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Archive for the ‘Being Green’ Category

Grass alternatives are greener and better

Wednesday, July 11th, 2018

As our climate heats up every year, the matter of lawns invariably creeps into our consciousness.

As spring approaches, homeowners’ heads fill with questions and concerns about their grass. Is aerating worth the money? Can I keep pests away in a manner that is eco-friendly? How can I find the extra time to maintain my lawn and keep it looking like a lush green emerald carpet? My neighbour paved over his grass. Can I do the same?

Our view toward lawns is changing. Not the ultimate landscape material it once was, grass is less popular compared to its heyday as homeowners now look for ways to save time, money and the environment.

We’re not trying to dump on traditional lawns, but there are clearly some great alternatives available that look attractive and are more environmentally sound than traditional turf grass. Just think of the time and money you’ll have for other pursuits.

Here are some options worth considering:

Fake grass 

It’s green, it’s even, it’s soft. What’s not to like? Artificial turf can easily be mistaken for the real deal. No cutting or weeding required, the turf can last up to 15 years. Your only maintenance is keeping it clean by hosing it down or vacuuming it. Artificial grass is expensive to install but you’re initial investment is rewarded in time and money saved from not having to water or fertilize the lawn or to cut it.

Hardscaping your lawn 

This technique essentially describes the addition of elements to your lawn and garden that consist of paved areas, decks, wood chips, stones or fountains. These dry gardens are further enhanced by adding any combination of native ornamental grasses, plants and shrubs alongside hard elements such as stone chips, pea gravel and larger decorative rocks.

While folks either love or hate the look of a paved-over front lawn, there are plenty of environmental reasons for not turning your grass into a tarmac. And, according to the Toronto Star, the process of getting approvals for paving your front yard is not an easy one.

Garden of Edibles

Talk about eating the fruits of your labour. Installing a garden that yields fruits and vegetables has its own set of benefits, perhaps the foremost being the sense of satisfaction you get from growing your own food.

Native plants and ground covers

The beauty of these species is that they survive, and thrive even, with very little outside help. Ground covers come in a variety of shapes, colours and blooms. Consider Creeping Potentilla, a drought tolerant low-growing plant that produces yellow flowers, Scotch Moss, perfect for growing in the cracks between stones or Thyme, which attracts insects and can withstand moderate foot traffic.

If you prefer taller plants, try indigenous flowers and shrubs. Asters, Coneflower, Milkweed and violets make for a colourful garden that will attract bees and butterflies. For bushes and shrubs and to fill bigger spaces, try Chokeberry, Dogwood, Honeysuckle and Yew.

While the transition may take some getting used to, know that you are free to pursue more enjoyable pastimes than lawn maintenance. Know also that you are doing your part for the environment as half of all residential water usage in summer is due to lawn watering with much of that water lost to evaporation and run-off, according to Environment Canada.

 

Save Water and Money with these Summertime Tips

Friday, June 1st, 2018

Summer is here and the time is right for watering lawns and gardens, washing our cars and topping up pools.

Did you know that city water use doubles in the summer thanks in large part to grass and garden watering? While there’s nothing wrong with keeping your plants and lawn hydrated, homeowners often overdo it when it comes to H2O. The result tends to be water wasted due to evaporation, run-off and over watering.

In an effort to avoid wasting water and to cut costs, here are some guidelines set out by the Canada Housing and Mortgage Corporation:

Watch Mother Nature

It’s a good idea to assess your weekly rainfall by keeping a measuring container in your yard that is emptied each week. Established lawns, for example, need about 2.5 cm or 1 inch of water per week. To determine the measurement set out a can of tuna on your lawn and after an even watering, when the water reaches the top of the can, you know you’ve reached the limit. Time how long that takes and use the timer on your sprinkler next time. If you get a good rain, you can skip watering for one full week.

Timing is everything 

Water before 9 a.m. as this cuts evaporation and the scorching of leaves.

Don’t be a hoser 

Set up your sprinkler or hose so that you’re not watering your walkway, driveway or sidewalk. Talk about throwing money down the drain!

