Do you imagine how much traditional gardening practices are harming our planet? If not, you may contribute to soil depletion, water pollution, biodiversity loss, and climate change. And if you are feeling like a botanical serial killer, fear not because I have a solution for you- sustainable gardening.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Sustainable gardening? Sounds like a lot of work, and isn’t that just a fancy way of saying ‘hippie gardening’?” But trust me, it’s not as intimidating as it sounds. You can turn your backyard into a bountiful oasis of fresh fruits and veggies by following simple, easy steps.

Imagine having a garden that feeds you, attracts pollinators, and promotes biodiversity. Plus, you’ll have bragging rights at your next dinner party when you can say, “Oh, these tomatoes? I grew them myself in my sustainable garden.”

Here we’ll explore the key principles and practices of sustainable gardening, including choosing the right plants. You’ll better understand how sustainable gardening can transform your green thumb into a green heart by the end.

 Let’s get to it!

Why is Sustainable Gardening Important?

Sustainable gardening greatly impacts the natural environment and is important for several reasons. Some of them are as follows:

Reduce Weed Spread 

Sustainable gardening practices like mulching reduces weed invasions by blocking light from reaching the soil, reducing weed seed germination.

Lock Up Carbon From the Environment 

Traditional horticulture and agricultural practices cause the depletion of carbon and soil. Composting adds carbon to the soil, increases bacterial and fungal life, and further locks up carbon. Green manures and animal manures contribute to addressing carbon levels and climate change.

Minimize Fertiliser Pollution of Waterways 

According to a study conducted in Perth, WA, nitrogen, and phosphorus from chemical fertilizer leach into groundwater, causing eutrophication and algal blooms. Alternative home garden sustainable techniques provide better management to minimize nutrient enrichment of groundwater and water bodies.

Reduce Harm to Wildlife from Horticulture Chemicals 

Growing edible native plants is healthy and reduces harm to many vertebrates, fishes, and birds. Pesticides contain toxic chemicals that may cause serious health issues(reduced growth, impaired immune function, etc.)to wildlife.

Promote Biodiversity 

Planting native plants that are well-suited to the local climate provides food and habitat for various wildlife. It creates diverse habitats like ponds and meadows.

Food Security 

Improve food security by providing fresh food, and reduce food waste by growing only what’s needed. 

Cost-Effective 

Sustainable garden practices reduce the need for expensive chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Additionally, it provides fresh, perennial fruits and vegetables, which can save money on groceries.

Good for Health 

Sustainable gardening provides several health benefits by promoting physical activities, access to fresh air, improving mental health, and providing a sense of accomplishment.

How to Make a Sustainable Garden -Especially if You’re a Beginner 

No need to make huge changes; some simple steps can transform your food garden into a sustainable gardening environment. And stay abreast of trends in eco-friendly gardening. Here are some tips and steps for sustainable gardening for beginners and pros that you can follow to grow a healthy, chemical-free garden.

Start with a Small Space 

If you’re new to gardening and want to grow a green, healthy garden, start from a small space of about 6×6 feet with up to five types of vegetables(you can grow more after you master the art). Plant a few of each kind of vegetable.

Pick a Spot with Plenty of Sunlight and Convenient Water Access 

Another thing to consider while selecting space for your home garden is the availability of adequate sunlight and water for your plants. Some plants can thrive for 6 hours of the direct morning sun but can’t withstand the intense heat of direct afternoon sunlight. Also, be cautious according to your plant varieties because the intensity of light matters a lot according to the type of plant and time of the day.

No Chemicals at All

Organic garden soil & fertilizers, organically raised beds, removal of weeds, and regular clean-up are keys to a sustainable garden.

Mulch your Yard

Mulching your garden(2-4 inches) helps you create a sustainable garden: it helps to protect against weed infestation and covers the ground from backing from direct sunlight. In addition, mulching your garden reduces the need for chemical fertilizers and helps the soil hold moisture.

Add shredded bark, straw, pine, grass clippings, cypress chips(repel bugs), and coir (made from coconut hulls) to your landscape for sustainable mulching.

