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April 8, 2014

Guerilla Gardeners: Waging a Green War, One Seed Bomb at a Time

The days are getting warmer, the nights are getting shorter, and if I don’t check my jeans’ pockets before I wash them, they’re likely to be full of lettuce sprouts by the time they’re dry. Spring makes green thumbs itchy, and it seems that starting seeds is the only cure.

The love of gardening is a seed that once sown never dies. -Gertrude Jekyll

Photo by Kate Ter Haar.

However, those bare spots in my lawn and garden aren’t the only areas of ground crying out to be seeded. This is an important time of year for the biomes of meadows, wetlands, and riverbanks, all of which rely on the annual reseeding of their native species.

kale and broccoli, in the spring garden

Photo by woodleywonderworks (Flickr).

Ideally, the annual reseeding of my community’s green areas will go as smoothly as the annual reseeding of my lettuce patch: last year’s seeds, sheltered and mulched by last year’s greenery, are naturally sown, watered and fertilized until they become this year’s important native plants. However, a host of factors ranging from environmental pollution to overgrazing to devastating floods can interfere with this process, leaving these biomes vulnerable to erosion and invasive species.

Since the 1970s, environmental activists have been fighting this problem with guerilla gardening. This practice began in urban environments as a way to reclaim vacant lots and make vegetables more widely available to underprivileged populations. However, it is also a great way to help restore native plant populations in natural areas, fight creek bed erosion, and get your community involved in protecting its environment.

Seed bomb starter kit for sale on Etsy.

Wildflower seed bombs for sale on Etsy.

The term “guerilla gardening” encompasses a number of philosophies, tools, and techniques. One of the most famous, the seed bomb, is inexpensive to build, easy to use, and very effective at environmental restoration. You can use a variety of materials and native plant seeds to build a seed bomb, and the exact materials you use will ultimately depend on what species are native to your area and what conditions they need for growth.

When deciding which species to include in your seed bombs, it is important to consider which species are native to your area; planting the wrong species could spell disaster for a sensitive biome. Always contact your local university extension or fish and game department to find out about which plants are native to your region. You might think of a seed bomb as a means of spreading flowers, but native grasses and forage species may also need a little help from the community.

$20 archival print, for sale on Etsy.

You will also need to consider which areas can and should be reseeded. Do not seed bomb private property without the owner’s permission. You could be the subject of legal action or even cause a community backlash against guerilla gardeners. Do not seed bomb areas that are currently undergoing environmental rehabilitation with the help of your local parks service–these folks have a plan, and the best way you can help is by letting them carry it out.

Instead, target neglected roadsides and creek beds that have been subject to erosion and invasion. Doing a little homework beforehand can ensure not only that you don’t get in trouble for seed bombing, but also that you are successful in your attack on environmental deterioration. When carried out correctly, seed bombing (and other guerilla gardening strategies) can bring new life back to your watershed and help sustain its environment for years to come.

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Posted by Mark Contorno.

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