Category Archives: Advice

Bringing in Your Tropicals for Their Annual Winter Spa Treatment

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

Note: The article was also published recently in the Peterborough Horticultural Society September 2021 newsletter. Apologies to PHS members who have already enjoyed it!

If your houseplants are on “vacation” on the back deck this summer, then at around this time you should think about getting them ready to move back inside for the winter.

Bring your houseplants indoors before night time temperatures dip below 7 or 8 degrees (C).  Most tropicals will suffer damage at temperatures below 5 degrees, a few even below 10 degrees.

Sudden changes in temperature, light, and humidity can be traumatic to plants, resulting in yellowed leaves, dieback, wilting, and even death. To prevent shock when you bring houseplants back indoors, expose plants gradually to reduced lighting.

Before moving day, inspect plants for insects and diseases, and treat as appropriate before bringing plants back inside.  Spray them a couple of times over a 2 week period with a mild soap and water mix so that you don’t bring bugs from outdoors in with your plants.  Alternatively, soaking the pot in a tub of lukewarm soapy water for about 15 minutes will force insects out of the soil. Allow the plant and pot to dry completely afterwards.  If snails, earthworms, or other insects burrowed in the soil, you might want to repot the plants, placing a piece of wire screening over the drainage hole to keep them out next year.

Personal anecdote:  A couple of years ago, I brought a large cactus planter inside without inspections or the soaking method. The next day, we found a curious “deposit” left behind by some unknown critter on our kitchen floor and we kinda freaked out.  We set live traps in the house and were on high alert for a chipmunk or squirrel or even something huge with big teeth that could drag us out of bed by the big toe.  It was a little bit traumatic.  A day or so later, my son found a large toad in the living room and we connected the dots.  Turns out that toads leave very large deposits for their body size (Google it!) and closer inspection of the cactus planter showed an open hibernation hole. Whew!

Moral of the story? Check your plant pots for toads too!

Toad ‘deposit’

Toad — they’re looking for prime hibernation locations at this time of year.

Reaping the Flower Harvest

By Marilyn Homewood, Master Gardener

Despite a delayed start followed by early heat and drought,  seedlings did grow and flowers eventually bloomed. The biggest challenge proved to be the prolonged early drought.  Being on a dug well, I was only really prepared to water the dahlias from the well.  Luckily, I have a free running spring behind my farm.  After assembling a sufficient number of containers, I found that fetching water from the spring provided enough moisture to get plants established and supported until it rained.  I divided the bed into 4 sections and watered each on a rotating basis.    

Fetching water

The lack of water and heat made for some small blooms initially but attractive non the less.  By mid-August, I was cutting snapdragons (who proved to be the workhorses of the garden), loads of zinnias and scabiosa as well as various fillers such as dara and celosia.  Then the gladioli, sunflowers and dahlias decided to show up. Suddenly, I seemed to be doing as much deadheading as harvesting cut flowers. 

Harvesting flowers correctly and caring for them ensures a longer vase life and more enjoyment from your flowers. To keep flowers alive, you must preserve the stems’ ability to take up water after cutting.  The tubules that water moves through can become blocked either by air bubbles or by bacterial growth.  Recutting stems exposes fresh tubules to water and the use of a few drops of bleach in vase water reduces bacterial growth.

Conditioning Flowers

Key things to remember:

  • Cut the flower at the correct stage.  This varies between flower types.  Some like peonies are best cut when the bud is unopened but coloured and soft.  Conversely, zinnias must be fully open.
  • Harvest during the coolest parts of the day (early morning or dusk) when plants are well hydrated
  • Use clean, sharp clippers to prevent crushing the stems (which damages the tubules in the stem)
  • Take a clean bucket of warm water into the garden and place newly cut flowers in bucket after stripping lower leaves off
  • Allow flowers to rest (condition) in a dark, cool place prior to allow them to rehydrate
  • Use clean vases and recut stems prior to arranging
  • Change water daily and recut stems every other day
  • Homemade flower food can be helpful.  Use one teaspoon sugar and one teaspoon to bleach per litre of water
  • Keep flowers out of direct sunlight and away from ripening fruit (ethylene gas).  Both shorten bloom life

In addition to those flowers grown specifically in the cutting garden, I was able to utilize some of the plants in the landscape beds as accents for arrangements without taking away from the landscape value.  Perennials such as liatris, grass seed heads and foliage are interesting additions.  

