From: Carrie Schluter, ENN
Published March 31, 2005 12:00 AM

Sustainable Gardening for All

More and more people these days seem to be recognizing the multitude of reasons to plan and maintain an ecological landscape. Reducing pollution, conserving resources, and creating wildlife habitat are just a few of the end benefits to taking a sustainable approach to gardening. Ecological landscaping practices can be implemented in many ways and to a variety of degrees by the home gardener. As you gear up for spring, consider how you might make your garden more Earth-friendly.

Four ways to green up your garden:

Take another look at the food scraps and yard waste you generate in the course of any given day. Rather than adding to the local landfill, try recycling some of it in your own yard! Practiced correctly, backyard or "small-scale" composting can pay huge dividends in the garden, producing the nutrient-rich soil plants crave. Backyard composting can be achieved inexpensively and easily, so if you're just beginning to think about rolling some sustainable practices into your gardening efforts, think compost! The Master Composter Web site features a page on the basics of building a compost pile that's a good resource for beginners. The site also contains instructions for more advanced composting techniques, ingredients, and equipment:

Interested in taking composting to the next level? Bring on the worms! "Vermicomposting" lets earthworms do the work of turning kitchen waste into plant food, producing high-quality soil easily and inexpensively. Redworms (Eisenia fetida) are best for composting, and can be purchased from commercial worm growers. For more on vermiculture and vermicomposting, Mary Appelhof offers an unparalleled resource at

"Grasscycling" is an easy approach to composting that can be taken by anyone with a lawn. In addition, it will free you from the arduous chore of bagging grass clippings after you mow, since the idea behind grasscycling is that clippings left on your lawn will actually help to fertilize it. By grasscycling, you trim back on your contribution to the local landfill, improve your lawn's health, and spare yourself an aching back. What could be better? If you're interested in grasscycling on your property, following some basic guidelines will help you do it right. To get started, check out Earth 911's nice section on grasscycling.

Cover cropping
Another sustainable gardening concept to consider, cover cropping involves growing certain plants for the sole purpose of protecting and fertilizing the soil. Cover crops can have the added benefits of attracting beneficial bugs, preventing erosion, and staving off weeds and certain plant pathogens. Organic Gardening magazine has a helpful article, "Cover Crop Basics," available online.

Double digging
Also known as "double trenching," double digging is a soil cultivation process that can require some pretty concerted effort up front, with the promise of significant payback down the road. The idea behind double digging is that plants' roots thrive deep under the surface in fertile, loose soil. In short, the process involves digging parallel trenches more than a foot deep, adding compost and other soil amendments, and replacing the soil from trench one into trench two (and vice versa). You can find a nice, concise list of steps to take in double digging on

Companion planting
It pays to play matchmaker in your garden, because when plants in close proximity get along, you're bound to enjoy a healthier and more abundant garden. Plant tall, leafy plants to protect smaller ones that like shade, for example, or consider the impact of one plant to enrich the soil with nutrients needed by another. Some plants repel certain insects that would devastate others. Companion planting can be a fun way to make the complexities of nature work wonders for your garden. To help guide your companion planting choices, refer to GardenToad's Companion Plant Guide.

Whatever steps you choose to take to make your garden more sustainable, rest assured that your efforts will be rewarded: In addition to the environmental benefits, creating a more naturalistic landscape cuts down on maintenance requirements, freeing you up to spend more time enjoying your garden and less time working in it. Good news all the way around!

Photo by Bruce Fritz. United States Department of Agriculture/Research Service.

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