Sustainable & Eco-Friendly Gardening Tips

| July 7, 2024

By Peter Aronson

They were called War Gardens during World War I and Victory Gardens during WWII. Americans were encouraged to create gardens and grow their own fruits and vegetables to make up for food shortages caused by the war effort.  

Millions of Americans created millions of gardens all across America during these two national emergencies.

Now it’s time to blow the trumpet again. With climate change our collective national emergency, it’s time for gardeners to examine how to garden more sustainably. We can call them Good Earth Gardens, Pollinator Proliferation Gardens, Sensationally Sustainable Gardens or, as GreenAmerica.org sensibly suggests, Climate Victory Gardens.

Whatever the name, we are offering tips on how to make your garden more sustainable and more eco-friendly as we all try to take small steps to reduce our carbon footprint.  

Some suggestions are quite simple:

  • Water less or not at all
  • Mow less or not at all
  • Plant only or mostly native plants, or allow existing native plants to proliferate
  • Research what native plants and fruits and vegetable are best for your area
  • Don’t use harmful chemicals in the garden
  • During the fall/winter, reduce or eliminate trimming plants back
  • Compost and use the compost to create healthier soil

All these simple steps will conserve resources and allow native plants to proliferate in greater abundance, which in turn creates a healthier and more abundant natural environment for local birds, butterflies and all insects, thereby enhancing the local habitat and the pollination process.

“‘Sustainable’ means to perpetuate existence as well as to provide sustenance and nourishment,” the American Horticulture Society (AHS) said on its website. “The term is most often associated with the environment and specifically to landscapes and gardens. While growing plants and maintaining a garden are inherently “green” activities, sustainable gardening is about growing a greener future.”

The AHS  emphasized that sustainable gardening “combines organic gardening practices with resource conservation” and places an onus on making as little negative impact on the current, surrounding environment as possible and working with nature instead of against it.

In other words, what’s there, let it grow.

Good Housekeeping out of the UK provides more in depth and sensible gardening tips from their gardening-mad country, including planting bee and bird friendly plants and using less plastic in all gardening activities. They recommend making biodegradable seedling pots out of old newspapers.  

GreenAmerica.org provides detailed suggestions for beginners and seasoned gardeners. For beginners, it provides an outline for planning and setting goals (ie, size and location of garden), planting basics (ie, what to grow and how to grow it [raised bed or in the ground?]), importance of soil health (ie, using compost) and garden maintenance tips (ie, how much to trim in fall/winter).

Experts say using native plants in your sustainability plan is key, as they are the linchpin for an eco-friendly garden. It makes sense, too, if you think about it. Native plants are the hardiest in a local environment, because, well, they are there and thriving, and they are the most adaptive for local birds, animals and insects. In other words, the plants and all the critters around it have learned, over time, to cohabitate together and benefit from each other. 

The National Wildlife Foundation (NWF), emphasizing the importance of native plants to the health and function of a local ecosystem, provides a plant tracker where you can enter your zip code and learn about the most beneficial plants native to where you live. Bountiful pollination is the key motivator.

Pollinators help over 90% of the world’s flowering plants create fruits and seeds,” the NWF states on its website. “Without them, plant communities world-wide would collapse. Many people think of honey bees when they think of pollinators, but there are many different types of pollinators, including ants, bats, native bees, beetles, birds, butterflies, flies, moths, and wasps.”

An article in Hudson Valley Magazine calls this effort “embrac[ing] chaos to welcome pollinators,” allowing native plants and grasses to proliferate and grow more wildly. They encourage shrinking your lawn to allow more grass and plant growth and encouraging local nurseries to stock more native plants. Finally, they say an 80/20 ratio of native plants to non-natives is a good goal.

In 2022, the U.S. Department of Agriculture started the People’s Garden program. Tips for sustainable gardening can be found here. PlanetPerfect.com also has tips.

It’s important to keep in mind that gardening is supposed to be relaxing and fun, getting us all outdoors to enjoy and appreciate the environment. With that in mind, GreenAmerica.org has an excellent suggestion: “Our #1 tip for beginner gardeners is to have fun and not take the process too seriously. Gardening is like a big experiment, and even the most seasoned gardeners have lots of opportunities to learn from their mistakes.”

Yes, we agree: Have fun … sustainably.

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