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Chesapeake Native Plant Gardens: Greening Your Gardening Habits

Tips and Hacks.

It's tremendously ironic that in creating a native plant garden which will do such a fantastic job of supporting insects and birds and all sorts of wildlife we could possibly also have a negative impact on our environment. I give thought to this as I drive around to different native plant nurseries to update information for the Nuts for Natives website and buy plants in small plastic black pots that mostly can't be recycled. I thought I'd share some ideas I have collected in my efforts to do better and lower the ecological foot print of my gardening. This is not a life cycle analysis of any kind - just tips and hacks. I am sure you all have many more so please add away in the comments!


The number one thing we can all do is use what we have. Looking for a new container? Do you have an old colander, bucket or basin that might be repurposed? If not, perhaps a local thrift or antiques store has something. Two favorite sources for such things if you don't know of them: Second Chance right off of I-95 in Baltimore and Community Forklift in Hyattsville near the D.C. line. You never know what you might find!

Plastic Pots

These are the achilles heel for gardeners. Garden for any length of time and you may well create quite a collection for yourself. Reusing the pots for sharing or dividing plants and starting or growing on seedlings is one option.

Next check your town or County recycling website to see if you are one of the few who can add them to your recycling bin. Many local recycling programs don't accept black plastic pots for recycling because sorting equipment is unable to identify black plastic pigment successfully. If you add pots to a recycling stream that can't process them, you risk contaminating an entire load of recyclables.

If your local government's recycling program is unable to accept pots, you may want to check with nurseries or garden centers where you buy your plants. There are nurseries that will take pots back for recycling though it can be a search.

In my area, Bona Terra Native Plant Nursery has drop off locations in Washington D.C. and at their Friendship, Maryland nursery. First, check their "accepted pots guide." You can then drop appropriate pots off. Bona Terra says they have not purchased pots since 2020 and rely on donated pots for all of their growing needs! In fact, if you are returning pots from a previous Bona Terra purchase (with the return pots sticker), they will give you 10% off your next purchase. They are also looking for people to host pot drop off sites. Now, that is going the extra mile!

plant shipment from Plant More Natives
plant shipment from Plant More Natives

You can also reduce your black pot consumption by favoring nurseries that use alternatives to hold plants if you can find them. Very rarely, I come across plants for sale in paper pots. Most nurseries have told me paper breaks down too quickly and becomes impractically labor intensive. Plants ordered by mail from Plant More Natives came packaged in plastic bags tied with twine. This uses less plastic, the bags are easier to reuse and the plants arrive in better condition and with less mess.

Mulch, Potting Soils & Compost

I have purchased a lot of mulch and potting mix packaged in plastic bags. I reuse the plastic bags for collecting trash or other waste, but the notion of producing a natural product like compost or mulch and bagging it in small quantities, shipping it over state lines and then driving it home from the store seems a bit odd. If you are able to compost at home you are a step ahead. For small garden gardeners, this can be challenging. More recently, I tried out a couple of local places that provide compost and mulch in bulk. Veteran Compost is one organization serving Maryland and Washington D.C. The minimum order is 3 cubic yards and you can always share with neighbors. Also, a number of local governments provide free mulch or compost to residents and others deliver for a fee. You can check your local government website to see if that is available to you. As your garden matures, you may find you need less and less mulch or compost as more and more ground is covered in plants -- or living mulch.

Avoid Peat Moss

England is banning the retail sale of peat as of 2024. Upwards of 83% of England's peat producing uplands, bogs and fens are reported lost due to the harvesting of peat for products like potting mixes. The discussion here seems to follow the lines of "peat sold in U.S. potting soil mostly comes from Canada and Canada has vast areas of peat producing lands." Another irony. Why would we strip peat from wetlands anywhere and then ship it around? American Plant Nursery and Organics Mechanics sell peat free mixes. You can use the Organics Mechanics locator to find their nearest retailer.

Locally grown plants

There are scientists and others who can and do write books about why it is preferable to buy locally grown plants that are not propagated, but rather grown from seed. I just take the experts' word for it. They say it is important and preferable to grow local "ecotype" plants whenever possible to preserve genetic diversity. For me, this is just one more reason to make sure to shop at our local native plant nurseries when we can. Many grow their own plants from seed organically and this is the best type of plant. Yes, I go to garden centers and buy cultivars of natives that are likely propagated far away and transported here by truck but I know when I do, it is not the best choice. The choices and selection at native plant nurseries has just grown tremendously in the past several years as well. And, yes there is more... the people who work there are extremely knowledgeable!

Grow Plants from Seed

No plastic and a light carbon foot print -- seed packets are a great green choice. Some easier seeds to start with -- wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) and black-eyed susans (Rudbeckia fulgida). It takes some patience and there may be some trial and error but it can be very rewarding!

No pesticides

Plants grown with neonicotinoids (a systemic insecticide) and spraying for mosquitoes undoes all you are trying to do by gardening with native plants. Pesticides do not discriminate between mosquitoes and other insects, even if they are made from naturally occurring ingredients. Entemologists like Dr. Doug Tallamy explain why, mosquito spraying isn't effective and what you can do. You can take the money you would spend on that and buy more native plants!

This undertaking may be two steps forward and a step backward but heading in the right direction should get easier and easier! Do what you can and enjoy your native plants!


We want you to be as excited about planting Chesapeake natives as we are. “Plant This or That” gives you a native alternative to popular plants. Other posts highlight really fabulous fauna native to the Chesapeake.

Nuts for Natives, avid gardener, Baltimore City admirer, Chesapeake Bay Watershed restoration enthusiast, and public service fan.

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