How green is your garden?

Take our quiz and see how you score

Plants for birds and butterflies
Photo: Bob Wigand

What you do to your own plot of land affects the larger landscape around you ― your neighborhood as well as nearby meadows, deserts, or forests, and rivers, lakes, and coastal waters.

How well are you doing as a steward of the land? Take our quiz below  and find out. Add up your points (1 point for each "yes"), then find out what your score means at the bottom of the page.

DESIGN

1. Paving

  • Does your garden utilize permeable paving (gravel, decomposed granite, pavers with spaces between for pebbles or groundcovers?

 

2. Irrigation

  • Is your garden watered by a drip system that includes an automatic controller?
  • Do you regularly reprogram the controller to match the demands of the season (more water in summer, less in winter)?

 

3. Watering zones

  • Do you group plants in the garden according to their water needs?
  • Do you plant major areas that can survive on rainfall alone after their second season?

 

4. Water features

  • Have you chosen pondless waterfalls or small recirculating fountains that use water respectfully, or did you substitute a dry creekbed or paving that mimics the look of water ― or use no water features at all?
  • Have you installed an infiltration pit or a rain garden (a small, planted basin) to catch and filter rainwater and keep it on-site?

 

5. Trees for shade

  • To conserve energy, are your deciduous trees sited to provide cooling shade in summer and to allow sunlight through their branches in winter?

 

6. Materials and furnishings

  • Are your arbors, decks, and furnishings made of sustainably harvested woods (ipe, bamboo) or recycled materials such as Trex?

 

PLANTING

7. Appropriate plants

  • Do you choose plants that are well adapted to your climate (natives or appropriate non-native species, for example)?
  • Are they locally grown?
  • Do you buy and plant disease-resistant varieties of fruit trees, roses, and tomatoes whenever possible?

 

8. Lawns

  • Do you grow an unthirsty lawn grass such as buffalo grass? Or does your garden have no lawn at all?

 

9. Plants for wildlife

  • Does your garden feed and shelter birds, butterflies, and other wildlife?
  • Have you planted flowers that attract beneficial insects (such as ladybugs and lacewings) to help control harmful insects?
  • Have you also planted perennials such as echinacea, lavender, penstemon, or salvia that attract pollinators like bees and hummingbirds?

 

MAINTENANCE

 

10. Composting

  • Do you regularly compost all the green and brown waste your garden produces ― fallen leaves, weeds without seeds, grass clippings, spent flowers, and vegetables?

 

11. Fertilizing

  • When you mow the lawn, do you let grass clippings fall instead of bagging them, so they can refertilize your turf?
  • Do you use natural fertilizers such as aged chicken manure or liquid fish emulsion to feed your veggies and annuals?

 

12. Mulching

  • Do you mulch your soil regularly with organic materials to keep down weeds and conserve water?

 

13. Nontoxic controls

  • Do you always first try soft insect controls (jets of water for aphids, corn gluten to stop weeds from germinating, handpicking or copper barriers for snails)?
  • Do you educate yourself on pest-, disease-, and weed-control products before you use them in your garden?
  • Do you avoid using any garden chemicals (which can contaminate runoff) before, during, or after rains?

 

14. Recycling

  • Do you recycle (not toss) materials you no longer need, such as brick, broken concrete, or empty nursery containers?
  • Do you properly dispose of chemicals through the appropriate local agencies?

 

15. Soils

  • Before planting at the start of each season, do you refresh flower and veggie beds by tilling in generous amounts of organic soil amendments, such as aged compost?

 

16. Tools

  • Do you use hoes (to dispatch weeds), reel mowers (to cut the lawn), or rakes (to clean up fallen leaves) instead of gas-powered tools that cause dust, noise, and air pollution?

 

17. Watering

  • Do you water your plants efficiently, so there's no runoff or waste? (That is, slowly, deeply, and infrequently, always in early morning or evening, and never on windy days.)
  • Do you irrigate established trees slowly and deeply with soaker hoses or deep-root irrigators in hot weather?Do you regularly capture rainwater in barrels during wet weather, to use later for watering your plants?

 

18. Weeding

  • Do you stay ahead of weeds, pulling them before they set seed and spread?
  • Do you make sure that the plants you're setting out are not invasive in your area ― as are English ivy and buddleja in the Northwest, pampas grass or Scotch broom in California, and grasses and Kahili ginger in Hawaii?

 

How are you doing?

1-6: It's a start.

7-15: Good job; keep it up.

16-24: High five ― you're nearly there.

25-32: Congratulations! You're a true steward of the land.

 

 

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