The Pros and Cons of 20 Different Gardening Methods
The wide world of gardening has so many things to learn and know. For instance, did you know that there are 20 different gardening methods to choose from?? Some take little to no effort, some take lots of effort to set up but make everything easier after, and some have a whole set of science and rules you’ll need to follow.
In the end, there is no one “right way” to garden and this list will dive into the different gardening styles as well as some pros and cons of each. By the end of the article you’ll be able to decide which way or ways are right for you and your situation and be on your way to your best gardening year ever!
Aquaponics is a gardening method that uses the symbiotic relationship between fish and plants in much the same way that a lake’s ecosystem works. Using water tanks, fish are added in to create waste that will become an organic food source for the plants while the plants filter the water for the fish.
Depending on the species of fish used, you may even be able to double up your return by harvesting the fish as well as the plants as a food source. Because it is a contained system it requires less water. But, it can also be quite costly and take up a large amount of space.
Back to Eden Gardening
Back to Eden is a method that is gaining a lot of popularity recently. Created by gardener and arborist Paul Gautschi this regenerative method involves aspects of no-till gardening, permaculture, and organic gardening. The method works on the simple principle that the ground should remain “covered” at all times. This is usually done with finely sifted wood chips in a 4”-6” layer. The wood chips retain moisture and suppress weeds and as they decompose, they add nutrients to the soil over time.
This type of gardening can reduce water use, minimize weeding and over time regenerate the soil. The downside is that getting everything set up can be quite time-consuming. And, the sifted wood chips are often hard to come by making it necessary to sift them yourself. A lengthy process if you have a sizable garden that needs 4” of coverage.
Biodynamic or Biomimicry Gardening
Biodynamic gardening, created by Rudolph Steiner in 1924 is a ‘holistic’ method that encompasses the principles of organic gardening while taking into consideration the basic cycles of nature. Biodynamic gardeners time everything from ground preparation, cultivation, planting, and even harvesting to be in harmony with the rhythms of the sun, moon, and stars to enhance the vitality and success of their crops. Additionally, this method utilizes cover crops, crop rotation, and companion planting.
This gardening method has a steep learning curve, but once mastered it can produce crops that are filled with the valuable trace minerals often missing from commercially grown produce. One of the best examples of this method can be found in the documentary “The Biggest Little Farm,” and if you haven’t seen it yet I highly encourage watching it. This was one of the first films we watched as we embarked on our homesteading journey and has impacted nearly every decision we’ve made.
Container gardening is ideal for those who want to garden but don’t have a lot of space, or who live in a place with poor soil quality. Nearly any container can be used, from actual flower and garden pots to plastic totes, tubs, and buckets. Growing plants in containers is a great way to maximize space, and have the garden you want even under less-than-ideal conditions. Containers can be placed on patios and balconies and many plants grow well in containers.
It is however important to note that due to the nature of containers, you may need more water than normal to keep plants hydrated. Additionally set up can be costly upfront when purchasing large amounts of containers as well as the soil to fill them. The only downside is that container-grown plants need to be watered more often.
Core gardening was created in the sub-Sahara desert region, and designed to help the soil hold onto water for weeks. It is a great method to use if water is a limited resource for your property. The principle is simple. To achieve core gardening, dig a trench in the middle of your garden bed and fill it with organic material such as straw. Once the “core” is created it is “charged” by saturating with water before covering the layer and planting the bed.
Once charged, your core acts like a giant sponge retaining water for weeks, dramatically reducing water needs. This method amends the soil rapidly, increasing drainage, and allowing microbes and fungi to colonize the straw and interact with plant roots.
Greenhouse gardening is a great solution if you live in a climate with a short growing season. By using a greenhouse to help capture and hold heat you can grow year-round even in cool climates and even grow crops not generally seen in your area.
The downside to greenhouse growing is primarily in the cost. Setting up a greenhouse will generally take a lot of equipment, materials, labor, and money to get everything going. You can reduce costs by using recycled or repurposed materials such as old windows and pallets. You can purchase simple kits at many garden and hardware stores, and you can even find mini greenhouse setups that will sit nicely on a porch or patio.
