All posts by peterboroughmastergardeners

Falling in Love with Lilies

By Mary Jane Parker, Master Gardener

Many years ago, while driving down Water Street in Lakefield, I was stopped in my tracks by a garden full of 7 to 8 foot tall trumpet lilies in every colour shade imaginable. I stopped many times to admire them and talked to the gentleman that owned the garden. He urged me to join the North American Lily Society (NALS). So began my love affair with the genus lilium.

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Lilium Michiganense

I have been a NALS member since at least 2005. I firmly believe that belonging to a specialist group is the best way to learn about a genus. Four times a year a newsletter is sent out with articles about current research, amazing new cultivars and important people.

But best of all, NALS has an amazing seed exchange. I have ordered and received seed annually from countries all over the world.

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Lilium Martagon

This coming year, for the first time that I can remember, the NALS annual meeting is being held at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington from July 8th to 12th. I am so excited because I will get to meet some of the people I’ve only ready about from all over the world and play host to such an amazing group of people. I will be able to participate in 5 days of exciting events: a lily bulb auction, various garden tours and seminars among other events.

For more info click HERE.

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Lilium Regale

Book Review: 100 Easy-To-Grow Native Plants for Canadian Gardens

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener

100 Easy-to-Grow Natvie Plants_RGB 300This book is, without a doubt, one of my favourite go-to gardening books! The new revised third edition of Lorraine Johnson’s book, 100 Easy-to-Grow Native Plants for Canadian Gardens, is a testament to Lorraine’s expertise. She writes in the forward that “one of the greatest satisfactions of growing native plants is that you are supporting a complex web of ecological relationships that are the basis of a healthy, resilient ecosystem.” Lorraine Johnson is the former president of the North American Native Plant Society and the author of numerous other books. She lives in Toronto.

Bloodroot (1)The photos by Andrew Layerle, along with detailed descriptions of the plants, make this book most helpful when trying to decide what native plants you would like to incorporate into your garden. I think many of us can relate to her point that “gardeners tend to be voyeuristic creatures and plant lists are our chaste form of porn”! We all crave the perfect plant and often browse through books over the winter months with dreams of starting a new garden and we wait patiently for the spring weather that allows us to once again get our hands dirty.

Wood PoppyThe plants are divided into a number of different categories and Lorraine does a good job at listing the common name (although she warns there are sometimes many), the botanical name, the height, blooming period, exposure, moisture, habitat and range. She gives a good description, the maintenance and requirements, along with suggestions on propagation and good companions. I love that she also mentions the wildlife benefits of each plant.

Pasque (1)Lorraine has also included Quick-Reference Charts at the back of the book that separate the plants by region as well as specific conditions, such as acidic soil, water requirements, etc. She has lists of plants suitable to prairie habitat, drought-tolerant plants, plants for moist areas, and plants that attract butterflies and other pollinators.

I have grown several of her suggested native plants, such as wild ginger, solomon’s seal, pasque flower, foamflower, wood poppy, dutchman’s breeches, cardinal flower, butterfly milkweed, bottle gentian, bloodroot, and big bluestem .. I love them all!

Check out this book over the winter months. I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

 

‘Tis the Season … for Poinsettias!

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

When I was growing up, my mother always had a big green and red poinsettia sitting in the centre of the dining table during the holiday season. By the middle of January, it had lost all of its leaves so out it went in the trash. Oh yes, we also called it a “pointsetta”.

In Mexico, where it grows wild as a leggy shrub or small tree, the native plant (Euphorbia pulcherrima) has been associated with the Christian Christmas holiday since the 16th century. Thanks to Joel Robert Poinsett, the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, poinsettias were introduced to the United States in 1825. They did not really take off, though, until the California based Ecke family grew plants using a grafting technique discovered by Paul Ecke Sr. in the 1960s.  They began aggressively marketing the holiday season blooming poinsettia as a holiday tradition. In the 1980s, John Dole identified the technique used by the Ecke family to produce their compact poinsettias. This led to many more growers entering the retail market.

