Category Archives: Advice

My Favourite Pruning Book

by Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

I have a lot of gardening books and whilst I do search on the internet if I have a quick question, there are a few books that I go to repeatedly and often. One of these is from the UK Royal Horticultural Society Pruning & Training. I am sure you could find a similar book in Canada but as this book was given to me a few years ago by my father-in-law as a present, it has special meaning for me.

I love growing fruit, apples, grapes, currants, blueberries, to name a few and as I have a smaller city garden, this comes with challenges. I have to make use of all available space and prune effectively to fit everything I want into my garden. Hence the reason why this book is so important to me and why I use it so often.

There are chapters on ornamental trees as well as ornamental shrubs and roses and a good introduction describing the parts of a plant as well as the principles of pruning and training. But it is the chapters on tree fruits, soft fruits and climbing plants that I refer to most often. I actually have PostIt® notes on the sections that describe the pruning shapes I have chosen for my apples, currants, gooseberries and grape so I can check I am doing it correctly. I must admit it took a few years to observe the effectiveness of pruning well, I was always hesitant to cut off too much of the plant, much as I still save every perennial seedling that comes up in my garden. In my last house we had a grape for approximately 6 years and whilst we did get some fruit on it, we could have doubled or tripled the harvest with better pruning, but I hated to cut so much off.

For my grape vine I originally had it growing over an arch, but it soon outgrew that support, so we had to build a new support system and then re-prune it into its new system. There are many different systems that can be used for grapes including the rod and spur system in which the grape is grown along 3-4 horizontal wires to the guyot system in which shoots from two horizontal stems are grown vertically.

The chapter on tree fruits starts by showing diagrams of all the different forms or shapes as well as describing basic and pruning techniques. There are lots of photos and diagrams in this book so that you can visually see everything being discussed, which I really like. There is also a section on renovating neglected tree fruits.

I chose to prune my apples trees as espaliers on a four tiered tree, this is my trees fourth year and first year that they have blossoms, so I am hoping to have my first apples. It is fairly time consuming, especially as I didn’t know what I was doing the first couple of years, but I followed the instructions religiously and am now beginning to approach the trees with pruners in hand confidently.

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Espaliered apple tree (Year 4)

My currant and gooseberry bushes were pruned as multiple cordons with three vertical arms. I have this grown both on the same support system that I have for the fruit trees but also on bamboo poles. I find that by growing them in this way as opposed to a bush, I can fit more currant bushes into the same space, I grow red, pink, white and black, and they are easier for me to pick. I still have a high yield of berries and am able to harvest almost all of them.

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Close up of currants
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Redcurrent bushes

There are plenty of videos on the internet showing different pruning techniques, maybe even too many as it is often difficult to choose just one, and then you end up getting side tracked. As I was writing this article and looking up videos, I ended up watching three including one on heucheras. Here’s one you might like from the RHS on renovating fruit trees.

 

 

Garden Myths

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

Gardeners have been passing down tips, tricks, and knowledge for generations. Some of this advice is science-based and works, but much of it is a mix of folklore and superstition. While some of it is benign, some of it may actually harm your gardens or have you spending money when you don’t need to.

Here are five of my favourite garden myths – there are hundreds out there – just google ‘garden myths’ and you’ll see what I mean.Picture1

I think social media has intensified the problem – in the past information spread through word of mouth, often handed down through generations. Now anyone with a computer can claim to be an expert, and provide inaccurate information that others will share.

Part of my reason for becoming a Master Gardener was to expand my gardening knowledge and share my passion for growing with others using solid, science-based information. We offer our services to the public in many forms – through presentations, advice clinics, answering email queries, and publishing blogs like this one!

The Master Gardeners of Ontario (MGOI) website shows where all the Master Gardener groups are located – find yours and their website and take advantage of their knowledge and expertise. If they don’t have the answer they will go research it for you.

MGOI also has a great Facebook page where you can post questions to Master Gardeners. And I highly recommend The Garden Professors Facebook page for science-based gardening information.

Make sure to follow the Peterborough and Area Master Gardeners through our
Weekly Blog (by clicking on ‘Follow’ in the left column on the homepage)
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Twitter or reach us at contact@peterboroughmastergardeners.com

Myth: You Should Stake A Newly Planted Tree

Truth: Unless it’s top-heavy or in an especially windy site, your tree does not require staking. Some movement is actually good for young trees. I loved this description “Just as our muscles grow larger with exercise, tree trunks grow thicker and stronger when they’re allowed to move.”

The response of trees and plants to wind is called thigmomorphogenesis (yes that’s a word!). The buffeting from winds releases ethylene gas, a growth mediator that triggers the formation of wood-strengthening lignin.

