Q: I want to turn my urban garden into an eco oasis. Any suggestions?
A: Sure, drenching your yard in chemicals might be legal until 2007, but, thankfully, more and more of us are choosing not to. Whether you've got a patch of grass, a full-size garden or a wee balcony, there's a jungle of options out there for the eco-conscious gardener.
Besides using compost or well-aged manure to get your greens growing, try nourishing soil with an organic fertilizer like Pure BioRevolutions ($9.99/ 500ml at Grassroots, on Danforth and Bloor) or Green Earth fertilizer ($16.99/9kg from East End Garden Centre, on Queen East). Calcium-rich worm poop or "black gold" is another option ($9.99/10l bag at Grassroots).
Before you start swimming in weeds, try a corn gluten fertilizer, like TurfMaize. It will root out the pesky procreators before they start ($34.99 from Bill's Garden Centre, on Pape, or Grassroots). Too late, you say? Spray a homebrew of gin, water and a little apple cider vinegar on weeds (while carefully avoiding other plants).
As for pests, it's always best to fight fire with fire. Set a bag of beautiful ladybugs free in your garden to keep aphids under control. A bag of praying mantis eggs ($12.99 at Bill's) will do the same and nix whitefly, too. Green Earth insecticidal soap ($10 at East End and Grassroots) controls bugs on fruit, flowers and veggies.
If you want a truly eco-friendly garden, roll up your sleeves and plant some indigenous flowers, shrubs and grasses. Just beware of dodgy labelling. "Wildflower" seed mixes may grow wild somewhere, but likely not in Canada (in fact, some wildflower weeds are actually noxious in our area). Same goes for the term "native." It's always best to ask. Ontario Native Plants (in Downsview) specializes in perennials ($3.95 for a 4-inch pot) as well as shrubs from, you guessed it, Ontario. Bill's, East End, even Sheridan Nurseries and Home Depot offer indigenous Canuck plants like trilliums and shooting stars, trees like grey dogwood and shrubs like serviceberry.
Native plants are less fuss, and if you pick the right ones they'll make happy homes for local wildlife. Monarchs, for instance, could really use more milkweed. Goldenrod and pearly everlasting will also draw butterflies. Nectar-rich plants like native sunflower or coneflower are sure to attract birds.
Be a dear, why don't you, and put out a bird feeder (Grassroots and Sheridan Nurseries offer some made of post-consumer plastic from $34.99) and a bird bath while you're at it. Even a saucer will do for thirsty butterflies if a balcony's all you've got. Yes, wild plants prefer space to spread, but even a lush patio lined with pretty potted plants can draw critters. A hummingbird might even make it to your deck with the right feeder. And if you offer food, shelter and H2O in a toxin-free, native-plant-heavy space, the Canadian Wildlife Federation will certify your yard or deck through its Backyard Habitat Certification Program.
For a little garden variety, try Ecogenesis, on Yonge. It offers an interesting array of organic seeds for growing your own veggies (think purple carrots), medical herbs (like echinacea) and traditional First Nations legumes (like Tutelo beans), even biodynamic plant seeds grown in sync with the moon using crystals, all for $3.69 a sack.
As for trees, everyone knows these shady giants cut back on energy needs, but who can afford one? Call LEAF (Local Enhancement and Appreciation of Forests, on Bathurst). The non-profit group offers subsidized native tree plantings to property owners ($65-$115, including planting).
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