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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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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.

top-10-sustainable-gardening-methods

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