Category Archives: Annuals

Overwintering Dahlias

By Marilyn Homewood, Master Gardener

A riddle, wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.  Winston Churchill’s famous quotation is the way that I as a novice dahlia grower feel about this subject.  So many variations exist. Can they all be correct??  The answer to this mystery seems to be fine tuning a storage method to suit your own situation, which means some trial and error. So, expect some losses at first.

Pumpkin centrepiece with year end flowers

When to dig? Conventional advice says to wait for the frost but this year’s fine weather made other alternatives a consideration. Dahlias originate from the mountains of Mexico where the fall is semi-arid.  It is the lack of water that causes the plant to go dormant.  Here that happens either with a killing frost or by cutting the plant down. Both cause the onset of dormancy and once begun, the tubers underground start to set “eyes”.  Leave the tubers in ground for 1-2 weeks before digging (this also helps the thin skinned tubers to toughen up, which helps them store better).

Divide now or in the spring?  This is entirely personal preference.  Dahlia are easier to split in the fall as the stalk hardens over winter.  However, the eyes are easier to see in the spring.  If you choose to split in the fall, tubers will need washing and drying before splitting.  For plants being overwintered as a clump, knock off excess soil and let dry before storing.  Some sources conjecture that the fine covering of soil helps to protect the tubers from shriveling over the winter. 

Successful dahlia storage is a balance between the right temperature range and the relative humidity.  Ideally, dahlias should be stored around 45 to 50 F and at a RH of 75-85%.  The method you use should try to ameliorate the conditions you are storing in.  For example, the dryness of the air in winter in Ontario means that shriveling of tubers is more of a problem than rot.  Use of a packing material such as vermiculite or wood shavings can provide a more stable environment, absorbing excess moisture when necessary and giving back when needed. 

Last of dahlias on a sunny October day

Specifics of various techniques are referenced for your information.  I have decided to try 3 methods. I am going to split some this fall and store using the saran wrap method as well as in vermiculite in plastic tubs. I will also leave some in clumps with a slight covering of earth, pack in vermiculite in a large plastic tote.  I lean towards the plastic tubs as my basement in quite dry in the winter so am concerned with moisture retention.  Don’t forget to check your tubers over the winter and remove any ones with rot or spritz with water if they appear to be shriveling. 

Good luck!!

Resources

https://summerdreamsfarm.com/dahlia-care

The Late Summer/Fall Garden

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

Your once showy, spectacular plants have finished blooming and their foliage may have withered.  Do not despair, the late summer/fall garden can still be something to behold as well as feeding the pollinators and other wildlife!

Annuals

Plants that grow, bloom, go to seed then die all in one season are annuals.  Annuals may be used to add some much needed colour at the end of our summer season.  Zinnia, Petunia, annual sunflower (Helianthus annuus) and Cosmos are easy to source and grow.  The ornamental kales and cabbages are dramatic plants that will look good in your pots or your garden.

Zinnia various — author’s garden

Shrubs

Hydrangea – I am referring to the panicle (H. paniculata) and smooth hydrangeas (H. arborescens) that bloom on new wood and may be pruned in late winter or very early spring.  This is a plant that steals the show in late summer, fall and even into winter.  They produce large, pink, white or pink/white poufy blooms.  The blooms may be dried for inside décor or left on the plant outside for winter interest. 

Witch hazel – Hamamelis virginiana is a native that blooms with interesting, spidery petaled, yellow flowers in the fall.  This plant will attract birds to your garden.

Perennials

Plants that grow, bloom and produce seed but do not die after just one season … some are short lived but some live for many years.  There are lots of perennials that bloom in late summer and fall.  Many, like the native Aster species and golden rod (Solidago species) provide food for wildlife including the pollinators.

Echinacea purpurea — author’s garden

Some others in my garden include:

Phlox – There are lots of P. paniculata cultivars that bloom in the fall.  This plant comes in a myriad of colours.  Do not confuse this plant with the mid-summer/August blooming dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) which can be quite invasive.  Phlox flowers have five petals and dame’s rocket have four.

