Eco Tips

Our back garden

Turning your garden into a carbon sink 

As well as minimising the amount of carbon we emit/ consume/ use we need also to do all we can to keep as much carbon locked away undisturbed in the ground. Our gardens can be made into carbon sinks ie net absorbers of carbon. 

  1. Don’t buy or use peat. The UK’s peatlands are an important carbon sink (1 hectare of peatland  can absorb up to 2000 tonnes of CO2 per year). Digging up and removing the peat seriously damages these fragile habitats. 
  2. Don’t buy plastic plant pots whether with or without plants (plastic is made from oil). Instead use pots made from plant fibres, paper or clay. The Hairy Plant Pot Company grows plants for sale in coir pots. The whole pot with plant  goes straight into the solid where the coir will decompose over time.  
  3. Don’t use artificial fertilisers, pesticides or herbicides. These have a high carbon footprint and are damaging to natural ecosystem.
  4. Make a compost bin and fill it with garden waste and plant based kitchen waste. Once well rotted, the bin’s contents will provide soil enriching natural compost that locks the carbon into the soil. Compost bins can be made from wood (eg recycled pallets), wire mesh or you could buy a plastic bin made from recycled plastic. 
  5. Plant trees and shrubs as these will, by their size, be able to absorb more carbon as they grew. 
  6. Opt for perennial plants over annuals. The perennial plant both develops a larger root mass and has a longer growing season enabling it to absorb more carbon. Interestingly you can opt for perennial varieties of vegetables rather than growing them each year from seed: spinach, watercress, kale, perennial leeks and onions, cabbage etc.
  7. Choose plants that will be happy in the micro environment that your garden offers. You can waste time, energy and carbon, trying to make plants grow where the conditions are unsuitable. Grow together plants that form a natural ecosystem so that they help each other. 
  8. Avoid over digging the soil as this can release carbon locked into the soil.  
  9. Avoid leaving the earth bare as carbon from the soil can easily be lost into,the atmosphere. Instead cover the earth with a mulch or with a cover crop.
  10. Let your lawn grow. Frequent cutting of the grass requires the input of water and fertilisers to keep it green and the lack of depth of  cover makes it susceptible to drying out during periods of drought. Instead let the grass grow longer – you can still run over it, sit on it and play on it.
  11. Transform your lawn into a meadow by introducing a greater variety of plants, especially flowering ones. These extra plants will tend to have longer root systems enabling more carbon to be absorbed by the soil.
  12. Avoid or replace hard surfaces, especially concrete ones. (Concrete has a particularly high carbon footprint). Hard surfaces leave the soils underneath compacted and bereft of mini beasts and micro organisms that absorb carbon. Use gravel and bark in preference to paving stones, or even bricks set in sand. 
  13. Build a pergola so that you can grow climbing plants to provide shade in the summer. Consider adapting any garden sheds so that you can plant them with a green roof. The more we plant, the more carbon our garden can absorb.

Author: Judith Russenberger

Environmentalist and theologian, with husband and three grown up children plus one cat, living in London SW14. I enjoy running and drinking coffee - ideally with a friend or a book.

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