Poinsettias are members of the Euphorbia family. The brightly coloured “flowers” are actually bracts (modified leaves). Their bright colour helps to attract pollinators in the wild.poinsettia1

When purchasing poinsettias, look for an erect plant that has dark green leaves down to the soil and fully coloured bracts. The actual flowers, located at the centre of the bract, should be immature and red-tipped or green, not yellow with pollen because these more mature blooms will not last as long as the immature blooms. Plants displayed in plastic sleeves or crowded together may be stressed and deteriorate quickly after purchase. When purchasing any plant, always check for disease or insects. Yellow leaves, wilt or the presence of insects (check the underside of leaves too) always indicate problems and a plant that you do not want.

Poinsettias are not poisonous to humans but may cause pets to experience vomiting and diarrhea if consumed. Like all Euphorbia, damaged poinsettia stems and flowers exude a white sap that may cause skin irritation to susceptible individuals and pets.

There are over 100 varieties of poinsettias. They come in many colours from the traditional red to white, pink, cream and marbled or speckled.

Poinsettias prefer 6 hours of indirect light each day away from heat registers and cold drafts. Water the plant when it is dry but do not overwater because it may wilt and drop its bracts. (I think that is likely what happened with my mother’s poinsettias!) Allow the water to drain into a saucer after watering then discard this water. Do not let your plant sit in water. If you would like to keep your plant past the holiday season, fertilize it once a month with a houseplant fertilizer once the plant has stopped blooming.

Poinsettias may be put outside in the summer after all danger of frost has passed. But if you would like it to rebloom during the following holiday season, bring the plant back indoors before frost. Then, beginning in October, keep it in total darkness for 14 hours each night. The combination of total darkness and warm, bright days should cause the bracts to colour. This might be fun to try but to guarantee that you have a blooming poinsettia during the following holidays, purchase a new one and compost your old plant.

Poinsettias have long been associated with the holiday season. They come in several colours which will help to add holiday cheer to any home decor. Enjoy them while they last!

For more information on poinsettia care and reblooming, please see the links below.

Becoming the Caretaker of your Garden

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

I first heard the term to be ‘caretaker of your garden’ at a permaculture course a few years ago. It has resonated with me ever since and has changed both the way in which I garden and also the way that I perceive my garden. Being the “caretaker of your garden” means that while you own the land that your garden is on, it is only temporary. You are, in fact, simply looking after that piece of land for a relatively short period of time before passing it on.

For me, being the caretaker of my garden makes me consider the longevity of the garden, what takes away from the health of the garden and what gives back to the garden; how to feed not just my family but also the wildlife whilst providing safe habitats; how to make the garden more self-sustainable reducing my time spent pruning, weeding, and imposing my unnatural demands on the garden thus allowing myself more time to simply enjoy the garden. For most of us, we are already doing the groundwork for this change already–it is simply a shift in the way we view ownership of our garden, or more specifically, the plot of land the garden sits on.

The following are some of the practices that I follow:

  • A healthy garden always starts with healthy soil. I amend my soil annually with leaf compost. I have 2 large leaf composters in my back garden which I fill with bags of leaves I collect from neighbours. I also mulch up approximately 20 bags of leaves and spread these liberally over my vegetable and perennial gardens in the fall.

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  • I cut back very little in my garden in the fall mainly just anything that is diseased. In the spring I cut everything up into 1-2 inch pieces and drop them back on the garden. This also acts as a mulch as well as amending the soil.
  • Plants that have multiple uses are important to me. This may be because I have a small garden; multiple functions can include fix nitrogen, use as a fertilizer, be edible or medicinal etc. as well as aesthetically pleasing.
  • Including vegetable plants in the perennial bed. I will often do this if I run out of room in my vegetable beds, however a lot of vegetable plants have amazing foliage and are great to line paths and place in the front of beds.
  • Recently I have made efforts to increase diversity in my small garden, increasing the number of native plants. Native plants are generally hardier, more adapted to our climate and require less maintenance; they also tend to attract more wildlife and pollinators.
  • I try to water as little as possible using rain barrels as much as I can.  I must admit that any plants that do require more water, or in fact more maintenance of any kind, tend to be replaced fairly quickly.ironweed suzanne

