If you go strictly by the calendar, Earth Day only comes once a year. But given our growing concern for our environment, including the importance of reusing, recycling and “going green,” shouldn’t every day be “Earth Day?” Thanks to gardening and the joys of outdoor living, it can be – right in our own back yards.

Baby blue eyes

Baby blue eyes does best with watering that tapers off through the season, from a good soaking twice a week in the beginning to almost none during flowering peak.

Photo Credit: James H. Schutte

Lindheimer’s beeblossom

Lindheimer’s beeblossom is a long-lived, hardy perennial native to Texas and Louisiana. (It’s a bee and butterfly magnet.)

Photo Credit: Mark A. Miller

Smooth oxeye

Smooth oxeye is a trouble-free, easy-to-grow perennial that’s drought-tolerant once established. It’s at home in sunny perennial borders and wildflower gardens.

Adding plants to your own piece of the earth is definitely a great start, but there are lots of things you can do this season to take your garden to the next level and make it truly helpful to our planet. Here are a few ideas from Greg Raymond, owner of EcoGardens LLC, a landscape company dedicated to producing and maintaining Earth-friendly gardens in Chicago.

Whether you’ve got a few colorful containers on your patio or acres of turf and in-ground plantings, the first and best thing any gardener can do is go organic, Greg says, noting a real benefit in gardening in harmony with Mother Nature “Synthetic fertilizers and herbicides and other pesticides – not only do they kill the bad things or living organisms, they also kill good things … throwing things out of whack,” he explains. “Going organic is going to get things in balance.”

Think you have to “go granola” to find organic stuff? Not true! “There are absolutely plenty of organic fertilizers – even name brands,” Greg adds. (And you can find these organic composts, fertilizers and other products at just about any garden center.)

Another step in the go-green direction is to get your soil tested. “Take at least two or three random samples,” Greg recommends. “Without good soil, nothing will survive. It’s the architecture of landscaping.” You can buy an at-home soil test kit from your local garden center and test your soil on your own, or you can send a sample to a lab or bring it to your local Cooperative Extension. Either way, you’ll get a good analysis of the key micro- and macronutrients missing in your soil, so you’ll know how to build it up correctly in order to have a healthy, beautiful and environmentally friendly garden.

Picking the right plants for your garden is key, too. “Everyone is always pushing natives,” Greg says. “I believe in using natives, but it’s not always practical from a design standpoint.” When picking your plants, take a good look at their water requirements – a highly drought-tolerant plant, regardless if it’s native, is a good thing – and a great way to be more water-conscious.

Speaking of water use, be responsible when it comes to irrigation as well! “If you have an irrigation system, put a rain sensor on it,” Greg suggests. (It’s typically about $75-$100 to add one, and it’ll stop your system from going off when it’s raining – making your system more water wise.)

Got turf? Don’t worry. Greg doesn’t agree with the thought that grass isn’t eco-friendly – but he does believe that home gardeners should take a healthy approach to their lawns. “Aerating your lawn at least once a year is a good water-management tool,” he suggests. “The water goes deeper into the root system, and you’re not getting as much runoff.”

What’s more, there are plenty of ways to care for your lawn organically – from organic fertilizers and weed controls to types of mowers that don’t pollute (cordless and battery-operated mowers are great options). That said, Greg does point out that it is more expensive and time-consuming to organically create and maintain a golf course-grade lawn. In fact, most homeowners would be better off hiring an organic lawn service if a healthy, natural, weed-free lawn is a must.

Of course, if you’re okay with a few weeds here and there (some weeds, like nitrogen-fixing clover, can actually be good for the soil) – and if you have some patience (it can take up to two years to for organically-managed grass to look really good) – an organic lawn is a great and responsible way to green up the Earth. And the best part of it all is that you’ll never have to worry about your kids or pets absorbing any harmful lawn-care chemicals while playing in your yard!

The only downside to growing organically is that it’s definitely more costly – in both time and money. But it absolutely pays off in the long run: Not only will your yard and garden eventually need less maintenance, they’ll be growing in harmony with Mother Nature, as well as be friendly to our planet and all the life on it. What a great way to celebrate Earth Day – 365 times a year!