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Reduce, Reuse, Recycle in the Garden

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Economic realities brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic are staring us in the face. In a newsletter wishing the human community a “Sustainable New Year,” Earth ( states: “This coming year will determine if society takes the pandemic’s lessons as an opportunity to create a sustainable world or simply falls back to the wasteful, environment-damaging ways that brought the atmosphere to the brink of irreversible global warming. It will be one of the most important years in history.” As the holidays wind down, it’s a good time to stop and reflect on some ways to use less and save a little more.

Reduce your lawn.  Enlarge the space you’ve allowed around the base of trees, particularly drought-happy oaks. Cutaway the sod and add it to your compost heap. Fill with mulch and focus attention on the tree rather than on the bed beneath it. Enlarge the garden beds next to the lawn by laying out your garden hose to imagine another two feet or more of beds. Cut the new edge, lift the sod, turn over and chop, chop, chop. Let the old sod create compost, and by next spring, it will be ready to plant. In the meantime, you can be reading the garden catalogs and making your selections.

Speaking of catalogs:  Reduce junk mail. If you really don’t want all those credit card and insurance offers, “opt-out” by asking not to share your information. Go to Catalog Choice and request to be taken off the list of catalogs you don’t want.

Reuse items in the garden.  Create a display area for garden sculpture. Again, use your hose to lay out a pleasing shape. Remove the sod, fill the area with mulch, and place the object for all to admire. It could be a true sculpture or a relic of old farm equipment or some handsome rocks. Recycle pots and saucers into a water source for wildlife or a water feature. Let your imagination be your guide.

Recycle organic matter: compost.  Master Gardeners encourage composting on-site to return nutrients to the soil from where they came. Raking and burning leaves or hauling your fire-safe pruning to the slash site only removes nutrients from your soil. Create your own compost and mulch—for information, go to the Backyard Recycling Guide on the Tuolumne County website here.

Capture your rainwater on site to reduce water used for irrigation.  For information, call the UCCE Master Gardener helpline (209-533-5912 in Tuolumne County, 209-754-2880 in Calaveras County) or fill out our easy-to-use problem questionnaire. ­Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, by Brad Lancaster, recommends planting native and adapted plants in small depressions to take advantage of the local weather patterns. He also recommends creating earthwork patterns to move water slowly through the lawn and garden, allowing water to percolate rather than running off.

Other ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle:  Plant a tree, exchange an incandescent bulb for a long-lived LED one, pull some noxious weeds and plant a California native or edible in its place. Set aside a day to stay home or only walk or ride your bike. Use your own mug to avoid the 25 BILLION Styrofoam cups that Americans throw away each year.

Wishing you a safe and sane sustainable New Year in 2021.

This article is a collaborative effort, involving the ideas and writings of current and former University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners of Tuolumne County Marlys Bell, Joan Bergsund, Al Dahlstrand, Carolee James, and Rebecca Miller-Cripps.