Add Easy-Growing Natives Plants 

Growing native plants in a sustainable garden is a win-win for both the climate and the gardener. It helps you save money, is aesthetically pleasing, requires less maintenance, improves soil quality, supports local wildlife, and much more.

Limit Area of Law 

To make a sustainable garden, you have to limit and reduce the planted area to minimize the usage of resources.

Water Less 

Controlling the amount of water resources is another strategy to add to your gardening techniques. Especially If you live in areas of water crises, Xeriscaping, soil with plenty of organic matter, and mulch can be used for less water usage.

Grow Your Favorite Fruits and Veggies 

You can grow herbs, veggies, and fruits for a sustainable garden. Intensive cropping and successive crops will provide you with a continuous supply of your own food for warmer and cooler seasons. 

Plant Perennial 

To create a sustainable garden, you can plant Perennial plants; they live for years and don’t need to replant in each season. Planting perennials allows you to share them with friends and neighbors and helps save resources over time.

Preserve Seeds 

Saving seeds is an important part of sustainable gardening as it helps to preserve genetic diversity, reduce waste, and, most importantly, is a cost-effective gardening practice. You can save seeds by growing open-pollinated plant varieties naturally pollinated by insects or wind.

Compost Your Garden Waste 

Composting is a simple and organic way to grow a sustainable garden to reduce waste, improve soil health and sustain resources. Composting can be done using a composting bin, compost tumbler, or worm composting system.

Avoid Gas Powered Lawn Mower 

For a sustainable garden, avoid the usage of gas mowers and use their alternatives to reduce your carbon impact on the planet.

What Are Plant Hardiness Zones?

It is a standard system developed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)that determines a plant’s ability to thrive in cold winter temperatures. The zones are numbered from 1 to 13, with each zone representing a 10°F range in minimum temperatures. Be aware that plant hardiness zones are shifting with climate change.

Plant hardiness zones provide gardeners with information about which plants are likely to thrive in their local climate.

Plant Selection for Zones 4-8

Sustainable gardening ideas in zone 4-8 need special attention to climate and the growing condition of the plants. Here are some plant types you can grow in zones 4-8. Consider companion plants to increase biodiversity.

 Cold-hardy Vegetables:

In zones 4- 8, you can easily grow cold hardy vegetables because they can thrive in frosty and cold climates.

These include :

  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Kale
  • Carrots 
  • Peas
  • Swiss Chard

 Perennial Fruits and Berries:

Perennial fruits and berries are an excellent choice for zone 4-8 because they can live for several years and, once they succeed in growing, produce sufficient vegetables throughout the season. These rough and tough plants can survive unexpected extreme temperatures, droughts, animals, and insects.

These include:

  • Horseradish 
  • Dandelion 
  • Wild leeks 
  • Turkish Rocket 
  • Chives

 Drought-tolerant and Native Plants:

Drought-tolerant plants are an excellent choice for a sustainable garden because they can thrive even if your zone stretches without rainfall. Similarly, native plants are also a good choice because they provide a habitat for local wildlife and can be well-suited according to climate. Some of the native and drought-tolerant that can thrive well in zone 4-8 are:

  • Lavender
  • Russian sage
  •  Yarrow 
  • Artemisia 
  • Artichoke

Pollinator-friendly Flowers:

Growing pollinator-friendly flowers is one of the best sustainable gardening ideas. Because pollinators, such as bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, play an essential role in our ecosystems and are necessary for pollinating many plants. Examples of pollinator-friendly flowers include: 

  •  Red Yucca
  • Milkweed
  • Bee balm
  •  Salvia
  •  Phlox 
  • Charity Mahonia

Best Edible Plants to Grow in Hardiness Zone 4

Plants that endure winter temperatures of -30°F to -20°F can be called zone 4 plants like:

  • Okra 
  • Amur maple 
  • Daylily 
  • Walking Onion 
  • English Sorrel 
  • Black salsify

Best Edible Plants to Grow in Hardiness Zone 5

This zone has a short growing season lasting only from early June until early September. The best plants that thrive and grow are:

  • Asparagus 
  • Chives 
  • Mint 
  • Parsley 
  • Thyme 
  •  Daffodils
  • Ramps(onion, leek, garlic)