The only thing left to do is to sit back and enjoy!!

Earth laughs in flowers.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Resources

A Year in Flowers, Erin Benakein, Chronicle Books, 2020

https://thekokorogarden.com/flower-growing-guides

https://www.thegardenersworkshop.com/how-to/lisas-tips-tricks/cut-flower-harvest-guide/

Stripey Things in the Garden

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

A couple of weeks ago, Laura Gardner posted an article in this blog about insects in our gardens in general. I’d like to follow up on that post with one specifically addressing the variety of stripey flying insects in our gardens.

Bees, wasps and hornets are often lumped into one stinging group but is important to understand the difference between bees, wasps and hornets in order to appreciate their significance in the garden.

Bees are mostly hairy, have fat legs and short fat bodies. They eat pollen and nectar, and in the process of gathering these, they pollinate flowers. Bees die after they sting. There are over 400 discovered varieties of bees in Ontario.

Honey bees at work, Pixabay.

Wasps and hornets have hairless bodies and tend to be long and sleek with a narrow between the abdomen and thorax. They are predators and for the most part they eat other insects. A hornet is a larger type of wasp with black and white rings instead of black and yellow. The most common type of wasp in Ontario is the yellow jacket, but there are three others in this region: Bald faced hornets, paper wasps and mud dauber wasps. Wasps and hornets do not die after they sting, and can sting multiple times.

Wasp, Pixabay.

For the most part, wasps are not important pollinators but they are hunters and their prey is other insects. They play an important role in protecting your plants. Wasps spend their summers seeking out aphids, flies, caterpillars and other bugs – many of them pests – to feed to their larvae. Hundreds or even thousands of larvae can be produced each year in a paper wasp hive, so they look after a lot of bugs!

How can we coexist with these scary, menacing fliers? Wasps sting when you threaten them. If you get stung it is probably your fault – it may not be intentional – but you are still to blame. If you swing at them or make sudden movements, they will feel threatened and there is a good chance you will be stung. The best way to avoid the pain is to treat bees and wasps with respect. Move calmly and deliberately, give them space to go about their business, and they will ignore you. If you do get stung, wash the area with soap and water and apply an ice-pack. You might want to take an anti-histamine tablet or use an anti-histamine lotion. If you have an extreme reaction, get to the ER fast. Otherwise, try a fresh-cut raw onion (it has enzymes that counteract the venom), anti-perspirants that contain aluminum zirconium, After-Bite, or a simple paste made from baking soda and water to ease your suffering.

Most people don’t want to have wasps living alongside them, but if you can possibly leave the nest alone, it is advisable to do so. After all, wasps are so common that even if you can’t see a nest, it’s probable there’s one nearby. The wasp colony will die when the cold weather hits. If the nest is left in place it is unlikely that wasps will build there again the following year, so you can dispose of any visible wasp nests in winter or early spring. The only wasps to over-winter are the fertilized queens which start new colonies in the spring.

Wasp nest, Pixabay.

The best way to deal with wasps is to minimize their numbers by deterring them from the area. Do not keep any food (including your pet’s) lying around. Keep drinks covered when outdoors and always ensure that garbage cans are tightly sealed. Also, keep any fallen fruits from nearby trees, shrubs and gardens picked up as their sweet juices attract the wasps.

Fake wasp nests are available to the homeowner to hang in trees near the house. Since the wasps are territorial, they will probably set up housekeeping somewhere else.

Last year, we had wasps nesting in two places under our vinyl siding. Since they were near our back door, we tried some of the sprays available but found that they weren’t effective. One day, I bravely (and quickly) put duct-tape over the nest entrances, and the problem was solved instantly. If only I’d tried that before heading to the hardware store!

If you can find a way to coexist with the majority of these insects, your gardens will thank you.

Resources:

Why Wasps are Good for Gardeners
Understanding Wasps–They are not Evil!
Bees, Wasps and Hornets: What You Need to Know
Bee Species in Canada

Ditch Lilies – a Cautionary Tale

By Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

Once upon a time there was a gardener who wanted something that grew quickly to screen a neighbour’s unsightly yard and house addition. She noticed that the ‘ditch lilies’ that surrounded her front yard tree (already there when she moved in) seemed to be pretty vigorous, so she planted a row of them between the yards, along with some small bridal wreath spirea (Spirae aprunifolia).

