Smart tools for your yard
Thanks to constant innovation, garden stores are like a candy shop for some people. There's a mind-boggling array of alluring things to buy. So how do you choose what's right for you? Well, it's a good idea to start by sorting out your wants and your needs. A big riding mower might impress the neighbors and make you feel like a land baron. But riding mowers emit three times as much air pollution as regular power mowers. Does the size of your lawn justify it? Or could you easily get along with a small power mower or a hand mower?
At the same time, do a little innovating yourself. Are there low-cost, low-waste alternatives to the products on the shelves? Instead of buying pots or plastic cells to start plants, for instance, you could use old plastic bottles, milk cartons, and other containers. Instead of plastic mulches to cover bare ground between plants, you could simply spread old newspapers, straw, or grass clippings on the soil. (It's best not to use magazines or newspaper pages with colored inks, however, because they may be toxic.)
Once you've determined what garden supplies you actually need, look for the most durable, well-made models you can afford. They will cost you less in the end. And don't be afraid to invest in some snazzy new technology. Today's water timers and sensors, for example, can make gardening easier on you and the environment.
- Sweep, don't blow. Instead of blasting leaves away with a blower, sweep or rake them up and put them in your compost. If your leaf-strewn property is too extensive to sweep, then purchase a device that vacuums them up.
- Water early. The best time to water is around sunrise. Watering in the day causes loss to evaporation. Watering at night can encourage plant diseases such as molds or inspire attacks from slugs and other moisture-loving, plant-loving creatures.
When shopping, look for
- Appropriate power. This is a prime area for thinking about what you need. If you have only a small amount of hedge to trim, you might not need a power trimmer. If you have a small lawn, a muscle-powered lawn mowers won't pollute and will provide you with some exercise. If you do need power tools, though, keep in mind that electric engines are significantly cleaner and more efficient than gas-powered ones. In fact, a small gas-powered garden-tool engine can pollute more than a car!
- Drip irrigation systems. For vegetables, flowers, and shrubs that are spaced apart, drip irrigation uses less water than sprinklers, because it delivers the water exactly where it is needed, near the plant. Because the little drip emitters let the water seep in gradually, drop by drop, they don't lose a lot of water to evaporation or runoff. For small yards, however, studies show that people who water with a hose tend to use even less water than those with drip systems because they water less frequently for shorter amounts of time.
- Soaker hoses. Suitable for thicker plantings, soaker hoses let water slowly seep out through tiny pores in the hose. Some are made with rubber recycled from tires.
- Timers for sprinkler and drip systems. Wasting water is becoming more and more costly. It's also bad for the environment. A timer helps you deliver the right amount of water at the right time.
- SWAT (Smart Water Application Technology). Some devices now available for home use automatically decide when and how much to water, using sensors that respond to weather conditions. They release less water on cool, cloudy days, and more when it's hot and dry, saving their owners 25% or more on outdoor watering. The devices cost $250 or more, but may quickly pay for themselves if you do a significant amount of watering.
- Organic fertilizers and pest controls. Urban lawns and gardens actually use more chemical fertilizers and pesticides per acre than farms. When it rains, these chemicals are washed down into drainage systems, increasing pollution, harming wildlife, and making it harder to keep our water supplies clean and safe. Thanks to the increasing popularity of organic gardening, more and more organic fertilizers and pest controls are available. They the safest choice for you, your family, and the environment.
- Recycled edging. If you use edging around flower and vegetable beds, look for products made with recycled materials.
- Bamboo stakes and poles. Bamboo is a good alternative to wooden stakes and poles. Depending on your climate, you might consider growing your own. But be careful: it spreads rapidly, and unless you control it carefully, you may have a lot more stakes than you need.
- Unconventional mulch. There are many types of plastic mulches--plastic sheets that cover the ground around plants to help retain moisture and suppress weeds. (Red-colored plastic mulches increase the yield of tomatoes and peppers.) But plastic mulch wears out and is made from petroleum, which is not a renewable resource. You might want to try a new kind of plastic mulch made from corn, or (as noted above) you can simply use newspapers or straw.
- Rain barrels? Maybe. There are a number of rain barrels on the market that can catch the rain flowing off your roof. But these barrels are small and pricey, and they won't save much water unless you can use up a full barrel watering indoor plants, flushing toilets, and the like before the next rain.
Interested in purchasing a rain barrel? Learn more by watching this clip from GreenEnergyTV.
- PVC plastic. PVC (vinyl) products are not hazardous to you or your garden, but making and disposing of them creates toxic and carcinogenic substances. Good alternatives: recycled plastic or HDPE, a type of polyethylene plastic.
- Lead. Some types of garden hoses contain dangerous amounts of lead, according to Consumer Reports. If you are buying a hose, check the package to see if it states that the hose contains lead. Look carefully, because the warning is sometimes in very small print. If you already have a hose with lead, don't drink from it or fill a kiddie pool with it.
Working with well-chosen equipment makes every task easier.
...to your wallet
Choosing wisely can save you money. So will investing in resource-saving technologies, such as efficient watering systems.
...to the Earth
Safe materials that conserve fuel and water and rely less on synthetic chemicals reduce your lawn and garden's impact on the environment.
- Being too cheap. The old saying, "You get what you pay for" often applies to garden supplies, from rakes to hoses to shears to garden tractors. Today's tempting bargain is likely to end up in tomorrow's dump. A well-made, durable item, on the other hand, can give you a lifetime of use--and end up costing less.
- Impulse buying. Sometimes our eyes are bigger than the needs of our garden. Be conservative about what you purchase, and look carefully at product specifications.
- It sounds almost too basic to mention, but this advice so often ignored it's worth repeating: take care of your equipment. Many a tool has been thrown away before its time because it wasn't properly used or handled.
- Lawn mowers that weren't maintained according to manufacturers' instructions or had the wrong fuel mix end up being junked when they could have had years more of useful life.
- Wooden handles rotted by rain from being left outside will snap like kindling wood.
- Poorly sharpened mowers and cutting tools will damage your lawn and plants because they tear instead of cut. They'll also damage you because they require so much more exertion to use than well-honed instruments.