Black eyed susan – Bright, happy native plants and cultivars (Rudbeckia species) that may be annual, biennial (germinate in spring of first growing season but do not flower and go to seed until the next growing season) or perennial.  The wild ones that we see on the Ontario road side are most often biennials. 

Bugbane – Another pretty native (Actaea species formerly Cimicifuga) that blooms in the fall.  I spent lots of time trying to get a good photo of a bumblebee on this plant’s bloom but it was too fast for me!

Anise hyssop – The bees love Agastache foeniculum.  I have mine planted along a path.  It is tall and quite dramatic when in bloom.

Antennaria — author’s garden

Plume poppy – This is the plant that everyone will ask “what is that”.  Macleaya cordata growsvery tall and has an interesting seed head and large leaves.  Beware though because it can spread through rhizomes (underground roots) and it exudes an orangey sap when pulled.  It is easy to control just by pulling the plants when small but wear gloves to avoid touching the sap…it is poisonous.

Coneflower –  Echinacea purpurea is a native plant but there are lots of colourful cultivars.   Birds eat the seeds held in the spent blooms in winter.

Hydrangea — author’s garden

Pussy toes –  The bees love this native (Atennaria species) too.  Just like it’s common name, this plant has cute little flowers that resemble the toes of a soft, white kitten.

Sedum/stonecrops – These plants are some of the toughest, hardworking plants in your garden.  They can take lots of heat and dry conditions. There are many, many to choose from … some bloom in spring and some bloom into the fall. The sometimes colorful foliage can add interest and the blooms will attract pollinators.

Sedum — author’s garden

So observe your garden, does it need some help this time of year?  Try shopping the fall sales at your local nursery.  If you can fit in some of these plants, you will have a beautiful garden full of late season blooms. 

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/

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


Keeping This Gardener Humble

By Marilyn Homewood, Master Gardener in Training

Gardeners learn as much from their setbacks as from their successes. By now, I should have a prepared cutting garden partially planted with frost hardy annuals.  These are plants that prefer cooler growing conditions and can withstand a light frost allowing them to be planted early in the season. The group includes snapdragons, bachelor buttons, foxglove, scabiosa and sweet peas. However, instead of plants on their way to producing beautiful blooms, I have a 40 foot trench in my lawn.

The only cut flowers from this gardener so far

This garden was an end-of-year decision which meant a spring bed preparation, something I rarely do as the weather is not reliable and soil can be too wet to work. Working wet soil destroys the soil structure and porosity as well as wreaking havoc on soil microbial populations. 

Progress so far

Not to be deterred, I had the sod removed both to see what I had to deal with (this part of the yard had not been turned since 1964, if then!) and to allow the area to dry more readily when the sun returns. When the soil does become workable, I intend to use a modified version of the “no till” method popularized by Charles Dowding to create the bed. A fork (or broadfork) will be inserted into the bed at close intervals and gently pried up. This will permit some aeration, rock removal and opportunities for soil amendment (compost).  The amendments will be folded into the topsoil and the bed topped off with approximately 4 inches of compost.  The portion of the bed slated for the hardy annuals may be planted while the remainder can continue to warm until it is time to plant the warm season varieties such as zinnia and dahlia.  Lastly, a thin layer (1”) of shredded cedar mulch will protect the bed from incoming weed seed as well as help to keep the soil cool and retain moisture in the heat of the summer.

Hardening off in the morning sun

Ever hopeful, I have started to harden off plants. This is a gradual process over about a week that exposes tender plants to the outdoors and results in a thickening of the cuticle on the leaves. A thicker cuticle allows plants to retain moisture when exposed to the elements and helps to prevent transplant shock.  As my seedlings are grown “cold and slow” indoors (at 55 degrees), they seem to hardened off more readily.

T posts will be placed every 8 feet along both sides of the garden and will be used to suspend the flower netting horizontally. The netting is a 6 inch square grid in plastic that will be positioned tautly about 18 inches above the ground keeping long stemmed flowers erect and preventing them from being blown over by wind and rain.  Heavy, tall, floriferous plants will require a second layer of netting about 12 inches above the first.

