There are many benefits to adopting sustainable practices in your garden. Benefits include making it low maintenance, reducing the need for watering, eliminating the need for artificial fertilisers or chemicals and reducing the need to mow lawns. Garden rubbish and food scraps that go to landfill could instead go into a compost to create food for your garden soil.
Sustainable practices effectively create an environment-friendly and cost-effective garden. Here are some practices you can do in your garden.
Wise water use and conservation
People who rely on household water tanks for their water supply know only too well how precious water resources are - especially if there is a prolonged period without rain. Water reservoirs that supply mains (reticulated) water could be considered as large ‘water tanks' - in this case supplying many homes. Similar to household water tanks, if it does not rain, water levels in reservoirs drop.
During the summer or drier periods many councils in Tasmania impose water restriction, particularly focused on the use of water in the garden.
There are many things you can do to reduce the amount of water you use in the garden:
- Grow native plants. Many native species have evolved to cope with minimal water and are drought tolerant - however they may need watering in the first few months until established.
- Make sure you have the water available and are able to water new plants for their first few months.
- Preferably plant in the autumn when there is a greater chance of rain and reduced loss to evaporation.
- Mulch to reduce evaporation and run-off - but keep the base of the main stem or trunk clear to reduce the risk of collar rot.
- Water the base of plants, not the leaves.
- Alternative lawns can be grown with a wide range of suckering plants that create living mulch. Drier and more exposed areas are suited to growing Kidneyweed (Dichondra repens), Matted pratia (Pratia pedunculata) and Native viola (Viola hederacea).
- Let lawns die back in the warmer months rather than wasting water to keep them green. Alternatively, grow native grasses such as Kangaroo grass (Themeda triandra), Silver tussock grass (Poa species) or Wallaby grass (Austrodanthonia species). Native grasses have the benefit of being drought tolerant (remaining green for longer), do not require fertilisers and provide seed heads for feeding birds.
- The addition of compost or organic matter to the soil greatly improves soil health and greatly assists with water retention.
- Collect rain water in tanks - use it on your garden.
- Water the garden, not the path or other hard surfaces. Use trigger sprays on hand-held hoses to reduce loss of water as you move from one area to another.
- Water in the early morning or late afternoon to allow water to soak in reducing loss to evaporation.
- Remove weeds as they compete with garden plants for water.
- Sweep garden paths with a broom - don't use a hose.
Can you think of any other ways to reduce water use in the garden?
Recycling in your garden
Recycling of garden waste is an important means of returning valuable organic matter, minerals and nutrients to the soil that may have been extracted following the removal of vegetation or harvesting of vegetable crops.
Worm farms are useful for smaller gardens to turn food scraps and smaller loads of garden waste into a valuable soil conditioner.
Compost or mulch can be used to provide natural fertiliser to your garden, returning nutrients to the soil for recycling by the many invertebrates and fungi which live in your soil, and those that further breakdown organic matter on the soil surface.
The productivity and biodiversity of our landscape, including our gardens, is strongly dependent on soils. Soil is a valuable resource and can take many, many years to form. To learn more about the creatures that live in your soil, what they do and how they help keep your garden productive have a look at 'Soils Alive!'
The addition of organic matter or compost to soil can greatly restore and improve the productivity and condition of degraded soils. Another important factor is that increasing or maintaining soil organic matter content improves water retention capacity and efficiency - an important consideration with water wise gardening. It also improves soil structure and reduces compaction which is important for the health of soil invertebrates.
Reducing chemicals in your garden
Water that falls on your roof, driveway, garden and roadways eventually ends up in stormwater drains and eventually in our waterways. Stormwater is generally not treated, so all the excess fertilisers, pesticides and other toxicants (such as oils) that run-off from gardens drain into our creeks, rivers, estuaries and bays via stormwater drains.
This can have far-reaching negative impacts on the biological health and water quality of the receiving waters. This can cause algal blooms, unsafe water for swimming or other water sports and a decline in the health and biodiversity of aquatic ecosystems.
So what you do in your garden, combined with run-off from other gardens where we live, all increases the contaminants that are carried in stormwater.
By reducing the use of chemicals in our gardens we can all contribute to improving the quality of stormwater and hence the health of our waterways.
Things that you can do include:
- Plant native plants. Unlike many introduced species natives generally have little requirement for added nutrients and are sensitive to artificial fertilisers - so save yourself money by not buying artificial fertilisers.
- Avoid using pesticides in your garden as they will reduce the biodiversity of wildlife species and the health of your garden plants. Birds, bandicoots, lizards, frogs and insects (such as Soldier beetles, lacewings and ladybird beetles) are excellent natural pest controllers - they feed on insects and help maintain a healthy balance.
- Pesticides can harm or kill insect-feeding wildlife through eating poisoned insects. The loss of insect-feeding wildlife can affect plant health - leaf-eating insects without control or regulation may increase in numbers and severely impact the health of plants.
- Use alternative, non-toxic forms of pest insect control such as plastic bottle traps, desiccants (such as wood ash).
Illustration by Kris Schaffer