All posts by peterboroughmastergardeners

The Wilting of ‘Mrs. Robert Brydon’

By Lois Scott, Master Gardener

Garden gazing out the window a couple of weeks ago I noticed, with a sickening jolt, that my Clematis x jouiniana ‘Mrs. Robert Brydon’ was wilting.  (It’s only a plant, Lois, only a plant).  She has been in my garden for 4 years and had been growing very well up to this point but it appeared she must have clematis wilt.  Clematis wilt and clematis slime flux are the two diseases that this particular cultivar may be susceptible to.  Not noticing any slimy, smelly matter oozing from the stems, I ruled out slime flux. 

‘Mrs. Roberty Brydon’ showing leaf wilt

According to Missouri Botanical Garden,  clematis wilt is a serious disease of clematis caused by the fungus Ascochyta clematidina.  This fungus can survive in the soil surrounding infected plants and may overwinter in infected plant debris.  The fungus appears to be activated by ‘high humidity and favourable growing conditions found early in summer’.  Any to all stems may be affected and the whole plant killed down to just below soil level.  The good news is that the plant may recover after a year or two. 

There are ways to manage and avoid having your clematis plants affected by this disease and indeed other diseases of clematis.    Strategies (cultural practices) include a favourable planting site with 6 or more hours of sun.  Soil should be fertile and well-drained with good air circulation around the plant.  The area around your clematis should be free of plant debris and avoid any injury to stem and roots.  Do not cultivate the soil around your clematis plants and mulch it well.  Water carefully, keeping water off the leaves.  If your plant becomes infected, cut the diseased stems just below ground level and destroy them.

‘Mrs. Robert Brydon’ in flower

I removed and destroyed all the diseased growth on my clematis (which was all the growth) and there is now new growth coming up from the root.  I will be paying attention to keeping leaf debris cleaned up, improving air circulation around the vine and watering as needed, with care.

Hopefully ‘Mrs. Robert Brydon’ will survive this setback.  Her profuse, pale blue flowers are unusual and appealing to me.  The gardener, Robert Brydon, who ‘found’ this clematis in a Cleveland, Ohio garden in 1935, clearly thought enough of it to name it after his wife! Sigh.

Another Garden Beauty

By Marilyn Homewood, Master Gardener

Summer solstice has just passed and with it the waning of some iconic garden varieties.  Late spring/early summer brings us not only the iris and rose but the peony as well.  Peonies are large, long-lived perennials that may stay in one place without division for up to 100 years. Peonies bloom in a wide range of forms, from simple, elegant singles to massive doubles with more than 300 petals in colours of white, pink, yellow and red tones.  They form a rounded shrub that may be up to 3 feet in height and width with glossy deep green foliage that remains attractive after the bloom is over.

Itoh peony ‘Bartzella’ in landscape

There are three types of peonies: Herbaceous, Tree and Itoh.  Herbaceous peonies bloom in late spring/early summer and have stems that die back to the ground in the fall.  Tree peonies have a permanent woody stem, more like a shrub. Woody stalks remain standing through winter and go on to flower again the next season. The blooms on trees peonies are larger and more fleeting than those on their herbaceous counterparts.  In our area, tree peonies appreciate a sheltered spot to grow as a hard winter may result in a lot of die back. The third type of peonies are the Itoh peonies.  These plants are a result of crossing herbaceous peonies with tree peonies.  The stems of Itoh peonies die back to the ground each fall and yet the bloom is large like that of a tree peony.  These plants do not require any additional support unlike some of the herbaceous peonies.

Tree peony

Peonies perform best when planted in a location with a minimum of 6 hours of sun per day and must have fertile, well drained soil.  Once planted in a suitable location, they are relatively care free, requiring only a good clean up in the fall to cut the stems down and remove all leaves (reducing the potential for fungal growth). In the case of tree peonies, the stems are not cut but all leaves should be removed and discarded in the landfill.

Peonies are sold as bare roots from growers as well as from some of the larger companies. These can be planted in either spring or fall however from experience fall is the preferred time to get them into the ground.  As well, many nurseries sell peonies in containers that can be added to the garden at any time provided they are kept watered.

Early single peony “Claire de Lune”

Recognizing the value of a peony variety that performs well in the landscape, the American Peony Society developed an Award of Landscape Merit for cultivars that do not require support and are vigorous garden varieties.  When choosing a peony for your garden, consider one of these.

