Sustainable Gardening for a Greener Future

As we look forward to the coming growing season, you may be wondering what you can do to make your garden more productive, healthier, and better for the environment while it provides your family with delicious home-grown goodies.

Sustainability in the home garden doesn’t have to be complicated!

In fact, it can even simplify the work you do to maintain healthy gardens. It really comes down to a few simple areas of focus: water, soil, plant selection, and the wildlife around your garden. Here are a few easy things you can do to help both yourself, and the planet.

Say No to Water Wasting

This one is a no-brainer—we all realize the importance of water conservation. Thankfully, it’s easy to apply it in the garden! Ditch your oscillating sprinklers that spray water carelessly all over the place
and replace them with drip irrigation or soaker hoses to pinpoint the water right where you need it. Mulch your beds to help retain water in the soil and keep your plants hydrated, even on drier days. Place collection barrels at the bottoms of your downspouts to capitalize all that wasted rain that falls onto your roof! All these little things help to cut back on water waste. If you want to take it a step further, you can even implement rainscaping into your garden design!

Be Soil Savvy

According to, the United States is losing soil ten times faster than it is replenished (see page 79 for ways our region is combating soil erosion). Soil is a living, breathing component of the garden. Keep the dirt healthy by using compost to replenish vital nutrients. Composting is simple, fun for the whole family, and eliminates a lot of household waste from your trash can. There is plenty of great information available online for how to create your own compost pile, and if you want in-person advice, Old City Cemetery Museums & Arboretum has a Compost Education Center managed by the Hill City Master Gardeners who would be happy to answer your questions. Allowing dead and decaying plants to remain on the soil to decompose is another great way to protect your garden dirt. 

That’s right: by NOT cleaning up your garden, you can improve the soil conditions for your plants! Not to mention, keeping material on top of the soil helps prevent erosion. So skip the raking and shoveling this fall. Instead, just allow those natural processes to take over and refuel your soil.

Children emptying kitchen waste in to a compost bin. Environmentally friendly lifestyle

Use Flower Power Instead of Chemicals

 It can be hard to give up those chemical fertilizers and pesticides—especially if you don’t know how to protect and grow your plants without them! So here are a few pointers: 

• Use pest-repelling plants around your vegetable gardens to ward off those undesirables. For example, nasturtiums (one of my favorites) are beautiful in bloom, taste delicious in a salad, and happen to repel aphids, squash bugs, white flies, and other destructive insects. Plant them near your beans and cucumbers! Marigolds are pest control powerhouses in the garden and deter a number of bugs. I plant rows of them between just about everything I grow, but they are especially helpful with tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes.

• Once the pests are under control, it’s time to look at fertilizing your plants. Go natural by using organic fertilizers. There are several products available at home and garden stores everywhere. I was always told to put a fish head in my planting holes for tomato plants. As the fish decomposes, it constantly invigorates the plant roots with nutrients. Compost makes for great fertilizer and helps control pH levels in your soil. 

• If you’re looking for a fun family project, consider vermiculture, or raising worms for the beneficial castings (poo) they produce—it’s garden gold!

A large, almost ripe watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) in a residential vegetable and flower garden is almost ready to be picked and sliced. Yummy!

Help the Helpers

Finally, your garden can help sustain the native plants and animals that are vital to our ecosystem. Planting native plants around your garden and in your yard is a small thing you can do to make a big impact. They naturally require less watering and fertilization because they are biologically designed to thrive in our specific conditions. Additionally, they support the insects we need, like pollinators and beneficial insects. And about those beneficial bugs—you want to keep those guys in your vegetable garden to eat harmful pests like aphids. For example, green lacewings feast on aphids, scales, mealybugs, and other garden destroyers. Assassin bugs eat flies and mosquitos, and love squash vine borers, so they are great for your squash, cucumbers, and vining plants. 

Then there are pollinators, which we literally depend on for our food supply. Bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, etc., all help to pollinate our garden crops. Provide for them and those other helpful insects by planting natives for shelter, and by resisting the urge to rake fall leaves, clean out garden scraps where they nest and lay eggs, and mow over those early spring dandelions, which provide food. Finally, you could consider reducing the amount of manicured lawn space you maintain around your home and replacing it with something healthier for the environment— like clover!

Going green does not have to be expensive, or difficult. In some ways, it makes our lives easier! And it’s the gift that keeps on giving as future generations learn to appreciate our planet’s natural resources. So try a few of these tips in and around your vegetable patch this season, and reap the rewards of a thoughtful garden!   

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