Roll out the barrel 

Rain barrels can cut your municipal water usage incredibly. They collect rainwater from your roof thanks to eaves troughs directed into the barrel.

Soak it

Apply a soaker hose to the base of plants, rather than to the leaves, as this reduces evaporation. Drip or trickle irrigation systems work well because they bring water slowly and directly to the roots. This will ultimately create deeper roots which heightens a plant’s drought resistance. If you prefer a sprinkler pick one that sprays close to the ground and that has a timer.

Don’t cut too short

Short grass doesn’t absorb as much water as longer grass so it’s best not to trim it too short. Set your mower blade so that it cuts no lower than 6 to 8 cm or 2.5 to 3 inches. Shaded roots can hold water better.

Use mulch

Mulch does a lot more than simply retain moisture in the soil. It’s also good for moderating soil temperature, erosion and weed control. Try wood chips, bark and crushed rock, though there are other choices for mulch as well.

Other ways to save water

Don’t hose down paved surfaces to get rid of dust, dirt and debris. Use a good old-fashioned broom. When washing your vehicle, use a water-filled bucket instead of a hose. Finally, cover your swimming pools when not in use. This decreases the water’s evaporation.

Why bugs are good for your garden

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2018

It’s easy to understand why we cringe, swear and swat at creepy crawly insects. But in reality, if they didn’t exist our eco-system would be an absolute disaster.

Clearly, there are pests we don’t want in our lawns and gardens such as mites and aphids, which do a great job at destroying plant life and spreading disease. But there are plenty of bugs that do good. They’re known as beneficial insects and they help your garden strike the perfect balance of creating a chemical-free garden that displays healthy looking and abundant plants.

Using beneficial insects to control other less garden friendly bugs is a method known as biological control. By using living organisms to control malicious insects you create a garden that is free of pesticides and other garden chemicals. Essentially, you are creating an organic garden.

We’ve all heard about the shortage of bees in recent years. These garden must-haves are essential for pollinating vegetables, fruit trees and other crops. To attract more bees and other pollinators such as butterflies plant a wide variety of flowering plants as well as pollen and nectar sources. Bees are especially attracted to blue, purple, white, yellow and violet. Leave a section of your garden free from mulch so as to attract ground bees. A dead tree or rotting log will supply prime nesting for bees. Provide them with a shallow water source such as a bird bath or saucer filled with water.

Beetles are another beneficial insect you should welcome on your property. These nocturnal bugs help to keep night-time pests at bay. They prey on about 50 types of pests such as snails and slugs. Attract beetles to your garden by using mulch and planting perennials. They nest and lay their eggs in decaying plant matter and will overwinter there as well.

Ladybugs are another garden friendly bug you want to have. They enjoy munching on a number of pests such as aphids, white flies, mites and mealy bugs. Their larvae are equally important in your garden as they are as ravenous, if not more so, than their parents. One thing to keep in mind is that the ladybug larva looks remarkably different from its parents. In fact, the larva looks like a tiny red and black alligator and not at all like its parents, which are often considered the darlings of the bug world.

Don’t let the large size and scary shape of a praying mantis scare you. They are harmless to humans. Not so much to other bugs, though. In fact, a praying mantis will eat just about any insect in the garden. They’ve been known to catch small frogs and birds as well.

Sources: www.organiclesson.com, www.thespruce.com, www.care2.com,

Show off your house with May blooms

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018

The list of plants, shrubs and vines that flower in May is as long as a Canadian winter. But with so many to choose from it’s easy to become overwhelmed and perhaps even give up on the notion of having an attractive outdoor garden.

Don’t. Nothing is as inviting as a well-tended lawn and garden. An abundance of colour, eye-catching plant shapes, sizes and textures and well-placed lawn and garden ornaments will keep folks turning their heads. And if you plan to sell your home during one of the hottest buying months of the year, that’s even more reason to pick up your rake and head outside.

Gardening experts will tell say you are better to select plants that are native to Ontario because they are more likely to thrive, pick up fewer diseases and need less water. Indigenous varieties are much easier to maintain and they contribute to biodiversity.

