From planting native plants to composting, there are many different ways you can make your garden more eco-friendly. But remember that it takes time to turn your garden into a sustainable environment, so take it slowly and do one thing at a time!
Consider the provenance of all materials used in your garden, from pots to paving. Using locally-sourced or reclaimed materials reduces embodied energy and reduces your carbon footprint.
Choose Native Plants
Native plants are adapted to your region’s climate, soils and wildlife. Planting them in your garden supports a healthy ecosystem and reduces the need for artificial fertilizers and pesticides that harm the environment.
Unlike lawns and other non-native plantings, which often require yearly applications of inorganic fertilizer to thrive, native plants are naturally well-adapted to grow with little or no additional nutrients. Inorganic fertilizers run off into our waterways and create large quantities of algae, which depletes oxygen and harms or kills fish and other aquatic life. Native plants can grow with organic compost or no fertilizer at all.
Native plantings also support the birds, insects and other creatures that call your area home. Planting a mix of native flowers and grasses, including those that bloom later in the season, will provide shelter and food for local wildlife. You can also opt to have greenhouses for colder climates if you are situated in a colder region.
When you choose the right native plants, they can be as beautiful as any exotic cultivar. You might be surprised by the dark foliage of wild pinks (Spigelia marilandica), or be awed by the vibrant blue-green color of purple love grass (Eragrostis spectabilis).
When selecting native plants, look for those with interesting texture. Different textures — such as the thickness or roughness of the leaves, stems and bark – create visual interest in your landscape. You can also use different textures to add contrasting color and form. For example, the feathery leaves of a fern pair beautifully with the broad, oval, deep green leaves of a hosta. Mixing the shapes, colors and textures of native plants helps create a dynamic, interesting landscape that changes with the seasons. It’s also a way to promote biodiversity and reduce the number of plants that are considered invasive in your region.
Reduce the Grass
When a garden is filled with native plants and other species that are suited to the environment, the plants will be self-sufficient and need less maintenance. Native plants have evolved to thrive in the local climate, so they are naturally hardy and provide food and shelter for wildlife. Native plants also have adapted to the local ecosystem and can survive with minimal water and fertilizer.
Growing your own vegetables and herbs is an easy way to reduce the amount of chemicals you use in your garden and eat healthier, plus it’s fun! If you choose to grow your own veggies, try planting crops that are harvested during different seasons. This will allow you to have fresh veggies all year round.
If you decide to have a lawn, cut it as little as possible, or not at all, since a yard full of grass uses a lot of water. Instead of watering the lawn, consider using permeable surfaces like mulch or even a rain barrel to collect and water your garden.
To minimise water usage, avoid using sprinklers, and opt for drip irrigation systems or soaker hoses that allow the soil to absorb the water directly. In addition, make sure to plant drought tolerant grasses, shrubs and trees that require low watering and don’t need much water to survive.
Never use any chemicals in your garden, especially petrochemical pesticides and herbicides that are harmful to plants, insects, pets and people. Opt for safe and effective methods of dealing with weeds, such as manual removal or organic weed killers, which don’t pollute soil or underground water. Leaving grass clippings to decompose and return nutrients to the soil is also an eco friendly way of maintaining your lawn.
Attract Beneficial Insects and Animals
Many gardeners think that all bugs are bad, especially when they hear about slugs eating their hostas or caterpillars chewing on their roses. But the truth is that some insects are good for the garden, and helping these beneficial species stay in the garden reduces the need for chemicals.
Attracting pollinating insects like bees, honeybees and butterflies to the garden helps plants bloom. And pollinating insects also attract bird and mammals, which in turn help to keep pest insect populations under control.
The key to attracting beneficial insects is to plant a wide range of plants that provide food, shelter and nectar. Plants of varying heights are especially important: low-growing herbs such as oregano and thyme give ground beetles a place to hide, while taller flowers such as scabiosa and daisies beckon hoverflies and parasitic wasps to the landscape. And plants with umbrella-like flowers that feature tiny clusters of small blooms, such as yarrow and alyssum, offer accessible nectar to smaller insects like caterpillars and beetle larvae.