While staked trees tend to grow taller, their trunks are skinny and weak, so if you decide you must stake, stake as loosely as possible and only for a short time (no longer than six months). Make sure to use something soft against the tree bark to keep from cutting into it. But best to practice tough love – your tree will appreciate it.

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Photo used with permission of The Garden Professors  http://gardenprofessors.com/

Myth: Gravel in The Bottom of Containers Improves Drainage

Truth: This myth will not die. We’ve all been told to place stones or pieces of pot at the bottom of our containers “for drainage”. The reality is that added gravel or rocks to the bottom of your pot will actually accelerate the potential for root rot, rather than preventing it. Water is pulled down through the container by gravity and builds up near the drainage hole. A layer of gravel at the pot’s base serves as the drainage hole and collects water in the same way. So gravel actually moves the pool of water higher up the pot, where it damages your plant.

As long as there is a hole in the bottom of the container, water will find its way out without the need for stones.

Myth: Add Epsom Salts To The Soil Helps Tomatoes Grow

Truth: You would think it was a miracle cure for everything
“It helps seeds germinate”
“It makes plants grow bushier”
“It can prevent blossom end rot in tomatoes” (see bonus information at the bottom of this blog!)
“It can prevent transplant shock”
“It results in more flowers”
“It increases chlorophyll production”
“It deters pests, such as slugs and voles”
“It reduces the total amounts of fertilizers needed”

Magnesium sulfate, or Epsom salt, is a naturally occurring mineral consisting of magnesium and sulfur (MgSO4). Magnesium is a necessary element for plant growth but adding unnecessary salts to your soil will destroy your soil structure over time. You are better to simply add compost or worm castings to the soil. There are decades of research that has documented damage done to both plants and soil with overuse and misuse of magnesium sulfate. Want to read more about it? Check out this peer reviewed study by Washington State University’s Extension Center (click here for more of their excellent science-based studies). The best thing epsom salts can be used for is a nice hot bath after working hard in your garden all day.sphynx-1521190

Myth: You Can’t Grow Anything Near A Black Walnut Tree

Truth: This one is a personal favourite, since I have extensive flower and vegetable gardens in the vicinity of two almost 150-year-old black walnuts. While the roots of black walnut (Juglans nigra) do release an allelopathic chemical known as juglone that inhibits the growth of some plants, the idea that nothing grows under a walnut started gaining traction in the 1920s when a Virginia researcher saw his tomatoes were suffering and just assumed the nearby trees were at fault based on folklore he had heard. Washington State University put out an excellent peer reviewed paper in 2019 explaining the history of walnut allelopathy.

Enjoy your walnut trees! Not only are they robust landscape plants but they provide food and habitat for wildlife and birds. Here’s my lovely perennial garden under my walnut tree (and featured in Linda Chalker-Scott’s paper mentioned above) and my previous blog specifically on this topic.

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(Bonus – information on Blossom End Rot)

Research has shown that calcium deficiency is not the cause of blossom end rot. Egg shells won’t correct it. Epsom salts (which are magnesium sulfate) won’t correct it. Nor will coffee grounds, Tums, calcium sprays, dairy products, or any of the other things that are usually recommended for it. It just corrects itself. It’s not caused by a fungus, bacteria, or virus. It’s not in the soil. It’s an internal condition of the plant. The cause appears to be simply environmental: low temperatures at night, fluctuating temperatures, watering too often, etc. Ammonia fertilizer is linked to it, so some forms of plant food can be a problem. But basically: just pick off the fruit that are affected, water more deeply and don’t allow the plant to get severely drought stressed (daily watering is probably not necessary unless you have unusually fast-draining soil or are growing in a container). The next fruit will probably be fine. It’s usually a problem with the first tomatoes, peppers. and squash that set in the season and the rest come along fine.

Repair or Replace? That is the Question

By Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

A question about sod that didn’t root came to our contact email account recently. The person asked what to do about an area the size of about a dozen rolls of sod that didn’t take or thrive. Replace it or seed over? Below is a photo of the area in question. Because this is the time of year that we see these problems, I thought the answer to this question would make a good blog.

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Since new sod won’t be available for a few weeks, I suggested to try seeding a small area. If the seed germinates and grows, then go for it! If not, remove the dead sod and replace. If you’re replacing, make sure the new sod is freshly harvested that day. Also, I would add some compost to the soil before laying the new sod. The compost will help the soil retain moisture and provide nutrients.

This time of year is perfect for seeding lawns as usually there is more rain and the weather is cooler, which grass prefers for germinating and growing. Top seeding is usually done on top of existing lawns, so I don’t see why it shouldn’t work on your recent sod.