Japanese peony “Sword Dance”

Peonies are not just for the garden. They make wonderful cut flowers as well.  For maximum vase life, harvest them when the bud is coloured, rounded and soft to the touch, keep the vase out of direct sunlight and change the water frequently (peonies like cold water and I have started to add some ice cubes to the water in the morning).  This should give you 6-7 days of vase life.  The blooms are so large that it only takes a few to fill up your vase.

Treat yourself and purchase a peony for your garden.  One can never have enough peonies!

Peonies as cut flowers

“Flowers are the music of the ground. From earth’s lips spoken without sound.” – Edwin Curran

Resources

http://ccenassau.org/resources/peonies

https://peony.ca

https://www.treepeony.com

Native Shrubs

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

In the spirit of adding more native plants to my garden in order to help support diversity, native pollinators and birds, I recently purchased a New Jersey Tea shrub.  Of course, it is also a new-to-me plant so I could not resist!  This made me start thinking about other native shrubs that I could use in my garden….I already have some of the usual non-natives like hydrangea, lilac, forsythia and a few of the dwarf conifers.  But, much to my surprise, I realized that I also have, in addition to the new-to-me New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus), downy arrowwood (Viburnum rafinesquianum) , dogwood (Cornus species) and ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius)! 

New Jersey Tea – My newly purchased shrub is just a baby….it is barely 13 cm (5 inches) tall but will grow to be about 1 meter (3 feet) tall.  I will need to protect it from the rabbits, who also inhabit my garden, by caging it with chicken wire.  New Jersey Tea prefers full sun and well drained soil.  It produces small white flowers in oval clusters at the branch tips in spring.  It is hardy to zone 4.  Additional information is available here.

Downy Arrowwood – My arrowwood is blooming right now.  It is covered with clusters of tiny white flowers and many native pollinators.  The flowers will be followed by blue-black berries that the birds love.  Arrowwood prefers poor, well drained soil…..ours is planted at the edge of a gravel walkway. It can take part-sun to shade and is hardy to zone 3.  At maturity, this multi-stemmed shrub will be 1.8-2.4 meters (6-8 feet) tall.  Additional information is available here.

Dogwood – There are a few different species of dogwood native to Ontario including Pagoda dogwood (C. alternifolia), bunchberry (C. canadensis) and Red Osier dogwood (C. sericea).  There are more but this group are hardy to at least zone 5 (Peterborough area).  They vary in height and growing condition requirements.  For more information on dogwood look hereThe Peterborough and Area Master Gardeners also have a fact sheet available on dogwood here .

Ninebark – Ninebark is a great native shrub for your garden.  It adapts to lots of different soil conditions and moisture levels including drought once established.  It is hardy to zone 3, has pretty white blooms in summer and attractive fall foliage.  I must admit that ours is planted in good garden soil and is mulched to minimize weeds and for moisture retention so my ninebark has it pretty good.  This shrub does prefer full sun for best bloom production. The Peterborough and Area Master Gardeners also have a fact sheet available on ninebark here.

Remember that all new plants need to be coddled for their first year in your garden so keep them watered and watch for insects or critters that may cause damage.  For me, that is fairly easy because I am often out in the garden admiring my new plants!

For more native plant choices and other pollinator information, check out Pollinator Partnership Canada under Resources.  June 20-26/2022 is Pollinator Week in Canada.  Why not celebrate by adding one or more native plants to your garden?

Outcompeting Invasive Plants, Part 1

By Laura Gardner, Master Gardener in Training

When it comes to dealing with invasive plants in our gardens, some can be quite challenging to control, let alone eradicate. In a system of Integrated Pest Management (IPM), gardeners may need to choose a number of different control methods and the methods considered need to make the least environmental impact. These methods involve cultural, mechanical, biological, and chemical options. In most invasive plant situations, choices will be cultural and mechanical. Chemicals may not be an option for home gardeners due to licensing, legislation, and product label requirements. However, some chemicals may be necessary in situations where there is a health and safety concern—e.g. Heracleum mantegazzianum (Giant Hogweed). Some of the usual methods that are used may include pulling, digging, cutting, removing flowerheads, sifting the soil for root fragments, smothering, or solarizing with tarps. Many invasive plants are difficult to remove in their entirety due to their extensive rhizomatous roots or their ability to produce many seeds that can last for years in the soil. Two unwanted plants that have popped-up in my garden in recent years are Campanula rapunculoides (Creeping Bellflower) and Allilaria petiolata (Garlic Mustard). My property is fenced but it is not closed off and so is open to seeds coming from other areas (including adjacent neighbouring properties). Because of this, my approach is about control of existing plants but also in preventing new ones from becoming established.

