Unlock The Hidden Potential of Your Backyard

We’re lucky in Waterloo Region (and in southern Ontario more generally) to have easy access to some great conservation areas, parks, and other natural areas. These places provide us with physical, spiritual, and mental health benefits that make our lives better. More importantly, though, they also provide us with environmental necessities that we don’t always see or appreciate – like flood protection, fresh water, clean air, and climate regulation.  

Sadly, these natural areas are under pressure. As we move woodlands and fill wetlands to make room for houses, roads, buildings and lawns, we are creating a situation where most of us must rely on protected public land to provide the environment we need for a healthy and prosperous life. All the while, we have completely overlooked the potential that private lands (like your backyard) have for supporting these ecosystems.

How does this apply to us locally? In the City of Kitchener,  for example, 37% of the city’s area is made up of residential property, compared to parks and natural areas making up just 19%. While the city is working to protect and restore natural areas in and around Kitchener, we must also consider the role our yards can play in our efforts to create a healthy, thriving community.  

The question becomes: how can we use our yards to help our environment thrive? Here are three simple tips:

1. Redirect runoff using a rain barrel or rain garden

When it rains, water flows over our homes, driveways, and lawns, and passes untreated into our storm sewers. As a result, large volumes of dirty water rush into our creeks every time it rains. This erodes riverbanks, damages wildlife habitat, and increases flood risk. By using our yards to soak up rain, we can help protect creeks and waterways.

Let’s consider the runoff from a typical urban property with a detached house, driveway, and lawn. A property like this can generate approximately 37,000 litres of runoff annually, based on average annual rainfall amounts in Kitchener. 

When a rain barrel and rain garden are incorporated into this property’s yard, runoff is reduced by about 5,000 litres a year. When you consider that most rain gardens result in the replacement of lawn with a diverse array of native plants, planting a rain garden can also lead to significant increases in habitat and food for pollinators.


2. Soak up rain by planting trees and shrubs

The benefits of trees and shrubs in our communities extend far beyond making our neighbourhoods more beautiful. If we consider the urban home example above:

Over a 20-year period, a native tree planted in this same yard can:  

  • Soak up 443,000 litres of rainfall
  • Absorb 6,000 pounds of carbon dioxide 
  • Save 1,600 kilowatt hours of electricity by providing shade to cool the house

In addition, native trees and shrubs provide habitats for many species of insects and support a wide variety of birds and mammals. 


3. Protect our creeks by planting native grasses and flowers instead of grass

Replacing lawn with a more diverse variety of native plants can provide huge benefits to people and the environment.

For example: by converting just a 3 x 3 meter area of lawn to a garden bed with native plants, you can prevent 1165 litres a year of rain from becoming runoff. 

This protects wildlife habitat in our creeks, reduces the risk of floods, and provides food and shelter for pollinators.


Source: Nicole Lapierre

A yard becomes much more than a beauty feature when we start to see and value our yards as tools to adapt to the effects of climate change. To unlock the hidden power of your own yard, request a Guelph Rain Garden Home Visit, Kitchener Rain Smart Neighbourhoods Consultation, or take part in our annual Shrub Sale or Bloom{in} Box fundraisers.

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