What she didn’t realize was that she had unleashed a horrible monster into her garden, one that quickly engulfed any other plants, sucked all the moisture out of the soil, and eventually killed most of those spirea.

Yes that gardener was me, many years ago, before I knew better and before I became a master gardener. So this year I knew I had to finally tackle the monster, remove all these plants, and reclaim this garden area. I knew how much work it would be (it took me three weekends this spring), but I got it done. Here’s my story…

Even though you see it growing in ditches around the province, Hemerocallis fulva (aka ditch lily, tawny daylily, orange daylily, tiger lily) is native to China, Japan and Korea and was introduced to North America in the early 19th century. They spread via seed and a network of tuberous roots, and can reproduce and proliferate from a small fragment left behind during removal. In 2020 the Ontario Invasive Plant Council added this plant to their invasives list, and their Grow Me Instead Guides offer some native alternatives to consider.

Screen capture from the Grow Me Instead Guide on Hemerocallis fulva

Garden bed, spring 2021

So this was my garden bed in May this year – just waiting to burst out and take over, again. Every single one of these plants had to be dug and lifted, making critically sure to get every last bulb. These photos show how many bulblets can be on just one stem – it was quite overwhelming to think of the job ahead.

All the plants that were dug out were put in black plastic garbage bags and left out in the hot sun beside our barn for a month. At last count I used 45 garbage bags, and they were a slog to carry as they were heavy!! Eventually they went to our rural dump, where the hot composting they do should ensure their demise.

Bit by bit, over three weekends, I got them all out. It was beneficial to have a dry spring, as it made digging them out a little easier. But still a workout!

Once everything was cleared out, I weeded the soil for anything else. All that remained were my tulips and a few hardy perennials that had been gasping for air for more than a decade.

Getting there.
Ready for a fresh load of soil.

With a fresh load of soil on top and a final check for bulblets done (and knowing that I would have missed a few), I put in some new plants, aiming for 50 percent native plants (those marked with a *). The area has both sun and shade spots so I needed to be careful with my choices.

For sun, Echinacea*, Gray-headed coneflower* (Ratibida pinnata), summer phlox (Phlox paniculata), American Witch Hazel* (Hamamelis virginiana), New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), Sedums, Switch grass* (Panicum virgatum), Lesser catmint (Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta), Black-eyed Susans* (Rudbeckia hirta), lupins, Giant fleeceflower (Persicaria polymorpha), Cyclindrical Blazing Star* (Liatris cylindracea)[once I can convince the bunnies to stop eating it – see green covers], and Virginia Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum).

For part shade/shade, Mourning Widow Geranium (Geranium phaeum), Purple Flowering Raspberry* (Rubus odoratus), hostas, Sensitive Fern* (Onoclea sensibilis), Virginia Waterleaf* (Hydrophyllum virginianum), Columbine (Aquilegia), Starry False Solomon’s Seal* (Maianthemum stellatum), Buttonbush* (Cephalanthus occidentalis), Zig-zag goldenrod* (Solidago flexicaulis) and Berry Bladder fern* (Cystopteris bulbifera). Also the infamous Outhouse Plant (Rudbeckia laciniata ‘Hortensia’), to be replaced with something else next year. Any suggestions for fast growing native shrubs that can handle part share welcome!

The garden bed needs time to fill in, so we’ll see what it looks like next year. In August I went back into the bed and sure enough, there were new ditch lilies growing in a few places. Remember it only takes one bulblet for them to grow. But half an hour later they were all gone as well.

I suspect I will on alert for the odd ditch lily plant showing up for the next few years, but I’m really proud to have removed this nasty invasive plant from my garden and rejuvenated it with native plants. And my two lovely sugar maple trees are glad for some more breathing room.

NOTE: The orange, single flower Hemerocallis fulva is the only daylily currently listed as invasive. It is a diploid daylily. Most cultivated daylilies are triploid and do not spread invasively like the ditch lily.