In addition to some of the methods mentioned above, two others you can add to your arsenal is to use mulch and to plant more densely.

Add Mulch

While the above-mentioned weed seeds do travel by wind, the majority of them will fall near the parent plant on the other side of the fence. All along the open fence lines I have added a thick layer of arborist wood chips. Adding a 4” layer will inhibit the germination of weed seeds as light is prevented from reaching them. Any seedlings that do germinate can be easily pulled as the roots cannot take a firm hold within the mulch. The mulch will break down over time and will need to be replenished.

Add Dense Plantings

e.g. Solidago Flexicaulis (Zig-Zag Goldenrod)

There is a wooded area near my house that is densely covered by a native plant called Solidago flexicaulis (Zig-Zag Goldenrod). Recently I noticed that there were only two or three Garlic Mustard plants amongst it. The Goldenrod was beating it! The Ontario Invasive Plant Council advises planting certain native plants at a density of 9 or 11 plants/m2 in order to compete with Garlic Mustard.[i] In addition to Zig-Zag Goldenrod these other plants are recommended as Garlic Mustard competitors:

  • Anemonastrum canadense (Canada Anemone)
  • Hydrophyllum virginianum (Virginia Waterleaf)
  • Hydrophyllum canadense (Canada Waterleaf)
  • Geum canadense (White Aven)
  • Matteucia struthiopteris (Ostrich Fern)
  • Viola sororia (Woolly Blue Violet)
  • Carex blanda (Woodland Sedge)
  • Mianthemum stellatum (Starry False-Solomon’s-Seal)
  • Athyrium filix-femina (Lady Fern)
  • Ribes americanum (American Currant)
  • Diervilla lonicera (Bush Honeysuckle)
Solidago flexicaulis (Zig Zag Goldenrod) and Parthenocissus vitacea (Woodbine), and Allilaria petiolata (Garlic Mustard) together in a wooded area in Peterborough

[i] Garlic Mustard (Allilaria petiolata): Best Management Practices in Ontario. Ontario Invasive Plant Council. p. 22. Online: https://www.ontarioinvasiveplants.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/OIPC_BMP_GarlicMustard.pdf

It’s Iris Time in the Garden!

By Chris Freeburn, Master Gardener

June brings a great show of Bearded Iris into the garden. Iris germanica flower in spring and although the bloom time seems short, the big colourful blooms are breath taking. Iris come in different heights, have big showy flowers in lots of fabulous colours and their elongated fan-like leaves give a different shape in the mixed border. There are 3 parts of the flower – “standards” which are the 3 upright petals, “falls” which are the lower petals usually hanging down and the “beard” which is the fuzzy hairs and is often yellow in colour. There are many varieties available, with colours ranging from shades of blue, purple, pink, peach, orange and combinations of colours where standards are one colour and falls another. Stunning!

Orange Harvest

Iris want a sunny location facing south or west, in well drained soil. They do not want to sit in water and will rot if they are too wet. Iris have rhizomes which produce roots to hold the plant in place and draw up water and nutrients. Rhizomes want their tops to be near the surface of the soil or slightly exposed, especially in heavy soil. A heavily mulched bed will not work for iris unless you leave a large area bare. Fertilize in early spring.

Raspberry Parfait

Dead-head flowers by cutting spent blossom stems right down, which encourages more bloom on rebloomers. Leaf fans should be cut back to 3” to 6” in the fall with sharp scissors.

Plants need to be divided every 3 to 4 years to reduce crowding and encourage blooming. Dividing should be done when plants are dormant in August or September. When dividing, check rhizomes for signs of disease and cut out any soft, wrinkled or marred parts. Let rhizomes dry overnight before replanting to allow cut areas to seal over to protect

Watch for Iris borer which will eat through the rhizomes. If you do get borers, dig up and cut off the damaged rhizomes.

