Canadian lawns and gardens: Where are they the "greenest"?

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Mary Frances Lynch and Nancy Hofmann, Environment Accounts and Statistics Division

Varying local conditions such as climate, cultural influences, laws, and housing types result in a diversity of household lawn and garden practices across the country. Pesticide use in urban areas is a particularly divisive issue, with many Canadians calling for bans and restrictions on municipal and residential use. Pesticide and fertilizer use was highest in the Prairies and lowest in Quebec in 2005, where pesticide use has declined sharply since the mid-1990s.1 Water conservation techniques are more common in areas that can experience dry summer weather.  Households in British Columbia were most likely to reduce lawn and garden water use by using water sprinkler timers, while rain barrels or cisterns were most commonly used in the Prairies.

What you should know about this study

This study is based primarily on data from the 2006 Households and the Environment Survey (HES), conducted as part of the Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators project. Household pesticide use data was also derived from the 1994 Households and the Environment Survey.

Data for household pesticide and fertilizer use, outdoor water use and ownership of gas-powered lawn mowers are all based only on households who reported having a lawn or garden. All respondents were asked whether they had a rain barrel or cistern, with the exception of apartment dwellers. Apartment dwellers also did not respond to questions relating to water sprinkler timers or gas-powered mowers, but did respond to questions relating to their gardens (but not lawns).

Data on households with lawns or gardens, ownership of gas-powered lawn mowers and use of rain barrels or cisterns is for 2006. Data on lawn and garden practices such as pesticide and fertilizer application, lawn watering and the use of water sprinkler timers is for 2005.

Lawn and garden care: a popular activity

Landscaping activities are a favourite pastime for many Canadians and much time and money is spent maintaining lawns and gardens. In fact, on a typical day in 2005 nearly 11% of Canadians aged 30 and over spent time working on their lawn or garden, with the average participant spending more than 2 hours doing yardwork.2

The popularity of landscaping activities has resulted in a booming lawn and garden industry. The sale of lawn and garden products, equipment and plants from large retailers rose by more than $600 million from 2002 to 2006, reaching over $2 billion.3 A similar trend shows a boost in the area of agricultural land used to grow landscaping products. Between 2001 and 2006, there was a 24% increase in the area used to produce sod, as well as an expansion in the area used for nursery products such as trees, shrubs, and perennials.4

Where are the green thumbs?

In 2006, almost three quarters of Canadian households had a lawn or garden. Lawns and gardens were particularly common in the Atlantic provinces, with Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick comprising the top three provinces (Chart 1). The presence of lawns and gardens is influenced by housing type; these three provinces ranked above the national average for the proportion of single detached homes.5

Chart 1 Households with a lawn or garden, 2006. Opens a new browser window.

Chart 1
Households with a lawn or garden, 2006

Quebec and British Columbia had the lowest proportion of households with lawns and gardens.  Other types of housing, such as apartments, are relatively more popular in these provinces.

Within certain provinces, there was some intra-provincial variation, including differences between large metropolitan regions. In Ontario, the presence of lawns and gardens ranged from 83% in the census metropolitan areas (CMA) of Oshawa, St. Catharines-Niagara and Thunder Bay to just 65% in Toronto. Similarly in Quebec, Saguenay had 75% of households with a lawn or garden, compared to 58% of households in lowest-ranked Montreal.

Bye-bye pests?

Pests, such as weeds and insects, can destroy lawns and gardens. Pesticides, including herbicides, insecticides and fungicides, can enhance the appearance of lawns and gardens by eliminating pests. Besides ensuring an aesthetically appealing lawn, herbicides can also be beneficial in reducing common allergy-causing plant species such as ragweed. Pesticides ensure that vegetable gardens are not devoured by various insects and diseases or dominated by invasive weeds.

However, pesticides can have negative effects on human and ecological health through the contamination of air, water, soil and food sources.  In addition to killing target insects such as chinch bugs, insecticides can also kill other species that are beneficial to lawns and gardens. Insects may also be a source of food for birds, but this food source can be contaminated or reduced by pesticides.6

Pesticide use dipped slightly at the national level, Quebec pesticide use cut in half

In spite of increased efforts to build awareness of the potential health threats of pesticides, there has been little change in Canadian households' use of pesticides on their lawns and gardens. The proportion of households that used pesticides slipped only marginally from 31% in 1994 to 29% in 2005 (Table 1).  In spite of this national trend, the proportion of households using pesticides was reduced by half in Quebec, with only 15% of households applying pesticides to their lawn or garden in 2005. The only other provinces to experience a decline in the proportion of households applying these substances were New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and British Columbia. In contrast, the proportion of households using pesticides more than doubled in Newfoundland and Labrador and increased by almost half in Manitoba.

Table 1 Households that used pesticides on their lawn or garden, by province, 1994 and 2005. Opens a new browser window.

