Types of Gardening Methods – Find Your Style

There sure are a million and one ways to garden, right?

It can be a bit overwhelming when you’re a new gardener faced with all the different types of gardening methods.

I’m going to simplify things for you and explain the difference between gardening philosophies, methods and techniques.

This should help narrow down the options so you’ll be well on your way to finding a style that suits you.

What are Gardening Methods?

Many articles online list upwards of 15 or 20 different gardening methods and make it appear like you have to sift through them all and choose one. For some people, this alone is enough to stop them from getting into gardening in the first place.

But it doesn’t have to be like that!

bearded man in working in garden

Deciding between different types of gardening approaches can actually be much more simple, and I’m going to help you!

First up, there is a difference between:

  • Overarching gardening philosophies that govern the decisions you make.
  • The method you use to set up your garden in the first place depending on the space you have available and your goals.
  • The techniques you incorporate once your garden is established

The overarching philosophy is what you need to decide on first. But you don’t need to see this as a decision that you make once and then have to stick to. Philosophies can lie on a spectrum.

Where you sit on the spectrum will most likely be governed by your values and preferences such as how natural and spray-free you prefer to keep things and how much money you want to spend.

Once you know your philosophy, you can pick and choose from the different gardening set ups and techniques that typically are associated with that philosophies until you find the perfect balance. Yes, there will likely be some trial and error, but that is how we learn!

So, let’s get into it!

Overarching Gardening Philosophies

Conventional

Conventional gardening makes use of synthetic chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The use of these products first gained traction in large agricultural systems after WW2 when agrochemical corporations first grew into the huge entities they are today.

When the products began being marketed to homeowners, they became integrated in home gardening systems too.

Conventional gardening is also typically in-ground gardening which involves some form of tilling – the digging over of your garden bed between crops.

More and more people are moving away from both sprays and tilling in order to maximize the health of the garden and the food you produce.

Organic

Organic gardening methods involve gardening without the use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. Instead, the focus is on maximizing soil health through adding plenty of aged compost and other natural amendments like sea weed and manure.

hand on green grass

While conventional gardening usually focuses on the balance of the three main nutrients – Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium (N, P, K), organic gardening also puts a lot of emphasis on trace elements.

Organic gardening utilizes natural alternatives for pest control such as Neem oil, Eucalyptus oil, companion planting and rotation cropping.

Permaculture

Permaculture uses organic principles but takes them a step further, aiming to create a self-sustaining system that requires little to no inputs. It incorporates traditional and indigenous knowledge with observations of how species coexist naturally in nature.

Permaculture is a whole-system approach that has many elements, but one important aspect is the planting of an abundance of different species side by side in order to maximize biodiversity and limit the challenges that might result from any one pest getting out of control.

Permaculture is compatible with no-till gardening which aims to avoid disturbing and hence degrading soil structure with unnecessary digging.

Biodynamic

Biodynamic gardening is another systems approach to growing. It has similarities to permaculture and also abides by organic principals.

However, biodynamic gardening has an astrological or slightly mystical component as well and takes the holistic view of permaculture one step further.

In biodynamic gardening, the farm or garden is viewed as a living whole, so what happens in one part of the garden is seen as having an impact on everything else in the system.

Like permaculture, it aims for the system to be economical and self-sufficient, with big focuses on soil health, biodiversity, recycling of nutrients and crop rotation.

Gardening Methods of Set Up

Lasagna Gardening

This revolutionary method of setting up a vegetable (or ornamental) garden is now commonly practiced by most organic and permaculture gardening enthusiasts. It paves the way for a no-dig, or no-till garden that is low maintenance and boasts amazing soil quality and crop yields.

The process simply involves laying down newspaper or cardboard over the grass where you would like to locate your garden. Brown and green matter is then layered on top, eventually breaking down to create nutrient-rich, weed-free soil.

Brown layers can include dried leaves, pine needles and wood mulch, green layers can include  grass clippings, food scraps and green garden waste. The final layer consists of compost and manure.

