Xeriscape Gardening

We are happy to share a blog post written by Mike Price. Here, Mike describes xeriscape (zer-i-skape) gardening, a method of gardening that reduces water and energy use. Climate change is resulting in hotter and drier summers, which means we need to consider new water-efficient ways to maintain our gardens.

Not only did Mike Price write this blog, he also shared a great photo of his water-efficient garden!

Xeriscaping … a natural, water-efficient
 garden for surviving hot and dry summers
Designing landscapes that match local conditions with xeric (or water-wise) plants, trees and shrubs that will thrive. Xeriscaping literally means dry gardening and was invented in Colorado in the 1980’s.
Do you have to re-engineer your whole garden to switch to this “xeriscaping”?
No you don’t. You can change part of it. Maybe you have a problem area where your present maintenance isn’t working well. Maybe you have an area that isn’t very attractive in its present state. Eventually you may want to change your whole yard to an Eco-garden, but you can do it a section at a time.
If areas are to be paved for recreation purposes then open joints allow for rain-water to soak into the ground rather than running off the property.
The best way to plan the change is to check with your local nursery, or check in a book or on the internet to find which plants are drought-tolerant, then move the plants that need regular, frequent watering to another part of your garden and replace them in your new dry land area with new plants known to be drought-tolerant.
Is this stuff hard?
This is not rocket science. It’s the old learning curve: steeper at first, easier later. Most plants are quite adaptable and give you lots of warning when all is not well with them. And gardens are often somewhat of a “work-in-progress”. Plants die, get too big, don’t do what you thought they would, or would look better in some other part of the garden. But if you move plants around too often, sticking them here, then there, it’s known as ‘velcro-gardening’!
If you are going to try xeriscap gardening, you do need to know a bit more about plants and soils than the “water every few days” that is adequate when you have loads of rain-water.
There are seven principles of xeriscape gardening. Check out the details at the Toronto Water website. 
By following these seven basic principles when xeriscaping your lawn and garden, you can create a lush, colourful and unique garden that requires less maintenance and water – leaving you to sit back and enjoy your summerOr travel without worrying about who will water what!
Water-wise plants for xeriscaped gardens

For a complete list of suitable plants that are readily available, visit your local garden centre or look on websites such as the Urban Farmer.
It is a safe bet when looking for drought tolerant plants to pick ones with grey or bluish foliage, usually a sign that they can take the heat and need little water.
Xeriscape Demonstration Gardens

Fort Collins, Colorado

Attributes of good Xeriscape education gardens include labels for plant materials, other interpretive materials such as brochures and plant lists, grouping of plant by similar water needs, ease of public access including ADA standards and availability of knowledgeable persons to explain the garden to visitors. Feedback from visitors to the garden owners or managers should be encouraged.
As a real ‘alternative’ garden concept one could even consider “hugelkultur” instead of irrigation!

Building It Up and Giving Some Support

This post from last year defines my past few weeks. The heat has turned many of the gardens around town (especially my own) into jungles in need of structural support. Take a gander through this post for some ideas on how to give your garden some additional support. 

As the heat of the summer grows (or slowly ebbs and flows), I start to see the results of my undone to-do list. In the garden the things you leave for tomorrow often end up in wildness, anarchy and a particular kind of beauty. This year I am trying to be better about doing less of my job on the computer and more of it out in the gardens in our city.

Our office (the Ecology Action Centre) has amazing little pockets of garden around our back deck and in the spirit of my new goal I have been giving it more attention than usual. The results have been pretty amazing both in the garden and in me, as I work on getting over my fears of building and general feelings of un-skilled-ness.

This month I finally took some time to properly stake the tomatoes and got some help and to build a trellis along our front sidewalk.  On the trellis we are growing beans, squash, and cucumber and I staked our tomatoes with 6 ft. hardwood stakes that I bought at Canadian Tire. Here is some information, photos and links about both of these things.

Supporting Tomatoes

I like staking tomatoes because it is easy and I think it looks nice. Before you start make sure the stakes are at least six feet tall to give the tomatoes enough to grow on. When I stake the tomatoes I like to pinch off the suckers, which are the shoots that crop up between the main stem of the plant and the branches. This helps keep the plant a manageable size and puts more energy into producing big yummy fruit.

Suckers: Now You See It

Now you Don’t!

Then I tie the stem of the plant to the stake to secure it. I do this by first attaching twine to the stake nice and tight. Then I attach the twine very loosely to the plant stem, leaving lots and lots of room for it to grow throughout the season.

