Yards

Residential and commercial properties

Note: if you live, or work, in an apartment or rental property, you can talk to your landlord about using natural landscaping practices. If you live in a condominium complex, you can bring up natural landscaping practices with your condo Board.

In your own residential or commercial yard, here are suggestions for having a beautiful, natural yard. The list of topics is below with details further down the page:

1) Keep your lawn lush and healthy

In the long-run, having grass only where you really use it on your yard, is a lower maintenance option and is generally best for the environment.  Most yards have lawn though, so here are some natural landscaping practices for a great lawn:
    a) Overseed
    b) Mow high
    c) Leave clippings on your lawn
    d) Water wisely
    e) Aerate if needed

2) Spread compost on your lawn and on your tree, shrub, and flower beds
3) Remove weeds by digging
4) Use Eco-Sense or boiling water on weeds in sidewalk cracks
5) Accept some weeds
6) Spread corn gluten on your yard to prevent weeds
7) Make sure your landscaping service uses no pesticides
8) Use natural methods for problem insects
9) Use actively aerated compost tea to improve the health of your yard
10) Keep grassed areas to a minimum


1) Keep your lawn lush and healthy

a) Overseed

Overseeding is the practice of adding new grass seed to your lawn so it grows more thickly. Weeds are less likely to grow where the grass is thick. Planting types of grass that are strong and will grow well in Calgary, also helps to prevent weeds.  

overseeding.

One of the best grasses to use in overseeding is Sheep’s Fescue grass. It stays green all summer without water and doesn’t need mowing.

Click here for more on how to overseed.
Click here for more on the best grasses for Calgary.

b) Mow high (2 to 4 inches, 5 to 10 cms.)


If you set your mower blade at a height of  5 - 10 cms. or 2 - 4 inches, your grass will be able to hold in more water and will grow more lushly.

c) Leave clippings on your lawn

Leave your mower clippings on your lawn to provide nutrition to your lawn and help it hold in water. If you have healthy soil, with lots of micro-organisms, these clippings will decompose. If they don’t decompose within a month, consider spreading some quality compost on your lawn to add micro-organisms - see point 2 below for more.

d) Water wisely


When you water your lawn, put a small container out, and when it has collected 2.5 centimetres, or 1 inch of water, you will know you have watered enough. A frisbee will fill up to just the right amount of water. This amount of water will encourage your grass to grow deep roots so that it will be stronger and need less water and added nutrition.

If you have hardy grass types as your lawn, such as Sheep’s Fescue, or if it has rained, you may not need to water. Otherwise, watering once a week is enough.

e) Aerate if needed

Aerate your lawn if the ground seems to be hard and compacted. To know if you have compacted soil, try shoving a screwdriver into your lawn. If it takes much force, you have compacted soil.

You can rent an aerator at an equipment rental outlet or hire a landscaping company to do it. Usually aeration is done in the spring. It can also be done in the fall. Aerating in the summer heat dries out your lawn.

Aeration machines cut little round plugs out of your lawn to allow water and air down to the roots. The plugs are left lying on your lawn and break down in a week or two. Plugs should be at least  5 centimetres, or 2 inches, deep to be effective. Aerating the day after a rain or watering is often best as the ground is the right softness.

Rental aerators are quite big and heavy; you need a strong person to operate these machines. Hand spike aerators are often not as effective because they compact the soil at the end of the spikes.

After aeration is the ideal time to topdress your lawn with compost.  The compost fills in the plug holes to go deeper into the soil.

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2) Spread compost on your lawn and on your tree, shrub, and flower beds.


Spreading compost (decomposed organic matter) on your lawn, and around your flowers, trees and shrubs will add a rich system of micro-organisms to your soil and improve the ability of your soil to provide nutrition to your plants. Compost itself is also a rich fertilizer. Click here to learn more about soil health.

Spread a layer of finished compost on the soil under your plants. You can do this regularly.

Spreading a thin layer of compost (1 centimetre or 1/4 inch) over your lawn (topdressing) will add life to your lawn and it will need less water and fertilizer. Topdressing can be done anytime and is usually done once a year in the spring. If you aerate your lawn (see above), topdress right after aeration.

Click here
for more on composting, topdressing, where to buy compost, and companies that will spread compost for you.

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3) Remove weeds by digging

If you use the natural practices suggested here, your yard will be healthier, and you will likely have less weeds. Weeds are less likely to grow in rich, organic soils. Natural mulches prevent weeds from growing and weeds are easier to pull out of mulch than out of soil.

If you want no weeds, you will probably have to dig, and it’s most effective with a good tool.
Click here for more on good weed-digging tools. [link to how- yards - weed digging tools

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 4) Use Eco-Sense or boiling water on weeds in sidewalk cracks

EcoSense is an acetic acid based eco-friendly herbicide available at Canadian Tire, Home Depot and other garden centres. It also has citric acid in the product to increase the effectiveness and speed of weed knock-down. If you spray EcoSense or pour boiling water, they will harm all the plants they touch. These methods are best used for weeds in sidewalk cracks or away from other desired plants. It usually takes a few applications over time to kill the weeds.

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5) Accept some weeds

Accept and benefit from having some weeds. For example - dandelions are wonderful at aerating the soil with their deep tap roots. You can use young dandelion leaves in salads, or make dandelion wine.  A tonic made from dandelion roots is cleansing for your liver and will help it clear out toxins (like pesticides!).

Dandelion flowers are one of the first to bloom in the spring and support beneficial insects during that time when few other flowers are blooming.