Rather than topsoil, my suggestion is to use compost. Depending on where you get topsoil, it could be full of weed seeds. You can get compost from most garden/landscape supply places. The City of Peterborough also makes and sells compost which you can buy at Ecology Park or at the Bensfort Road transfer station. Take your own containers. The compost will also help the old sod decompose into the soil.

Before seeding on top of the sod that didn’t take, rake off as much of the loose grass as possible. Put a good layer of compost over that area, 1/2 inch at least. Before seeding, make sure the old sod and the ground are moist underneath. Two and a half centimetres (1”) of rain/water will soak approximately 15 cm (6”) deep.

Then, seed the area with the same variety of grass that is in the sod so that eventually you will have a uniform lawn. Gently cover the lawn seed with a thin layer of mulch by using the back of a garden rake to rake over the area. Water well.

To keep the existing sod healthy, put a thin layer of compost over that as well and rake it in. The compost will help the soil retain moisture and provide all the nutrients your lawn needs without expensive chemicals.

Resources

Green Up Ecology Park Garden Market
Choose Compost Carefully when Topdressing the Lawn
How to spread Compost on the Lawn

A Gardener’s Favourite Tools

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

Every gardener has their favourite ‘tools of the trade’. What those are often depends on the type of gardener you are (novice or experienced, annuals or perennials, plants or shrubs and trees etc.) but over time you figure out what works for you best. Here are my favourites – what are yours?


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A Giant Wheelbarrow 

A good wheelbarrow is worth its weight in gold to a gardener. An essential tool, I use it to transport tools, dirt, mulch, rocks, and garden cuttings from one place to another. For me the most important features are the volume and the wheels. While I have another ‘regular’ one wheel wheelbarrow, this yellow two-wheeled monster is my best friend. I love the stability of the two wheels in my ‘not-flat’ garden. I have had it for so long the bottom plastic has finally cracked from all the big boulders I have dumped into it, but the yellow barrow bottom is now covered with a sheet of metal so it’s still functional. I’ve replaced the original pneumatic (air filled) tires with airless tires. Now I just need to find a new barrow that doesn’t cost more than replacing the entire wheelbarrow! (Special mention to my second favourite wheeled vehicle – an old Radio Flyer red wagon. Acquired from a cousin, this metal workhorse is great for moving plants around, especially in tight spots)

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My Felco #7 Secateurs and Leather Holder

Pruners or secateurs (from the British – a pair of pruning clippers for use with one hand) are indispensable to the serious gardener. There are many brands on the market, but there are two primary types, so it’s important to get the ones that match your needs. Anvil pruners have a blade that pushes the plant material onto a cutting board, whereas bypass pruners have two blades that pass by each other to create a cut. Anvil pruners tend to crush soft plant tissue but, used properly, bypass pruners minimize plant damage. You can read more in Robert Pavlis’ blog on the subject here.

I only use bypass pruners; my Felco #7s are comfortable, light, efficient, and ergonomic. Why Felco? Because they are excellent quality and last forever. There are many models; many friends like the Felco #2s, but there are some designed for left handed people (Felco #9), people with small hands, or people like me that want to minimize hand strain, which is the focus of Felco #7. It provides me with hand and wrist protection, and optimizes the force exerted by the revolving handle. I should probably buy shares in this company. 9a2684c4213171476e13732af3b26537


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A Drain Spade

There are lots of different spades out there, so take the time to find one that works for you. Your height, the weight of the tool, what you need to use it for, and ergonomic considerations should all be taken into account. I have both shovels and spades – shovels tend to have longer handles and a more curved blade than spades – but once I used my drain spade I realized it was going to be my favourite. It’s heavy but I love the long blade for getting deep into the earth, and the narrowness for getting into tight spots. I have actually managed to dig the full taproot of a mature lupin and transplant it (and have it survive) using this spade, and that is an accomplishment in itself.


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Great Gloves

Gloves are a very personal item of clothing for gardeners, but since this is my blog I’ll let you know my favourites are the West County gloves I can get from Lee Valley (the orange ones above) and the Noble Outfitter gloves I just picked up at the TSC Store. Many people like the nitrile and latex gloves, especially for fine gardening work like pruning, but they are too hot for my hands. I am pretty tough on my gloves, so it’s normal for me to go through a few pairs each season.


