Ontario gardeners planting non-native and invasive plants often have a difficult time controlling their gardens. But there's another more serious problem. Should the plants escape (and they inevitably do), they contribute to a reduction in the province's biodiversity.
So why then, do they continue to do it?
One reason, says Colleen Cirillo of the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority
, is that many gardeners are "simply unaware" of which plants to avoid and the damage these plants can do.
"Gardeners are generally eager to avoid invasive species," says Cirillo, "but many are simple not aware of the alternatives available."
As part of an ongoing effort to curb invasive plant growth in Ontario, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority
has partnered with the Ontario Invasive Plant Council
(OIPC) to launch the Grow Me Instead
guide. The program is
dedicated to educating consumers and retailers about the native and noninvasive alternatives to popular invasives.
First launched in 2011 Grow Me Instead
publishes detailed guides about native plants so Ontario gardeners can make the most environmentally responsible choices for their gardens. The project, funded and supported by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and the Canada/Ontario Invasive Species Centre
, aims to give consumers the information they need that that retailers often fail to mention.
In Southern Ontario, "invasive are spreading at an alarming rate," says Cirillo, resulting in, among other things, a loss of biodiversity in both urban and rural areas, soil erosion and less food and shelter for the wildlife dependent on the native plants. Yet most garden centres in the province continue to sell the worst culprits and often fail to inform customers of their harmful effects. This is especially frustrating, since, as the Grow Me Instead
guide highlights, there are almost always local and/or non-invasive alternatives to the most popular invasives sold in Ontario.
That's why this season, in addition to the distribution of the pamphlet, there's also the Nursery Recognition Program. Still in its pilot phase, the program acknowledges Toronto nurseries that carry and promote the sale of the non-invasive and native garden plants featured in the Grow Me Instead guide.
"Take Norway Maple," says Cirillo. "It's extremely invasive, but we could be selling alternatives like the Native Silver Maple, for example. It's still urban, it can still tolerate urban environments, but it's not going to be as problematic in our ravines."
So far, 10 Toronto nurseries have joined the new recognition program, selling exclusively non-invasive plants and distributing the Grow Me Instead
guide to customers.
"A small but significant start," says Cirillo. "This year we went with the easily accessible nurseries, we went with the nurseries that are small, where you can easily access the manager or the owner."
While this season the program has focused on the smaller nurseries, the long term goal is the big box stores.
"We know from research that's been done that most people buy their plants from big box stores. Getting to these stores to join this kind of program, however, is a huge undertaking," says Cirillo. "It's very difficult to connect with the Ronas and the Home Depots of the world, and to really look at their supply chain and figure out who we need to talk to. But that is the long-term goal."
In the meantime however, Grow Me Instead
will continue to educate more and more consumers and to build their network of partner nurseries one step at a time.
Writer: Katia Snukal
Source: Colleen Cirillo, Project Manager, Grow Me Instead Campaign, Toronto and Region Conservation Authority