What You Cannot Live Without In Your Garden

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

I realized after downsizing my garden a few years ago, that there are certain features in a garden that I cannot live without, no matter the size of the garden. I’m not talking about plants, as that is another blog, but rather structures, elements or features, something that for me makes gardening less work and more rewarding.

The first structure would be my own shed. I did try to share my husband’s workshop for a year, but I find that I like order. Organizing my gardening tools on a peg board, brings me calm, and knowing I can go into my workshop blindfold and find the tool I want brings me a sense of peace.

Photo of the interior of owner’s shed

I don’t necessarily need a big shed, but if I have to spend a long time trying to find a tool, I end up forgetting why I needed the tool in the first place, a sure sign I am getting older. Now as you can see my husband has painted the handles of a few of my tools red, in the hope that it will help me find them when I lose them (I say when and not if). For me that doesn’t work as I tend to lay them down flat when I’m finished as opposed to sticking them in the ground handle up. I think I am now on my fourth or fifth hori hori knife and who knows how many pruners!Rain barrels, the more the better. We currently only have 4 hooked up, but are planning on installing another 4, next to these. They are located close to the vegetable garden, to make it more efficient when I water the vegetables. However, I also need a couple closer to the house for the pots and baskets on the patios, here’s hoping my husband will read this blog.

Rain water is better for the plants, not only is it warmer and softer than tap water, but it is does not contain chlorine, and for me living in Lindsay where I pay for my water usage, it saves me money. Me and my husband had a long discussion when we set these up, as he was looking at hooking them all up together and just having one tap, whilst I preferred them all to have their owns taps, so I can just put 4 watering cans, 1 under each barrel and turn them all on, saving me more time. He has attached a piece of hose to each tap, so that they reach into my watering cans.

Water barrels in author’s garden

A nursery bed. I did not realize quite how much I needed this until the second year in my current garden, when I dug up seedlings as I always do and had nowhere to put them. In my last house I had a nursery bed situated close to the vegetable garden, in my current garden it is located behind the shed, with a shade structure over the top, keeping it partly shaded. I love growing plants from seeds, finding it very fulfilling, and let most of my plants self-seed. When the seedlings come up or I see something I don’t recognize, I tend to move them to the nursery. There is nothing so rewarding when you have a space in your garden to be able to take a plant from your nursery bed, saves me money and makes me happy.

I currently have delphiniums that I was able to grow from seed, verbascum and quite a few gas plant and coneflowers. I tend to always put the coneflower seedlings in this bed (with the exception of the purple or white varieties, which normally come true from seed) as I am never sure what colour they will turn out.

Nursery bed in author’s garden

And finally an area for a leaf composter. Within 2 months of moving into my garden we had setup a leaf composter just in time for fall. The one below is about 4’ by 8’, which seems to work well in this garden. I fill with leaves in the fall, and then add green waste during the spring and summer, turning regularly. The compost is then ready to use in later summer, before I fill it up with leaves again and start over.

The most important structure in author’s garden

After moving to a new garden, you may know immediately what features and structures you need, or it may take some time to realize how important that ‘nursery bed’ was in your last garden. If you take a few minutes to think about your garden what are the most important features that make gardening more enjoyable for you?

beware! Think twice about these plants for your garden

by Rachel Burrows, Master Gardener

Plants are unable to hide or run away when faced with danger such as being eaten by a hungry rabbit. However some plants are toxic and can cause anything from mild discomfort to fatal consequences. Many of them are lovely to look at but it is wise to know which are poisonous especially if you have young children or pets.

Castor bean plant

Castor Bean Plant (Ricinus communis)

A friend phoned me and said that she had a fabulous plant with very unusual seed heads and would I like to take a look at it as she didn’t know what it was. Castor bean plants contain ricin, one of the most toxic substances known. The ricin is in the seeds which are covered with a prickly coating and are pretty shade of dark red. If the seed is swallowed whole without damaging the seed coat it will likely pass through the digestive system harmlessly. However, if it is chewed and swallowed the ricin will be absorbed within minutes and is usually fatal. One seed is enough for a deadly dose for a child and about four for an adult. My friend was very surprised and agreed to dig the plant put of her garden and dispose of it safely. These plants are often grown for their ornamental properties as they are tall and a lovely colour.

