Most people are familiar with the term “organic gardening,” but what about “sustainable gardening,” and its cousins: eco-friendly, environmentally sound, biointensive, low-input, alternative and natural gardening?

Over pruned cherry tree

This cherry tree requires constant pruning to keep it in this abnormal shape.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

No mulch

Use mulch to avoid weeds and dry soil.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

Desert wildflowers

When you lose your lawn, look what wonderful things can happen!

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

Sustainable farmers and gardeners contribute to the earth rather than take away from it. In sustainable systems, plants are grown without depleting natural resources or contributing to pollution. And, in order for anything to be sustainable, it should continue for a long time. This means that it should sustain itself as much as possible, without constant inputs from you.

So how can you practice sustainable gardening? Here are a few ideas:

  • Limit the size of your lawn. Lawns use more water and fossil fuels to maintain them than any other planting. Have a mixed-grass lawn rather than a monoculture. Choose the right type of lawn grasses for your area. Use an electric or human-powered mower. Or remove your lawn altogether and create natural or planted areas with perennials, shrubs and trees instead.
  • Contribute to your yard or patch of space in whatever ways you can. Make compost out of vegetable peelings and yard clippings. Shred newspaper to make mulch, and cover weeds with cardboard instead of applying herbicides.
  • Take stock of the plants in your yard. Do they contribute to feeding birds and other wildlife? Are any of them native? Are you constantly replacing plants (and if so, why)? Buy plants that are hardy to your area.
  • Use natural fertilizers like compost, rock phosphate, kelp or seaweed, fish meal and alfalfa meal. These feed the soil and the microorganisms it contains. They also encourage a natural rate of plant growth, which helps eliminate some pest problems.
  • Increase water retention (and decrease watering) by using mulch and incorporating compost into your soil. (This will also decrease runoff and protect soil.)
  • Think about maintenance. Have you created an unsustainable area by making lollipops out of shrubs and trees, which have to be constantly maintained, usually with gas-powered pruners? Are you constantly mowing because you’ve overapplied fertilizer and water?
  • Contribute to your community. If you can’t use all the leaves from your trees, recycle them by taking them to a municipal compost site. And buy locally – especially from organic and sustainable growers.

Sustainable gardening is easy to do; it just requires some thought. Small changes lead to bigger ones, though, so get started today!