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Three Principles for a Sustainable Garden

What does it take to grow a garden that’s not only beautiful and productive but sustainable too? Whether you’re growing flowers, edibles, ornamentals, or a mix of all three, there’s a lot you can do to promote a healthy ecosystem in a residential garden. Use these principles to guide your eco-friendly garden project.

1. Choose the Right Plants

Plant choice is about more than aesthetics. The right plants help gardeners conserve water, manage pests, and attract pollinators among other garden benefits.

  • To identify plants that thrive in your area, pay attention to your USDA Hardiness Zone and site conditions including soil type, moisture, and light.
  • Native plants are a sustainable and low-maintenance choice for a garden. Use online search tools or visit a local native plant nursery to choose plants for your region.
  • Diversify your garden by choosing plants with a variety of growth habits and blooming periods. Incorporate vegetables, herbs, flowers, and both annual and perennial plants.

2. Conserve Water

In addition to choosing appropriate plants for your climate, take these steps to conserve water and minimize loss from evaporation and run-off.

  • Drip irrigation is the most efficient way to water a garden. Gardeners should water in the early morning and evening hours and water less frequently, but more thoroughly.
  • Rainwater catchment systems are ideal for vegetables and herbs while greywater systems reuse household water for trees, shrubs, and perennials.
  • Planned drainage improves plant health and prevents erosion. Always consult a professional for drainage projects.

3. Protect the Soil

The principles of healthy soil include always keeping your soil covered, minimizing soil disturbance, and maintaining living roots throughout as much of the year as possible.

  • This runs contrary to the tillage many gardeners are accustomed to, but it’s possible to start a no-dig garden by sheet mulching your garden site in the fall.
  • Biodegradable mulches protect bare soil in the organic garden. Mulches also control weeds, conserve water, and feed soil biology as they decompose.
  • It’s a common misconception that soil needs to rest. Perennials, cover crops, and cold-hardy annuals like carrots and kale sustain soil through fall and winter.

More tips for planning your garden project

Residential gardens run the gamut from small backyard patches to extensive landscaping projects complete with greywater systems, underground irrigation, and grading.

  • If undertaking a large landscaping project, work out the details including what it costs and how to pay for it before initiating work.
  • Track improvements with receipts and before-and-after photos. Landscaping improvements significantly impact a home’s value but may be hard to quantify without documentation.
  • If a project requires heavy or specialized equipment, weigh the advantages of renting versus buying. Renting is usually a better choice for short-term and one-off projects.


These are the most important principles for designing a sustainable garden, but it’s not all that gardeners can do to conserve resources and protect the environment. Turning food scraps into compost, creatively reusing materials, and practicing natural pest management are more ways to grow a garden that’s good for the Earth and you. For more products and resources to support your sustainable garden project, visit The Urban Farmer Store.



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