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What is Regenerative Gardening? It’s Easier Than You Think!

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building healthy soil

There is no shortage of gardening methods today. Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned gardener, you’ve probably heard of some of these popular gardening trends: organic gardening, square-foot gardening, vertical gardening, container gardening, or edible landscaping, perhaps. Gardening can seem complicated when you are bombarded with all the various methods, styles, and trends. Here at Becoming a Gardener, we are proponents of all the methods, depending on what works for you. Whatever method or methods we choose, we can all adopt a philosophy of growing food known as “Regenerative Gardening.” What is regenerative gardening?

Audio Reading of “What is Regenerative Gardening?”

Regenerative Gardening 

In the enchanting world of gardening, there’s a transformative gardening philosophy quietly gaining ground, and its name is “Regenerative Gardening.” If you’ve ever wondered what lies beyond the traditional practices of planting, fertilizing and pruning, this blog post is your gateway to a greener, more sustainable approach to cultivating the earth. In the following paragraphs, we’ll demystify the concept of regenerative gardening, and how you can embark on a journey that not only nurtures vibrant gardens but also revitalizes the very soil beneath your feet. So, let’s dig deeper, quite literally, to uncover the basics of regenerative gardening and its promise of a thriving, resilient tomorrow.

Regenerative gardening is an approach to gardening that goes beyond traditional gardening practices with a primary focus on restoring and improving the health of the soil, the ecosystem, and the environment as a whole. The concept is rooted in the principles of regenerative agriculture, which aim to promote soil health, biodiversity, and sustainability. Here are the key aspects of regenerative gardening:

1. Soil Health in regenerative Gardening

Regenerative gardening places a strong emphasis on building and maintaining healthy soil. It involves practices like composting, mulching, and minimal soil disturbance to enhance soil structure and fertility. Healthy soil is the foundation for productive and resilient gardens. Instead of spending monumental efforts on feeding the plant, regenerative gardening focuses on feeding the soil, regenerating the soil.

Though this might sound like a complicated subject when you hear words like “soil biology”, it really isn’t. Mother Nature has been building soil for millennia. Think about walking through a forest or a nature preserve. What do you see? You see life teeming all around you. Yet, no human was there with a chemistry set, or a calculator measuring what Mother Nature has done. No human was there with a shovel and a bag of amendments. She did it without our help. All we need to do is observe and mimic.

2. Biodiversity in regenerative Gardening

Regenerative gardeners work to create ecosystems within their gardens. Biodiversity in regenerative gardening means having lots of different plants and animals in the garden. The garden ecosystem includes plants, animals, insects, microorganisms, and fungi, and more. These organisms interact with each other in various ways, forming relationships that can be beneficial. Biodiversity is a key feature of a robust garden ecosystem.

By having a variety of plants, the garden can attract helpful insects and wildlife, which can control pests naturally and reduce the need for harmful pesticides. This diversity of plants also creates a diversity of soil life, which only enriches the fertility of the soil.

Moreover, biodiversity also makes the garden look beautiful and provides opportunities to learn about local plants and animals. By planting native and endangered species, regenerative gardeners also help protect the environment and support conservation efforts. Using more native plants helps to safeguard regional plant biodiversity.

This is another aspect of regenerative gardening that can sound complicated, but it really isn’t. It just requires creativity. Planting different flowers, fruits, vegetables, herbs, bushes, and trees is not difficult. While it helps to learn about the needs and benefits of each plant, it isn’t necessary to steep yourself in scholarly tomes to plant lots of plants. Curiosity and adventure are all that’s necessary.

3. No Chemicals or Minimal organic Chemical Use:

Regenerative gardening eliminates the use of synthetic chemicals like pesticides and herbicides. Instead, it relies on natural methods of pest control and soil improvement. This approach is better for the environment and reduces harm to beneficial insects and organisms. This approach evolved from organic gardening principles that have been used for decades, but dives deeper into the process of creating an ecosystem that minimizes pest damage, rather than simply applying organic fertilizers and pest treatments.

A quick example: Planting some flowers, like alyssum, yarrow, or sunflowers, next to a bed of tender young spinach, will attract the predatory insects, like ladybugs. Ladybugs love to feast on aphids, which love to feast on your tender young spinach. Will you lose some spinach before the ladybugs devour them? Yes, probably a little bit. But, if you immediately spray the aphids with some chemicals, you will most definitely kill the aphids…and you’ll kill the ladybugs, as well as the bees, butterflies, and any other beneficial insect in the vicinity.

