Now that Spring has sprung it’s time to polish off your green thumb and get out in the garden – and do it sustainably.

A good place to start is York Region’s Greener Home and Garden Seminars which are taking place in Markham, Stouffville and across the region throughout the planting season.

“We’re really excited this year. We barely advertised it and it’s getting really full,” York Region program manager for educational outreach Vicki Puterbough says.

Indeed, while the sessions did not start until early April, some of the programs as far out as October already have full registration.

May sessions that still have room include a presentation on how to plant a healthy, low-maintenance garden and another on how to plant a garden that will attract pollinating bees and butterflies.

The seminars, part of the Region’s larger “Water for Tomorrow” conservation program, have become an institution over the 10 years they’ve been running. Not surprisingly, the topics have shifted over the years, increasingly focusing on forms of sustainable gardening that go beyond just water conservation, Puterbough says.

Feedback from residents helps them evaluate what’s working, she says, and there’s an increasing focus on partnering with groups like Landscape Ontario and the local conservation authorities.

The shift from less-exciting water-efficient landscaping to more fun topics has been a key change over the years, says Aileen Barclay who has worked with the program for a decade and is this year presenting a “20 Easy Plants” seminar.

“People have shifted (their behavior)…they aren’t bothering watering their lawns anymore,” says Barclay, noting the pesticide bans that came into effect nearly a decade ago went hand-in hand with more efficient water use. Residents have realized the key to a healthy, green lawn is neither about dumping a bunch of chemicals on it nor over-watering.

The change is coming a bit slower when it comes to gardens but she suggests a good guideline is that if you can stick your finger into the soil up to your knuckle and there is any moisture at all, your flowers and vegetables don’t need more. Simply putting a layer of mulch over the garden creates huge reductions in weeds and huge savings in water, she says. When it comes to your lawn, they key isn’t to keep watering it but to reduce the compaction of the soil, mow the grass at a height of three inches and let the rest take care of itself.

“I don’t know why you’d want to spend all your time watering your garden when you could be enjoying it,” Barclay says. “I’ve killed some plants in my time – it’s not hard.”

Consumers are now getting ahead of legislation and driving change, she says, pointing out that local garden centres are increasingly stocking more sustainable native plants and more residents are opting to grow their own food in vegetable gardens instead of planting thirsty flowers like impatiens.

“Make your garden work for you, don’t work for your garden,” Barclay says. “It’s not that hard – you just have to try.”

For more information on the Greener Home and Garden Seminars and to register visit

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