Hugelkultur literally means mound, and this method requires building mounds of organic matter, primarily wood, and other compostable materials, and planting on top of them. A Hugelkultur bed is generally created starting with woody materials like logs and branches that are then covered with a mix of soil and leaves. That is topped off with a layer of semi-composted organic materials like veggie peelings before being topped with compost and soil.
Hugelkultur beds act as a sponge holding the water while all of the added organic matter provides plants with valuable nutrients as they decompose. Another benefit is that since the bed is created in a mound, you can plant along the top as well as the sides increasing your growing space.
Hydroponics, similar to Aquaponics is another method for gardening without soil. The primary difference is that hydroponics does not involve the use of fish. Instead, it relies on continuously circulating water amended with liquid fertilizers.
This is an excellent option for gardening with less water. It can be done indoors or outdoors and can be done in small spaces depending on your setup. This however is one garden method that can quickly get overly complicated as well as expensive, so be sure to do your research before diving in!
In Ground Gardening
In-ground gardening is exactly what it sounds like; plants are grown directly in the ground. When people think of gardening, this is often the type of garden that comes to mind. It’s cost-effective, and easy to start, especially for beginners.
One of the primary benefits of inground gardening is that it requires very few tools or pieces of equipment, all you need are some tilled ground, seeds, and fertilizer to get started. In-ground gardening is a great method for people who have plenty of space as well as water. Primary drawbacks include accessibility to garden pests such as squirrels, rabbits, and moles. In this kind of garden, you will only be able to grow plants or trees that are native to or compatible with your location and soil type.
Keyhole gardening gets its name from the keyhole shape of the raised beds. Simply put, it is a garden that is created in a circular raised bed with a path into the center of the circle. The center contains a compost pile enclosed in a mesh that runs the entire depth of the garden bed. Gardeners water the compost pile, sending moisture and nutrients throughout the whole garden bed without disturbing the plants. It is essentially a raised bed, a composting, and a recycling system all rolled into one.
The design creates a garden that uses recycled materials, less water, and maintenance, and can even be made handicap-accessible!
Lasagna gardening involves creating “lasagna” like layers of compostable materials with soil on top. This is a no-dig type of garden that can be ideal if you don’t wish to prep the ground layer or dig up grass to plant a garden. Simply add layers of green and brown compost to a depth of approximately 2’ (because it compacts over time) and start planting.
This type of garden provides better water retention, fewer weeds, and improves the soil. However, kitchen scraps and compost materials can attract critters like mice and raccoons. It must be kept moist at all times and the green materials can attract destructive bugs like slugs and snails because the layers give them lots of places to hide.
The Mittleider Method
This method was developed by Dr. Jacob R. Mittleider and is a science-based method that centers on the principle of delivering a carefully designed set of nutrients to the plants; first, when planting and then on a weekly basis. It focuses on plant nutrition more than soil health and claims to make gardening in any soil possible.
With the Mittleider Method, a custom fertilizer blend is required to supply all the nutrients plants require in exactly the amounts needed. Three of these nutrients (N-Nitrogen, P-Phosphorous, and K-Potassium) are supplied by conventional balanced fertilizer. The other 10 are supplied by the “Mittleider Micro-Nutrient Mix” (not an affiliate link).
Or, to make your own Mittleider Mix, and the best part is that all the ingredients can be purchased at any garden supply or hardware store.
No Dig Gardening
No-dig, or no-till, gardening is similar to lasagna gardening in that it does not require you to prep the surface before adding layers of compost and mulch. Nutrient-dense compost and organic materials are placed on top of the ground and work their way into the soil as they get watered in and decompose.
No-till gardening has several benefits like little to no weeding required and added nutrients from the mulch. However, you will have to add more wood chips or whatever your selected much is throughout the growing season.
Organic gardening is a method for growing crops without the use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. Organic gardeners place importance on nurturing a healthy ecosystem by improving the health of the soil and plants and supporting the microorganisms and beneficial insects that grow and live in your garden. Organic gardeners focus on using compost, cover crops, and crop rotation to mitigate disease, improve soil health and create a holistic growing environment.
It is important to note that in order to sell produce as “organic” your garden will require USDA certification.
