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Top 10 Sustainable Gardening Methods

For years, Yvonne has been developing a sustainable homestead complete with chickens, food plants, on-site water, solar power, and more.

Cucumbers and Swiss chard in a lasagna garden, which is mulched with leaves and pine straw.

Cucumbers and Swiss chard in a lasagna garden, which is mulched with leaves and pine straw.

Organic Fresh Fruits and Vegetables in Your Backyard With Urban Agriculture

Sustainable, organic gardening and permaculture are big topics! Everyone wants safe, organic fruits and vegetables and even eggs, which means many of the old "Victorian" practices of backyard gardens and keeping poultry and other animals are making a comeback. Many people are practicing urban agriculture in vacant lots and in backyards all over the country.

Here are 10 methods that will make it easy to go green and create your own organic, sustainable garden system in your own backyard. You'll soon be growing your own healthy, inexpensive food, and, at the same time, you'll be minimizing the time and money you spend on maintaining an exotic lawn and/or ornamental plants.

Top 10 Innovative Sustainable Gardening Techniques

  1. Reduce Lawn Size
  2. Catch, Conserve, and Use Water On-Site
  3. Make a Compost Pile
  4. Mulch With Available Materials
  5. Use Native Plants
  6. Plant Perennial, Multi-Purpose Flowers
  7. Intersperse Fruits and Vegetables Among Ornamentals
  8. Don't Use Chemical Pesticides; Encourage Natural Predators
  9. Make a Lasagna Garden
  10. Get Some Chickens
Just because it's edible doesn't mean it's not ornamental

Just because it's edible doesn't mean it's not ornamental

Satsuma trees bear in the fall of the year in south Louisiana. The sweet-smelling flowers attract pollinators.

Satsuma trees bear in the fall of the year in south Louisiana. The sweet-smelling flowers attract pollinators.

1. Reduce Lawn Size

Many years ago, we decided that we would rather spend our free time enjoying the little backyard sanctuary that we had created instead of toiling at the weekly ritual of cutting and maintaining a lawn. We began whittling away the lawn by replacing the grass with islands of multi-purpose trees, shrubs, ground cover, and mulch.

We were always careful to make gentle curves so that the grass could be cut without having to back up the mower. We also used hardy ground covers and ferns in areas under trees. Pretty soon, instead of taking hours, mowing time was reduced to an hour or so, and we did not have to water or fertilize because the grass that we left was in the right place for it to grow.

Rain Barrel

Rain Barrel

2. Catch, Conserve, and Use Water On-Site

There is nothing like rainwater to really get your garden growing. So why do we let it run off of our property before it has a chance to soak in?

Rain gardens, swales, French drains, and rain barrels or cisterns are inexpensive ways to harness and control rainwater. For areas of your rain gutters where a spout won't work, try attractive and decorative rain chains, combined with other control methods.

You can even make your own rain chain from easy-to-find materials. By keeping stormwater on-site, you not only benefit from the precious rain, but you help to alleviate flooding downstream and help to keep harmful contaminants out of the aquatic food chain.

Rain Water Recovery System

Most rain barrels are easy to install on a standard rain gutter downspout. It's best to get one that has a screen included so you don't have to worry about mosquitoes laying eggs in the water.

How to Make a Rain Chain

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Read More From Dengarden

Rich "black gold" worm castings compost.

Rich "black gold" worm castings compost.

3. Make a Compost Pile

Using non-meat kitchen scraps and other excess plant materials to make rich black soil is something that all gardeners should do. Instead of putting leaves and grass clippings on the curb to go in the landfill, it makes so much more sense to put them into a compost pile or do sheet composting in the garden. Compost piles are easy to make, or you can buy ready-made ones.

If you don't have many trees, then just go through your neighborhood the day before the trash is picked up and collect the nicely bagged bounty that the neighbors put out.

Another good composting option is worm composting. By adding red wiggler worms to your compost pile or setting up a separate worm bin, you will have even richer soil than with regular composting methods.

Worm Factory Composter

I have a Worm Factory vermiculture composter. I like its tray design and the container with a spigot to catch the nutrient-rich "worm tea." A detailed instruction book, shredded paper and coca fiber brick comes in the kit. Once you get the composter and get it set up, then you can order your red wiggler worms. This adds another rung to the sustainability ladder because the worms can also be used as bait to catch fish.

