Sustainable Canberra Garden   

Sustainable Garden Maintenance - Fact Sheet

sweeping paving

Rakes and brooms are excellent for cleaning up fallen leaves from paving. Leaves are added to the compost bin to decompose then returned to the garden as compost. Photo Lachlan Richardson.



Sustainable gardens require low levels of inputs to maintain their function, health and appearance. Landscapes are living, dynamic things which evolve over time. The aim of a sustainable garden is to keep the living parts of the landscape healthy and to repair the non-living or constructed parts of the landscape. Most people are aiming for a 'low maintenance' landscape, and what this means can vary from person to person. A 'no maintenance' landscape is not a reality.

Healthy plants provided with the correct watering, fertilising and pruning regime are less susceptible to pests and diseases and able to out-compete weed species. By a combination of good planning, careful plant selection, good soil preparation, drip irrigation and the use of mulch or ground covers many garden problems can be negated. By avoiding using chemical sprays predatory insects such as Preying Mantis, Hover Flies and Lady Birds are encouraged in the garden.

Whilst petrol driven equipment may get the job done quickly, working in the garden can be physically and mentally rewarding. To improve the overall sustainability of your garden - consider reducing your reliance on petrol or electricity driven machinery which contribute to greenhouse gases. Low impact gardeners use hand tools and physical labour as a substitute for garden gadgets. Reducing or removing the lawn is a good place to start your green garden conversion!

If using hand tools is impracticable because of the size of the job - consider joining up to a local green energy electricity supplier.   >> Find out about ActewAGL 'Green Choice'

The sustainable gardener accepts that change in a garden is an inevitable part of the process and some untidiness is acceptable.  One of the benefits of a garden that avoids using machinery for its maintenance is that it remains a quiet calm place. Consider slowing down and enjoying the garden!



Energy intensive maintenance equipment




  • Purchase or share a push mower
  • Remove lawn & replace with low maintenance diverse plant material. Removing or reducing lawn will mean lower water bills and less reliance on artificial fertilisers which add unecessary nutrients to local waterways.

Leaf blowers

  • Use rakes
  • Employ young fit students to sweep up and collect leaves. Compost leaves to use as garden mulch or soil improvers. If you don't have room to compost leaves excess leaves should be taken to a local green waste recycling centre where they will be converted to a mulch product.
Hedge Trimmer  
  • Use hand tools instead
  • Use informal landscape styles and plants that don’t require excessive clipping regimes


  • Use hand tools instead


  • Large logs and branches can be cut up with hand saws to provide habitat in the garden.
  • Prune material into smaller pieces with secateurs and place on the compost heap. Alternatively use a mulcher to reduce larger pieces so they can be added to the compost.
  • Excess waste should be taken to a local green waste recycling centre where it will be converted to a mulch product.




Artificial inputs    



Besides their toxic effects, a large percentage of pesticides are produced from non-renewable resources with a significant component of embodied energy. Pesiticide use should be considered only as a last resort in the garden. Accept that some disease & pests are inevitable & may be controlled by predatory insects in the garden such as Praying Mantis and Ladybirds.

  • Control with organic products like White Oil - a combination of dishwashing detergent and cooking oil that can be safely made up at home. >> White Oil Recipe
  • Avoid plants which are regularly plagued with insects or pests making them unsightly such as Azalea
  • Remove weeds by hand or smother with plastic or carpet.
  • Boiling water can be poured on broad leaf weeds




Avoid chemical fertilisers as a large percentage of fertilisers are produced from non-renewable resources with a significant component of embodied energy.

  • Improve soils with organic composts, manures and mulches
  • Choose plants with low nutrient needs such as many of the plants occurring in local bushland - they have evolved on low nutrient soils
  • A couple of chickens in the garden will eat a large proportion of household scraps and convert them into highly useful fertiliser for the garden. Chickens will also have the added benefit of providing eggs.


There are many alternatives for controlling garden pests. Beer traps in the vegetable garden can trap snails and snugs which may be munching their way through leafy vegetables. Free ranging chickens will feast on slugs, snails and slaters and their crushed egg shells may be placed around precious plants deterring soft bodied invertebrates. Bird scarers suspended across trees can deter birds from feasting on fruit. Many insects, such as the green larvae of Cabbage White Butterflies can be hand picked reducing crop damage.

Decks, timber structures and outdoor furniture may require regular oiling or painting when exposed to the elements. Consider using ecologically based products available from local hardwares and paint suppliers.

Ponds are a popular inclusion in many gardens. Well designed larger ponds will often require less maintenance than those that are poorly conceived. Excessive nutrients cause algal blooms depriving water of oxygen and aiding decomposition of plant life. Ensure that ponds are not overstocked with fish nor overfed (as this leads to excess nutrients). Prevent fertilisers or other nutrients entering the pond. Remove any excess growth of water plants and place on the compost heap. Protect ponds from heavy leaf falls in Autumn - they may be covered with a product like shade cloth. A pump and filter (solar varieties are available) will help oxygenate water and mix warm and cooler layers of water together.

Mulch the garden with a minimum of 75 to 100mm of mulch every six to twelve months, this will reduce the amount of water evaporating from the soil and will be beneficial to the soil life. Irrigation systems should be checked regularly during growing times of Spring, Summer and Autumn. Check for leaks as well as blockages and correct so water is delivered efficiently to ensure plant growth.


>> For more information on good garden practices - Xeriscape principles

>> For more information on reducing or removing lawn

>> More information on pond maintenance


Dr Richard Lamb (1995) 'Biodiversity' in RAIA Environment Design Guide.

Thompson, J and Sorvig, K (2000) Sustainable landscape construction: a guide to green building outdoors ( Principle 10 Maintain to Sustain). Island Press: USA.

Thompson, Paul (1991) Water in your garden. Lothian: Victoria.

This website was developed by
and the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects
(Edwina Richardson AILA)
with assistance from an ACT Government Environment Grant

© Australian Institute of Landscape Architects ACN 008 531 851

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