by Jan Cashman
Every time I open a magazine lately I see articles about “green living” or “sustainability”. What do they mean by “green”? What is “sustainability”? And what is this thing called our “ecological footprint”? I wasn’t sure so I looked them up. Simply put, “green” means “environmentally friendly”. “Sustainability” means that we don’t take more out of the earth than we are able to put back. Our “ecological footprint” is a measurement of the human demand on nature compared to the earth’s ability to regenerate or “sustain” these natural resources.
Yes, these can be fads and buzz words. We, at Cashman Nursery, have been practicing “green, sustainable” practices for years, although we didn’t call them that. We like to think our business is the ultimate “green” business. But research and new ideas show us other ways that we have not been so “green” and can improve.
Planting trees is our favorite way to be “green”. Trees and plants are not only a huge benefit to our environment, we can’t live without them, because, during the photosynthesis process, plants remove carbon dioxide from the air and, along with water and light, produce oxygen for us to breathe. Plants also extract pollutants from the air. By their shade, trees moderate the temperature underneath them. Trees can help cool your home if they are planted in the right spot. Even mowed grass provides cooling. Walk across a blacktopped parking lot on a hot summer day; then, walk across your lawn. You can guess which place will be cooler. Another benefit of trees and plants: their roots prevent soil erosion and stabilize our soils.
The City of Bozeman’s landscaping requirements for commercial buildings, put into effect in the 1980’s, have greatly improved our city’s environment. Compare the tree-filled parking lots of Gallatin Center (Target and Bob Wards) and Bridger Peaks (Smiths grocery) with other parking areas that were built before the requirements were passed. Some of the trees in the landscaped parking lots are growing big enough to shade your car parked under them on a hot summer day.
Shelly, our landscape architect, sees water conservation as the most important “green” idea in this arid part of the country. Planting native plants that require less water and minimizing your lawn area, called xeriscaping, will conserve water. Many of these native plants are more tolerant of our clay soils, so require fewer soil amendments and fertilizers. Simple ideas can also help conserve water, like mulching, watering in early morning when there is less evaporation, and using drip irrigation for trees, shrubs, and gardens, instead of overhead sprinklers.
The nursery industry as a whole is helping the “green” movement in more ways than just encouraging people to plant trees. Monrovia Nursery, a large growing nursery in California, Oregon, and Georgia, recycles everything from irrigation water to planting soil. They reuse 8 out of every 10 gallons of irrigation water in their Georgia facility. Degradable and biodegradable containers for plants, instead of the commonly used plastic pots, are being manufactured and soon will be available to growers and consumers, hopefully at a reasonable price. Nancy Berg, our grower, called my attention to a farm in Connecticut that has been developing a “poop pot”, a small biodegradable bedding plant pot made from cow dung!
The overuse of landscape fabric (a petroleum product) installed between mulches and the ground, can be detrimental to the shrubs and trees planted in these beds. My husband Jerry, and Rebecca Hurst, an employee of ours with a Master’s degree in ecology, both agree that landscape fabric in planting beds can keep soils too wet underneath it and inhibit earthworm activity and decomposition of the mulch. Instead, Jerry and Rebecca recommend using organic mulches such as bark chips, cedar mulch, or soil pep, placed directly on top of the soil with no fabric underlayment, so the mulch decomposes naturally.
The natural biological process in which plant life dies, decomposes, and is returned to the earth, is what composting is all about. Many gardeners have been composting for years. Vegetable and fruit wastes, coffee grounds, and egg shells from the kitchen, along with weeds, grass clippings, and plants pulled up in the fall from our vegetable and flower gardens, all break down to make a needed addition of organic matter to our garden soils, a much better use of these wastes than adding them to the landfill.
Government entities, both state and national, have been looking out for our “green” interests. National pesticide bans, in the past, DDT, and, more recently, Diazinon and Dursban, to name just a few, have taken these potentially dangerous products off the market. The State of Montana is working on controlling noxious, invasive plants, including the obvious ones like Canadian thistle and spotted napweed, but also attractive plants like oxeye daisy and purple loosestrife. They choke out natives and invade grazing areas with poor, unpalatable substitutes. It’s up to all of us to cooperate by controlling these weeds on our property.
Kermit the Frog says, “It’s not easy being green”, but it really is. Here at the nursery we have been composting plant wastes for years. Last fall, one of our employees implemented a more comprehensive recycling plan for our waste paper, cans, catalogs, and glass. We reuse plastic pots and trays whenever we can. And, more and more, we are suggesting organic solutions for our customers’ pest problems. There are simple things that we all can do to be more “green”.