That said, nothing says springtime like those gorgeous blossoms found in April and May on tulips, hyacinths, crocuses, snowdrops and daffodils. Though these flowers may not be native to Ontario, they grow very well here and provide the perfect pop of colour after a long, cold and bleak winter season.

Perennial flowers that you can depend on year after year include early-blooming peony. These easy-to-grow and disease-resistant plants are showy and beautiful in colour and they can last forever. You will likely need to stake your peonies, but the effort will be worth it.

Bleeding Hearts lend an old-fashioned flavour to your garden what with their arching stems and dangling heart-shaped blooms. These plants work well in shady areas.

Columbine come in a variety of colours but are known for their showy, intricate flowers. These flowers are ideal as they are a native species of Canada.

Wood Anemone is part of the Buttercup family and since they grow low, they make a nice ground covering. This native variety sports a five-petal blossom of white flowers in early spring and is usually found in forests.

Bloodroot is showy eight-to-twelve petal white flowers that bloom from April to May. These photogenic flowers with a bright yellow centre are named as such because the roots contain juice that is a blood-red colour.

When it comes to shrubs that produce pretty flowers in May virtually nothing beats the forsythia. With its bright and welcoming yellow blossoms, these shrubs looks fabulous whether neatly trimmed for size or left to grow wild. Flowering Dogwood, Lilacs, Bridlewreath Spirea, Heath, Azalea and Weigela each offer showy blossoms that will draw the eye.

For a vertical aspect to your garden consider growing flowering vines on fences, light posts, walls or on an arbour. Trumpet vine, which is named for the shape of its red-orange flowers, will attract hummingbirds to your garden. Wisteria produces beautiful purplish-blue-to-white flowers that are quite fragrant, although these plants can take years to develop. Clematis also turns out beautiful showy flowers in a wide variety of colours.

But if you are simply looking for a way to cover an unattractive fence, consider these non-flowering vines, Virginia Creeper and Boston Ivy. They grow quickly and their foliage is quite attractive, especially in the fall.

Celebrate Mother Earth

Wednesday, April 11th, 2018

Did you know the first Earth Day was marked 48 years ago in 1970? To help celebrate this April 22nd observance, why not head outdoors and do something green?

Begin with your own property. By now, hopefully winter’s assault is over and what you’re left with is the promise of spring mixed with the remains left by snow, ice and freezing temperatures. Take a mental inventory and begin to prioritize what needs tending first.

Prune dormant trees, non-flowering shrubs and vines such as wisteria, clematis and climbing roses. Rake up leftover curled fall leaves caught in your flower beds, shrubs and hedges. Now is the time to feed your garden so try an organic fertilizer on trees, vines, roses and other plants. Trim summer-blooming shrubs such as hydrangea. Also don’t forget to divide perennials that have grown too big.

April is also a good time to begin trying to keep weeds at bay. According to Mark Cullen, weed control comprises a four-step approach:

  1. Kill them when they’re young.
  2. Mulch is so effective at preventing weeds. It’s also not a chemical and easy to apply. Cullen says the secret is to apply four to five centimetres of finely ground up cedar or pine bark mulch. The sooner this is done, the better.
  3. For grass weeds, he recommends removing all loose debris from the area and getting grass blades to stand up on end. Smoothly rake on three to five centimeters of lawn soil or triple mix. Use quality grass seed on the area. Rake it smooth and then step on the patch to ensure the seed comes in contact with the soil and water until germination. Keep it damp and be sure to fertilize.
  4. Consider trying biologically based weed killers.

Once your lawn and garden is spring ready you may want to tackle the neighbourhood. Consider organizing a spring clean-up on your street or in your community. It’s likely in desperate need of a polish what with coffee cups, dog poop and plastic bags now on full display now that the snow is gone.

The city is also encouraging spring cleanup with drop-off depots for items such as electronics, books, dishes and toys. Beginning April 7 in Scarborough-Rouge River and Parkdale-High Park wards will take turns hosting these Community Environment Days until the end of July. Free compost collected thanks to the city’s yard-waste program is also available.