Leave a hopeful amount of room when you are tying the twine around the stem.

If you’d like something more substantial, you can build an A frame trellis and use string to train the plants up as another option. (See our links down at the bottom for A frame designs).

Tomatoes are staked and all in a line

Beans, Cucumber and other Trellis Loving Plants

There are many ways to build a trellis for taller growing plants like beans. The main things to keep in mind as you build is that it is sturdy, secure and big enough for the plant you’d like to grow on it. You will want to find a way to secure the structure in the garden depending on where you are placing it in your garden. If it is a bed in the middle of the garden you can bury the base of the trellis nice and deep, packing the soil around it tightly to that the structure is secure. A frame designs are great for this situation. If you are gardening in raised beds then you can attach the trellis structure to the side of the bed.

In our case we are growing the beans up a large wall, and so we built a very simple flat frame and attached the it to the vinyl siding, making sure to waterproof the holes with rubber washers and caulking. We then used jute twine to string vertically on the frame for the beans and cukes to grow up. It didn’t take much time at all and since we had mostly scavenged lumber and supplies, we only had to buy the twine.

Here are some photos of us building our trellis…

Getting Started, building the frame


Lacing the twine


The trellis ready to be installed


Me and a friend figuring out the installation


The Trellis InstalledBeans moving on up

Do you have any great trellis designs, tips or photos? Send them to urbangarden@ecologyaction.ca  We’d love to share them!

Great Links on Trellises

Some Great A Frame Trellis Designs:





Various ways to support tomatoes:


How to Lash your trellis together:


Backyard Composting Basics

Backyard composting is an excellent way to provide nutrients for your garden while diverting waste from the landfill. Adding compost helps nutrients bind to soil, making nutrients more effective and reducing the amount that washes away with rainwater.  Soil that contains a good amount of compost will hold water well, increasing its resistance to drought. The conditioning of soil that compost provides also helps build good soil structure to combat erosion as well as improve overall aeration of the soil.

Composting takes minimal effort and only requires a slight change in some daily practices. It does most of the work on its own! Composting can be done in commercial bins, home-made bins or even open piles. Unfortunately, backyard bins are not provided by the city, but can be purchased at Kent, Home Depot, Canadian Tire and Lee Valley. This website is a great resource to explore if you are interested in building your own composting container. If you want to be free-spirited and have an open pile, just be sure that it can be adequately covered to prevent it from getting too wet.

What can I compost?

Compost needs a good mix of green and brown materials. Green materials are moist and nitrogen-rich. These can be food wastes (fruit and vegetable scraps), bread, pasta, coffee grounds, tea bags, eggshells, weeds, grass clippings and so on. Brown materials are carbon-rich organic materials and tend to be denser. Brown materials can be leaves, straw, hay, woodchips, paper, cardboard, sawdust etc.

You want to avoid putting diseased plants, seeding weeds, dairy, meat, fish, bones, fat, oil, pet manure and kitty litter in your compost pile. These materials take long to decompose, attract unwanted pests and could transfer disease.

Great optional additions to compost are manure, seaweed, peat moss and bonemeal. These materials are valuable for their nutrient levels and abilities to correct pH. For more information about pH, soil testing and amendments check out this post from earlier this year.

What to do to get started

  • Decide on what kind of container or pile you want. Find a nice, shady or partially shady area for it.
  • Place a layer of brown material at the bottom of the bin or pile, water it, then pile a layer of green material on top.
  • Alternate between brown and green layers, watering each layer as you go.
  • Be sure that your top layer always consists of brown material. This keeps critters and pests out, while keeping the important decomposers in! It might be a good idea to have a bag of brown material next to your compost pile for when you add your green material!
  • You want to keep your compost moist, but not too wet. Be sure to water it occasionally and cover it before heavy rains.
  • You can turn your compost if you want it to decompose faster. For a slower process, poke holes in the centre of the pile with a pitchfork or other garden tool.
  • Finished compost has an earthy smell and dark, spongy texture. You can expect it to take between 3 and 6 months to break down.

Now you can use your rich beautiful compost liberally through your garden.Your plants will thank you for it! A good boost from compost-rich soil will effectively strengthen the health of your plants as well as their ability to resist insects and disease.

We want to to know your composting tips and tricks! What’s your favourite compost ingredient? How often do you turn it (if at all)? Let us know, down below!

For Further reading:

Interested in worm composting?

Looking to build your backyard soil?

Curious about compost tea? Check out this DIY compost tea brewing project.

Want to learn about leafmould?

Written by: Mhari Lamarque