The sun is shining, the trees are green, and you’re spending much more time outside enjoying the beautiful weather. If you’re lucky enough to have a yard space, you’re also probably setting up your space for maximum summer enjoyment by planting flowers and herbs and setting up patio furniture.
As you work to get your yard in summertime shape, keep the planet in mind and consider making small adjustments to your space and routine to benefit the earth. Creating a peaceful, relaxing space to read, chat, or hang out with friends and family feels all the more rewarding when you know you’re doing it responsibly.
Without pollinators, the fruits, veggies, and flowers you love wouldn’t exist. Pollinators like bees and butterflies may be small, but they do a lot of heavy lifting to carry pollen from plant to plant to fertilize them.
Creating a paradise for pollinators can be done in a few different ways. Plant a bee- and butterfly-friendly garden with flowers and shrubs that produce nectar, including lilacs, azaleas, bee balm, coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, marigolds, and so many more. Opt for plants that flower continuously throughout the season or make sure you have a variety of plants in different stages of bloom and plant in clumps when possible; it’s also a good idea to use plants native to your area.
If you have a large lawn space (and no community rules about mowing), consider planting a bee-friendly lawn with flowering plants like dandelions and clover to give bees and butterflies a place to land and another food source.
Pollinators also need water, just like us. Consider adding a bird bath or another water source to your yard; not only is it beneficial to the animals and insects around us, it’s relaxing and transportative!
Compost dos and don’ts
Composting is one of the easiest things you can do to reduce food waste, but it’s so much more than just tossing coffee grounds and eggshells in a bin by your kitchen sink. Composting is a great way to nourish the soil of your garden or houseplant pots and reduces the need for pesticides and fertilizer, not to mention reduces your carbon footprint.
If you have space for a large compost bin or pile in your yard, awesome! If you don’t, you can still participate — many urban areas offer curbside composting services, so if you’re interested in getting started, it’s worth checking out what your area offers. Keep a smaller bin near your sink to toss food scraps and coffee grounds each day and create a larger compost area in your yard; a dry, shady spot is best.
Think of your compost elements as “green” and “brown.” Green elements are things like plant trimmings and food scraps, while brown elements are things like branches and dead leaves. You need a mix of both, plus water, for ideal compost conditions. Once you’ve got a good mix going, you should see compost begin in a month or so.
Things you can compost: Coffee grounds, tea bags, veggie pieces, banana peels, houseplant trimmings, kale leaves, straw, animal fur post-brush session, cotton rags, wood chips.
Things you can’t compost: Meat, dairy, bones, fats like grease and oil, dog poop. These things don’t break down easily and may also lure animals to your pile or bin — not quite the nature experience you’re hoping to have!
Easy plants to start with
If you’re new to gardening, it’s best to start with hardy plants that can survive hot, sunny days and those big summer storms.
For flowers, try small but strong plants like marigolds and zinnias, which look cheerful but don’t require intensive care or shading.
If you’re planting a garden with plans to eat what you grow, things like carrots, kale, cucumbers, and beans are versatile, delicious, and easier to grow than things like tomatoes.
More simple ways to make a difference
Hosting a backyard BBQ? Skip the plastic cups and silverware and paper plates and napkins in favor of reusable dishes and cutlery you can use time and time again. It doesn’t need to be fancy; take a trip to the thrift store or see what your local Buy Nothing group is giving away. If you must use disposable dishware, opt for the biodegradable or compostable kind.
Recycle responsibly. Rinse out cans and jars after the BBQ and repurpose what you can; consider sending leftovers along in those glass pickle jars or using them to keep garage or basement supplies organized and contained.
Don’t rush out to buy all new furniture and patio decor! What can you repurpose from what you already have? Are your neighbors upgrading their patio set and willing to part with their old one? What treasures can you find at thrift or antique stores to make your yard stand out? Enjoy a more sustainable summer by shopping secondhand when you can.