As COP26 continues in Glasgow this week, we’re sharing our advice on how you can improve your environmental impact at home. Today, we’re turning our attention to our gardens.
Protecting our planet against biodiversity loss is a crucial part of the climate change crisis, and on the agenda for discussion amongst world leaders today. But for avid gardeners interested in looking after your own little patch, there are a few things you can do at home to make your garden as sustainable as possible.
Gardening might seem like a naturally green pursuit. But the use of pesticides and weedkillers, peat-based compost and plastic equipment can soon start to feel more of an environmental hindrance than a help. Plus, many gardens aren’t as hospitable as they could be to local wildlife in need of a safe haven.
Here are our top five tips for making your garden a more eco-friendly space.
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1. Choose peat-free compost
Peat bogs are one of the planet’s largest carbon sinks – its estimated that peatlands could hold up to a fifth of all the planet’s earth-stored carbon. To harvest it for use in compost, bogs are drained and cleared of all vegetation, releasing carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere. Because it takes thousands of years to form, peat is considered a non-renewable fossil fuel.
Peat compost will be banned from sale in the UK in 2024. Luckily for gardeners, there are plenty of peat-free composts on the market already – so it’s worth looking out for them in garden centres. They are typically made up of more sustainable materials, such as wood fibre or composted bark.
In our trials in the past few years, we’ve found some excellent peat-free composts. Head to our guide to Best Buy composts to find the best peat-free options for your gardening.
2. Mow less
Mowing the lawn keeps us busy during summer, with many people cutting more than once a week. But a project run by British conservation charity Plantlife found that if you stop mowing your lawn and allow wildflowers to establish, you’ll soon start to see more pollinating insects.
Plantlife has started the campaign ‘No Mow May’, encouraging people to stop mowing their lawns completely during May to help our struggling insect population. Try it next year to see what grows in your lawn.
If you’ve got space, you could also consider giving a patch of your garden over to wilder meadow flowers and grasses to encourage more wildlife.
Read more: Find out how to attract bees to your garden
3. Have an untidy garden
While it’s tempting to clear up your garden as soon as autumn arrives, don’t be too quick to prune your borders or to clear up dead leaves. Seedheads left on plants through winter provide a food source for birds, while woody stems and twigs give homes to insects sheltering from wintery conditions in your garden. Then you can prune them in spring ready for new growth to set in.
Compost heap, woodpiles and leafpiles also make great habitats for hibernating animals, as well as supporting insect life.
Find out which seedheads are best for a winter garden that attracts wildlife.
4. Feed the birds
Feeding birds is a great way to support the wildlife in your garden, and can be crucial to keep them going over winter when natural food supplies are scares. Make sure you maintain a steady supply so that local birds know that your garden is a reliable food source, and you’ll soon see many regular visitors.
If you struggle with grey squirrels and other pests raiding your feeders, and stealing all the food, head to our guide to the best squirrel-proof bird feeders. These models will attract birds while keeping the seeds away from determined thieves.
Fatballs are a popular way to feed the birds and the best will contain quality ingredients that will attract lots of species of birds. We’ve tested popular brands to find out which will bring the birds flocking and which will be left untouched: see our best fat balls for feeding birds.
Having water sources in your garden can also be very helpful to birds and other wildlife, particuarly in hot summers, or when it gets below freezing and other options may be iced over.
5. Grow your own veg
It’s incredibly rewarding to grow your own crops at home and even if you don’t have a greenhouse there are loads of difference fruit and vegetables to try. You can enjoy produce with no air miles and might even save money on your food bills too.
In our Which? Gardening trials we grow every plant, fruit and veg variety we recommend at our test gardens. We also try out different growing techniques to give you every chance of success. Head to our guides to growing your own to find out where to get started.
Or, if you’d rather stick to the supermarket, find out which fruit and veg make up the most eco-friendly winter diet.
For more advice on living and shopping sustainably, head to our eco-friendly living advice, where you’ll find everything from home insulation and green energy providers to electric vehicles and Eco Buy appliances.