Gardening is great for the environment, right?

Why your plants may have a more negative impact than you expected, and how to fix it.

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Photo by cottonbro from Pexels
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Photo by James Wheeler from Pexels

Peat

Sometimes also called turf, peat is the name given to the partially decomposed layer of organic matter, mostly from plants, that can be found on the soil surface in certain areas where decomposition is notoriously slow. Peatlands are highly effective at trapping CO2. While covering only 3% of the planet’s surface, it’s estimated that 15% to 30% of the planet’s carbon is currently trapped in the form of peat. In fact, globally, they store more carbon than all the forests combined. While decomposing matter does emit CO2, the rate at which it happens in bogs (another name for swamp) is so slow that they manage to capture more carbon than they emit. However, with a growth of only 0.5mm to 0.6mm per year, it can take thousands of years to accumulate a meter or two. Since the only thing keeping the CO2 trapped is the fact that it takes even longer than that to decompose, the best thing to do with bogs is to leave them alone. Suffice to say, with climate change knocking on the door, peatlands should be preserved as much as possible.

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Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Pesticides and fertilizers

An entire debate can be had about pesticide and fertilizer use in agriculture, but we’re not going to get into today, as industrial farming is an entirely different topic than home gardening. That being said, both are available for purchase for home users, so there is a discussion to be had on this topic. There is no denying that pesticides, especially when used poorly, can have a devastating impact on the local environment. Not only that, but pesticide poisoning is potentially responsible for the death of thousands each year, mainly due to excessive and inappropriate use. There is a reason the list of instructions is so long when you purchase some at your local gardening store. The same goes for fertilizers, which tend to leak into local waterways and cause havoc.

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Photo by June O on Unsplash

Invasive species and foreign plants

During the age of sail, it was common for ships to use rocks or soil as ballast to counteract the effect of the wind and keep the ship upright, unlike a certain Swedish vessel. This soil often contained insects and seeds. Purple Loosestrife, a plant species native to Europe, made its way to North America in such a way in the early 19th century. Highly successful in its new environment, it proceeded to spread rapidly thanks to the fact that a single plant can produce up to 2.7 million seeds per year. Still around today, it does what invasive plant species typically do — make it difficult for other plants to grow, endanger fragile ecosystems, and be a general nuisance, in this case by regularly clogging canals and making farming more difficult.

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Photo by Noelle Otto from Pexels

Green doesn’t mean sustainable

Perhaps ironically, making your environment greener doesn’t mean it’s becoming more sustainable. There are countless more ways in which we can make it even less so. High water consumption, plastic use, constantly buying new seeds, the list of things that can reduce the benefits of home gardening are countless. At the same time, there are countless resources, from books, to websites, to web series, the options are out there. Domestic gardens are great, let’s make them even greater.

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