The ranunculus will be planted using 6 inch spacings and Chantilly snapdragons will have 9 inch spacings.  The delay in planting will mean limited or no bloom as these plants go dormant with the summer heat.  However, the ranunculus corms can be dried and saved for next year and there are 2 other varieties of snapdragons started that tolerate the heat of summer.

The supplies are waiting

Once in the ground, plants will be hooped with temporary PVC hoops so that frost cloth can be used at night in case of frost or wind and to protect the young plants from deer and rabbits.

A wise gardener remembers that Mother Nature always bats last.

“it’s never too late to start anything, except maybe being a ballerina” Wendy Liebman

References

Cool Flowers, Lisa Mason Ziegler, St. Lyons Press, 2014

https://charlesdowding.co.uk

https://antoniovalenteflowers.com/blogs/gardening/growing-ranunculus-anemones

https://extension.unh.edu/blog/using-row-covers-garden

Seeds

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

The excitement is building!  We have been dreaming while looking at seed catalogues.  Some have placed their orders and may have even received some product.  But, did you know that there are local events where you can purchase seeds from local growers and/or swap seeds with people who have  their own seeds saved from plants that they grew?  These events are often called “Seedy Saturday” or “Seedy Sunday”.   

The first Seedy Saturday event was held at the VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1990.  Sharon Rempel had been trying to track down  flower and vegetable seeds for a heritage garden that she was trying to create at a museum in Keremeos, British Columbia.  She could only find what she needed at a Seed Foundation in Washington State.  Sharon wanted to bring together people who were interested in collecting and sharing seeds in British Columbia.  Sharon’s idea, of collecting and sharing seeds, has since become very popular across Canada.

Why are local seeds something to care about?  Seeds produced by locally grown crops/vegetables, flowers and trees, have been produced by plants that successfully grew under local growing conditions.  When we limit the variation in the plants we grow, we lose biodiversity.  Biodiversity is so important because  it ensures that there is genetic diversity which means that the plants have the traits necessary for local growing conditions.  Local seed production can result in new varieties of plants that are more resistant to disease and local pests and better able to adapt to local soils and environmental conditions.  With enough variation in a group, there will always be individuals that can survive changing conditions…..so necessary in today’s world.

Local seeds are often heirloom, or heritage and openly pollinated which means that if you save seeds from these plants, they will grow true to the parent plant.  The other big bonus is that vegetables, grown from these seeds, are often tastier and more nutritious.  For more information, see this Mother Earth News article HERE.

So, back to your local Seedy Saturday or Seedy Sunday….these events are fun!  There is great excitement and bustle as attendees talk about what seeds they have to swap and as they look at the seeds offered by various local vendors.  Workshops and “Ask the Expert – Q & A” are often offered.  Sometimes there is even something to get your really young gardeners off to a good start eg. growing sunflowers.  This year I hope to track down musk melon seeds that will be sweet and ripen quickly in my area.  My grandmother used to grow the best musk melons ever!

This year, Covid 19 remains something that we have to contend with….many Seedy Saturdays and Seedy Sundays have gone virtual!  Check out Seeds of Diversity  HERE for an event near you.  The Peterborough Seedy Sunday is on March 14.  Check out their Facebook page HERE for more details.

If you have not checked out a Seedy Saturday or Seedy Sunday before, have a look virtually this year.  You might discover a delicious new-to-you variety of your favourite vegetable or learn something amazing at a workshop!

Additional Resources

Bringing Nature Home by Douglas W. Tallamy, 10th printing 2016, ISBN 13-978-0-88192-992-8 – information on biodiversity

Seeds of Diversity, https://seeds.ca/sw8/web/home – seed saving resources, pollinators, biodiversity and more

In Praise of Sunflowers

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

The weather outside at this time of year is a bit frightful, so as a diversion, let’s vault ourselves temporarily into mid-summer and learn about that giant of summer flowers — the sunflower. In all their colourful glory, these plants are a happy sight to behold—but there’s more to their nature than just beauty. The multipurpose plants deliver healthy snacks for us, useful oils, and seeds for our feathered friends.

