Chaparral Green Thumbs: “Green” Gardening Tips

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Keeping your garden green doesn’t just mean the colour. While gardening should be the ultimate in environmentally friendly activities, depending on how you garden, it might not be as green as you think…

The use of chemicals in your garden or yard is a hot topic these days, but I am not going to take a side in the organic vs chemical debate, because I don’t think the issue is as black and white as some would suggest and each person needs to decide what they are comfortable with.  However, regardless of where you stand on chemical use in the garden, hopefully we can all agree that less is better and that if an alternative will work as well, why not use it.

One of the most contentious issues in gardening right now is the use of pesticides. While not all bugs are our friends, and some can be quite detrimental to our plants, some are quite good for our gardens and when we use pesticides we run the risk of losing the good with the bad. So, instead of reaching for a chemical to spray to deal with an infestation, consider a more natural remedy first.  For example, ants don’t like water, so keeping your yard or garden well-watered can help keep them at bay. My father recommends diatomaceous earth to deal with slugs and a few other bugs, although I will admit that I am not fond of that solution as diatomaceous earth kills worms too and they are your soil’s best friend.  Instead of this route, I have started planting the things the slugs are attracted to, like potatoes in containers, although many sources suggest using copper as well. Mild aphid infestations can sometimes be handled with a simple blast of water, or if they are particularly persistent you could bring in beneficial bugs to help. Lady bugs can be purchased to deal with aphids or you could get aphidoletes aphidimyza instead. Mighty mites (P. persimilis) can be brought in to deal with spidermites or you could get hot mites (N.fallacis) to deal with a variety of pests. There are also bugs for fungus gnats, mealy bugs and whiteflies, as well as a variety of nematodes to deal with root vine weevils and a number of other ills. Garden centres should have a number of these friendly bugs available and if not, most can be shipped to you.

Who doesn’t want a green lawn in front of their house? One of the keys to obtain that is fertilizer. Your lawn needs food and a bag of commercial lawn fertilizer will get it green quickly, but that green might come at a cost. Studies show that synthetic nitrogen is a short-term fix for your lawn, but it doesn’t sustain it for long and builds a dependency over time. Nitrogen acts like sugar and synthetic varieties are like simple carbs, providing quick energy rushes that get things green, but leave your lawn looking for more. Natural nitrogen from sources like, compost, kelp, or manure are like the complex carbs of the gardening world, releasing their nutrients slowly, which encourages root development in the plant and creating less dependency. These supplements can be sprinkled on as top dressing or sprayed on in the form of a compost tea. Be warned if using manure for this – if the animal has digested any herbicides these will come out in their stool and can kill or deform your plants, which I know from experience. Make sure to use a trusted source or steer clear of manure. Grass clippings are another natural way to feed the lawn, especially if you are able to mulch while you cut.

In this day and age water is becoming more and more precious, so we want to make sure that we are smart about how we water our lawns and gardens. The City of Calgary recommends our lawns get an inch of water per week. This can be measured by placing something like a frisbee on the lawn under the path of the sprinkler. Watering should be done during the cooler parts of the day, preferably in the morning, to avoid losing moisture to evaporation. Our lawns should also be watered for longer periods of time, less often, to help promote longer root systems and allow the plants to reach for water in dryer periods, and also cut no shorter than three inches to shade the roots from the sun. As with other plants, watering by hand is the most economical way to water, either with a hose or a watering can, and watering longer and less often applies here as well.

Rain barrels are a great investment to conserve water. The city sells basic models for about $80 and you can buy ones that allow a series of barrels to be connected. Fancier versions can also be purchased at garden supply centers. If you purchase a rain barrel with a faucet, make sure you get a stand as well, because the barrel needs to be elevated to access the spout easily. The higher you raise your barrels, the more pressure you will have. If you are planning to use a hose you will need the barrels to be quite high. As rainwater runs off of the roof it is not recommended to use the water for edible plants, although first flush systems can be installed that make the water safer.

Another way to be water-wise is to plant native species. The prairies are hot and dry so plants native to this area already know how to survive in this climate using only what nature provides. A number of nurseries in Calgary and the surrounding area specialize in these types of plants and can give knowledgeable advice on which would best meet your needs.

Finally, to get the most out of your green yard and garden, be sure to install solar lights that will allow you to enjoy your space at any hour.

Contributed by Jolene Ottosen for the Chaparral Green Thumbs

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