Category Archives: Advice

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

Soil Maintenance

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener

Dry soil with little nutrient value; amended soil with many nutrients

As we approach the reawakening of our spring gardens, I thought it would be a good idea to review the importance of soil maintenance.

How you prepare your soil will have huge implications on the health and survival of all your plants. Two years ago, my husband dug a deep hole in preparation for building a small pond.  All the clay, rocky soil was removed.  In the end, we decided on a smaller water feature, so I filled the hole with what was left in my two compost bins and backfilled with some of the clay that had been dug up.  I hadn’t tested the soil, but through the use of good quality compost, I ended up creating a garden bed that was rich in nutrients and a soil that had good water-holding capabilities.  The following spring, I decided to plant annuals in my ‘new’ garden bed.  They were fantastic!  All plants in this particular area of the garden flourish!  The old saying, “Tend the soil, not the plants” is right on the mark!

My late summer garden with zinnias & cosmos

A well-fed soil will produce healthy and beautiful plants. It provides a physical anchorage, water, and nutrients and allows the exchange of gasses between plant roots and the atmosphere.  The ideal soil is made up of 50% solids (mineral and organic materials) and 50% pore spaces (air and water). Water is best at 20-30%, air at 20-30%, mineral at 45%, and organic at 5%.  These proportions can and do change dramatically in response to climate and rainfall.

There are 3 types of soil that most of us are familiar with; clay, silt and sand.

Clay is tiny particles about the same size as bacteria.  Silt’s particles are 10 times larger than clay.  Sand particles are 10 times larger than silt.  The larger the particles, the easier it is for water to penetrate.  I have lived with both sand and clay soils, and each have their own challenges.

Soil is full of living things like decaying organic matter, microbes, bacteria, fungi and microorganisms.  It is very much alive!  The world is depleting its soil at a much faster rate than the soil is able to replenish itself.  One inch of topsoil that is lost due to erosion, wind or farming takes many, many years to replace.

There are more organisms living in one teaspoon of soil than there are people on this earth.  Think about that!  Soil is so very important and many of us are not aware of the benefits of keeping our soils healthy!

Here are a few ideas.

MULCHING

Mulching can greatly benefit the health of your plants.  Some of those benefits include:

  1. Improving the nutrient content over time of the soil (depending on the type of mulch used)
  2. Reduces weeding as it often smothers them
  3. Reduces water evaporation, therefore less watering is required
  4. Protects the soil from temperature fluctuations, therefore avoiding the freeze/thaw cycle
  5. Prevents soil compaction and reduces soil erosion

There are many materials available to be used as mulches in the spring.  Refrain from using black or red coloured mulch.  I prefer a natural cedar mulch.

DIVERSIFY AND PLANT MORE NATIVES

We are stewards of our land, no matter how small of an area we own.  Native plants have evolved over thousands of years and because they have adapted to their environment, they are easy to grow, provide habitat and food to a variety of insects and wildlife, are remarkably resistant to disease and are generally tolerant of many soil conditions.  The majority of native plants have very long root systems which work to improve the structure of the soil.

Doug Tallamy, author of Nature’s Best Hope, speaks about the decline in wildlife populations because of the disappearance of the many native plants they depend upon. He would like us to turn all our yards into what he calls our own Home Grown National Park. This would create corridors of conservation for all the wildlife, insects and birds.  Take some of the grassy area you have and create a new pollinator garden with some local native plants.  You will be amazed at the wildlife you will see!

BUILD UP YOUR SOIL WITH LOTS OF ORGANIC MATTER

Soil improvement can be a long process.  It is recommended that you add a yearly application of organic matter, preferably in early spring.  Do not be tempted to dig it in.  Weed seeds can lay dormant for many years and as soon as they are disturbed and see the light, they will begin to grow.  Lay the organic matter on top of your beds and the worms will do the work.

  1. Use your own homemade compost.  Check out this blog by a fellow Master Gardener Fellow Master Gardener – All About Compost
  2. Use shredded leaves in the fall.  I shred my leaves, rake them on my garden beds and leave them over the winter. Come the spring, the worms will do the job of taking them down into the soil.
  3. Manure, Triple Mix or Compost from a reputable Landscape Supply Store

CONSIDER LASAGNA GARDENING

Consider creating new garden beds without removing turf by first covering it with newspaper or cardboard and then layers of soil and compost.  If you do this in the fall, you will have a brand ‘new’ garden bed that you can plant in come the following spring!

