Sustainability

Is Planting Flowers Bad for the Environment?


My husband and I go for an early walk most mornings. It started at the beginning of the pandemic when we both started working from home. We walk over to the park near our home and back over about an hour. I love it, because it’s a chance for me to get some physical activity first thing while also enjoying nature. They are especially nice this time of year as the weather starts to cool slightly, and we can walk without getting drenched in sweat. We live in the south were in the summer it’s hot from the time we wake up until we go to bed.

I noticed something as we started out on our customary walk yesterday. The gardeners were back. That in and of itself was not particularly strange. We live in an apartment complex, and gardeners and landscapers are around fairly regularly trimming bushes, cutting grass, and, of course, wielding leaf blowers. Today, though, they came with crates and crates of flowers. And I knew what that meant. They were doing it again.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The gardeners had arrived to plant hundreds of flowers (and no, that’s not an over exaggeration). “Nicole!”, you say, “Do you have a problem with flowers!?” No, I don’t. Flowers are beautiful, and I love living in a place where I can see greenery outside my window. I know many don’t have that luxury.

Photo by Binyamin Mellish on Pexels.com

What I don’t like is that when they do come, they tear up all the flowers that are already there. You see, they aren’t filling in bare patches or replacing plants that have died over the course of the season. They are tearing up all the flowers that they had just planted three months previously. The current flowers were still pretty and very much alive. But over the course of a few hours all of them had been removed and carted away in trash cans.

Why do they replace the flowers every few months? To be honest, I’m not 100% sure. Maybe they plant things that grow best at the specific time of year. Although growing up my parents always planted flowers in the spring, and they lasted until they died off the next winter. And I grew up an hour away from where I live now, so it’s not like the climate is that different. So that’s not the best rationale for the continuous replanting.

Now on to the next question you might be asking yourself at this point – why do I care so much? I partly can’t believe that rent money could be going to something that seems unnecessary, but that’s really not the problem. I’m upset, because of what it’s doing to the environment.

More carbon is sequestered in the soil than in living plants and the atmosphere combined.

Jackson et al. 2017

Soil is a carbon trap – more carbon is sequestered in soil than in living plants and the atmosphere combined (Jackson et al. 2017). However, if we mess with the soil, then the carbon doesn’t stay there. It gets released into the atmosphere. Things like using synthetic fertilizers, spreading pesticides, planting monocultures (a.k.a a field of just one type of plant) and tilling or digging in the soil create this effect. How? These actions expose the carbon in the soil to oxygen and can lead to it being added to the atmosphere.

Photo by Zen Chung on Pexels.com

In an age where we need to be finding ways to cut carbon dioxide levels, things like digging up plants every few months seems like a problem to me. And that’s assuming that these gardeners aren’t using synthetic fertilizers or pesticides and that the removed flowers are composted and not taken to the local garbage dump.

Does this mean that we should just stop gardening? No – for one because we kind of need food to survive. But there are things that can be done to make agriculture more sustainable whether we’re talking about the tomato plants growing in your backyard or the ones that will be turned into ketchup on the store shelf. Things like crop rotation, composting, and rotation grazing can all restore soils and increase the amount of carbon stored in them. In fact, with improved management, global croplands could store an additional 1.85 gigatons of carbon each year. That’s the equivalent of stopping all transportation around the globe.

So, what to do? Well, if you have a garden, then consider more sustainable gardening practices. Possibly consider supporting agricultural companies that you know work in sustainable ways (if you can). As for me? I think I need to talk to my property manager.

Sources/Additional Information:

https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/10.1146/annurev-ecolsys-112414-054234

https://www.audubon.org/news/the-hidden-carbon-trap-your-garden-its-all-about-soil

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-15794-8

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/08/190814161818.htm

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