Regenerative gardening 101

How to integrate practices into your daily life.


Regenerative gardening is gaining popularity across the country. It is a response to global setbacks, like climate change and population growth, which present more people to feed and fewer resources to do so. Regenerative gardening fosters a resilient environment meant to withstand natural disturbances, and increase productivity over time. Regenerative gardening targets soil, crop yields, water resilience, and nutrient density.

Hats off to Island Grown Initiative (IGI) and Roxanne Kapitan for the regenerative gardening presentations at Island libraries this spring. There’s another one on Saturday, March 23, at the Vineyard Haven library from 10:30 am to 12 pm. Kapitan is promoting the “gardening practices that foster regeneration,” which apply not only to vegetable gardens, but also to all other ornamental gardens and plantings.

Below, I’ve compiled a list of ideal practices to help integrate regenerative gardening into your daily lives:

  1. Compost: Make your own plant food in your backyard so you don’t have to drive somewhere to buy soil amendments in plastic bags that came from far away.

  2. Reduce or eliminate your lawn footprint: Most lawns use fossil fuels via mowing, water, and fertilizer. Consider replacing some, or all of your lawn, with lawn alternatives such as native groundcovers. Or consider planting a food forest (a landscape plan that mimics forest growth patterns).

  3. Keep the ground covered at all times: Use mulch with seaweed to add minerals back to the soil, spread wood chips to prep new garden beds or maintain established beds and plantings, and make use of the leaves on your property to keep the soil covered through the winter months.

  4. Catch rainwater off your roof and use it to water your plants.

  5. Source plants and seeds locally: Utilize seeds from the West Tisbury library’s community seed bank, participate in its spring plant swap, and look to local growers.

  6. Plant pollinator supporters such as bee balm, butterfly weed, and coneflower to attract and support pollinators and bee colonies. Make friends with bugs and birds.

  7. Use more native species in your landscaping plans. Polly Hill Arboretum’s M.V. Wild Type plants is the perfect place to start. Beginning Memorial Day weekend through Columbus Day, Polly Hill’s plant sale area is open daily from 9:30 am to 4 pm.

  8. Plant multiple species of cover crops to build soil life, add nitrogen, and sequester carbon in the soil.

  9. Try and keep roots in the soil all year. Plant cover crops after harvest, and consider cutting annuals down rather than pulling them out at the end of their season.

  10. Enhance soil life and plant health with no-till gardening, and add microbial inoculants to new plantings and transplants. Local garden centers and seed catalogues sell mycorrhizal fungal inoculants.

  11. Plant trees: Increase perennial plantings on your property, every year, for yourself, for someone’s birthday, for someone you know, or to memorialize someone you knew. Tree planting and soil conservation are some of the most important and beneficial things we can do as humans.

  12. Make it a project challenge to use your lot or property to digest all the organic matter it produces, including garden and kitchen waste. Get it into the ground. Compost it. Windrow it. Trench compost or dig it into the vegetable garden.

  13. Harvest autumn leaves in piles or by containing in wire surrounds. Heap twigs and branches until they break down. Collect leaf debris from people who cannot use it. Eelgrass and seaweed may be harvested from beaches with easy access.

  14. Edible forest gardening, made well-known in Massachusetts by Eric Toensmeier and Jonathan Bates, is an achievable idea. Edible forest gardening is also known as polyculture and permaculture planting. Check out Toensmeier and Bates’ book, “Paradise Lot,” at your library.


By getting carbon into the soil, and employing regenerative practices into our lives and gardens, we can all contribute our part — the only one we’re expected to play.