My new garden bed; compost/leaves on top of cardboard and left to decompose over the winter!

PLANT COVER CROPS

Bare soils encourage erosion, loss of nitrogen, growth of weeds, water accumulation and spring runoff.  Cover crops create a universe of microbes, mycorrhizae, fungi, and bacteria.  By planting a cover crop in your vegetable garden in the fall, you will receive many benefits such as reducing water run-off, restoring carbon to the soil, erosion prevention and pest and disease resistance.  Some of the more common cover crops that are used are legumes such as clover, beans and peas and grasses such as ryegrass or oats.  Plants in the legume family take nitrogen gas from the air and convert it to a form that plants can use.  In the spring, turn the dead material into the soil.

RESOURCES

Fellow Master Gardener Blog on Regenerative Agriculture

Soil Health in Ontario

Five Ways to Improve Soil – Oregon State University

Am I a Problem?

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

Well, yes … I am, but I have a plan.  February 28-March 4/22 is National Invasive Species Awareness Week.   This is an international event whose purpose is to raise the awareness of invasive species.  “Invasive terrestrial plants in a forest ecosystem can be trees, shrubs, or herbaceous plants that have been moved from their native habitat to an introduced area where they are able to reproduce quickly and crowd out native species. These plants are introduced and spread by infested packaging material, seed dispersal by both environmental and human sources, or by escaping from gardens.”  Also look at Ontario’s Invading Species Awareness Program  for more information.

Biodiversity is essential to the continued healthy life of an ecosystem.  Invasive plants can quickly destroy it and humans require the natural resources found in a healthy ecosystem.  We need food and we need water to survive.  We are a part of the ecosystem too.  Doug Tallamy says it best in his book, “Bringing Nature Home” where he writes “…ecosystems with more species function with more efficiency, are better able to withstand disturbances, are more productive, and can repel alien invasions better than ecosystems with fewer species.”

I became aware of invasive species about 15 years ago when on my walk to work, I noticed some English ivy (Hedera helix) growing in a small wooded area.  Then, I realized that English ivy had totally carpeted that area.  There were no other plants!  A couple of years later, I saw the same thing but this time, it was a larger forested area and the culprit was goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria).  Since then I have read more about invasive plants and, sadly, now often see problem areas. 

So, back to my plan.  I was aware of some of the invasive herbaceous perennials so had steered away from them.  See terrestrial plants and  aquatic plants for more information.  However, my husband and I are tree lovers and have a rural property so we frequently indulge in purchasing new trees to add to our collection.  Unfortunately, we ended up with two Norway maple (Acer platanoides) trees, two burning bush (Euonymus alatus) and a barberry (Berberis thunbergii) shrub.  This year, I plan to convince my husband that they must go.  I would like to replace the trees with two red maple (Acer rubrum) or perhaps a couple of sugar maple ((Acer saccharum).  The burning bush will be replaced by a couple of native viburnum maybe nannyberry (Viburnum lentago) and the barberry, well, it will be replaced by a native bush honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera).  See Southern Ontario Grow me Instead Beautiful Non-invasive Plants for Your Garden. This is a great resource.  It includes some native and some non-native plants to include in your garden plans.

I am inspired to be a better gardener every time I write a blog for the Peterborough & Area Master Gardeners.  I hope that you will have a look at some of the links above and below and be inspired too.  Please only use non-invasives in your gardening plans this year. 

I also recommend reading, or re-reading, a blog by Laura Gardner, Master Gardener in Training posted on February 2/2022: Expanding Your Native Garden Palette.  For more information on what to do if you have a problem, see Best Management Practices Data Base

A new group on Facebook is the Canadian Coalition for Invasive Plant Regulations. The group is very concerned about the spread of invasive plants in Canada and would like to do something about it.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

By Chris Freeburn, Master Gardener

Many will be receiving a beautiful bouquet of flowers today in celebration of Valentine’s Day. If you are one of the lucky ones who has a sweetheart who will bring you flowers,here are some tips to help you keep your Valentine flowers fresher longer.

