People are re-discovering their back yards, some their front yards as well and are finding them suitable for growing all manner of things. Flower gardens will sprout with edibles for these trendy gardeners.
Others with no space to garden, like those who live in apartments, are renting garden plots where they will plant and grow a variety of vegetables and ornamentals to enjoy and improve their lives.
Like a lot of us, those first-time gardeners are looking for chemical-free ways to grow food for their family as well as improve their lives. According to the National Garden Bureau, the sustainable gardening movement continues to gain traction as one of the top garden trends for 2021. There’s been an uptick in interest from our readers looking for information about how people can make their gardens more environmentally friendly.
Here are some ideas to get started growing sustainably for both the veteran and novice gardeners alike:
Practice water conservation
Include drought-tolerant plants in the landscape. Put plants that need more water in spots where the soil stays moist and group plants with similar water needs together to make irrigation more efficient. Other ideas: Design a rain garden and/or collect and use rainwater.
Make your own compost
It’s better for the environment, your garden and your wallet. Your garden plants are only as good as your soil is. Learn more about composting, including what to put in it (and what not to) to get the right balance, and how to use compost in your garden. A compost pile does not necessarily require a special structure. Something as simple as a pile will compost and produce valuable soil nutrients.
Remember that everything that grows in your garden — including the weeds — takes nutrients and water. When you remove those weeds you are removing nutrients from your plot of land. Over time this can deprive soil of valuable nutrients. By composting those weeds, grass clippings and leaves, you are literally recycling the nutrients.
Learn more about native plants and find out what is native in your area with The National Wildlife Federation’s Native Plant Finder. The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry’s website shares information on native species to plant: here at maine.gov/dacf/php/pesticides/yardscaping/plants/index.htm.
Plant selection website sources also include Maine Audubon – Native Plant Finder; Native Plant Trust – Garden Plant Finder; Lawns to Wildflowers – University of Central Florida & University of Manitoba.
Use organic methods
The benefits of organic gardening are far-reaching. Learn safe ways to deal with pests, weeds, and fertilizer. Healthy plants are better prepared to end off insect and disease attacks, and organic methods produce healthier plants. Home gardeners use more pesticides than all of agriculture in the U.S.
According to Beyond Pesticides organization “Suburban lawns and gardens receive more pesticide applications per acre (3.2-9.8 pounds) than agriculture (2.7 pounds per acre on average).”
In general, the vast majority of insects are not harmful, nor are they pests, and in fact there are many species that are beneficial. Take the instance of Japanese beetles which are very difficult to control with pesticides. We have a natural control for the destructive beetles in a parasitic wasp that lays its eggs on the shoulders of the beetles. The eggs hatch out and the larvae consume the beetle from the inside.
But with the use of pesticides those parasitic wasps, along with a host of beneficial insects, are often unintended victims. This results in the use of pesticides doing more damage than good. And too, often after pesticide use the insect pests rebound, but the natural controls are absent resulting in far more damage.
Mulching saves water by regulating soil temperature, thus preventing soil from drying out. It also suppresses weeds, adds nutrients to the soil, and prevents erosion. Mulch can consist of a variety of materials from purchased bark mulches to pine needles, shredded leaves or paper, straw, sawdust or other materials.
Lastly, plant trees
Their beauty alone is noteworthy, but their ability to absorb CO2 and give off oxygen makes them remarkable. Trees also provide food, protection and shelter for wildlife. When planted strategically, their shade can cool your home, saving energy and money.
Funny thing about gardening sustainably, it does not have to cost a fortune, and in truth it often costs less and saves more in the long run. You win, the environment wins and we all do as well when you tread lightly on the earth.