According to the CBC.ca, about 200,000 volunteers from Toronto schools, businesses and community groups participate in Community Cleanup Days, which are local city-run events that clean up public spaces. They take place from April 20—22.

 

Is a High-Efficiency Water Heater Really Worth It?

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018

 

The term high-efficiency typically appeals to our pursuit for products that show quality, speed and effectiveness. It also speaks to goods that are kind to the environment or at least kinder than their predecessors were.

When it comes to water heaters, there are a number of choices available and for good reason. Did you know that warming up your at-home water supply comprises nearly 20 per cent of your home’s energy use? Heating your water supply ranks second, albeit a distant second, to the amount of energy used to heat your home, which clocks in at 63 per cent. Hot water is an expensive proposition as it accounts for between 15 and 25 per cent of your household energy bill.

While the natural thing is to replace your broken down water heater with the exact same model, you should at least consider the different types of water heaters that are on the market. Next to the standard storage model, there are tankless or on-demand, heat pump models and those that are solar assisted. Then there are the different fuel types used by water heaters such as electric, natural gas, propane and oil.

Storage or tank water heaters, which are the most commonly used appliances, are also the most inefficient. That’s because anywhere from 20 to 80 gallons of water is being kept hot and ready for use at all times. That sucks a good amount of energy. Insiders call this energy-out-of-the-window formula ‘standby losses.’

Demand or tankless water heaters are a good alternative because the supply of hot water is made on demand or as needed. As a result, standby losses are eliminated.

Heat pump water heaters somehow transfer energy from the air to water in the storage tank.

Solar water heating is another alternative. While the initial costs are high with this choice, the long-term costs of operating a solar water heater can save you up to 90 per cent. The only stipulation with this system is that you also need a conventional water heater as backup should the solar system fail to operate.

There is a myriad of considerations to think about when investing in a high-efficiency hot water tank. What you ultimately choose depends on your budget and needs. Let’s take a look at an efficiency comparison of common types:

A standard storage water heater has low initial costs and a life span in the neighbourhood of eight to ten years. Energy savings are the lowest at 10 to 20 per cent. A tankless water heater can last up to 20 years and provides an unlimited water supply. The heat pump water heater is the most efficient for those using electricity. They generally last about ten years. Solar offers the best energy savings, in the range of 70 to 90 per cent and last up to 20 years.

How Technology Helps Green Our Homes

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2018

There’s no doubt that when historians look back on this time it will be deemed the Age of Technology or some such name that indicates the era as a whirlwind of rapidly changing automation.

Perhaps nowhere is that revolution more evident than in our homes with how technology has served to make them warmer yet more eco-friendly. Let’s take a look at some of the tech advances that are helping green our homes:

Temperature-Controlled Living

Saving us money and time, but perhaps most importantly, saving our planet from environmental ruin are home automation systems that allow you to cool or warm your home remotely. What’s unique about smart thermostats is that technology allows you to be eco-smart so that you are not heating or cooling a space when you’re not there. Sync these thermostats with your iPhone so that your habits are remembered. Some tech companies allow you to use your smartphone to link your temperature controls with your lighting for added savings. Just think: no more fiddling with tricky timers or leaving lights on at all hours to fool people into thinking you’re home. With this technology, you can easily control the timer from anywhere with a simple click.

Tiny Bubbles

While laundering your clothes will never be a snap, there are smart washing machines now that don’t guzzle energy like their predecessors. Equipped with Wi-Fi capabilities, these machines also allow you to use your smartphone to detect any issues that crop up with your washer.

Ditch the Dryer

While that is much easier said than done, dryer chugs through an inordinate amount of energy that rivals your washer, dishwasher and refrigerator combined. Try using folding racks to hang and air dry your laundry or simply hang clothes such as shirts from hangers. Or consider hanging half your laundry and machine drying the other half. Just be sure to air dry the heavier items and let the lighter loads in the machine, which will cut down drying time.

