The only problem with having such a healthy landscape is that there’s so much of it. Grass grows, vines twine and the deadheading never ends. Even though I compost like crazy and use my untreated grass clippings as mulch in the vegetable garden, there’s still a lot of yard waste. Instead of bagging it up, I’ve taken a cue from the landscape industry and started a zero-waste gardening movement in my own back yard.


Landscapers call broken concrete “urbanite” and use it – or reuse it – to create retaining walls. Urbanite can also help keep soil in its place in the garden.

Photo Credit: Jodi Torpey

Plant stake

Curly willow branches can easily take the place of conventional green plastic plant stakes in the garden. They blend in naturally – and the price is better, too!

Photo Credit: Jodi Torpey

Pruned Virginia creeper vines

These pruned Virginia creeper vines could be headed for the landfill…

Photo Credit: Jodi Torpey

Virginia creeper wreath

…or they could be turned into an outdoor decoration in less than 5 minutes.

Photo Credit: Jodi Torpey

Landscape contractors around the country are using sustainable practices for their commercial and residential landscapes alike. They’re designing for both functionality and aesthetics, using more native plants, buying locally-produced materials and working toward the goal of a zero-waste job site.

Home gardeners can set a zero-waste goal, too. That means finding creative ways to keep your landscape and garden debris out of the waste stream. Here are a few ideas for turning waste into valuable resources, using that green mantra, “reduce, reuse and recycle!


  • Minimize yard waste by pruning shrubs, hedges and trees only when needed.
  • Buy soil amendments in bulk instead of individual bags.
  • Shop for plants in compostable containers instead of plastic pots.
  • Start seeds in recycled kitchen containers like margarine tubs and yogurt cups; poke holes in the bottoms for drainage.
  • Use twigs, evergreen needles and disease-free plant prunings instead of packaged mulch.


  • Reuse those plastic bags from your mulch or soil amendments for making leaf compost: Fill the empty bags with leaves, poke holes in each and let nature create compost over winter.
  • Use evergreen branches as plant protection during freezing weather or create a brush pile as shelter for birds and small animals.
  • Use pruned branches as a substitute for store-bought plant stakes.
  • Turn a leaky birdbath into an interesting planter or bird feeder.
  • Place discarded tree stumps in the yard for handy seating or as a base for a sundial or garden sculpture.
  • Save tomato, cucumber and other vegetable seeds at the end of each growing season to use in the garden the following year.


  • Shred leaves, dead annuals and perennial prunings to use as mulch, or dig/mix them right into the soil for added nutrients.
  • Leave grass clippings on the lawn to reduce the amount of waste sent to the landfill.
  • Recycle extra plants and leftover garden pots by hosting a plant exchange with friends and neighbors each spring and fall.
  • Use trimmed vines or plants with long, feathery foliage to create wreaths, swags or other natural crafts.

Sustainability isn’t a passing fad or the newest marketing buzzword. Gardening practices that promote the long-term well-being of the environment are here to stay. We all need to start somewhere – why not at zero?