Gardening Made Easy: Alternative Gardening Ideas

New garden? No sweat! Skip the stress and enjoy instant success with no-dig gardens that are good to grow. Gardening is made easy with these interesting—and effective—alternative gardening ideas.


This concept is so popular you can buy a whole book on it, Straw Bale Gardens, by Joel Karsten. Once you get the bales in place, they’re easy to plant and care for. Straw acts as both mulch and compost, keeping plants warm and well fed. And because the bales keep garden plants off the ground, there’s no more stooping!

Step 1. Get your hands on some straw bales. Any variety will do, but wheat is most likely to be free of weed seeds. Contact a garden center, home-supply store or a local farmer.

Step 2. Decide on your garden’s location and move the bales to that spot. With the straw shafts running vertically, place them end to end to form rows, or arrange in a pattern. Squares, starbursts and spirals are fun options.

Step 3. Water and fertilize each bale thoroughly; you may have to do this a couple of times a week if it’s especially dry or warm out. Then allow five to seven days for the bales to “cook.” Once the bales are cool, pick off any weed shoots and spread a 2- to 3-inch layer of garden soil on top.

Step 4. Using a garden trowel, pull back a clump of straw to make a hole for planting. If planting veggies with deeper root systems, simply go down a bit farther and add additional soil. Plant most any variety of vegetable you wish—peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, mixed salad greens and herbs are all excellent candidates.

Step 5. Water plants regularly, or, if bales are side by side, run a soaker hose along the tops. Use a supplemental fertilizer every couple of weeks.

Easy Garden Tip: Give your bales a makeover by surrounding them with a low white picket fence, or plant the corners with trailing nasturtiums and the sides with compact flowers like marigolds and sweet alyssum.

Gardening Made Easy: Alternative Gardening Ideas Bag Gardening


So maybe, at first glance, alternative gardening ideas like, say, planting directly into a bag seems like the ultimate in laziness. But take a closer look and you’ll be convinced that success doesn’t always have to come hard. An ideal option for green-thumb wannabes living in condos, mobile homes or urban jungles, bag gardens thrive almost anywhere. There’s no worry about weeds, and no guesswork about amending soil. Plus, it’s even attractive now that you have gorgeous grow bag options like the ones pictured here from Gardener’s Supply Company.

Step 1. Position your bag wherever you like—on a patio, alongside the house, on a balcony—in an area that gets at least six to eight hours of full sun a day (if you’re growing vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers or peppers; leafy greens can tolerate a few hours less). It’s important to position it first because it can get heavy to move later.

Step 2. Fill your bag with soil all the way to the top. You don’t have to worry about drainage because these bags were designed to have good drainage built in.

Step 3. Sow seeds or young plants in bags, and water well. Like most gardens, bag varieties benefit from mulch, so pile on any chemical-free grass clippings, straw or leaves you have on hand.

Gardening Made Easy: Alternative Gardening Ideas

Imagebroker/Alamy A herb spiral in progress.


What’s not to love? They’re an efficient use of space, as good as the soil you fill them with, and can be made out of most any building material—stone, brick, bamboo stakes, cinder block, even PVC pipe. Plus they’re pretty!

Step 1. Place a wooden stake at the center of your future garden and tie a 2- to 3-foot length of string to it. Secure a can of spray paint to the other end of the string and mark the circumference.

Step 2. Cover the staked-out circle with cardboard and wet thoroughly.

Gardening Made Easy: Alternative Gardening Ideas

Arco Images GMBH/Alamy A completed herb spiral in bloom.

Step 3. Starting from any point on the outside circle, begin creating a perimeter with whatever material you’ve selected, stacking or measuring higher as you go along. At the halfway point, work your

way in to make a spiral that ends near the center of the garden and measures about 3 feet high.

Step 4. Fill the spiral with garden soil and let settle for a couple of days.

Step 5. Plant with a variety of herbs. Heat-loving plants like oregano, sage and rosemary will thrive near the top. Chives, parsley and tarragon do well in the middle, and herbs needing more shade and moisture, such as mint and lemon balm, will be happy near the bottom.

Easy Garden Tip: Herb spirals are a great way to make use of a small space. You just need a few feet. Then you build it up with stone, brick or other material and plant your favorite herbs. 

Gardening Made Easy: Alternative Gardening Ideas

Julie Maigret. Succulents are great plants for cinder blocks as pictured here.


No yard? No problem. Simply collect a couple of dozen cinder blocks and fashion a unique patio garden that’s bursting with a bounty of good eats. These look cool placed against a wall, in a corner or as stand-alone sculptural pieces.

Step 1. Decide how many plants you’ll include and then prepare the same number of blocks for planting by gluing wire mesh to the bottom of each. Then line the inside of each block opening with landscape fabric.

Step 2. Stack blocks to form a wall, creating any shape you wish. You can arrange blocks so that the plants grow either out of the tops or out of the sides.

Step 3. Fill lined blocks with potting mix and slip in plants with smaller root systems, like herbs, leafy greens and dwarf varieties of your favorite vegetables. Water regularly.


  1. Rdryder says

    I tried the straw bale gardening this year – lots to learn if I ever do again. First count on these bales to disintegrate mid planting season. Everything starts to melt and slope. Secondly, do not over plant your bales – I’ve got a tomatoe jungle and next time the zucchini and yellow squash will be in a separate bale w/1 plant on each end. Thirdly, count on critters finding your straw bales – mice, snakes, etc. So would I do it again – I keep thinking for the price of the bales, the water, the supplements, and all the work it might be cheaper to go to the farmers market and give myself some time back. We’ll see!

    • Fran Pierce says

      I planted a straw bale with annual flowers and it turned out beautiful. The bale lasted for two entire years, I changed out the annuals the second spring. I never had any trouble with critters of any type, or snakes. At the end of the second season, I “dismantled” the bale and used it for winter mulch in my regular flower beds. I live in Western New York State, so maybe the climate is a factor. I am going to do a veggie bale or two this year.

  2. Dawn Gantzler says

    I tried bag gardening. It was fine for chives and scallions and small carrots. The vine plants, like squash did not fare well. I think they needed a deeper root system space. I will do bags again next hear but now I know what will do best in them.

  3. Nancy says

    I tried straw bale gardening this year. I was told the bales were wheat and seed-free. That was wrong. I broke up some bales to simply mulch my tomato planters. Weeds are growing there now. The straw bale that I decided to plant was actually set into a planter, making the top of the bale about waist-high. It seemed like a good way to keep critters out, but no! Everything was eaten, right down to the roots. I am very disappointed in the whole process.

  4. jd says

    Please quit advocating the straw bale method of gardening. The lung problems that can occur from the mold and other fungi can be debilitating. This is a very bad idea.

  5. says

    thanks 4 the insight folk am disabled was think’n bout this method but when read’n bout it on another site seemed like a lot of work b 4 hand now I can tell the cons out weigh the pro’s but the herb spiral looks do able

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