The term sustainable can be defined as “requiring no outside inputs.” A sustainable garden, although needing to be pruned and groomed as to not become a forest, has many benefits over the tradition flower garden. Sustainable gardens require no fertilizer, less watering, are low maintenance and they improve soil quality tremendously. Due to a concern with the environment all over the world, sustainable garden is coming forward.
Fertilizer is the main concern. In Wisconsin, for example, fertilizer runoff into the smaller lakes has caused many problems. First: water pollution. The water now has chemicals in it that are harmful and cannot be consumed. The fertilizer is also creating rapid underwater plant growth. Lakes that were once blue and clear to the bottom are now grey green with zero visibility. This pollution does not just affect the plants but the fish as well. Many species of fish are dying off and others are mutating over time. Another downside to fertilizer is that the process in which it is created requires fossil fuels. We want to conserve fuels, not waste them on plant steroids.
Water scarcity around the world because of drought and lack of new sources of fresh water is addressed with sustainable gardening. By using native or drought resistant plants in a sustainable garden, less watering is needed. It is also recommended that plant watering happens directly at the root. This keeps the plant happy, well-fed and means less watering of unnecessary dirt patches. Using less water also minimizes a water utility bill.
The basic components of a sustainable garden are the organic methods and inputs, water quality and conservation and plant selection.
1. The first step is to set up the garden space. Reducing storm water runoff and using less impervious surfaces helps in creating a healthy, non-flooding environment. This can be done using rain barrels or rain gardens.
2. Select your plants. Drought resistant and native plants are the safest option, however perennials, larger grasses, and tough shrubs are also very successful for this type of garden. The plants should be grouped together with other that have similar watering needs, so as to not waste. It is also important to consider the health of the plants. Make sure to choose those that are the most pest-resistant and disease-resistant. If planting trees, deciduous trees should be to the south of the home to maximize shading on your structure for example. On the north, plant evergreens for winter wind protection.
3. Remember to conserve. Be water smart and instead of using a sprinkler with lots of evaporation and waste, water the plants directly at the roots; this is also sometimes called xeriscaping. A little side note, reuse that plastic milk jug. Poke holes in it to make a great watering can or use perforated hose pipe with water coming out at a trickle for more direct root watering.
4. Enjoy! Every once in a while the garden will need to be tamed because left alone it can become a forest. Weeding can be done by hand or even with a 10% vinegar solution!
Sustainable gardening has both financial and environmental benefits and creating this unique garden space adds to appeal of your home.
(SE, EB, edit JLD)