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My Garden Bandits

What the heck is a Garden Bandit™? Nope, it’s not a robber, just a very handy tool for weeding and clearing areas with minimal hand strain. Its innovative shape, designed after a garden tool used by early settlers, allows you to remove weeds but cutting them off at their roots. It also lets you safely work soil close to existing plants without damaging foliage or tender feeder roots. I got mine from Brenda at the Avant Garden Shop in Peterborough. Made in Canada, the bandit is not sold in big box stores, so contact your local birding/gardening store or nursery to see if they stock them. Check them out here.
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Collapsible Garden Bags

A variation on traditional English ‘tip bags’ and often called kangaroo bags, these lightweight, collapsible bags are great for collecting weeds and waste (and leaves when that time comes). They can be collapsed and stored away easily when not being used, and who doesn’t like space-saving things! I have had several of these bags, but I am not sure where I got these particular ones. They do have them at Lee Valley (or give Google a try). I like them better than the plastic tubs because (well, plastic!), they are lightweight, and I can maneuver them into tight spaces.


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Hori Hori Knife

I was introduced to this tool by my fellow Master Gardeners, and now I understand why it’s a favourite (as you can see I have two of them!). Made in Japan, the hori hori knife is a cross between a knife and a trowel, and can serve multiple functions, including dividing perennials or planting. Traditionally used in Japan to collect specimens for bonsai (hori means “digging”), the knife has a rust-resistant steel blade with a serrated edge on one side and a sharpened edge on the other. About 12 inches overall, it has a hardwood handle and comes with a belt sheath. I have only ever seen these at Lee Valley.


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A Wide Brimmed Hat, Bandanna, Sunscreen, Bug Spray, and Towel

Last but not least the essentials for all gardeners – a nice wide brimmed hat and sunscreen to protect you from the sun’s rays, bug spray (I feel like I am wearing this 24/7 this year!), and a towel to wipe off all that sweat – gardening can be a great workout.

One final hint – you may notice that most of my tools are bright colours. If you – like me – tend to ‘lose’ tools in the garden, or the compost, or the leaf pile, or under a plant, you’ll want to look for tools in nice bright colours so that when your husband turns out the compost in the spring he can say ‘hey honey I found your garden bandit’. That reminds me – I need to put some paint on my hori hori knives!

Happy Gardening! 

Please note: I do not receive any compensation for mentioning where you can get these items

 

Scarlet Runner Beans

By Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

Have you ever wondered what that vine was growing up the side your grandmother’s porch? The one with the big leaves and the little red flowers? It gave lovely cool shade on the porch in the heat of the summer.

Scarlet runner beans, Phaseolus coccineus, are a native of the mountains of Central America. In their native habitat they are a perennial, but are planted annually when grown in our gardens. The vines are vigorous growers and can reach up to 6 meters in length. This makes them ideal for growing along chain link fences or up trellises or on strings beside your grandmother’s porch. They like full sun and a rich well draining soil.

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The beans produced are edible when the pods are small and the beans inside have just begun to develop. The skin of the pod is a bit furry but with cooking they are a tasty vegetable. When more mature, the seeds inside can be shelled and eaten like Lima beans. The seeds can be saved from the pods that have been left on the vines to ripen and dry. When ripe, the seeds will rattle inside the pods. This vine keeps producing right up until frost.

You can plant directly into the soil, 4-5cm deep and 6-8cm apart earlier than regular beans, but they won’t tolerate a frost if they have sprouted above ground. You can also start them indoors in pots and transplant outside when there is no more danger of frost. Make sure there is a trellis or fence or something for them to climb on. (Strings or mesh hung from the eaves of grandmother’s porch.)

The flowers are attractive to humming birds and bees. So, plant them where you will be able to enjoy the hummingbirds. They are also attractive to rabbits and slugs. I start my seeds in juice cartons with the tops cut off. Just before planting I cut the bottom off the carton and leave the sides up as a collar to protect the tender plants from slugs. Slugs don’t seem to bother the plants as they get large.

We’re still waiting and dreaming of our garden, but we will  be getting topsoil for our new property in time to start our gardens. Scarlet runners on teepees and mesh hung from the eaves will give some vertical interest to our bland landscape.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phaseolus_coccineus

Invasive Species

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener

According to the Ontario Invasive Plant Council, an Invasive Species is an alien species whose introduction or spread negatively impact native biodiversity, the economy and/or society, including human health.

Therefore, an invasive plant species is often a plant that has been brought into Ontario from another country, possibly for medicinal reasons or as an addition to one’s garden.  For various reasons, it becomes aggressive, spreads quickly and often displaces native plants.

Here is a detailed description of five invasive species that could show up in your garden.  They are all Category 1 Invasive as designated by the Credit Valley Conservation described as species that exclude all other species and dominate sites indefinitely. Plants in this category are a threat to natural areas wherever they occur because they tend to disperse widely (for example, through transport by birds or water). They are the top priority for control but control may be difficult.