Cut flowers need food in the form of carbohydrates or sugar to last for one to two weeks in your home. They also need citric acid to get the pH level correct allowing the stems to draw up water. It has been scientifically proven that water travels faster through the xylem (tissues that carry water through the plant) when the pH is around 3.5. Flowers also need to keep their stems clear of bacteria that can clog and prevent the uptake of water. This can be addressed with bleach. When you add  the small package of floral preservative you receive with your bouquet you are giving your flowers the food, pH level and  bacterial killing agent they need to stay fresh longer.  You don’t necessarily have to use the entire package. Save some to add when you need to refresh your arrangement. You can also buy floral preservative if you bring in flowers from your own garden. Home remedies using vodka, aspirin, pennies or bleach may work, but the little package you get with your bouquet is effective and easy.  One good home remedy is 1 tsp. of bleach and 1 tsp. of sugar in 1 litre of water.

  • When you get your flowers, unwrap them as soon as possible and get them into water.
  • Use a clean vase filled with warm or room temperature water. If you have hard water, let it sit for 24 hours before using. Add your preservative and mix until dissolved.
  • Using a sharp knife or pair of scissors or pruners, cut stems under warm running water and place immediately into the vase. Cutting stems on an angle will give more surface for stems to draw water and the stems won’t lay flat on the bottom of the vase cutting off that ability.
  • Remove any leaves that will go below the water line. These will rot and can cause bacterial problems.
  • Keep your flowers out of direct sunlight and in a cooler rather than warmer room.
  • Keep the water topped up daily. Your flowers will drink if they are happy.

You may find that flowers wilt or droop. If this happens, re-cut the stems at least half an inch and move to another clean prepared vase. I suggest that you remember this when you do your first cut on your flowers and keep the stems longer, so you are able to re-cut and move your bouquet to smaller and shorter vases a few times before they are totally spent.

Some types of flowers will last longer than others, so if you have a mixed bouquet, you will probably lose some blooms before others. Zinnia, carnations, larkspur and glads all should last longer than two weeks.

One of our Peterborough Master Gardeners wrote a great article last summer on growing and harvesting flowers for cutting.  For that article go to Reaping the Flower Harvest.

The reason we love fresh flowers is they are with us for only a short time. Accept that fact and enjoy your bouquet!

Resources

https://ag.umass.edu/greenhouse

https://www.mydomaine.com/how-to-make-cut-flowers-last-longer

https://www.bbg.org/gardening/article/cut-flower_care

https://www.kenoraminerandnews.com/opinion/columnists/display-your-floral-bounty-with-cut-flowers/wcm/0fb663f4-493d-480c-89ed-08fdef396834/amp/

Cool Season Crops

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener

It is that time of year where we turn our attention to thoughts of what we would like to grow in the coming season.  Because of the pandemic, many of us have dabbled in sowing some seeds indoors. It does require time, space, proper lighting and the patience to check your seedlings every few days for proper moisture levels or any signs of disease.

Author’s Seed Catalogues for 2022

Begin planning your garden early.  Now is a good time to browse through the seed catalogues and decide what crops you want to grow based on your own likes and dislikes, as well as how much of each you will need.

If you don’t have the time or desire to start seedlings indoors, there are many vegetables that can be seeded outdoors in the very early spring. They are known as cool season crops.

I look forward to getting out into my garden in the early spring, however, we should not start digging too soon as there are many beneficial insects and native bees that overwinter in the soil or under leaf litter.  They all need time to emerge from their long winter nap.  By growing cool season crops, I get to play in my garden early and benefit from a good supply of fresh vegetables.

Courtesy of Pixabay.com

All the following vegetables can be seeded outdoors as soon as the soil is workable.

LETTUCE & GREENS

There are so many varieties of salad greens such as leaf, mustard, arugula and mesclun. Lettuce is generally a cool season plant, but newer varieties have been developed that will grow happily in the summer.  Salad greens can bolt quickly when the weather gets really warm, however, there are varieties that are more bolt tolerant.  I usually choose seed that I can sow early in the season.  These particular varieties can withstand some shade in the summer so I plant the seed behind a larger vegetable such as kale so that they get the protection they need from the hot sun. Be sure to check the seed package to understand when to sow, how to harvest, and how quickly the lettuce will bolt.

CARROT

Carrots need good drainage and work very well in raised beds.  They work best when planted as soon as the soil can be worked. They require plenty of sun.  The cultivated carrot originated in Afghanistan and was purple.  According to William Dam Seeds, they believe the orange carrot was developed around the 16th Century.  There are many different varieties and some of my favourites are the Nantes and I had great success last year with Nantes Napoli.

KALE

I find Kale a very easy vegetable to grow and it will last well into the fall.  It likes well drained soil.  It is best to harvest the young leaves as the older leaves will get quite tough and stringy.  It is rich in Vitamin C and frost will actually improve its flavour.  I really enjoy Vates, which is ruffled with a medium dark green leaf.  By using a row cover, we were enjoying kale in our salads well into the fall.

