Maybe your yard consists of large expanses of grass or unsightly patches of soil and you’re looking for a change. Or maybe you’re itching to use that green space to cultivate crops for your family and community. Nowadays, more and more people are choosing to transform their yards into eco-friendly gardens. If you’re wondering how to start your own home garden from the ground up, you’ll find that the process can be as simple or as complex as you make it. Read on and we’ll cover some of the basics: from choosing plants to creating compost and irrigation systems.
Turning a Lackluster Lawn Into a Garden
Take the first step toward converting lawn to a garden by designating a space for your new garden. Choose an area that ties in with your existing landscaping and provides the right amount of sun or shade.
Stake out the area and use a sod cutter to remove any grass or other growth. Move the sod segments away from the area, being careful not to remove too much native topsoil. Add an extra layer of topsoil or compost, then use a tiller to mix the material into the existing soil. Finally, moisten the soil with a sprinkler or irrigation system, and you’re ready to start planting.
Choose the Right Plants
Although you might be tempted to bring rare or exotic plants into your green space, native plants will make your garden more ecologically sound. Not only will native plants demand less water and fertilizer, but they can also develop a beneficial relationship with native wildlife and insects. Native plant societies in your area can help you choose the best native plants for your garden, such as the following:
- Southwest Desert: Cacti and other succulents are best at maximizing low levels of rainfall. Woody shrubs add color and hardiness without demanding too much water.
- Midwest: Eye-catching perennials like bluestars and black-eyed Susans are native flowers that also attract bees and butterflies. Add more popular natives, such as hydrangeas, and mid-sized shrubs for visual interest.
Gulf Coast: Native Gulf Coast plants must be able to weather severe storms, and they should also be able to tolerate drought conditions. Succulents and ornamental grasses make good choices for this region.
Build Garden Beds
If your yard struggles with drainage problems or compromised soil in some way, raised beds make a great way to plant a garden slightly above ground level. Raised garden beds offer several benefits, from raising the soil level and making garden work easier on your back to keeping out animals and wildlife with easy-to-install wire mesh fencing.
Whether you want to plant flowers or edible plants, the process for building a raised bed remains the same:
- Remove weeds and grass from the area where you plan to build.
- Level a layer of gravel at the bottom of the raised bed for drainage.
- Place a layer of landscape fabric to prevent weed growth and shape the walls of the bed.
- Add posts to the four corners for extra stability and an anchor for optional wire mesh fencing.
- Layer topsoil, add moisture, and start planting.
Practice Sustainable Gardening
Once you’ve planned and shaped your garden in the landscape, you may want to take a few more steps to create a sustainable all-season garden. Let’s check out what you’ll need.
Incorporate Eco-Friendly Irrigation
No matter the size of your garden, you’ll likely use a significant amount of water. In fact, the average household uses up to 30 percent of its water consumption on lawns, gardens, and other outdoor uses. By incorporating eco-friendly irrigation methods, you can drastically reduce your home’s water consumption.
Drip irrigation systems consist of networks of tubes positioned on or under the ground. These tubes slowly release a small amount of water where plant roots can reach it easily. This intermediate DIY project comes at a cost of $500 to $1,000, but you can save on water bills over time.
If you opt to keep irrigation simple and water manually instead, water in the morning or at night, when the liquid becomes least likely to evaporate or blow away. Consider distributing mulch throughout your garden, since this material can hold moisture and reduce the need to water constantly.
Even an eco-friendly irrigation system requires at least some water. Fortunately, you can reduce the amount you use from the tap by collecting rainwater. This method can help you save thousands of gallons of water each year.
To start harvesting rainwater, install a rain barrel in your yard. Position the barrel under one of your home’s primary drainage spouts, and you have the potential to capture several gallons of water after each rain shower.
Whether you love bugs or hate them, insects form an essential part of any healthy garden. To develop a strong insect ecosystem, you’ll want to attract the beneficial insects and keep the harmful ones out.
- Ladybugs: Not only are these some of the most loved insects, but they’re also some of the most helpful to patrol your garden. Welcome ladybugs to your garden with patches of sunflowers or marigolds, and the number of harmful aphids in your garden will drop.
- Beetles: These insects live close to the ground where they eliminate harmful pests. Attract them with mulch, which provides ample ground cover.
- Bees: These buzzing insects pollinate all types of plants, so they’re necessary to a healthy garden. Attract them to your yard with patches of goldenrod or lilacs.
Grow Your Own Food
Many DIY enthusiasts create an eco-friendly garden so that they can grow healthier food than what’s available in grocery stores. Depending on where you live, what you like to eat, and how many people you need to feed, the possibilities are endless.
The healthiest and most visually striking eco-friendly gardens include much more than one fruit or vegetable. To create a thriving garden, consider companion planting, placing strategic pairs of plants together.
- Tall and Short Plants: Tall, sun-loving plants often create excellent sunshades for shorter, shade-loving plants.
- Garlic and Rose: Garlic’s scent naturally repels the insects that are typically attracted to roses. Since garlic develops purple and white flowers in the spring, this plant looks charming paired with colorful roses.
- Carrots and Onions: These two vegetables make a natural pair in the kitchen, and they also work well in the garden. Onion scent typically repels carrot pests, while carrot fragrance does the same for onion-loving pests.
Learn to Compost
To create a sustainable garden for your fruits, vegetables, and herbs, add composting to the mix. Compost enriches soil and also benefits the environment. Since compost requires natural byproducts, such as food scraps and organic matter, composting can decrease the amount of trash in landfills and reduce harmful methane production.
To create your own compost pile in your yard, find a dry, shady area close to a water source. Set up a bin and add materials like plant matter, vegetable peels, fruit cores, and coffee grounds regularly. Add small amounts of water and mix often to encourage compost development.
As your compost grows, be sure to keep a balance among the various components. Too much or too little of one type of material can prevent compost from developing at a normal rate, and an imbalance can lead to unhealthy compost. Include a mix of the following three standard ingredients:
- Browns: plant matter such as branches, twigs, and leaves
- Greens: vegetable and fruit scraps, grass clippings, and coffee grounds
- Water: pure, natural water
Once the browns and greens mix together and break down into nutrient-packed humus, use the material in your garden. Shovel the humus from the compost bin and distribute the matter over your garden beds.
Some homeowners take their gardens one extra step by going organic. Essentially, an organic home garden doesn’t rely on synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. In place of these sometimes-harsh chemicals, organic gardeners work to create a healthy growing environment for plants, soil, insects, and microbes.
If you’re considering taking this extra step, you’ll want to start by developing organic soil. Along with compost you’ve made at home or purchased from a local farm or garden center, incorporate natural fertilizers, such as animal manure, wood ash, and seaweed. Grow organic vegetables and fruits without the use of synthetic pesticides by attracting beneficial insects that keep the harmful ones at bay.
While some organic gardeners don’t use any form of pesticides, others opt for natural sprays that include components such as copper, sulfur, and certain bacteria. Since these substances break down and wash away relatively quickly, you may have to apply organic pesticides often.
Whether you opt to go organic or you just want a green space that enriches your home environment, an eco-friendly garden makes a smart choice for your yard. Choose plants that work best in your climate, attract friendly insects, and install sustainable irrigation. With some effort on your part, you can create a home garden that both looks beautiful and enhances the environment.
Got any clever eco-friendly garden tips? Share them in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you.