Rhamnus cathartica
Common Name:  Common Buckthorn, European Buckthorn Common-Buckthorn

Height:  Up to 10m tall
Type of Plant:  Deciduous Shrub or small tree that is fast growing and short lived
Leaves:  Smooth, dark green leaves with slightly serrated leaf margins, somewhat elliptical and arranged in opposite to sub-opposite pairs along the stem.  A sharp thorn can be found on the end of most branches.
Flowers:  Flowers occur in the spring.  They are yellowish/green, with four petals in clusters of 2 to 6 near the base of the petioles.  They are small and inconspicuous.
Fruit:  Produces clusters of berry-like globose black fruit in late summer and fall; although it’s mildly poisonous, birds and other wildlife eat the fruit and disperse the seeds.
Culture:  Can thrive in a wide range of soil and light conditions.  It is shade tolerant.
Invasion Pathway:  Introduced from Eurasia to North America in the 1880s for ornamental landscaping.  It was widely planted for fencerows and windbreaks in agricultural fields.  The large number of seeds are spread by birds and animals.
Impacts:  Habitat destruction and because it leafs out early, it is a danger to native species.  It also alters the nitrogen levels in the soil. The soybean aphid, an insect that damages Ontario soybean crops, can use buckthorn as a host plant to survive the winter.
Control Measures:  Physical removal, herbicides, fire, girdling

Alliaria petiolata
Common Name:  Garlic Mustard
Garlic Mustard
Height:  30 – 100cm tall
Type of Plant:  Biennial Herb in Mustard Family
Leaves:  In First Year:  Leaves are dark green, cordate shaped with crenate margin edges. In Second Year:  Leaves are alternate on a larger stem with somewhat doubly serrated edges.  The lower leaves on the stem are broad, cordate shaped and up to 10cm across.  The upper leaves on the stem start to narrow.
Flowers:  In Second Year:  Four white petals appear, arranged in cross shape.
Fruit:  In Second Year:  The fruit is erect, slender, 4-sided pod, green, maturing pale grey-brown, two rows of small shiny black seeds.  Hundreds of seeds can be produced from a single plant.
CultureAlliaria can grow in a wide range of sunny and fully shaded habitats, including undisturbed forest, forest edges, riverbanks and roadsides.
Invasion Pathway:  Introduction for perceived medicinal value as a disinfectant, a diuretic and sometimes being used to treat gangrene and ulcers.  It was also planted as a form of erosion control. European settlers also used it as a garlic type flavouring.  Seeds can remain in the soil for several years and still be able to germinate.  Hundreds of seeds produced from one plant.
Impacts:   Alliaria forms dense stands, replacing native plants and has been implicated as partial cause for endangered status of our native wood poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum), American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) and our provincial Trillium (Trillium cernuum).  It is toxic to larvae of certain butterfly species that lay eggs on the plant.
Control Measures:  Removal by hand, mowing or burning in early spring before flowering.  Should always be bagged and burned.

Cynanchum louiseae and C. rossicum
Common Name:  Dog Strangling VineDog Strangling Vine

Height:  2m high
Type of Plant:  Twining Vine
Leaves:  Oval with a pointed tip and grow opposite
Flowers:  Pink to dark purple star-shaped flowers have five petals
Fruit:  Produces bean-shaped seed pods that open to release feathery white seeds in late summer
Culture:  Prefers open sunny areas but can handle some shade. More dominant in meadows or woodland edges.
Invasion Pathway:  Introduced in the U.S. in the mid 1800s for use in gardens. Produces 28,000 seeds per square metre.  Seeds spread by wind and new plants also can grow from root fragments
Impacts:   Forms dense stands that overwhelm and crowd out native plants and young trees, preventing forest regeneration.  Invading ravines, hillsides, stream banks and utility corridors.  Leaves and roots may be toxic to livestock.
Control Measures:  Digging is most effective.  Hand pulling is not recommended as the plant will send up multiple shoots.

Vinca minor
Common Name:  PeriwinklePeriwinkle

Height:     Up to 15 cm tall
Type of Plant:  Evergreen herb that exhibits a trailing mat with a medium growth rate.
Leaves:  Lance shaped, shiny, evergreen with a subtle white mid vein.  They are opposite along stem.
Flowers:   Showy blue/purple with 5 fused pin-wheel like petals and a short tubular throat that bloom in late spring.
Culture:  Various soil types.  Found in forests and along streams, roads and wetlands.  Typically associated with residential gardens.
Invasion Pathway:  Introduced as a garden ornamental and medicinal herb.  It spreads by means of arching stolons, which root at the tips.  Grows most vigorously in moist soil with only partial sun, but it can grow in the deepest shade and even in poor soil.
Impacts:  Still sold as a groundcover which is a major concern.  It spreads quickly and is a threat to native biodiversity.
Control Measures:  It can be pulled, raked, or dug up, though re-sprouting will likely occur.  It can also be cut or mowed in spring during its rapid growth stage.

