The tedious task of weed pulling, endless watering cycle, and quest for the perfect plant placement all seemed like a daunting task – especially with a 1 year old in tow. But, my need to clean up our yard, plant organic veggies, and enjoy the great outdoors ended up outweighing my distaste for the garden. Now, gardening is something I really enjoy! Not only is there something seriously therapeutic about it, but the reward of your hard work is pretty nice too.
Whether you’re new to eco-friendly gardening, searching for safe alternatives to use in your little one’s play space, or just looking to for a few good gadgets to use this summer, this list is for you!
In this article, we will discuss the following: Safe Planters for Veggies, Where To Buy Organic Seeds and Veggies, Natural Pest Control, Sustainable Lawn Tips, What to Avoid, and Eco-friendly Garden Equipment.
Organic Veggies & Seeds
Organic Vegetable Plants and Seeds
As I looked near and far for organic-certified plants and seeds that met my specific criteria, here’s what I finallly found! Backyard Berry Plants (organic berry bushes – we purchased a blueberry!), Azure Standard (live vegetable and fruit plants for your garden bed), and Seeds of Change (organic seeds). I planted mine in raised untreated cedar garden beds!
Organic Herb Garden Seeds for Planting
10 Herbs, Plant Markers Gift Set
This 10 pack value set of USDA organic garden seeds makes gardening easy! Not only can you grow these herbs indoor or out, but they produce pretty flowers as well. Includes: Chamomile Seeds, Lavender Tea Seeds, Lemon Balm Tea Plant Seeds, Catnip Seeds, Cinnamon Basil, Dandelion (not that we need anymore of these!), Echinacea Tea, Fennel Seeds, Marjoram, Peppermint Seeds / Mint Seeds.
Eco-friendly Garden & Lawn Tools
Electric Lawn Mower, Manual Mower, or Self-propelled Mowers
Gas Lawn Mowers are known to produce up to 5% of the nation’s air pollution and according the US Environmental Protection Association (EPA), one gas-powered push mower emits as much hourly pollution as 11 cars! Wow. Imagine how much cleaner our air would be if we all used non-gas powered equipment.
I own this electric cordless Greenworks mower and absolutely love the how easy it is to maneuver! Another highly recommended, but slightly more expensive electric lawnmower brand is Ego. Both the Greenworks and Ego mowers are ultra quiet compared to a traditional gas mower and best of all, you won’t be inhaling all of the nasty fumes. If you’re looking for a side by side comparison check out this article.
Hedge Trimmer, String Trimmers, Dethatchers and More
As for these tools, if you already have the Greenworks lawnmower, I’d recommend the Greenworks brand for any additional electric powered tools you need for your lawn. The same goes if you have the Ego mower. The batteries are easy to swap between tools of the same brand making for an effortless day of yard work! Ha! Recently we purchased the Greenworks dethatcher (we have warm season grass) and so far no complaints!
Water Right Hose
This AMAZING hose (yes, I said a HOSE was amazing), is made from NSF and FDA certified polyurethane rather than PVC like most hoses on the market and contains no lead, BPA, phthalates or other toxic chemicals. It is also extremely lightweight, making it super easy for my daughter to drag right through my newly planted vegetable garden! Ha! Water Right sells both stainless steel fittings (tested and confirmed by lead advocate Tamara Rubin, Lead Safe Mama as lead-free) and lead-free brass fittings. Per my conversation with Water Right, their ‘lead-free’ brass fittings contain less than 0.1% lead – the legal standard is anything less than 0.25% is considered ‘lead-free’.
Opt for a wooden trellis whenever possible. Wood is 100% biodegradable and if you purchase a cedar one it will last a while! Avoid purchasing a metal trellis unless you know it is 100% stainless steel. Most are galvanized steel which often contain lead and other heavy metals. And as for the plastic trellis… I have yet to find one that is NOT made from PVC – the most toxic plastic.
Stakes & Twine
Wooden Stakes, Cotton Twine, 100% Organic Hemp Twine are all useful, natural tools to have in your garden. I use a combination of twine and wooden stakes to create a ‘tomato cage’ for my veggie garden.
Stainless Steel Gardening Tools
This 3-piece trowel, cultivator, and transplanter set is a must-have for any gardener and is complete with wooden handles!