Ideally, you would build your lasagna bed in the fall and let it spend all winter breaking down so that it is ready to plant in the spring. But, you can still build in the spring if you add a little more ready-to-go growing mediums like some top soil or organic potting mix.

gardening tools on floor

Keyhole Gardening

Keyhole gardening is a way of setting up your garden that involves locating your compost heap in the middle.

The garden is shaped into a circle with a small entrance way cut out for easy access to the middle. In the middle, a compost heap is located inside a chicken wire frame. The vegetable garden is flush with this frame so that when you water the compost, the nutrients can leach out and into your soil.

You can simply add your food scraps directly into the compost heap without needing to go through the process of turning and transporting compost from elsewhere in your garden.

Container Gardening

Container gardening makes gardening possible for people who don’t have access to soil for in-ground growing or raised bed gardening.

It is great for patios, decks or balconies and simply involves planting crops in large pots or containers.

Smaller containers with drainage trays can also be used indoors if you live in an apartment or a particularly cold climate. You can learn more about indoor gardening here.

Most vegetable crops grow pretty well in containers, and those that don’t often have dwarf varieties that do.

Raised Bed Gardening

Raised bed gardening is exactly as it sounds, it is simply gardening but in beds that are raised off the ground, usually in a wooden frame.

The advantages of raised beds are many and include:

  • Making it easier on your body as you don’t have to bend down to ground level.
  • Keeping your soil lose and free of compaction.
  • Increased drainage.
  • Soil that is quicker to warm up in the spring.
  • A garden that is pretty free of weeds if you use the lasagna method to start.

Vertical Gardening

If you live in an apartment or only have a small yard or patio, vertical gardening is a way to make use of vertical space to grow your crops.

There are various ways of suspending crops, particularly on fences, that mean you can still grow a good amount of food without taking up all of your ground space.

On a similar note, growing in hanging baskets, window boxes or upside down growing are further ways to maximize the space you have available for growing edibles.

Square Foot Gardening

Square foot gardening is a method of organizing your garden in order to maximize efficiency in crop yields.

It is usually applied to small spaces and was developed to overcome the lack of efficiency in traditional row gardening.

The close spacing of crops also means that weeds shouldn’t be an issue, which cuts down on the labor involved in weeding your garden.

There are other ways to achieve this level of efficiency and lack of weeding that don’t necessarily need to be as rigid as dividing your garden into a grid, but it helps with the organization and planning side of things.

Greenhouse or Cold Frame Gardening

A greenhouse or cold frame is an essential component of almost every garden regardless of which philosophy you garden with.

Greenhouses, poly tunnels and cold frames act as season extenders, allowing you to plant earlier in the spring and grow later into the fall by providing a warmer growing environment.

green vegetable garden

You may find that crops that your usual climate is too cold for, will grow happily inside a greenhouse. You can learn more about this in my article on growing vegetables in the winter.

Strawbale Gardening

Strawbale gardening basically involves planting your veggies inside strawbales instead of straw. This saves a lot of money and effort when compared to the setup of traditional wooden raised beds.

The strawbales are watered daily for a few days and then fertilizer is added along with water for a few more days until the bale has started to decompose and is ready for planting.

Hugelkultur

Hugelkultur is a German method for setting up a garden bed that has the benefits of reducing water and compost needs while getting rid of some garden waste.

The method involves digging a hole or a trench in the ground where you want your garden bed to be, filling it with wood such as logs and branches, and then burying it with the soil from the hole you dug, creating a mound.

You can also add other organic material such as compost, manure and grass clippings for extra happy soil.

Over time, the wood in the pile will decompose and provide nutrients to your garden bed. It will also hold on to a lot of water meaning that your garden bed won’t be so susceptible to drought, or that time you forgot to irrigate.

Hydroponic

Hydroponic gardening grows plants in water instead of soil as the growing medium. Synthetic nutrients are circulated through the water to feed the growing plants.

