All posts by peterboroughmastergardeners

Start a New Habitat

By Marilyn Homewood, Master Gardener

Over the past few years, it has become increasing clearer that loss of biodiversity due to loss of habitat is at a crisis level.  It is also well documented that the planting of native species provides us with an opportunity to help reverse this process by creating or enhancing ecological networks.

Renowned entomologist Douglas Tallamy has been beating this drum for some time.  It is his belief that all of us can provide part of the solution no matter our area of interest and no matter the scale of effort (no need to be a native plant purist!). He believes that small efforts by many people can make a significant contribution. Tallamy provides practical, positive advice for adapting his principles into your situation.  His philosophy is about encouraging folks to participate in regenerating biodiversity in the way they are most comfortable versus prescribing “must do’s” or formulas. He doesn’t let the perfect be the enemy of good. To this end, he is spearheading a grass roots, science-based solution called Homegrown National Park. Participants in both the US and Canada involved in this effort are encouraged to register their properties on the parks map in order to be counted towards the park’s goal of planting 20 million acres.  The website provides extensive resources to gardeners such as blogs and videos as well as a newsletter.  You can also follow the park on Instagram  @homegrownnationalpark.

Tallamy suggests 10 steps that anyone can all do to get started and make a contribution (see the link for more detail). They are as follows:

  1.  Shrink your lawn – All of us could probably do with a little less lawn to cut but no need to go without.  Replace some turf with trees, shrubs or gardens.
  2. Remove invasive species – Invasive species interfere with the ecosystems ability to function and will affect any type of garden. Removing some if not all out will reduce the impact on your plants and reduce the amount of seed that is shed into the environment.
  3. Encourage Keystone Genera – Research has shown that a few genera of plants are the backbone of local ecosystems especially as a food source for insects. Without local keystone plants, food webs will fail. Common keystone plants in the east are oak, willow, birch, elm, goldenrod, aster and sunflower. In my own case, goldenrod and aster is abundant on the farm. I now let it grow along the perimeter of my fields instead of cutting it down.
  4. Be generous with your plantings. Increasing the abundance and diversity of our plantings will assist in realizing the ecological potential of our landscape.
  5. Reduce Nighttime Light Pollution. White porch lights and security lights are a major cause of insect decline. Consider switching lighting with motion sensors or replace white bulbs with yellow (less attractive to bugs).
  6. Network with neighbours and encourage them to get involved.  Be a role model by transforming your property in attractive ways.  Display a sign to show your commitment.
  7. Build a conservation hardscape by using window well covers to prevent toads and frogs from falling into the wells where they starve to death. Mowing your lawn no lower than 3 inches helps to ensure that you mow over the turtles, toads and other small critters.
  8. Create caterpillar pupations sites under trees. Most caterpillars drop from trees to pupate in duff on ground. Replace the lawn under trees with well planted beds full of ground cover to encourage pupation.
  9. Avoid use of chemical fertilizer. Create soils rich in organic matter instead.
  10. Educate, educate and educate. Spread the word.

    “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” -Nelson Mandela

Clivia: Perhaps a Houseplant for your Collection?

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

I recently acquired a Clivia miniata.    This plant was new to me which, of course, was part of it’s appeal.  It also has dramatic long strappy green leaves and flowers during our cold, gray Ontario winter. 

When you bring a new plant home, be sure to carefully inspect it for hitchhikers; you do not want to bring in disease or insects which could be problematic for your current houseplants .   For example, Clivia may occasionally suffer from scale or mealy bug.  Thankfully, my new plant is lovely and healthy!

Clivia are part of the Liliaceae family.  Amaryllis is in the same family.  Clivia flowers are similar in shape to Amaryllis but smaller.  Clivia form a large ball of flowers so have lots of impact… colours range from yellow to red.  My plant has orange flowers.  Clivia may grow to be 2 to 3 feet (60-90 centimetres) tall and almost as wide.  This means that it requires a heavy pot to balance the top growth or it may tip over.  They like to be root-bound so may stay in the same pot for up to 5 years.