4. Water Conservation:

Regenerative gardeners aim to use water efficiently. Techniques like rainwater harvesting, drip irrigation, digging swales, and selecting drought-resistant plants help conserve water resources. Efficient use of water leads to a more sustainable garden, and can lead to significant cost savings for those paying for municipal water.

One of the best things a gardener can do to mitigate against water waste is to build healthy soil. Healthy soil holds water instead of letting it drain off. We see again why building healthy soil is paramount in successful regenerative gardening.

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5. Carbon sequestration:

We learned in school that green plants absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) during photosynthesis and give off oxygen. Healthy soil itself also helps in “Carbon sequestration”. It sounds like an intimidating textbook word, but it isn’t that complicated. CO2 is the greenhouse gas that we’re hearing so much about in the context of climate change. “Sequestration” is natures way of capturing it and storing it in the ground. Healthy soil can capture more CO2 from the air than depleted or bare soil.

Practices like cover cropping and mulching with organic matter contribute to the process. No-till or no-dig gardening also contribute to carbon sequestration. Knowing this sends us back full circle to the understanding that soil health is one of the key elements of generative gardening.

6. Sustainability in regenerative gardening:

Growing a regenerative garden is all about using sustainable gardening principles. This means reducing waste, reusing materials, and making eco-friendly choices when designing and taking care of your garden. The goal is to create a garden that mimics natural ecosystems, where everything is in balance. This promotes the health and well-being of all the plants, animals, insects, and microorganisms that live in the garden.

Once again, we just have to look at how Mother Nature sustainably maintains her natural ecosystems in the forest. The forest is self-sustaining, requiring no inputs from anyone. The soil regenerates when the leaves fall, create a mulch layer, and eventually decay, increasing the soil health. The healthy soil holds the water. The plants have everything they need to grow. It is a complete, self-sustaining system. With a little creativity, we can mimic the process in our own gardens.

7. Observation and adaptation:

Regenerative gardeners often emphasize the importance of observing their gardens closely and adapting their practices based on the needs of their ecosystem. This involves being attuned to nature’s cues and working with, rather than against, the natural rhythms of the garden.

Every garden is different. Every garden has it’s own ecosystem, made up of the particular soil and plants there, as well as the elements that exist there…the sunlight, wind, water and temperatures. Besides just knowing that I’m in “zone 7b”, I can observe the microclimates in my yard and garden. There are low pockets where frost settles first. There are areas where the hedge shades and protects as a wind break. That mature hedge also soaks up most of the water in that area, leaving nothing for the garden. Observing our own yards will reveal all of these insights that we can apply to our garden design and plans.

8. Long-Term Perspective:

Regenerative gardening recognizes that building a healthy ecosystem takes time. It is a long-term approach that focuses on the sustainability and resilience of the garden over many years.

In simpler terms, regenerative gardening is a way of gardening that focuses on the health of the soil, biodiversity, and the overall well-being of the garden. It aims to make beautiful and productive gardens while also helping the environment and local ecosystems.

Other Terms for Regenerative Gardening

When it comes to regenerative gardening, there are several terms and concepts that people often use interchangeably or alongside it. These terms reflect the shared goal of nurturing healthier ecosystems, promoting sustainability, and fostering more environmentally friendly gardening practices. Some common alternatives and related terms include “restorative gardening,” “sustainable gardening,” “Permaculture” and “ecological gardening.” Each of these approaches emphasizes a commitment to cultivating not just beautiful gardens but also a deeper connection to the natural world.

No-Till Gardening

No-till gardening, or no-dig gardening, is a vital aspect of the regenerative gardening philosophy. By avoiding the disruption of soil through tillage, no-till gardening preserves soil structure and minimizes erosion. This practice encourages the development of rich, living soils teeming with beneficial microorganisms.

healthy soil is the focus of regenerative gardening

Additionally, no-till gardening methods help sequester carbon in the soil, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating climate change. Every time soil is tilled, carbon is unearthed and released into the surrounding air. By not tilling, that carbon stays in the soil, feeding the billions of microorganisms.

