When you love nature, eco-friendly, beneficial garden choices matter. Gone are the harmful, quick fixes and instead we look at the big picture following tips and principles that benefit the environment long-term—and create a thriving growing space.
For more ideas also see 60 Plants Butterflies Must Have To Survive.
Gardening With Nature
These eco-beneficial garden tips are smart yet simple. Back in the day we called it organic gardening. Today it may go by eco-beneficial, eco-friendly, regenerative, or just simply common sense gardening.
Once you decide to garden with the big picture in mind—what’s best for your garden as living contributor to our eco-systems—garden decisions become much easier.
Forget the quick fixes, harmful products, and short-term solutions that helped get us into this environmental pickle.
Instead, look at the whole circle of life and consider the long-range consequences.
Provide a diverse selection of plants suited for your location.
Replenish your soil. Protect waterways. Decrease pollution.
And then step back, grow those veggies, trees, flowers, and fruits, and let nature do what nature does best.
Is my garden part of a healthy ecosystem?
Here are some goals:
- Healthy soil, air, and water: no pollutants, herbicides, or pesticides
- Plants that provide food & habitat for local wildlife including pollinators enabling a sustainable food web
- Climate-smart attributes: sequestering carbon dioxide, natural water filtration and management
- Regenerative, sustainable systems
- Gardening With Nature—Not Against It
- Growing Conditions
- Seed Sowing
- Too Good To Be True
- Seed Saving
- Pruning & Deadheading
- Garden Smarter Not Harder
- DIY / Frugal
- Rule Breakers
Eco-Beneficial Garden Tips
Gardening With Nature—Not Against It
1 Clean is for houses—not gardens. Dead, dying, and decaying plants bring new life. Let nature do what it does best and resist the urge to make things clean and tidy.
2 If you do not see a lot of different insects, other arthopods, animals, and organisms throughout your garden, you’re not doing it right.
“There are 1.4 billion insects per person on this planet and we need (almost) every one of them.”National Geographic
3 Getting neighbors to accept a pollinator-friendly garden is much more about your neighbors liking you than the fact that it’s a good thing to do. Baking cookies and cheerful banter may just help save the earth.
4 Don’t assume because a plant is sold at local plant nursery that it is a non-invasive species or suitable for your garden. Lots of nuisance plants are sold every year. Research your plant choices and find out what is best for your climate, region, and conditions.
5 Along with other issues associated with pesticide use, putting up bird feeders or growing plants to attract birds (or other wildlife) while using pesticides is senseless. Birds cannot survive without eating insects and other invertebrates. To poison the food is to poison the bird. Or butterfly. Or bee. And so on.
6 Before trying to solve a garden problem, ask:
- Is this really a long-term problem?
- What will happen if I leave it be?
- Will the remedy or solution cause other harm?
7 Treat your garden like the unique individual that it is. Get to know your plant hardiness zone, average first and last frost dates, climate, native plants, wildlife, light, drainage, and soil conditions. These details are key when making garden decisions.
8 Read your seed packets and follow any recommended seed preparations. There’s a lot of helpful information on those little packets covering everything from seed to harvest.
9 Use your oldest seeds first. Viability diminishes with time.
10 Prepare your plant tags before you sow. You’ll thank yourself later.
11 If a seed packet has vital information on the top flap, avoid tearing it and open the bottom flap instead.
12 Test older seeds before sowing to avoid disappointment.
13 It’s a myth that all seeds like extra heat to germinate. Every type of seed has a preferred soil temperature for germination. For many, sowing around 70°F (21°C) is fine.
14 Prevent tiny seeds from washing away by making your own seed tapes.
15 While we can’t prevent fungal diseases entirely (fungi are everywhere and most are not harmful), basic precautions like careful watering and running a oscillating fan over seedling trays each day can help reduce the chance of fungal problems like damping-off disease. Sprinkling cinnamon on growing medium may also help, although any evidence this works is anecdotal.
16 When sowing outdoors, use up-side-down mesh waste baskets to protect seedlings and young plants from birds and other nibbling critters.
17 When you sow seeds densely, you can end up with several healthy seedlings all tangled together. Once they have true leaves, you can separate them. Soak everything in warm water, washing away the seed sowing mix. With clean hands, handle by the true leaves while gently untangling the roots. Plant each one in its own pot.
There are more smart tips here in 10 Beginner Garden Tips That Avoid Bloopers (Great & Small).
