As the warmer months approach, many people get excited about heading back out to tend to their gardens. Gardening is an excellent activity that not only helps to make a home look more attractive, but it also contributes tremendously towards the environment. However, we can go one step even further in this respect. Sustainable gardening is all about maintaining your vegetable patch or flowerbed in a more environmentally friendly manner.

At the core of sustainable gardening is the idea that it should work alongside nature and help it rather than hinder it. Its main goal is to protect the environment. To this end, sustainable gardening practices largely involve minimizing wastage of natural resources, eliminating the use of harmful chemicals, and cutting back on the waste materials that end up in the trash. This approach to gardening developed at the start of the 1980s, with its roots in agriculture rather than backyard gardening. Over the next three decades, the ideas established there trickled down to residents and casual gardeners. Today, many of the techniques that these gardeners use are based on the ones developed in the 80s.

One of the basic techniques that sustainable gardeners use is to eliminate any fertilizers that are not organic, as well as herbicides and pesticides that contain harmful chemicals. This simple step alone goes a long way in helping to cut down on toxic by-products that leech into the soil and water. An excellent alternative to mass-produced harmful garden products is to start a compost heap. It allows gardeners to recycle clippings and dead or organic material from their garden (and even the kitchen!), while simultaneously producing a free supply of soil that is absolutely rich in nutrients. Some gardeners compost in a slightly different way with the use of worms. This method is known as vermicomposting, as opposed to backyard composting. Even with this rich soil, double digging is a method that increases aeration and water preservation to make the earth even more beneficial. Another technique that is popular in sustainable gardening is to plant trees, herbs, flowers, or other plants that are native to the area. By doing so, it is much easier to maintain them since they are already well suited to the local climate and conditions. A secondary advantage is that the local birds and insects will be more likely to help pollinate these plants since they would be more used to them.

Drip irrigation and bird netting among vines by Josh McFaddenPhoto by Josh McFadden

Many households, especially those in large cities, tend to use sprinkler systems that are left on for lengthy periods each day. These systems can be quite ineffective since they usually do not provide even coverage and end up wasting huge amounts of water. An eco-friendly substitute is to use drip irrigation instead. This involves a network of pipes that run along the soil and are situated just under the plants. Instead of delivering a heavy flow of water in a short period of time, they slowly release drops of water all day. This method saves water but also ensures that the plants receive a sufficient amount instead of over-saturating them. Adding mulch (wood chips, sawdust, or even grass clippings) on top of the soil helps to prevent the water from evaporating, and it is another method of recycling organic materials. Most gardeners are familiar with the need for pesticides in order to protect their plants. With sustainable gardening, gardeners hire other insects to do the dirty work for them. This is quite simply done by adding plants that attract insects that protect the garden or act as predators to insects that destroy other plants nearby. Snails, birds, and spiders are also welcome in these types of gardens since they help to keep the pest population under control.

While it might seem like extra work to maintain a sustainable garden, it actually mostly requires a change of attitude. With time, gardeners who take on this approach realize that sustainable gardening saves time, money, natural resources, and the environment. As you practice sustainable gardening techniques, it will soon become second nature.Composting

Browse through these resources to find out how to maintain your garden using sustainable techniques.