Safest Planters for Veggies
Untreated Cedar Planter Boxes and Raised Garden Beds
Untreated Cedar Planter Boxes and Raised Garden Beds come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Non-toxic, rot-resistant and one of the safest alternatives that will last a long time! You can also use Pine although it won’t last as long.
Terracotta is safe for veggies, although you may have to water more frequently. Be sure to choose unglazed versions (as the glazing often contains lead and heavy metals). And remember… let’s help our environment by purchasing real terracotta rather than plastic.
Avoid pressure treated wood (lots of very toxic chemicals used), galvanized steel (contains lead), and plastic (chemical leaching concerns).
If you do choose plastic, choose #2 HDPE, #4 LDPE, and #5 PP plastics. Avoid #1, #3 PVC, #6 PS, and #7 PC. These can leach chemicals over time into your garden soil. The good news is, most plastic planters now-a-days are made from #5 polypropylene plastic. If the planter is scratched or worn, discard as it tends to leach more chemicals as the warm summer sun breaks down the materials.
Natural Weed Control & Sustainable Lawn Care
By hand-picking weeds, you are avoiding the use of toxic chemical pesticides and herbicides hence protecting your family and the environment.
Use Vinegar, Baking Soda, Soap, Salt, Boiling Water, or Borax.
Vinegar, baking soda, soap, salt, boiling water and borax are all natural ways to control weeds in your yard. When using vinegar be sure to choose the highest strength like this one that we use in our home.
Corn. Gluten. Meal.
Corn gluten meal is a natural way to prevent weed seeds from germinating. We apply once in the spring and once in the fall. This organic option is our go-to.
Use cardboard or burlap as a weed barrier.
Last year we laid old cardboard boxes down prior to planting and mulching. It helped protect our plants and keep weeds from creeping through. Plus, it is eco-friendly! Natural, untreated burlap like this one is another good option.
Consider a Flame Weeder.
A Flame Weeder like this one doesn’t attack the root of the weed, so you may have to use it a few times, but it does work for all types of unwanted weeds. Use caution!
Avoid mowing the grass too short.
When you mow your grass too short, weeds will thrive and overpower your lawn! As the saying goes, “if the grass doesn’t shade the weed, the weed will shade the grass.” Mowing higher also helps protect your soil and leads to thicker grass.
Mulching around plants and trees.
Mulching around plants and trees helps to keep weeds at bay, retain moisture, and improve soil conditions. Just remember not to put too much mulch up against the trunk of a tree or you risk decay. As a rule of thumb… mulch should be at least 5 inches from the trunk and no more than 2-4 inches deep. Avoid those ‘volcano mulch piles’.
Use an organic fertilizer.
If you are in need of a fertilizer, choose organic and apply in spring and fall. Although this is not necessary, we love this one!
Water New Plants Often.
When planting a new plant, tree, or shrub be sure to water it often (every day) so that the roots can become established. Tip: Stick your finger into the soil to check the moisture level.
Test the pH of your soil.
Clover and other “weeds” can become a problem if your soil is too acid or too alkaline. If your soil pH is below 6.0, add lime. If your soil is above 7, add sulfur. Grass loves a pH of about 6.5.
Dandelions thrive in alkaline soil with a pH of about 7.5.
Make sure the pH of your grass isn’t too high and if it is be sure to lower it to avoid dandelions if you consider them weeds!
Clover thrives when your lawn lacks nitrogen.
If you have an abundance of pesty clover, add nitrogen back into your soil with an organic fertilizer.
Have a serious weed problem? Consider mowing twice a week until it is under control.
The mower will chop off the fast growing weeds, allowing sunlight to penetrate the grass below.
Rock hard soil?
Add a layer of good compost in the fall or make your own!
Aerate and over seed.
Aerate and over seed very couple of years to maintain proper soil and grass health. It is recommended to aerate once in the spring and then again in the fall.
Consider a Rain Barrel.
You’ll save money by using what nature gives us for free – water when it rains! Check out this barrel made in Canada.
Or just accept and enjoy the weeds!
Natural Pest Control
100% Neem Oil
Diatomaceous Earth is an odorless, non-toxic natural powder that has many uses in the garden and home. This Diatomaceous Earth is our go-to for natural pest control that repels ants (and other insects)! Be sure to sprinkle a thick enough line where the pests crawl.