Sunflowers are members of the family Asteraceae, which all form a composite head (capitulum) made of masses of simple flowers (florets) that each produce a seed if successfully pollinated. Sunflowers typically have between 1,000 to 1,400 florets, and potential seeds, per head. The capitulum is surrounded by petals, making the whole structure seem like one single flower. The latin name for the common sunflower is Helianthus.

Butterflies, beneficial insects, hummingbirds and birds flock to sunflower heads for food, pollen and nectar. Insects enjoy the flower pollen and nectar while birds feast on the seeds. Plant tall varieties along a fence to block an unsightly view, or try them in the back of the flower border or along the side of the house or garage. You can also use sunflowers instead of corn in a Native American ‘Three Sister’s Garden’: Plant pole beans to grow up the clump of 3-week old sunflower stalks, and plant winter squash and pumpkins around the base of the clump 3 weeks after the beans. The beans will climb up the flowers and the low-growing squash will shade out weeds and prevent the soil from drying out.

The flowers not only look like the sun; they need a lot of it. They grow best with about six to eight hours a day but more is even better. They can grow as tall as 16 feet, although many varieties have been developed to thrive at different heights. Flowers planted too close together will compete and not blossom to their full potential.

Sunflowers display a behavior called heliotropism when they are young–the flower buds and blossoms will face east in the morning and follow the sun as the earth moves during the day. However, as the flowers get heavier during seed production, the stems will stiffen and the mature flower heads will generally remain facing east.

Although sunflowers can be started indoors in individual peat pots, it is easiest to sow seeds directly into the soil after all danger of spring frost is past. However, where the growing season is short, sunflowers can be safely planted up to 2 weeks before the last expected spring frost.

Resources

Sunflower Facts – Things You Didn’t Know About Sunflowers

How to Plant, Grow and Care for Sunflowers: The Old Farmer’s Almanac

Helianthus: Wikipedia

Bromeliads

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener

Continuing on a similar theme to last week’s blog on Orchids by Master Gardener Cheryl Harrison, I thought I would touch on another family of plants that are tropical and exotic; the Bromeliaceae family.  Known as Bromeliads, it is a large family which includes more than 50 genera and at least 2,500 known species which are native mainly from an area stretching from the southern U.S. to Central and South America.

Before COVID, we would do an annual visit to the Sarasota area in Florida.  One of my favourite places to visit is the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens.  Selby Garden botanists have made hundreds of expeditions into the tropics and subtropics and have contributed to the most diverse living and preserved collection of epiphytes in the world.  They have a greenhouse that is beautiful to walk through with very knowledgeable volunteers to answer questions.

Many bromeliads are stiff-leaved, rosette-forming plants with brightly coloured leaves, bracts and flowers.  The majority of them are epiphytic, meaning that they grow on the branches of trees without taking nutrients from the tree.  They can also be lithophytic which means they reside on rocks, and the remaining are generally terrestrial, meaning that they grow in soil.  Bromeliad flowers can last several months, but they generally only bloom once.  The mother plant will produce new plantlets, also called ‘pups’.  They are incredibly resilient but do not like to be overwatered.  Their roots are usually used for balance and not for transferring nutrients.  Instead, the leaves take in all of the water and nutrients the plant needs.  They never breath out carbon dioxide almost as if they hold their breath in order not to lose moisture.  It is a very special photosynthesis.

A picture of a Bromeliad Tree taken at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers

Many bromeliads have leaves that form a reservoir to hold water at their bases (known as tank bromeliads), with the largest holding up to two gallons of water.  Types that don’t hold water are called xerophytic or atmospheric bromeliads.

One of the most well-known Bromeliads is in the Ananas genera.  This is the pineapple, Ananas comosus.  Europeans first found out about bromeliads when Columbus went on his second trip to the New World in 1493.  The pineapple was being cultivated by the Carib tribe in the West Indies.  After colonization, it was rapidly transported to all areas of the tropics and became a very important fruit.

Another genus is Tillandsia.  It is the largest group in the family and this genus is also known as “air plants”.  Most do not form tanks and have grey-green leaves and are densely covered with fuzzy scales that give the plants their characteristic colour.  Tillandsia require more humidity than other bromeliads and tend to dehydrate in the dry air of most homes, but can still be grown successfully with more frequent watering.