In addition to pollinators, a garden rich in flowering plants is also a magnet for predatory insects and bats. In addition to eating pest insects, these predators, such as owls and hawks, can be useful in keeping rodent numbers under control. And natural predators such as frogs and toads are effective at controlling other insect pests without the need for chemical sprays.
Using natural pest control techniques also makes the garden safer for wildlife, pets and children. The use of pesticides and herbicides can poison or otherwise harm these animals, and the chemicals can be absorbed by water runoff, contaminating the surrounding ecosystem. Inviting natural predators and other beneficial organisms to the garden dramatically reduces the need for chemical-based pest control, and creates a more beautiful, more peaceful, and healthier environment.
Use Organic Fertilizers and Pesticides
Using organic fertilizers and not spraying the garden with toxic chemicals is another important element of sustainable gardening. Chemicals not only damage the soil and kill off beneficial insects but they also contaminate surrounding water supplies. Using natural methods for killing weeds and pests can be just as effective without the harmful side effects.
Start a compost heap to make use of kitchen scraps and garden waste, which can help enrich the soil with valuable nutrients. Alternatively, invest in a countertop composter that allows you to add small amounts of compost several times a week. Using recycled pots and other landscaping materials is also a great way to avoid excess waste and reduce the embodied energy that goes into creating new products.
To minimise the need for high water inputs, sustainable gardens typically rely on rainwater collection or irrigation systems that direct rainfall through permeable surfaces. This reduces erosion, maximises moisture available for plant growth and minimises costs and reliance on town water supplies.
Instead of chemical fertilisers which have a high environmental impact in their production and shipping, the sustainable garden uses organic fertilisers. These can be made from organic matter such as manure, worm castings or coir (made from coconut husks), from mineral deposits like rock phosphate or from other naturally-occurring sources.
Mulching around plants is a key part of the sustainable garden, which helps keep weeds at bay and improves water infiltration by reducing evaporation. It’s also a good way to reduce the need for watering, especially for drought-prone areas. Rather than watering with sprinklers, which can be wasteful through evaporation, opt for a hand-held hose or drip-irrigation. Aim to mulch your garden with 2 to 3 inches of organic material such as shredded bark, pine wood chip, grass clippings, pine needles, twigs or coir to conserve the soil’s moisture.
When designing your garden, make sure to plant plants that are suited to your climate, soil type and rainfall. This reduces the amount of work, water and fertilizer needed to maintain your garden. It also helps to limit the spread of invasive plants and limits the waste produced in local landfills.
One of the best ways to reduce waste in your garden is by recycling all organic materials in a compost pile or composting barrel. Food scraps, dead leaves and even grass clippings can be used to create nutrient rich compost that will help to nourish your plants.
Another great way to reduce waste in your garden is by catching and using rainwater for your gardening needs. This helps to cut down on wasteful over- or under watering, and it can be a huge benefit during droughts. Try placing a bucket under your faucet to catch wastewater when you’re brushing your teeth or washing dishes, or install a rainwater cistern or barrel to capture roof runoff.
When it comes to reducing waste, making your own gardening supplies is an excellent place to start. Avoid plastics where possible and instead choose reusable options like wooden seed trays, jute twine or netting for sowing seeds, and handmade clay or wood plant markers. If you’re buying seeds, opt for paper packets rather than plastic ones and consider swapping with fellow gardeners to minimize packaging waste.
Another important step in reducing waste is to minimise erosion by mulching your garden beds and using permeable surfaces such as paving or gravel. This keeps the soil hydrated, minimises weeds and helps to prevent the loss of nutrients through evaporation. It also helps to reduce the need for irrigation, which cuts down on costs and reduces dependence on town water supplies.