Save money and help the planet with these sustainable gardening tips


CORVALLIS – In a world of increasing climate change and the invasion of increasingly exotic insects and pests, sustainable gardening is more important than ever.

We can all do our part by changing our practices – often a little bit, depending on the methods you already have in place. And if this all sounds too overwhelming, take it step by step. You will help the environment and at the same time save money and join a community of like-minded gardeners who love to share their experiences.

To help you get started or to expand your repertoire of sustainable practices, consider these suggestions from the horticulturalists in the Oregon State University Extension Service.

Check your property for invasive weeds: An invasive species is an introduced organism that negatively alters its new environment. In Oregon, many invasive plants meet this definition. Blackberry, tree of heaven, invasive knotweed, garlic mustard, small celandine, Italian arum, and horsetail are a few examples that are difficult to control. Prevent these and other invasive weeds from establishing themselves on your property. Monitor invasive plants and take action before they become a bigger problem. Check with your local Soil and Water Conservation District to find out which invasive plants are causing problems in your area. Use control cultivation methods before you turn to pesticides. – Weston Miller, OSU Extension Horticulturist

Home orchard maintenance: The sustainable home orchard begins with the selection of rootstocks that control size. Tree size can be maintained between 6 and 9 feet in height when using dwarf or semi-dwarf rootstocks. The smaller trees facilitate the development of an open form that will dry out quickly after the rains, reducing the incidence of disease. Small trees are also easier to work with when pruning, thinning, spraying and picking, saving you time all year round. They require less spraying and allow easy access to the upper tree canopy, which helps keep sprays on target.

Consult catalogs and publications for varieties of fruit trees that do well in the Pacific Northwest by resisting common diseases. For example, when planting a Liberty or Chehalis apple tree, you will never need to spray fungicides to control apple scab as they are very resistant. – Steve Renquist, OSU Extension horticulturist

Plant a cover crop: Soil is the foundation of any garden, especially sustainable gardens when you don’t want to use a lot of chemical fertilizer. Cover crops provide many benefits to the soil by reducing erosion and runoff, increasing water infiltration, and increasing organic matter. Cover crops of legumes act as a fertilizer and fix nitrogen in the soil. Check it out publication from the Washington State University Extension Service. – Erica Chernoh, OSU Extension horticulturalist

Sharing tools: There is no need to purchase your own specialized tools or small equipment (think long-handled pruners, string trimmers, or tillers). See if there is a community tool-sharing program in your area or contact your neighbors to share it. If you need yours, check out used items at estate sales or a home improvement donation store.

Bulk order: Join your close neighbors in ordering soil, compost, mulch or other soil amendments in bulk instead of purchasing plastic bagged produce. – Brooke Edmunds, OSU Extension Horticulturalist

Reduce plastic: Reduce single-use plastic pots in the garden by:

  • Start seeds at home in cardboard egg cartons, toilet paper tubes, or even homemade newspaper jars;
  • If you want to start sowing in larger containers, look to reuse plastic pots or containers from your home (reused yogurt containers work well);
  • Buy plants with bare roots;
  • At the nursery, look for pots made from compostable materials like coir, paper, or cow manure. – Gail Langellotto, national coordinator of the OSE Extension Master Gardener and professor of horticulture

Reduce the use of pesticides:

  • Replace plants prone to pests with those that do not require frequent use of pesticides;
  • Learn more about the specific pests in your garden and research other methods of control;
  • Recognize that some pest problems can be a matter of perspective and tolerance. Is there a space or room for you to tolerate slight cosmetic damage to particular plants, which will not cause long term damage to plant health.
  • If you have a lawn care or landscaping service and they spray pesticides as part of that service, make sure you know the pests they are spraying against. Inquire to find alternatives or to see if pesticide applications are even necessary. Some services will spray at regular intervals (i.e. every two weeks or every month) whether or not it is needed. – Gail Langellotto, Statewide Coordinator of OSU Extension Master Gardener and Professor of Horticulture

Reduce water consumption through plant selection: One way to be sustainable in the garden is to reduce water consumption. Special irrigation systems are often installed to reduce the amount of water applied or wasted. An even better way is to use plants in the garden that are drought tolerant and require no applied irrigation. The climate of the Willamette Valley is semi-Mediterranean with a dry summer period. Therefore, establishing plants that can tolerate these conditions is a good way to have a low-maintenance and long-lasting garden.

Plants native to our region will achieve this, but there are also a number of plants native to other Mediterranean regions that will also tolerate our summer drought. A trial is currently underway at OSU’s North Willamette Research and Extension Center to assess drought-tolerant cover crops as part of the Northwest Plant Evaluation Program, which has also evaluated other landscape plants grown without irrigation, including manzanita, grevillea, cistus and California lilac. Some of these plant selections, along with many other drought tolerant plants, can be found in local nurseries and planted in non-irrigated areas of the landscape to reduce water consumption in gardens. For more information, see the site. – Healther Stoven, OSU Extension horticulturist

– Kym Pokorny, [email protected]


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