RADISH

Radish is amazingly quick to germinate.  I think they add the perfect crispy, peppery taste to a salad. If you plant the seeds early, it will be one of the first vegetables ready for harvest. Radishes also work well for Succession Planting.  Radish varieties have evolved over the years and there are now several different sizes and colours.  I enjoy the French Breakfast varieties.

PEAS

Homegrown peas, whether cooked or raw always taste amazing.  Taller varieties do require some kind of support and will benefit from a fence or string for the vines.  Dwarf varieties are ideal for smaller gardens and don’t require support.  They do need lots of sun but will tolerate some shade in the summer.  Smaller peas are tastier than larger ones, so be sure to harvest often.  The edible garden pea dates back to 16th century England.  I will admit not to have a lot of luck with peas.  I may be getting them planted too late in the spring and with instant summer heat, they do not do well! I am determined to try again this year.  My favourite are sugar snap peas and I would like to try one called Sugar Ann, that matures in 55 days and is a dwarf variety.

SPINACH

A favourite cool season vegetable to grow is the vitamin-rich spinach.  Spinach can be eaten cooked or raw and is full of vitamins and minerals, especially iron and calcium. They mature quickly.  As the plants grow, harvest the outer leaves often to encourage fresh leaf production, but pull the plants before they bolt. Once the flowering process begins, spinach quickly turns bitter, so don’t wait to harvest. Row covers are advisable to protect the plants from leaf miner.  Many varieties have been developed to resist Downy Mildew.

Resources

A good resource for seed planting is Planting Chart Cheat Sheets – Square Foot Gardening

To understand your first and last frost date and when to plant, check out the following on-line tools OMAFRA Frost Dates

Regenerative Agriculture and the Garden

By Marilyn Homewood, Master Gardener

Regenerative Agriculture describes soil management practices that help to reverse climate change while rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil.  Through photosynthesis, plants remove carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it in the soil. In addition to carbon sequestration, practices that increase soil organic matter also increase biodiversity both above and below the soil surface, while increasing water holding capacity and improving soil structure helping to reverse soil loss. 

Carbon cycle diagram with nature farm landscape illustration

While the movement was initially geared towards farmers, more and more gardeners, particularly those involved with the growing of annual crops, have adopted some of these principles recognizing the benefit for both the garden and the environment.   In fact, many of the practices have been employed by gardeners for years without realizing how the benefits for the environment.

Regenerative Agriculture aims to:

  • generate/build soils, increase soil fertility and health;
  • increase water percolation and water retention;
  • increase biodiversity, ecosystem health and plant resiliency;
  • increase carbon sequestration thereby helping to cleanse the atmosphere of excess CO2.

Specific Practices include:

  1. No-till/minimum tillage. Tillage breaks up soil and destroys soil structure. Tillage greatly increases soil erosion and releases carbon sequestered in the soil.  A secondary effect is soil capping and slaking that can plug soil spaces reducing water percolation creating  more water runoff and soil loss.

Conversely, no-till/minimum tillage, enhances soil aggregation, water infiltration and retention, and carbon sequestration. Some soils benefit from interim ripping to break apart hardpans which can increase root zones, improved soil structure and carbon sequestration. At a low level, chiseling in some beds may have similar positive effects.  Cracking the soil slightly allows amendments such as compost to infiltrate the soil without damaging it.  A broadfork can be a very effective tool here.

Lasagna gardening or Charles Dowding’s No Till Gardening Methods are good examples of these practices.  One can put away the roto-tiller and get a broadfork instead.

Fall garden after upper stalks have been removed leaving plant crowns and roots

2. Increase soil fertility biologically through application of cover crops,crop rotations, compost, and animal manures.  These increase the soil organic matter and restore the plant/soil biome which promotes the cycling of essential soil nutrients. Increased organic matter (OM) enhances soil structure, increases porosity which increases water infiltration and drainage.  Increased OM also stores and supplies micronutrients and enhances soil microbial populations. A tip for annual beds; When removing the plant in the fall, only remove the portion above ground.  Leave the root ball in the ground to decompose over winter.

3. Build biological ecosystem diversity with inoculation of soils with composts or compost extracts to restore soil microbial community population and functionality. Restore soil system energy through full-time planting of inter- crop plantings, multispecies cover crops, and borders planted for bee habitat and other beneficial insects.

