

While you won’t eliminate your carbon footprint by switching to electric blowers and mowers, you can significantly reduce air pollution and noise pollution. I’ve been testing and using electric and battery-operated tools for years, and I can say that the ones on the market now will get the job done – much more quietly – for your retail customers. Eco-friendly power garden tools (and good old manual tools) are still a niche category, but one that is prime for the IGC target customer.

It’s not just power tools that use fossil fuels and generate emissions, so do many synthetic fertilizers and pest control products. Work to provide fossil fuel-free alternatives for customers looking to convert to more Earth- and soil-friendly options.

3. Plant more trees and shrubs

Large, long-lived plants, such as trees and large shrubs, absorb more CO2 from the atmosphere than smaller plants, such as annuals and perennials. Trees provide a multitude of benefits in urban environments, such as shade to mitigate urban temperatures and AC use and emissions for cooling your home. Plus, they provide much needed habitat for local wildlife.

Large tree and shrub sales have declined for many garden centers, but if you focus on educating your customers on the benefits of urban trees and native or regionally adapted plants, you can recapture some of their interest and sales. Just like with synthetic products, consider offering specific trade out suggestions for many of the over-planted invasives out there. A “Plant This Not That program.” As customers get more knowledgeable about natives and invasives, they’ll look to you for specific sustainable plant choices.

4. No waste

The no-waste movement is picking up serious momentum. Consumers are looking for ways to drastically reduce their use of plastic and other non-reusable containers and packaging. If you don’t already teach composting to your customers, now’s the time to start. Recycling food and yard waste is an excellent way to reduce methane emissions from landfills.

Simply composting the same waste in your home garden significantly reduces methane emissions and you get your own nutrient-rich compost to put back into your landscape.

Composting is still a mystery to many homeowners. They need step-by-step instructions and easy-to-use compost bins (or bin-building classes) to get them actively composting.

5. Leverage the lawn

Americans still have a death grip on their lawns. That being the case, we need to educate our customers on how to go green with their lawns to get the most out of the benefits lawns can offer. Lawns do, of course, absorb carbon from the atmosphere, reduce soil erosion and runoff, and mitigate temperatures in urban environments. These are all good reasons why a lawn is preferable to gravel in city landscapes. Unfortunately, it’s how we maintain our lawns that negates these positive effects.

Let’s teach them how to water correctly (they all over-water), mow high and less often, fertilize naturally by feeding the soil, and choose tougher lawngrass species. Throw in Earth-friendly lawn care tools, and you’ve made some progress. If you can show them how to trade out the lawn for drought-tolerant groundcovers or native perennials, all the better.

These might all seem like very simple and obvious actions to those of us in the industry. But to the general population — your customers — a simple starting place can make a world of difference.

Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural consulting, business and marketing strategy, product development and branding, and content creation for green industry companies. lesliehalleck.com