Hydroponic systems are often situated inside or in a greenhouse in a controlled environment with growlights.

This allows for crops to be grown that might otherwise not grow so readily outside in natural conditions if the local climate isn’t warm enough or there are not enough daylight hours.

Greenhouse hydroponics system

The main downside to hydroponics (aside from losing out on the cathartic experience of getting your hands in the soil and your face in the sun!) is that setting up is expensive.

If you’d like to learn more, I have guides to the best hydroponic systems, best growing nutrients and best LED growlights to get you started.

Gardening Techniques

These gardening techniques are often listed as methods, but actually they are techniques that can be employed regardless of what overarching philosophy you are gardening under.

No-Dig or No-Till Gardening

As mentioned briefly before, the no-dig or no-till gardening style is popular with organic and permaculture growers, but anyone can do it.

No-dig gardening basically means that you never till or turn over the soil. Instead, you plant in the top layer of soil and mulch, mulch, mulch.

Sheet mulching is the secret to the success of no-dig gardening. The mulch provides all the nutrients that soil needs and also keeps weeds at bay.

Companion Planting

Companion planting is the practice of choosing what crops to plant side by side depending on how compatible they are to each other, and which pests they attract or deter.

For example, planting two crops that attract aphids next to each is likely a recipe for an aphid infestation. Planting a crop that deters aphids next to a crop that attracts aphids helps to manage the risk.

Some plants are believed to help others grow and fruit more successfully as well. Basil and tomatoes are great examples.

eggplant growing in home garden

Succession Planting

Succession planting is basically just smart planning when it comes to the timing of planting seeds and harvesting crops. With succession planting, you aim to avoid leaving any soil bare by making sure that you always have seedlings ready to transplant as soon as something is harvested.

This allows for maximized yields in a small space and minimizes problems with weeds that will take advantage of bare soil. It is good practice to mulch with aged compost each time you add a new crop to avoid depleting the soil too much.

Rotation Cropping

Rotation cropping aims to reduce problems with pests, disease and soil depletion by planting crops that take different things out of the soil and are prone to different pests and disease one after the other.

Usually, a safe rule is to plant crops from different families after each other, as crops within the same family usually have similar nutrient requirements from the soil and similar problems with pest and disease.

Other Decisions

Other things you’ll need to decide on that aren’t necessarily covered by the different methods above will include whether you want to have any fruit trees or even a small orchard.

Fruit trees will attract valuable pollinators to your garden that will help with the productivity of your fruiting vegetables.

If this is something that interests you, aside from choosing varieties that suit your local climate, you’ll need to learn how to prune. I have a guide to help you with that here.

Another thing to consider is what materials to use in the pathways between your vegetable bed.

You could leave the gaps between beds as grass, but this increases the likelihood of weeds ending up in your vegetable beds and it will still need mowing. A better alternative is wood chip.

All you need to do is simply add another layer once it has rotted down. You can even use the rotted down layer as mulch on your vegetable garden.

If you choose to keep grass in other parts of your garden, you’ll want to make sure you’re using the right kind of grass seed for your climate and maintenance requirements.

Regardless of the principles or techniques that you choose to follow, you’ll need some garden tools! Have a read of my guide to make sure you have everything you need!

Summary

So there you have it. Your simplified guide to the different types of gardening methods.

As you can see, the choice isn’t too complicated once you know whether you want to use sprays or not, and how much space you have.

Once you’ve chosen from the list of gardening methods, you can research and learn about just the method you’ve chosen so that it’s not too overwhelming.

I hope this guide has been useful and you feel more confident about choosing between the different ways to garden. Please let me know whether this was helpful and what you ended up deciding!

Andy Gibson

My name's Gibson. Andy Gibson. I like to think of myself as the Bond of the backyard, that is if yard work ever became sexy. I write about everything about indoor and outdoor gardening and the dread-it-but-still-need-to-do-it chores around the yard, like cleaning out the gutter guards.

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