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Green for life: Simple, natural gardening

Want to shed pesticide and sprinkler dependency forever? Our new columnist Gillian Deacon shares five easy solutions for an eco-friendly garden.

Our reward for so many months of sneezes and snow boots has finally arrived: It’s garden time again. (Praise the season in which a family of four can get out the door in less than 20 minutes, with no misplaced mittens to slow us down.)

But as you step out onto your own little patch of Mother Earth, let me ask you something: How does your garden grow? These days, you’d have to be quite contrary indeed to say, “With chemical sprays and sprinklers all in a row.” As pesticide bans and water-shortage alerts continue to attest, natural gardening has never been more the order of the day.

But how do we ordinary people with tight budgets and hardly any time at all improve the natural health of our green space? Easy.

Water with a Frisbee
Joni Mitchell sang of “the hissing of summer lawns.” But the image of lazy evenings awash in sprinklers is, frankly, as old as the song. Grass and plants actually do better when they are watered less often. (It teaches the roots to grow down, away from predators and heat.) To figure out how much water you need, put an upside-down Frisbee on your lawn, and turn the sprinkler on. When the Frisbee is full, your garden is satiated for the week – or longer if it rains. Water in early morning or after sundown to minimize evaporation.

Say the mulch mantra
Mulch is a word that always makes me chuckle, but avid gardeners swear by it, as both noun and verb. It’s simply a natural material that holds moisture in the soil and protects plant roots against the elements. Take all those leaves you rake off your lawn in the fall, toss them into dark-coloured garbage bags with a shovelful of dirt and leave them over the winter. When you open the bags in the spring, you’ll find a mucky (and free!) load of glorious mulch. Spread it on your flower beds and around the base of trees and shrubs.

Put nature to work
Ladybugs are garden-friendly bugs, like natural pest-control agents. You can order ladybugs in bulk (see Bugladyconsulting.com), then let them loose in your garden like a bunch of little Clint Eastwoods. Go ahead, aphid: Make my day.

Turn garbage into gold
Compost everyday kitchen food scraps in a covered outdoor bin kept in a sunny spot. They’ll turn into “gardener’s gold,” rich compost loaded with nutrients. Mix it into your garden beds – like sneaking vitamin pills into your children’s breakfast cereal – to boost overall health and keep pesky pests at bay.

Throw a dance party on the lawn
To celebrate your newly greened horticultural habits, kick up your heels – on the lawn. Aerating your garden improves water retention and nutrient circulation to the roots. Get everybody decked out in high heels (come on, Dad, it’s for the garden) and let those spikes do some aerating every June and September, then follow with compost.

Gillian Deacon gilldeacon.ca is the author of Green For Life (Penguin).