Gardening, by nature, is a “green” activity—but by practicing sustainable gardening, you can make sure that your garden has a positive impact on the earth. When you garden in a sustainable way, you produce less waste, use fewer chemicals, and work with nature, rather than against it. These practices will benefit your garden and can contribute to a greener, healthier future for the entire planet.

In this comprehensive guide, learn everything you need to know about sustainable gardening, from what to plant to how to dig in and get started. 

Quick Links

What Is Sustainable Gardening? 

Planting a garden that benefits, rather than harms, the environment is the essence of sustainable gardening. Generally, sustainable gardeners aim to reduce waste, use no chemicals, and grow sustainable plants that benefit the local ecosystem, including wildlife and insects. 

Why Is Sustainable Gardening Important? 

No matter how small, a sustainable garden can make strides toward mitigating climate change and benefitting the planet. A sustainable garden mimics a natural environment, where no chemicals are used and the cycle of tree and plant death enriches the soil to support new growth. Sustainable gardening techniques can limit carbon emissions, prevent water pollution, and support endangered species, like certain types of bees. 

Benefits of Sustainable Gardening 

Reduced Carbon Emissions

Yes, the simple act of gardening can reduce carbon emissions! Traditional gardening methods often use fertilizers, which are only partially absorbed by plants. The remaining fertilizer either runs off into nearby waterways or is broken down by the soil and released as greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. By not using fertilizers—and instead, using nutrient-rich compost and mulch—your garden can help limit carbon emissions.  

Less Waste 

Sustainable gardening calls for the use of compost, which provides a way for you and your household to put food waste to use, rather than simply throwing it away. In addition, this type of gardening takes advantage of yard debris, like clipped grass and dead plant leaves, so you don’t have to bag it up and leave it for the weekly trash pickup.

Support for Endangered Species 

By cultivating native plant and flower species, you can attract and support local endangered species, like certain types of bees. By opting not to use pesticides and chemicals, you can provide a safe haven for these pollinators to thrive and continue their important work in the environment. 

Types of Sustainable Gardens

Flower Garden

If you want a sustainable garden full of beautiful, colorful blooms, consider planting a flower garden. Make sure to plant native flower varieties that bloom at a variety of times during the year. This will attract a steady stream of pollinators, like bees, butterflies, and birds, to your garden. If all of your flowers bloom at the same time, on the other hand, you’ll dramatically shorten that window, reducing those pollinators’ food sources. 

Vegetable Garden 

With a sustainable vegetable garden, you can grow your own food and live a little more self-sufficiently. To make the biggest impact, consider planting sustainable vegetables by season—for example, you could grow lettuce in the spring, followed by a hot-weather crop, like tomatoes, in the summer. 

Raised bed garden in yard.
Source: unsplash
With a sustainable vegetable garden, you can make fewer trips to the grocery store. 

Pollinator Garden

A pollinator garden contains plants that are attractive to bees, butterflies, and birds. By planting this type of garden, you can supply these essential creatures with a reliable food source—and in return, their pollination will allow your garden to produce an even bigger bounty of fruits, vegetables, and blooms. 

Bee Garden

Bees are an essential part of our ecosystem—but unfortunately, many types of these insects are endangered or in decline. Creating a sustainable bee garden is an effective way to do your part to support bee populations by supplying food, shelter, nesting sites, and protection from pesticides and insecticides.

Butterfly Garden

Similar to bees, butterflies are effective pollinators—but there are many species of butterflies that are currently in decline. When you plant a butterfly garden full of sustainable plants that are attractive to these insects, you support them with food, water, shelter, and a safe place to lay eggs. 

Butterflies in wild flowers
Source: unsplash
A sustainable garden can support important pollinators like butterflies and bees. 

Bird Garden 

Bird gardens are designed to attract a range of different birds—which of course, is ideal for birdwatchers. However, birds aren’t just pretty; they also serve practical purposes, including pest control and pollination. Birds also eat weed seeds, so pesky weeds don’t even have a chance to grow—no herbicides necessary.  

Sustainable Indoor Garden

If you have a small outdoor space—or none at all—it’s completely possible to plant a sustainable indoor garden. You can grow plenty of sustainable vegetables, plants, and herbs inside your house, which can mean fewer trips to the store and a reduced impact on the environment.

No Yard? No Problem.

Indoor Gardening: Grow Houseplants, Veggies, and Herbs

How to Start a Sustainable Garden

Step 1: Determine What to Plant 

Before you dig in, it’s important to consider what to plant in a sustainable garden. No matter what type of space you want to create, opt for sustainable garden plants that are native to your area. These will require less maintenance because they’re already acclimated to your location’s weather and soil conditions. Within that list of native plans, look for types that repel pests, improve soil quality, and can be used for companion planting. 

