Below, we’ve compiled a list of tips & practices that may help make a garden more sustainable or eco friendly.
These tips and practices cover aspects such as the garden planning and design, the size of the gardening area, soil, plant life, water, gardening resources, and more.
Firstly, What Is Sustainable Gardening?
Some of the main aspects to sustainable gardening might be:
– Using resources efficiently
Including not wasting resources, efficiently converting resources to production, and using resources like water and energy efficiently to maintain the garden
– Minimizing negative environmental impact
Including but not limited to not releasing potentially harmful gardening chemicals into the environment
– Being complementary to, or having a circular relationship with the local environment
For example, the garden, and the local environment and wildlife or organisms (such as earthworms, beneficial microbes, and so on), might support or contribute to one another
Onto the list of sustainable gardening tips and practices …
1. Before You Start, Decide If You’re Willing To Commit Time & Resources To A Garden Or Not
Starting and maintaining a garden can take time, money, resources, and patience
So, those who haven’t grown one yet might want to ask themselves before they start if they genuinely prepared to make that commitment/investment.
People can save themselves that investment, and save on resources and waste, if they realize they don’t want to, or can’t make that commitment.
2. Research & Assess The Individual Gardening Area & Location
Every gardening area and geographic location will have different variables and factors to consider that impact growing and gardening (and consequently impact how effectively, and potentially how sustainably you can grow your garden)
These factors can involve things like the local climate/weather, the plant hardiness zone you’re in, the slope of the land, the type of soil on the land, and so on.
Finding out these factors and other relevant factors for your gardening area and geographic location gives you a good base of knowledge to work from.
3. Speak To Locals With Gardening Knowledge In The Area
After you’ve done your own research, it helps to speak to locals who have practical knowledge of gardening in the area.
Two places to find these people locally might be:
– At gardening centres and stores i.e. the people who work there
– In online social media groups and on forums, where local gardeners can share/exchange their experiences and tips (such as what might work, and what might not)
4. Consider A General Gardening Strategy & Design
Once you have a base of knowledge about gardening in the area, it’s worth thinking about what your garden goals are, and how you might like to design your garden.
This can involve things such as the square area (size) of the garden, the different plant life you’ll grow, where the different plant life will grow, what the maintenance and ongoing work on the garden is likely to be, and so on.
This guide contains some key points that might be considered when putting together a plan or strategy prior to starting a garden
5. Consider The Size Of The Garden Or Growing Space
This includes the size of the overall garden area, but also the size of the area that individual types of plant life will be grown in.
The bigger the overall area of the garden, and also the area of water hungry types of plant life, the more water intensive the garden might be to upkeep.
Reducing the overall square area of the garden, or substituting some lawn areas for less water hungry plant life, or even hard surfaces that don’t require watering, can reduce gardening water demand (in addition to other gardening resources)
Some reports indicate that existing grassed areas that might be more water or fertilizer intensive might be replaced with ‘early care perennial ornamental grasses, low growing shrubs, or groundcovers’
6. Consider The Soil Type
There are different soil types.
Knowing the soil type in your garden helps with knowing not only how to manage that specific type soil, but also what plant life can grow in the soil.
We’ve put together a separate guide about testing soil for soil type and other properties and features.
We’ve also put together different guides that reference reports of what plant life might grow well in different types of soil:
– What Grows Well In Loam Soil
– What Grows Well In Sandy Soil
– What Grows Well In Silty Soil
– What Grows Well In Peat Soil
– What Grows Well In Clay Soil (& Heavy Soil)
– What Grows Well In Chalky Soil
– What Grows Well In Alkaline Soil
– What Grows Well In Acidic Soil
These guides contain general information only though.
You’ll still need to independently confirm what plant life grows well in the soil on your land.
7. Consider Soil Health, Soil Fertility, & Soil Care & Maintenance
Soil health goes beyond soil fertility
Healthy soil is in a condition that is suitable for whatever it is being used for, or the function it has to perform
Making sure the soil is healthy is therefore important for the plant life being grown, and may impact the soil’s ability to support beneficial insects and microorganisms
Soil fertility and soil productivity are sometimes used as interchangeable terms
Soil fertility not only impacts how effectively plant life can grown, but also the ability of the soil to hold onto moisture and nutrients, as well as other key factors in gardening
Soil fertility can therefore impact how efficiently gardening resources are used from a sustainability perspective
We’ve written several guides about soil fertility:
– What The Most Fertile Soil Is, & Factors That Make Soil Fertile
– How To Improve Soil Fertility
Read more about the full list of factors that might impact soil fertility in this guide
Soil Care & Maintenance
Soil care and maintenance impact soil health and fertility
There’s a range of different ways to care for, maintain, or even improve soil, including but not limited to:
– Adding fertilizers and nutrient additives to the soil
– Other practices
Tilling vs not tilling the soil
Applying ground cover
Adding organic matter, or mulch to the soil
In particular with organic matter, some reports indicate that 2 to 3 inches of material like dry leaves, grass clippings or prunings might be added.
Organic matter can help improve the structure, moisture and nutrients holding capacity of the soil
Mulch might include materials like shredded bark, cocoa bean hulls, pine needles, grass clippings, and coir
Both organic matter and mulch might also expose the amount of soil that is bare or exposed to the elements, sun and rain
This guide contains more information on different sustainable soil practices
8. Consider The Specific Types Of Plant Life For The Garden
The selection of the specific types of plant life to b grown in a garden is important for various reasons, and the type of plant life selected can impact different aspects of sustainability.