4. Mulch With Available Materials

Mulching with leaves, pine needles, or wood chips (or other materials that you have on hand) helps to keep the soil moist, enriches it, and keeps the weeds down. Cypress mulch is not recommended because in most cases, it is not made from the by-products of cypress lumber, but from harvesting and grinding whole young trees.

It is much better for you and for the environment if you use mulch from your own yard. In fact, when we lived in the city, we used to pick up the neighbors' bags of leaves to use in our yard and compost pile.


5. Use Native Plants

Sneezeweed, stiff-leaved verbena, and coreopsis attract honeybees, native bees, and butterflies to the garden.

Plants that are native to your area are already accustomed to the seasonal changes and the periods of drought and/or flooding. They are hardier and require much less maintenance time than imported exotic plants. They will also save you money because they won't have to be replaced. (They can usually withstand fluctuations in the weather.)

Many native plants have edible fruit, berries, nuts, or roots. Examples include pecans, blackberries, wild blueberries, plums, crabapples, red mulberry, ground nut, and many others.

Daylily flowers are edible. The buds can be cooked like green beans and the flowers stuffed, battered and fried.

Daylily flowers are edible. The buds can be cooked like green beans and the flowers stuffed, battered and fried.

6. Plant Perennial, Multi-Purpose Flowers

Old-fashioned double orange daylilies are a favorite perennial in the South.

Perennials and especially native perennials are the sustainable gardener's friend. They come back every year and multiply. They are low maintenance and cost less because they don't have to be replanted each season like annual bedding plants.

Many perennial flowers are edible, too. Examples include daylilies (shown above), roses, violets, monarda (bee balm), and many more.

Tomato plants growing in an ornamental planter.

Tomato plants growing in an ornamental planter.

7. Intersperse Fruits and Vegetables Among Ornamentals

In sustainable gardening, vegetables and other edible plants are not planted in masses as with traditional gardening. By mixing edibles in with ornamental plants, pest and disease damage is reduced because the pests are attracted to the large mass plantings of the traditional garden.

Planting good companion plants near vegetables can also aid in growth, taste and help repel harmful insects. Plants that have clusters of tiny flowers, like parsley, will also draw predatory wasps as well as small pollinators to the garden. My favorite combinations are basil with tomatoes, savory with beans, oregano with peppers, and French marigolds sprinkled throughout the garden.

Goldenrod attracts many pollinators when it blooms in the fall. Green anole in goldenrod available on Zazzle.

Goldenrod attracts many pollinators when it blooms in the fall. Green anole in goldenrod available on Zazzle.

8. Don't Use Chemical Pesticides; Encourage Natural Predators

This green anole hunts for insect prey among native goldenrod flowers in fall. Goldenrod is an important plant for honeybees, native bees, and butterflies.

Organic pest control techniques go well with sustainable gardening and are beneficial to the environment. By not using chemical pesticides, the predator and prey cycle remains unbroken. The natural predators are able to do their job and rid the garden of pests.

Filled with accurate and practical information from birdseed and birdhouses to bird-friendly shrubs and trees, the book, Audubon Society Guide to Attracting Birds: Creating Natural Habitats for Properties Large and Small, is an encyclopedia of everything you need to know to make your property a more welcoming and more beneficial habitat for wild birds.

Hens in Chicken Tractor Behind Pumpkin Vines

Hens in Chicken Tractor Behind Pumpkin Vines

9. Make a Lasagna Garden

When we first got our hens they lived in a chicken tractor, which we move around the garden. We also let them out each day to forage. In front you see the giant pumpkin and squash vines growing where the chicken tractor was parked last fall.

Lasagna gardening is a fabulous way to garden. It is a "no-dig" method. If you have a chicken tractor or movable coop, you can park the chickens there, first and they will help till the soil, get rid of the grass, and fertilize, too. If you let them out, for a few hours each day, they will remove weed seeds and insects like grasshoppers from your yard.

Even if you don't, in early fall, you can layer newspapers, Starbuck's coffee grounds, grass clippings, leaves, hay, manure, kitchen scraps, and other compostable materials over the grass where you want your garden to be. Then by spring, you'll have a nice planting bed for your garden.