Additionally, by not tilling, weed seeds that are buried don’t get brought up to the surface where they receive sunlight and water and can then sprout. No-till gardening is an excellent method of organic weed control.

Overall, no-till gardening conserves moisture, making gardens more drought resistant. No-till gardening is a holistic approach to gardening that helps keep the soil healthy. It supports biodiversity, and long-term sustainability, making it an essential practice in regenerative gardening.

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Permaculture Gardening

Permaculture and regenerative gardening are similar approaches that focus on living in harmony with nature. Permaculture is a way of planning and taking care of farms and gardens so they work like natural ecosystems. It means making sure these places are diverse, stable, and can handle challenges, just like nature does. Permaculture incorporates a large, holistic perspective that includes entire communities.

Both permaculture and regenerative gardening prioritize biodiversity, healthy soils, and minimizing waste. By combining permaculture’s design principles with regenerative gardening practices, we can create gardens that are sustainable and beneficial for both people and the environment.

Sustainable Gardening

Sustainable gardening means taking care of our gardens in a way that’s good for the Earth. It’s about using water wisely, not using harmful chemicals, and keeping the soil healthy and full of different plants and animals. By doing this, we can have gardens that stay strong and healthy while also being good for the environment. Sustainable gardening is like being a good friend to the Earth and making our gardens a part of nature’s team.

For instance, in the Mid-Atlantic region, we have a need to protect the health of the Chesapeake Bay. All that we do in our farms, yards and gardens, enters the water table and into our streams and rivers. It all makes it’s way to the bay. Sustainable garden practices are important to protect the health of our Bay.

Native Plant Gardening

Planting native plants in your garden is like inviting a piece of your local environment to flourish in your backyard. These plants have a special connection to the land, having evolved over time to thrive in your region’s specific conditions. By incorporating native plants into your garden, you’re not only creating a beautiful landscape but also supporting the ecosystem around you. Native plants offer food and shelter to local wildlife and reduce the need for extensive maintenance and chemical interventions.

Native plants are water-efficient, and they have a natural resilience to changing climate conditions. Planting natives fits into the regenerative gardening philosophy of growing resilient, sustainable landscapes that benefit both people and the planet. So, by choosing native plants, you’re not just gardening; you’re becoming a steward of your local environment, contributing to biodiversity, and promoting a healthier Earth right in your own backyard.

Native plants often support specific wildlife, native to your area. There is a growing concern that many native species of pollinators are disappearing, partly because of the lack of native species that feed and support them. The University of Maryland Extension has a list of native plant recommendations. They suggest as a goal, planting 70% of your yard and garden with native species. This includes ornamentals, bushes, and trees. It is a good goal to aim for as you garden through the years.

Anyone can get useful information from their state university extension program by doing an internet search. Check out our complete guide to native plants in the Mid-Atlantic.

Organic Gardening

Organic gardening emphasizes working with nature rather than against it, promoting healthier ecosystems and producing chemical-free, nutritious food. It encourages many of the same practices as regenerative gardening, like composting and natural pest control.

Traditional organic gardening, while admirable in its commitment to avoiding synthetic chemicals and promote soil health, may fall short of fully embracing the regenerative gardening philosophy. Traditionally, organic gardening has a limited emphasis on biodiversity. For example, some of the old practices, like monocropping, or planting one type of plant in the entire bed, doesn’t lead to the biodiversity that we get when copying nature with diverse plantings. In organic gardening crop rotation is the solution.

The problem with organic gardening is not the methods themselves, but the coopting of the word “organic”. Many things that are labeled organic really aren’t. There is a serious lack of truth in advertising when it comes to organic products. The USDA allows many things that we would deem inorganic to wear the label. For instance, did you know that the USDA has no guidelines specifically for vaccine use in organic meats? I’m not saying that vaccines are good or bad, I’m pointing out that there is NO guidance. Animal protein producers are allowed to “fill in the blanks”.

The “organic” label needs scrutiny these days.

Conclusion

Traditional organic gardening is certainly a valuable step towards more sustainable and environmentally friendly gardening practices. Regenerative gardening can be seen as an evolution of these practices, with a stronger emphasis on holistic sustainability, biodiversity, and resilience in the face of environmental changes.

We hope your curiosity has been piqued by this article and that you’ll find ways to adopt regenerative gardening principles in your own garden. As always, happy gardening!

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