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Brown Is the New Green

Wake up your garden with coffee—grounds, that is.

Coffee is hot, coffee is cool, coffee is necessary—at least to those of us who rely on it to jump-start us every morning. But with approximately 16.34 billion pounds of coffee produced each year, have you ever wondered where all those coffee grounds go? Unless recycled, they join other green matter in the landfills, where they break down without air and generate methane, a toxic greenhouse gas.

Coffee grounds are organic matter. High in nitrogen and acidity and with a pH level of about 4.0, they act as a fertilizer and make great mulch, adding valuable nutrients to your soil. Plants such as azaleas, hydrangeas, rhododendrons, magnolias and roses prefer more acidic soil and thrive from the added nutrients that coffee grounds provide. Many organic growers use coffee grounds as mulch for tomato and blueberry plants. This boost of nitrogen and potassium results in faster-growing vegetables and hampers weed growth.

The aromatic brown matter repels ants, deters slugs and snails and discourages cats from using your garden as a kitty box. Worms love coffee grounds, and any gardener, with or without a green thumb, knows how important worms are to the soil in your yard.

There is no right or wrong way to disperse the grounds over your plants and flower beds. The grounds can be applied directly to the base of shrubs and trees or mixed with soil for a more diffused and even concentration. Spread the grounds over your garden before it starts to rain. This provides a great slow-release of nitrogen, similar to a liquid fertilizer. When it comes to the lawn, spread the grounds evenly over the grass with a brush or soft rake, then water for better penetration. You will notice the color of your lawn deepen to a richer green almost immediately. Try distributing the grounds onto the soil of houseplants, too, and you will see the leaves of the plants become glossier. Although you may need your java jolt daily, only apply coffee grounds to your lawn and plants every month or so.

You don't even need to be a coffee drinker to get coffee grounds. Look no further than your nearest Starbucks. The company offers complimentary 5-pound bags of used coffee grounds at its retail locations all year-round. The Starbucks corporate recycling program, Grounds for Your Garden, encourages local stores to share their grounds. Some stores even provide a bin for easy pickup. If the Starbucks you frequent has not implemented this program, ask who its Green Team representative is and get in touch with him or her. When picking up the grounds, don't worry about the paper filters that are mixed in: Most are biodegradable and will eventually break down nicely in your soil.

A vanilla latte with soy milk and an extra shot of espresso may break your bank, but the coffee grounds will add value to your garden without affecting your pocketbook. So drink up and raise your mug to recycling, reducing waste, and "greener" plants!

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