Yew

Yews (Taxus)

Again, another popular plant for hedges and often seen in gardens. The entire shrub is poisonous except for the red flesh of the berries. The oval, black seeds within the berries are highly toxic and can be fatal within a few hours of eating as few as 3 seeds. The toxin in yews is taxine which is a cardiac suppressant. I grew up on a farm and we all knew not to have yews in fields with livestock.

Rhododendron

Rhododendron

Not so hardy and a little harder to grow in this area but very common further south and in parts of England. All parts of the rhododendron are poisonous, even honey produced form the shrubs is poisonous.

Mountain laurel flower

Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia)

This shrub is a close relative to Mountain Laurel and all the green parts, twigs, blooms and pollen are toxic. It’s blooms are gorgeous but beware!

Lily of the Valley

Lily of the Valley (Convalliaria majalis)

Lily of the Valley is valued for its lovely perfume and as a ground cover, although some people see it as a menace as it does spread quickly. The entire plant is poisonous and causes the heart’s contractions to intensify.

Monkshood

Monkshood (Aconitum)

This is a stunning, tall perennial which blooms late in the season with striking purple flowers. All parts of the plant especially the roots and seeds are extremely poisonous. Eating as little as 1 gram may cause death. Even the sap can cause fingers to become numb.

Delphinium

Delphinium

Another lovely and showy perennial, but all parts of the plant are poisonous, especially the seeds. Death can be caused in as little as 6 hours.

Foxglove

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)

Another commonly grown plant that produces the well known heart medication. However, the whole plant is poisonous and the toxin is deadly in high doses.

There are several other poisonous plants that you might want to think twice about before bringing them into your garden. Be aware of their deadly potential especially if you have young children or pets. By all means grow them if you love them, just be careful.

Did you know? There’s a garden in England dedicated to poisonous plants? Take a tour – virtually..

For further information and pictures of other poisonous garden, wild and house plants check out these websites

Ontario Poison Centre – Plants

Good Housekeeping List of Poisonous Plants Around the Home

Landscape Ontario – List of Poisonous Plants


Growing Vegetables

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

I am not a vegetable gardener but I love eating fresh vegetables so … I am a vegetable gardener.  I learned how not to grow vegetables from my wonderful Dad.  He liked to grow veggies in rows and hand weed those rows.  This meant that my sister and I were tasked with hand weeding  those never ending rows.  Despite Dad’s best efforts, this was not “fun”.

I first learned about growing vegetables in raised beds from a fellow Master Gardener.  Gardens that have few weeds, are up off the ground to help save my back and look neat and orderly and even kind of pretty … what more can you ask for?  And the best part, the plants are edible!  Since then we have installed several raised beds close  to our house for easy access to watering and harvesting.  They are made of 2” X 8’  untreated spruce lumber.  Some of my beds are 5 years old and the lumber is still going strong.  We staple chicken wire around the beds to keep out the rabbits.  The beds were filled with a combination of perlite, to minimize soil compaction, peat moss, to help retain water, and soil.  Note that peat moss is a non-renewable resource so I would rethink it’s use for the next time.  My composters are in the middle of the garden to make it easy to annually add the finished compost to the beds.  Soil needs to have organic matter replenished regularly in order to feed your plants.

We use straw in between the beds to keep the weeds down and to create clean walkways.  Hay tends to be full of weed seeds.  Shredded bark mulch is used to mulch the vegetables although straw would work for this as well. 

Grow what you eat but try something new each year too!

Beans – using an old ladder as a trellis. Author’s garden.

Some Basics

Most vegetables prefer full sun – 6-8 hours/day, regular water – 1” of moisture per week and heat.  The necessary nutrients are pulled in through water absorbed by the plant’s roots from the soil. 

Most years, we  grow cucumbers, squash, kale, beets, spinach, lettuce, garlic, parsnips, brussels sprouts and onions.  We are usually successful but not always.  New to us, this year, is turnips.  Sometimes nature throws out a challenge like an unexpected late frost or an insect pest which can quickly destroy or damage your crop.  Try to visit your garden each day to stay on top of problems and to harvest those ripe veggies. 

For more info on growing veggies in Ontario check here.  Also check the Peterborough & Area Master Gardeners resources page here for fact sheets on growing lots of different kinds of vegetables.