Siberian Iris

Iris are often sold bare root from seed companies and there are several online iris companies in southern Ontario. They tend to ship for fall planting when plants are dormant. You can purchase plants in containers in garden centres in spring or summer.

Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington have a wonderful display garden if you are up for a trip. Check out their website https://www.rbg.ca/gardens

Iris siberica is another showy plant in the early summer garden. Siberian Iris grow 15” to 36” tall with lots of smaller flowers having standards and falls. Their leaves are narrower and almost grass-like. Siberian Iris can be planted into the soil rather than on top although they still have rhizomes. They can take full sun or part sun and do like a moist area. Dividing needs only to be done every 10 years or if the centre dies out.

Siberian Iris: Such amazing detail!

One of the earliest iris is Iris reticulata which is actually a bulb that you would plant in the fall. They are short and usually purple.

In Ontario we have native iris that are classed as wildflowers and known as Flags. They include Iris versicolor which you will find in shades of blue and Iris lacustris which is a smaller wildflower and very rare. These are often used in pond settings as they prefer to be wet. Iris pseudacorus is the non native yellow flag iris which is listed  on the Ontario Invasive list.

Iris are poisonous for cats, dogs and humans if eaten.

For more information check out these websites:
https://www.cdn-iris.ca/growing-bearded-irises/
https://www.chapmaniris.com/
http://ontariowildflowers.com

Planting Trees

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener

Image Courtesy of pixabay.com

Peter Wohlleben in his well-know book, The Hidden Life of Trees, describes how trees are like families, continually communicating and supporting one another. Trees improve soil and water conservation, moderate climate, increase the wildlife habitat, reduce stress and improve health.

It is imperative we continue to increase the tree canopy in our ever-growing cities.  This became more important after the recent storm that whipped through Southern Ontario and took out so many beautiful trees.

There are many factors to consider when planting a tree and it is easy to make mistakes.  I learned this the hard way this past month when I was able to literally pull a 9-year-old tree out of the ground.  Believe me, I am no incredible hulk!  I made many mistakes when planting that tree; the picture shows it was planted too deep, the roots girdled around the original root ball and by amending the dug hole with compost the tree likely resisted growing roots into the surrounding clay soil.

Image Courtesy of Author

Do your research and purchase a tree that is suitable for your yard conditions: 

  • How much sun and shade you receive each day?
  • What type of soil do you have?  
  • Would you prefer a large tree or one that is smaller and more suitable to an urban setting? 
  • What growing zone do you live in? (Check out this Zone Map if you are unsure)
  • Are you looking for a tree that will attract pollinators?   

I would suggest you consider planting a native tree. Trees that occur naturally in our surrounding area are better adapted to local climate and soil conditions and more resistant to disease. Oak trees are a powerhouse for feeding birds and attracting pollinators and insects, however, they are quite large.  A smaller tree to consider would be an Eastern Redbud or a Fall Witch Hazel.

Here is an article from Landscape Ontario with suggested native trees to consider.

HOLE DEPTH

In well-drained soils, the planting hole width should be two to three times the diameter of the root ball and only as deep as the root ball.  Widening the planting hole produces a hole with a greater volume of loose cultivated soil that allows rapid root growth.  This way roots gain access to a greater volume of loosened soil.  Do not plant the tree’s root flare below the ground.  The root flare should be within the top 5 cm of the soil surface.  Use a brush to find the top of the root flare which is where the structural roots begin.

SOIL AMENDMENT

Remove any grass roots, weeds, rocks or other debris from the planting hole. It used to be believed that you should fill the hole with an organic amendment such as compost, however, recent research has found that this doesn’t improve root development or tree growth and can sometimes be detrimental to tree performance and survival.  It is best to backfill in layers and lightly tamp and water to eliminate air pockets.  Additions of mulch and compost can be surface applied in future years to supplied much needed nutrients.

CREATING A BERM

It is wise to build a 10 cm high berm of soil extending 15 to 20 cm around the periphery of the root ball.  It should be firmed and is intended to keep water from flowing away.

