Guest Submission By Hannah Thomas
Just because plants are natural doesn’t mean that growing them in your yard makes them eco-friendly. People often use natural elements in their landscaping but choose, arrange, and maintain them in unnatural ways. It’s easy to avoid making unsustainable gardening mistakes. Here’s how to create low-maintenance, eco-friendly garden beds.

Work with your environment, not against it.

If you want your garden to survive with little to no maintenance, you need to provide the best possible conditions for the plants to thrive. Instead of bending over backward to recreate the type of environment the plants will like (like trying to establish a sub-tropical garden bed in the desert), focus on the plant selection. Choose native plants with preferences which match the conditions in your garden including the composition of the soil, amount of shade, sunlight, temperature, and water. This way it will only take minor efforts in order to make the plants thrive where they are. In their natural habitat, the plants will be able to complete their natural life cycle with little assistance.

Invite the birds and bees.

To create a truly eco-friendly garden, you will need inhabitants other than the plants. Focus on enticing in the pollinators and birds which will bring more life to your garden and promote the spread of seeds. Birds will enjoy having tall trees around while pollinators prefer some plants more than they do others. When you’re planning to attract bees to your garden, make sure you’re encouraging them to visit areas which are further away from your patio and your home. Honeysuckle, for example, is a fast-growing fragrant creeper but if you use it for a pergola over your patio, bees will constantly be buzzing around you.

Preserve natural resources.

When talking about valuable natural resources, perhaps the most important one is water. And no matter what type of garden you plant, you will inevitably have to water it. A couple of easy ways to reduce your use of the garden hose are by using a barrel to collect rainwater or using a bucket in your shower to collect excess water when you’re bathing. Alternatively, you can check into local regulations about grey water use and see if there is an organization in your area which could help you build an irrigation system which utilizes grey water from your home. If there isn’t one, look for online tips for how you can do this yourself. If you opt for grey water, make sure that the soap and the detergents you use are eco-friendly and safe for the particular plantings you’ll be watering.

Protect the plants naturally.

Instead of using toxic pesticides, opt for more natural solutions. Did you know that there are plants which can effectively repel harmful insects? Now you do. You can mix up your flower beds and your vegetables with some of these plants and keep them pest free. Also, another very efficient, although admittedly, tedious way of freeing your garden of those who are not welcome is by handpicking the uninvited guests.

Fertilize naturally.

In addition to natural pest control, you should also look into natural ways of fertilizing the soil. Home-made compost is the go-to solution for most. In addition to your regular compost pile, you can include used tea bags, tea leaves, coffee grounds, and even filters. Fresh coffee grounds, when sprinkled on the soil, can raise acidity levels and are good for those plants which enjoy high-acidity levels. Used coffee grounds are neutral and will not affect the PH balance of the soil. Furthermore, they can repel certain pests, slowly add nitrogen to the ground, stop your cat from littering your flower beds, and attract earthworms.

In conclusion, it’s all about permaculture.

Perhaps the most important set of skills or knowledge you should possess in order to make a sustainable garden is that of permaculture. These are the principles encompassing all of your eco-friendly efforts and joining them into creating a natural habitat where everything would work the exact same way it does in nature (going back to some of the points from the first paragraph). There are tons of great permaculture courses and guides you can use to increase your eco-knowledge.

In the end, you’ll have garden beds and landscaping which will not only be a perfect place to relax but will also give back to nature by supporting the natural ecosystem around you.