Aegopodium podagraria
Common Name:  GoutweedGoutweed

Height:  2m tall
Type of Plant: Herb
Leaves:  Compound leaf with serrated edges, can be non-variegated or variegated green and white, alternate
Flowers:  Flat topped ‘umbrella like’ flower head with many small white flowers in late spring held above the foliage on leafy stems (which look similar to Queen Anne’s Lace).
Culture:  Various habitat.  Full sun to part shade.  An escapee from residential gardens into forested areas.
Invasion Pathway:  Goutweed seeds require recently disturbed soil and a sunny location to survive after germination. For this reason, Goutweed does not have much success reproducing by seed in forest ecosystems. However, even one established plant can create a large colony by spreading through its aggressive rhizomes.
Impacts:  Forms dense patches that displace native plants.
Control Measures: Because it has limited reproductive success by seed, small patches of Goutweed can be easily controlled by digging up the plant (with careful attention given to removing the entire rhizome) or covering with a tarp or weed barrier for at least one growing season.

A reliable resource for invasive species is the Ontario Invasive Plant Council

Spring Ephemerals

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

Definitions of “spring” and “ephemeral”, curtesy of Merriam-Webster online dictionary, are “to come into being” and “lasting a very short time”.  Two wonderful words, when used together, mean those lovely but short-lived flowers that we may see on our walks through woodland gardens or deciduous forests at this time of year!

My list of favourite spring ephemerals includes:

Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) – Of course, this native plant comes to mind first.  It is Ontario’s official flower but not Ontario’s only trillium … there are four other native species. Trillium grandiflorum produces one large, white, three-petaled flower above three, simple, broad leaves.  The flower fades to pale pink as it ages.  Red seeds are produced which are mainly dispersed by……ants!  Seeds germinate slowly and take 4-5 years to become a mature flowering plant.  Plants grow to reach 30-45 cm (12-18 in.) high, prefer moist rich soil and dappled shade.

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Trillium grandiflorum

Dog-toothed violet (Erythronium americanum) –  These pretty little native flowers grow from a corm.  They are small, just 15 cm (6 in.) high but their bright, yellow flowers stand out  and along with their spotted leaves (hence their other common name “Trout Lily”), are one of the earliest spring ephemerals to appear.  They prefer rich, moist but well-drained soil and part to full shade.

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Erythronium americanum

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) – If you remember your high school latin, you will recognize where Sanguinaria originates when you learn that all  parts of this native contains an orange/red juice.  The Latin sanguinarius means “bloody”.  S. canadensis is the only species in this genus.  It produces a white flower, that may be tinged in pink, and has deeply lobed, flat leaves.  It prefers part to full shade and well drained, moist, rich soil but seems to survive in varying soil conditions.  This plant will grow under your black walnut tree!  S. canadensis grows 15-30 cm (6-12 in.) high and spreads through rhizomes.

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Sanguinaria canadensis

Mayapple (Polophyllum peltatum) – Mayapple makes a great groundcover.  It grows up to 45 cm (1.5 ft.) tall and produces one white flower which appears under it’s umbrella-like, multi-lobed, two leaf foliage in late spring…..a single leaf means no flower and no fruit.  The leaves and root are poisonous as is the immature green fruit.  Only the mature yellow fruit is edible.  This plant spreads through rhizomes, prefers light shade and moist, rich soil.

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Polophyllum peltatum

Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema tryphyllum) – Where do I start; this plant has a very interesting flower …. the spathe is the most conspicuous part.  It is a hooded, tube-like structure and houses the spadex which is a spike and is where the actual flowers are located.  Clusters of bright, red berries form in the fall.    It grows 30-90 cm (1-3 ft.) tall and prefers moist, rich, slightly acidic soil and part to full shade.  Jack-in-the-pulpit grow from corms.

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Arisaema tryphyllum

Next time you go for your woodland walk look for the spring ephemerals.  Their appearance signals that warmer weather is coming very soon!  Let the gardening season begin!

Many nurseries now carry native plants and some specialize in natives.  Just be sure to ask about the origin of the plants that you are buying, you are looking for plants that have been nursery propagated not harvested from the wild.

