Resolve to start gardening with an emphasis on sustainability

We passed the winter solstice, but before we really begin the new year of gardening, there is the last column of the year. As always, with this one I allow myself to be even more opinionated than I normally am.

My pitch today is that gardening is a very real way the average citizen can have a positive impact on the environment. This was true too, back in 1976 when I first started writing this column. Only the positive impact we were seeking meant things like composting to save building new landfills or beautifying landscapes by hiding parking lots and cleaning up our “pioneer-keep-everything” yards.

Today, our needs are much more serious and thus more important. If you don’t believe Earth is in trouble, you are not listening (so I don’t need to repeat the evidence). The rest of us are convinced, however, and know we need to drastically change how we are treating Mother Earth or face the direst of all consequences.

The journey toward a better world, making things better, starts at home. Gardening is a fertile (sorry) place to begin.

Take our lawns. One hour of mowing is the equivalent of driving a car 45 miles. Gas mowers represent 5% of the nation’s pollution. There is a need to transition to electric and push mowers if we want to continue to have lawns. We must immediately start the transition by skipping at least one mowing, and perhaps two, a month. And as much as I hate to admit it, we need to stop planting grass lawns in favor of more productive prairie- or woods-style areas that will increase the biodiversity in our yards, and we drastically need more pollinator-friendly plants, given what has happened to bee populations.

Commercial farming practices are causing the loss of soil. Gardeners need to show the way. Almost all of us have now stopped rototilling and double digging, practices that completely destroy the soil structure (I don’t even want to think about the pollution from a rototiller) and speed erosion.

From now on, we must ensure we are helping plants and microbes build soil. Everyone needs to put down mulches and make compost. We need to be sustainable in our practices so future generations can garden too!


Every plant we put in the ground takes in carbon dioxide (as well as pollutants in the air which are recycled into useful plant parts). Everything we plant puts oxygen into our atmosphere. Plant roots clean soil by taking up harmful chemicals and metals. Obviously more planting is an activity we all need to engage in. Yes, we have lost spruce trees to bark beetles. Time to replant these for the environment.

Don’t even get me going on the fact gardeners are allowed and commercially encouraged to use clearly dangerous chemicals (whose names we cannot pronounce, but are often dubbed “forever chemicals”). They are foisted off on gardeners as necessary to our hobby. We learned to live and garden in Alaska without DDT and we can do the same for glyphosate and other chemical herbicides and pesticides. Why do our lawmakers allow the sale of these?

It is time for gardeners to transition to being “plastics free” as much as it needs to be chemical free. We know our oceans, streams, soils and the food we eat are being contaminated with plastics. There is only one way to deal with this. We need to insist the plants and other horticultural products we buy no longer use plastics. There are plenty of ways of recycling other products (like making this newspaper into pots) so we don’t need to grow in petroleum-based pots and flats.

I could go on (and at some point, you know I will). Native-not-invasive captures an important direction gardening needs to go in. And, while we don’t have a water problem in Alaska, we really should be gardening like we do. Sustainability is what we seek and that means not wasting resources, no matter how plentiful they may be.

My point is dead obvious. We all need to garden like it matters to the environment. We need to ask if each practice we have come to be used to is helping to heal the Earth or just continuing to harm it. If we don’t start with gardening with more concern and do the same thing with the rest of our daily habits, our grandkids won’t have soil to plant in.

Jeff’s Alaska Gardening:

Christmas Tree Recycling: Through Jan. 15 “live” Christmas trees can be dropped behind the barriers marking designated areas at these Carrs/Safeway locations: Anchorage (all locations), Eagle River and Palmer. Please, no wreaths, decorations, plastic strings of lights, etc.

Recycle holiday string lights and bulbs: Through Jan. 15 at the Anchorage Recycling Center: 6161 Rosewood St. or Total Reclaim: 12050 Industry Way, #10.

Happy New Year and thank you. As we head into another new year, I thank you, dear reader. I enjoy writing this column and have you to thank for that.

Jeff Lowenfels | Alaska gardening and growing

Jeff Lowenfels has written a weekly gardening column for the ADN for more than 45 years. His columns won the 2022 gold medal at the Garden Communicators International conference. He’s authored several books on organic gardening, and his latest book, "Teaming With Bacteria," is available on Amazon. Reach him at