Step 2: Prepare the Soil 

Next, prepare your garden bed with compost and mulch. These are critical components of a sustainable garden, as they help the soil lock in essential nutrients and improve water retention—which means less manual watering.

Bugs view of flowers in a garden.
Source: unsplash
Covering your garden bed in mulch can help it better retain water, which means it will require less watering. 

Step 3: Plant Strategically 

As you plant your seeds or seedlings, keep the benefits of companion planting in mind. Growing certain sustainable garden plants close to each other can benefit both plants. For example, tomatoes grow well next to basil and other herbs, and carrots benefit from being planted near beans, lettuce, or onions. Companion planting can also help attract pollinators. 

Step 4: Plant Continually 

Part of planting a sustainable garden is working with, rather than against, the environment. In practice, this means planning out your garden for every season. If you plant a vegetable that can only be harvested once in a growing season, such as carrots or beets, have a plan for what you can add to your garden once you pick them. This will help you maintain optimal nutrients in the soil, provide a long-term source of food for pollinators, and make sure you have food throughout all of your growing seasons. 

Step 5: Harvest Seeds 

At the end of each growing season, save some seeds from each of your plants. Just make sure you dry them completely and store them in a cool, dark place so they will be ready for planting your garden next year. By doing this, you can make your garden sustainable and self-sufficient. 

Sustainable Gardening Methods

Reduced Lawn 

One of the best sustainable gardening methods is to reduce the size of your yard by replacing it with garden beds. Caring for a big lawn requires lots of resources, including water, pesticides, and gas for your lawnmower. By establishing a garden in place of some of that lawn, you can mow and water less frequently while supporting beneficial wildlife and insects. 

Cottage looking bug house with large garden full of flowers.
Source: unsplash
By replacing some or all of your lawn with a garden, you can reduce the resources you spend on yard maintenance. 

Lasagna Garden

This low-effort method of creating a sustainable garden begins in the fall. Simply map out where you want to plan your garden, and over the fall and winter, begin layering in compostable materials, such as newspapers, coffee grounds, leaves, and kitchen scraps. By the spring, you’ll have a perfectly prepared planting bed. 

Keyhole Garden 

A keyhole garden is a circular plant bed with a compost bin in the middle (and a small wedge cut out so you can access the bin). This type of garden is designed to be self-fertilizing, as the compost will filter into the garden soil every time you water the garden. 

Sustainable Gardening Supplies

To create a sustainable garden, you can use many traditional supplies, like shovels, rakes, and plant pots. Swapping in a few sustainable gardening tools and supplies, however, can make your garden even more eco-friendly. 

Heirloom Seeds

Modern seeds are often hybrids and have been bioengineered to withstand modern farming practices. Heirloom seeds, on the other hand, have been cultivated for years (many have more than a 50-year history!) and can lead to a healthier, better-tasting crop. 

Mulch

Mulch is an essential component of sustainable gardening. It helps trap moisture in your soil, so your garden will require less watering, and it prevents weeds from popping up.

Compost Pile

Another element of a healthy garden bed, compost is a great natural fertilizer. However, it takes some time to turn your food waste and organic matter into compost, so you will need a bin or box to store it as it develops. 

Rain Barrel  

Watering your garden with water from your house can be a drain on your water bill. Instead, opt for a rain barrel, which captures rainwater and gives you a plentiful supply of H2O for your garden. 

Sustainable Gardening Tips and Techniques 

Plant Trees

While you may focus your garden around flowers, fruits, and vegetables, also consider adding some trees to your garden. Trees can help improve air quality, provide shade, protect from the wind, and attract additional pollinators. 

Make Your Own Compost

One of the most essential sustainable gardening techniques, composting won’t only help your garden grow more effectively; it also provides a way for you to reduce your food waste. There’s a bit of a learning curve behind the exact science of composting (you have to add the right combination of different materials to achieve optimal decomposition), but it all starts by adding your food scraps to a container, rather than throwing them away. But don’t get discouraged—the benefits are worth it! 

Commit to No Chemicals

When you don’t use pesticides or herbicides, you can face difficulties like weeds and unwanted pests. However, there are many natural remedies for these challenges. For example, ladybugs eat aphids, so they are a welcome addition to your garden. And boiling water can be a safe and effective method for killing weeds. There are plenty of chemical-free options—you just need to do a little research. 

Dig In 

Creating a sustainable garden is good for you and the planet. Grow your own fruits and vegetables, support endangered pollinators, and do your part to mitigate climate change—all while indulging in the relaxing and meditative habit of gardening. So dig in and start planting! 

Planting Flowers for the First Time? 

Gardening 101: A Guide For Growing & Caring For Plants