Keyhole Garden

Keyhole gardens were designed to save water in arid regions, the concept combines lasagna, raised, and organic gardening with a permanent compost bin. Traditionally the individual gardens are circular with a 6–6 1/2 foot diameter. A wire cylindrical compost bin sits in the middle. The sides and soil depth is 2 to 3 feet. A pie-shaped wedge is cut in one part so that the compost bin is accessible.

The theory is that the garden is self-fertilizing via the compost bin. The rich compost tea filters into the soil every time the garden is watered. This type of sustainable garden has been successful in many areas including Africa and West Texas.

We are in the process of installing a modified keyhole garden, using the materials that we have on hand. Ours will be more rectangular because we have some boards from a deck that will be repurposed to make the sides. Small sticks and dead branches will be on the bottom layer to aid in drainage.

Cardboard, newspaper, and other nonshiny paper will form the next layer. Chicken manure and soil plus leaf mold, hay, and pine needles will form other layers. We'll top it off with some topsoil. We hope to have it done by fall so that it can age and be ready for spring planting.

Lasagna Gardening


10. Get Some Chickens

A few hens in a movable coop are great additions to the sustainable garden. In addition to the fresh, organic eggs, the chickens can help you till the soil and weed in areas where you'd like to have a patch of fruit trees or vegetables. You just park the "chicken tractor" there for a while, and the hens will clear the area and fertilize it for you. Then you move the coop to another location.

We also let them out for a few hours each day. The chickens eat many insects and weed seeds. This makes both the chickens and the garden and yard healthier.

Amazing photography of our pollinators including hummingbirds, various bees, butterflies and insects, also bats. From flowers to fruits and vegetables, night and day the native pollinators are at work in this enchanting video excerpt from TED.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2009 Yvonne L B

Please share your gardening tips or a comment.

Loco on February 21, 2015:

i have tried a couple of csompot bins. To be honest i have gotten the best results just making a pile and leaving it, turning it every couple of weeks. Two drawbacks in my opinion of bins is air circulation and creating a barrier for insects to enter. i had a black csompot bin which from what i read was a popular model. The contents never got hot. This baffled me for a long time then i decided to just make a pile in a sunny area. after a good rain it gets piping hot.

Paula Hite from Virginia on February 27, 2014:

Terrific lens! Its been featured on "The Green Thumb: A Place For Gardeners To Gather" Facebook page. Please like/share it with your friends!

Rose Jones on June 19, 2013:

I loved this lens. Bookmarked and linked to my own lens on landscaping with fruits and vegetables. :)

williamwiley11 on April 02, 2013:

Very interesting insight into your mind

MariePalmer LM on March 06, 2013:

I love your lens, I squidliked and shared on Twitter! And I made you my favorite green lens for my squid quest!

laurenrich on March 04, 2013:

This is an awesome lens. It has great information and tips. Thanks for sharing.

Beverly Lemley from Raleigh, NC on February 25, 2013:

Excellent info, in a wonderful easy to understand format, with lots of great pictures. You make organic gardening fun and practical! I've featured your lens on my lens Make a Healthy Garden ~ SquidAngel Blessed! B : )

SteveKaye on February 19, 2013:

Great info. Thank you for publishing this lens. We have a garden that just is. No chemicals. No special anything. Water from rain, except during the summer when there is no rain (I'm in California). And it works just fine.

jayavi on February 14, 2013:

I must try make compost at home. thanks for new suggestions.

freesamplerevie on January 17, 2013:

So much useful information here! Can't wait to start putting some of these suggestions into practice, thanks!

suepogson on January 12, 2013:

This is GREAT! Thanks

suepogson on January 12, 2013:

This is GREAT! Thanks

GardenIdeasHub LM on October 29, 2012:

This is fascinating gardening methods thanks for the tips!

N Beaulieu on July 11, 2012:

I'm glad I stopped by your lens - I picked up some useful tips on sustainable gardening. I save the water from my dehumidifier along with rain and leftover coffee from the pot to water my gardens. I liked your lens so much I'm featuring it on my best-self-sufficient-vegetables lens.

sallemange on June 28, 2012:

I have learned a lot from reading this lens and it has helped me think about additional ways to be sustainable. Your section on lawns got me researching further and I simply didn't realise what an adverse effect they have on ecology.