Table 1
Households that used pesticides on their lawn or garden, by province, 1994 and 2005

One possible reason for the large drop in pesticide use in Quebec dates back to the 1990s when the municipality of Hudson was the first in Canada to successfully implement a ban on cosmetic pesticides. By the spring of 2005, seventy other Canadian communities had banned non-essential household pesticides, a fact that was especially pronounced in Quebec.7  As of April 30th 2006, the entire province of Quebec implemented a ban on the sale and use of the most toxic pesticides on public, private and commercial property, with the exception of golf courses and farmland.8

Prairies led country in pesticide use

In 2005, the Prairie provinces of Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta led the country in pesticide use with about two out of every five households using them (Table 1). In contrast, pesticide use was approximately two-thirds lower in Prince Edward Island and Quebec, where about 1 in 7 households used them.

At the CMA level, some similar trends are found.  Of the top three CMAs for pesticide use—Winnipeg, Saskatoon, and Regina—almost half of households used pesticides on their lawns and gardens. Meanwhile, cities in the province of Quebec had the lowest usage, including Saguenay (12%), Montreal (14%), Sherbrooke (15%) and Trois-Rivières (16%). In Ontario, the usage levels were more varied with about 45% of households in Hamilton, Oshawa and Kitchener applying pesticides while just under 30% of households in Kingston applied them.

Ontario households used pesticides as regular maintenance, Prairie provinces used pesticides when problems arose

There are two main treatment options for pesticide use: (i) using pesticides as part of regular lawn or garden care maintenance, or (ii) using pesticides when a problem or infestation arises.9

The second option can have fewer environmental impacts, since the frequency of use can be lower.

Of Canadian households using pesticides, just over half used them as part of a regular maintenance schedule. Ontario had the highest proportion in the country—almost 60% of households applied pesticides as part of a regular maintenance program in 2005 (Table 1).

Manitoba (41%) and Saskatchewan (42%) had the lowest proportion of households using pesticides as part of a regular maintenance routine. Instead, households in Manitoba and Saskatchewan preferred to use pesticides in response to pest problems, potentially minimizing pesticide use. Almost 60% of pesticide users in these two provinces used pesticides when a problem arose—the highest rates in the country (Table 1).

Prairie lawns go green with fertilizers while Quebec lawns go "au naturel"

Fertilizers containing nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium add nutrients to lawns and gardens, making lawns greener and thicker. However, fertilizer use can be problematic if applied improperly or in excess. In such cases, these nutrients can run-off into storm water sewers and local streams reaching lakes and other surface water bodies. This nutrient enrichment, known as eutrophication, can lead to excessive growth of plants and algae in water bodies. When these plants die, their decomposition removes dissolved oxygen from the water, making the habitat unsuitable for many forms of aquatic life.10 

Household chemical fertilizer use was highest in Alberta and Saskatchewan, where nearly half of households with lawns or gardens applied fertilizers in 2005 (Chart 2). Manitoba trailed closely with almost 40% of households using them. Fertilizer use was particularly high in Saskatoon (57%), Regina (54%), Calgary (49%) and Edmonton (48%).

Chart 2 Households that used chemical fertilizers on their lawn or garden, by province, 2005. Opens a new browser window.

Chart 2
Households that used chemical fertilizers on their lawn or garden, by province, 2005

Quebec had the lowest percentage of households applying fertilizers, with about 15% using them. Montreal (13%), Saguenay (15%), Sherbooke (16%) and Trois-Rivieres (17%) had the lowest proportion of households using chemical fertilizers in the country. Although there is no ban on chemical fertilizers, as of April 2004, Quebec instituted a ban on the sale of fertilizer-pesticide mixtures.11

There was also some variation amongst the CMAs in Ontario, including a 17 percentage point spread between those cities with the highest share and lowest share of fertilizer users. Oshawa (47%), Hamilton (46%), and London (44%) had the highest proportion of households using fertilizer in Ontario. Meanwhile households in Thunder Bay (30%) and Kingston (32%) had the lowest percentage of fertilizer use.

Water, water … not everywhere

Watering is another lawn and garden activity with possible environmental impacts. Different climates, laws, natural physical features and cultural influences may influence watering. Domestic water consumption can increase up to 50% during the summer months when many people water their lawns and gardens.12

In some parts of the country, grass will brown or die if it is not watered. Kentucky bluegrass, a common lawn grass used in North America, has low drought resistance and requires more water than other types of grass.13 Many gardens also need watering; the need and frequency is dependant on the composition of its plants and local climatic conditions.

Three quarters of households watered their lawn or garden in 2005 (Table 2).  New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island had the lowest proportion of households that watered their lawns and gardens. Ontario and British Columbia were the only two provinces above the national rate.

More garden watering than lawn watering

Over four out of every five Canadian households watered their gardens, while over half watered their lawns (Table 2).

There were pronounced differences between provinces in terms of lawn watering. In Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, about two out of every ten households watered their lawn. In comparison, six out of every ten households watered their lawns in Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Ontario. Provincial differences were less pronounced for garden watering.