Spanish Moss falls under this genus, Tillandsia usneoides.  It is very prevalent in Florida and is neither Spanish nor a moss.  Unlike other epiphytes that have roots to anchor themselves to their host tree, Spanish moss has tiny scales on its leaves and its curved structure to cling to its host tree.  It is important for diversity as its large mats that drip from trees harbor a great variety of insects, birds and bats.  In Florida, you usually see Spanish Moss clinging to Live Oaks.

Author standing under a Live Oak tree covered in Spanish Moss


Bromeliads will survive for months or even years under less than ideal conditions.  They need satisfactory light, temperature and humidity.  It is best to use water that is not softened.  You should use a potting mix that holds moisture yet drains quickly.  Orchid bark mixed with course perlite and humus is good for most bromeliads.  The small air plants only need to be misted with a spray bottle or put in a bowl of water for an hour.  If you would like to learn more about these amazing plants, visit University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Reliable Annuals

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener

Annuals are happily planted out in late spring and early summer into our garden beds, into containers or hanging baskets. They give us a splash of colour which lasts through most of the season and are often referred to as bedding plants. There are some annuals that are grown for their foliage, such as dusty miller and coleus. They are generally free of disease and pests and other than the benefits of deadheading and the application of fertilizer every couple of weeks to keep them healthy and blooming throughout the season, they are very easy to grow!

Botanically speaking, an annual is a plant that grows from seed, blooms, sets seed, and dies, all in one season. Many of them are actually tender perennials that could be left in the landscape all year if we lived in a much warmer climate than we experience here in the Peterborough area. If you have ever visited a subtropical country, you would notice geraniums that are several feet tall. A few years back I visited Madeira and marvelled at the poinsettias that were the size of shrubs!

During my father’s time, annuals were very popular and most of the garden centres sold more annuals than perennials. As a child, I remember many visits to Edwards Gardens in Toronto, which is now located in the Toronto Botanical Garden. The garden beds were spectacular and featured extensive displays of impatients, petunias and geraniums. (Impatients were hit by downy mildew a few years back and have gone out of favour to other more hardy bedding plants). I have always enjoyed the use of annuals, not only in containers, but also planted throughout my garden to give me some constant summer colour. They can also be very useful in order to encourage pollinators to your vegetable gardens.

Here are three of my favourite annuals that are blooming in my garden this year:

GERANIUMS (PELARGONIUM)

GeraniumGeraniums, which are part of the Pelargonium family are perennials in their native region of South Africa, but here in Peterborough they are treated as annuals, although you can overwinter them in the fall. You could try the ‘pot it up and put it in the window’ method or the ‘bare-root’ method. This Mark Cullen article gives you detailed instructions.

The familiar annual flower in red, pink, purple or white blooms with thick, pleated leaves are not really geraniums at all, but rather members of the Pelargonium genus. True members of the Geranium genus are the hardy perennial plant also known as cranesbill. Originally, they were both part of the Geranium genus and are still known by this common label.

They are a favourite for containers or hanging baskets, but I enjoy planting some throughout my perennial bed. There are more than 200 species, but the most common are Pelargonium x hortum, where the flowers are generally solid tones and the leaves are oval; Pelargonium paltatum, which is the ivy-leaved geranium which has a bit of a trailing habit, and Pelargonium domesticum which is the scented-leafed geranium with smaller insignificant flowers and various leaf shapes.

JEWELS OF OPAR (TALINUM PANICULATUM)

TalinumTalinum has fleshy lime green leaves with delicate, wiry flower stalks. The flowers are hot pink followed by carmine-colored seed pods that are showier than the flowers. It is related to Portulaca and has a tuberous rootstock.

I got this annual about 3 years ago and was surprised to see that it self-seeds in the same area each year. They are easy to remove and replant in other areas if desired.

They prefer full sun and grow to approximately 18 – 24 inches. It is a pollinator magnet and I love the bright colour of the leaves at the front of my perennial beds.