Clivia is native to South Africa.  The common name is flame lily, Natal lily or bush lily.  The plant was named after Lady Charlotte Florentine Clive, Duchess of Northumberland in England.  Clivia was very popular during the Victorian era.  If you would like to know more about the history of this plant, check here.

This plant is the ideal house plant.  It could be placed in a North window or in indirect light from an East or West window.  High humidity is not required so no misting is needed.  Clivia prefers rich, well drained organic soil.  A half strength dilution of 20-20-20 fertilizer may be applied monthly in the summer. This plant’s  large fleshy roots will rot if watered too much so allow the soil to become dry to the touch between waterings. 

Clivia may be placed in bright shade outdoors in the summer but does not like cool temperatures so must be wintered indoors.  In fall, when you bring your plant indoors, it needs a rest period to encourage that wonderful winter bloom.   Reduce watering but give it just enough water to keep the leaves hydrated and place the plant in a cool area for 6-8 weeks.  Then, place your plant back in its usual spot and water as described above.  Your plant should flower but this may take up to 8 weeks.  Clivia may flower 2-3 times per year but note that the plant is slow growing and needs to mature before it blooms.  This may take 3 to 5 years if you have purchased a young plant.  For more Clivia information, please see here.

I encourage you to welcome the easy to grow Clivia into your home!  Their beautiful leaves, and eye-catching blooms make them a striking plant to add to your houseplant collection.

Tree Identification with a Winter Key

By Laura Gardner, Master Gardener

Plant apps can be useful identification tools but their accuracy often depends on the quality of the photos and the features that are being examined. They tend to work best with more unique features such as fruit or flowers. I find that as a learning tool they can be limited because they do not give the user details about how or why the particular species was suggested. There are some other tools that can lead to an identification as well as help hone identification skills.

There is a little book called Winter Tree Finder by May Theilgaard Watts and Tom Watts. Originally published in 1970 and at only 58 pages, it is the perfect size to take into the garden or on nature walks. Known as a dichotomous key, it covers deciduous trees of the Eastern US and Canada and provides maps that show the various species ranges. Dichotomous keys lead you along a path towards the correct species by asking a series of questions about the tree’s various parts. This particular key relies mainly on the appearance and arrangement of terminal and lateral buds on twigs, twig width, bud scales, and vein or vascular bundle scars for identification. Other features may also be considered such as lenticels (pores), bark colour, pith (tissue inside twig), fruit, thorns, etc. It also includes a ruler on the back cover that is used to measure the width of the twigs.

There is a tree that is growing on my neighbour’s property that I know is Acer negundo (Manitoba Maple) and I decided to see if this book could identify it. I pruned a twig that was hanging over on my side of the fence. If you wish to identify other trees that are not on your property, it is appropriate to take photos, take a guidebook or key with you, or get permission to take a cutting.

Step 1: I noted whether the leaf scars are in an opposite or alternate arrangement (phyllotaxy) on the twig and if they were in pairs or were more numerous (whorled). Leaf scars are the markings on the twig where the leaf stalk was attached before it dropped off in the fall. In the case of my tree, there was an opposite arrangement and paired leaf scars.

Step 2: I looked at the width of the twig—less than 0.25” or greater than .25” In this case, the twig was no greater than 0.25.”

Step 3: I examined the texture of the terminal bud and the shape and the number of old vascular bundles or vein scars. Old vascular bundles represent the xylem and phloem (ports or channels) where water had flowed to the leaves. Since the terminal bud was not rough and dry, is conical, and the leaf scars had three bundles and were somewhat V-shaped, the twig belongs to the genus Acer (Maple).

Step 4: I considered the colour of the buds. The key asked if the buds were red, reddish brown or not. These buds might be seen as reddish brown and so could lead one down the path towards a different species but they also were “whitish and woolly” and the twigs were “purplish.” The leaf scars also met at a point on the twig. These combined features pointed towards A. negundo (Manitoba Maple). Colour variability within a species might question an identification. Also bear in mind that these types of guides may not identify exact cultivars or hybrids. But since this exercise, I now see this tree everywhere on my winter walks.

