Climate-friendly gardening

Last updated Wednesday 30 April 2008

Nip your emissions in the bud

Pruning one's patch is the quintessential British pastime. But could we be pruning our emissions while we're at it?

Those blessed with green fingers may live in fear of the phrase 'hosepipe ban' but, in terms of climate change, dousing our daffs is the least of the problems our gardens cause. Watering plants accounts for 6% of our domestic water use, and a day's water use emits just 24g of CO2 - less than the weight of a small packet of crisps.

The real climate culprits? Our mushrooming purchases of garden gear. Think petrol mowers, paving, tropical garden furniture and peaty composts. A single patio heater emits more CO2 in a year than the average Afghani.

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Can save about 120kg of CO2 a year

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It's Not Easy Being Green: installing a rainwater harvester

Find out how to install a rainwater harvester in your garden

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How will it make a difference?

Pub Fact

  • We use 70% more water today than we did 40 years ago
  • A patio heater emits the same amount of CO2 in a year as you'd generate travelling by train for 800 miles
  • An hour's use of a petrol lawnmower releases more than 1kg of CO2
  • On hot summer days, when supplies are tightest, over 70% of the water supply may be used for watering gardens
  • A single tree can absorb 1 tonne of CO2 over its 40 year lifespan - give or take massive variation

According to a recent survey, about a third of British gardeners are worried that global warming is affecting their gardens - but there's growing evidence that the reverse is also true. Here are some of the ways our gardening helps emissions to grow:

  • According to the carbon offset company Reduce Your CO2, swapping your petrol lawnmower for a manual can cut emissions by 36kg of CO2 every year - and knock 18 off your annual spend
  • Most of our peat use is in our gardens. Peat bogs store twice as much carbon as all the world's forest combined but every year an area of Eire ten times the size of Monaco is dug up
  • The UK is the third largest importer of Vietnamese garden furniture - most of which comes from illegally-logged forests in South East Asia. Read more about the impact of deforestation on the climate it in our article, Buying Sustainable Wood

On top of that, although watering the garden may be down the list of climate change crimes, emissions from our water use can stack up:

  • One litre of mains water emits about 0.75g of CO2 according to Waterwise
  • Installing a rainwater butt can save 0.6kg of CO2 per year - equivalent to a three mile drive in your car - and up to 200 off your water bills, according to The Low Carbon Diet
  • Watering with a sprinkler uses 138 times more water than watering with an old-fashioned watering can, while a garden hose can use almost as much water in an hour as an average family of four uses in a day
  • Digging in a low volume irrigation system with a timer in a large garden can cut water use by half according to The Low Carbon Diet - and the time you spend watering the garden by about 90%

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What's the debate?

High tech 'grey water' systems (which save and reuse shower water, washing machine water and so on) may be worse for the climate than simply using less water in the first place, research suggests. Due to the energy intensity of treating the recycled water, these systems can end up using a lot of electricity and emitting more CO2 than they save through reduced water use.

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How do I do it?

  • Avoid nitrogen-rich fertilisers - they require large amounts of fossil fuel to make and emit nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more powerful than CO2
  • Add home-made compost (about a bucketful per square metre) to boost the amount of water and nutrients that soil can retain - and avoid store-bought, peat-based composts
  • Go manual - buy a push mower and a watering can
  • Choose sustainable wood for your garden furniture
  • When you're paving, consider lower-emission alternatives to concrete. Made from recycled and reclaimed materials, they have catchy names like pulverised fuel ash or ground granulated blast furnace slag. Read more on the Environment Agency website
  • Get low-carbon outdoor lighting, such as solar lights or LEDs
  • Check with your water company or council whether there are grants available for water-saving equipment like rainwater butts
  • Recycle wastewater from the kitchen and bathroom for use in the garden and toilets. Read our article on toilet water-savers
  • Discover plants that can withstand long spells of heat, including French honeysuckle, Lavender, Iris, and Salvia, and water infrequently but thoroughly, at the base of the plant
  • Avoid patio heaters

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source4good, Wiltshire 2009-04-30

A filter can be quite expensive. But actually the filters cost only a few pounds each and I obtained mine on eBay. They are also sold to window cleaners using water fed poles and R0-Man are the best company to buy filters from. The housing for the filters, once again RO-man are the best, but if you want a cheaper one try eBay/ These filters are used for household water cleaning and should not include a de-ioniser. Only window and car cleaners need to de-ionise the water. The idea if the filter is to remove the sediment from the rain water.
I have a length of down pipe and inside placed a 20 micro filtre followed by a second 5 micron. The water comes off my conservatory roof down the pipe into a butt with no sediment. From time to time I remove the filters and add the sediment in the compost. Overflow from this water butt feeds 2 other butts. Here alone I have now 750 litres of sediment free water to use on the garden and washing my car. (ppm 12)

source4good, Wiltshire 2009-04-30

In order to move the water about and keep it from stagnating I have a small 12volt pump (£12) with a 12volt motor cycle battery (£10) and a length of tubing. The pumps can be purchased from Caravan supply shops and the battery from a good electrical supplier.