DanielleAP on June 26, 2012:

Great lens. I'd love any advice you could give me on my garden. Thanks!

blueseagulls on June 12, 2012:

What a great post. This has got me really interested in composting and lasagna gardening. Great ideas for people that don't know where to start and therefore don't try. I really love it.

PeacefieldFarm LM on June 04, 2012:

I have really enjoyed reading your lens. I love to garden and try to live more sustainably every year.

Fay Favored from USA on May 23, 2012:

The 3 year old taping the shoot was the best!

Marlies Vaz Nunes from Amsterdam, the Netherlands on May 17, 2012:

A most informative aricle! Thanks for sharing all these tips.

anonymous on April 25, 2012:

An excellent presentation of sustainable gardening ideas and congratulations for being honored as one of Squidoo's best on the 2012 Earth Day Monster Board. I don't garden right now but long for the day I'll have a yard again. These were all common practices years ago and its good to be teaching them to new generations for sure!...*

Johann The Dog from Northeast Georgia on April 23, 2012:

Great ideas! Woofs! Johann

KateHonebrink on April 20, 2012:

We used all these sustainable gardening ideas you've just described when I was growing up on the farm and working in our family garden. We didn't know it actually had a name. Thanks for a great lens! Well done!!

AlleyCatLane on April 20, 2012:

Interesting ideas. I don't think my neighbors would appreciate adding chickens, but the other ideas are doable.

ohcaroline on April 20, 2012:

You've done a great job on using sustainable gardening methods. Very informative too.

jed78 on April 13, 2012:

Nice work, great lens very informative!

renovati on April 10, 2012:

Excellent advice and tips. A few years ago a group that I'm involved with started what's become an annual SkillShare Festival where we gather people like you, the local 'experts,' to put on demonstrations and hands-on sessions. The response has been great and we've been able to teach thousands tips and skills like you've written about here. Keep up the good work.

MindPowerProofs1 on April 01, 2012:

Thanks for the tips and advices. Great lens

EssenceOfTheSouth on March 19, 2012:

nice lense. I love organic gardening and the info about the chickens.

Renaissance Woman from Colorado on March 10, 2012:

Stopping back by to sprinkle a blessing over your sustainable gardening tips. Appreciated!

earthybirthymum from Ontario, Canada on November 08, 2011:

Great ideas for gardening. Nice Lense, you've inspired me to increase my composting.

KiwiSanet on August 16, 2011:

I like your lens .Packed with lots of good information. I have not heard of Lasagna gardening before but we have two hens in a cage which we move around on our raised beds. They do an excellent job of fertilising and turning the soil and in general preparing the bed for the next planting.

Renaissance Woman from Colorado on August 13, 2011:

Excellent tips for sustainable gardening and living. Thanks for teaching me new methods (lasagna gardening, etc.). I will apply what I have learned here. **Blessed**

KarenTBTEN on August 09, 2011:

What a lot of ideas! It also sounds like a more humane way to raise a chicken. SquidAngel blessings.

Bill from Gold Coast, Australia on July 21, 2011:

What an awesome lens! I had not heard the term "Lasagne Gardening" before but it is basically what I did at my old house and featured in my lens "From Lawn To Food Forest". I am now doing the same thing again with a similar garden in my new house using mostly materials found onsite. It will be the focus of a new lens very shortly!

mellex lm from Australia on July 09, 2011:

I really like your lens... full of excellent ideas for sustainable gardening. Thanks for taking the time to share :)

anonymous on June 11, 2011:

were open, and so were the equally wide garden-doors; orange-trees in sinequan online. tubs, and tall flowers in pots, ornamented these portals on each side; exelon online.

Chazz from New York on May 01, 2011:

Great job! Blessed by a squid angel. Lenrolled to my invasive plants lens and featured on "Wing-ing it on Squidoo," our tribute page of bless-worthy lenses. Enjoy!

GreenChickens on March 17, 2011:

Very nice lens, and thanks for blessing mine!

jackieb99 on February 27, 2011:

I love the site...very well done!

benharper on February 13, 2011:

Great Info!! i love sites that give ideas o a bigger scale Please check out myirrigation and sprinkler services

sallemange on January 15, 2011:

I'm with you all the way with the principles you explain on this lens!

Seamless-Gutters on January 14, 2011:

Thanks amazing article perfectly put together great tips!!!