Other Similar Books

Fruit Key and Twig Key to Trees and Shrubs by William M. Harlow

The Shrub Identification Book and The Tree Identification Book by George W. Symonds

Woody Plants in Winter by Core and Ammons (also online through Archive.org as an eBook.)

Online Sources

University of Wisconsin K-12 Forestry Education Program: https://www3.uwsp.edu/cnr-ap/leaf/Pages/LEAF-Tree-Identification-Cards.aspx

An excellent web site of winter tree photos can be found at http://www.portraitoftheearth.com/trees/specieslist.html

Gardening in January

By Christine Freeburn, Master Gardener

Here we are in the dark days of winter; the holidays are over, the new year has been rung in, and the days are getting longer as we see the snow falling and the temperatures plunging.

Although we can’t go out and play in the garden, there are still lots of things we can do to satisfy our green thumbs.

Clean and sharpen garden tools
Buying good quality tools and keeping them clean and sharpened just makes good sense. Diseases can be passed through your tools, so always wipe with soap & water or even better with disinfectant wipes. Check out this site for tips on keeping tools in great condition.

Check out seed catalogues online
Growing plants from seed gives you a wider variety to choose from and also the satisfaction of growing your own. If you are a vegetable grower, try something new this coming season. If you are like me, you will want to order a paper copy catalogue from your favourite seed companies.

Start a garden journal
Set something up on your computer with charts and photos, or start a written record in a blank book or special garden journal. Record new plant purchases and who you bought them from and where they were planted in your garden. Include successes, ways to improve and dreams for next season.

Review last year’s garden successes
If you have kept a journal, you can check your notes. How can you improve for this coming season? Did you plant the right plant in the best location? Were soil, light and water conditions the best they could be? Remember that weather can determine success or failure as well. Some plants thrive with wet cooler springs while others enjoy hot and humid weather.

Check your houseplants for signs of pests or diseases
Gnats and aphids seem to come alive during the next couple of months. Have Safers soap ready to combat those nasty pests. Remove diseased leaves and isolate plants that are sick. Many houseplants are in resting stages and are not actively growing, so do not fertilize. Houseplants may not be drinking as much either so water sparingly. Have a bright indirect spot in your home? Maybe it’s time for a new specimen. Remember to isolate your new plant to ensure it is not infested or diseased before introducing to the rest of your collection.

Brighten your home with some fresh cut flowers
There is nothing like fresh cut flowers to brighten up a gloomy winter day. Check out this post on our website for caring for cut flowers.

Read a gardening book
When the weather outside is frightful, be sure to have a list of books to read, whether physically or electronically. Lorraine Johnson’s A Garden for the Rusty-Patched Bumble Bee is on my list.

Outside garden maintenance
When you are outside shovelling snow, throw some clean snow on and around any of your more tender perennials. Things like rhododendrons and hibiscus overwinter better if they have a nice layer of snow to cover and insulate them. If the weather has gotten mild and the snow has melted, cut and use your old Christmas tree branches to cover and protect from the coming frigid temperatures and bright burning sunlight.

Sign up for some online learning
There are many local garden organizations that have newsletters, blogs, YouTube videos and live zoom events available. Be sure you are learning from a reputable and local site if you want to add to your knowledge for your own garden. You can, of course, enjoy the foliage of some exotic locations, but know we can’t grow most of it in our zone 5 environment.

Try these sites for local learning. Some sites offer free webinars while others will charge.

https://arboretum.uoguelph.ca/educationandevents/workshops
https://splibrary.ca/events/gardening-changing-climate
https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/attracting-pollinators-to-the-garden-tickets

Already signed up for some online learning?  You can share with us or post on our facebook page “Over the Fence with the Peterborough Master Gardeners

As of today, there are only TEN more weeks till spring.

Use this time to rest, plan and dream for the next season.

In Praise of the Lowly Common Juniper

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

I am always amazed that wildlife makes it through winter in our zone, as food doesn’t appear to be all that plentiful when everything is covered in snow and ice. However difficult it seems, native wildlife have a variety of adaptations to surviving winter; knowing where to find food is one of them.

