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Ultimate Sustainable Gardening Guide

It's about working in harmony with nature rather than against it.

In recent years, the concept of sustainability has gained significant traction, permeating various aspects of our lives, including how we approach gardening. But what exactly does sustainable gardening entail, and why is it important? Let's delve into the essence of sustainable gardening and explore its key principles.

At its core, sustainable gardening seeks to minimize the negative impact on the environment while maximizing the benefits derived from cultivating plants. It's about working in harmony with nature rather than against it. This approach encompasses various practices and techniques aimed at conserving resources, reducing waste, and fostering biodiversity.


What is Sustainable Gardening?

bumble bee on purple coneflower native plantOne fundamental principle of sustainable gardening is creating a garden or landscape that fits into the local ecosystem and supports local wildlife such as birds, butterflies, bees and other pollinators. Wildlife gardening is primarily achieved by planting native plants rather than solely lawns and other non-native ornamental plants. Native plants are the species that evolved in your region and they’re the plants that wildlife rely on for survival.

Another is fostering soil health. Healthy soil forms the foundation for thriving plants, providing essential nutrients and a stable environment for root growth. Sustainable gardeners prioritize methods that enhance soil fertility and structure, such as composting, mulching, and minimal tillage. These practices not only enrich the soil but also help sequester carbon, mitigating climate change. Simply choosing native plant species that thrive in your local soil conditions is the most sustainable since it eliminates the need to try to amend the soil in the first place. There are native plants that will thrive in any soil conditions from dry and sandy to wet clay.

rain barrel with yellow flowersWater conservation is another cornerstone of sustainable gardening. With fresh water becoming an increasingly scarce resource, it's crucial to use it wisely in our gardens. Sustainable gardeners employ strategies like drip irrigation, rainwater harvesting, and drought-tolerant native plant selection to minimize water usage. By reducing reliance on municipal water supplies, they contribute to the overall conservation of this precious resource.

Organic gardening is another vital aspect of sustainable gardening. You may have heard of integrated pest management. Rather than resorting to chemical pesticides that can harm beneficial insects and contaminate the environment, sustainable gardeners employ a holistic approach to pest control. This may involve attracting natural predators, practicing crop rotation, and using organic methods like neem oil and companion planting to manage pests effectively. Native plants can help to combat common garden pests in a number of ways, and they can also create a more beautiful and sustainable garden.

Climate-smart gardening is also a core element of sustainable gardening. Gasoline-powered lawn mowers, trimmers and leaf blowers produce enormous amounts of carbon pollution that contributes to global climate change. Switching to electric tools or manual ones that don’t pollute at all is a great way to make your garden more sustainable. By replacing traditional lawns with native plant gardens, you can create a more sustainable, eco-friendly landscape that supports local wildlife.

But sustainable gardening is not just about the techniques; it's also about fostering a deeper connection with the natural world. By cultivating a garden sustainably, we not only beautify our surroundings but also nurture our own well-being and that of the planet.

Sustainable Gardening Tips & FAQ 

How can I attract more pollinators to my garden?

Garden for Wildlife Month

  • Plant a variety of flowering plants: Choose native plants that bloom throughout the growing season to provide a continuous food source for pollinators.
  • Leave Your Leaves and Stems: Conventional gardening practice is to get rid of all the fallen leaves and cut old stems to the ground. Many moths, butterflies and native bee species overwinter in the leaves and others nest in hollowed out plant stems.
  • Plant host plants: The caterpillars of butterflies and moths can only feed on certain plants, and many bee species can only feed their young the pollen for certain plants. For example, milkweed is the only host plant for the iconic Monarch butterfly. Planting natives ensures that these essential pollinators can successfully reproduce.  
  • Don’t Spray Pesticides: Insecticides kill pollinators like bees and butterflies and herbicides kill their nectar and host plants.

How can I conserve water in my garden beyond using drought-tolerant plants?

  • Plant native plants: Native species are adapted to local rainfall levels and rarely need extra watering. 
  • Water early in the morning: This reduces evaporation and allows the water to soak into the soil before the heat of the day.
  • Use a watering can or hose with a soaker attachment: Avoid sprinklers that spray water into the air and onto sidewalks where it just evaporates.
  • Group plants with similar water needs together: This allows you to water them efficiently.
  • Fix leaky hoses and sprinklers promptly.

My garden seems to struggle with pests. Are there other organic pest control methods?

  • Redefine pests: Not all insects are pests. In fact, the vast majority of insects are beneficial or harmless. Reframing in your mind what “pest” really means can go a long way in reducing needless use of pesticides.
  • Encourage beneficial insects: Ladybugs, wasps, and lacewings are natural predators of garden pests. Planting natives will attract these beneficial insects
  • Practice companion planting: Certain plants deter pests when planted near each other. For example, nasturtiums can deter aphids from your tomatoes.
  • Encourage birds: Birds can help control insect populations. Plant native plants for birds and provide nesting boxes and wildlife-friendly water features like bird baths to attract them to your garden.

How do I get my garden certified?

The National Wildlife Federation's Certified Wildlife Habitat® program recognizes gardens that provide essential elements for local fauna: food, water, shelter, and space to raise young. It's not about size or perfection, but about dedication to creating a haven for nature's wonders.

Once certified, you can share your accomplishment and commitment to helping wildlife with your whole neighborhood by purchasing and posting an exclusive Certified Wildlife Habitat® sign.

The secure $20 application processing fee and sign purchase directly support National Wildlife Federation programs to protect wildlife and habitat.

I live in a small space. Can I still garden sustainably?

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  • Container gardening: Grow native plants, vegetables, herbs, and flowers in pots on balconies, patios, or even indoors.
  • Vertical gardening: Utilize vertical space with hanging planters or trellises for climbing plants.
  • Windowsill gardening: Grow herbs or small vegetables on a sunny windowsill.

Sustainable gardening is a journey, not a destination. There are many ways to incorporate sustainable practices into your garden, no matter your experience level or space limitations. By experimenting and learning from other gardeners, you can create a beautiful and thriving garden that benefits the environment.

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