MULCH

Apply mulch such as leaf litter or untreated wood chips evenly at the base of the tree.  It will help to reduce evaporation and suppress weeds.  Be sure to pull the mulch about 15 cm away from the base of the trunk.  The depth should be between 5 to 10 cm. I often see trees planted with mulch piled like a volcano.  This does not allow the water to penetrate to the roots and can also cause damage and disease to the trunk of the tree.

STABILIZATION

Only stake the tree if the roots will not support its height or if it is exposed to high winds. If a tree must be staked, place stakes no higher than 1/3 the height of the tree. Stake the tree loosely so it can move naturally in the wind. This movement will help to increase the tree’s stability.  The staking material should not constrict or rub against the bark of your plant. Remove stakes after roots have established, no longer than one growing season.

LASTLY

Remove all plant identification tags and any trunk protection or packaging material.

Supplemental watering is recommended the first 2-years after planting your tree. A sprinkle with the hose for a couple of minutes does more damage than good as this does not provide enough water to penetrate deep into the soil.  Newly planted trees must be watered regularly until frost.  Also, if water is pooling around the tree, cut back on the watering.

Do not be tempted to add additional fertilizer at this point.  Mineral imbalances can occur and cause more vegetative growth than root growth.

Do not prune the tree beyond removing any dead, diseased or damaged branches.

For further information, check out this Tree Planting Guide from Landscape Ontario.

In praise of the Trillium, our provincial flower

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

Most people know of the White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) as Ontario’s provincial flower. This is the flower featured on many of our provincial documents, from health cards to driver’s licenses. It was on March 25, 1937 that the Province of Ontario gave the trillium this honour.

Trilliums have three broad leaves, three small green sepals, three petals, and a three-sectioned seedpod. The “tri” in the Latin word trillium refers to these collections of three.

Trilliums are very slow-growing plants; their seeds take at least two years to fully germinate. The plant itself takes seven to 10 years to reach flowering size. After first flowering, it will bloom annually in early spring, with the blooms lasting for around three weeks. Trilliums can live for up to 25 years.

Did you know that the plants are phototropic? This means that the blooms will bend toward the sun and follow it across the sky.

You may not know that ants are involved in the dispersion efforts of the trillium. Ants are attracted to the protein-rich seed sac on the seeds which they eat after carrying the entire seed back to their nests. The actual seeds are not harmed during this process, and are later discarded to grow a new plant in a new location.

As a spring ephemeral, trilliums have a few short weeks in the spring to collect as much sunlight and nutrients as possible to be able to survive for the rest of the year. If trilliums are picked in the height of their flowering glory, they may not be able to collect enough resources to survive.

There’s a pervasive myth that it’s against the law in Ontario to pick or relocate these native plants. In 2009, former Peterborough-Kawartha MPP Jeff Leal introduced a private members’ bill called the Ontario Trillium Protection Act. Although the bill passed first reading, it never became law. If you do relocate these spring beauties or buy them from a garden centre, mulch with leaf litter for best results. Filtered light is best as they cannot tolerate much direct sun. The soil needs to be rich in organic matter, well-drained, and moist.

There are several varieties of trilliums in Ontario, with the most common being the White Trillium. The next common variety in our region is the Red Trillium which is also called “Stinking Benjamin” (Trillium erecta). Why? Go out this spring and find one and take a sniff. You may discover it smells a bit like rotting meat. Yikes! The aroma’s purpose is to attract pollinators, and in this case, the pollinators are green flesh-flies who are out in search of rotting meat on which to lay their eggs. Instead of finding the perfect nursery, however, they end up assisting the plant in its procreative efforts.

Plants are rarely boring, once you get to know them!

A Few of My Favourite Native Plants

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

I’ve been gardening for more than 25 years and, like many of you, thrill at the opportunity to discover new plants for my gardens. Over the past few years these have been mostly native plants, as I learn about all the benefits that they bring – here’s just a few examples of why native wildflowers, grasses, shrubs and trees do so much more than just add beauty to the landscape:

  • They support birds, pollinators and wildlife – native gardens attract birds and butterflies and provide habitat and food for native pollinators
  • They increase biodiversity – native plants increase garden health and resilience, and help contribute to a broader effect to nurture and sustain living landscapes
  • They’re tough and low maintenance – because they’re adapted to grow in their native range, locally native plants tend to thrive with little to no care and conserve one of our most precious resources – water
  • They help you save money AND create a healthier environment for people – native plants don’t require expensive fertilizers and chemicals, or toxic pesticides and herbicides
  • They help with climate change – no lawn mower costs or exhaust! and long lived native trees help store carbon dioxide
  • They make gardening easier – if you select the right native plants for your garden, you don’t have to modify or amend your soil

I’m just going to share three favourite native plants in my garden, with hopes that you may consider them for yours.

