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Sustainability in the garden

In a world where sustainability has become more than just a buzz word, but a call to action to help protect our environment for future generations, it can seem overwhelming at times. There is so much that could be done, but at the same time feels like it could be too much that needs to be done to turn the tide for noticeable global improvement. However, that doesn’t mean we should do nothing at all. Even the smallest of efforts done in the backyard contributes to the overall effort. 

Gardening sustainably is easily attainable for individual gardeners, and seems like a logical place to start. The act of growing is caring for the environment in many ways.  If the garden is toxic, the plants won’t grow. So having a good healthy soil and keeping it that way is a good start towards creating an environmentally friendly backyard.

To ensure soil health, avoid plastic weed mats, which can do more harm than good. While they do suppress weeds, they also prevent the natural cycle of organic material that accumulates on the ground being incorporated in the soil, which instead builds up above the weed mat and hosts the very weeds you are trying to prevent. It then becomes an impenetrable layer within the soil that eventually begins to break down and pollutes the soil and surrounding environment with micro plastics. The alternative is to weed well first, and then lay a thick mulch of natural materials without the weed mat in between.

Replenishing the nutrients used by the plants during the growing season helps keep the soil healthy. You can’t keep harvesting without giving back. Composting is a good way to recycle the nutrients from the garden and there are many ways to create a rich organic compost for use in the garden. 

Cover crop

Growing a green manure such as mustard, lupin or even oats after the crops have finished is another great way to rejuvenate the soil with fresh organic material. Just chop and drop or dig in before the crop begins to flower for the best results.

All of the insect communities can be supported in the garden. Although not all are as welcome as others, they all have a place. The pest insects can provide a meal for the beneficials, so it is a good idea to grow plants to attract all insects alongside the nectar-rich and pollinator-friendly flowers and plants. This can include a trap crop for intentionally luring pest insects away from your desirable plants. For minor problems, allow nature to adjust the balance. It is also important to spray responsibly. If you need to, use a targeted pesticide for a specific problem and spray at a time less likely to harm other insects, like in the early morning to avoid the bees who like a late start to the day.

There are many tools and accessories you can buy for the garden. Many are essential tools to enable the work in the garden to be done, like a spade or a rake. Others can be quite innovative and make the tasks easier and therefore more enjoyable. But then there are the out right gimmicks that nobody really needs. From a sustainability point of view, it is always best to buy the best quality products you can afford so you don’t end up constantly replacing broken or worn-out tools.  

To make the tools you have invested in last, it is important to look after them.  Don’t leave them out in the garden. Clean them and bring them into a shed or dry location at the end of each day. Keep blades sharp, and joints well oiled. Protect wooden handles with a coating such as linseed oil. Good tools can last a very long time when well cared for and maintained.

There are many consumable items associated with gardening, such as seed trays and plant pots, bagged compost, labels, string, spray, and plant food bottles to name just a few. Make an assessment of what you regularly use in the garden and see if you can make changes so their use is more sustainable. There are a few garden centres and other locations that allow you to drop off unwanted plant containers for others to use or for recycling. If you do need to buy seed trays or containers, consider ones that are strong and robust and will last for many seasons. 

Think about re-purposing product packaging too. Open compost bags in such a way that they can be re-used as bags for rubbish or storage. Check to see if the bottles that contain plant food, sprays and other solutions are recyclable. Always clean them out before adding them to the recycling bin. Make garden labels from natural items like rocks or wooden sticks. Natural jute or twine is more environmentally friendly than plastic or nylon based strings and ties. Also, it will last a growing season well, and can be composted after use.


Water is another important resource that shouldn’t be wasted. Often the growing season coincides with a period of drought, making responsible water use even more important. To use less water in the garden, water at the soil where the plant needs it – not on the leaves. And watering early in the morning or early evening will ensure the least water is lost to evaporation. Avoid over-watering by knowing how much water the garden actually needs. In desperate times, grey water can be diverted from the house to water ornamental gardens. For health and safety reasons though it isn’t recommended for use on edibles, and it is also important not to use harsh cleaning chemicals that could harm the plants. Environmentally friendly cleaning products are better all round in terms of sustainability.

Using technology when watering can ensure water is used well. An adjustable sprinkler can be set so it only waters the garden and falls short of paths and fences.  A water computer can be set to automatically water for a set amount of time at the ideal time of day, delivering water exactly where it is needed.

In terms of making adjustments to improve your sustainability and contribute to making the world a better place, the garden is a great place to start.