Category Archives: Advice

To Fertilize or Not Fertilize?

By Lois Scott, Master Gardener

Gardeners are typically highly invested in having a beautiful and productive garden and want to do what is best for their plants.  Although fertilizers are very often considered a necessary tool in providing optimal growing conditions they should be used with care and only when a soil test says they are needed.

Commercial fertilizers or ‘plant food’ usually list three major nutrients on their products; nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium or N-P-K.  These are very important plant nutrients but according to Linda Chalker-Scott PhD, author of the book “How Plants Work” “Our home landscape soils usually have enough phosphorus and potassium to meet our plant’s needs.  So, wouldn’t more be better?  She goes on to explain that excess levels of phosphate fertilizer can be bad for soil organisms by inhibiting the “development of the mycorrhizal relationship between fungi and plant roots causing plants to expend more energy for root growth.  Another negative aspect of excess phosphorus is that it reduces the ability of plants to take up iron, a plant micronutrient.  Excess phosphorus may also dissolve in runoff water causing blooms of harmful algae, depleting waterways of oxygen.  Organic fertilizers such as bone meal, guano and chicken manure can also create an excess of phosphate in the soil”.

When your vegetable garden and/or annuals are growing abundantly but you start seeing older leaves turning yellow, your soil may need a boost of nitrogen-rich fertilizer.  Nitrogen can become deficient in an actively growing garden and using something like alfalfa meal can replenish it.

Slow and steady may be the best approach to providing your plants with the ideal growing conditions.  According to Dr. Chalker-Scott, “using organic mulches like composts, wood chips and pine needles provide a slow feed of nutrients to the soil, the way that nature provides nutrients”.

Pruning Herbaceous Perennials “The Chelsea Chop”

By Marilyn Homewood, Master Gardener

As the spring bulbs fade and we move past our “last frost” date (or so we hope!), the perennials are starting to grow by leaps and bounds. This can lead us to consider ways to manage their size or bloom time. The Chelsea Chop is a method of pruning that limits the size of a plant, controls the flower season (which can assist in creating peak season bloom combinations) and often decreases the floppiness of a number of herbaceous perennials.

In England, the time for this type of pruning is carried out now which is around the same time as the Chelsea Flower Show is held, hence the name.  In our neck of the woods, timing would be most appropriate in late spring or very early summer when the plant has a fairly substantial amount of vegetative growth.  When I am going to do this, I like to have it done before the onset of our hotter, drier weather so that it does not stress the plant overly (on average by mid June).

Phlox chopped in front to extend blooming season

Plants that have received the Chelsea Chop are not as tall or leggy, so that they may not need supporting.  Flowers are smaller but are more numerous (removal of top shoots encourages branching of laterals).

It should be noted that you can not chop all summer blooming plants.  Woody sub-shrubs do not respond well.  If the spring has been dry, drastic pruning could shock your plants so a light hand is recommended in those years.

Many summer and autumn flowering perennials are good candidates for the chop.  These plants include:

  • Garden phox (Phlox paniculata)      
  • Yarrow (Achillea spp.)
  • Bellflower (Campanula spp)
  • Aster (Symphyotichum spp)
  • Coneflower (Echinacea spp)
  • Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp)
  • Upright Sedum Hylotelephium spp)
  • Penstemon (Penstemon spp)
  • Goldenrod (Solidago spp.)
  • Shasta daisy (Leucanthemum superbum)

This list is not complete.  Try experimenting with some of the vigorous plants in your garden.  I have a cultivar of catmint (Nepeta “Six Hills Giant”) that is large and spreading.  In one area of my garden, I prefer it to stand a little more to show the blooms to effect so I chop it back by about one third in the last week of May.

Nepeta more upright and floriferous due to chopping

The chop is done in two ways depending on the effect one desires.  In the first method, clumps of perennials are cut back by one third to one half.  This will delay flowering and keep plants shorter and more compact.  The second method involves cutting back only half of the stems on a plant, this has the effect of extending the flowering season over a longer period.  I commonly used the second method on my Garden Phlox keeping the plants in bloom for a longer time. Pruning can be done with sharp shears or with secateurs.  Garden shears are often faster when there is a large volume of pruning to be done.  Try out the chop and see if you can alter the form or flower of some of your favourites!


How to Make Your Vegetable Garden Beautiful

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

I was recently browsing through a hard copy April, 2009 issue of the “Fine Gardening” magazine.  I came across an article, “Who Says Your Kitchen Garden Can’t Be Beautiful”… to see the full article check the link here.   The author, Jennifer Bartley,  planted her raised vegetable garden for the edibles that it produced but in such a way that the garden was also beautiful! 