For anyone who has not heard of permaculture, it is a set of guidelines, principles and practices for sustainable living and land use. When you narrow down permaculture to your home garden, you are in effect looking at a more sustainable, natural method of gardening mimicking that found in nature to create a cohesive garden, in which all elements benefit, nurture and interconnect with each other. Whilst that does sound like a fairly lofty aspiration, the good news is that just by implementing or adding a couple of permaculture practices can have a significant impact on your garden, but that sounds like a blog for another day.

For me the term ‘being caretaker of your garden’ and the reasoning behind it align with my passion and concern regarding climate change and environmentalism. Whilst the changes I make may only have a small impact these type of changes can add up and often lead to something bigger.

For further information on permaculture:

10 Great Christmas Gifts for Gardeners!

 

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

It’s not too early to think of Christmas gifts for the special gardeners in your life. Every mini-cactus-755542_640gardener has a long list of things they wish they had because many of these items will make their gardening hobby just a little bit easier.  Also, most of them will rarely treat themselves.

Christmas gifts for gardeners can be purchased at nurseries that remain open in the fall, at local home & garden stores, online at Lee Valley Tools or via any other local or online suppliers.  Hopefully, the following suggestions will help you to surprise the green-fingered folk in your life.

  1. Plants! A small succulent planter, a unique and weird looking cactus, a fancy orchid, an amaryllis bulb or an african violet for indoors can spruce up a cold winter.
  2. Basic Garden Tools.  Who among us doesn’t need another/new garden tool?
    1. Lee Valley Root Knife (my go-to weapon)
    2. A new pair of secateurs (pruners).  My choice is the Felco #6, great for smaller hands.
    3. A padded garden kneeler or good quality set of knee pads
  3. Salves and Soap, Especially for Working Hands. There are many items like garden salves and soaps with hydrating formulas & great scents that will always be appreciated by anyone unwrapping them on Christmas Day.
  4. For our Feathered Friends. A  good squirrel-proof bird feeder or a birdhouse, and some good quality birdseed will go miles to attracting useful, pleasant-sounding visitors to your yard all winter.bird-feeder-4032907_960_720
  5. Magazines. A subscription to a Canadian gardening magazine about growing perennials or native plants or about water gardens is always appreciated and will delight the recipient monthly or bi-monthly.
  6. GLOVES!  My favourites are the nitrile Gardena brand — stretchy but grippy.  I go through several pairs of these each season.
  7. A transplant shovel, a new garden hoe or a step-on weeder. These items are not “must have” but “would be nice” so gardeners will rarely purchase them for themselves.  Believe it or not, there have been advances in these tools in the last 20 years!  For example, my favourite new shovel has a super-sharp cutting edge, and an enlarged “step on” bracket so the middle of my foot doesn’t get sore with heavy digging.  Very nice.
  8. Stocking Stuffers. Stocking stuffers of heirloom seeds, plant markers, a mini nail brush, some twine or plant ties are welcome unique gifts.
  9. A Year Round Gift. An inexpensive membership to local Horticultural Society like the Peterborough Horticultural Society offers you discounts at many local nurseries, plant exchanges, plant shows, socializing, and the opportunity to hear good speakers throughout the year. A great stocking stuffer for $20.
  10. PGS-logo-tinyA Garden Show! Treat someone to a trip to Canada Blooms or the awesome Peterborough Garden Show — $10 each for “enjoy all weekend” admission on April 24, 25 and 26, 2020; our 20th fabulous show!

So, why don’t you surprise your favourite gardener with a garden-related gift this Christmas season?  Hoping that this list helps with your decisions.  Happy shopping!

Holiday Cactus Conundrum

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

Definition of conundrum
A confusing and difficult problem or question

Despite the shortening days and dark and dreary November weather, every year around this time I am delighted to see members in my various gardening groups posting photos of their “Christmas cactus” in bloom. The colours are many and varied – from red to pink to white to some lovely peach selections. People post amazing stories of plants being handed down from generation to generation and being over 100 years old.