Suggested Nurseries

Resources

Books

  • The Ontario Naturalized Garden, by Lorraine Johnston ISBN1-55110-305-2

Websites

 

All about Compost

By MJ (Mary-Jane) Pilgrim, Master Gardener

Spring is here, but it’s still not great weather outside for gardening. In a few more weeks, once the temperature reaches 10 degrees Celsius on a regular basis, you will have lots to do! But for now, here’s something to think about: compost.

Compost is decomposed organic matter like leaves, grass clippings and kitchen waste, and it’s the ultimate garden fertilizer. It contains virtually all the nutrients a living plant needs and delivers them in a slow-release manner over a period of years. Compost made with a wide variety of ingredients will provide an even more nutritious meal to your growing plants. Compost is free, and you can make your own.

April is a great time to check the compost pile if you already have one. If it’s too wet, stir and add dry (brown) material like dry leaves, then cover. If it’s too dry, stir and add water (or green material), and mix thoroughly. Either way, mix thoroughly!

At the end of the month, when the weather has improved and the garden is dry enough to work in, add a 1-2 inch layer of well composted material (sweet smelling, crumbly and dark brown) to your garden beds, scratching it in lightly or even just laying it on top. When the earthworms wake up, they will pull that material further into the soil, saving you the trouble of digging it in.

If you don’t have a compost bin, spring is a great time to start one! In our area (Peterborough, ON), composters are available at City Hall, 500 George St. N., or at the Household Hazardous Waste Depot, 400 Pido Rd.  GreenUp, Ecology Park, hardware stores and your local municipality likely also carries them. By next spring you could have your own fertilizer ready for the garden, and save a lot of food waste like peelings from going directly to the landfill.

If you don’t have/want a physical composter, a different plan is the trench method of adding compost to the garden. In this method, you dig a series of holes or a trench and lay compost down into it throughout the summer. It’s wise to plan where this trench will be and where this year’s garden will stand. At the end of the summer, cover the trench with one to three inches of soil, and plant your garden next spring in the spot where this year’s trench is. That will get different spots of the soil nourished throughout the years. You can learn more about this type of composting from fellow MG Suzanne Seryck’s article from May 2018.

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If you’re new to composting, here are some pointers:

  • Patience is key. It’ll take six months to a year for compost to be ready to use, so think about investing in a compost pile now as part of your spring garden prep. Your garden will have plenty of natural, nutritious food come next gardening season.
  • Don’t forget the water. If your pile is covered or you are having a dry spell, add moisture. The pile should be always be damp, but not wet.
  • Keep the compost loose and turn every so often. That will keep air in the system and allow for healthy decomposition.
  • Have a balance between wet (green) and dry (brown) compost. Add natural items like grass clippings, leaves, pulled plants, weeds, plant-based food scraps and wood chips.
  • Don’t add meats or fatty foods, dairy, fresh animal droppings, or diseased plants.
  • Never add plants containing seed heads to the compost, or next year that plant will pop up everywhere! I will never look at feverfew kindly again, after this happened to me.
  • The basic rule of thumb is to never add a significant amount of one type of material at the same time. Variety is key.
  • Again, always remember patience. Using compost that is not ready will rob garden plants of nitrogen. You’ll know the compost is ready when it crumbles easily and has a very earthy smell.

Resources:

All about Compost
Composting 101
Everything you need to know about compost:

Gardening is Not Cancelled – Continued…

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

Just 3 short weeks ago I shared my thoughts on the impacts of the coronavirus (COVID-19) on our gardening activities, shortly after the World Health Organization declared it to be a pandemic.

So many events have been cancelled – garden shows, seminars, Seedy Saturdays (and Sundays) – that even the cutest cat photos are not making us feel any better. (yes these are my two cuties – Lulu and Roxy).

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Although garden centres and nurseries that grow their own stock are permitted under the conditions of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (as an agricultural activity), many of our favourite nurseries have closed their doors to in-person shopping and resorted to online sales with no-contact pickups at their entrances in order to protect staff and the public.

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Source: http://www.vandermeernursery.com/

Fellow gardeners are panicking. After all, this is the time of year when we finally get outside again, clean up our gardens, start seeds, decide on our plans, and look forward to purchasing our favourite plants at the stores.

However, gardening is not cancelled. This year will definitely be different, and we will have to adjust.

In these chaotic times, let gardening be therapy, providing a place for you to find calm and peace.

Working in the soil, with the sun on your face, can take away your worries, at least temporarily. You are using your hands, digging in the dirt, taking in the fresh air, watching the birds flutter around the yard and – best of all – all the news and social media is in the house! Your garden is an escape!

