Issue 27pulse

Sustainable Practices to Keep Your Garden Healthy

By Jacqui D. Sinarle

Next time the bright spring sun lures you into your yard, take a look around and consider how you might make your landscape more healthy.

“A healthy garden is a happy garden,” observed Cynthia Austin Tanis, landscape designer at Morris Nursery in Riverbank, organic gardener and author of the e-book “The Timeless Allure of Lavender.” “When you balance the elements of nature, your whole environment benefits.”

Although the task of creating a completely self-sustaining garden is unrealistic for most homeowners, there are many things that you can do to improve your garden’s health.

Educate Yourself
“Learn about organic gardening, balancing systems, and integrated pest management,” Austin Tanis advised. Morris Nursery ( offers a variety of organic pesticides, soil conditioners and fertilizers, irrigation supplies, and gardening advice, plus spring and fall vegetable garden classes taught by local master gardener Martin Hildebrandt. Austin Tanis provides landscape design services in the spring, and her e-book addresses sustainable practices like organic gardening, biodynamics, and permaculture.

Accept Imperfections
“Organic gardening isn’t difficult, but you must be tolerant of your garden not being perfect and discard the notion that all bugs and weeds are bad,” Austin Tanis said. “Learn to accept insect holes and occasional damage from birds; it’s all about balance and encouraging beneficial bugs and wildlife.”

Promote Biodiversity
Healthy landscapes feature a variety of plants, insects, and wildlife, which keep the environment in balance. “Sustainable gardens include plants that attract pollinating insects like butterflies and bees, as well as other good bugs,” Austin Tanis said. “You can limit invasions of pests like snails without using pesticides by creating rock and gravel borders around islands of plants.”

Implement Eco-Friendly Practices
“For the average homeowner that can mean using organic products, limiting pesticides and herbicides, watering less frequently, changing to drip irrigation, using mulch, making compost, and even raising chickens to consume garden pests,” Austin Tanis said.

“You cannot have a perfectly manicured garden and also go organic,” she noted. “A traditional lawn—which takes a great deal of energy input including time, gas, electricity, fertilizers, and pesticides—is not compatible with sustainable gardening.”

That doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice beauty for a healthy garden; a healthy yard has a natural beauty that outshines one that’s artificially maintained.

“As a landscape designer I’ve worked with many homeowners to convert their lawns,” Austin Tanis noted. “Groundcover can give you the look of a lawn, and your yard doesn’t have to be landscaped like one in Phoenix, Arizona. Instead, visualize gardens in Italy, Spain, and regions with Mediterranean climates like ours.”

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