Ask The Experts - Going Green
Eco-sensitive landscaping offers lush, textured gardens in place of highly manicured lawns – soothe your soul as you salvage the environment
Getting to the root of eco-sensitive landscapingBy Kathryn Murray
Last fall, a bylaw banning the use of pesticides was put into effect in the City of
Hamilton. By September 1 of this year, offenders will begin to be fined for breaking this ban (from a maximum of $5,000 for a first offence to a maximum of $100,000 for third and subsequent offences). The bylaw states that homeowners may not apply or allow others to apply pesticides anywhere within the city’s boundaries. Of course there are exceptions, but in general, the lush, green, highly manicured lawns many long for will no longer be just a spray away. But all hope for a great yard is not lost. Greenscaping seeks to maximize your yard’s potential – think rock gardens, patios and water features – while minimizing environmental impact.
What are some of the environmental concerns associated with traditional landscaping?Jean Simpson, Satellite Garden Centre: Wasting water, chemical runoff from pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers, and harmful effects of gas lawnmowers.
Steve Plummer, Green Thumb Landscaping: Concerns include the use of cosmetic herbicides and pesticides, damage to the environment, equipment emissions, over use of water and the methane gases caused by landfills.
Marg Dantuma, Hess Landscaping: Traditionally, concern for the amount of water needed to sustain the landscape is not shown. Instead, it depends on readily available chemical protection from insects, diseases and weeds, while not necessarily utilizing native resources.
What is “greenscaping”?Gary van Eijk, Uncommon Ground: It’s a term used to incorporate common gardening and landscaping practices with increased environmentally sensitive methods and materials, while maintaining the accepted design aesthetic.
Steve Wraggett, Nature’s Choice Landworks and Design: Greenscaping is the buzz term most often used to indicate an environmentally sustainable, pesticide-free and organic approach to traditional landscape or lawn care procedures.
Mike Haunton, Let’s Landscape Together: Greenscaping is all about being conscious of the plant material you select, collecting rainwater and irrigating your plant material after the morning dew has dried (to avoid water loss due to evaporation during the day). Backyard composting, mulching your garden beds and selecting electric equipment to maintain your plant material and lawns are some other ways that homeowners can start.
What are the core principles or tenets of greenscaping?Barry Hordyk, Shademaster Landscaping Ltd.: Things begin in a general scope with the four Rs. Reduce waste of every kind – whether it is water, materials or energy. Reuse and recycle as much as possible, from construction debris to grass clippings. And re-think your processes: Are there new products on the market or new ways of doing things that would be more beneficial to the environment? Some more specific principals of greenscaping would be to choose the right plants for the right conditions, building and maintaining healthy soil and lawns able to withstand periods of dryness or attacks from insects, learning to water wisely and using mulch on your exposed soil surfaces to help retain moisture, and developing an integrated pest management plan that uses natural products as much as possible.
Dantuma: Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Re-buy. Reduce the amount of pesticides and water used and waste material created. Reuse onsite materials. Recycle via composting or mulching. And re-buy: Purchase products that are made from recycled materials.
Is greenscaping a big concern for clients?Simpson: Yes, whether or not people use the term. In rural areas especially, people want to conserve water, as many have to pay for it to be trucked in. And, in general, more people are concerned with the use of chemicals as knowledge of their dangers spreads.
Hordyk: Clients are definitely becoming more aware of environmental issues as they pertain to the landscape. Everyone is facing the challenges of the new bylaws regarding pesticide use, and becoming more aware of the cost of water and the frequent restrictions on watering.
Wraggett: The statistics suggest that homeowners’ preoccupation with their lawns is something that’s very high on their list of priorities. Equally, many are preoccupied with the state of the environment and the detrimental effects our actions are having on it and ourselves. The combination of these concerns has created a greater awareness of the need for alternative and healthful solutions to home and world green care. Seemingly, the unhealthy and environmentally detrimental lawn care processes of the past are no longer acceptable.
What causes people to shy away from greenscaping?Plummer: There are multiple, timely and costly steps to achieve the green, weed and infestation free lawn and garden that homeowners expect, and there is no guarantee that greenscaping will provide this in the end. Also, most people are not yet familiar with what is required, so they are sticking to the old, known systems.
Hordyk: One of the main reasons people may not choose a greenscaping approach is the initial cost. Using organic fertilizers and pesticide alternatives can be more expensive and less effective than previous products on the market. The cost of installing a water-efficient irrigation system or a rainwater harvesting system can also be expensive initially, but it will pay for itself over time.
Dantuma: The basic terminology may intimidate people. They may feel that greenscaping involves things that are too costly or beyond their capabilities. It’s actually very simple, and with a little bit of research we can all learn how to do it. It is important not to get overwhelmed – even small changes make a big difference.
Is greenscaping an all-or-nothing form of landscaping, or is it some-thing that can be implemented à la carte?Dantuma: Every little bit counts, whether it’s composting yard waste, collecting and using rainwater (unlike tap water, it’s free of calcium, lime and chlorine), selecting native plant material or
adding water features, patios and structures in lawns and garden areas.
