Converting your lawn into a sustainable landscape
This section outlines the steps to creating a beautiful garden: what to determine
before you begin, knowing your soil, planning your garden beds, and planting.
Your garden can be as low or as high maintenance as you want – it’s
all about personal choice.
The seed of an idea: What to determine before you begin
- Draw up a property map that includes any existing structures, trees, driveways,
pathways, water features, and play areas. Note also the orientation of your
site and the prevailing winds.
- Determine the orientation of your house. Is your house south facing?
It would receive sun most of the day. North facing? You may only receive a
few hours of sun a day. The amount of light will be a factor in choosing the
- Consider your location within the province, as different areas have differing
hardiness zones. Halifax is zone 6a, the interior of the province is zone
5. Consult a zone
hardiness map for your area of the province.
Once you have answers to items above you can begin to choose plants that suit
the conditions of your property.
Know your soil
Soils are the foundation upon which all successful gardens are built.
- Good soil
and soil amendments, particularly compost, is a worthwhile investment
that should be at the top of any gardener’s list.
- Make sure your compost is mature. Mature compost is dark, with a pleasant
earthy smell, free of weeds, and well decomposed. Compost can be added any
time during the growing season, but best in spring or fall.
feeds plants over a longer period of time. Think health food vs junk food
(conventional chemical based fertilizer). Compost strengthens plants, making
them less susceptible to heat stress, insects, disease, and stabilizes pH.
- Perform a soil
test. A pH test will help determine what soil amendments, if any, are
required. Most plants grow best in a neutral pH of 7, which maximizes uptake
of nutrients. Most native soils in Nova Scotia are acidic (pH below 7). The
majority of native plants in Nova Scotia
have adapted to this pH and grow quite well under these conditions.
Now that you have a good idea of the conditions of your property and have given
some thought to the soil, you are ready to plan your garden.
- When replacing areas of turf with other plant life, many people begin
by converting the areas where turf does not grow well anyway and/or is hard
to maintain. Common problems areas include slopes, areas of full sun or full
shade, or wet areas.
- Next, determine the size and shape of your garden beds. Any east way
to visualize this is to lay out a length of garden hose in a shape that is
pleasing to you. (Think curvy and curly.) If you like the shape and size,
use this as a guide for your edger to cut out the sod for your bed.
- Remove the sod, rocks, sticks, and large chunks of the existing soil
that might cause poor drainage, generally clay. Heavy clay soil in a planting
hole is usually greyish or reddish in color. Till or mix the existing soil
with your new soil. Shape and level it off with a hard rake.
- The depth of the soil you need will depend on what is being planted. Trees,
Shrubs and perennials all require different soil depths. Consult with garden
centre employees when purchasing plants.
Choosing the best plant for the best place
- Start building the skeleton of your landscape by beginning with the
- Trees and shrubs can be purchased as bare-root, ball and burlapped (B&B),
or as container-grown plants.
- When determining the location of trees keep in mind three factors: view plane,
ultimate size of tree, and light conditions. Consider views you would like to
frame or perhaps hide. Give the tree plenty of growing space both under the
ground and above the ground. For example, the planting hole should be twice
as wide as it is deep, there should be no large obstructions in the planting
zone, it should be suitably far away from the house, and there should be no
wires above it. Any future plans for property use should be considered,
as trees are a long term commitment.
- Evergreens provide year round interest, while deciduous trees and shrubs
have seasonal interest.
- Try planting low maintenance native species for easy gardening success.
- Shrubs are great as foundation plantings, in a mixed border, as support
to the structure provided by trees, and adds flower color and leaf texture
to your design. Choosing shrubs requires similar considerations as trees.
The ultimate size of the shrub, whether you would like evergreen or deciduous,
and light conditions should all be considered.
- Perennials provide lasting beauty in the garden. They can be great interim
fillers while your trees and shrubs are young. Additionally, they require little
care except for seasonal pruning, get bigger every year, and can be divided
and moved around. They are a gift that keeps on giving!
- Annuals are also great for instant color, provide filler for bare spots,
and provide beauty in containers and window boxes. They are usually best grown
in the proper light conditions, in soils that are well drained.
Some points to keep in mind:
- If necessary, develop a 2-5 year plan that realistically reflects your
time, energy, skill level, and financial situation. Don’t bite off more
than you can chew!
- Consider consulting
and/or hiring a professional for larger jobs such as decks, paver stones,
or large ball and burlap trees. They have the equipment and expertise.
- Read and keep garden tags that come with your plant. They usually give
good general guidelines for planting, plus the tag will have the tree name and
cultivar. You may not remember what the plant was 6 months to a year down the
- Research is key: Consult gardening books, talk to gardeners, surf the web
for sustainable and organic gardening to get a clearer picture of what you want
and like. Our recommended reading and links
sections can help you get started.
- When choosing plants for your property try to incorporate plants that
have multi-purpose uses. An example is a dogwood shrub that has red bark, provides
shelter and food for birds, and the branches can be used to make wreaths and
- After any trees or shrubs you plant, don’t forget to water! They require
long deep drinks to get established.
Any project that is well researched and
planned out will be ultimately more satisfying. Once the basics are covered,
then the real creativity begins! Garden design is an art form similar to all
View Lawns Gone Wild
The Lawns Gone Wild Showcase contains a variety of property types, sizes and
maintenance levels. These properties range from small, urban
lawns to large, suburban landscapes. Some are
high-maintenance, and others require very little maintenance.
Use the following maps to browse
pesticide-free properties in your neighbourhood! Click on your HRM
polling district to see all sustainable properties in your
* These properties may be maintained
by the property owner or by hired professionals. We do not
endorse specific products or services. These properties are
provided for public education purposes.
Additionally, we have begun to receive entries from outside of
the HRM. Click on the municipalities below to view Lawns Gone Wild from other areas of the province.