By: Sherri Cornelius

It’s almost spring, so I’m starting to think about some of the reasons spring is my favorite season – purple Pasque Flowers pushing their way up through the snow, the sweet wafting fragrance of plum and cherry blossoms, and the promise of a new year in the garden to try out new plants and techniques.

Being in the garden – smelling the dirt, planting seeds and seedlings, adding compost to the bed, even pulling weeds – brightens my mood and inspires me, making me feel more connected to the earth and my natural surroundings!

As this spring starts, are you looking for a fun way to help the environment? Whether you’ve never grown a garden before, or if you’d like to garden in a way that’s better for the earth, why not explore the world of sustainable gardening?

What is sustainable gardening anyway?

Say no to Herbicides

Sustainable gardening is about making choices that preserve and protect the earth’s resources while minimizing the impact on the earth. You can make your garden more sustainable by incorporating:

  • Use of natural pesticides and insecticides
  • Improvement of soil composition and condition
  • Selection, planting, and care methods for whatever you choose to grow – flowers, shrubs, trees, fruits, vegetables and herbs
  • Water use and conservation

Why should I try sustainable gardening?

Sustainable gardening benefits include:

  • Improving health of plants that store carbon and reduce Greenhouse Gases (giving cleaner air)
  • Using natural means of fertilization rather than chemicals (creating cleaner water)
  • Creating healthier soil and food, and reducing waste and decreasing runoff (through the addition of organic materials)
  • Reducing noise pollution (plants absorb sound)
  • Contributing to the health of beneficial insects, bees, birds, insects and animals by providing food and shelter

Sustainable gardening can help you lower costs because:

  • Planting trees and shrubs provides your home shade in the summer and lets in light during winter
  • Using drip irrigation and rain barrels helps you use less water
  • Eliminating trips to the store for fruits, vegetables, or flowers can reduce your fuel cost

Gardening Improves Your Health

Plus, there are many health benefits associated with gardening:

  • Increase in strength, stamina, balance, flexibility; and prevention of heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis
  • The energy expended by digging, raking and weeding is similar to a moderate cardiovascular workout, with 30–45 minutes burning up to 300 calories
  • And don’t forget the psychological benefits: reduced stress, anxiety, and depression; and, increased levels of endorphins and self-esteem
  • It also provides a creative outlet through garden design and related activities like cooking, baking, flower arranging or crafts

A pastime that can be shared with family members, sustainable gardening introduces children to new science concepts and helps them develop a love of nature; and, the elderly can benefit from stretching and exercise, engagement and sense of purpose, and a dose of Vitamin D (in only 20 minutes). Gardening is even used as therapy in Alzheimer’s units, having a positive effect on patients’ mood, cognition, and ability to relax.

Great. How do I get started?

  1. Choose your location
    A sunny spot with 5-6 hours of continuous sunshine per day is best, in an area that’s away from trees but near a fence or berm offering protection from severe wind. Think about how to make your garden user-friendly, considering distance and access (you might like to pick a couple tomatoes or basil leaves as you’re preparing dinner). And consider the views from inside – being able to see your garden growing is a bonus!
  2. Check your soil’s moisture content
    Try this easy test: take some soil in your hand, roll it into a ball, put your finger in the ball and see what happens. (Think Goldilocks and the Three Bears). If the soil feels like Silly Putty (rubbery), it’s too wet; if it makes you think Grapes of Wrath (hard but fragile), it’s too dry; if the soil breaks apart gently into small sections, it’s just right. If the soil’s too wet, wait for a few days of drier weather then test again. If it’s too dry, soak the ground then check it again in a couple days.
  3. Start digging
    Dig 18” to 24” as the goal is to give your plants the best chance for success and this starts with a cozy bed of loose, crumbly soil with even texture. This makes it easy for seeds/seedlings to establish strong roots. Add organic matter (compost, manure, worm castings…) on top of your soil, mix it into the top 6” of your soil, let it sit for 2 weeks, then dig it again to loosen and remove remaining weeds.
  4. Swamp Milkweed

    Plant your seeds
    Now you’re ready for one of the best parts – planting your seeds or seedlings into the ground. Wherever you live, look for native plants, as they have adapted to the temperature, water availability, soil type, and insects in your area. Native plants are hearty, require limited care and watering, and help perpetuate a healthy environment by: providing food and shelter to local wildlife, supplying native seeds that will spread to natural areas, and requiring no chemical fertilizers or pesticides.
    If you’re near me in Fort Collins, CO, a few native flowers to consider growing are Pony Beebalm, Dotted Blazing Star, Blanket Flower, or Sidebells Penstemon. You can also add native grasses, like Prairie Dropseed or Little Bluestem, to your landscape plan. And Saskatoon Serviceberry and Black Common Chokecherry are a couple of nice native shrubs that will attract wildlife and provide them shelter. Check out this great resource for selecting native plants published by the Colorado Native Plant Society.

Aaaaah, spring. I’m ready to get out in the garden and find out what I can learn about nature this year! I hope you are too!

About the Author – Sherri brings more than 20 years of administrative experience to Brendle Group. She has worked in a variety of capacities including consulting, not-for-profit, education, and corporate settings, where her responsibilities entailed event and meeting planning, grant writing, internal and external communication, and program coordination.

At Brendle Group, Sherri helps keep our operations running smoothly and supports our staff by coordinating administrative duties in the areas of recruitment and human resources, event and meeting planning, travel and scheduling, and facility operations. She can also be found assisting on projects in the form of coordinating between clients, project managers, and other stakeholders and supporting the development of reports, presentations, agendas, letters, and much more.