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How to grow plants responsibly

How to grow plants responsibly

Growing plants is often seen as a “green” thing to do, but they take a huge amount of resources to produce. Author Tony Le-Britton shares how to grow plants responsibly

Growing plants can have a huge environmental impact. Many large-scale growers have implemented technology and growing techniques to minimize their impact on the environment, such as using geothermal energy to heat greenhouses, solar power to supply electricity and lighting, and even harvesting rainwater from the expansive glass roofs of their greenhouses. This water can be circulated and reused, minimizing the amount of wastewater and avoiding taking water from the grid.

There is an incentive here, too, as waste in commercial growing equals less profit, so many of the systems in place are extremely economically and environmentally efficient. 

What can we do?

Tony Le-Britton, Not Another Jungle © Dorling Kindersley: Jason Ingram

Image credit: Dorling Kindersley, Jason Ingram 

While domestic growing doesn’t involve the same carbon footprint as commercial growing, it’s important to consider what we can all do to minimize our own impact while still enjoying growing plants. 

Overconsumption of plants is a big issue. It’s so easy to get overexcited when you see all these incredible plants, and you can end up carrying home huge numbers of them. But large collections are an enormous amount of work, and the more plants you have, the more limited your time and resources become, and plants can suffer. This leads to another issue—many people give up and throw away their plants. In a similar way to the world of fast fashion, the low price of some plants means that if it doesn’t look perfect—or in the case of orchids or other flowering plants—stops flowering, it’s not such a wrench to just chuck them away and replace them. 

"It’s important to value your plants"

So it’s important to value your plants—buy plants you know you have time to look after, regularly assess your collection, and rehome rather than throw away things that don’t bring you joy or fit into your growing conditions. In my shop I have a zero plant-waste policy; any plants not looking their best are sold at a discount with the necessary advice to perk them up, or I’ll take them home and do it myself. 

If you are ready and able to increase your collection, propagate from your own plants rather than buying more, and share plants with others. I’ve got a wall in my shop where people can swap cuttings. This removes the need to buy plants and encourages a sharing and propagation culture, while also building a community of like-minded, passionate plant people. I really recommend finding or even starting a group and getting swapping. 

Make considerate adaptations

Hanging green plants in a house. How to grow plants responsibly. Image credit: Dorling Kindersley: Jason Ingram

Image credit: Dorling Kindersley, Jason Ingram 

Try to use substrates that are the least environmentally damaging and reuse when repotting. Unless the plant potted in it was diseased, just mix in fresh ingredients to add structure, nutrition, and life to existing substrate instead of throwing it out. Many traditional substrates and additives have a huge environmental cost and aren’t sustainable, so reusing these will greatly reduce your gardening footprint. 

"Good-quality tools last a lifetime and can be passed down the generations"

Recycling takes a huge amount of input, which can end up being more damaging to the environment, so buy fewer things of a higher quality. These will last many years, reducing your impact on the environment and being more cost-effective in the long term. Good-quality tools last a lifetime and can be passed down the generations rather than buying something of lower quality that needs replacing every year.

The same goes for pots; so many pots and trays are made from flimsy plastic which lasts a season, and most can’t even be recycled. Much better to invest in some really sturdy plastic pots which will last a lifetime. I propagate and then grow many of the plants for my shop on windowsills at home, with no additional light or heat needed. 

Not Another Jungle by Tony Le-Britton

Not Another Jungle by Tony Le-Britton is available now (DK, £16.99) 

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