Permaculture is all about working with nature rather than against it. At the heart of permaculture are three ethical principles: care for the planet, care for people, and take only a fair share. Permaculture is typically done using perennial and native plants and works to create a self-sustainable system. Sometimes referred to as a food forest, permaculture gardening avoids tilling, pesticides, and synthetic fertilizers. Instead, it focuses on building an ecosystem of plants, soil, and insects that work together to create a sustainable growing environment.
Square Foot Gardening
As the name suggests, square-foot gardening is the practice of dividing your growing space into square-foot segments. Developed by Mel Bartholomew in 1981, this is one of the best gardening methods for those with small gardens. This technique combines succession planting and tight plant spacing to produce larger yields from smaller spaces.
One thing to note is that it tends to be suggested that the beds be filled with a mixture of vermiculite, peat moss, and compost to plant in instead of garden soil and compost. However, there is a strong argument against ever using peat products in your garden and I advise you to research peat moss before deciding to use it.
Straw Bale Gardening
Straw bale gardening is a low-soil/no-soil gardening option since as the name suggests, plants are placed directly into the stray bale. It’s a great gardening option that essentially turns a bale of straw (or hay) into a compostable nutrient-rich planter.
To use straw or hay bales for gardening, however, there are a few details that you need to get right. First, the bale must be sourced from a reputable location that ensures no herbicides or pesticides are used on the crop. Second, the bale must be conditioned several weeks beforehand with a nitrogen-rich additive to accelerate the decomposition process.
As you likely know by now, compost creates heat, and failing to properly start the decomp process well in advance of planting can result in burnt plants. However when done correctly straw can be a wonderful medium for growing in.
Raised Bed Gardening
This is an easily recognizable gardening method characterized by, you guessed it, garden beds that are built raised from the ground. Raised beds allow for better drainage, reduce back and body strain for the gardeners and make weed suppression easier. It’s a perfect option for gardeners who have injuries or health conditions that make getting down on the ground difficult. And, it is a good solution to consider if you have less than ideal soil as you have ultimate control over your soil quality.
The downside is that both building and filling raised beds can be expensive projects to set up. The other drawback is that raised beds will require more water similar to container gardening.
Ruth Stout Gardening
Created by Ruth Stout in 1944, this method of gardening was originally listed as “the No-Work” garden. It combines no-dig gardening with the practice of mulching in place with a 6”- 8” layer of straw or other organic material.
This method reduces the need for constant watering, suppresses weeds, and improves soil quality. We used this method last year on several beds and for us, the only drawback was that although we did get fewer “weeds” we did have to remove a lot of straw that germinated from the bales. However, I didn’t find this all that troubling since the plants were simple to remove.
One of the best gardening methods would be gardeners with limited space is vertical gardening. By shifting to vertical growing, getting a larger amount of crops in a smaller space is possible. You can purchase vertical growing towers that hold large numbers of plants in a single square foot or DIY a garden structure against a wall or fence.
The primary drawback is that vertical gardening can limit you to certain types and varieties of crops either because of size/weight or the plant's inability to vine upward.
So how about it, did you know there were so many different gardening methods? Now that you do, it’s time to decide which is the best for your growing situation. But the good news is that there is no need to choose just one! In our garden, we use a mix of different styles and principles.
We had a lot of trouble with moles last season. To combat that, all of our beds will be remade this year with metal mesh beneath them to prevent critter damage. The additional challenge we face is that our well went dry, so reducing water usage will be essential.
With these two issues in mind, we’ll be laying down metal mesh over the entire garden area, and building raised beds on top of it. The beds will be filled first with a layer of branches and leaves (Hugelkulture style), which will be topped with a thick layer of straw (Core Gardening style) and then soil will be added on top for planting.
Once our plants reach around 6” they will be topped with an additional thick layer of straw (Ruth Stout style) and with luck we will be able to reduce our water usage. Additionally, we will have several vertical gardening areas and one section of container gardening, and we always practice organic and biodynamic gardening principles. Of course, we will also be adding in some creative rain catchment systems, so stay tuned for that upcoming project!
So, what about you? What gardening style or styles will you be using this year? Tell us all about it in the comments below, and leave us any tips or tricks you may have as well! And, as always, until next time: