Updated April 2020 by Darren Fife, PHEc
Yards can be made more environmentally friendly with little or no cost and some reorganization of time, activity and plant varieties. Try some of these ideas.
- Set up a rain storage barrel in an obscure corner of the yard. Be sure to have a secure lid so children and animals cannot fall in and so mosquitoes cannot propagate. Use the rainwater to water flower pots/indoor potted plants.
- Select plants that do not need large amounts of water. Consider perennials such as silver mound, perennial alyssum, baby’s breath, bergamot, bellflower, peony, hen and chicks, yarrow and veronica (speedwell). Lilies and irises also appreciate drier beds. Some annuals to consider are: hollyhocks, calendula, godetia, Dahlberg daisy, gazania, Livingstone daisy, portulaca, marigolds, geraniums, petunias and perennial salvia.
- Check plants to be sure they need water before watering. Scratch the soil to check for dampness down about 2-3 cm (one inch). Gardeners often have a tendency to water plants before they need it.
- Water plants early in the morning. Less water is lost to evaporation than if watering is done in midday when the sun and wind are at their fullest. Morning watering also lessens the chance of fungal growth on plants and is less inviting for slug activity.
- Watering gardens longer and less often (e.g., once a week) promotes deeper root growth and reduces water usage.
- To minimize water usage, consider xeriscaping.
- Make the most of your beds. Plant some vegetables or herbs in the flower garden. Parsnips, carrots, basil and parsnips add interesting foliage.
- Time your plantings so that you get the most out of your garden. Radishes and lettuce can be put in the area where tomatoes will be planted later. They will be ready for use and can be eliminated from the shared space when the tomatoes are becoming bushy and require more space.
- Plant fruit trees rather than ornamental trees. A small yard can provide space for grapes, plum, sour cherry and crabapple/apple and still leave room for vegetables, flowers, lawn and family activities.
- A bird bath and birdhouses will help attract birds, as do the berries/fruit on particular shrubs or trees. Bird feeders in the winter will help attract and sustain birds that over-winter. You may also be interested in putting up a hummingbird feeder to attract hummingbirds. Keep in mind that bird bath water needs to be changed every week to ensure that it doesn’t become a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Use week-old bird bath water to hydrate garden plants.
- Consider vegetation that attracts bees and butterflies. These are often more fragrant flowering plants and shrubs/trees. Wallflowers, rosemary, catmint, thyme, lavender, sunflowers, and ivy are all great options to attract pollinators.
- Compost grass clippings, dried leaves, eggshells, paper, fruit and vegetable wastes. Do not compost protein foods such as meat and milk. Shovel some dirt into the compost to help the process along. Add water and stir frequently. More information on composting is available from environmental organizations, municipal offices and the Internet.
- Dig lawn clippings and other compost waste into the garden.
- Plant spruce, cedar and like trees on the north side of the house to protect the house from the north winter winds. Leaf bearing trees to the south will shade the house in the summer but let the sun bring warmth in the winter.
- Use soapy laundry water for watering radishes and onions to control maggots.
- Pour boiling water on weeds and grass to kill them, rather than using herbicides. Leftover boiling water from making tea can be poured on a dandelion or weeds in sidewalk cracks.
- Mow with a push lawn mower. It is surprising how easy new models are to push and maneuver around the yard.
- Place a board or black plastic held down with weights over plants that you want to get rid of. Leave for a time and the lack of sunlight will cause the plants to die.
- Dry clothes out of doors on a clothesline. Alternatively, a folding clothes horse can be easily put up when needed and stored folded inside.
- Increase the size of your garden devoted to growing edible foods. Processing some foods such as tomatoes is easy to do. Many vegetables can be frozen. Check our website for more detailed information on freezing and processing foods.
- Cover beds in fall with mulch and/or leaves to protect plants for the winter. The mulch/leaves can be worked into the beds in the spring to enrich the soil.
Keeping the yard neat and tidy will lessen the chances of providing a home for rodents and other pests. Stagnant water gives mosquitoes a place to lay eggs so eliminate this hazard by setting your watering equipment carefully to avoid overlapping. These hints will help keep your yard friendly in many different ways.
Originally written by Millie Reynolds, Home Economist (Saskatchewan)
Updated July 2015 by the Manitoba Association of Home Economists