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How to Create a Sustainable Garden

What is a Sustainable Garden?

A sustainable garden is a garden that is environmentally-friendly, low-maintenance and also easy on the gardener’s budget. Sustainable gardens add something back to the environment by cleaning the air and rainwater and providing food and shelter to animals while looking great all year-round and not taking much effort nor money for you to maintain once established. They will last essentially on their own for years to come. A great sustainable garden is a mixed border garden. They are very naturalistic and imitate nature, a great addition to any landscaping project. They make a great long-term project when getting them started, use a lot of recycled material and then sustain themselves.

Borders for a Sustainable Mixed Border Garden

A mixed border garden can take up your entire back lawn if you would like or it can just be a section to the back or to the side. Ovals are good shapes or any shape incorporating lots of large curves. You can lay garden hoses, colored rocks or sticks to get a feel for your borders before settling on them. The borders you choose will be the divisions of different types of plants that give the mixed border garden its name as well as great look.

Once you have settled on the location of your borders you need to prepare them for planting. To get started you need remove all of the grass and weeds in the section. There is a great way to do this is easy, but rather time consuming. Simply take old newspapers and cardboard and layer these materials over the section and then add mulch to the top and water it. This paper material will boost the carbon content of the soil, making it more nutrient-rich. It takes four to five months for it to decompose and remove the preexisting grass and plants beneath it.

Plants for a Sustainable Garden

A mixed border garden allows for a huge variety of plants, providing a great amount of impact. You want each of your sections to transition into one another and then into your lawn. Your largest plants should be in the back and get progressively smaller as they reach the front of the garden. It gives an appearance of a forest transitioning into a meadow. Large plants filter the air and rainwater while giving birds a place to nest. A mixture of plants will attract bees and butterflies who will help pollinate them.

Start by selecting shrubs and small trees because they will be the largest specimens in your garden and they are especially low-maintenance if allowed to be their natural size and shape. They create structure and should take up a half to two-thirds of a sustainable garden while being inexpensive when purchased as saplings. They should be the back-most section of the garden. Fast-growing shrubs like the Weigela are great. Deodar Cedar, Viburnum, Dogwood, Pyrus, Shrub Roses, Azalea, Lespedeza and Spirea are some of the many excellent choices. Mix deciduous and evergreens to have color in the winter.

The next section of your mixed border garden should be smaller plants and the lowest and shortest plants and flowers should be in the very front, transitioning into the grass of your lawn. There are a lot of perennials and annuals that you can choose from. Annuals are less maintenance and do not require yearly replanting, but some perennials can add nice color and shade like the Columbine and Hellebore. Some good summer blooming perennials are Golden Blooms or Black-Eyed Susan. Again, you want to have a mix of these plants to have the most color year round. For your frontmost section there are numerous ornamental grasses to choose from.

Sustainable Garden Maintenance

A sustainable garden should mainly take care of itself, aside from any perennials you may want to plant in it from year to year. There should only be one yearly task, which is spring mulching. Remove any debris and weeds and cover the bare soil with two inches of mulch. It helps hold moisture, improves the soil and attracts beneficial earthworms. Depending upon the plants you choose you may not need to prune at all. Prune your flowering shrubs after they have finished blooming to promote new growth and water your garden if there are long periods with no rainfall.