From No Mow May to homemade compost and water preservation, sustainable gardening is all about working with the environment and space around you to create beneficial and beautiful gardens. There are more excuses to do it than not, so let’s explore a few simple reasons why you should adopt sustainable gardening practices and how you can get started.
Sustainable gardening is the way forward, so let’s get into it…
What is sustainable gardening?
Sustainable gardening is a way of working with your natural environment when choosing plants, materials, lighting and more. What you add or change should benefit and support the current ecosystem and wildlife, giving them more food, space and longevity compared to before.
It can be as simple as cutting out insecticides and using blasts of soapy water to get rid of aphids, to something more hardcore, like installing water butts and reducing your patio space altogether for more beneficial plants, trees, and shrubs.
Anyone can start gardening sustainably, no matter what outside space you have available. Small changes can have a big and lasting impact, so it’s just a matter of finding options that suit you and your ideals.
Some reasons to start sustainable gardening
Reason 1: Resource preservation
Climate change is a global problem in which large multinational corporations could have the most impact, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make small changes at home to help as well. Ensuring there is a habitable and safe home for future generations is something we can all get involved in, and it starts with our resources.
According to TheWorldCounts.com, 12million+ hectares of forests have been removed so far in 2023. Furthermore, only a tiny fraction of the water on earth is useful to humans, and there is only enough oil left for another 46 years of use!
Our earthly resources are depleting every day as more and more people make use of them. Without some change in our usage, we’ll start to run out of some things in our current lifetime.
So, consider choosing gardening methods which use fewer non-renewable resources, such as water butts to collect rainwater, homemade compost to protect peatland, rechargeable tools to reduce petrol usage, and reclaimed wood, so you’re not contributing to deforestation.
Reason 2: Less waste
While most countries have decent recycling plans in place for everyday waste, you can go a step further by reusing certain things at home instead of increasing the burden on local authorities.
Reusing what you have and minimising your waste output can also help reduce the number of things going to landfill. Considering landfill are said to contribute to soil and groundwater contamination, this is a valuable sustainable activity to try.
Here are some ways you can send less waste to your local authority:
- Try fixing your clothes when they rip or see if tailoring them or remaking them into something else works. For example, make shorts or skirts out of old jeans or trousers, old vest tops could become halter tops, ripped tees can become baby grows or vest tops and more. If they’re not suitable to be made into other clothing, consider using old clothes as cleaning cloths or to make blankets, bags, cushions, or home crafts – reusing old clothes and fabrics means fewer new fibres need to be manufactured, and it reduces the fast fashion lifecycle.
- Use your cardboard to make new storage boxes or use old toilet rolls for seed trays. A lot of cube storage boxes or household decorative trays you buy new use cardboard as a base as it is strong, long-lasting, and affordable, but making them yourself is even cheaper and more environmentally friendly. Using old toilet and kitchen rolls as seed trays is equally green as it means there is less plastic produced, and the fact you can plant the whole thing into the ground – roll and all – is great, as the cardboard will decompose.
- Try using bottles as plant support toppers or watering devices. Save your eyes and some plastic production by upturning your old water and drink bottles on top of your plant supports to protect them from poking anyone. There’s also a trick where you can poke small pinprick holes in a bottle and plant it in a pot or border near a shrub with just the lid exposed. You can then refill the planted bottle as needed to water your plant directly at the roots through the new holes.
- Old tin cans work great as scoops for soil, compost, perlite, and more. And you can reuse glass jars as new food storage or home décor.
Reason 3: Helping local wildlife
Whether you have a lot of hedgehogs, see unique birds or find interesting insect life, what you plant and do with your outside space can help them in certain ways.
It’s also called wildlife gardening, but giving them food, water, safety, and space in your gardens allows them to thrive and grow their numbers, which increases biodiversity and therefore helps with pollution, improved water sources and more. For years, their natural habitats and spaces have been impacted by new developments and urbanisation, so giving them slices of nature wherever possible can help them survive.
- Choose plants which thrive in your local conditions.
- Create shady spaces for animals to escape from the sun.
- Add ponds to help promote more diversity and encourage more wildlife to visit.
- Include birdhouses and food where possible.
- Install bee and bug hotels to encourage more insects.
- Cut hedgehog holes in your fences and put hedgehog houses in your garden.
- Steer clear of plants which are toxic to animals.
There are many plants which benefit the local wildlife and provide food for them as well, so take note of what creatures you see and research what animals are local to your area, then choose your plants considering that information.
Reason 4: Cost effective
By reusing items you already have and moving to renewable energy sources such as solar, rechargeable batteries or hand tools, there is less of a spend down the line.
It’s economical as it’s all about recycling and using preloved materials such as making old pallets into furniture or border edging, using grey water or collecting rainfall for watering. You save money by not having to buy new things to use up your resources.
Additionally, you could try growing your own food and making your own compost. You can harvest seeds from the previous year’s crops or make swaps with other local gardeners to get started, then, once they’re grown, figure out ways to preserve the produce for longer, such as freezing or drying. For compost, all you need is an area in your garden with soil, proper drainage and sunshine to make sure the heat and natural bacteria have access to the material.
Trying these things will mean you can save more money later in your gardening and sustainable living journey.
Tips to start gardening sustainably
Starting to garden sustainably is incredibly easy – you can do it without needing to purchase anything, and you don’t really need any professional help unless you’re starting a big project like a deck or pond.
Here are some quick ways to get started:
- Conserve grey water from the house, such as unsalted cooking water, bathwater or leftover drinking water, let it cool and remove any bits before using it to water your garden.
- Try companion planting to deter unwanted pests from your plants. For example, plant carrots next to onion and garlic to trick carrot flies with the smells.
- Improve your soil health through things like green manure cover crops in winter, mulching and reducing compaction.
- Don’t install a patio, choose a reclaimed wood deck or add more plant life.
- Water in the early morning or early evening to reduce evaporation from the daytime heat.
- Choose plants which are drought tolerant or require less watering, like wildflowers, cacti, palms or grasses.
- Invest in pollen-rich plants like lavender, buddleia, foxgloves and more.
- Install a rainwater irrigation system to catch rainwater and prevent you from using the tap. You can find quite attractive water butts these days which suit a range of garden styles, but there are other rainwater-saving methods as well.
- Use peat-free compost or make your own with around 25-50% green waste (grass cuttings, weeds or pruning) and other bits like newspaper, coffee grounds or fruit and veg scraps, plus 50-75% woody waste (like bark or sticks). Remember to aerate it to avoid compaction and avoid adding any meat, dairy or cooked food.
- Go rechargeable or hand-powered with your tools.
While changes are needed at the top levels of manufacturing and government to help with climate change and make the world more sustainable, the small everyday changes we can make are still valuable and important. So, install a water butt and compost bin, choose local plants and pollinator-friendly ones, try natural pest control and reuse more instead of throwing them away. We only have one planet and a finite amount of resources, so why not get crafty, save and reuse what you can and start sustainable gardening today?