This appeals to me because vegetable gardens are definitely not my passion.  However, I do love to eat my own fresh veggies and so I have a vegetable garden.

I have raised vegetable beds where I have intermittently practiced square foot gardening (see square foot gardening for more information).  I have also planted marigolds and nasturtiums amongst my vegetables which are pretty but also serve a purpose….the marigolds for insect control and the nasturtiums because they are edible.  For more information on flowers for your vegetable garden check the link here. I have been inching towards trying to make my vegetable garden more visually appealing without realizing it.

Ms. Bartley talks about using “four simple design tips” including:

  • Arrange bunches of bold colour.
  • Plant snug beds.
  • Smooth out the edges.
  • Define your space.

Arrange bunches of bold colour – I do a planting plan ahead of time every year.  Try grouping your vegetables, flowers, fruits and herbs together so that you have lots of colour and texture (different leaf shapes).  For example, you may edge the bed with the leafy fronds of carrot followed by beets and parsnip, maybe you plant some asparagus in the centre for the height or an obelisk in the centre and plant runner beans to climb it.  You could use yellow, green or purple bush beans to fill in the blanks.  I grew some purple Brussel sprouts last year and the leaves were spectacular!

Plant snug beds – This tip works well with raised beds.  There is no need to plant your vegies in rows.  Instead, group the vegetables together close enough to cover the soil when they are grown but not so close that they will crowd each other to prevent proper maturity.  Covering the soil helps with moisture retention and weed suppression.  Thinning your carrots allows them to mature properly and provides the delicious “thinnings” for your salad.

Smooth out the edges – Just like your flower beds, vegetable gardens are at their best when they are clean and pathways are clear.  I use straw in my pathways because it is available and my garden is wet in the spring so the straw covers the mud between the raised beds.  You could use bark mulch, gravel, brick or whatever you have. 

Define your space – We humans like a certain amount of order and proportion in our world.  If a space is too big, or too small, it can make us feel uncomfortable.  The edges of a raised bed help to define the space.  In our garden, we have several raised beds so have a defined entry to the garden and a wooden cedar fence to further define the space.  You might choose to use a pot filled with herbs at your entry, a rock or cedar stump on either side or a berry producing shrub.

It is also a great idea to have a bench in the garden where you may rest and admire your work.  Also, don’t stop with just a scarecrow … you may choose to add other garden ornaments in order to make your own beautiful vegetable garden!

Divide to Multiply

by Marilyn Homewood, Master Gardener

Despite the lingering snow, the longer days and stronger sun tell us that spring is indeed here! With that we begin to think about all of the chores we wish to accomplish. Division of perennials is a common task. So why do we divide?

Division is a common means of vegetative propagation. It is an easy way to increase the number of plants you have available. Division is also required maintenance for some perennials in order to achieve maximum bloom year after year. Although a fairly simple process, there are a couple of considerations you must make.

Time of Year

Because successful division depends on the growth of new roots, the best times of the year to divide are spring and fall when the soil is warm, water is available and stressors are at a minimum.

Many perennials can also be divided during the summer months but high temperatures mean an increase in water loss. This leads to a stressed plant so extra care must be provided to ensure the plant remain well hydrated. Also, there are some ornamental grasses that only grow new roots in the spring. These plants should not be divided in the fall as they will not grow new roots that can take up water.

Method of Division

This will depend on the type of root and crown system the plant has. No matter the type of plant, keep in mind that each plant division must contain at least one bud or growing point and a few healthy roots. If you are unsure of the what you are dealing with, there is a link to a list from the University of Minnesota at the end of this blog.

Clumpers – These plants often have fibrous root systems sometimes with rhizomes but grow many smaller crowns at the base of the original each having its own root system. This often makes for easy separation with little tissue damage. Examples include ajuga, daylily and hosta.

Runners – These are plants that spread by covering the ground by shallow horizontal stems. They root along their nodes and send up new shoots making them easily dividable by separating the root ball. Examples include bee balm and goldenrod.

Tight, woody crowns – These plants are a little more challenging to divide as the buds are often tightly packed on a hardened crown. For best results the plant must be older when split to ensure that divisions with have growing points. Examples include baptisia and peony.

Thick rhizomes or tubers – Rhizomes are technically stems that grow underground. Divided sections must contain at least one growing eye. Examples in this group would be bearded iris and dahlia. These varieties should only be divided when dormant.

Tap rooted plants –These cannot rarely be divided unless multiple tap roots have developed and are better propagated by using root cuttings. Plants in this group includes oriental poppies.