For families with kids at home, gardening offers the opportunity to get the kids outside and busy, while building their self-esteem and bringing variety to what has suddenly become a lot of time spent together. For those on their own you are never truly alone in a garden – there are always birds, bugs, plants or other living things to observe all around you.

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COVID-19 is forcing us to re-examine how we live, and how we consume goods and services. This has translated into an increased interest in people wanting to grow their own food, taking us back to World War II, when millions of people cultivated Victory Gardens to protect against potential food shortages while boosting patriotism and morale. victory garden

We still don’t know whether we will be able to get starter plants, so many people are ordering seeds. As a result, seed companies are experiencing a deluge of orders, with many stopping new orders until they can catch up. Your local Master Gardener groups and horticultural societies can help you out if you need some advice on how to grow plants from seeds.

  1. Start some seeds. Just seeing something grow out of the soil is a very positive experience. Hopefully you have some seed starter mix around (or can get some) and you can use anything to grow seeds in – from old roasted chicken containers to yogurt cups to folded up newspapers.
  2. Check out social media gardening groups – there are groups out there for every topic under the sun, from seed starting to plant identification to perennials. Since the pandemic began, I have noticed far more people joining these groups, which is wonderful because gardeners just love to share their experiences.
  3. Plan your vegetable garden – figure out which ones you can grow easily from seeds. Learn from others and search Google for ideas.
  4. Stuck inside on a rainy day? Find some online gardening classes or check out YouTube for some good instruction videos on any number of gardening topics.
  5. Get outside for a walk in nature – while maintaining physical distancing, enjoy getting some exercise and seeing all the plants emerging from their winter slumber.
  6. Repot your houseplants. You might just find they reward you with some lovely blooms once we start getting more sunshine.

Hopefully soon we’ll be able to look forward to getting plants at our favourite nurseries (you can be sure they are working very hard to find safe ways to do this). When we do, make sure you support your local nurseries and #buylocal as much as possible.

Until then, find your inner gardening zen, whatever that may be, and enjoy all that spring has to offer. I know I will be sitting by my garden pond, thinking about brighter days ahead.IMG_6524*For best information on the COVID-19 situation contact your local health unit or the Government of Ontario website. Peterborough Public Health, led by Medical Officer of Health Rosana Salvaterra, also has great resources.

 

 

 

What to Do About Road Salt Damage

By Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

With a retaining wall and a paved boulevard, we have never had to worry about salt damage to our lawn and plants. Now, living in a new development with grass growing right to the street and grass boulevards, salt damage from road salt is a new fact of life. We have all seen the damage to certain trees (cedars especially) where the foliage has turned brown from salt spray. Sod gets chewed up from the plows and grass at the side of the road turns brown as well.

In addition to the mechanical damage from snow clearing, there are some other things which are happening to cause this damage:

  • The salt spray causes the foliage to dry out. On deciduous plants, the buds can be desiccated by the salt.
  • Salt absorbs a lot of water. Even if the ground is wet, if there is salt in the ground it is preventing the plants from accessing the water.
  • Salt breaks down into its component ions of sodium and calcium. The calcium gets absorbed into the leaves preventing photosynthesis. The sodium prevents the roots from taking up necessary nutrients.

In early spring there are things we can do to help our plants to recover from and to mitigate the effects of salt and salt spray:

  • Gently rake and remove as much of the salt and sand that has been left behind around the curb area after the snow has melted. For the rest of the lawn, you need to wait until the ground has thawed and dried out; you don’t want to leave foot impressions in the lawn.
  • Hopefully we will have lots of rain to wash the salt spray from the boughs of the plants, and to wash that water away. If not, then wash the spray off of the plants.
  • Water, and lots of it, applied slowly over several days is the way to rinse the salt that has gotten into the soil out. It takes 7-8cm of water to rinse 50% of the salt out of the soil; 13cm to wash 90% out. If we have a dry spring, and don’t get that much water over a few days, then where possible augment rainfall with water.

As we get ready for winter we can take steps to protect our gardens in the fall:

  • Put a good layer of mulch in the form of leaves over the perennial beds close to the roads. This can then be removed in the spring, taking much of the salt with it.
  • Protect trees and shrubs with burlap wrapping.
  • Put up a barrier or screen to prevent salt runoff back onto your property.
  • Use other materials around your home, like sand or salt alternatives to provide traction in icy conditions.
  • Use salt-resistant plants close to roads and sidewalks.

Now, let’s hope for lots of spring rain to freshen up our gardens and get the growing season underway!

The following web sites will give you more information about what to look for as well as having suggestions for salt resistant plants:

Salt damage in Landscape Plants
Salinity, Salt Damage

Before and after the same spot of lawn.