Sustainable gardening doesn’t have a firm, technical definition. It’s the concept of using sustainable gardening techniques that not only cause no harm to the environment, but also typically tend to improve and enhance your garden. Though no one is perfect, and it is near-impossible to practice sustainable garden techniques 100% of the time, any changes you are able to implement will greatly benefit your garden and the natural environment. Here are ten techniques that you can try out this summer!
Composting is an amazing way to reduce your day-to-day waste while also feeding your garden. By using a composter, you can throw away food and organic waste that will decompose down into a great organic fertilizer. You can use dead leaves, flowers, grass clippings, vegetable scraps, and even coffee grounds, and the fertilizer it produces will make your soil richer, which in turn will grow even more delicious tasting produce! Consider talking with neighbors and nearby schools, parks, and grocery stores to pick up and repurpose their compostables too.
2. No Herbicides
Chemical methods for killing weeds can have lasting impacts on our environment. Herbicides can remain active in the environment, which can result in contamination of soil and water. This contamination can have adverse effects on the animals that naturally inhabit the area. Therefore, it is best to use a more sustainable method of eliminating weeds from your garden. There are some non-toxic weed killers that are safe for pet owners and other wildlife, however the classic strategy of pulling the weeds manually might be your best bet.
3. Use Pest-Eating Insects
Similarly to chemical weed killers, chemical pest removal can negatively impact your surrounding natural environment. Instead, take advantage of nature’s pest control — bugs! These beneficial insects are natural predators of pests like caterpillars, mites, and aphids, and will gladly eat up your pests over any of your plants. Ladybugs are a great insect to introduce to your garden because not only do they love to eat aphids, leafhoppers, mites, and mealy bugs, but they are also considered to be good luck!
4. Conserve Water
Use rain barrels to collect, store, and use rainwater in your garden. By using natural sources like rain water, or collecting water from a nearby river, you will be able to eliminate water waste. If you live in an area where rainy days are far and few between, set irrigation or direct watering systems to regulate when water is dispensed and how much. Automated tools like a sprinkler system can also be effective, and would mitigate even more wasted water, but there are many plants that do not thrive within in a sprinkler system. Check online resources to see which watering set up would work best for your plants.
5. Show Native Plants Love
Native plants are those that grow naturally in your area. These plants are accustomed to the soil, climate, and rainfall of the area and tend to be much easier plants to maintain. Not only will it make gardening much simpler, but you would also be doing a great service to your local birds and insects by providing the food and shelter that they are naturally wired to search for. Although including some non-native plants in your garden won’t cause direct harm, it is important to consider the natural climate of each plant you hope to maintain. For example, living in Arizona we have a lot of cacti and palo verde trees, all of which naturally occur in the desert. However, as beautiful as they are and as much as we may want them, it would be unsustainable and irresponsible to try and grow a mango tree for example. Any tropical fruit tree or tropical flower will be searching for rich, moist soil and ample rainfall, and would required an immense amount of watering to have a chance at surviving in the desert.
6. Reuse Resources
When finally tackling your garden project, you may be eager to buy all new equipment, decorations, and ceramic pots for your plants. However, some landscaping supplies and pots can have a greater environmental impact than others, so it is essential to consult a comparison chart before buying. You can also reuse or repurpose household items like old, glass jars or egg cartons to give these items new life in your garden. This will help not only make your garden more sustainable, but minimize your waste contribution as well.
7. Save Seeds & Propagate
When having to buy plants new, maximize their use by choosing organic, open-pollinated varieties. This way, you can save the seeds and reduce the need to buy new in the future. Another way to avoid buying new plants is to propagate from plants you already own, or even kitchen scraps! Take a clipping from your plant, or a vegetable scrap like the root end of green onions, and propagate in soil or water. You’ll soon see roots sprout and grow, and you’ll have the joy of growing your plants with no additional cost to your wallet, or the environment!
8. Use Mulch
Mulching is a great tool to have in your sustainable gardening tool belt because of how diverse it can be. Adding a 2 to 3-inch layer of mulch in your garden beds will not only serve as a non-toxic way to prevent weeds, but it also helps keep moisture in the soil, reducing the need to water. Mulch can also be used as inexpensive, sustainable landscaping through use of shredded bark, cocoa bean hulls, pine needles, grass clipping, and even coir made from coconut hulls.
9. Switch To An Electric Or Manual Mower
Gas-powered lawnmowers pollute the air more than we think! According to the Environmental Protection Agency, using a gas-powered mower for an hour produces the same amount of air pollutants as driving a car for 45 minutes. To help reduce your carbon footprint, switch to an electric or manual mower.
10. Ditch The Lawn
Beautiful, green, weed-free lawns result in an immense waste in resources. Each year, lawns consumer nearly 3 trillion gallons of water, 200 million gallons of gas from the mowers, and 70 million pounds of pesticides in the United States alone. With states across the nation suffering unprecedented droughts, it is incredibly unsustainable to maintain a lawn, especially year-round. Instead, get creative with more sustainable landscaping and replace you grass with easy-care perennial, lava rocks, low-growing shrubs, or even groundcovers.
Overall, our individual habits won’t be enough to reverse global climate change without the cooperation of massive corporations. However, when it comes to your garden, especially if you’re growing fruit and vegetables for yourself and your family, it is imperative to remember that everything you put in is present in the final product. Grow organic produce, make your own organic fertilizer through composting, eliminate the need for chemical weed and pest control, and your garden will thrive.