Drought and wildfires this year have put an exclamation point on how precious and precarious our natural resources are. Sustainable gardening practices are earth-friendly and an easy way for home gardeners to be in harmony with our natural surroundings. This fall, we can all implement some of these low maintenance sustainable gardening ideas.A good variety of plants will support pollinators and beneficial insects. Credit: Kathy Ikeda
Take care of your soil with mulch. At this time of year, add a few inches of mulch to the garden. It will prevent evaporation and suppress weeds. Be sure the mulch is not touching the base of your trees. Mulch prevents soil compaction by absorbing pressure from foot traffic and hard rains. As it breaks down, it adds nutrients to the soil. Compaction is a problem with our Marin clay soils, so make sure not to walk on the wet ground once the rainy season begins. Mulch also helps prevent erosion and water runoff. Keeping water on your land is a tenet of earth-friendly gardening.
Choose the right plant for your location and our Mediterranean climate but avoid plants that are invasive. Winter rains promote a healthy root system, so plant now. Choose low water plants to keep water bills down. Explore native plant choices that support local birds, bees, and insects. A good variety of plants will support pollinators and beneficial insects, which in turn will help control bad garden pests. A rule of thumb for attracting bees is to mass one kind of flowering plant in a three-foot, or larger, diameter. Avoid broad-spectrum insecticide use, which hurts both bad and good insects.
Now is the time to divide the perennials in your garden. Think about planting shade trees on the southern and western side of your house to keep yourself cooler in the summer. Put cool-season vegetable starts in your garden if you are giving the garden a rest, plant cover crops like fava beans, vetch, or clover. Cover crops fix nitrogen in the soil, prevent erosion, and can enrich the soil as “green manure” in the early spring.
Conserve water. Use permeable patio and path materials such as stepping-stones, pavers, decomposed granite, gravel, and path mulch so that rainwater is absorbed into the soil. Reduce your irrigation times as the days get shorter; remember to turn irrigation off completely once the rains come. Consider installing a smart controller for your irrigation system so it can do all the work for you. Choose drip irrigation to help use water wisely. Water deeply and less frequently to help plants send roots deeper into the soil. Collect rainwater for irrigation where feasible and allow it to run off your roof and into the garden rather than down storm drains.
There are hundreds of ways we can make our gardens more earth-friendly and sustainable throughout the year. For more suggestions, visit https://ucanr.edu/sites/gardenweb/General/_em_How_do_I_practice_sustainable_gardening__em_/