Sustainable gardening is a concept that has become quite popular but still many don’t understand what it entails.  The term doesn’t have an official definition but rather common principles that promote reducing human impact on the earth. Basic practices at home include eradicating polluting chemicals, conserving natural resources, and reducing waste as much as possible.

These sustainable gardening ideas can and should be your contribution to a more robust planet.

Conserve your water usage and minimize water runoff

  • Use drip irrigation or soaker hoses instead of oscillating sprinklers as they result in less water loss due to evaporation.
  • Position watering devices to prevent water loss by water falling in storm gutters, walkways or in the street.
  • Mulch beds to help retain soil moisture
  • Set up a rain barrel to collect rain water for watering plants.
  • Plant a rain garden or develop a swale to help retain water in the soil and prevent runoff.
  • Install a cistern to collect water to use for plants, washing clothes, bathing and other non-potable uses as local ordinances allow.
  • Investigate the use of grey water use in your area.
  • Remove hard surfaces in your landscape to allow water to percolate into the soil and not run off in storm gutters. Replace with a porous surface if needed.
  • Incorporate rainscaping features such to manage stormwater.
  • Don’t use the hose to wash off your driveway, deck or walkway. Instead use a broom or an electric blower. Gas-powered blowers produce more pollutants.

Reduce the use of fossil-fuel energy

  • Get some exercise and do some hand digging.
  • Pull weeds by hand. This is often more effective for sustainable gardening and less damaging than resorting to chemical sprays.
  • Add landscape lighting only where it is really needed. And when used, use compact fluorescent bulbs or solar-powered lights. Low voltage lighting also uses less electricity and is safer for outdoor use.
  • Cut down on holiday lights and invest in the new LED lights that use a lot less energy.
  • Demand higher accountability of local governments for their expenditures. Do we really need all the night light pollution around us? As energy prices rise demand that local governments focus on what is most important in their expenditures. Reducing expenditures on lighting buildings, parking lots, gardens, etc at night may just be a waste of money that could be better spent elsewhere.

Deal with “waste” in a more efficient way

  • Develop your own compost pile so you can return the valuable plant material back to the soil in your yard.
  • Don’t send plant-based garden waste to a landfill. Instead support your local yard waste recycling program for any materials you can’t compost and use in your own yard.
  • Reuse plastic, clay and other pots in your garden. Don’t send them to a landfill. And, when a plastic pot has enjoyed a good life, send it to be recycled. In St. Louis, the Missouri Botanical Garden has offered a pot recycling service since 1998 for sustainable gardening.
  • If you want to use a chipper-shredder for light use, electric ones result in less air pollution than gas-powered.

Rethink your plant selection

  • Replace plants that require a lot of watering with plants that are more drought tolerant. Native plants may be good choices.
  • Select plants that perform well in your area and have few problems.
  • Promote diversity in your yard and garden. Plant a wide variety of plants, which can provide habitats for beneficial insects and reduce damage from periodic diseases. You are also helping to preserve genetic diversity.
  • Avoid planting invasive plant species.

Create a more resourceful garden design

  • Locate trees to help shade and cool your home in the summer to reduce energy costs. By selecting deciduous trees you can still benefit by receiving warming winter rays.
  • Plant a windbreak to reduce winter heating bills.
  • On new construction, a green roof might be an option.
  • Use only Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) wood for decks, fences, and other garden structures. This certification help guarantee that the wood was produced in a responsible, sustainable way.
  • Support movements that preserve corridors of native plants in your area.
  • Incorporate rainscaping features such as rain gardens, bioswales and rock dams to manage stormwater.

As you begin planning for sustainable gardening for next year, keep these tips in mind.  You may not be able to incorporate all of them the first year but make a promise to take better care of Mother Earth and that should help keep you on the road to more sustainable practices.