COLUMN: Be a responsible gardener

Erin Browne

Earth Day will be celebrated on April 22. This year’s Earth Day theme is: Invest In Our Planet.”

Thinking green and keeping your yard and garden environmentally friendly is not about a single day. This year, take the first step in doing your part towards making your landscape more sustainable and making a positive impact to the environment. Here are some ideas on how you can be a responsible gardener:

Go native

Native plants are adapted to our climate and soil; they provide the food source for pollinators and other wildlife. Look for natives in our local nurseries and plant to add at least one to your garden this year. You can get some ideas on native flowers, shrubs, trees and vines by visiting the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation website at

Grow more, mow less

You can save money and help pollinators by reducing your lawn footprint. It only takes a small space to make a difference. This year, consider converting part of your lawn to a native plant garden, butterfly or wildflower garden.

Avoid chemicals

Good garden cultural practices such as planting resistant varieties and adding organic materials such as compost to the soil are better options. Fewer chemicals means healthier soil, cleaner water and safety for people and pets.

Focus on the soil

Quality soil is the foundation of any garden or lawn. Healthy soils contain millions of beneficial microbial organisms needed for healthy plant growth. Look at your soil. Is it rich in organic matter; does it have earthworms and does it hold moisture well? 

Invest in a soil test to determine pH, salts and nutrient levels. Our Oneida County CCE can help you with this; visit to find information on how to take your soil samples and get the soil tested.

What else can you do?

Consider starting a compost pile. Composting can be large or small scale and it’s not hard to do; visit our website for guidance on how to get started:

Collect water in a rain barrel for use in your yard. Backyard compost tumblers and rain barrels are available for purchase and can be found at local garden centers and online just by doing a google search.

Use organic mulches such as wood chips, shredded leaves, or straw. These materials will break down and provide nutrients back into the soil as well as shade out weeds. Use your lawn clippings by leaving them on the lawn. You’ll provide 50% of your lawn’s nitrogen. The other 50% can be applied in the fall by adding shredded leaves using a mulching mower. Leaves are your friends and can be used as mulch in your garden and vegetable beds.

Check your gutters; they should flow onto your lawn or garden, not the pavement.

Use Integrated Pest Management (IPM) concepts to naturally reduce pests. IPM incorporates biological, cultural (i.e., keeping garden beds clean of debris), mechanical (i.e. fencing against animal problems), organic and the right chemical practices. Visit Cornell’s IPM webpage

What will you do to restore nature and build a healthier planet? Visit the official Earth Day website, for more ideas.

If you missed signing up for the current master gardener volunteer training, we can put you on our list for the next upcoming training. For more information, call us or visit and click on Facebook and YouTube icons at the bottom of the page for great research and garden information. Or phone 315-736-3394, ext 100.,132956

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