Juniperus communis or common juniper is one of the most widely distributed trees in the world. They are members of the Cupressaceae family. They can tolerate a wide range of conditions; they are tough, they can survive with a lot of wind, and thereby can provide protection for animals in harsh weather. Junipers have a strong scent, bitter taste, and sharp needles. Deer tend to ignore plants with these attributes.

The berries, however, are a different story. They begin life a grey-green color, and ripen in 18 months to a deep purple-black hue with a blue waxy coating. While they are called juniper berries, the “berry” is actually a cone, the female seed cone. Junipers are almost always dioecious which means that in order for the female plants to set fruit, a male plant must be in the vicinity.

Juniper berries are one of the top late winter foods for many birds and mammals which covet the deep blue orbs. They aren’t particularly high energy or calorie-dense; they are soft and fleshy, and have a strong, woody, spicy, pepper-like flavor with a gritty texture. Perhaps this is why they are ignored early on, but in the depths of winter when all the other really desirable food is gone, they become more popular with wildlife. Juniper berries could be the difference between survival and starvation for the species who rely upon them.

Junipers have a long history with humans as well as wildlife. These trees are responsible for one of the only spices derived from a conifer. The ripe, blue berries were and are currently used throughout the world to flavor meats (particularly wild game) – and sauerkraut. The first record of juniper berries was in Ancient Egypt at around 1500 BC.

During the Black Death in the 14th century, plague doctors wore masks with long beaks full of juniper berries and other botanicals to mask the unpleasant smells they’d encounter tending the sick. They believed that juniper stopped the spread of the disease. This was somewhat true – the disease was spread by fleas and juniper is an effective and natural flea repellent.

Most famously, the unripe, green berries are used to flavor gin. Gin is originally from the Netherlands — in the 16th century, a schnaps was distilled with juniper berries to become so called “Genever” (in dutch: juniper berry) which was consumed for medical purposes. “Genever” developed to become the today’s “Gin”.

Juniper berries have since been used to flush out toxins, heal infections and even aid in digestion. Caution: If you intend to forage your local woodlot for berries, be wary because while most of them are harmless, there are some species that have mildly toxic berries. Do not randomly harvest juniper berries unless you are sure of the species.

Foraging aside, if you are looking for native plants for your garden, a few juniper bushes are a great choice. They’re hardy, provide cover and food for a variety of wildlife, and will definitely help our wild neighbors survive particularly difficult winters.

The KISS Principle – Winter Sowing 101

By Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

“If it’s not easy, you’re doing it wrong” Trudi Davidoff

For the last few years I’ve been hearing people (especially those in the native plant field) raving about winter sowing. What’s that I asked? Simple, they said – a germination method where you put seeds in an enclosed container out in your garden in winter and let Mother Nature make you more plants.

Hmm, I thought, that sounds too easy. As someone who has struggled for year with starting plants from seeds (especially annuals, vegetables, or herbs) and lost many sad looking seedlings to damping off I was intrigued.

Now I know it really is straightforward (although it requires an Ontario twist – more later) – and I am all about using a KISS principle – Keep It Simple Stupid!  

My plants – June 2022. As you can see not all successful. I love the Hunk O’ (or Chunk O’) transplanting method once they have grown (see FAQs)

Started in 2000 by Trudi Greissle Davidoff of New York in an essay, the Winter Sowing Method is a low cost (bonus!!!), temperate climate method of producing sturdy plants for your garden. There is no need to set up lights or have a space inside your house and best of all, no hardening off process. In 2006, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recognized the viability of the technique by adding the term to the National Agricultural Library Thesaurus.

The Basics

So how does it work? For winter sowing you use a recycled container (bonus!) to create a mini greenhouse that protects the seeds from animals, birds and other pests, as well as from our often variable spring weather, until they get big enough to transplant into your garden. This is one case when you actually want your seeds to be placed outdoors and exposed to the elements (including freezing temperatures, snow, and rain).