I am not a vegetable gardener but I have learned how to grow vegetables because I love to eat them.  Have fun and enjoy your vegetables!

Tomatoes – cages in raised bed with shredded bark mulch. Straw used in walkways.
Author’s garden.

The Importance of Edging

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

When it comes to maintaining a healthy garden, one of the most important elements that you need to consider is landscape edging. Options for edging range from a simple trench to high-end paving stones, and everything in between.

Edging creates clean, crisp lines between beds and other areas. It helps to keep grass from creeping into surrounding garden areas. At the same time, it prevents soil or mulch in garden beds from spilling onto the lawn whenever you water or it rains. It protects your expensive plants from the lawnmower, and your tree trunks from the string trimmer. Landscape edging also controls gravel or mulch pathways; it maintains clearly defined walking areas while keeping the path materials in place.

For me, edging has the critical job of making sure that the grass knows what its limits are, and for the garden to know the same. Once grass makes its way into a garden, it’s “game over, garden”. The grass wins, every single time.

Trench edging around author’s blooming Eastern red bud tree (Cercis canadensis)

If you’re using permanent edging such as the items described below, it’s a one-time installation for years of service. If you’re using the temporary simple trench, it should be dug/redug several times per season in order to be effective: spring, summer and late fall. I personally use a very short, flat spade and a root knife (reverse curve blade) to do this task — cutting away minimal grass so as to ensure that the garden does not get incrementally bigger each year. Ensure that the mulch, when spread, comes up to the edge of the trench bottom but doesn’t fill it. You don’t want to have any materials at the edge that grasses can grow through because they will be persistent in trying to jump the barrier. For anyone with a Stihl string timmer, I also use a Stihl Bed Edge Redefiner each spring to loosen the soil and redefine the edge on my garden beds.

There are many attractive and more permanent edging choices, if digging is not your thing:

  • Stone materials including natural fieldstone can be used, and there are some great stone tile options on the market as well.
  • Repurposed bricks can create a classic look for your landscape.
  • Plastic is affordable and easy to install due to its flexibility. The least expensive edging does look inexpensive, so invest in the best you can afford. Use the longest spikes you can find to anchor this edging into the soil.
  • Metal: Similar to the plastic edging, you can purchase flexible aluminum edging strips. They look great but at present these are quite pricey.
  • Concrete: You can purchase preformed sections of concrete landscape edging that are ready to be set in place, or you can make a simple form and create a custom edge. The downside of using concrete is that it’s pretty permanent!
  • Wood: Usually more affordable than at present, this material is easy to work with in straight lines, and adds an informal, organic look. Count on wood edging to last about 10 years. Pressure treated wood barriers are not recommended for edging vegetable gardens, and old railway ties are not recommended at all due to the leakage of harmful creosote over time.
Trench edging around author’s front yard garden

Resources

Better Homes & Gardens: Using Landscape Edging

Stihl Bed Redefiner

Family Handyman: The Best Garden and Lawn Edging Ideas and Tips

An Artist’s Favourite Tools (and a new Greenhouse!)

By Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

Over the past year or so it’s been exciting to see so many people embracing gardening in all its forms, whether that be containers, vegetables, houseplants, perennial or annual gardens, and water features. Our provincial Master Gardener Facebook site has grown from 4,000 members in March 2020 to 20,626 members today, which keeps us on our toes answering all of the questions. (I encourage you to check it out if you’re not already a member)

I like to think of every gardener as an artist and, like any artist or tradesperson, we have our favourite tools to create our art. This can be a very personal preference, often depending 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. We had a great question online about pruners/secaturs the other day so I thought I would share some of my favourites – we have a large garden area filled with perennials, trees, and shrubs, a vegetable garden and a pond. Our new treat to ourselves this spring was a greenhouse – we’ve been talking about it for 15 years so we finally took the leap!

My Felco #7s

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. 

Hori Hori Knife

I was introduced to this tool by my fellow Master Gardeners, and now I understand why it’s a favourite . 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, but unfortunately they don’t sell them anymore. The closest equivalent I see online is the Nisaku NJP650 Japanese Hori Garden Landscaping Digging Tool with Stainless Steel Blade & Sheath.

