15 Ways Gardeners Can Reduce Their CO2 Emissions

Written by Hannah Miller. Published to Hannah’s Corner.

Gardening is good for the environment, isn’t it?

Surely, creating a green space with lots of plants should help wildlife?

Not so fast.

Modern gardening techniques, mass-produced products, pesticides and non-native plant species could be doing more harm than good.

Let us help you get back on track so your garden will be far more eco-friendly.

Busy Lizzies and a Pelargonium in a trough

1) Ditch The Annuals

Annuals are popular as they grow quickly and produce fantastic colours and foliage.

Use them in tubs, baskets and borders where you can fill space within a few weeks.

The downside?

Annuals are probably the least eco-friendly plant you can buy.

Consider that annuals are:

  • Grown in temperature and humidity-controlled polytunnels.
  • Grown under artificial light, so they look strong and healthy.
  • Subject to chemical fertilisers that are applied routinely.
  • Covered in pesticides.
  • Usually sterile and don’t help insects.

All that for plants that you throw away at the end of the year.

Now consider that annuals purchased from garden centres:

  • Are almost always packaged in plastic trays and pots that aren’t usually recyclable.
  • Require frequent watering.
  • Need more pesticides and fertilisers to reach their full potential.

Annual plants are big business, and anyone visiting a garden centre will be swamped by row after row of plastic pots and trays full of plants that never last more than a season.

Annuals are one of the least environmentally friendly plants you can buy and often do nothing for the environment, soak up water, require chemicals, and their production creates tons of CO2.

If you want to become a better, more eco-friendly gardener, ditch the plastic pots, trays and the annuals that fill them.

Read more about how green annuals aren’t over at the Plant Plots website.

Annual plants in plastic pots

More plastic than you can shake a stick at… and they only last for one season.

2) Create a Living Wall

Research from the University of Plymouth has revealed that living walls – those covered with plants – reduce heat loss by over 30%.

The heat loss from two west-facing walls was measured over five weeks.

One wall was made from regular masonry, while the second was covered in a fabric with pockets for plants to grow in.

The results were described as a potential game-changer in the UK’s efforts to reach carbon net-zero.

Whether you decide to take things this far, or you just grow climbing plants from ground level or even from window troughs, the point is that green living walls are more eco-friendly than regular mortar.

They help improve biodiversity, are fun to grow and are perfect for those with small gardens.

I’m predicting that living walls and even roofs will become a big thing in the next few years, and in a decade or so, you’ll see them everywhere.

An overview of the results can be found at The Engineer.

A more detailed look at living walls can be found at Science Direct.

3) Get Rid of The Lawn

Lawns may look neat and uniform, but they do nothing for pollinators and other beneficial insects; in fact, they do much harm to the environment:

  • Soak up water from the ground.
  • Requires lots of additional watering, especially during the summer.
  • Require frequent cutting which uses electricity or petrol.
  • Need fertiliser and pesticides.
  • Takes up space that could be used to grow plants that better benefit biodiversity.

Compared to the many thousands of plants you could grow instead of a lawn, grass is lifeless and bland. Isn’t time westerners ditched their obsession with the perfect billiard board lawn?

Eco Home has a more in-depth guide to lawn alternatives.


Green but not so green.

4) Learn How to Propagate Plants

Plant propagation is a technique where a cutting from one plant is grown into a new plant.

Not every plant can be propagated, and some are easier than others. Still, this technique is better for the environment than buying from a garden centre, and you won’t generate any plastic waste.

Propagation is fun, educational and you can donate plants to friends and neighbours too.

We’ve already created a guide to propagating Hydrangeas and even Busy Lizzies.

To learn how to propagate over 1500 plants, try this guide from the Royal Horticultural Society:

RHS propagate plants

Recommended book by the RHS.

5) Stop Buying Compost From Garden Centres

Compost is a growing medium that helps plants flourish, but it comes with embedded CO2:

  • It’s heavy and transporting to and from garden centres produces tonnes of emissions.
  • Peat bogs hold CO2, and by digging up peat, the manufacturers are releasing stored CO2.
  • Compost bags are made from thick and sturdy plastic which can’t be easily recycled.

