Eating & Drinking

URBAN HIPPIE: Gardening season! Quick (pesticide-free) tips to keep your garden healthy

Local tulips. Photography by Becca Wallace.

Urban Hippie by Jen Lahey is published every second Tuesday at Follow Jen on Twitter ‏@Jen_Lahey.

Spring, we think we can safely say, has sprung. And for a lot of Ottawans, that means getting our hands dirty prepping our lawns and gardens for the sunny season to come. Indeed, it’s prime time to get the gardens up and running again — but now that Ontario has banned the use of pesticides, what’s an Urban Hippie to do to keep his greenery healthy and productive?

For the answers, the UH turned a man who knows of such things: Peter Rofner is the president and owner of The Richmond Nursery, Ottawa’s one-stop for everything-under-the-sun gardening, and he knows a thing or two (or a thousand) about the ways of the garden. He says there are three things you should be thinking about to keep your garden happy and healthy, sans chemical help.

Prevention, prevention, prevention. Getting ahead of the game is key to preventing your green space from becoming overrun with pests — once you’ve got them, there’s far less you can do. Take fungus, for example: Rofner advises preventing it altogether by ensuring that you’ve got good airflow amongst your plants by spacing them out. (If you do run into a problem with said fungi, he notes that there are biofungicides, comprised of bacteria, on the market that will take care of the problem, and are better than conventional remedies because they don’t become resistant.)

Read the darned directions, then follow them to a tee.  With conventional gardening products, say chemical fertilizers, you could apply them pretty much whenever you wanted and they’d spring into action. Green products (such as nematodes, a microscopic organism applied to banish grubs, the bane of many an Ottawa gardener in search of a consistent, lush, green lawn) often have very specific application instructions (how, and what time of day) that can affect how well they work. Follow these directions or you risk less than ideal results, says Rofner. (With the nematodes, for example, the little critters need water to do their work, and are harmed by UV light, so it’s best to apply them on an overcast day when it’s going to rain.)

Plant yoga. Okay, Rofner didn’t actually say anything about yoga, but he did note that keeping your plants stress-free is a great way to keep them healthy. Your garden (or house plants) can be humming along just dandily, until you forget to water for a few days. That extra stress can lead to trouble, just the same as lack of care stresses human bodies out. Keep everything consistently watered, and keep your plants fed, something that Rofner says is often overlooked and underutilized by gardeners. Good sources of food for your garden include manure and compost. And a layer of mulch will help keep things moist, a little extra protection in case you do forget to water, or the temperature spikes.