Environmentally Responsible Gardening 101

In honor of Earth Day - Here's a crash course in some of the easiest ways to be sustainable and responsible in your gardening and landscaping practices because there is no Planet B...


4/23/20225 min read

In honor of Earth Day, this week I decided to embark on the rather monumental task of talking about environmentally responsible and sustainable gardening practices. Oof, I know right? Originally, I was like "yeah, sure I can talk about this in one blog post", but then as I began thinking it over, and listing my favorite ways to accomplish this, plus some of the ones I've yet to try, the list got longer...and longer...and longer...and... well, you get it.

So, this post will be one of a few installments and as we go along, I will add to it in new posts, connect back to a few things I've already talked about, and we can learn to be more sustainable together :)

Here are a few of my favorite ways to be more environmentally responsible with your garden:

  1. Improve the Health of your Soil
    This is really pretty simple and is where every gardener should start. Your soil is your foundation and it's a big part of achieving environmental responsibility. Soil not only stores carbon, but in doing so creates a home for billions of microorganisms, bacteria, fungi, bugs and critters that help keep our planet healthy. To avoid releasing this stored carbon, try to only dig when planting - that way what you plant can make up for the release later on and then some. Enriching your soil really comes down to our next sustainable idea - Soil Amendments!

  2. Use Soil Amendments and Make Compost!
    There are many different soil amendments, depending on your goals and the deeper you dive into gardening know-how the more you will learn, but the most basic and possibly most important soil amendment is COMPOST! Compost is great for improving soil structure and integrity, as well as delivering essential nutrients directly to your plants root systems. You can purchase compost from a garden center or make your own. There are tons of tutorials online for how to begin composting, but first deciding which method you want to use will help you know where to look. There are three basic methods: hot, cold, and vermicomposting. Cold is the lazy way (and currently what I'm doing lol), hot involves intentional layering, watering and turning for a faster output, and vermicomposting involves using earthworms to do your composting for you. For more info on these and other soil amendments, head over to my post "Soil Amendments: The Basics" and fall down the rabbit hole of soil enrichment!

  3. Plant Plenty of Pollinator Favorites
    "If the bee disappears from the surface of the Earth, man would have no more than 4 years left to live." This quote, often attributed to Albert Einstein, accurately conveys the absolute importance of pollinators. Should we fail to protect them, then there could no longer be pollination and without pollination there could be no growing of food. So, it stands to reason, that every gardener - seasoned or novice - should take a pointed interest in the well-being of pollinators. This does not, however, begin and end with the honeybee. Bees (mason, bumble, honey), butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, wasps, and even birds and bats can ALL be pollinators, and an estimated 75-95% of all plants on Earth need help with pollination. Damn, that's a lot. So how can we help them? Provide them with plenty of food (native nectar) and lots of habitat (native plants and trees). It's that simple. For more ways to help and a list of pollinator advocate organizations, check out my post "I Like Bee Butts..." you won't be disappointed ;)

  4. Collect your Rainwater/Create a Rain Garden
    Collecting rainwater is as easy as purchasing a rain barrel and positioning it under a down spout. Now of course you can get fancier, like installing a rain chain underneath it so you can watch the magical cascade of water down a beautiful chain every time it rains, but you definitely don't have to do this in order to save some rainwater and use it to water your plants. If you really like it, install a couple more depending on the size of your property and score major points in the name of water conservation! Using rain barrels also helps reduce stormwater runoff (which can take nasty toxins all the way to our oceans). While you're at it, reach for the trusty water can, rather than the hose as it can help you conserve water also.
    Creating a true rain garden is a little more complicated, but not a lot - it involves using a natural slope to divert water that runs off your home down to your garden, where you hopefully have deeply rooted varieties of plants. You can use river rock and decorative rock, bury drainage, and plant native deep-root plants that have both high and medium water needs - with the high water need plants occupying the center of your space. You may also need splash rocks to cut down on splatter during heavy rains, and mulch to help hold moisture in when temperatures climb. There are many how-tos all over the internet.

  5. Use Natural Means of Pest Control
    A truly environmentally responsible garden does not rely on pesticides for pest control, but rather employs a more organic approach, opting instead for companion planting, sustainable fertilizers, and encouraging the beneficial bugs who happen to be the natural predators of the pests you so vehemently want to get rid of...believe me, I know the rage and sorrow of holding a lifeless seedling in your hands after a nasty wireworm has had its way with it. I feel the same disgust when I happen upon an unsuspecting plant prodigy who has been completely engulfed in aphids. I get it. And while I would like nothing more in that moment than to DDT their butts into oblivion, I know that those chemicals are indiscriminate - annihilating everyone in their path, including the hard-working honeybee and the adorable albeit murderous lady bug. For more on common pests, their predators and how to approach a pesticide free garden, check out my post "A Bevy of Bugs".

  6. Create Homes for Beneficial Critters
    If you tackle and succeed with many of the suggestions on this list, then it is only a matter of time before you will be visited by the local wildlife who may be looking for things to eat, and places to live and explore. Many people call it "rewilding" your garden space, and providing shelter for everything from bees to butterflies, bats to snakes and even owls can assist a healthy ecosystem in becoming its best, most harmonious self. Then you get to sit back and watch nature in its truest form - enjoy, you helped do that.

  7. Grow Native Plants
    Including plants that are native to your area will help support the native ecosystem; they will provide food and homes for native wildlife from insects and animals, all the way down to fungi and microorganisms. Choosing plants that are already acclimated to your climate and unique regional soil composition can also eliminate the need for extra feeding and watering, which fits right in to the idea of being more environmentally responsible! A quick internet search will reveal that most states have their own native plant landscaping guides for gardeners and homeowners and some even have a list of native plants for you to choose from.

  8. Upcycle When Possible
    It can be tempting as soon as the weather begins to change in the spring to buy new garden tools, furniture and even pots, but consider whether you already own perfectly functional gear that just needs a little TLC. Some pots can be painted, furniture can be cleaned and sometimes painted, and garden tools can be cleaned of rust and oiled to seem just like new. If you get creative, many of these items can also be upcycled into "yard art", or unique containers for plants. Alternatively, you can visit your local thrift store to see what might be available without having to buy everything brand new.