by Candy Venning

1) Invasive plant species – Although vigorous online debates rage in garden groups with people who truly love their Burning Bush, Barberry or Lily of the valley, these plants escape our gardens and grow across woodlands, ravines, places that are not weeded or mown (because it’s not invasive in your yard doesn’t mean it’s not invasive elsewhere) How frustrating & confusing when all of them (even goutweed and English Ivy) are still being sold at nurseries! The few wild places we have left, places that should be supporting native Ontario plants, which support the insects and mammals and creatures that the rest of our ecosystem is built on, are being overrun. Go for a walk along rail trails or the RBG to see sweeping monocultures of periwinkle, goutweed, English Ivy, not to mention other introduced species such as garlic mustard, Phragmites and Japanese knotweed. We may not be able to clean up all these invasives but we can choose to remove them from our own yards, spread the word, and start planting native species instead.

2) Red/Orange/Black Mulch – why not get really creative and choose Blue or Pink? If mulch is a ‘feature’ in your garden then something weird is going on – mulch should be a placeholder, smothering weed seeds and holding in moisture until all your plants grow in together forming a happy matrix that requires less maintenance. Natural, undyed cedar Mulch can also be great for play zones or walkways – especially if you’re getting rid of grass or it’s so shady you’re finding it hard to grow anything. When you use a natural shredded mulch, arborists chips for instance, every leaf or twig that drops on the garden won’t stand out (as it would against a dyed background for instance) and you’ll be suppressing weed seeds, conserving moisture and supporting pollinators as well as birds who need all the critters that live in the leaves to feed their young.

3) ’Turning’ the soil – it makes it worse, not better. Soil is a living thing and doesn’t benefit from being turned over any more than your plants would benefit from being turned over. Unless you have wild boars, this ‘digging over’ is an unnatural occurrence in nature and solarizes/kills most of the beneficial microrganisms. Perennial roots don’t like to be cut up and flipped over – plowing the land was used by farmers to grow annual crops, turning in the remains of the previous year’s stubble to plant again. New research is showing better results without tilling – less erosion and better soil quality is created and you won’t be planting the weed seeds that blew in.

4) ’Zombie Skin’ aka Landscape fabric (which is actually plastic) commonly thought to prevent weeds but absolutely doesn’t. New seeds come from above, not below, they blow in or are pooped out by birds on top of your landscape fabric which likely has a wafer thin layer of mulch that is breaking down into soil on top the ‘fabric’ creating a tangled mess of unwanted ugliness. If you want to smother something like an invasive groundcover, try layers of cardboard with 6” of mulch on top – in a year or two (depending on what you’re trying to smother and when you started) you should be able to plant right into it.

5) Pesticide use. If something isn’t eating your plants then Houston, we have a problem. Consider joining the movement of people who are intentionally growing native plants as well as dill and parsley to feed caterpillars. Those incredible Luna moths and beautiful butterflies we all love, were once caterpillars, that (read this twice) should be eating your plants! Of course, there are some exceptions; The Spongy Moth and Japanese Beetle are not native insects, and since they are not part of our ecosystem, have very few natural predators. (can be removed by hand or use methods to interrupt their life cycle) Wasps are pollinators and voracious predators of pesky aphids and scary looking Cranefly eat mosquitos so rather than using pesticides, aim for a balanced garden full of insects that functions and thrives.