Green and Greener

An assortment of trays and peat pots

By Mark and Ben Cullen

Gardeners often get credit for benefitting the environment.

After all, all the oxygen we breathe is produced by the green, living world around us.  

However, some gardening behaviour is not good for our environment.

Here are our top 6 gardening tips for making your garden a greener, healthier place:

Plastic pots and trays.  They are the bug-a-boo of our hobby and profession.  We buy most plants in plastic pots.  We bring them home and plant them in the ground or a container.  The pot gets thrown away.  Except that there is no “away”, just land fill and select recycling opportunities. 

Some municipalities recycle plastic pots, and many garden retailers reuse them.  Rinse the pots clean of soil (no need to sanitize them) and either place in your recycling bin if they are accepted by your municipality or take them to a local retailer to place in their recycling bin.

We often raid the recycling bin at our local garden retailer.  We look for plastic grow-trays to start our seedlings and later in spring, we use 4” pots to pot up young transplants.  This saves us money and we can reuse them, once they are rinsed clean.

When buying plants, look for brown paper mache pots or coir fibre pots that break down on contact with damp soil.  

Mark’s sister Sue uses old metal blinds, cut into strips about 20 cm long and a permanent marker to identify plants in her garden as an alternative to buying plastic tags. 

Pesticides.  An example of a pest control that can be very toxic and widely available is hornet and wasp spray (sometimes call appropriately “wasp bomb”).  A variety of active ingredients are used in popular brands and none of them are either good for the environment or human health.  Our recommended alternative is to hang a faux wasp nest near an existing one to fool wasps into thinking there is a nest nearby.  Wasps are territorial and do not like to nest near one another. Nesting wasps will move on.

Another widely available chemical is glyphosate, the active ingredient in Round Up.  An alternative is boiling water or a concentrated vinegar solution.  Both will burn the tops off the weeds and not kill the root.  Sometimes digging them up, root and all, is the best solution. 

Fertilizers.  Gardeners love the blue soluble powder that you scoop into your watering can to supercharge growth in the garden. It is almost like…a Miracle. While effective for quick results, synthetic fertilizers do not provide the long-term benefit of soil health, as they feed the plant directly and bypass all the microbial activity in the soil.  In addition, they are energy intensive to produce. We recommend naturally derived fertilizers such as sea kelp or bone meal, or compost and rotted manure.

Environmental Organizations.  Gardening using sustainable methods becomes easier when you know how.  Canadian Organic Growers are a good source of unbiased (non-commercial) information that can help.   They produce an excellent magazine and can point you to many sources of online education that will help elevate the green status of your gardening efforts.    Go to for details. 

Growing green stuff (and flowering plants) in a green world is entirely possible with a little effort and worth making some sacrifices for.

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author, broadcaster, tree advocate and Member of the Order of Canada. His son Ben is a fourth-generation urban gardener and graduate of University of Guelph and Dalhousie University in Halifax. Follow them at, @markcullengardening, and on Facebook.