Skip to the Loo

Dual-flush toilets are all the rage and with good reason. Instead of flushing away six gallons of water with each flush, dual-flush toilets only use up either.8 or 1.6 gallons. Let’s say a family of three each uses the toilet five times a day. If they are using an older style toilet then they are flushing nearly 100 gallons of water down the drain each and every day. Dual-flush toilets allow you to select the level of water required for each flush. Another great technological advancement is the toilet that uses gray water from your bath and shower in order to flush.

Eco Padding Your House

While spray polyurethane foam insulation is a workhorse of a product in terms of helping keep homes draft free and temperature controlled, environmentalists don’t look too kindly on it for its greening properties. Soybean-based spray foam is a good alternative as it does not contain the chemical (MDI or diphenyl diisocyanate) that causes off-gassing. Castor-oil based lcynene is also a good option. Cotton denim batting is a good green insulation, though it can be expensive to install and not nearly as easy as foam. Similarly, sheep’s wool is a good eco-friendly alternative, but like denim, it is not as easy to install.

Sources: Mother Earth News, Better Homes & Gardens, Organic 4 Greenlivings, Eco Building Pulse, Green High Five

Fall TLC for Lawn and Gardens

Monday, October 23rd, 2017

October is here and besides giving thanks and paying tribute to our ghoulish side, the month’s changing leaves and falling temperatures are a steady reminder that winter is on its way.

So let’s consider how to give our lawns and gardens a last bit of TLC before the snow flies.

Hydration

As living organisms, we all need it. It’s important to give all of your plants and especially your trees, a good watering this month. Their roots will need lots of moisture in the coming months so make use of those rain barrels and start collecting water. Fall is also the perfect time to aerate your soil, which allows oxygen, water and fertilizer to get at the roots of your grass.

Put Roses to Bed

These garden beauties not only deserve but need some extra care. Clear debris and leaves from the base of the plant as not doing so can help harbour disease and create problems for the plant next year. To avoid damage due to freezing, pile soil or mulch on the plant base. Do the same for other shrubs and perennials that might suffer from freezing temperatures.

Trim Grass Lower

A lower cutting height makes leaf-raking much easier, inhibits diseases and helps dry out the soil more quickly in springtime.

Fertilize 

Fall is the best time of year to do this. But you want to make sure the product you use has minimal impact on the environment. Switch to lawn fertilizers that are high in slow-release nitrogen and ones that contain no phosphorus. Both are designed to give lawns nutrients as needed which reduces run-off that harms waterways.

Cover Bald Spots

The easiest way to do this is with an all-in-one lawn repair mix sold at most home centres and garden spots. The ready-to-use mixture contains grass seed, fertilizer and organic mulch.

Feed the Birds

As food sources grow scarcer, don’t forget our feathered friends. Wild bird seed mixes, black or striped sunflower seed, peanuts and suet in balls or blocks are good choices. Also be sure to empty and clean your bird feeders and fill with fresh seed.

Divide & Conquer

Now is the time to dig up perennials that have grown too large for their space or to move plants that aren’t working where you originally placed them. While you’re at it, now is also the time to plant bulbs for colourful springtime displays.

Let the Air In

Don’t forget to winterize irrigation systems in an effort to prevent frozen pipe damage.

Green Ways to Control Outdoor Pests

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

Summertime can’t be beat for backyard barbecues, enjoying the cottage and tending to your lawn and garden. But that’s not to say that summer doesn’t come without its challenges and perhaps one of the most annoying are pesky pests.

To be fair, most lawn and garden insects are beneficial with some naturalists claiming that fewer than two per cent are considered harmful. In fact, many insects, including ladybugs, fireflies, praying mantis, spiders and wasps will actually keep harmful insects from devouring your lawn and will also help to pollinate your plants. But it’s that two per cent that can wreak havoc on your plants, flowers and grass, making your best gardening efforts a big waste of time and money.

With that in mind, let’s look at how to handle unwanted pests without hurting beneficial insects and the world in which we live.