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.

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 below) 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.

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.

Our New Greenhouse

We’ve talked about this for 15+ years and since we can’t travel, this year’s travel budget went towards a new greenhouse. This is a Rion Prestige® 8 ft. x 12 ft. Clear Twin-wall Panels Greenhouse/, ordered in March and received in late May. Right now we are just experimenting with our new ‘tool’, trying to grow some warm season vegetables in the greenhouse, raised beds, and regular vegetable beds to see which ones work best.

It is very important to do your research if you are thinking about a greenhouse, as it’s a big investment and you want to order one that meets your needs (are you trying to grow year round? extend your season in the spring and fall?). I’ll report back later in the year on our experience this season.

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, 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

Native Plants: Guilt

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

Like a lot of other gardeners during this time of COVID, I have taken advantage of the many, many gardening presentations, seminars, talks, and webinars that have all been available online–not to mention catching up on my reading. The two books that I am currently reading are both by Douglas Tallamy and have been recommended numerous times. They are ‘Bringing Nature Home’ and ‘Nature’s Best Hope’. Both are packed full of facts and figures; the first one providing a list of recommended native plants as well as basic information regarding the insects that are eaten by bird and wildlife. The second book, which is one of the main reasons why I like it so much actually has a plan (or approach as the book calls it) for turning our home gardens into wildlife habitats and extending that approach to create corridors preserving our native wildlife.

What I have noticed among the many presentations, seminars, etc. is the focus on native plants, native wildlife preservation, sustainable and organic gardening and environmental gardening.  I am definitely all in favour of this shift; in fact I believe that this has been too long coming. We, as a whole, are definitely a little late to the table. Now this is just my personal opinion but I feel that as a nation, as a people, we do seem to be forever running behind a problem trying to come up with solutions only when the situation becomes critical!

I have to admit that I am as much at fault as the next person. My garden is only approximately 40% native plants, the rest being ornamental. Although if you count bulbs and annuals, that figure could drop down to about 30%.

But do not panic just yet, Douglas Tallamy does not recommend that we ‘adopt a slash and burn policy towards the aliens that are now in your garden’, thank goodness for that. What he does suggest is two-fold, if an alien plant dies replace it with a native plant that has the same characteristics, and two, create new beds with native plants if you have space and if not, dig up some of your lawn.

So here is my dilemma, and guilt. I have no more space to expand and only a very narrow patch of lawn in the back garden for my husband, dogs and future grandchildren. So I either have to wait for something to die, which is not happening fast enough to outweigh my guilt, or dig up a plant replacing it with a native. This is not quite as easy as you think. I have walked around my garden a number of times looking for plants to give away to plant sales or neighbours. The problem is the less plants you have the more each plant tends to have its own story, your mother or good friend gave it to you, you’ve inherited it from someone you care about, the plant reminds you of a certain time, the list and stories go on.

Photo of backyard in author’s garden showing on the left the narrow strip of lawn

One of my favourite native plants is culver’s root. It always and consistently has the most insect activity of any plant in the garden. I already have two. But would I want to dig up the rose bush that my mother bought me because coincidentally it has the same name as my grandmother and replace it with a third culver’s root?

What about ironweed? I love this tall, stately plant covered in late summer with purple flowers. Again I already have two, but would I want to dig up the delphinium that a neighbour gave me 15 years ago, that had apparently been growing in her yard for 30 years prior to that and replace with an ironweed?

Picture of Ironweed in author’s backyard

What about all the daylilies I have spent years collecting, each one unique and individual, or the peonies I bought from my last garden, one in each colour? Now, I understand that maybe not all of my ornamentals have the same level of memories, and that, yes, they would be going to good homes. But it is a difficult decision, I want to increase the natives in my garden, I want to do what is right and sustainable, and I want to increase the wildlife in my garden. I have even given talks myself encouraging gardeners to add at least one native plant to their garden each year. But do I really have time to wait; my guilt levels and motivation levels want me to act now, to take a stand, to encourage by action.

As Douglas Tallamy concludes: ‘Our success is up to each one of us individually. We can each make a measurable difference almost immediately by planting a native nearby. As gardeners and stewards of our land, we have never been so empowered – and the ecological stakes have never been so high.’