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Seven steps to a greener garden

So you want a beautiful garden that won't cost the earth? Read our handy guide to things to think about

Our environment is coming under more pressure every day. Luckily there are lots of things gardeners can do to help the natural world, increase backyard biodiversity and to minimise the harm caused by our horticultural activities. Here are seven key ways you can make a difference in your garden.

Getting wise with waste can help you grow better plants and is a great way to make low-budget wildlife habitats. Pile up branches, logs and other non-compostable natural materials in a tucked away spot – they'll soon become a useful habitat for many creatures such as hedgehogs and amphibians. Composting at home (or shredding and mulching) will improve your soil's structure and fertility, which in turn will boost plant growth. Many councils will collect green waste for making into municipal compost, which is another eco-friendly way of getting rid of it.

We can all do our bit to help prevent flooding and reduce the amount of water our gardens use. These issues are only going to get more pressing in the future as climate change takes hold. There are many beautiful plants that cope really well with dry conditions, and there are lots of ways to reduce your water use, from installing water butts and mulching to recycling grey water.

To help prevent surface water flooding in your neighbourhood, use permeable paving or keep hard paved areas to a minimum useable size, especially if you live in a town or city. This type of flooding is becoming ever more of an issue due to more severe rainfall events and people paving over their gardens. Why not get involved in turning the tide? See our Greening Great Britain campaign pages for lots of inspiration and ideas.

Buying second hand or sustainably-produced garden products and materials is a great way to reduce your environmental impact. Wherever possible, source your stone, gravel, wood and other materials locally, and look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) mark on any wooden products you buy – it's an independent guarantee that they have been produced in a sustainable way. Plastic is incredibly useful in the garden but can have a terrible environmental impact – see our advice on how to go plastic free.

It's up to you whether your garden creates pollution or not. Petrol-powered garden machinery creates air pollution and pesticides, if used incorrectly, can pollute water supplies and harm wildlife. Be aware that old and poorly-maintained machinery creates more pollution, and that many pesticides have been banned in recent years as they've been found to have unacceptable environmental impacts. See our page on using garden chemicals for lists of approved products and details of how to dispose of unwanted ones.

The RHS always recommends using cultural controls (such as weeding by hand) before using pesticides (such as spraying with weedkiller). This applies to both organic and non-organic products. If you do resort to chemicals, the most important thing is to read the labels carefully so you're sure what you're buying: favour products with low environmental impact (often labelled as 'organic') and follow application instructions exactly.
 

Gardens can be an incredible force for good. Even the sight of greenery is beneficial for our mental health. Front gardens are especially valuable, as they're the spaces we share the most. Growing hedges in your front garden and planting trees can also improve air quality, which in turn helps our physical health. See our front gardens inspiration page for lots of ideas.

When it comes to deciding which plants to grow, there are a few things you can do to keep your choices as eco-friendly as possible. Consult our online lists of Plants for Pollinators or look out for the logos on plant labels; these tell you the plant is a particularly good choice for bees and other helpful pollinating insects.

Two great ways to minimise your gardening carbon footprint are to grow from seed as much as you can, and use peat-free compost. This reduces the pollution associated with transporting plants, and avoids damaging peat bogs, which are valuable carbon sinks. Ask suppliers whether their plants are grown in peat-free compost.

When you buy plants, choose British-grown wherever possible. In particular avoid buying large imported trees and shrubs as they carry the risk of bringing in new pests and diseases. If you're buying plants online choose reputable suppliers, especially if they're coming from abroad.

Gardens can help wildlife in two main ways. Firstly by creating habitats (places to live), and secondly by providing food sources such as berries, leaves and flower pollen. The single best way to create habitats and food sources is to grow lots of different plants; try to include trees and hedges along with flowers, and leave undisturbed corners. Putting in a pond is another great way to attract wildlife - just make sure that creatures have easy access to get in and out!

Any other ways you can think of to increase the planted area in your garden, such as making mini green roofs or growing climbers up walls and fences will help wildlife and help make your garden more eco-friendly by maximising your garden's potential habitat space.

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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.