Best Edible Plants to Grow in Hardiness Zone 6

This zone has an average annual minimum temperature of -5 to 10 degrees F, and the growing plants can withstand a solid freezing climate. These are a few of the best plants to grow in this zone:

Best Edible Plants to Grow in Hardiness Zone 7

This zone has a medium to long growing season, with a frost-free period lasting from early May until late September. The best edible plants to grow in Zone 7 include:

  • Kale 
  •  Broccoli 
  • Peas 
  • Potatoes 
  • Turnips 
  • Radish
  • Hibiscus
  • Spinach

Best Edible Plants to Grow in Hardiness Zone 8

The warmest growing season in the US is zone 8, ranging from 10-20F. You can grow herbs, flowering plants, fruits, ground covers, Succulents, palm trees, and different vegetables in Zone 8.

  • Tree collards 
  • Capsicum 
  • Sweet potato 
  • Cabbage 
  • Cardoon 
  • Leek 
  • Onion

How can sustainable gardens help the environment?

Sustainable gardening practices can help promote environmental sustainability by reducing carbon emissions, conserving water, preserving biodiversity, reducing waste, and improving soil health.

Conclusion 

Sustainable gardening is a method focused on reducing the negative effect of gardening on the environment and promoting the health and well-being of plants, animals, and humans. In this article, I discussed incorporating edible native plants into the gardens to provide locally sourced food. Native plants can quickly grow in their local environment and adapt to their region’s climate and soil conditions without using excessive water, chemical fertilizers, or pesticides.

In zones 4-8, various types of native perennial fruits and vegetables can be grown. 

And if you’re looking for sustainable gardening for beginners or easy sustainable gardening ideas, this guide explains it all.

So don’t wait and add some edible native plants like tomatoes, okra, chives, etc., and treat your taste buds with your sustainable garden.

Author

Duaa Tahir is with Belo Gardens in Houston.

Research Sites

  1. https://extension.umd.edu/resource/sustainable-gardening-solutions-climate-change#:~:text=Home%20gardeners%20can%20be%20an,storage%20in%20soil%20and%20plants.
  2. https://www.sgaonline.org.au/why-sustainable-gardening/
  3. https://ec.europa.eu/research-and-innovation/en/horizon-magazine/rise-and-fall-monoculture-farming
  4. https://www.bhg.com/gardening/vegetable/vegetables/tips-for-growing-an-organic-vegetable-garden/
  5. https://www.bhg.com/gardening/gardening-by-region/northeast/top-native-plants-of-the-northeast/
  6. https://www.bhg.com/gardening/vegetable/vegetables/planning-your-first-vegetable-garden/
  7. https://originalhomesteading.com/grow-a-sustainable-garden/
  8. https://www.bhg.com/gardening/gardening-by-region/how-to-use-hardiness-zone-information/
  9. https://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=20077
  10. https://www.skh.com/thedirt/sustainable-gardening/
  11. https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=https://bosworthsgc.co.uk/%3Fsmd_process_download%3D1%26download_id%3D338643%23:~:text%3DHardy%2520vegetables%2520are%2520crops%2520that,and%2520perennial%2520artichokes%2520and%2520asparagus.&ved=2ahUKEwip44eN1bn-AhU4i_0HHb_mBbkQFnoECA0QBQ&usg=AOvVaw35eh9dG4D9_ks9CP4nQLle
  12. https://thegardeningcook.com/cold-hardy-vegetables/
  13. https://www.thespruce.com/water-wise-plants-drought-tolerant-gardens-2736715
  14. https://www.monrovia.com/be-inspired/grow-a-year-round-wildlife-habitat-garden-zone-6-8.html 
  15. https://www.gardenia.net/plants/hardiness-zones/4
  16. https://plantscraze.com/zone-4-perennials/
  17. https://www.masterclass.com/articles/zone-8-plants-guide
  18. https://www.bhg.com/gardening/yard/lawn-care/10-tips-for-sustainable-gardening/
  19. https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/garden-how-to/gardening-by-zone/zone-6/zone-6-vegetable-planting.htm

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