10 Sustainable Gardening hacks to ensure your garden is quick and easy to maintain for sustainable long-term growth. Do you want to grow an edible garden and harvest delicious organic food straight from your own backyard but… you don’t have enough time in the day? Whether you are a busy parent or your spare time is already devoted to hobbies, sports, growing your business, or other priorities and you want to ensure your garden is easy to maintain for sustainable long-term growth, then these Sustainable Gardening Hacks are perfect for you!
Lazy gardening is actually an amazing thing! It means you are working smarter, not harder, and have systems in place to work with nature to get abundant harvests.
So let’s not waste any time and get straight into it…
1. Plant Perennials
Perennial plants are ones that you plant once and they will continue to give you harvests for many years to come. They are the ultimate hack for sustainable gardening! So this is probably my number one tip for lazy or time-poor gardeners.
Perennials are plants such as Fruit Trees, Berries, Bananas, Sweet Potatoes, Rhubarb, Artichoke, and Asparagus. Aromatics such as Ginger and Tumeric, and Herbs such as Rosemary, Lemon Verbena, and Mint. These you plant once and each year they will produce more and more food. There are also many perennial versions of our much-loved annuals such as Perennial Basil, and Perpetual Spinach. This year I have added Egyptian Walking Onions, more Berries, Fruit Trees, Asparagus and Artichoke.
I am converting more and more of my gardens to perennials because not only does that mean I have more time to spend developing new gardens or pouring hours into creating more gardening content but, Perennial Plants also allow a seamless transition and continuous supply of food. Perennials will either produce all year round or they will have certain times of the year when they are fruiting or producing. If you want to really level it up you can plan out when your perennials are ready and ripe and plan to fill in the gaps with other perennials that will be productive during these gaps in the season. For example, my citrus are ready in winter, then over summer I have berries, and in autumn I have Feijoas. My plan is to have a continuous supply of fruit all year round so I will continue to select plants that are ready during the gaps.
2. Chop and Drop
This is a technique of mulching and composting that I use in my urban food forest. Any time I trim my plants or remove any annuals I simply chop up the leaves and branches and drop them around the garden allowing the plant matter to break down and feed my plants. This is very easy to do and I don’t have to move plant material anywhere. It protects the soil from the sun, suppresses weeds and it feeds my soil to help grow more and more food! It’s a win-win situation and saves a lot of time. Fruit trees also love the fungal properties that rotting sticks and branches provide.
This technique works best with a food forest situation rather than a veggie patch, as it would be much harder to spread the plant matter and not cover small seedlings. This may also attract slaters or woodlice which will help break down the plant matter but these little critters are not something you want in your veggie patch.
3. Direct Sow Seeds
This is my favourite way to plant seeds. No, it’s not the most effective, but it saves a lot of time. I find direct sowing seeds straight into the garden can take a bit longer for them to germinate because it might not be the right soil temperatures but once they pop up they will usually be stronger plants. Sowing in seed trays means you can control the conditions and bring them inside which will encourage them to pop up sooner but you need to baby them and care for them. Harden them off by taking them outside so they can get used to outside temperatures before you plant them in the garden. They are just more fiddly and do require more attention. So where I can I go with the survival of the fittest approach and plant a few extra seeds.
4. Grow Soil
If you are time-poor and only have small amounts of time to allocate to your gardens, I would definitely put a big chunk of that into improving your soil and creating soil-improving systems. This will go a long way in creating sustainable gardens. Healthy nutrient-rich soil means your plants will grow faster, they will be stronger and more resilient and they will not succumb to pests and diseases as easily. If your soil is poor and lacks nutrients you will end up spending more time trying to keep your plants alive, more time watering and more time babying your plants.
Following on from growing soil – keeping your gardens well mulched is a great system to help build soil for sustainable gardens. Mulch will start to break down over time and feed your soil. Mulching also helps keep moisture in so your gardens won’t need as much watering and they help suppress weeds. Weeds are not friends with time-poor or lazy gardeners. So having a thick layer of mulch will help reduce the time needed for weeding and also the weeds that do grow will be so much easier to pull out.