The conundrum? They are generally not “Christmas cactus”. Since education is a big part of the role of Master Gardeners, I thought I would offer some explanation of the various types of indoor cacti we see here in Ontario (and Canada) and how to figure out what type of cacti you have!

There are actually three types of holiday cacti – all theoretically named for the time of bloom (although that gets messed up depending on whether you are north or south of the American/Canadian border!). The three types are:

  • Thanksgiving Cactus (Schlumbergera truncata)
  • Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii [also S. buckleyi])
  • Easter cactus (Rhipsalidopsis gaetneri [also Hatiora gaertneri])
National Garden Clubs Inc.
Source: National Garden Clubs Inc.

They are all called “leaf cacti” because the plant bodies are flattened and the leaves are actually stems. These type of cacti are epiphytes from the tropical treetops of the rain forest and natural forests of Brazil and require similar care, even though they bloom at different times of the year. In their natural habitat, they grow on trees or rocks in habitats that are generally shady with high humidity, as opposed to their desert-dwelling cousins. So they don’t need bright sunlight and they don’t have nasty spines!

Most people have the Thanksgiving cacti, which bloom between November and January. Christmas cacti bloom in December, and Easter cacti in April/May.

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Thanksgiving cactus

The leaf stems (and to some extent the flowers) tell you which type you have, rather than the bloom time. Thanksgiving cactus is often known as “lobster cactus” because the edges of the leaves are hooked, giving them a claw-like appearance. The Christmas cactus has leaf projections which are more scalloped or tear drop shaped. The Easter cactus has very rounded edges which are centralized on the leaf.

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Christmas Cactus
EasterCactus
Easter Cactus

All three cacti are short day plants, so in order to induce the plant into bloom it must have 12 to 24 hours of darkness and cool temperatures. If you have put your plant outdoors over the summer or purchased it recently it should be kept in a cool, dark location until it sets buds. A seldom used bedroom or lower level is the ideal place. The Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti require approximately 6 weeks of short days in order to bloom (the Easter cactus requires 8 to 12 weeks to bloom). When the buds appear it can be brought into a warmer area. If it starts dropping buds it could be due to drafts, too-warm temperatures, too much water or direct sunlight.

FUN FACT! Unlike Christmas poinsettias, Christmas cacti are not toxic to dogs and cats, making this cat mum very happy.

Growing Tips

Since they are from the rainforest, they like acidic well drained soils. Use a cactus mix and add perlite, vermiculite and orchid bark. Do not overwater – why most of them die! Neglect is better than over watering. Water when the top 2 inches of soil is dry. Mist them frequently to increase humidity and fertilize them with a all purpose fertilizer. Those who hate repotting plants can take comfort in knowing that holiday cacti bloom best when they are slightly pot-bound and only need repotting every 3 or 4 years.

Common Problems

The most common issue you might face is dropping buds, which can occur when there is any type of change in the temperature, lighting, humidity, or the amount of water the plant is receiving. Try to keep the soil moist, the temperature a steady 15 to 20 degrees Celsius, no fertilizer in the late summer to fall months, and 14 hours of darkness each day. Other issues that could affect your cactus include stem rot (this fungal issue occurs when the soil is too damp – start a new plant before the infection spreads too far), root rot (happens if roots get soggy, so remove that root so it doesn’t go further up the stem, which might kill the plant), and Botrytis blight (which is grey mold and can be removed if discovered early).

When they have finished blooming, these cacti need at least two months rest. Give almost no water or fertilizer during this time. The Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti may bloom again in the spring, but probably with less (and smaller) blooms.

While holiday cacti appear to be a bit finicky, if you understand where they come from, and what they need to be happy, you may be able to successfully keep your holiday cactus for 100 years!

 

Halloween Gardening

By Christine Freeburn, Master Gardener

What can you do in the garden now, with Hallowe’en just around the corner?