ZINNIAS (ZINNIA)

ZinniasZinnias grow in a variety of brilliant shades and come in various types, such as single, double, ruffles and pompoms. They are a reliable annual that are, without a doubt, one of the best cut flowers you will ever grow in your garden! They attract many bees and butterflies and are easy to grown from seed. They also come in a variety of sizes, from 8” to 36”. Each flower blossom is just as perfect as the next, delightfully supported on attractive green stems with stunning colours that are ideal in any fresh bouquet.

Zinnias have pointy seeds, shaped like little arrowheads and they require only basic garden prep to sprout. Give them a well-drained soil in full sun and you will have little seedlings in days. Zinnias are low maintenance and because they are fast-growing, they shade out weeds. They don’t require much in the way of fertilizing (just an occasional well-balanced mix), and they don’t need mulching. Deadheading will help to produce more flowers.

Because zinnias are native to the grasslands of the southwestern states, Mexico, and South America, they know how to handle the hot, dry conditions such as the heat we experienced this July.

 

Container Gardening

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener

Container gardening has grown in popularity for many reasons. As property sizes have decreased, it has allowed those with small yards or even those living in condos to enjoy the colour and blooms that abound in containers. They allow you to bring the garden to the deck, patio, steps, driveway or the front entranceway. You can grow tropicals, keep invasive plants under control, ensure easy gardening for those with aging bodies and they can be placed wherever you need them. A container of herbs right near the kitchen door will ensure the cook in the home has easy access. A well designed container can add colour and texture to any area in your home or apartment and it can be a wonderful introduction to gardening for children as well as adults.

GriffinsGreenhouses
Container gardens at Griffin’s Greenhouses, Lakefield, ON.  Used with permission.

When choosing your container, ensure you choose one that is large enough to allow adequate root growth as well as appropriate drainage holes. Remember that a large terra-cotta pot will be heavy, so you may find it is preferable to use one of the newer styles made from synthetics such as fiberglass, although these can be fairly expensive. Remember that extra work will be needed to keep smaller containers watered.

When choosing your plants, use ones that have similar cultural requirements, such as sun or shade, moisture loving or drought loving, and vigorous growing or slow growing. Colour is a personal preference, however, it is pleasing to the eye to use complimentary harmonies such as purple and green or analogous harmonies such as pink and blue. The container will be more interesting if you have contrasting leaf shapes. You need not limit yourself just to annuals, although they will provide more long-lasting colour. A popular formula to follow is ‘thriller, filler, spiller’. Thrillers provide the drama and are typically the tallest part of the container. Common thrillers are canna lilies and ornamental grasses. The filler gives the container body and substance and often surrounds the thriller. Examples of fillers would be coleus, geraniums or even coral bells. The spiller can create a flow by pouring over the edge of the container, such as wave petunias, lobelia or sweet potato vine.

Container soil lacks natural nutrients found in regular garden soil, therefore, fertilizing is necessary every couple of weeks. Using regular garden soil is not advisable as you will get poor drainage. It is best to use a good soilless mix. In the heat of the summer, containers will need daily watering. Fertilizing every two weeks is a good rule of thumb, but in hot weather you may need to feed more often as water use increases.

At the end of the season, the tender annuals will be discarded. I often use Coleus in one of my pots and in the fall I take cuttings and root them in water and then repot them indoors for the winter months, to be used again the following spring. I usually cut the annuals to the soil level and use the existing soil in the container to insert some winter greenery. The soil will eventually freeze and hold the greenery in place.

When we last travelled to England, we stayed across from a small thatched roof home where an older couple grew almost everything in pots. They had very little property but still managed to have a very interesting garden. I enjoyed watching them with their morning tea wandering through their front yard inspecting and watering their many containers.

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Picture from author’s garden.

 

This is one of my pots from last year. As you can see the fillers (dragon wing begonias) and spillers (sweet potato vine) did so well that the thriller (Kimberly Queen fern) did not have an opportunity to shine. I find that my pots respond differently every year. It depends very much on the weather conditions, remembering to fertilize on a regular basis and the type of plants used. It is fun to experiment and try new and different colour schemes. Have fun with it!

The University of Georgia has published the following on Gardening in Containers. It contains some good information on soil mixtures and fertilizers as well as some suggested plants