If your lawn is victim to a small infestation of unwanted bugs, you can try picking them off by hand. If that sounds unbearable, you can try homemade garlic and pepper sprays. You can also try insecticidal soap on pests.

Traps are another good eco-friendly option. The kind that allow an insect to enter and not leave are best for wasps and other bugs. Place insect traps around the periphery of your property so that the pests are taken out of commission before they’ve chewed up your grass and plants.

Bacillus thuringiensis or more commonly named BT is a naturally occurring soil bacteria ideal for controlling cabbageworm, tent caterpillars, gypsy moth, tomato hornworm and other leaf eating caterpillars.

To control beetles and other insects with shells, try diatomaceous earth, a fine silica powder made from the fossilized shells of already minute creatures called diatoms. The razor sharp powder destroys the shells of crawling insects, but does not harm earthworms, pets, or humans. Different bugs are susceptible to different extents (even beetles differ somewhat), so check before buying.

To identify a grub problem in your lawn, look for brown patches. If you’re still uncertain, dig up a bit of sod near the brown patch. If you see more than ten grubs per square foot, you should take action. Below that, there’s no need.

Use beneficial nematodes, which are tiny worms that feed on the larval, or grub, stage of the beetle. It takes a few weeks for nematodes to establish themselves in the soil and to parasitize their grub hosts, so it’s best to apply them before the situation has gotten completely out of hand. Be sure to carefully read the instructions for applying nematodes. Since they are living things they can also die. Follow the directions otherwise your time and money will be wasted.

 

Green Ways to Control Outdoor Pests

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017

Summertime can’t be beat for backyard barbecues, enjoying the cottage and tending to your lawn and garden. But that’s not to say that summer doesn’t come without its challenges and perhaps one of the most annoying are pesky pests.

To be fair, most lawn and garden insects are beneficial with some naturalists claiming that fewer than two per cent are considered harmful. In fact, many insects, including ladybugs, fireflies, praying mantis, spiders and wasps will actually keep harmful insects from devouring your lawn and will also help to pollinate your plants. But it’s that two per cent that can wreak havoc on your plants, flowers and grass, making your best gardening efforts a big waste of time and money.

With that in mind, let’s look at how to handle unwanted pests without hurting beneficial insects and the world in which we live.

If your lawn is victim to a small infestation of unwanted bugs, you can try picking them off by hand. If that sounds unbearable, you can try homemade garlic and pepper sprays. You can also try insecticidal soap on pests.

Traps are another good eco-friendly option. The kind that allow an insect to enter and not leave are best for wasps and other bugs. Place insect traps around the periphery of your property so that the pests are taken out of commission before they’ve chewed up your grass and plants.

Bacillus thuringiensis or more commonly named BT is a naturally occurring soil bacteria ideal for controlling cabbageworm, tent caterpillars, gypsy moth, tomato hornworm and other leaf eating caterpillars.

To control beetles and other insects with shells, try diatomaceous earth, a fine silica powder made from the fossilized shells of already minute creatures called diatoms. The razor sharp powder destroys the shells of crawling insects, but does not harm earthworms, pets, or humans. Different bugs are susceptible to different extents (even beetles differ somewhat), so check before buying.

To identify a grub problem in your lawn, look for brown patches. If you’re still uncertain, dig up a bit of sod near the brown patch. If you see more than ten grubs per square foot, you should take action. Below that, there’s no need.

Use beneficial nematodes, which are tiny worms that feed on the larval, or grub, stage of the beetle. It takes a few weeks for nematodes to establish themselves in the soil and to parasitize their grub hosts, so it’s best to apply them before the situation has gotten completely out of hand. Be sure to carefully read the instructions for applying nematodes. Since they are living things they can also die. Follow the directions otherwise your time and money will be wasted.

 

The data included on this website is deemed to be reliable, but is not guaranteed to be accurate by the Toronto Real Estate Board. The trademarks REALTOR®, REALTORS® and the REALTOR® logo are controlled by The Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) and identify real estate professionals who are members of CREA. Used under license.