18 Growing plants from cuttings is fun, interesting, and saves money. Whether we call it growing from “softwood” or “hardwood” cuttings, the methods are essentially the same. Learn the basics and you can propagate whatever your heart desires.
Too Good To Be True
The garden world—just like health, news, and politics—is filled with myths, folklore, and misinformation. Be a healthy skeptic and make thoughtful choices.
19 Be wary of any advice that sounds too good to be true.
- Does this even make sense?
- Is there any science to back it up?
- If this really works, why do entire garden sectors whose livelihoods depend on success not implement this solution?
- Will this harm other living things or the environment?
21 Beware of “fast-growing” perennial plants or trees. It’s often a euphemism for “invasive.”
22 Be skeptical of plants alleged to be “mosquito-repelling.”. Even if they could repel mosquitoes, where do you think the mosquitoes will go?
23 Scrutinize the buzzwords and cure-alls. There are so many examples. “Organic” and “topsoil” are essentially meaningless in garden marketing. And things like Epsom salts, neem oil, eggshells, diatomaceous earth, and coffee grounds are not the cure-alls some say they are.
24 Just because a plant label says “attracts pollinators” does not mean pollinators can make use of the plant. Do your homework to learn which plants truly benefit local wildlife. For example, traits like fluffy or double flowers can make it difficult or impossible for pollinators to access nectar or pollen yet that very flowering plant may be marketed as a pollinator magnet.
25 Old-fashioned garden tips like sowing peas when the daffodils bloom are fun but completely unreliable. The best time to plant depends on the time of year, frosts, climate, and weather.
26 Choose where you plant trees, shrubs, and vines based on their expected size and needs at maturity, not how they will look in your current garden.
27 Mark your best blooms for seed saving. Seed quality varies not just between plants but within a single plant. The best blooms have the best genes.
28 When storing seeds, ensure they are cool and dry.
Pruning & Deadheading
29 Always have a valid reason to prune trees, shrubs, or vines—not because you think you should. This is different from deadheading (the removal of old flowers) which can be done any time—unless you want the plant to produce seeds.
29 Pinch back zinnias to encourage new blooms. Over and over again.
30 Use yellow sticky traps to catch adult fungal gnats around houseplants.
31 Houseplants should be watered according to their needs, which vary throughout the year, not a schedule.
32 Houseplants do not “purify” the air but they do make us happy.
Garden Smarter Not Harder
33 It is far easier to pull weeds after a good rain than on a dry day. Wear knee pads and go for it.
34 Instead of using a wheelbarrow, sometimes it’s much easier to use a tarp. I do this when collecting leaves for my leaf mold pile or moving mulch. Put everything on the tarp and pull it across the yard. No lifting needed!
35 Don’t assume you have to dig, till, or turn soil to plant. Sometimes, you can just plant without disturbing the soil—also known as no-dig gardening.
36 When trying to solve a garden problem be sure it really is a problem. Most issues are temporary and nature takes care of it for us. Procrastination is an excellent garden tool.
37 There is a way to clear green, murky pond water without adding chemicals to the water.
38 If rats or other vermin are a concern, don’t give up on composting. A compost bin like this one solves the problem.
39 The need for fertilizer is not universal. What your plants need depends on the plants and their soil—not some made up formula. A proper soil test can really help you understand what your perennials are dealing with and what they need. I use compost and composted manure only. Excessive applications of commercial fertilizers cause tremendous harm to our waterways.
DIY / Frugal
40 You can have grow bags for a fraction of the cost by sewing your own from landscape fabric.
41 Save money by filling large spaces in raised beds with safe fillers instead of pricey/precious soil or compost.
42 Take cuttings from established tomato plants and root them to grow more plants—indoors or outdoors.
43 You can grow vegetables outdoors over the winter in cold climates. No reason to close up the garden in fall. The cool-season crop party is just getting started.
45 If you missed out in fall, you can also plant garlic in spring using the tips here.
And finally, if you love your garden, give it a name with this garden name generator.
Eco-Beneficial Gardening Books
Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants | Doug Tallamy
Garden Allies: The Insects, Birds, & Other Animals that Keep Your Garden Beautiful and Thriving | Frederique Lavoipierre
The Humane Gardener: Nurturing a Backyard Habitat for Wildlife (How to Create a Sustainable and Ethical Garden that Promotes Native Wildlife, Plants, and Biodiversity) | Nancy Lawson
The Pollinator Victory Garden | Kim Eierman
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