Bring your own (string, canvas, any kind of reusable) bags to grocery stores and say "no" to the store's plastic bags. Americans toss some 100 billion of those low-quality polyethylene plastic bags annually and the recycling rate for them is just 0.6 percent. Each high-quality reusable bag has the potential of eliminating hundreds or even thousands of plastic bags over its lifetime.
Avoid using them in your garden and yard. Build up healthy soil instead to help prevent disease. Use barriers such as netting or cutworm collars. Wash aphids away with spray from the hose. Encourage beneficial insects that eat harmful ones. And learn to tolerate a few weeds, spots or insects if it's only an aesthetic problem.
Don't over-fertilize. Plants only can absorb so much; the rest washes away to pollute waterways. Follow directions or err on the side of less. Look for organic fertilizers that release nutrients slowly.
Use them in your garden. They know how to fend for themselves; they're adapted to the local climate, soils and pests. That means less watering and fewer chemicals.
Watering the garden
Don't sprinkle more than necessary or in the heat of the day when much water evaporates. Put drip irrigation and soaker hoses on timers to water at night or in the early morning. Water lawns long and deep once a week, not lightly and frequently.
Save the rain
Put a rain barrel under a downspout to collect free water for the garden. And/or make yourself a rain garden by making a bed designed to collect rainwater so it can be absorbed by deep-rooted natives and perennials.
It is the basic ingredient of good soil. Start with a simple heap of plant material or buy a bin to keep out animals.
Keep them at bay. Take cardboard boxes to the nursery and leave plastic nursery flats behind. Look for plants grown in biodegradable containers. And start seeds in yogurt cups or other recyclable containers (poke a hole for drainage and wash in a 10 percent bleach solution). Or make your own pots out of yesterday's newspaper (see chicagotribune.com/pots).
The organic seal of approval
The term "organic" should mean produced without chemical fertilizers, fungicides or herbicides -- but it's best to ask. If you see the OMRI (Organic Materials Research Institute) seal, it means the product has met a strict standard.
The organic price tag
Expect to dole out some green, for the green. Organically grown plants generally cost more. So do organic fertilizers. But they're worth it.