DSCN7053Plant garlic! Yes, this is the time of year to plant garlic for harvesting next summer. You can probably still find garlic bulbs at farmers markets. Buy locally grown garlic, not product of China. Separate the cloves from the bulb and plant at a depth of 3 times the height of the bulb in rows in the garden. Cover two-thirds deep with soil and then top off with straw or mulch. For full details, see this fact sheet on growing garlic.

DSCN5616Plant tulips! Although it may be too late to plant daffodils, you can still pop some tulips into the ground, even up to freeze up. Squirrels do love tulips, but if you plant them deep enough (6 to 8 inches), use hen manure or bone meal, and cover up the bare spot with leaves or mulch, you should deter them. Check this link for more spring bulb information.

Cut some hydrangea blooms! Hydrangeas have been tinged by the frost and many are lovely shades of pink. Bring some into your home and place in an empty vase and they will dry naturally.

Cut back some perennials. Putting your garden to bed in the fall, gives you a head start in spring. It also gets you into the garden to pull any weeds that have sprung up and may be going to seed. Cutting back daylilies, iris and hosta can tidy up the garden, but I recommend not chopping everything down. Cut back any seed heads that you don’t want to reseed. Leave your grasses and sedums standing. They will help to hold the snow in the garden which helps to insulate the frozen ground, which is a good thing.

DSCN4263Don’t rake! Mulch those leaves into your lawn with your lawn mower. It’s easier on your back and is so good for the lawn. Use your leaf blower to mulch into your flower beds too.

What To Do With All Those Fall Leaves?

by Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

What to do with leaves? It used to be that one would rake the leaves, put them into bags to be collected by the municipality, where they would often be put into landfill or composting. They are a rich source of organic material for the garden that helps retain moisture in the soil.

I have a friend that collects leaves that fall on her lawn, bags them and uses them the next spring in her vegetable garden. They first mulch them into the lawn, then, what remains is collected into bags and stored until spring. The leaves are spread between the rows of her vegetable garden in the spring and watered down. When the tender vegetable plants have sprouted, she then uses the leaves to mulch around all of her veggies. By fall there are no more leaves, just rich organic material in the soil for next years garden.

The leaves can also be used to protect tender perennials by covering them with a blanket for the winter. Indeed, mulch all of your perennial beds with leaves in the fall to protect them from winter extremes. And don’t be in a hurry to uncover them in the spring.

I’ve included a couple of links to give you other ideas of how to use this valuable resource.

Things to do with fall leaves

What to do with fall leaves

Waiting for top soil and sod for our new home, I’ve “planted” pots with my shrubs, tulip tree and peonies into the fill along the side of the house. I collected some bags of leaves along the roadside and have mulched the pots for the winter.

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Pot, eh?

By Mary-Jane Parker, Master Gardener

This past growing season was my first foray ever into growing marijuana. I tried this because I want to attempt to make a salve that I have been purchasing locally for arthritis (which, by the way, seems to work for me!)

marijuana-101796_960_720I started my seeds inside under lights. When I planted the seedlings outside, one went into the ground in my garden and the other went into a 5 gallon bucket with holes drilled in the bottom. The bucket plant went into my little greenhouse.

I did not fertilize either plant regularly – maybe 3 times the whole summer – but I did water the potted plant pretty well daily. I gather from other growers that I should have fertilized a lot more and then held back on the fertilizing later in season to clear chemicals out of the plants.

I thought this would be a good way to test growing techniques – greenhouse as opposed to outdoors but in the end it was not. I had planted 2 varieties that had very different characteristics. One had a beautiful bluish, reddish tinge to it and the other was twice as bushy.

Both plants ended up being well over 5 feet tall with lots of flowers. I cut them down before first frost and hung them in the greenhouse with shade cloth draped overhead.

So now, I am not sure if all the work was worth the effort and I haven’t even made the salve yet. I don’t know how the hippies from the 60’s and 70’s did it. I was told to trim off all the leaves before I hung the plants. That took an incredibly long time. And apparently I will have to trim the dried flowers off in the very near future. The marijuana plants themselves are kind of interesting architecturally but they stink. Birds for the most part avoided them and I don’t think I saw even one bee on them and I have lots of bees here. At any rate, I will make the salve and reserve judgement until then. We have to try new things, right?