Instead of buying compost bags from your local garden centre, try creating your own; it’s not as difficult as you may think:

The best compost bins.

How to use a “hot” composter to create compost quickly.

Hotbin insulation

Hot composters produce yields in weeks, not months. Find out more here.

6) Grow Plants From Seeds

The first suggestion on this page was for you to ditch the annuals as their production and transportation produce so much CO2, but there’s no reason why you can’t grow annuals from seed.

Consider that seeds are:

  • Easy to transport.
  • Require little packaging and none if you collect them yourself.
  • Are fun to grow.
  • Educational for kids to grow.

If you have limited space in your garden for a greenhouse, you can grow seeds in old plastic trays on a windowsill, or you can grow them inside old plastic bottles.

Seeds in hand

Seeds are fun and educational to grow and are far better for the environment.

7) Grow Food in Your Garden

Growing fruit and vegetables in a garden is fun and educational and you don’t need to convert your entire garden into a patch. They can complement other plants you grow.

Strawberries can be grown in hanging baskets and troughs while potatoes can be placed in borders and fruit trees and berry-producing bushes can yield bags of produce.

By growing your own food, you’ll save money and fuel on trips to the shops.

Apples on tree

Save money and cut down on your CO2 emissions too.

8) Choose Long-Lived Perennials and Shrubs

Shrubs and other long-lived perennials can last years and sometimes decades and are far better for the environment than annuals, biannuals and short-lived perennials with a limited life.

By growing long-lived plants, you’ll need fewer trips to the garden centre, will create less plastic waste, and these plants typically require less water, fertiliser and pesticides.

By choosing your long-lived plants carefully, you can still create a colourful garden without the CO2 emissions associated with short-lived plants.


Long-lived shrubs can be just as colourful as short-lived plants.

9) Stop Using Petrol or Electrical Tools and Equipment

Petrol powered tools such as strimmers, mowers and hedge cutters are some of the worst CO2 offenders.

Electric tools are better for the environment, but better still would be to swap them for manual equipment.

We use a push cylinder mower here at DIY Gardening, and while it requires extra effort, the results are impressive, and there are no power cords to worry about, no extension leads needed and no CO2 emissions either.

This is our favourite manual push mower.

Our cylinder mower

Manual push mowers are better for the environment and produce good results.

10) Get a Water Storage Tank and Stop Using Tap Water

Gardens can soak up a lot of water, especially if you have a large lawn or lots of thirsty plants.

If you find yourself using lots of water from your taps, consider installing a rainwater tank that collects water from the roof gutters.

They are cheap, easy to install and help to lower your water bill.

Try these slimline barrels that take up little space.

11) Create Your Own Fertiliser

Shop-purchased fertilisers are often notorious for the number of harsh chemicals they contain.

There are dozens of ways to create natural fertilisers, from leftover coffee grounds to grass clipping “tea” to fish waste fertiliser.

Try DIYnCrafts guide to 15 homemade fertilisers.

12) Plant Trees That Absorb More CO2

Trees absorb CO2 but some are more efficient than others.

Here are a few examples of how much CO2 trees can absorb from the environment:

  • Eucalyptus Tree – 70 pounds of CO2 per year.
  • European Beech Tree – 120 pounds per year.
  • Laural Oak Tree – 70 pounds CO2 per year.
  • Silver Maple Tree – 455 pounds per year.

Source: getreprint.com


These are 12 of the easiest ways gardeners can reduce their CO2 footprint while still enjoying the beautiful gardens they create.

Modern consumerism has made gardening easy – just drive to the garden centre, buy plants and grow them for a year, then throw them away and repeat the process.

Unfortunately, this creates huge amounts of CO2 emissions which are completely avoidable.

By making a few changes, any gardener can reduce their footprint quickly and easily.

Meet The Author: Hannah Miller

Hannah is a former NHS administrator, mother of two and keen gardener with a horticulture qualification who loves growing new plants and experimenting in the garden.

She enjoys gardening as much as she cares about the environment and likes to share her knowledge with others.

This year is all about pollinators, and Hannah has set herself the goal of only buying new plants that attract pollinators; she aims to make the garden as bee and butterfly friendly as possible.

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