By creating a sustainable garden, rich in plant diversity and wildlife, we not only lessen our impact on the earth’s environment and resources, but positively add to it. Here are a few tips and ideas to help guide you into making the most sustainable and ethical choices in your garden.
Much can be done in the garden to help reduce waste sent to landfill. Begin by composting your kitchen and green waste or building a wormery. Reuse old plant pots or go one step further by making improvised containers out of everyday household items such as yogurt pots and food tins.
Use sustainable materials in your garden projects. Select locally-sourced materials where possible and be sure to use timber from sustainable resources. Look into alternative materials, such as recycled plastic decking or be creative with old concrete to form interesting walling and paving.
Water is a precious resource. Increase your soil’s ability to hold on to moisture by regularly applying soil amendment and thick mulches around plantings to reduce water loss. For best results, add a layer at least two inches thick. Mulching will help reduce weeds and applying organic mulches will have the added benefit of improving soil structure and fertility.
Discourage shallow rooting by watering slowly and deeply. Irrigate during the night time or in the morning to reduce evaporation and use drip-irrigation or seep-hoses to deliver moisture to plantings gradually. In dry climates, consider replacing moisture thirsty lawns with synthetic grass or other landscaping materials. Reduce the need for watering by planting native plants or plants adapted to similar conditions. Install systems which capture water from the roof of the house, shed or greenhouse or utilize waste-water from laundry and bath use.
Avoid using harmful chemicals to control garden pests and weeds. Keep on top of annual and seedling weeds by regularly hoeing, digging-up perennial weeds and using thick mulches to suppress further weed development.
Catch pest infestations before they get out of control by regular monitoring. Remove caterpillars and larger pests by hand and opt for organically derived sprays and soaps to treat smaller and more numerous pests such as aphids. Prevent disease from spreading by using good hygiene; remove diseased leaves from plants and surfaces as soon as they are noticed.
Regular applications of organic matter in the form of homemade compost, well-rotted manure or commercially-available soil amendments will improve soil fertility by releasing nutrients over a long period of time. Liquid feeds prepared by soaking compost and or leafy garden waste (or ideally comfrey), will provide instant nutrients if diluted and watered over plant roots.
Avoid using potting soils containing peat, a limited resource which forms important heath-land habitats. There are plenty of alternatives such as coir and composted bark as well as traditional soil-based potting soils.
Grow your own fruit and vegetables. You can choose varieties not available in supermarkets, they taste so much better, and you can be content in the knowledge that they have been produced in a sustainable way. Providing you have enough sunlight, you will be able to grow plenty of food for the table.
Encourage local wildlife into the garden by using native plant species and choose other plants suitable for native pollinators. Increase the biodiversity in your garden by creating a meadow and build log piles to encourage invertebrates and fungi.
Alien invasive plant species are one of the most important threats to native habitats and species in the wild. The ethical gardener should be aware of the invasive potential of garden plants and their ability to escape into the wild and cause havoc. Research local nature organizations to see what invasive alien species are a problem in your area, so you can avoid planting them in your garden.