You can use any container that’s deep enough to hold sufficient potting mix and has a clear or translucent covering that is tall enough to allow the transplants to grow. It must have drainage holes in the bottom as well as ventilation holes in the top. You can use perennial or annual seeds – basically anything as long as it isn’t a tropical seed (for obvious reasons). Native seeds are particularly good because they need a period of cold stratification to germinate – why not take advantage of natural temperatures, rather than artificially refrigerating seeds that need this process?

My winter sowing containers – January 2022

You fill the container with potting mix (at least 4-5 inches), sprinkle in your seeds, make sure the mix is moist, tape or secure the top of the container in some fashion, and put it outside. It’s good to check on the containers periodically so they don’t dry out or become waterlogged. Then you wait – it really is that simple.

Ok, I know there are questions – When do I start where I live? When do I plant x seeds? What soil do I use? Let me try and answer some of the basic ones and point you to other resources as well.

Trudi’s original website is no longer active but there is a very active Facebook page that follows her method – Winter Sowers – which I highly recommend for all the basic information and lively discussions amongst members. Trudi is an admin on the page.

Timing for Winter Sowing?

You can start winter sowing anytime after the Winter Solstice (December 21st). Perennials are generally done first, as they often require (or benefit from) cold stratification, then hardy annuals, then tender annuals. But the bottom line is that the seeds will germinate when the conditions are right for each kind of seed. That is the beauty of winter sowing! Many people winter sow their perennials in January but then wait until March to start their annuals. It really doesn’t matter – do what works for you!

They are ready to plant whenever the outside temperature has sufficiently warmed and they are the right size (2 to 3 inches or more importantly at least two sets of real leaves).

What Soil to use?

It’s recommended to use a sterile potting soil mix; avoid soil bags that say they are ‘weed free’ because they can contain chemicals mixed into soil to prevent any weed seeds in that bag from germinating. So they will also prevent the germination of seeds you sow in that same soil! If you live in an extremely dry environment, you might want to use soil that has moisture retentive crystals – otherwise this is not necessary (and can even be a problem in wet winter regions like the U.S. Pacific Northwest). Using fertilized soil for a sowing medium is a personal preference.

What Containers? The Ontario Twist

Most winter sowers tend to use milk jugs for their seeds, but these are not readily available in Ontario – we still love our milk bags! But the reality is that you can use any container for winter sowing as long as it can hold at least 3 inches (7.6 cm) of potting soil. I have seen various other things used –  juice bottles, clear pop bottles, blue and green bottles, aluminum pans, salad boxes, plastic containers, pretzel barrels, cheese curl containers, ice cream buckets, nut containers, and vinegar jugs. They must be translucent (some light passes through) or transparent (all light passes through). Opaque materials will not work. Personally I have used the large fresh spinach containers or aluminum roasting pans with clear lids.

You do need some sort of cover on your container, as it helps keep heavy rains under control (so they drip slowly into your containers), it keeps more moisture in so that you have a higher germination rate of your seeds, and it keeps weed seeds out of your containers.

How do I Label?

Labelling is really important unless you’re a genius at identifying new sprouts! I recommend putting in two labels – one on the underside of your tray and one on a popsicle stick in the container. Trudi recommends using duct tape and an industrial sharpie. Tip – place your labels before you fill the tray with soil and put them so they don’t impede the water drainage holes. There is lots of discussion on the best pens to use for labelling – everything from paint pens to garden markers, livestock markers, and china/grease markers.

This will be my second year winter sowing just north of Peterborough – I learned a lot in my first year, most importantly to transplant my seedlings before they get too big and dry out. I wrote a blog earlier this year about some of the cool native plants that I winter sowed last winter.

I hope this blog encourages you to consider winter sowing for your garden, particularly for native species to your area – seeds are so much cheaper than plants and then once they go to seed you are all set to grow even more plants, either for yourself or to share with friends!

Want More Information?

