Good Life

Simple steps can help make garden sustainable

Native plants are available each May at the Penn State Master Gardener Garden Fair and Plant Sale.
Native plants are available each May at the Penn State Master Gardener Garden Fair and Plant Sale. Centre Daily Times, file

Editor’s note: The following is part of the Active Life special section.

With spring coming, many people are surely counting the days until they can spend their time soaking up some sun. For those looking to try something new this spring, a sustainable garden might be just the project.

Sarah Pollock, of Port Matilda, a Centre County Master Gardener volunteer, said gardening is a great way to enhance your quality of life, even if you have limited space or mobility problems.

Her advice for those just beginning? Start small.

People can begin planting in early May and take it all the way into autumn, she said.

Many people are itching to get outside during the spring and attempt to take on too much if they’re new to gardening, Pollock said.

She added that by starting small, it’s more manageable, and people can expand their gardens in the future.

Everything people need to create a sustainable garden can be found at local retailers, Pollock said.

The mantra of the sustainability movement can be applied to growing a sustainable garden: reduce, reuse and recycle.

Pollock suggests using a rain barrel to capture water to use in the garden. On average, rain barrels hold about 50 gallons.

Install the rain barrel under the gutter’s downspout next to the house to collect rainwater from the roof, she said.

“By collecting rainwater, homeowners reduce flooding and pollution in local waterways,” Pollock added.

Having a sustainable garden can also reduce the waste you put out to the curb.

Pollock said that about one-third of garbage could be composted instead — everything from fruit and vegetable peels to pet hair breaks down over a few months.

Using this compost in your garden can create a “robust growing environment,” Pollock said.

The 42-year-old artist, who describes herself as a big believer in lifelong learning, said that since she became involved with the Master Gardener program — volunteers trained by the Penn State Cooperative Extension who educate the home-gardening community in myriad ways — about three years ago, she’s become more aware of what’s happening with pollinators.

Honey bees and other pollinators are having problems, she said. Putting native plants into your garden can help pollinators because they recognize these plants as food sources.

One place to find native plants is the annual Centre County Master Gardener Garden Fair and Plant Sale.

This year’s plant sale will be held May 21 at the Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center, at 2710 W. Pine Grove Road.

More than 5,000 plants and vegetables will be for sale, including perennials, annuals, herbs, houseplants, vegetables, noteworthy plants and pollinators and native plants, according to the Master Gardener website.

But even if your garden is full of pollinator-friendly plants, compost and harvested rainwater, there can still be pest pressures.

“You have to be Zen about your approach to things,” Pollock said.

You have to be Zen about your approach to things.

Sarah Pollock, a Centre County Master Gardener volunteer

She suggests integrated pest management as a way to keep chemicals out of the garden.

“(It) focuses on long-term prevention of pests and pest damage through a combination of techniques. ... Often, pest problems in the garden get started when something small is out of balance,” she said.

Pollock said understanding the conditions that allow pests to thrive enables gardeners to make changes before choosing “a more draconian option such as applying pesticides.”

The Master Gardeners operate an informational hotline, which is available between 9 a.m. and noon on Monday and Wednesday from May through September.

Pollock said the hotline is a great way to get help with any lawn and gardening questions people may have.

To reach the Master Gardeners hotline, call 355-4897 or email

Sarah Rafacz: 814-231-4619, @sarahrafacz