Tips to Green Your Garden

Lawns are a challenge. They need fertilizer, weed control and water. Chemical fertilizers routinely contain phosphorus, which is a watershed pollutant, adding to overgrowth of algae and choking out other aquatic life. These substances also deplete the soil, making grass chemical-dependent. Below are some tips to make your garden more environmentally friendly. Access tips from a Lake County group called the Liberty Prairie Conservancy.


  • All fertilizers display 3 numbers, like this: 10-10-10; look for one with a 0 in the middle. That’s the amount of phosphorus.
  • Ask your lawn care provider to use a phosphorus-free fertilizer.
  • Find a good organic fertilizer and apply it yourself. Organic fertilizers improve soil, making grass healthier over time.
  • Try corn-gluten fertilizer. If you apply it early enough (late March/early April), it will prevent even crabgrass from sprouting.
  • For more information about green fertilizers: Gardens Alive website and Arbico Organics website

Weed Control

  • Avoid weed and feed products, especially if you have pets or children. It’s better to spot treat existing weeds, preferably with a “green” weed-killer.
  • Dig out occasional weeds by hand.
  • Boiling water will also kill weeds and is a good choice for little sidewalk invaders.
  • Click here for some additional tips and information: Green Weed Killer - Living Green website


  • Don’t water unnecessarily. Some lawn care experts even advocate no watering until July.
  • Automatic sprinkler systems are water-wasters. Have your installer include a water sensor or a manual control.
  • Grass only needs about an inch of water per week in hot weather.
  • If you have to water, do it early in the day. Watering in the evening encourages fungal diseases.
  • Many gallons of water run right off your roof and into storm sewers and is free. If you have a large garden or do a lot of lawn sprinkling, your summer water bill can run into the hundreds of dollars. A one-time investment of under $200 in a rain barrel allows you to catch and use free rainwater for years. One barrel alone will not meet all your needs, but several may cut your municipal water use substantially. Some local retailers sell them and you will find many available online at sites like this: The Gardener's website


  • Mow your grass regularly and keep it between 3 and 4 inches tall (screens out weed seeds).
  • Make sure your mower has sharp blades.
  • Don’t pick up the clippings; they biodegrade quickly and help feed your lawn.
  • Only take off ½ inch at a time.

Flower & Vegetable Gardens

  • The key to a nice garden is good soil. Test for Ph and add supplements as necessary.
  • Add compost and manure. These materials are available, bagged, at garden centers, or in bulk at material yards.
  • Keep flowers and vegetables mulched in the summer. Mulch conserves water and keeps weeds from sprouting.
  • Organic fertilizers are available at local garden centers.

Pest Control & Plant Choices

  • Be aware that when you apply broad-spectrum insecticides, the “good bugs” (bees, butterflies, ladybugs, and praying mantis) will also be killed. Good organic pest control products are available online and at local garden centers.
  • Use plants that are either native or disease resistant to avoid the need for spraying and constant watering.
  • Annuals need much more water and must be grown in greenhouses every year. They are trucked to garden centers. They have a big carbon footprint.
  • Rose Lovers: There are many beautiful rose varieties that are hardy and disease resistant. They won’t need spraying like some of their fussier cousins. Ask at a local center, or find a good grower online.
  • The Chicago Botanic Garden is an excellent resource for plant information: Chicago Botanic - Plant Information
  • The Lake County Forest Preserves usually have a native plant sale in the spring: Lake County Forest Preserves - Native Plant Sale

Backyard Composting

  • Composting is not much work, saves you money, and nothing is better for your soil.
  • Basic rule of thumb: mix carbon and nitrogen materials, or “browns” and “greens.” Greens are anything “juicy,” like plant trimmings from your garden or food scraps (NOT MEAT). Browns are anything dried or old. Roughly half and half is fine.
  • Keep it damp (not soaked) and aerate it by turning with a pitchfork or compost turning tool.
  • Here’s a great website for more detailed info: Compost Information and Ingredients