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How To Garden Sustainably

A sustainable garden works in harmony with nature. There are many techniques that can improve the health of your garden and minimize any negative impact on the environment. Most are easy and fun and will save you time in the long run. Sustainable gardening includes:

Organic Gardening

Organic gardening is growing food without the use of petrochemical pesticides, herbicides and inorganic fertilizers that pollute our soil and water. It relies on the use of beneficial insects, diversity of plants, and the use of compost to supply the soil with nutrients.

Native Plants and Trees

Planting native plants and trees is one of the best ways to work with, rather than against, nature. By matching plant species to your particular area you will have plants and trees that take less care and energy and will be healthier than exotic species. Another benefit is that native birds, insects, and other wildlife have evolved with native plant species and are able to use the fruits, nectars and habitat these plants and trees provide.


Double Digging

Double digging helps the soil hold more water, improves aeration and places organic material at a depth that enables plant roots to adequately extend. John Jeavons, the leading pioneer in bio-intensive farming, attributes the technique of double digging and adding compost to build humus and soil fertility, the basis of his success which he describes as “growing the soil.”


Worm composting is a fun and easy way to have a supply of pure organic plant food available at all times. All you need to start is a shallow bin that allows air to circulate, bedding and worms. The castings that worms produce are a great fertilizer for plants and vermicomposting is an excellent way to keep food waste out of the garbage.

Backyard Composting

Backyard composting is a method of returning organic waste back into a nutrient-rich soil amendment. Good compost contains huge food resources that plants need to grow. Ultimately, compost improves plant health by supplying nutrients to the soil. There are three methods of composting: hot, cold or trenching, and good compost can be achieved by using any of the three.

Drip Irrigation

Drip irrigation is a controlled, slow application of water that flows under low pressure through plastic pipe or hose laid along each row of plants. The water drips out of tiny holes that are made in the hose wall or from fittings called emitters that are plugged into the wall at proper spacing. Soil moisture remains constant, and air is always available. By delivering water directly to plants, little is lost to evaporation or runoff so this technique is very water efficient. A variety of emitters allow the proper amount of water to be delivered to each individual plant. It is one of the best techniques for watering gardens, fruit trees, vines and container plants.


Mulch protects the soil by helping it retain moisture, suppresses weeds and insulates plants from extreme temperatures. Any material such as wood chips, straw, nut shells, paper, sawdust, leaves, seaweed, grass clippings or compost can be used as a mulch. Mulching is a way to recycle materials that might otherwise be discarded and simultaneously improve your soil.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM)

In our efforts to grow a maximum amount of food, we have come to view all insects as enemies. We have created chemical fertilizers to encourage growth and poisons to kill pests. Most are indiscriminate and kill beneficial organisms too, upsetting the natural balance, and, when it rains, the chemical runoff poisons our groundwater, rivers and bay. Using IPM methods is a better way to control pests and keep a healthy, natural balance in your garden. IPM techniques can be as simple as planting companion plants to attract beneficial insects, introducing beneficial insects to your garden or making your own pesticides from ingredients you may already have on hand such as borax, ammonia, and beer. IPM controls are preferable to chemical pesticides. However, when it is absolutely necessary to use a pesticide, choose the least toxic product.

Learn to tolerate a certain amount of pests. In an organic garden, there are a few pests, but there is also an army of beneficial insects, spiders, reptiles and birds waiting to have a pest for lunch.

Recycle and Reuse

Items that are normally thrown away can be used in the garden. Paint–stirring sticks and old forks can be used to display vegetable seed packets. A broken pot can be a toad house. An old chair or table can hold container plants. Make your garden fun and whimsical and a joy to visit.

Rigid, black plastic pots that bring plants into your garden can be returned to nurseries for growers to reuse.

Friends You Should Invite Into Your Garden!

Ladybugs — This aphid loving beetle is worth its weight in gold.

Lizards — Alligator lizards will search dark basements, garages and bushes for their favorite meal – black widow spiders.

Spiders — The average spider eats about 100 insects a year. He’s one of the good guys.

Toads — One toad can eat between 10,000 and 20,000 slugs, flies, grubs, cutworms or grasshoppers per year.

Bats — Besides being a valuable pollinator, bats consume large quantities of insects. A single little brown bat can catch 600 mosquitoes in one hour.

Bees — In California alone, forty–two different nut, fruit, vegetable, forage and seed crops rely directly on bee pollination.

Green Lacewings — Green Lacewings will eat mites, mealy bugs and other small insects but their favorite meal is aphids.

Ground Beetles — Ground beetles’ favorite insect meals are cutworms, grubs and root maggots. Some even love slugs and snails. To invite them into your garden, place a log or board at one end of your garden.

Hover Flies — These flies look like little flying helicopters. They are some of the garden’s greatest allies. They feed on flower nectar, which makes them excellent pollinators. Their favorite meals are aphids and mealy bugs.

Hummingbirds — These small birds consume more than half their total weight in food everyday and a big part of their diet is insects.

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