Culver’s Root (Veronicastrum Virginicum)

Culver’s Root offers a strong upright, architectural accent to any perennial garden that attracts attention from both people and pollinators!! It can reach heights of 5 feet if it’s happy (although mine hasn’t achieved that yet) and the spikes of white flowers open from the bottom up in mid-summer. It has finely toothed leaves that are lanceolate and occur in a whorl of 3 to 8 leaflets. The inflorescence has several wand-like flowering spikes that resemble an elegant candelabra.

Culver’s Root grows in zones 3-8, in full sun to part shade but it does like moist, well-drained soil. The seeds are so tiny that they should be directly sown on the soil surface in fall or in the spring – I’ve tried winter sowing some this year so we’ll see how that goes.

The plant really has no other synonyms; apparently the name was derived from a Dr. Coulvert, a late 17th to early 18th century pioneer physician who found laxative properties in the plant. More information here.

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)

Who doesn’t love bright red flowers in the garden? For those who say native plants can’t be showy I give you this amazing example to disprove that theory. Named for its scarlet red flowers, its tubular flowers are a magnet and important nectar source for hummingbirds and swallowtail butterflies.

Like Culver’s Root the flowering spikes open from the bottom to top and bloom for several weeks. They grow best in moist, rich soils in full sun to partial shade.

I’ve only had my plants for two seasons but I understand that the parent plants will not persist after a few years, so it’s important to either let it go to seed (so it reseeds naturally) or collect seed – this is another plant where I am trying out winter sowing (native plants are a great choice for this propagation method). While many sites will tell you it needs a really moist site mine have done fine, although I do keep the plants well watered in drier times. More information here.

Green Headed Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata)

Also commonly called Cut Leaved (or Cut Leaf) Coneflower, this is the straight species, not to be confused with the double cultivar many of us have in our rural gardens (often called the Outhouse Plant – or Rudbeckia laciniata “Golden Glow”).

Not a small plant (it grows 4 to 5 feet tall in my garden), it clumps and spread by rhizomes so only one to consider if you have the space! Its bright yellow, daisy-like drooping flowers with green centre disks (which can be about 3 inches across) bloom later in the summer season. It prefers moist soil, but grows well in average, medium, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. In nature it is often found in woods, meadows, streambanks, and roadside ditches.

The Cherokee natives call this plant Sochan and the spring basal leaves are a traditional Cherokee food. Butterflies are attracted to nectar from the blooms and songbirds, especially American Goldfinches, eat the seed in the fall. It is moderately deer resistant. More information here.

So I hope you’ll take the opportunity to seek out native plants to add to your garden, finding ones that are native to your region and appropriate to your conditions. Happy Gardening!!

Rhubarb

By Lois Scott, Master Gardener

It is early May and my husband has been watching the rhubarb emerging with great anticipation.  I like rhubarb, he loves rhubarb and it will soon be time to start harvesting the stalks (petioles)!

Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum), native to central Asia,is an easy, hardy, and edible perennial.  Technically a vegetable but treated as a fruit, it is long-lived, easy to care for and bothered by few pests and diseases. 

Rhubarb is sold by ‘crowns’ or perhaps you can get a division of a plant from another gardener.  Spring and early fall are the best times to plant it.  Rhubarb likes a well-drained site with full sun (6-8 hours minimum).  Give your plant plenty of space to grow, about 3m2.  Rhubarb is a heavy feeder so mulch around your new or established plant with compost or well-rotted manure.  I generally give mine a spring dressing of compost as it starts to emerge in the spring.  Rhubarb should be watered deeply during times of drought.

A new rhubarb plant will need a couple of years to get established before you start harvesting it.  Don’t harvest any stalks the first year and then very little the second year.  The plant needs those large leaves to develop to provide energy for the roots and crown to grow.  Over the growing season, flower stalks will start appearing and these should be cut off at the base to reserve energy for the plant.

