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  • Sarah Gerhardt

Principles for sustainable gardening

Updated: Apr 27

A small tortoiseshell butterfly is sitting on an Everlasting Wallflower
Small Tortoiseshell butterfly on Everlasting Wallflower (Photo: Sarah Gerhardt)

We often use sustainable gardening and organic gardening interchangeably and advice for gardening in these ways is similar. Cultivating fruits, vegetables, and flowers without the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers is organic gardening. Growing sustainably adds a broader sense of care for the environment to the equation. It means minimizing your impact on the environment and encouraging its regeneration.

There are no strict rules as to what constitutes sustainable gardening but there are certain guidelines.

Here are 4 principles that a sustainable gardener should adopt:

1. Take time to plan and design your garden in a way that will make it easier to manage it sustainably in the future.

Make sure to use the right plant for the right space. For example, avoid sun-loving plants in deep shade and acid-loving (ericaceous) plants in alkaline soil.

Plant natural repellents such as rosemary to combat pests and diseases and research companion planting. Consider plants that attract useful insects. (See our blog post on planting for pollinators). There are plenty more ideas for a sustainable gardening design that you might like to explore.

2. Create means to conserve water and water wisely.

Even a historically wet place like Scotland is experiencing more and more dry summers. If you live further south, this is even more of an issue. Try collecting water during wet spells to use during periods of drought.

An easy way to conserve water is to install a water butt and collect water that would otherwise evaporate. Mulching helps the soil to retain moisture and improves drainage. When watering, drip irrigation and low-angle sprinklers are much more effective than traditional hose pipes and sprinklers.

In summer water at the start or end of the day to avoid the hot midday periods. Water around the root of the plant and try to avoid wetting the leaves. This way the water does not immediately evaporate or cause sun scorch on leaves.

3. Make your own compost and mulch.

Gardens generate a regular flow of organic waste that you can put to good use. A hot composter is a quick and efficient way to produce weed-free compost for use in your sustainable garden. But even a regular old compost bin does a good job of breaking down your garden waste materials.

If you have a lot of woody prunings look into electric chippers or shredders to create your own mulch. Let fresh wood chips break down for a few months to ensure they are safe to use on your beds.

4. Use hand tools and electric power tools.

You can reduce your ecological footprint a lot by avoiding petrol-powered tools and appliances. As much as possible use hand tools and, if necessary, electric tools.

If you have to use petrol-powered tools try to have them available close to where you are going to use them. This way you avoid unnecessary transport (or use a cargo bike 🙂). Prolong the life of your tools by investing in quality and looking after them.

We hope these 4 principles have given you some sustainable garden ideas that you would like to apply in your own garden. Or that they have confirmed the sustainable garden practices that you are already using. 

Watch out for our next blog post on 3 benefits of sustainable gardening.

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