Sustainable Gardening Practices

“Sustainable” is a word we’re seeing everywhere lately and whether the subject is energy, logging, fishing or gardening, it generally means the ability to continue indefinitely without external inputs. But here let’s look what gardening sustainably means in practice.

Organic Inputs and Methods

Mulching all uncovered soil for water retention, weed control, and to improve the soil’s structure. (Best are leaf compost, pine bark chips, and where dogs can’t get to them, cocoa hulls.) For lot more information about mulch and mulching click here.

Composting garden and kitchen waste. If more fertilizer is needed, using organic sources only, like aged manure, compost tea, and those that are fish- or seaweed-based.

Choosing pest-resistant plants.

For disease and insect problems, using prevention first (like ensuring good air circulation) and taking action only when a plant has been observed and found to be endangered. Then using the least toxic methods first, like:

  • Horticultural oil for scale and mites
  • Bt for caterpillars, beetles and mosquitoes
  • Baking soda for black spot and powdery mildew
  • SAFER brand soap for many problem insects
  • Biological or physical barrier controls like bait traps, hard sprays of water to remove aphids
  • Removal by hand or diatomaceous earth for slugs.
  • For lots more information about pests, click here.

Avoiding broad spectrum insecticides like Sevin.

Weeding by hand or using a 10 percent vinegar solution (though according to this, it may not kill the roots).

For lawns, using a high mower setting, applying an organic fertilizer or compost in the fall, and spreading lime only if needed. Here’s more information on environmentally responsible lawn care. Also consult SafeLawns.org.

Water Quality and Conservation

Using deciduous trees south of the home to create shade, evergreens on the north to stop winter winds.

Watering smart — directly to the root zone by hand or using soaker or drip irrigation, and preferably in the morning. Avoiding sprinklers. Watering according to plant needs, not a rigid schedule. Watering infrequently but deeply, saving fine mists for newly planted seed only.

Grouping plants with similar water needs.

Reducing stormwater run-off using rain barrels and rain garden techniques. (Rain gardens are depressions in the soil that are planted with water-loving plants. For help in creating one, just Google the term.)

Stabilizing stream banks using water-loving plants that reduce soil erosion.

Minimizing bare soil and stabilizing slopes by planting ground covers.

Reducing or eliminating lawns. (Lots more on that subject here.)

Minimizing the use of impervious surfaces so rainwater can be filtered before reaching the stormwater system.

Keeping trash, yard waste, fertilizers and de-icers off paved surfaces.

Choosing drought-tolerant plants, except in wet spots.

Weeding regularly (because weeds compete for water with the plants we want).

Letting lawns go dormant in the summer.