Tips on Environmentally Friendly Gardening
Landscaping with native plants
Native plants will generally grow better in the long run because they are adapted to the local climate and wildlife, including pest species. Additional watering, fertilizing or herbicides are rarely needed. Planting a wide variety of native plants will also attract birds, butterflies and bees to your garden and ensure that pests do not cause widespread damage. Non-native plants pose the threat of becoming invasive species if they escape from your garden, so if you do grow exotic plants, don't allow plant waste that might contain seeds to contaminate natural areas.
Landscape with energy conservation in mind
The strategic placement of trees, shrubs and vines can significantly affect the micro-climate around your house, reducing energy requirements – and the burning of fossil fuels – in both summer and winter.
Planting deciduous trees on the south and south-west sides of your house will shade the roof, walls, and windows during the hot summer months. This greatly reduces the need for artificial air conditioning. Small trees and shrubs can be placed near air conditioners for additional energy savings. Planting evergreen trees on the north and north-west sides of your house will block cold winds during the winter, lowering the cost of heating bills. A row of smaller evergreen shrubs planted a metre from the wall will provide insulation. Vines growing on your walls will act as insulators during both the summer and the winter.
Fertilizing your lawn
Chemical fertilizers may make your lawn look green and plush, but continued use leads to a decrease of organic matter and beneficial organisms in the soil. Furthermore, chemical fertilizers provide only short-term benefits because they quickly leach into the water table under your the soil and into the nearest stream or river. Either way, the result is that you lawn becomes hooked on fertilizers - more and more are required to achieve the same effect. Instead, apply finished compost in the spring and again throughout the growing season, which will build up the soil's organic content and supply organisms that will eat up unsightly thatch naturally. Finished compost can be made in you own backyard composter or bought at your local garden store..
During the growing season, mow lightly and leave grass clippings in place, since they provide shade and moisture at the soil level, and return nutrients to the soil as they decompose. However, avoid thick piles of grass clippings, which will smother the grass plants underneath. Instead of trying to remove clover from your lawn, you might consider adding 20% of white clover to the mix when your overseed. Micro-organisms associated with the roots of clover are able to ‘fix’ atmospheric nitrogen and provide natural fertilization. In the autumn aerate the lawn and if you wish to give nature a boost, use an organic fertilizer that is not detrimental to the soil.
Watering your lawn and garden
One inch of water per week is sufficient for a healthy lawn. It’s better to water infrequently and deeply rather than frequently and lightly, to encourage the grass plants to grow deep roots. Watering is best done in the early morning and certainly not in the heat of the day. Grass naturally goes dormant in hot dry weather, so it’s not disastrous to skip watering altogether, particularly if watering restrictions are in place. Water soaks into the turf better if the lawn is well-aerated, which is conveniently carried out for you by earthworms if you maintain a high organic content in the soil by topdressing with finished compost. Mow lightly (blade height around 8 cm) so that the soil layer is better shielded from the sun. When overseeding, choose pest- and drought-resistant perennial ryes and fescues. Avoid Kentucky blue grass, which requires lots of water and fertilizers and is highly susceptible to grubs.
You can reduce the water requirements of your flower garden by choosing drought-tolerant species, particularly native plants that are adapted to natural precipitation levels, and by thorough mulching to keep the soil cool and moist. Consider installing a rain barrel to collect rain water from your roof to gather water for use during dry spells.
Do you have a pool in your back yard? When the time come to empty it at the end of the season, do so slowly over a period of several days and direct the water to a grassy area, or under evergreens, which benefit from a good soaking before winter.
Dealing with weeds
Weeds can easily be taken care of by hand pulling if they they are not allowed to get out of control. Loosen the surrounding soil first if necessary so as not to leave roots behind. Make sure you remove flowering species such as dandelions before they go to seed If there are no other plants close by, weeds can also be treated with boiling water or vinegar.
To restore bare patches in your lawn after pulling weeds, break up the soil, apply lime (if dandelions were removed) and overseed with grass. Don’t forget to include some white clover seed. Weeds do not flourish in a well-maintained lawn. Mow with a blade height of approximately 8 cm so weeds will be shaded out if they do germinate, and overseed in the fall to maintain turf density.