Mint and Lavender
Mint and lavender are two plants that are said to keep aphids, ants, and rodents away. Although, I’ve never had a problem with rodents in my yard, I do grow both of these seasonally! Keep in mind, mint will spread like crazy! So it is best to keep it in a container.
Citronella plants really help keep away mosquitoes and other pests.
Citrus peels help keep bugs like spiders away.
Cedar is naturally rot-resistant and helps to keep bugs at bay. Try using cedar wood chips or planters around your garden.
Soil, Wood Chips, Mulch, and Amendments
Untreated grass is an excellent choice for children’s play areas and your home! Of course.
Untreated, uncolored mulch
Untreated, uncolored mulch (Colored mulches often use unsafe dyes and added chemicals). We recently purchased some from the Mulch Center, but you can always check at your local store.
Untreated wood chips or Engineered Wood Fiber
Untreated wood chips or Engineered Wood Fiber are great options that are safe for play areas. We used naturally rot and insect resistant cedar in my daughter’s play space.
Soil is best when it is organic, so I always make sure to choose this for my vegetable garden – I don’t want pesticides or heavy metals where I’m planting my veggies! Two options I used this year, both OMRI Certified: Happy Frog and Whitney Farms (Disclosure: Whitney Farms is owned by Scott’s and in general, I tend to avoid products connected to Monsanto such as Scott’s, Bayer, and Miracle Grow are products I tend to avoid due to their connection with Monsanto). As for other areas, on occasionally, I will buy a less expensive organic or whatever is readily available. Living life by the 80/20 rule!
DIY Potting Soil
Check out Tippy’s Produce and learn how to make your own DIY soil!
Rocks and stone
Rocks and stones can add a beautiful hardscape to your outdoor space. A few things to keep in mind: 1.) Difficult to relocate 2.) Cost $$ 3.) It may be difficult to grow plants. 4.) Heavyyyy
Composting is excellent for your soil and can be done for free at home! If you don’t want a compost bin outside of your home, you can always collect food scraps in a kitchen composter, blend, and then use immediately in your garden! You can also bury banana peels and other scraps to add nutrients to your soil. Be sure to add “browns” to your kitchen “greens” such as leaves, pine needs, etc.
Look for OMRI Certification
When choosing soil, compost and other gardening materials, it is best to look for organic OMRI certified products. The Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) is an international nonprofit organization that determines which input products are allowed for use in organic production and processing. Search here.
What to Avoid in your Yard & Garden
Artificial Turf, Artificial Mulch and ‘Crumb Rubber’
Artificial turf, artificial mulch, and “crumb rubber” can be loaded with toxic chemicals that off-gas year round, but especially when heated. Artificial turf/mulch made from rubber or recycled tires often contains neurotoxins like lead and a host of chemicals known to cause cancer along with reproductive and endocrine harm among other issues.
Car Tires & Products Made from Recycled Car Tires
Car tires (or products made from recycled car tires) contain hundreds of known carcinogens and have no place around children or in our garden beds. They contain heavy metals like cadmium and lead, mercury, acetone, and off-gas causing the chemicals to be inhaled by those on the playground.
Avoid products with glyphosate and other “Weed and Feed” products.
Chemicals in these products are hazardous to our health and linked to a host of diseases, health issues and cancer.
Pressure Treated Wood
Pressure treated wood uses toxic chemicals when manufactured that can leach into your soil. Arsenic is one of those chemicals. Although there are different ways companies pressurize wood these days, it is still something I steer clear of.
Galvanized steel very often contains high amounts of lead and other hazardous toxins that you wouldn’t want around your children or garden. Use stainless steel instead. See Galvanized Chicken Wire below.
Galvanized Chicken Wire
Galvanized chicken wire is often used around gardens and often contains extremely high amounts of lead and cadmium, far above the acceptable level! Choose a stainless steel version like this one. Here is Tamara Rubin, Lead Safe Mama’s most recent post on testing galvanized products including chicken wire. In one example, galvanized chicken wire contained over 2,000 ppm of lead! 90 is the allowable amount in children’s toys (although it should be ZERO, in my opinion).
Check out the WhatMommyKnows Amazon Storefront for more of my garden favorites!
Thanks for reading!
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