The 7 commandments of green gardening
You shall not cut thy lawn shorter than two inches. "I see so many lawns where the grass is cut way too short," says Kelly Koome, a certified arborist and landscaper with Green Earth Landscaping in Coquitlam, B.C. Maintaining grass length between two to three inches enables a stronger, deeper root system, which requires less watering. The bonus? "When July and August hit, when it's really hot and there are watering restrictions, your lawn will also prevail better where others that have been cut too short won't."
TIP Green garden experts recommend restricting your lawn area to a small play space for kids because mowing and watering grass is such a huge drain on resources. Instead, try virtually self-sufficient ground covers such as clover.
You shall use hand-operated tools whenever possible. Even eco-conscious gardeners may have a blind spot when it comes to their mower. However, power-operated garden equipment, including the trimmer, contributes to greenhouse gas emissions in North America by as much as 5%. Opt for a push mower, and plant garden beds around your property's perimeter so you don't need a trimmer. Also: if you hire outside help, look for an eco-friendly landscaping company that limits use of power-operated equipment; these are on the rise across Canada.
You shall not underestimate the initial process of garden design. "People tend to want to put most of their money and time into building a landscape, not on the design of it," says Claire Suo-Cockerton, director and chief designer at Aesthetic Earthworks Inc. in Toronto. "But planning is key to being as green as possible." Take into account the existing environment (including trees and plants, sun, wind, slope and water drainage) beforehand to avoid spending money on gardens that just won’t thrive. And pay special attention to grading. Specifically, the landscape design should ensure that water drains back into the ground’s water table, not down the street where it picks up tar, gas and other nasty chemicals on its way to a local stream. Use permeable dry-laid (no concrete or mortar) materials such pea gravel and flagstone that can be inter-planted with other ground covers in your hardscaping, and slope a patio or walkway so that water drains into the garden bed.You shall remember that soil is your best fertilizer (and use mulch!). Gardeners tend to spend money on manmade, resource-intensive chemical fertilizers, and forget that the best source of nutrients for plants is quality soil. "A successful garden is 75% healthy soil," says Kelly. Till in compost (your municipality may offer it for free) in the spring and fall. And make sure you add a topcoat of mulch, which helps plants to retain water longer as well as to fend off weeds.
You shall water less frequently but longer. Gardeners who water frequently and shallowly are weakening plant root systems, wasting water and time, says Claire. The key is to water less often, but deeper (preferably early in the morning). That allows roots systems to become hardier, which will help them survive drought conditions.
You shall not shop carelessly for plant and garden materials. So many gardeners are eco-conscious but then pick their plants randomly, says Claire. Most of us don't realize how far plants travel before making it to a nursery, especially when they're not local, she explains. The answer? Source local landscaping materials, including rocks and soil, and opt for native plants. "They're hardier, and require less resources and fertilizers to maintain."
Lastly, thou shall remember to emulate nature in every way. The biggest myth about organic gardening is that it's more work. "The reverse is true," says Kelly. A perfect example is how many gardeners set to work turning over the soil in spring. In fact, digging up the soil tears up a precious relationship between fungus and a plant's root system called mycorrhiza. Instead, Kelly suggests adding a little soil mineral amendment (such as Gaia Glacial Rock Dust). If ever in doubt, ask yourself: Would Mother Nature approve?