Dealing with pests
It’s not necessary to try and rid your lawn and garden of all pests. Pesticides will kill beneficial insects as well as harmful ones, and rainwater can wash the toxins into local sources of drinking water. Some pesticides are known to have carcinogenic properties. Use a wide diversity of native plants in your garden that are adapted to native pests so they will not be overly stressed and vulnerable. There are many safe ways of dealing with specific pests. For example, finely ground eggshells or powdered ginger spread at the base of a plant keeps slugs at bay. Spraying one part ammonia to nine parts water over plants will also keep slugs from crawling on them. Aphid infestations can be dealt with by spraying with one part dish washing detergent in 40 parts water. For hard-bodied insects add ten parts of rubbing alcohol to this recipe. In both cases rinse off the affected plant with water after 5-10 minutes. Pests generally dislike aromatic plants such as garlic and onion, so these species can be planted among the more vulnerable ones. You can try introducing predatory species, for example nematodes will clear a lawn of white grubs and ladybugs love aphids. Also try attracting insect-eating birds to your property.
Attracting wildlife to your garden
Many types of birds and insects are beneficial to your garden because they variously eat pests, pollinate flowers and aerate the soil (bird beaks). You can provide food for birds by planting seed-, nut- or berry-bearing trees and shrubs, and attract bees and other beneficial insects by providing a variety of nectar- and pollen-rich native wildflowers. Choose a range of plants so that food will be available throughout the season. A bird bath or a water source will also attract a variety of species. Log or rock structures can provide shelter. Junipers and oaks are ideal for both food and shelter for birds.
Discouraging unwelcome wildlife
Herbivorous animals are repelled by garlic, baby powder, rotten eggs, or nylons stuffed with dog or human hair. Such methods should be changed frequently so that the animals don’t grow accustomed to the scent. Avoid enticing raccoons by ensuring that garbage cans and compost piles are inaccessible, potential hiding places (e.g. under decks) are blocked, and do not leave pet food outside. Make sure the ground under bird feeders is clean. Do not attempt to trap and relocate wildlife, as new animals will simply take their place.
Rotating vegetable crops
Rotating your vegetables helps to protect them against insect infestations and diseases that might over-winter in the soil. This is particularly important for tomatoes and potatoes. For best results, keep a note of where you plant each crop from one year to the next and consult gardening books to see which plant species grow best together.
Living on a river valley
If your garden is adjacent to a river or stream, avoid mowing or cultivating to the edge of the valley. This will help to preserve the native ecology of the valley, retain moisture in the soil and prevent erosion. Don’t plant invasive species that might escape into the valley and upset the ecological balance, and remove any invasives that turn up in your garden. If your property extends to the watercourse itself, try to resist ‘cleaning up’ natural plant and tree litter along the banks. Avoid changing the character of any wetland that extends into your property. If your land is naturally wet or has poor drainage, try creating a wetland garden with plants that grow naturally in wet areas.
Creating a good compost pile
Compost should contain organic matter that is rich in nitrogen, such as fruit and vegetable scraps, tea bags, coffee grounds, plant clippings and grass trimmings (though these are best left on the lawn). Dry materials high in carbon, such as dry leaves, straw and sawdust, should also be added. Do not include weeds with ripe seeds, diseased or infested plants, pet feces, charcoal, meat, bones, fat, dairy products, oily foods, leftover cooked foods or plastics. Avoid rose clippings and tomato plants because they can harbour persistent diseases. The pile should have the same consistency as a damp sponge - you may need to add water periodically. The compost heap should also be turned every so often with a garden fork. If your compost starts to smell, add more dry materials and turn the pile for better aeration. Composting may take anywhere from two months to a year, depending on whether a winter intervenes. Small pieces of matter decompose faster. For examples, you can prepare autumn leaves for composting by shredding them with a lawn mower. You know your compost is ready for use when it has been transformed into dark crumbly earth.
Vaughan residents can purchase a convenient plastic backyard composter from the City Public Works Department for only $15.00 plus taxes.