6. Make it Close and Convenient
Choosing a location for your garden can be a make or break for the time-poor or lazy gardener. If you decide to grow your veggie patch or garden down the back of your property or behind the shed, it may start off okay whilst you are full of enthusiasm and feeling inspired, but eventually it will be out of sight and out of mind…. this happens to me all the time and my property is just a suburban block. I plant all my low-maintenance plants such as perennials and fruit trees all in the outer parts of my property and the annuals or plants that require more attention or regular harvesting, within view of my kitchen. In permaculture, we call these zones and it makes so much sense. When it’s raining, dark or you have had a long day, traipsing out to the veggie patch might not be high on the list. But, if you have your gardens close to your house and within view, you might notice something that needs harvesting or attention, and your garden will naturally receive more love and attention because of that. Therefore it will be more productive.
Even If this means you start off with small container gardens and once you master that move on to larger more permanent spaces.
7. Grow Wild
Creating diversity and growing lots of plants all together will not only do amazing things for the number of beneficial insects in your garden, but it can also be a lot more low maintenance. Conventional gardens with neat edges, straight rows, and symmetrical layouts will take a lot more time to maintain. By creating a garden that is a little wilder it will look lush and have less room for weeds to take up home. Even if you do get some weeds they blend in and don’t look too messy and hey, some of them may even be edible or provide flowers for the bees. Edible ground covers are great for this.
8. Let Plants go to Seed
If you let some of your plants go to flower and seed you will have plants popping up all on their own next season. This is another way you can create sustainable garden systems. The great thing about self-sown seeds is that they stay dormant in the soil until they get the right conditions to grow and then they shoot up. With absolutely no effort on your behalf. I have lettuce, tomatoes, basil, and edible flowers pop up nearly every year. Free FOOD! This technique can be amazing but it can also be a little wild at times. It’s important to try to contain the seeds on your property. I let a celery plant go to seed once and I had celery popping up in everywhere!
9. Easy Watering
Watering can take up a lot of time, especially during the warmer months. And if you run out of time or can’t be bothered then you could lose your plants after just one day in the peak of summer (especially if you live here in Perth!). Thinking about watering and creating sustainable watering systems will go such a long way to saving time in the garden.
Some great tips are to install automatic timers and drip lines. Another is to ensure you have a hose nearby to your gardens and make it a retractable hose! Nothing puts you off watering than thinking about unraveling and putting away a hose. A retractable hose can be out and back in seconds and it has honestly been a game-changer for me in my garden!
Mulching will also help with water retention.
10. Get the Plant Selection Right
Selecting the right plants will go a long way toward creating a low-maintenance sustainable garden. We talked about choosing perennials earlier but there are also other plant selection criteria than can really help you grow an abundant garden with less effort.
- Choose local or native plants. Plants that thrive in your local area will be much more adapted to the conditions and will be easier to grow. Native edible plants are often interesting and unique additions to your garden. They will also attract your local pollinators and wildlife which is a bonus!
- Choose low-maintenance plants. Some plants require more care and upkeep than others. And some will have a lot more pests and diseases than others. This will vary from place to place.
- Tomatoes – require staking and tying and are susceptible to pests and diseases. I often grow cherry tomatoes as I find them a lot easier to grow.
- Stone fruit – Trees such as Nectarines, Peaches, and Plums have soft skin and can be vulnerable to many pests and diseases. Birds, fruit flies, rats, bats, etc. They may require netting or individually bagging fruit to ensure you get a harvest. I have chosen citrus as they have thicker skins and I find them a little more hardy and low maintenance. I have a lot of citrus for that reason such as Lemon, Lime, Blood Orange, Finger Limes, Blood Limes, Kumquat, and Lemonade.
- Herbs and fragrant plants such as Lemon Verbena, Rosemary, and Ginger are often left alone by pests and are easy to grow.
This is where it is a great idea to visit small local nurseries where you can get helpful advice on what grows well in your local climate.