Waterloo, Ontario

The City of Waterloo reduced its maintenance cost by 40% per acre over 6 years. Click here to download their report.

Interview with Karen Richter - Plant Health Care Program
- City of Waterloo, June 18, 2007

The only chemicals the City of Waterloo used recently was in 2000 when they spot-sprayed Round-up for poison ivy in some public places.

Weed infestation can be prevented if you invest in naturalization and do a plant health care program for boulevards. It does cost a bit more and takes a few more staff to do a full plant health care program. Waterloo has invested a little bit in that on their sports field and their uptown area. These areas receive organic fertilizers and soil tests. Uptown areas receive chicken manure based fertilizer and the sports fields receive a solid humate product and other organic products.

They have found that if they use liquid organic fertilizers, the public perceives that they are spraying chemicals, so they use solid products.

The sports fields are free of dandelions with the cultural practices. They started just before the 1990’s and really did the cultural practices in the 1990’s. It is a slow process and it works.

Interview with Len Fay - Naturalization - City of Waterloo, Ontario,  June 18, 2007

Len Fay has been a long-time proponent of naturalization. The City of Waterloo has had a naturalization program for 15-20 years and Len has been involved throughout that program.

Naturalizing is about installing and allowing native or hardy vegetation to grow in open spaces and changing peoples’ philosophies on weeds. The only plants considered weeds in Waterloo are ones that are harmful to humans: poison ivy where people could come in contact with it, ragweed because of allergies and some giant hogweed which causes some people rashes. These are the only weeds that are controlled in the City of Waterloo.

Regarding ragweed, the City leaves it in natural areas, mows it within 1 - 2 metres of pathways and pulls it in shrub beds. [Clarification by Teresa of the Parks Department - City of Waterloo]

The City of Waterloo naturalizes areas difficult to mow or areas not being used for recreational sports to:
1) reduce grass cutting
2) increase habitat for wildlife
On non-manicured vegetation they allow the plant successional process to kick in. The only place they don’t allow the successional process is along some roadsides. Even this is changing though - some provincial expressways in Ontario are no longer mowed or may be mowed only once or twice a season with a special mower.

The overall philosophy they have in their parks and environmental services is they believe that should work with nature rather than trying to control it. They work towards a stable ecological system, functioning the way it did before people disturbed it.

All the benefits are part of nature being stable, the way it evolved to over millions of years. Economically this makes senses too. Fighting nature doesn’t make sense and people have been trying to do that for the last hundred years.

Pesticides are very damaging. Often you don’t even achieve what you’re trying to achieve and it harms many other species. The only ones who benefit from pesticides are those that sell them. We need to educate people that we don’t need pesticides or very few pesticides.

Options for naturalizing:

• stop cutting the grass
• put in a naturalized seed mix (native grasses, wildflowers, and clovers) in new areas that can choke out pioneer weeds and pioneer weed grasses that people find offensive.
• sometimes they plant shrubby materials
• with marshes they may have a different approach

Waterloo allows the Storm Water Management Ponds to naturalize. They plant appropriate naturalized seed mixes and trees.

When naturalizing, dandelions may disappear and other undesirables like thistle and burdock come in. They are all temporary; other vegetation moves in and takes over after a while.  Thistles can be mowed just before they go to seed, although it’s not good to mow them often, as they like disturbed ground.

A good public education program is needed, so people understand the naturalization process. Originally in Waterloo naturalization was not so popular and then in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s with the environmental movement, the City embraced naturalization and residents generally did too. There was some opposition to it and supportive Councillors helped address this opposition.

At first when you are naturalizing an area, there are lots of complaints, more so in established neighbourhoods than in new areas. There is education to do. Once an area has been naturalized for 5 - 6 years, people change their minds once they see the benefits:
- habitat for pollinating insects (butterflies and bees)
- animal and bird habitat
- a full ecological system right near their homes
- cleans the air

Eventually, there will be a mature forest there, when the successional process is complete. This cleans the air, purifies the water, cools the temperature in the city, creates less run-off as the water soaks in to the ground and is ground water. There is also less air pollution from fewer mowers being operated by the City.