If you let your weeds go to seed (flower and then produce seeds which spread), you will have more weeds. So accepting regular weeding as part of your routine (every few weeks), can keep weeds in check. And weeding, just after weeds flower and before they go to seed, allows the insects to benefit AND prevents weed spread.

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6) Spread corn gluten on your yard to prevent weeds

Corn gluten meal is made from corn. It is small granules that you can spread over your yard with a hand-held spreader or a fertilizer spreader. 



Corn gluten prevents weed seeds from sprouting and is most useful when applied in the spring before weed seeds germinate. You can also apply corn gluten in the fall for some effect in the spring. Corn gluten is usually available in the spring and fall at garden centres and organic grocery stores. If you have extra (often a bag will be enough for two applications), store it in a sealed container so that mice can’t get at it.

According to Jim Ross of the Prairie Turfgrass Research Centre at Olds College, corn gluten works well to prevent new weeds if the weeds that are already there are are eradicated. [This means digging them out!]  Jim says that 96 % of new dandelions come from the spring seeds that disperse. Those seeds sprout within 2 to 3 weeks, so if corn gluten is applied around then it is most helpful. Corn gluten also acts as a mild fertilizer so it will stimulate the growth of your grass, possibly meaning it requires more mowing. (1)

If you overseed new grass seed on your lawn, or are planting other seeds, do not put corn gluten in these seeded areas, It will prevent your seeds from sprouting. About a month after your seeds have sprouted, you can then spread corn gluten.

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7) Use natural methods for problem insects and fungus


Spraying trees and shrubs with a strong spray from your hose will knock off some insects, such as aphids.

Soap spray sprayed on plants will work against aphids, earwigs, mealy bugs, mites, sowfly larvae and white flies. Beneficial insects are not affected.  Spray it on the plants from a hand spray bottle. You can purchase insecticidal soap at stores that sell gardening supplies.  You can also make your own soap spray by mixing 1 tablespoon of dishwashing liquid in 2 litres of warm water. Add black tea, a teaspoon of citrus essential oil, or a teaspoon of peppermint extract to make your soap spray more effective.

Beer placed in an open saucer in your yard will attract and kill slugs.

Baking soda can be used to prevent and control fungal diseases. Mix 1 tablespoon of soda with a few drops of dish soap in a litre of water and spray it on your plants.

Thanks to www.pesticidefreeyards.org for the above information in point 7.


If you make your own compost, add a few crab shells or lobster shells to it (remove any meat or butter) near the beginning of the composting cycle or at least two weeks before applying the compost. This will encourage the growth of chitin-degrading micro-organisms in your compost. Chitin is what makes the exoskeleton shell of insects, as well as the shells of lobster and crabs. Then spread this compost where you have insect challenges. If insects sense that there are micro-organisms around that will eat their shells, they leave. Diatomaceous earth (ancient sea shells) is a product that also has a lot of chitin. It can be spread where there are insects with exoskeletons (almost all insects, including ants and aphids; it does not work with slugs) and they may leave. You can also add diatomaceous earth to your compost. (2)

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8)  Make sure your landscaping service uses no synthetic pesticides

If you hire a yard care company, ask if they have a pesticide-free option, and switch to that. If they do not, switch to one of the many other companies in Calgary with pesticide-free options.  (Click here for a list of some of them).

The Federal Competition Bureau is warning consumers to ask questions to determine if lawn care products really are “organic” or “environmentally-friendly.” Many are not.   Read more . . .    If you witness a yard care company claiming to be “green” and using synthetic pesticides, make a complaint to the Federal Competition Bureau.

Many companies will tell you that they only spot spray pesticides directly on the weeds. Ask your company not to spot spray - they are still applying enough pesticide to cause harm to the environment and to health.

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9) Use actively aerated compost tea to improve the health of your yard

Actively aerated compost tea is made by putting high quality compost in water and pumping lots of air through it for a day. The liquid is then a rich soup of soil micro-organisms. When you spray this on your yard, the micro-organisms will multiply in your soil. This will increase the ability of your soil to provide nutrients to your plants. Each time you spray actively aerated compost tea your soil will get richer in organic life and this effect will last.

Spraying actively aerated compost tea on your grass, plants, trees, and shrubs will help them become healthier too.

Using actively aerated compost tea is the cheapest, easiest way to add organic matter and health to your yard. For how to make your own compost tea, click here.

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10) Keep grassed areas to a minimum

Keeping grassed areas to a minimum will reduce your maintenance work and costs. It’s usually hardest to deal with weeds in lawns.

Minimize grass to where it is used or needed most, for example: for children or pets to play on, or for picnics. Where you don’t need grass, plant trees, shrubs, and perennial flowers (flowers that bloom every year) that grow well in Calgary’s cool, dry climate.  Cover the open areas around the plants with natural mulch (wood chips are probably best) to prevent weeds.

You can also have decks, patios, waterfalls, and other features instead of grass.

For resources to help you in designing your yard; planting trees, shrubs, and perennial flowers; or having other landscape features, click here

All the best with your natural yard!

Click here for actions you can take to support a pesticide bylaw.

Click here for a Canadian Mortgage and Housing article on Low-Maintenance Lawns. Please note that it is meant for all of Canada so some points are not as relevant to Calgary.

References:

1) Jim Ross, Olds College, Prairie Turfgrass Research Institute, personal communication, March 28, 2007.

2) Joe Whaley, Entomologist, Sustainable Studies Institute, Soil Food Web Advisor Class presentation, March 24, 2007.

Grandfather - Patrick Wheatley
Granddaughter - Delphi May Wheatley


“We want to live in a Calgary where neighbourhoods are healthy for everyone!”

Click here to read their full story.