People are talking about sustainability all the time and it seems to be a catchword for a lot of things. Like all similar concepts sustainability only means something to people if you can actually do something. It is time we started to describe some techniques and actions people can take to move our gardens towards a sustainable garden.
In the last article we looked at planting types of plants that will grow in dryer areas. Taking that a step further we can choose a variety of plants for ordinary gardens that do not need as much water as some of our traditional plants. Choosing plants that like dryer conditions means less water usage therefore saving a little freshwater for other purposes. If everyone did this we could save an awful lot of fresh water.
Choosing New Zealand native plants for your garden is often expressed as sustainable. There is no doubt that choosing the right NZ native plants for your particular garden situation is the right thing to do and they will grow exceedingly well. However in NZ we have access to many other plants that will grow well and achieve similar goals. In choosing native plants or exotic plants always ask yourself "... is this the right plant for this place?"
Lawns. Again a water saving tip is to cut the lawns a little longer than we traditionally have done in NZ. We followed the English tradition of short fine lawns that need plenty of water. Cutting them longer, up to 5cm, will mean the lawn will stay greener longer without any watering. In California it is an offence to cut your lawns really short in order to save water. The benefit of a greener lawn for less work (and less money if you have to pay for water) is matched by a less weedy lawn as the grass will choke out lawns weeds.
Mulching provides many benefits to a garden. Firstly it will add nutrients to the soil, secondly it will help retain soil moisture by covering up the soil, Thirdly mulch is usually organic matter that has been processed rather than taken to a landfill. Mulch provides multiple sustainability benefits in gardening.
Composting at home also helps achieve sustainability. Preparing a compost heap is not at all hard. By composting our garden rubbish, weeds and prunings, we have no need to take them to a landfill, and when composted make a great mulch or additive to the vegetable garden which will promote further healthy plant growth.
Growing your own vegetables also helps our environment. With fresh home grown vegetables you will eat better. Not only that there are overall savings in transport costs, fertiliser, fuel, and insecticides.
Probably one of the most talked about subjects is the use of insecticides and fungicides. Both types of chemicals are indiscriminate and kill both the good and bad insects and fungi. This debate resulted in the organic growing movement becoming well respected. Today organic foods command a price premium over non organic foods. Reducing or eliminating these chemicals in the home garden is easy. One of the keys to reducing these chemicals is healthy plant growth stimulated by healthy soil. Healthy soils are created by adding good compost to the soil.
Sustainability does not occur in isolation. Various elements are interrelated to others. For gardening there are three key areas to concentrate on, the soil, plant choice and reduction in the use of chemicals. Spending some time adjusting these and working out the interrelationships in your own garden will help move towards a sustainable garden.