5 Things Sustainable Gardeners Should Never Do

Pesticides, plastic, and paving are a few gardening no-nos.

mom and child gardening

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Many people are trying to garden in a more sustainable way. Often we focus on what we should be doing. Sometimes, however, it can be helpful to identify the things that we should not be doing. This can lead us to avoid doing harm inadvertently as we work toward a greener future. 

For those who are newly embarked on this journey, I thought it might be helpful to go back to basics, talking about five things that those who wish to become sustainable gardeners should never do.

DON'T: Use Non-Organic Pesticides, Herbicides, or Fertilizers

It should really go without saying, but you might be surprised by how many people who are cutting down on consumption and starting out on the road to a more sustainable way of life still don't garden entirely organically. Sustainable gardeners should avoid all non-organic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers in their gardens—full stop. 

That means not just gardening organically in a vegetable plot of kitchen garden, but also avoiding the use of all such products throughout their properties. You can't have sustainable food production if you still use weedkillers on paths or paving or other harmful products on an area of lawn.

DON'T: Aim to Eradicate Entirely Problematic Species

Moving beyond this, it is important to remember that organic growing is not just about avoiding the use of these harmful products. Success in organic production means working with nature rather than trying to fight it. It's all about finding a natural balance, and boosting biodiversity as much as possible.

With the exception of a few invasive, non-native species, we generally should not aim to eradicate pests (or weeds) from our garden altogether. When we aim to eradicate a weed or pest species entirely, we often do more harm than good. 

It can cause a pest population to rebound dramatically with no natural predators present to keep their numbers down. Remember, you need some pests to attract those natural predators. Being too zealous in eradicating weeds can also have a negative impact on biodiversity and on the natural balance in your garden. 

DON'T: Use Peat in a Garden

New gardeners and those looking to make their gardens more sustainable often rush out to buy a range of new plants to populate their gardens. Unfortunately, when these plants come in peat-filled pots, they are doing a lot of harm to the environment. 

Peat bogs are essential carbon sinks and biodiversity hotspots. They play a crucial role in water cycles and fresh water provision. Digging up peat wetlands to supply gardeners is not sustainable—and must cease. 

Try to source peat-free plants, or propagate your own. And never use peat-based composts. Good quality peat-free composts are commercially available. Of course, you should also always be making your own to maintain the fertility in your garden. 

DON'T: Use Plastics When Other Options Are Available

When it comes to plastic use in gardens, I take a pragmatic approach. I do have a plastic polytunnel myself, which I use to grow food year round. (It is seven years old and still going strong, and I do believe that in terms of a carbon footprint, it prevents more carbon emissions than it has caused through enabling year-round food production.)

Sustainable gardeners, however, should always try to avoid the use of plastics where other options are available. For example, in my garden I use tools with wooden (repairable) handles, make my own natural twine, avoid plastic netting, avoid obtaining new plastic plant pots, etc.

Buying plastic without carefully considering alternative options for tools and garden equipment is something a sustainable gardener should never do. 

DON'T: Excessively Pave a Space

Especially now, when so many people are waking up to the importance of a garden for recreation and relaxation, paving, decks, and patios are springing up as people seek to create perfect outdoor living areas. 

Having spaces where you can enjoy your garden is important. But paved areas or patios should always be kept in proportion and integrated into the garden as a whole. Creating large impermeable areas is definitely not a good idea.

We should be maximizing photosynthesis in our gardens—re-greening, not greying. Unfortunately, many contemporary garden designers (and their clients) do not seem to have grasped that gardens are for plants and wildlife—not just for people. A sustainable gardener will integrate outdoor living areas with water management and diverse planting—and never excessively pave a space.