Some videos (and posts) you may want to check out – there are lots of winter sowing videos out there (sometimes with conflicting information) but these are two that are recommended by the online group

Dolly Foster – Hort4U Winter Sowing Presentation

All The Dirt on Winter Sowing

Planting Native Seeds (Facebook link)

WinterSowing 101 – Jug Prep (if you have milk jugs) (Facebook link)

Frequently Asked Questions (Facebook link)

A Garden for the Winter Solstice

by Lois Scott, Peterborough Master Gardener

The winter solstice, which this year happens December 21 at 4:47pm, marks the northern hemisphere’s furthest tilt from the sun and results in the shortest day and longest night of the year.  Many ancient cultures celebrated at this time to welcome the return of longer days and the promise of spring with plants playing a large symbolic role.  I certainly welcome the return of longer days and the pleasure in watching my garden wake up but for right now I enjoy the garden as it stands in winter.

I won’t be burning a yule log, which was traditionally Oak as it represented strength and endurance, but I enjoy the knowledge that the Oak trees in my environment are valuable contributors to supporting life in the garden.  Oaks (Quercus spp.) support over 500 species of lepidoptera (butterfly and moths) caterpillars which is more than any other native tree or plant. Read more

I don’t have the shiny, English holly (Ilex aquifolium which is invasive in the Pacific Northwest) in my garden. I do have a native holly, Ilex verticillata or Common Winterberry.  I have a male and female plant as you need both for pollination and the resulting flowers and red berries.  Although it is found naturally in swampy, acidic areas it is growing in my average garden soil.  It doesn’t have evergreen leaves but the persistent red berries are loved by over 40 species of birds!  Beautiful red berries and birds in the winter?  That is a win-win for me! 

A winter garden is certainly enhanced by including coniferous (evergreen) trees.  Coniferous trees such as pines, spruce and cedar are considered by many cultures to be a symbol of resilience and renewal.  For many of us we enjoy using the greenery to brighten our winter pots and interiors at this time of year.  In our winter gardens native evergreens provide not only beautiful contrast with the snow but provide important sources of shelter and food for local wildlife. Well placed coniferous trees can also provide windbreaks for our homes. Read more.

I hope that this winter solstice finds you happily enjoying your winter garden and appreciating its benefit to our environment.

Your Amaryllis is NOT Just for Christmas!!!

by Carol Anderson, Master Gardener in Training

Amaryllis (Hippeastrum spp) is a beautiful flowering bulb that is native to South America. In Canada, we have traditionally considered it as “The flower of Christmas/Winter Bloom” and as such it is often given as a gift and sold during and for the holiday season.

Due to our harsh climate, the Amaryllis has been considered largely as an indoor plant that brings beautiful blooms (and great joy) into our homes during the cold and often grey days of winter. However, with some care, patience, and appreciation for the process, you can enjoy your prized Amaryllis for perhaps as long as 25 years (if you are lucky!!).

How to Enjoy Your Amaryllis Year Round

The trick to year-round enjoyment is ensuring that the Amaryllis bulb experiences a “cool period” (~50-55 degrees F) for 8 to10 weeks before attempting to bloom/rebloom. This “rest period” (not a true dormancy) is critical but can be accomplished through careful planning – enabling both a winter and summer blooming period to occur year after year. The Amaryllis can be enjoyed indoors during the winter months or in a spectacular garden display during the summer.

When to Grow Your Amaryllis

You can determine the best timing to plant, depending upon when you would like to enjoy the peak blooming period. The following timeline demonstrates the 3 critical periods and growth patterns for the Amaryllis. Understanding this timeline enables you to plan around when you would like to enjoy the spectacular blooms.

For example, a cool period from September through November, followed by a planting and a growth period from December through January will ensure winter blooms in January – March to bring life and enjoyment in the winter months inside your home.

Following the minimum “cool period”, you can consider when you would like to enjoy the blooms again, remembering that the bulbs require a warm moist growing period of ~ 8 weeks with bright indirect light before they will bloom again. Therefore, if planting outdoors to enjoy summer blooms, the bulbs may need to be started indoors where the temperature is warmer (70-75 degrees F) to stimulate the necessary growth of roots and shoots.