Increased organic matter means more friable soil.  Friable soil means deep roots; increased biological activity mean more nutrients released for plant use and microbial diversity means less disease.  The result is healthy, vigorous plants that need less watering, less additional feeding/supplementation and less treatment for disease while sequestering carbon at the same time.  That is a win win!

“Earth is what we all have in common” Wendell Berry

Resources:

https://www.csuchico.edu/regenerativeagriculture/ra101-section/ra101-definitions.shtml

https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20211020-carbon-farming-a-better-use-for-half-earths-land

Are You in the Zone?

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

Gardeners are used to seeing the “zone” as part of the information provided on the label of most perennial plants, trees and shrubs purchased from a nursery.  Some labels will list a zone with the corresponding temperature in brackets afterwards.  This seems like an easy way to determine if your chosen plant will successfully grow in your garden–you will need to know the average lowest winter temperature, in your region, then figure out your zone.  You then just buy the plant labelled with your zone for success!  Easy, right?  Yes and no!

In Canada, the original 1960’s plant hardiness zones were based on information gathered at 640 weather stations across the country along with the survival results of selected trees and shrubs.  In 2012, revised maps were released using elevation, more locations and more environmental details resulting in a hardiness index which corresponds to a zone .   At present, there are 13 zones ranging from 1-13.  You may also see an “a” or “b” beside the number.  This indicates a slight variation within that region. See Plant Hardiness Zone by Municipality to find your zone.

Zone 5, author’s garden.

In the USA, the system is different.  Again, there are 13 zones ranging from 1-13 and  “a” or “b” indicates variation within the region. See US Plant Hardiness Zones.   However, the US system is only based on minimum temperature and no other factors.  You may read about a plant grown in the US and designated US zone 5.  A US zone 5 labelled plant may require warmer winter conditions than it’s corresponding zone 5 labelled Canadian plant.  Bottom line, US zones may not be the same as Canada’s.

Canadian data is based on previously collected information but we know that the weather does not always follow past patterns — it can, and will, fluctuate (e.g. freeze/thaw cycles).  There may be microclimates (see Microclimate in Wikipedia) in your own gardening space.  Good gardening practices (e.g. soil preparation)  will contribute to the successful growth of your plant.  Plant survival and growth depends on your gardening expertise and knowledge.  The zone is just one indicator of whether, or not, the plant that you are contemplating will grow well in your garden.  Oh, and Peterborough is a Canadian plant hardiness zone 5 b.

Tips: 

#1 The plant hardiness zone site now can be used to explore where the specific plant that you are thinking about purchasing will grow through the “Species-Specific Models and Maps”.  It does this by creating a “climate profile” of the plant and then mapping where it will grow in Canada.  These are preliminary maps but click here to try it out.

#2 Grow native plants!  Native plants are specifically well suited to an area especially if you can purchase locally grown plants or find locally sourced seeds. 

#3 Consult local nursery staff and your knowledgeable fellow gardeners.  They will know what will successfully grow in your area.

#4 Experiment!  If there is a plant that you really must have, but the zone is off a little…..try it.  You will need to choose a protected location for planting and probably baby it along but sometimes it may be worth it. Talking to other knowledgeable local gardeners may be especially helpful….someone may have successfully grown that special plant in their garden and may share their growing tips with you!

Zone 5, author’s garden.

Houseplant Facts and Fictions

By Laura Gardner, Master Gardener in Training

We turn to searching for information online or in books on how to care for our plants. Unfortunately there are a lot of inaccuracies surrounding certain beliefs and practices concerning them. Since most of our attention is now focused on indoor gardening, let’s look at five questions concerning houseplants.

1. Are Poinsettias Poisonous?

You may have been gifted with a Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) and you may be concerned because you have heard that they are poisonous. The plant, while not edible, would need to be consumed in large quantities to be harmful. That being said, it still is wise to keep the plants out of reach of pets and children as some consumption may lead to digestive distress. Like other members of the Euphorbiaceae family, Poinsettias produce a milky sap and so handling the plant without gloves may affect those with a latex allergy.1

2. Can Houseplants Filter or Absorb Pollutants?

Recently I read in a book on houseplant care that plants draw in harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as formaldehyde and benzene and clean the air for us. Two examples mentioned included the Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum) and the Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum). It stated that the former can filter out formaldehyde and the latter both formaldehyde and benzene. While it is true that plants have the ability to absorb pollutants, large numbers are required to have a significant impact. The belief that plants clean the air may be associated with a single NASA study2 from the 1980s that was conducted in an air-controlled laboratory setting and not in an open home or office setting. More recent research has determined that a building’s air handling system or open windows is more effective at reducing pollutants than plants. One would require 10-1000 plants per square meter in order to be comparable.3