Links:

How to grow marijuana outdoors: a beginner’s guide

How to Grow Cannabis in 10 Easy Steps

Master Gardeners of Ontario Information Sheet: How to grow Cannabis

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Spring Flowering Bulbs

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener

Charles Dickens said “Nature gives to every time and season some beauties of its own”. Who can deny that spring-flowering bulbs are a promise of warmer temperatures and hopeful thoughts? Knowing the bulbs will emerge from the near frozen ground helps us to get through the bitter winter. They should be planted now in order for you to be rewarded with wonderful colour in early spring. They can stay in the ground year after year. There are several varieties of bulbs to choose from. The following are some of the more recognizable ones.

thumbnail_tulipsTulips are to Turkey and Central Asia. In the 1600s, they made their way to the Netherlands. Tulipmania took hold in the 1620s and tulip prices skyrocketed. A single bulb could be worth as much as an average family farm. The market collapsed in 1637, but tulips remain widely grown in the that country. Canadians liberated much of the Netherlands during the final months of the Second World War. More than 7,200 Canadians were lost in that conflict. The Dutch have gifted Canadians with 20,000 bulbs a year since that time and they are used in Ottawa’s now famous Canadian Tulip Festival every May. This year marks the 75th anniversary of liberation and the Dutch royal family will mark the celebration by thanking Canadians this year with a gift of 100,000 tulip bulbs. If you want to join the celebration, you can purchase your own Liberation75 tulips for $15.00 through the Royal Canadian Legion. By purchasing the bulbs, you will also be entitled to win a trip to the Netherlands. To place an order visit the Royal Canadian Legion.

There are hundreds of cultivars of tulips; early, mid and late blooming. They need a sunny location with soil that is well-drained and sheltered from the wind since they can be easily broken. Six weeks are needed for the foliage to die back in order to put energy back into the bulb. A rainy spring is bad for success with tulips. Some of the ‘old fashioned’ tulips are Darwin and Triumph. They are very reliable and come back year after year. Squirrels love tulips, so to deter rodents, mix tulips and daffodils together in order to get the scent of daffodils on the tulips. You can also try hen manure which comes in a pellet form. You could use barberry cuttings or crushed egg shells in and around the hole. Others have had success with plastic snakes. Also, squirrels won’t dig past their peripheral vision, so plant at least 6 – 8” deep. You could also try laying a flat board on top and remove it when the ground is frozen.

DaffodilsDaffodils and narcissus bloom earlier than most tulips. Spring sun is needed and they like soil that is well draining or they will rot. Oxalic acid on the bulb make them unpalatable to rodents. ‘Tete a tete’ is a mini daffodil that is very fragrant and also good for cut flowers. However, never include daffodils with other flowers in a vase as they have a sap that will cause the other flowers to wilt.

IMG_4638Alliums are ornamental onions. Most of the varieties bloom in June. They need free draining soil with 6 to 8 hours of sun. They make lovely dried flowers. It is best to plant alliums amongst other plants as the foliage is not desirable.

Muscari or grape hyacinths are amazing small bulbs known as minor bulbs. Snowdrops are also minor bulbs and are the first to emerge, often pushing up through the snow.

Snow crocus are an early blooming crocus and work well in a lawn as they bloom before you need to cut the grass. Dutch crocus are good for forcing and are bigger than snow crocus and tend to bloom a little later in the spring.

Beware of Scilla or Spanish blue bells! They are a small bulb and multiply prolifically, and although they are very pretty, they now sit on the invasive list. Scilla siberica is on the Highly Invasive category of this list put together by Credit Valley Conservation.

Bulbs can also be planted in pots and put in a cool area over the winter. This way, they can be brought in and forced to bloom early. Who wouldn’t be happy with a large pot of beautiful colour after a long hard winter. More information on forcing spring bulbs can be found in this article by Dugald Cameron in Garden Making Magazine.

Happy Planting!