How to Grow Your Amaryllis

Here are some growing tips to ensure success:

  1. Upon purchase or when coming out of the “cool period”, soak the bulb roots for 1-2 hrs in room temperature water to rehydrate the roots before planting.
  2. Depth: Plant the bulb 2/3 under the soil with 1/3 above the soil line ensuring that the bulb is above the pot edge.
  3. Soil: use a good nutritious potting compost that has good drainage (avoid peat to prevent moisture retention that could cause rotting).
  4. Water sparingly until the stems appear, and then regularly
  5. Light: bright indirect light; keep warm with a temperature 70-75 degrees during the growing period (Note: a lower temperature ~ 65 degrees once blooming will prolong the blooming period)
  6. Staking: stems can grow >24 inches and blooms are “top-heavy”. Staking is recommended. Consider using a natural twig/dogwood staking mesh (see below) which can later be covered with evergreen/holy sprigs pinecones and cranberries for a beautiful table display.
  7. Enjoy!!!!

Replanting

The leaves of the Amaryllis are needed to continue photosynthesis and replenish and store the necessary food/sugars in the bulb for future blooming…so remember to keep them intact until they die back. Some tips for replanting…

  • Remove old flowers right away (so that plant energy is redirected)
  • Trim stem to the top of the bulb when it begins to sag
  • Cut back leaves (only when they turn brown) to 1-2” above the bulb tip
  • Remove the bulb from the soil (new nutritious soil will be needed for regrowth)
  • Clean bulb of excess soil and store in a 45-55 degree cool, dark area until ready to plant. (Note: a fridge crisper can be used…but not if apples are present due to ethylene gas that could affect blooming).

Summary

Enjoying your Amaryllis blooms both summer and winter is possible for any enthusiast. Although it requires some planning and work, the pay-off can be extraordinary.

A mass planting with 10-12 bulbs (or more) outdoors in summer can be easily converted to beautiful indoor displays throughout your home during the holiday season – bringing joy and the anticipation for spring gardening into our hearts and minds during the deep winter months…

Foraging for Winter Décor

By Marilyn Homewood, Master Gardener

As we enter the holiday season, the time has come to start collecting some of nature’s bounty to create seasonal trimmings for your home.  Much of this bounty is right under our noses and can be gathered easily. Foraging should begin at home on your own property.  It is surprising at what you can find in your own garden not just in terms of evergreens but also dried material such as seed pods.  For those items not immediately on your doorstep, look elsewhere where you have the permission (I visit friends for a few snips of things from their gardens) or forage on public spaces such as roadsides.  Remember to harvest sustainably taking only what you will use and take minimum amounts from each plant.  When harvesting boughs, only use trees larger than 6 feet and cut your boughs 2-4 feet from the tip of a branch and above a node to encourage regeneration. Make it look like you were never there.

Swag on potting shed

Cedar, white pine, white spruce and scotch pine can be found in abundance locally but don’t overlook the junipers (I like to use wild junipers), yews and euonymus.  Fir is really nice but more difficult to source in my area but it is available for purchase.

Boughs can be used as garlands or in planters.  The soil in the planter acts as a source of moisture until freeze up and also stabilizes the display.  Conifer branches can also be cut down to be used in table arrangements or in wreaths.  For arrangements kept indoors, fill the container with a mixture of potting mix and vermiculite and keep damp to prevent needle drop. 

Winter wreath

Woodies: Two species that are used extensively in this area are white birch and red osier dogwood.  Both provide colour contrast and add a structural element.  I keep my birch from year to year so only had to source once. Birch is available for purchase at many stores.  Dogwood is available anywhere it is moist so remember to be mindful of your footwear when foraging.

This arrangement lasted 6 weeks before the needles began to drop

What says the holidays better than pinecones?  They come in many different sizes and shapes depending on their species.  Closed cones can be opened by placing on a cookie sheet and baking at 250 degrees for 1 hour.  Cones can be used as accents in planters/arrangements/wreaths or by filling bowls full of them.  I have dipped the edges of my pinecones in white craft paint so they appear to be snowtipped.

