Toward an Oil-Free Garden

Find ways to reduce or eliminate use of oil and plastic in the garden

March 7, 2011

The disastrous BP oil spill reminded the world that drilling comes with a heavy cost. But oil is a fact of modern life. Gasoline powers our cars, plastics encase our lunches, and asphalt paves our streets. Petroleum shows up in our organic gardens as plastic mulch, vinyl fences, polypropylene row covers, and PVC hoses. But if synthetic fertilizers and pesticides are not welcome, why embrace oil-based products? Here are a few ways to root out the worst petroleum offenders from the garden.

Ditch plastic weed barriers. Plastic mulch blocks weeds, but it can also prevent water and nutrients from reaching the soil. Switch to paper-based alternatives, such as newspaper or cardboard, topped with grass clippings, leaves, or straw.


Make your own compost. Organic options are often available for store-bought compost, but how far were those plastic bags of compost shipped? Create some homegrown compost and skip the fuel costs and plastic packaging.

Build natural borders. Use stone, brick, or untreated wood to edge garden beds and paths.

Trellis with twine.Avoid plastic trellises and netting. Instead, use cotton or sisal twine, bamboo, and wood to build sturdy and natural supports for tomatoes, vines, and other climbers.

Eliminate vinyl and PVC. Not all plastics are created equal. If there are no plastic-free alternatives, at least avoid vinyl and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) products, which may contain lead, phthalates, and other unsafe chemicals.

Choose durability. Whatever the product, oil was almost certainly used to build, package, and ship it. Choose sturdy, well-made items that can be used for as many years as possible before they need to be replaced.

Be creative. Sometimes the best petroleum-free solutions are homemade, utilizing repurposed materials, elbow grease, and a little creativity.

Reuse newspapers. Make seedling pots from newspaper and eliminate plastic containers. Bonus: Seedlings grown in paper pots are easier to transplant.

An entirely petroleum-free garden may be impossible in today’s world, where oil permeates every facet of our lives. But plastic and oil consumption can be dramatically reduced by choosing creative and natural solutions—the basic ingredients of every organic garden.

Newspaper seedling pots are a biodegradable alternative to plastic cell packs. Learn how to make them.