Sustainable Garden Design - 10 basic steps

What is Sustainable Garden Design? First, the technical definition is "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” according to the Brundtland Commission Report of 1987.

But what does that mean to you and your garden? It actually means lots of different things. Some are pretty easy to incorporate and others take a little more work. So each week I’m going to address a different way you can incorporate sustainable gardening into your life. Some will work for you, and some won’t. And that’s okay. You don’t have to incorporate them all. Just try as many as you feel comfortable with.

Below is a list of what I think of as the 10 basics steps. Watch for future blogs about each of these steps.

1) Start with a thoughtful plan. Think about all of the following before deciding on how you want to proceed.

2) Keep hardscape that is in good shape
a) For new hardscape (patios, paths, decks):
i) use reclaimed materials, such as:
(1) re-use existing stone or bricks that may be elsewhere on your property
(2) look for used materials at salvage yards, or on, etc

3) Keep plants that are healthy, especially large mature trees (they also add value to your property)

4) Choose new plants that are correct for each micro-climate
in your garden
i) sun/ shade requirements
ii) low water requirements
iii) choose the right size plant
iv) choose disease-resistant plants; natives usually fit this catagory
v) choose plants that are appropriate for your soil type: sandy, clay, loam

5) Practice soil building:
a) Add organic material occasionally, such as compost, earthworm tea, bat guano
b) Add live organic matter such as beneficial nematodes, microbials and earthworms
c) Allow leaf drop to decompose naturally into the surrounding soil, or compost first
d) Utilize soil testing laboratories, if necessary
i) Or plant in raised beds with the proper soil type

6) Use drip irrigation instead of overhead spray
a) This also keeps weeds at bay since you’re only putting water on individual plants and not spraying the surrounding soil

7) Harvest rainwater and grey water

a) Use a rain barrel to catch rain water
b) Harvest grey water from your kitchen sink, bathtub, washing machine
c) Give your irrigation system a break a few days a week and hand water with your gray water – this also gets you a closer look at your plants so you can see if they need special attention

8) Use mulch to help retain soil moisture
a) Redwood bark chips
b) Pine needles – great for acid loving plants like azaleas, rhododendrons, hydranges, etc.
c) Gravel or river stone (in small areas only, and not too much as to compact the soil)
d) Mulch may not be necessary in shady areas, as the shade helps keep the moisture in the soil. Also, mulch may be inviting to snails and other unwanted pests

9) Use IPM (integrated pest management) instead of chemicals to deal with bugs
a) Learn the ‘good bugs’ who eat the ‘bad bugs’
i) A few good bugs: red ladybugs, spiders, centipedes, earthworms
ii) A few ‘bad’ bugs: green ‘ladybugs’, aphids, most worms (except earthworms)
b) Invite birds and bees into the garden; they’ll help pollinate and the birds will eat the insects
c) Keep your plants healthy and strong so they can fight off pests on their own (see #3, 4 & 5 above)

10) Grow your own herbs, vegetables and fruits...
a) ...and reap the rewards of all your great efforts!

Watch for future blogs about each of these steps.

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