Other additions to my gatherings include seedpods from Siberian iris and oriental poppy, seedheads from coneflowers and penstemon and dried allium heads.  Some types of perennial foliage such as that from Heuchera “Palace Purple” and the Penstemon “Dark Towers” is long lasting and adds interesting contrast to an arrangement. I also used some of my dried hydrangea in the planters.

Coneflower in planter helps to provide winter interest

Berries add a nice pop of colour and it is hard to beat those from the winterberry bush (Ontario’s native holly, Ilex verticulata) but these are not commonly found wild in this area due to our higher soil pH. Some of the local nurseries and florists have it available for sale however.  I do purchase some for my planters, for my wreath, I use the berries from the choke cherry bush (Prunus virginiana).  The bright red berries retain their colour throughout the entire winter and are not eaten by the birds (unlike the berries from the grey dogwood that were eaten after the first cold night).

When you’re done, if you still crave more variety, local nurseries have greens and other decorations available for sale.  For ideas on how to use what you collected, go no further than YouTube and Instagram.  One of my personal favorites are the Instagram live sessions done by Claus Dalby (Denmark’s version of Monty Don). They are posted to his IG page (clausdalby) as “Master Classes in Nordic Christmas”. It is a great source of inspiration and puts one in the holiday mood.

Not into foraging? Visit your local nursery. The offerings are astonishing!

Winter planter after a snowstorm

Winter Gardening Activities

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

Winter in Ontario, Canada, is a time for gardeners to relax, plan, learn and become inspired…..so let’s explore!If you are new to gardening and want to learn more and/or would like to connect with other gardeners then joining one or more local horticultural groups might be of interest. The Ontario Horticultural Association divides Ontario into districts.  District 4  lists horticultural groups for Bobcaygeon, Brighton, Campbellford, Coboconk, Cobourg, Cramahe, Ennismore, Fenelon Falls, Grafton, Lakefield, Lindsay, Minden, Omemee, Norland, Norwood, Peterborough and Port Hope..   For more information check Ontario Horticultural Association / GardenOntario.

For those who have been gardening for awhile, you may wish to become a Master Gardener.  Master Gardeners inform, educate and inspire others to create healthy and vibrant gardens, landscapes and communities.  We promote horticultural practices that are safe, effective, proven and sustainable.  For more information check Master Gardeners of Ontario and Peterborough and Area Master Gardeners.

There are many Horticulture related educational opportunities….some offered on-line and some in-person.  Both the University of Guelph and Dalhousie University offer on-line courses that will fulfill the requirements for a Master Gardener certificate.  The Horticulture and the Master Gardener groups all have an educational component to their meetings and some may be accessible on-line.  The Peterborough and Area Master Gardeners are again offering, on March 4, 2023, the inspirational and in-person “A Day for Gardeners”  after a 2 year hiatus.  Watch the web site, Peterborough and Area Master Gardeners, for registration and more information.

Plan for next summer with catalogues, books and on-line research.  We are fortunate to have many seed companies in Canada.  A list of “Home for the Harvest’s” top 25 may be found here.  Please save room in your garden plans for plant shopping at your local nurseries too.  Local nursery staff are able to provide you with invaluable information on growing in your region.  Your local library is guaranteed to have some gardening books that you could borrow.  On-line research will also provide a wealth of information…..try a search for “Gardening in Ontario”  and you will see what I mean.  A really great source of information is a fellow gardener.  Ask any gardener a gardening question and they will be thrilled to give you some guidance.

And last but not least, please make time in your day for fitness.  You need to keep yourself fit for all of the gardening activity that you have planned for next summer.  Gardening is an excellent way to maintain a good level of fitness, both mentally and physically.  Read more about the benefits of gardening as exercise here .  There are YouTube videos that can get you started.  I particularly liked the video located here.  The presenter demonstrates some exercises and some things that you can do to prevent injury while gardening. You might consider just getting together with a couple of friends to practice yoga, do some strengthening and flexibility exercises or go for a walk.

The world of gardening is immense.  Keep track of your ideas and resources so that when gardening season returns, you will have the information readily available.  I hope that this medley of gardening choices will help you to relax, plan, learn and become inspired during the upcoming Ontario winter!