Seamless Gutters

anonymous on September 23, 2010:

It's sad to know that not all bugs are destructive enough to be eliminated or exterminated. But they are really sometimes that natural pest controls must be done to eradicate all of them due to more beneficial purposes.

Evelyn Saenz from Royalton on February 27, 2010:

What wonderful inspiration for the Springtime garden. Thank you for adding it to Here Comes Spring! Springtime Headquarters Group.

anonymous on November 09, 2009:

This is yet another great lens with brilliant sustainable gardening tips. And thank you for featuring my Bees lens.

We are currently using the masses of leaves that fall from our very large apple tree to make mulch for next year.

You just rake them up, put into a large plastic sack (an eco-friendly recycled one of course), tie a knot in the top, pirce with a garden fork in a few places and then leave it behind the shed until next summer.

Lensrolled to my "green" lenses and SquidAngel Blessings for you.

Bambi Watson on November 05, 2009:

Great ideas & tips!

Dianne Loomos on October 27, 2009:

Some really great tips on sustainable gardening.

Deb Kingsbury from Flagstaff, Arizona on October 27, 2009:

This is a great list! We used to do all of this, including the chickens, when we lived on a farm. Nowadays, we live in the woods, so our "yard" is essentially a bunch of mulch and native plants. I do miss the chickens, hunting and scratching and pecking all over.

I'll add this lens to the plexo on my Top 10 Lists lens.

Jeanette from Australia on October 12, 2009:

Fabulous collection of lenses. I will come back often!

anonymous on July 19, 2009:

Beautiful! You have some really great pics on here; I especially loved the orange lilies--stunning. And lots of great links and resources--nice work!

bdkz on July 08, 2009:

LOVE this lens!

monarch13 on July 07, 2009:

Great job! Rolled to "Honey Bee Awareness".

wyrm11268 on July 07, 2009:

I really enjoyed reading your lens and have picked up a lot of tips.

I found it very peaceful and relaxing to read - I can see why you got your purple star.

Congratulations a big *5

Laniann on July 07, 2009:

Congratulations on your purple star. Excellent lens. 5*s

Carol Goss on July 06, 2009:

Very nice lens thanks for sharing

Linda Jo Martin from Post Falls, Idaho, USA on July 05, 2009:

Excellent information . . . I learned something today! Thanks for featuring my organic gardening journal lens!

puzzlerpaige on July 05, 2009:

You've got a ton of great information on this lens. I use many of these practices you've mentioned. By far, I think the most interesting part of my gardening is the compost pile. It is always full of surprises - I had countless tomatoes come up last year. Some folks frown on adding anything with seeds, but I say LIVE A LITTLE and find out what grows. Anyone who does not compost is missing out for sure. 5*

Nan from London, UK on July 03, 2009:

An excellent lens, and one I will come back to when we get our garden going where we want it.

vincetastic on June 29, 2009:

This is a fantastic lens naturegirl7. The "How To Mulch" video was especially helpful, we are in the processing of planning a garden and are looking for as much good information as possible. Squidoo has been a great place for it. We have a lens dedicated to top ten lists: You can post this to our site and link back to your lens. We are trying to create a directory for top ten lists where people can find your site. The coolest feature is you can let other people vote on the rankings of your list.

AlisonMeacham on June 27, 2009:

Excellent ideas and a wonderful lens. Angel Blessings to you

rio1 on June 27, 2009:

Another extremely beneficial lens with lots of environmentally friendly information.

Yvonne L B (author) from Covington, LA on June 27, 2009:

[in reply to spirituality] One way is to join a local native plant society. In Louisiana, we have the Louisiana Native Plant Society and the Folsom Native Plant Society. Both have websites. Another is to take a look around in natural areas that are similar to your own conditions, making note of the plants that grow well there.

religions7 on June 27, 2009:

Oh & blessed by a squidangel today :)

religions7 on June 27, 2009:

:) now that's the way to do a lensography. great tips. What I've always wondered though: how do you FIND the plants that are going to work locally? I mean - most places that sell plants, sell them by looks primarily.

Tonie Cook from USA on June 26, 2009:

Excellent lens! As a lifelong gardener, this will be a favorite of mine.

Samantha Lynn from Missouri on June 26, 2009:

Great info Thanks for Sharing!

ctavias0ffering1 on June 26, 2009:

Excellent job, sustainable is definitely the way to be. 5*

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