The Basics of Sustainable Gardening The Basics of Sustainable Gardening

Julie M. Young

Sustainable gardening, simply put, is to garden with sensitivity toward the environment. It enables the garden to thrive naturally for years to come. Sustainable gardening practices include:

  • Composting
  • Mulching
  • Adopting smart watering practices
  • Using natural means of pest control

Often, sustainable gardens are organic gardens—gardens that grow food without the use of petrochemical pesticides, herbicides and inorganic fertilizers.

The Soil
To start sustainable gardening, take a look at your soil. Soil is the foundation of your garden because plants take root and gather important minerals and other nutrients from it. Here are several ways to enrich your garden’s soil.

There are several ways to compost at home. The most familiar method is to build a compost pile in your back yard consisting of garden and lawn trimmings, fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, and other garbage-bound items. With time, these items decompose into rich organic matter.

Another kind of composting is vermicomposting, or composting with worms. Worm composting can be done both indoors and out, making it a suitable method of composting year-round. To make compost, redworms are kept in a container with a moist bedding material. Food scraps are put into the container with the worms, and in time, the worm excrement creates a rich fertilizer. Read more about how to vermicompost.

Deep Digging
Small vegetable gardens can increase their production simply by deep digging the soil. Deep digging is a manner of preparing soil for gardening by loosening the soil two feet deep and incorporating organic matter like compost. This works well for compacted, heavy, or rocky soils, and soils whose structure has been degraded.

Mulching your garden will help to retain moisture, reduce the amount of weeds, and will also protect the roots of the plant from temperature variations.Degradable mulch can also enrich the soil.

Good mulching materials include:

  • Woodchips
  • Straw
  • Leaves
  • Pebbles
  • And many recycled plastic mulch products


The next important step in your sustainable garden is conservative watering. The easiest way to conserve water is to group plants according to water needs-—thirsty plants with thirsty plants, and low-water plants with other similar plants. Once this is done, you’ll need to choose a watering system.

Rain Barrels
The most sustainable method of watering plants comes from the sky in the form of rain. You’ll greatly reduce rainwater run-off by purchasing a rain barrel system to put under your roof’s downspouts. The barrel will capture all of the rain that would normally run down the roof to the lawn, and then onto streets and into sewer grates. Once the water is captured, you can water your garden by hand when needed, or set up a drip system to irrigate.

Drip Irrigation
Drip irrigation is a controlled application of water where a system of hoses with tiny holes constantly seep small amounts of water into gardens and lawns. Because the water is being applied close to the soil where it can be immediately absorbed, little water is lost to evaporation or runoff. Additionally, the soil never dries out, and your plants receive the proper amount of water. Often these drip systems can be set up to use rainwater collected in barrels.

So, now you’ve got rich soil to grow well-watered plants. The next aspect of the sustainable garden is to protect your plants from harmful pests, but to do so in a manner that is safe for the environment.

Pest Control
A sustainable garden is a garden free from harsh pesticides and herbicides. One of the best ways to control pests is to use a process called Integrated Pest Management (IPM). Integrated Pest Management includes strategies for pest management with no harsh chemicals or contaminants. Some IPM methods include:

  • Growing plants that will attract “good” insects that prey on pest
  • Using plants that are naturally pest resistant (for example, rabbits don’t like marigolds) like the ones mentioned here
  • Using non-toxic ingredients such as borax, vinegar, hot pepper and ammonia to control bugs and weeds.

Harsh pesticides and herbicides are used as a last resort, if at all.

By implementing environmentally-friendly gardening practices such as organically enriching soil with compost and mulch, making the most of water resources, and by adopting non-toxic methods of pest-control, your garden can become a sustainable ecosystem that will thrive for generations to come.

More on organic gardening and composting

Got a New Project You're Proud of?

Post it on Your Projects!