19 Once-Popular Gardening Practices Now Criticized for Their Environmental Impact

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As science and society develop, our understanding and concepts of ecology deepen. The internet has given many people access to research and start gardening on their own. Many traditional practices that were once celebrated for boosting plant growth are now frowned upon. These contribute to soil erosion, water waste, and the spread of harmful chemicals in biodiversity. Here are 19 once-popular gardening practices now criticized for their environmental impact.

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Peat Moss Harvesting

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Previously, peat moss was used to improve soil quality and provide moisture. Unfortunately, the extraction of these releases carbon dioxide that does more harm to the surrounding environment, increasing climate change. Moreover, the regeneration process takes several thousands of years to form, making it practically impossible and an unsustainable resource. These reasons and their destruction harm the surrounding habitat, which in turn destroys the wildlife.

Synthetic Fertilizers

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From groundwater pollution to soil degradation, synthetic fertilizer, which was once popular, has lost its charm due to its devastating environmental impact. These fertilizers contain high nitrogen and phosphorus levels, whose nutrients, when diluted into the water, result in algae bloom. This, in turn, causes immense harm to aquatic life, killing marine animals and polluting the water. Overuse of such substances decreases the soil’s pH level while killing beneficial microorganisms.

Neonics Use

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Neonics, also called neonicotinoid insecticides, have lost their popularity due to their toxicity towards pollinators. Extracted from nicotine, these chemicals attack the nervous system of plants, leading to paralysis and death. Neonics impair bees, birds, and butterflies, causing a decline in their population and reproduction rates and disrupting pollination. In modern times, the use of neonics is prohibited for seed treatment and soil application.

Monoculture Planting

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Having received widespread popularity during the 1950s in South Africa, farmers opted for monoculture as it was very profitable. Chemicals, fertilizers, and pest control on a single crop produced higher yields. However, the adverse effects of monoculture were seen in the deteriorated soil fertility, which caused soil erosion. Nowadays, crop rotation is preferred over monoculture planting to protect the soil quality and reduce topsoil erosion.


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Naturalization in botany refers to when an exotic plant species is grown in a new environment outside its original habitat. This is criticized as it often leads to disruption in the ecosystem, where these plants can alter the soil pH level or nutrient cycle. They are more expensive to manage and must be appropriately verified to avoid invasive species. These exotic plants may not provide the same benefits to the local birds as the native plants—modern gardening advice against such practices requires frequent management and utmost monitoring.

Turn Lawns

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Turn lawns are aesthetic, and the greenery gives you a blissful sense of peace and tranquillity. However, while this may not necessarily be a practice, excessive watering of these lawns is required, especially in arid regions. The frequent application of pesticides leads to soil erosion and water pollution. Additionally, gas-powered equipment increases greenhouse gases and emissions that negatively impact our environment.

Plastic Mulch

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The application of plastic mulch is mainly for weed control and moisture retention. This practice has faced backlash due to the increasing pollution caused by plastic degrading into microplastics. These degraded substances contaminate the soil and water, harming the entire food chain. Practices like composting are also affected because they disrupt the soil ecosystem by adding to landfill waste.

Copper-based Fungicides

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Another famous practice is using fungicides, especially Copper sulfate and copper oxychloride, as a control mechanism for bacteria and fungal diseases. This practice affects soil and water when copper clogs and reduces quality. In addition, while these fungicides do play an effective role in preventing diseases, they also sweep away beneficial organisms.


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One of the most common plant problems and amateur mistakes gardens make is overwatering. When the roots are saturated, they do not get enough oxygen, which results in the plant’s death. This drains the nutrients from the soil, causing salinity and alkalinity in the land. Other techniques, such as drip irrigation and sprinkler techniques, can conserve water and provide the required amount.

Excessive Tilling

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Previously, frequent tillage was not looked upon until the excessive nature of it deteriorated water quality and caused soil erosion. The sediments contributed to water pollution, reduced the fertility of the land, and enhanced the growth of weeds. Such practices would also be criticized for relying on herbicides, making it difficult for the plants to grow swiftly. Reduced till gardening methods offer a better alternative by maintaining a healthy soil ecosystem and improving water retention.

Compost Tea Application

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This application was believed to have increased fruit production and reduced the impact of various pathogens. However, the issues stem from the preparation of the green compost, which, if not properly prepared, harms the plant and soil. The effectiveness of this method is also questionable today, making it a highly unreliable method. On the other hand, Organic matter and property-managed compost are safer options that provide consistent benefits.

Bark Mulch

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Bark Mulch was used excessively previously for its role in weed suppression. It may still be popular among gardeners, but its decomposition depletes nitrogen and harms the soil. A thicker layer of this will lead to rotting around stems; regardless of the quantity, bark, and mulch will attract many bugs and rodents. Leaves and grass mulches offer a better alternative because they are sustainable while reducing environmental impact.

Chemical Weed Killers

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Weed killers or chemical herbicides were a popular option for quick weed control. The efforts required in this method are very low regardless of when the crop was planted. However, the repeated use of these can result in herbicide-resistant weed populations, which hinder the growth of other plants. Nowadays, manual weeding alongside the application of cover crops are better methods that protect soil health and biodiversity.

Pressure Treating

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The practice of pressure treatment with PCP (Pentachlorophenol) was banned when its harmful effects came to light. This chemical treated wood, acting as a preservative on fences and landscape timbers. Research found that exposure to this chemical can cause skin irritation and respiratory problems in humans and animals. This chemical in pressure treatment can also contaminate the soil, killing surrounding wildlife.

Excessive Soil Amendments

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Soil amendments have always been beneficial due to their vast potential for further growth and general soil health. However, increased amendments such as lime, gypsum, or phosphorus have caused nutritional imbalance and chemical dependence in the last few decades. This also leads to a breakdown of soil structure, impeding drainage due to excess organic matter.

Soil tests are crucial to avoid soil salinization, which can dehydrate plants or cause excessive organic matter to surge in microbial activity.

Frequent Replanting

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Patience is a virtue in gardening, and frequent replanting will not benefit you. The myth of replanting promised to make one’s garden look more aesthetic with a greater growth rate. However, it has been proven that this decreases the nutritional value and loosens the soil. Continuous disturbances in the soil can kill beneficial microorganisms and lead to a waste of resources.

Hard Landscaping

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Previously, hard landscaping was practiced, which refers to using concrete and stone. Due to the impervious surface, rainwater cannot seep in, reducing groundwater recharge. It is better to keep the garden clean as these rocks absorb heat and increase the ambient temperature, which is unsuitable for the plant. There should be a proper balance between the hard and soft landscape elements, implementing sustaining while increasing the overall appeal.

Genetically Modified Organisms

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In gardening, Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are plants that have been altered to incorporate certain traits. In the past, these were widely used to enhance pest resistance and growth by manipulating their genetics. Nevertheless, their environmental concerns stem from the biodiversity loss in native plants and the development of superweeds. These resist common chemicals that spread and harm other plants and insects, including pollinators such as bees and butterflies.

Inefficient Irrigation

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Irrigation systems such as overhead sprinklers and flood irrigation, once popularly used for their simplicity, negatively impact the environment and plants. They lead to water waste and play a major role in soil erosion and runoff, resulting in nutrient leaching. Smarter irrigation systems such as drip irrigation and soaker houses are modern alternatives that support environmental stability.

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