Hordyk: Going “green” can start with small steps, a foundation that can be built upon later. You can start with composting or green bins to reduce the amount of organic waste going into the landfill, or choosing native plant material or plants that require low watering throughout the season, or mulching to retain moisture levels in the soil.
Haunton: It can be implemented to its full potential or a small portion at a time. Any movement towards the greenscaping industry is a positive movement for
What do DIY homeowners need to know to go green with respect to landscaping?Dantuma: Researching the topic is very valuable for anyone trying to go green in their landscape. People can take notes of native plants, visit a nursery and talk about the best plant material to use, or purchase a composter or rain barrel to start going green. And if they decide to contract a landscape professional, they should find out how that company addresses the issues of greenscaping.
Plummer: They need to know how to build and maintain healthy soil, what plants to select and where to plant them for their site, smart watering techniques, proper approaches to reduce the risk of pests and disease, and proper use of equipment to reduce emissions.
Haunton: Anyone can start going green with water conservation, grass cycling, using electric equipment, mulching, backyard composting, planting native specimens and selecting the best placement for plant materials. If contracting someone, homeowners need to communicate their desire to go green with their landscaper.
Simpson: Do-it-yourselfers need to know their soil and how to improve it via compost and sand. Understand the benefits of mulch and how to apply it and learn methods of efficient watering. Finally, they should use plants suitable for their property and consider planting to attract birds as natural insecticides.
Where does plant selection enter into the picture, and what are some good plant choices for our area?Hordyk: “Plant right for your site” is one of the mantras of greenscaping. That means choosing plants that will do best in specific site conditions without extra care. Understand your site – how much sun it gets, how much rain, the type and quality of the soil. Know your plants – what conditions they require, the amount of water they need, the size they will grow to and whether or not they’re prone to diseases and pests. Native plants are a good place to start. Having a pro help you can be invaluable and ensures you choose the best plants for your project.
Dantuma: Native plants should make up a significant component of the plant material in greenscaping. They are often the most adaptable and durable, need less water and fertilizers and are naturally more insect and disease resistant. There are many to choose from, such as dogwoods, maples, grasses, viburnum, trilliums, elderberry, ferris, coneflower, dianthus, rock cress, bush roses, pachysandra and periwinkle They also attract beneficial native insects, birds and small garden animals. Trees and shrubs provide heat and wind barriers, helping to lower home cooling and heating costs. Ground covers are useful in shady areas and on slopes, where they can help control erosion.
Simpson: In south and southwest exposures, good choices are Shademaster honey locust and Russian olive. If your property has prevailing winds, plant evergreen trees as a windscreen. Weeping false cypress, fir and spruce work well and prevent your soil from drying out. Plants susceptible to leaf burn, such as Japanese maple and rhododendrons, would do well here too. In dry sunny spots, look to drought tolerant plants such as Russian sage and sedums.In moist shady spots try dogwoods, in dry shade use dead nettle and in moist sun, look to beebalm. Finally, in average soil (sun or partial shade) the dwarf Korean lilac, climbing hydrangea, coral bells and certain hostas do well.
Haunton: Choosing native specimens that are drought resistant, and installing evergreens on the west and north sides and deciduous trees on the south side of your home provides a wind and shade barrier which reduces your home’s demand for heating or cooling.
Plummer: Good plant selection is about choosing the right plant for the right location. Consider the proper soil type and pH, sun exposure, watering amounts, possible element damage, full height and size at maturity, and susceptibility to diseases and pests.
What should be done with yard waste?Dantuma: The soil from recycled yard waste provides plants with a nutritious fertilizer and soil conditioner. Recycle plant and lawn clippings, leaves and even cold wood ashes from an outdoor fireplace in a composter. Larger yard waste (eg. branches and tree limbs) can go into brown yard bags for a free pick up on garbage day.
Plummer: Yard waste should be composted and used as a fertilizer to add nutrients back to your landscape. But proceed with caution: If there are any diseases in the yard waste, this is a sure way to spread it.
Rain harvesting, organic fertilizers… what’s new for greenscaping?Hordyk: There are many new products on the market, including rainwater harvesting tanks, porous paving stones, organic fertilizers and pesticides, mulches, water efficient irrigation systems and solar powered devices.
Dantuma: By arming ourselves with knowledge, we begin to change our choices to become better stewards of our environment. If we can model good practices, the next generation will naturally follow them. We are reevaluating the need for large, high-maintenance, manicured turf areas and are considering ways to reduce the amount of turf – rock gardens, water features, stepping stones, patios, walkways and structures.
Wraggett: As a vegetarian, it’s difficult for me to use bone meal products, thankfully, natural kelp and seaweed fertilizers are the answer. Seaweed and kelp fertilizers are an excellent, natural choice.
What are the best product options for greenscaping?Dantuma: Organic fertilizers and soil correctives, rain barrels, mulches and stones for planting beds, biological controls such as nematodes, oils and soaps that control pests but do not harm the beneficial insects, pheromone traps for Japanese beetles, toad houses (toads control slugs) and horticultural vinegar to control weeds are some options.
Haunton: Use electric equipment, rain barrels, composters and organic mulches. Be sure to plant the right materials in the right locations for optimal results.
For a complete listing of our experts, see Resource Guide, page 56