I also use a pond pump 240volt which costs about £25 at Lidl when on offer. This helps me water quickly from butt to tank.

source4good, Wiltshire 2009-04-30

As for water harvesting. If you don't mind blue 250 litre water buts you can obtain them free from wine merchants as I did. I have now a total of 7 x 250 litre butts plus one large 650 litre tank. The rain water is collected into the water butts and some of it I filter and store in the 650 litre tank.

Sally, Worcs 2009-03-27

See above: "A single patio heater emits more CO2 in a year than the average Afghani." I have a good idea of the energy needed to drive, boil a kettle or tumble dry, so can relate to the CO2 I may be responsible for. I have no real concept of how much CO2 Osama Bin Laden /any other Afghan uses.

If you will make comparisons such as 'it's the size of x football pitches' then keep it to something we might have a concept of. I still don't know how 'bad' my patio heater is. Better or worse than a gas BBQ? a petrol mower?

Avoiding them is not quite the right advice either

Kathy Getsla, Blaine Washinton USA 2008-11-02

The action items are great. Lot's of info, especially for those just leaning about carbond footfrpints, and how to reduce their carbon footprint. However, when you reead about an action you are already doing, there is no option to click that when reading about each seed. For instance, on fashion and clothes, the only options were a yes or no. How about adding an already do it button to click on??

Greenfingers1994, Northampton 2008-10-21

Climate Friendly Gardening is really easy as you can install a water butt to water your plants with. You can weed your garden every week so you are not watering the weeds and use a home made compost when potting plants. Oh and also reuse the plants pots so you are not putting them in a bin which then goes to landfill.

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Glossary terms used on this page
CO2, or carbon dioxide, is made up of the elements carbon and oxygen. It exists quite naturally in our atmosphere, as part of the carbon cycle. Everyday processes in the plant and animal world both add CO2 to the atmosphere and take it out. However, because it is a greenhouse gas - meaning it affects the temperature of the earth - the exact level of CO2 is important. Burning fossil fuels releases CO2 into the atmosphere, hence the anxiety that extensive use of these fuels is causing climate change.
Carbon is the fourth most common chemical element in the universe, and carbon compounds - in other words, carbon chemically combined with other elements - are the basis of all known life forms on earth. Pure carbon appears in many apparently diverse forms, from diamond to graphite to charcoal, but it is much more commonly found in substances such as coal, oil, natural gas, wood and peat that we use for fuel. When we burn these substances to provide energy - either directly in our homes as heat, or in power stations to produce electricity - the combustion process produces 'oxides' of carbon, including the gas CO2.
Climate change
Climate change is the variation in the average global or regional climate as measured by yardsticks such as average temperature and rainfall. This variation is caused by both natural processes and human activity. Weather is what happens over days or even hours, whereas climate is the average weather measured over a longer period. Increasingly when people refer to climate change, however, they specifically mean the phenomenon of global warming.
Emissions are the CO2 (and other greenhouse gases) produced by energy use, usually calculated and stated as an annual tally: also referred to as your carbon footprint. Your personal emissions can be direct - such as the gas you personally use to heat your home or the petrol you burn to power your car - or indirect - meaning the energy use that has gone into the products or services you buy. The latter, such as the emissions caused by the manufacture of your new TV, or the packaging your food comes in, are also referred to as embodied emissions.
Emissions are the CO2 (and other greenhouse gases) produced by energy use, usually calculated and stated as an annual tally: also referred to as your carbon footprint. Your personal emissions can be direct - such as the gas you personally use to heat your home or the petrol you burn to power your car - or indirect - meaning the energy use that has gone into the products or services you buy. The latter, such as the emissions caused by the manufacture of your new TV, or the packaging your food comes in, are also referred to as embodied emissions.
Energy intensive
An energy-intensive process uses a great deal of energy - and therefore produces high emissions - relative to its useful output. As an example, beef production, has recently been cited as an especially energy-intensive industry, while tumble dryers are energy-intensive appliances. Products that are manufactured in an energy-intensive way are also said to be 'emissions heavy'.
Fossil fuels
Fossil fuels are the deposits of crude oil, natural gas and coal formed by the decay, over millions of years, of organic material (plants, trees animals and bacteria). Because the combustion of fossil fuels releases carbon that has been out of the natural carbon cycle for so long (unlike with living or more recently dead organic matter, known as biomass) it affects the balance between stored carbon and carbon present in the atmosphere as CO2, a greenhouse gas.
Global warming
Global warming refers to the increase in the earth's surface (or near-surface) temperature in recent decades due to higher levels of greenhouse gases, and the projected worsening of this effect over time.
Greenhouse gases
Greenhouse gases raise the earth's temperature through the greenhouse effect. There are six main examples. As well as carbon dioxide, they include: water vapour, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone and CFCs (which include sulphur hexafluoride, HFCs, and PFCs). Of these, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulphur hexafluoride, HFCs, and PFCs are controlled under the Kyoto Protocol to limit their concentration in the atmosphere. The heat warming capacity of each gas is measured by its 'global warming potential': how much heat it traps depends on its chemical make-up and how long it stays in the atmosphere. navigation


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