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Earth Day 2011—A Billion Acts of Green

Find a few in your backyard!

  • Buy a rain barrel made from a recycled materials and accomplish two green acts for the price of one! iStockphoto.com

  • Pass on buying gas—use a people-powered lawn mower. iStockphoto.com

  • Don't trash trimmed tree branches; they make a perfect flowerbed border. Nancy Lawson/The HSUS

  • Habitat islands give food and shelter to animals and insects while cutting down on the amount of lawn to mow. Janet Snyder/The HSUS

by Debra Firmani

Aiming for “A Billion Acts of Green,” Earth Day 2011 gathers together the power of individual actions to keep the planet clean and green. Already more than 45 million pledges for action have been made, and commitments to do something “green” are steadily growing.

The 2011 Earth Day campaign’s goal is to register one billion green actions—by individuals, corporations, and governments—before the Earth Summit in Rio in 2012. So, what can you do to be a part of the progress?

You can channel the power of one to make a difference in your own backyard, where the choices you make directly affect the earth and its inhabitants. Your earth-friendly choices also make your yard easier and cheaper to maintain, leaving more time to relax.

Make your lawn truly green »

Cut less and cut back

Grass: Cut only areas you actually use, leaving room to create habitat islands and border gardens of native bushes and plants.

Water: Start replacing water-hogging grass and exotic plants with native plantings that need only rain once they’re established.

Gasoline: With less grass, you can skip the gasoline and use a reel-type push mower.

Fertilizers: Plant native grasses and save money by fertilizing with mowed clippings.

Pesticides and Herbicides: No need for pesticides with native grasses and wildflowers; they’re more resistant to pests. Keep weeds at bay by mulching with shredded leaves.

Waste not

Equipment: Keep equipment in good repair, and borrow or rent items you’ll rarely use.

Containers: Re-use planters or empty food containers to start seedlings, and turn broken planters upside down in the garden to provide shelter for toads—who will consume pests.

Trees: Tree trimmings are a brush pile in the making. Thick boughs make a garden edging. Stumps become garden seats; when hollowed out, they make attractive planters.

Plants: Find a new spot for plants you remove or add them to your compost pile to become nutrients for a future garden. Only dispose of diseased or pest-ridden plants.

Rain: Save water and money. Buy a rain barrel to catch water for your flowers and veggies. Check with your garden center or native plant society for local sources.

Get in the flow

Grass: Save the work of bagging and the expense of fertilizing; leave grass clippings to decompose in the sun and rain, letting nature return nitrogen to the soil.

Mulch: Rake twigs and leaves under trees and bushes to help retain moisture, insulate roots, return nutrients to the soil, and shelter insects that will attract birds to your yard.

Compost: Reap the free benefits that compost can give your gardens. But remember, some things do not belong in compost. Here are the INs and OUTs:

  • Add these IN: Clean paper and cardboard, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags, cotton or wool rags, eggshells, fireplace ashes, fruits and vegetables, grass clippings, hair and fur, dryer and vacuum cleaner lint, hay and straw, houseplants, leaves, nut shells, sawdust, shredded newspaper, wood chips, and yard trimmings.
  • Keep these OUT: Black walnut tree leaves or twigs, coal or charcoal ash, dairy products, eggs, diseased or insect-ridden plants, fats, grease, lard, or oils, meat or fish bones and scraps, pet wastes, yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticides.

New Purchases: Close the recycling loop—purchase products made with recycled materials, such as garden hoses made from old tires, hand tools made with recycled plastic, and plastic lumber (for edging flower beds, making trellises, etc.) made from recycled plastic bottles and bags.

A final word

Imagine the countless and cumulative positive effects of these life-friendly changes happening in millions of backyards. You can be a part of that exciting transformation, helping make every day a good day for the earth, yourself, and all living things.


» Earth Day 2011
» Greenscaping 
» Household Hazardous Waste Collection Programs 
» Recycling Hotline: Earth 911 (Find a local recycling center)
» Climate Change (Home and garden tips)

Create a sanctuary

Enjoy the company of your wild neighbors in your yard. Every day, more and more wildlife habitat is lost to the spread of development. But you can help wild animals in urban and suburban areas by offering them sanctuary in your own backyard (or front yard, roof-top garden, or deck), no matter how small. Learn how your green space can become an Urban Wildlife Sanctuary.

Debra Firmani is a writer and long-time advocate for animals and nature. Her articles on wildlife, wild lands, backyard habitat creation, and nature education have appeared in print and online.

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