Basic Steps for Division

  1. Dig out the plant. If not replanting immediately, protect from desiccation. Removing the plant from the ground can destroy tiny root hairs (responsible for water uptake). Protecting the plant means a faster recovery on the division is replanted. I often place the root ball in a plastic bag and place in a shaded area.
  2. Separate your plant into pieces using the most appropriate method. Make sure to take generous divisions of sufficient size to ensure growing points and healthy roots.
  3. Replant, digging hole wide enough. Roots like to grow out and down so give them enough space to spread out. Be sure that the soil has good contact with the root system by firming the soil then water the division in, slowly allowing the soil to further settle against the roots.


The Science Behind Plant Division

Divide and Conquer: How to Divide and Multiply Perennials

How and When to Divide Perennials

Table for Dividing Perennials

Planting Spring Bulbs Now…Yes It Is Possible

by Carol Anderson, Master Gardener in Training

Can spring bulbs be planted in late winter/early spring and still bloom? The answer is yes!

Perhaps you forgot to plant your spring bulbs in the fall (as is customary and recommended), it is better to take your chances now (late winter) and plant the bulbs rather than waiting for next fall as bulbs may not survive out of the ground this long.

Regardless of your circumstance, if you have “stray” bulbs still in your possession and they have been stored properly…you can “force” (or “trick”) your spring bulbs into blooming.

Bulbs can be divided into two groups, those that require a chill period, and those that don’t. For those that do require chilling, this chill period is less than what the bulbs would experience in the ground in a typical Ontario winter.

To force cold hardy bulbs into bloom you must first encourage them to produce new roots. This is accomplished by keeping them cool and moist for a period of time. Dropping the temperature during the cooling period to mimic the shift in soil temperatures that occurs naturally during the winter is a very effective method to encourage rooting, but can only be accomplished if you have the right set up (separate refrigerator, etc…).

Regardless, a proper cooling period that is around 40 degrees F (4.5 degrees C) throughout should be satisfactory to stimulate rooting and subsequent flowering.

Here is what you need to do:

Ensure that those forgotten bulbs are still good.If they have been stored in a cool, dry and dark location (and even better in a paper bag) they should be okay. Bulbs should be plump, firm and dry. Any sign of softness or evidence of mould signals that they are likely better in the trash can.
Pot the bulbs in a well-drained potting mix according to depth requirements for that bulb. Space the bulbs much more closely than you otherwise would have (almost touching).Any pot can be used as long as there is 3-4” of soil under the bulb for rooting. It is recommended that “soil-less” potting mix is used as this allows excess moisture to drain away preventing potential growth of pathogens.
Water well and place in a cool dark spot (not freezing) for the required cooling period (see Table 1 below). Check moisture levels during this period and water if top is dry to the touch.Although the ideal rooting temperature varies, most bulbs do best if stored at 40-60 degrees F for 3-4 weeks after potting, and then 32-40 degrees for the balance of the cooling period, mimicking the actual change in seasons. However, most bulbs will do well if the temperature is maintained close to 40 degrees F for the duration of the chilling period.
Check for rooting after the recommended chilling time.Look for fleshy white roots in the bottom of the pots. Pots can stay in the cool zone until you are ready to bring them in of pot outside.
Bring the pots into the warmth/light in the house.Ideally a sunny window in a cooler room (~65 degrees F). The bulbs think that spring has arrived and will sprout and ultimately flower in ~ 2-5 weeks.
Once the bulbs sprout and flower, they can be transplanted into larger outdoor containers outside.They can also be transplanted into the garden directly at this point, maintaining the same depth
If grown in containers outside, remember that just like bulbs in the garden, allow them to completely die back (including the foliage).Bulbs need all of the energy from the stems in order to replenish and store energy in the bulb for next years growth/bloom.
Note: Bulbs can also be chilled in a refrigerator where the temperature can be turned down after 3-4 weeks to truly mimic the changing seasons. However, ensure there is no fresh fruit in the same refrigerator as the ethylene gas produced can affect flowering.

Table 1. Recommended Rooting Times by Bulb Type

Bulb TypePlanting DepthCooling Period
Anemone4 inches8-10 weeks
Crocus4 inches8-10 weeks
Hyacinth6 to 8 inches12-14 weeks
Narcissus (Daffodil)6 to 8 inches14-17 weeks
Snowdrops3 inches10-12 weeks
Tulip6 to 8 inches14-16 weeks

Keep in mind that forced bulbs planted into the garden may not bloom the subsequent year. However, in the end, it may be better to try and “trick” your spare or forgotten bulbs into blooming this spring and enjoy them rather than take the chance that they are spoiled by next Fall.