Using less water…

The use of sprinkler timers as well as rain barrels or cisterns are ways to potentially reduce water use. Using water sprinkler timers can help manage and conserve water and ensure that excessive amounts of water are not applied, such as when users forget to turn off sprinklers. They can promote watering at optimal times, including in the early morning when evaporation is less of a concern. Capturing water in rain barrels or cisterns reuses water that is naturally available, avoiding the use of municipally-treated water.14

Nearly a quarter of Canadian households with lawns or gardens used sprinkler timers to assist in watering in 2005. British Columbia had the highest percentage, with over one third of households using a water sprinkler timer (Table 2). The province promotes water conservation15 and regulations on watering exist in several municipalities.16  Quebec was the only other province where the use of sprinkler timers was higher than the national rate—26% of Quebec households17 reported using a water sprinkler timer.

Table 2 Outdoor water use, by province, 2005. Opens a new browser window.

Table 2
Outdoor water use, by province, 2005

In 2006, about 14% of Canadian households18 used rain barrels or cisterns.  In the Prairie provinces, the use of rain barrels or cisterns was more common than anywhere else in Canada.  Alberta (27%), Saskatchewan (27%) and Manitoba (20%) were the only provinces to exceed the national rate in the use of these water conservation devices.

Air quality and lawn mowing

Air quality problems are most often associated with emissions from cars and trucks. Although used less frequently overall, household gasoline-powered equipment can have a disproportionate effect on air quality. Studies show that depending on the age and model, gas-powered lawn mowers can emit the same amount of pollution in one hour, as a car driven 20 to 200 miles.1 In one year, the average gas-powered lawn mower can emit the same amount of PM2.52 as the average car traveling about 3300 km.3 PM2.5 is a key component of smog and can have negative health effects on humans and the environment.4 In 2006, two thirds of Canadian households with lawns and gardens owned a gasoline-powered lawn mower (Chart 3). New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island had the highest proportion of households owning gas-powered mowers, whereas British Columbia had the lowest.

Chart 3 Households that owned gasoline-powered lawn mowers, by province, 2006 . Opens a new browser window.

Chart 3
Households that owned gasoline-powered lawn mowers, by province, 2006

Although a third of Canadian households were aware of air quality advisories in 2005, 61% of these households did not change their activities or behaviour during these advisories. Changes in activities or behaviour might include using an asthma inhaler, curtailing outdoor physical activity (such as jogging or lawn mowing) or using public transit instead of their motor vehicle. Households in Ontario were most likely to change their activities under an air quality advisory. In 2004, Southern Ontario, home to approximately 30% of Canadians, had the highest concentrations of ground-level ozone, a key component of smog.5


  1. Environment Canada, 2006, Clean Air Online: Compiled List of Quick Facts, (accessed June 4, 2007).
  2. Particulate matter under 2.5 microns in size.
  3. Environment Canada, 2007, Criteria Air Contaminant Inventory.
  4. Environment Canada, Statistics Canada and Health Canada, 2006, Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 16-251-XIE, Ottawa.
  5. Environment Canada, Statistics Canada and Health Canada, 2006.


This paper has looked at some of the activities Canadians undertake to maintain their lawns and gardens. While the picture that emerges is varied, it does show some marked differences as one travels from east to west. Households east of Ontario tended to make less use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers than those in the west. However, Easterners weren't as likely to use water sprinkler timers or capture rainwater for lawn and garden purposes. This mosaic of practices reflects the diversity of local growing conditions as well as economic and legal constraints and social values that exist in communities across Canada.


  1. Statistics Canada, 2007, Households and the Environment, 2006, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 11-526-XIE, Ottawa.
  2. Statistics Canada, General Social Survey 2005.
  3. Statistics Canada, n.d., CANSIM table 080-0009.
  4. Statistics Canada, 2007, 2006 Census of Agriculture: Snapshot of Canadian agriculture, (accessed June 4, 2007). 
  5. Statistics Canada, Households and the Environment Survey 2006.
  6. Environment Canada, 2005, 12 Easy Steps to Get Your Lawn Off Drugs, (accessed July 20, 2007).
  7. Pralle, S., 2006, " 'The 'mouse that roared': Agenda setting in Canadian pesticides politics," The Policy Studies Journal, 34 (2): 171-194.
  8. Government of Quebec, 2006, The Pesticides Management Code, (accessed July 12, 2007).
  9. Environment Canada, 2002, Integrated Pest Management in the Atlantic Region, (accessed June 20, 2007).
  10. Mason, C., 1991, Biology of Freshwater Pollution, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York.
  11. Government of Quebec, 2006, The Pesticides Management Code, (accessed July 12, 2007).
  12. Environment Canada, 2003, Down-to-Earth Choices: Tips for making where you live one of Canada's Healthy Neighbourhoods, (accessed June 7th, 2007).
  13. Kansas State University, 2000, Horticulture Report: Kentucky Bluegrass Lawns, (accessed June 20, 2007).
  14. Environment Canada, 2002, Water Conservation-Every Drop Counts, (accessed July 20, 2007).
  15. Ministry of the Environment Water Stewardship Division, 2001, Water Conservation, (accessed June 15, 2007).
  16. Greater Vancouver Regional District, 2004, Lawn sprinkling regulations, (accessed June 21, 2007).
  17. Only including those households that had a lawn or garden that was watered.
  18. Not including those who live in apartments.