Sustainable Gardening

Manage your lawn, garden and landscape in a way that will help conserve and protect our natural resources.

Pesticide use

Pesticide warning sign on a park lawn.

Pesticides are toxic, after all their purpose is to kill! Rather than looking for a chemical solution, use an integrated pest management (IPM) approach the next time you have a garden pest.

  1. First, know your plants. Did you select the right plants for your climate and conditions? What potential pest problems do they have? How can you avoid those problems?
  2. Second, know your pests. How do you identify them? What are their life cycles?
  3. Third, know your options. Can you use cultural or mechanical methods? What about natural enemies (the good bugs)? What is the most effective treatment and when is the best time to apply it?

Find answers to these questions to reduce the use of pesticides and make your yard safer for your family and the environment.

University of Minnesota’s IPM of Midwest Landscapes
Michigan State University Extension Integrated Pest Management

Fertilizer Use


Using more fertilizer than your plants need can have a negative effect on water quality. Review and follow the fertilize fairly guidelines on the Lawn Care page. Consider other ways to naturally fertilize your garden, such as adding compost. Compost is not only rich in nutrients, but also in microscopic life, including bacteria, protozoans, and fungi. Soils rich in microorganisms are healthy and support healthy plants. Microorganisms help plants take up nutrients and water out of the soil, reducing the need to fertilize and water as often. Good microorganisms can help plants fend off bad ones that cause disease. Most chemically treated lawns or gardens have “dead” soils. Typical lawn chemicals, both fertilizers and pesticides, kill most soil life. Stopping the use of chemicals and adding compost can bring a soil back to life over time and result in a healthy soil that supports healthy plants.

Water Conservation


Water is a precious resource, even in a state surrounded by fresh water! Conserving water starts with selecting the right plants for our climate and your particular site conditions (soil moisture, sunlight exposure, etc.). For example, don’t plant water loving species if you know your soil tends to be dry. Use drip irrigation or soaker hoses for gardens and landscape beds. This will encourage deep watering, which plants prefer, and avoid wetting leaves and creating suitable conditions for leaf fungi or other problems. Use mulch in landscape beds help reduce evaporation and increase soil moisture retention. Another way to conserve fresh water is to capture and reuse rain water with a rain barrel.

Lawn Reduction

lawn_altLawns are an important part of the American dream and have their place in suburban landscapes. But how much lawn do you really need? Reduce the size of your lawn by adding flower beds, shrubs or alternative ground covers. Reducing the amount of lawn reduces the need for fertilizing, watering and mowing. It may also increase the aesthetic appeal of your property and provide a little space for wildlife (birds and butterflies).

Non-Native Invasive vs. Native Plants

First, a vocabulary lesson:

  • Native plant – one that existed in an area prior to human settlement
  • Non-native plant – one that was introduced or caused to be introduced through human action to an area where it did not previously exist, sometimes also called “exotic”
  • Invasive plant – one that invades an area and out competes other species, which can lead to environmental, economic or ecological harm. Invasive plants can be native or non-native, but the ones that cause the most harm tend to be non-native.

Be aware of the non-native invasive species that are present in your area. If you see them, you should take action to properly remove and dispose of them. To ensure success and prevent the plants from spreading further, it is important to understand the proper control methods. For more information on identification and control, visit these websites:

Michigan DNR – Invasive Species
Midwest Invasive Species information Network
Michigan Invasive Plant Council

General Sustainable Gardening Resources

National Wildlife Federation
Missouri Botanical Gardens