Sources: ; ;

Will This Old Veggie Seed Grow?

By Lois Scott, Master Gardener

You have probably heard this adage applied to various activities/hobbies, but here I go.  Buying seeds and starting seeds are two different activities.  I engage in both, but sometimes the buying outruns the starting and I find myself looking at an unused package of vegetable seed purchased in the past and wondering if those seeds are viable.  Checking vegetable seed viability is easy and may save you from the disappointment of a poor harvest.

To say a seed is viable is to say it is alive.  Checking for this can be easily done by wrapping a number of seeds (10-20) in a moistened paper towel, placing them in a sealed plastic bag in a warm place (21-26*C) and then checking for germination in a week or so.  Your germination rate is a percentage, calculated by multiplying the seeds germinated by 100 and dividing that by the total number of seeds in your trial.  It is recommended that if your germination rate is below 70% you should buy new seed.  In my demonstration featured in the two photos shown, I used 10 seeds and 7 sprouted.  My germination rate is 70%. 

Checking for seed viability by putting seeds in water and discarding the floating ones is not a reliable test.

Different types of vegetable seeds remain viable for different lengths of time but proper storage of seeds will optimize their viability.  They are best stored in a cool place like a refrigerator, cool basement or root cellar. 

Some seed companies also list on the back of their seed packages the optimum germination rate and the year the seeds were packed and tested.  So, I know that the rapini seeds I haven’t used were packed in 2022 and maybe I should plant them this year!

It’s coming to that seed starting time of year so don’t hesitate to give some of your older seeds a chance to prove themselves and save yourself from vegetable garden let-down.

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.

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.

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)

Winter Gardening Activities

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

Winter in Ontario, Canada, is a time for gardeners to relax, plan, learn and become inspired… 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!

Philodendron — An Easy Care Houseplant

By Chris Freeburn, Master Gardener

The Philodendron is a tropical plant found in South and Central America and the Carribean. It is the second largest group in the Araceae family. This family of plants includes Pothos (which are often confused with Philodendron), Alocasias (Elephant Ears), Monstera (this plant is its own genus), Aglaonema (Chinese Evergreen), and ZZ plants. There are many different varieties of Philodendron from vine types to large tropicals which grow at different height levels in the jungles of their tropical homes. Many vine type species live as epiphytes in their native environment, growing like air plants and climbing up their host plant to reach more sunlight. Most have large heart shaped leaves that grow alternately on stems.

Philodendron and Pothos are often difficult to distinguish. When you look closely at the base of the leaves, philodendrons will have a covering or sheath, called a calaphylls, over the leaf which form where the stem and petiole (leaf stem) attach.

(Philodendron showing cataphylls, and pothos showing no cataphylls)

P. Hederadeum is the most common species available as a houseplant. Heartleaf will trail or can be trained to grow up a trellis.

Upright or bush philodendrons also can have aerial roots similar to orchid roots which grow above the soil. These roots form because the plants originally grew in tropical jungles where philodendrons grow into the trees.

 If you are looking for an easy to grow houseplant, try the philodendron. Or if you want to increase your houseplant varieties, there are many different varieties to choose from.There are upright types like ‘Birkin’ which has dark glossy leaves with white streaks in the veins. Many varieties have dark green leaves while others have chartreuse leaves like ‘Moonlight’ or ‘Mekloni Gold’. Growers have introduced cultivars named ‘Prince of Orange’, ‘Ceylon Beauty’, Black Cardinal’, Narrow Escape’ and ‘Brazil’.

(“Imperial Red”, and “Birkin”)

In our homes, philodendron are one of the easier houseplants to grow. They prefer bright indirect light, but will tolerate lower light. Do not over water. Let the soil dry out between watering.

Fertilizing with a 20-20-20 solution in spring and summer is okay, but let your plant rest in the fall and winter, watering less as well. Philodendrons rarely have pest or disease problems. They contain calcium oxalate which is poisonous to humans and pets if ingested.

Philodendrons that vine tend to be slower growers but shouldn’t get pot bound. Repotting your houseplant when roots fill the pot with fresh potting soil will make your plant happier. You may also need to wipe dust from the shiny leaves by using a soft damp cloth.

I saw an article on a website recently where people were talking about the beauty of tropicals in their native environment. They wondered about bringing them home to Canada. Please remember that transporting living plants into other countries is not legal. Also, that gorgeous gigantic tropical would not be happy in your home. The plants that are for sale in Canada have been bred to be in your home, but will never get as lush as those that grow in hot humid countries. Enjoy them while visiting in their environment and love their hybridized cousins in your home.