Rhubarb is ready to harvest when the stalks are 25 – 40 cm long.  Grab the stalk part way down and pull or twist to the side.  When I pull rhubarb, I come prepared with a paring knife and cut off the leaves after pulling the stalks and leave them as mulch.  Rhubarb leaves are toxic as they have high levels of oxalic acid, however they can be safely composted. 

Rhubarb is a cool weather plant so as the season warms up growth may slow down.  Let your plant rest so the crown can recover.  If you have an established plant that doesn’t seem to be as vigorous as it was, it may need division which should be done in early spring.  Dig up the whole plant if possible.  Rhubarb has a very deep tap root but if you capture enough, you can divide the plant making sure each division as at least one or two buds.  Plant your divisions with the buds 4 – 5cm deep, gently firming the soil.

The only other job to do is weed through all the tempting rhubarb recipes.  Enjoy!

https://extension.psu.edu/rhubarb-be-patient-and-you-will-be-rewarded

Gardening Tools with Distinction

By Marilyn Homewood, Master Gardener

I appreciate a well made garden tool; the way it feels in your hand and the way it works.  Over the years, I have acquired many tools but not all are winners.  As time has passed and my needs have changed, some of my favorites have been displaced by newcomers.  With the coming season, I thought I would share some of my favourites.

The tool that is by my side constantly is my hori-hori knife, a one handed multipurpose tool, used for digging and cutting. It has a long steel blade that is smooth on one side and serrated on the other. The serrated edge is handy for cutting through roots and difficult weeds and the smooth side is more appropriate to delicate cutting tasks. The tool originates from Japan, where it has been used for centuries to remove vegetables and Sanasi plants from the mountains. The word ‘hori’ literally means ‘to dig’ in Japanese.

The point of the blade enables you to dig rows for seeds, seedlings, and holes for larger plants. There is a built-in ruler, which consists of notches on the blade. When not in use, the knife hangs in its scabbard on a hook in the mudroom where it is readily accessed before going outside.

Spring cleanup highlights the need for pruning shears or secateurs; a type of scissors for use on plants. I prefer bypass pruners as they make an accurate and clean cut.  I have used Felco pruners for many years and found them to be sturdy, they have replaceable parts (including the blade) and are available in many styles.  I use the Felco 12 and Felco 6 which are suitable for people with smaller hands. For woody plants that are too thick for pruners, I switch to loppers which are long handled two handed pruners. My flower shears are small needle-nosed pruners that can get into tight places while delivering a clean cut to the stem.

The spade that gets the most use is my rabbiting spade which was originally designed for digging out rabbit burrows. The blade is very long, curved and tapers towards the end. It is ideal when working in confined spaces or for transplanting plants and shrubs. It has a short handle and a classic YD handle.

For working on woody plants with a diameter larger than 2 inches, I turn to my Japanese pruning saw. Light weight with an ergonomic handle that helps to prevent wrist fatigue, its tooth size and geometry are chosen for cutting green and wet wood, ie, live wood. These saws cut on the pull stroke, which keeps the blade straight which I find makes it easier to use. It makes fast work of any task leaving a very clean cut.  The saws are available in a number of sizes and types.  I prefer to buy brands where the blade can be replaced when needed.  I use mine for everything from foraging for evergreens at Christmas to dealing with invasive trees and shrubs on the farm.

One of my first purchases was my Haws 9 litre watering can.  First designed in 1884 and virtually unchanged to this day, it is made from painted galvanized steel that is meant to last lifetime. It has an extra long spout and comes with a removable oval brass rose. The Haws is well balanced, making it easy to carry and tip.  When I do need to water plants, I do it by hand using the Haws and water at the base of the plant directly from the spout. It is quite accurate due to its balance.

From the oldest to the newest, meet my new broadfork, a tool that allows you to aerate your soil while preserving soil structure and microbial populations. Broadforks have two pole handles connected to a row of steel tines along a crossbar, which permits you to use your body weight to drive the tines into the ground while holding the grips. The tines loosen the soil to a significant depth.  Pulling the handles allows you to crack to soil slightly creating passages that allow air, water, and nutrients to reach deep into the ground and create a better growing environment. All this with no bending!!

“Tools of many kinds and well chosen, are one of the joys of a garden” ~ Liberty Hyde Bailey