3. Will Misting and Pebble Trays Increase Humidity?

We may struggle with maintaining optimum humidity levels in the winter for our tropical houseplants. Many books and online sources recommend increasing relative humidity around plants through misting and placing the plant pots on trays filled with pebbles and water. Misting is generally ineffective because the water evaporates so quickly. It would have to be done constantly to have an impact. Concerning pebble trays, an experiment published in the American Orchid Society Bulletin found that in the winter (set in a home in Minnesota), relative humidity levels were raised only slightly. The RH at 40 mm above the tray was measured at 3%; at 110 mm 2%; and at 300 mm it measured 0%.4 Using a humidifier is really the only method that has the ability to increase humidity levels significantly.

4. Should you Use Ice Cubes for Watering Orchids?

Recently I read a comment on the Master Gardeners of Ontario Facebook site that someone said that their Moth Orchid (Phalaenopsis) came with a tag advising them to use ice cubes as a method of watering it. It seems that this advice is really intended to help prevent new Orchid owners from overwatering their plants. While there is a study that found that using ice cubes did not negatively affect the health of the orchids, it was only conducted for a period of 4-6 months. A problem with using ice cubes is that it has the potential to accumulate salt build-up (from water and fertilizer) that can affect the plant’s longevity in the long term.5

5. Should you use Leaf Shining Products or Oils?

Some sources advise using commercial shine products or oils to help make a plant’s leaves shiny and reduce build-up of dust. However, there is research indicating that the use of leaf shine on Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina) caused the plants to have a reduced tolerance to low light stress, resulting in three times as much leaf loss as untreated plants.Treated plants required higher light levels.6 Another problem is that they can block the pores or stomata in the leaves of some plants, resulting in reducing the plant’s ability to photosynthesize and respire.

Here are three easy to care for houseplants:
Schefflera, Aloe Vera, and Epipremnum aureum (Pothos)

References

  1. Newman, S.E. and B.E. Edmunds. Poinsettias. Colorado State University Extension. Online: https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/yard-garden/poinsettias-7-412
  2. Wolverton, B.C. et al. Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement. Online: https://ntrs.nasa.gov/citations/19930073077
  3. Cummings, Bryan E. and Michael S. Waring. Potted plants do not improve indoor air quality: a review and analysis of reported VOC removal efficiencies. Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology. Volume 30, pp. 253–261 (2020). Online: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41370-019-0175-9
  4. Kohl, Douglas. A Study in Humidity: Douglas Kohl Evaluates the Effectiveness of a Common Method to Raise Humidity around Orchids Growing in the Home. American Orchid Society Bulletin, 63(8). 1994. pp. 916-917.
  5. American Orchid Society. Greenhouse Chat Webinar. June 2021. Online: https://www.aos.org/All-About-Orchids/Webinars/chat/Greenhouse-Chat-June-2021.aspx
  6. Steinkamp, K. et al. Acclimatization of Ficus benjamina: A Review. Online: https://mrec.ifas.ufl.edu/foliage/resrpts/rh_91_5.htm

Grow Lights

By Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

It’s getting close to that time of year when our thoughts turn to gardening and starting seeds. The seed catalogues come in the mail in the new year, the Master Gardeners have their Day for Gardeners (pre-covid, this was usually held in late February), and then there’s Seedy Sunday (usually held in mid-March, and still possible for 2022).

Starting seeds in your sunniest south-facing window is your best bet if you don’t have grow lights. When grow lights are used properly, you will have more compact, healthier seedlings to put out in your garden. And grow lights can be used year round to grow veggies indoors. They can be used for houseplants as well.

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There are lots of different options for choosing grow lights from plant stands with fluorescent or LED lights suspended over your seed flats, to incandescent light bulbs that fit into a standard lamp. There are pros and cons to each type of light. For example, incandescent lights are cheapest, but the most expensive to operate. There is a lot to take into consideration when choosing and selecting the grow lights that will work best for you and the plants you want to grow. I’ve done a little research and found Lamps Plus and Modern Farmer have some good information to help you select and use your lights efficiently.

Resources:

Check out these sites for all you need to know to get started using these amazing lights.