Some of the considerations for picking plant life might be:
– How water hungry they are
– How much fertilizer and other resources they require
– How durable/resilient they are
This can include being tolerant to hot or cold weather, to droughts, to diseases, and so on
– Whether they are native plants that grow well in, or are adapted to local conditions, such as the climate (or the local climatic zone), rainfall, and the soil types in the area
– Potentially growing more perennials that regrow vs annuals that die off and don’t regrow
Some small perennials also have the benefit of growing, and can then be divided and planted elsewhere
– Growing companion plants which potentially have a range of gardening benefits, and sustainability benefits
– Growing a diverse range of plants, such as flowers, herbs, foods plants, and so on
– Grow plants or flowers that attract pollinators like bees, and also butterflies
– Pay attention to what grows well after you’ve begun growing, and grow more of what grows effectively or best
– Being aware of the general factors that can impact the growth of plants
9. Consider Growing Some Of Your Own Food
This may help replace a small portion of the food you buy from supermarkets and food stores every week, and therefore reduce the footprint related to that food (especially transport)
Herbs and basic foods like vegetables can be grown in some garden veggie patches.
You may need to sow both cold and hot weather crops at the appropriate times though.
10. Consider More Sustainable Watering Methods & Practices
Different considerations for sustainable water methods and practices might include:
– Using a bucket vs a hose vs a sprinkler/irrigation system
A bucket might be the most water efficient, and can be used for smaller garden areas
A hose might be water efficient for larger garden areas when used with precision
Some sprinklers and irrigation systems may be more efficient and precise than others, and, it helps to maintain these systems and fix leaks when they occur.
A benefit of sprinklers and irrigation systems is that they can be automatic
– Practices to minimize evaporation
Such as watering when the sun goes down, and/or reducing outdoor gardening in hot climates where evaporation is more of an issue than places with less sun
The latter is a consideration in itself – gardening in hotter climates may in some cases have a more water intensive footprint
– Other potential water saving solutions
One potential example of this may be xeriscaping
11. Consider Collecting/Harvesting Rainwater, Or Collecting Runoff
Some homes have rainwater collection or harvesting systems (like rainwater tanks) set up, and they might be able to be used to water the garden.
Other homes might consider various forms of runoff collection to have more water available for the garden, with one example being installing collection barrels at downpipes or in other places where there’s runoff
Obviously the legality and safety of this would have to be checked before doing so though
12. Consider Sustainable Gardening Inputs, Resources, & Materials
This may mainly involve gardening chemicals, and also gardening materials.
Some natural or organic chemicals may be preferable from a sustainability perspective over using some synthetic and potentially toxic chemicals.
Fertilizers, pesticides/pest control, and herbicides/weed control might be three of the main areas of focus.
Commercial organic fertilizers, some types of animal manure (like chicken or rabbit droppings), and compost (which turns into nutrient rich type of fertilizer) might be options
With compost, there’s different methods of composting available
Compost can also contain different green waste, such as food waste, but also grass clippings, deadhead flowers, dried leaves, and more
Some question the effectiveness of natural fertilizers and nutrients vs synthetic fertilier products though
– Pesticides & Pest Control
There might be several natural pest control methods available, with IPM and also protective nets being examples
Like fertilizers, some question how effective natural pest control can be though
– Herbicides & Weed Control
Weed barriers installed underground (such as mesh, or newspaper) might be a non chemical way to control some weeds without using herbicides
Again though, the effectiveness and practicality may sometimes be in question
This might mainly involve avoiding the use of plastics where possible
Using alternative materials like paper, wood or metal might be options
Using biodegradable materials might be another option, such as using biodegradable pots and seedling trays
13. Consider More Sustainable Practices With Seeds & For Growing New Plants
– Saving seeds, and reducing the need to buy new seeds from the gardening store.
When annual flowers for example seed at the end of the season, collect the dried seed heads and store them to sow later
– Regrow different vegetables and plants from food scraps
– Create new plants from existing plants with propagation (from seeds, cuttings, and other plant parts)
Some perennials for example can be propagated or divided up when they grow bigger
14. Recycle Garden Waste Where Possible
In addition to kitchen waste and green household waste, consider recycling green garden waste (trimmings, grass clippings, and other green materials)
Garden waste can essentially be circular in some instances, and fed back into itself to support/maintain itself
15. Consider Cutting, Trimming & Mowing More Sustainably
This could involve:
– Using manual clippers, trimmers and lawn mowers where possible
– Using electric trimmers and mowers over gas trimmers and mowers where the energy source is cleaner.
The same goes for other gardening equipment like blowers
– In some instances, homesteaders and others have used animals like rabbits to naturally eat and control grass length
16. Repurpose, Upcycle, Downcycle Or Reuse Items For Gardening
For example, glass containers, toilet rolls, and newspaper might all be repurposed, upcycled, downcycled or reused in some way for gardening
17. Consider Eliminating Or Better Managing Garden Features Or Systems That Use Electricity
One example of a garden feature that uses electricity is a water feature that uses a water pump.
Can these water features run on clean energy, or perhaps be eliminated from the garden altogether?
On a bigger scale, it might be worth considering what the net positive or negative of a greenhouse that uses electricity for lighting and/or heating is. In some instances, from a practical perspective, using a greenhouse may be unavoidable for plant or crop production though.
1. Various ‘Better Meets Reality’ guides