Category Archives: Annuals

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.

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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

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

Sweet Peas

by Mary Jane Parker, Master Gardener

Somebody once told me that you should try growing something six times unsuccessfully before you give up. I have not stopped there yet with Sweet Peas. I grow them but they never are as full and beautiful as the pictures I have seen or the seed package covers. So I bought The Sweet Pea Book by Graham Rice. It has lots of interesting ideas and a multitude of cultivation tips.

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The first thing that I learned is that some varieties were selected over time for our climate of hot summers and cold winters. Cuthbertsons and the Royals are two examples. This is at variance with the British climate where they can be planted either in pots or the ground in the fall and overwintered outside.

Another thing that I learned is that timing is everything. I planted mine March 6. If you grow them and pinch the growth at 3 inches, how much more will they grow and how fast? Graham Rice says that if they get too tall and lanky before planting out they will not thrive. The package says to plant in April outside and I remember my Dad (he of the farming roots) saying that they used to plant peas as soon as the ground could be worked – sometimes even in February. This, I think, has been my downfall in years past.

Planting is straightforward and cultivation is pretty easy. Low nitrogen fertilizer every couple of weeks and good organic compost. Situating your sweet peas is pretty important. Here iour zone they require full sun in early spring but not so much when temperatures heat up. As with lots of other plants, do not plant in dry zones around walls of buildings and tree bases.

So here’s hoping that this year’s crop of Sweet Peas will be an enormous success at last.

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Where Do I Go but Up?

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

I’ve just spent a rather pleasant afternoon looking through one of the many gardening catalogues, occasionally glancing out at my snow covered garden; trying out ideas in my mind to create more space. Having had a one acre garden for over fifteen years I am still trying to get used to a smaller space. No longer can I just go out and build new beds, or purchase trees or shrubs without having a space to plant them. No longer can I try out different pumpkin, squash, zucchini or cucumber plants without some kind of a plan. To create more space for all the vegetables and fruit I want to grow, I am going to have to get creative making use of all my available space.

Vertical vegetable gardening is a great way to grow vegetables when space is tight. Supports such as obelisks, trellises, fences, stakes, even other plants can be used as a support for many vegetables. Ensure that you select ‘vine’ varieties of specific crops instead of the ‘bush’ varieties. Certain vegetables such as beans will produce tendrils allowing them to climb up supports by themselves, others such as squash or zucchini will need a little help and can be tied at regular intervals. Supports do not need to be expensive; you can build many yourself using cheap materials or in my case left over materials I find in my husband’s workshop. If you don’t have the time or inclination, there are many different plant supports in catalogues or stores. Fruit trees can be espaliered to a fence, while fruit bushes can be grown either against a fence or up stakes; pruning to keep them from becoming too wide. I grow my currant and gooseberry bushes as double or triple cordons (a cordon is a single main stem growing vertical), which take up less space than a traditional bush shape and for me are easier to pick.

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My mother loves scarlet runner beans which are vigorous climbers with beautiful clusters of red flowers. Last year I grew them in 2 raised beds side-by-side, creating a tunnel between the two beds using bamboo stakes. I only used up a 4 inch wide strip in both beds and was rewarded with beans for many meals. A lot of people grow beans on a teepee structure which also works well, with a side benefit of being able to use the space under the teepee for planting lettuce. Beans can also grow up other crops such as corn as in the Three Sisters Guild.

Fences and walls are ideal spots to create living walls, especially if located in sun or part-shade. They are ideal for growing leafy vegetables such as lettuce as well as herbs. There are many examples on the internet showing living walls, examples include using wooden pallets, window boxes and gutters. The photo below shows a gutter bed that I had in my last house that I used to grow lettuce and spring onions. The bed worked really well and was both weed free as well as pest free, and if you have difficulty bending down this makes harvesting pain free. The only thing to remember when creating a living wall is to add drainage holes and use a soil that both retains moisture and provides nutrients.

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As you can see from the above photo, tomatoes are growing upside down in hanging baskets. This method worked really well for me, although I have heard many negative stories about growing tomatoes the wrong way up. Tomatoes work really well grown in pots as does asparagus and peppers, you just need to ensure that you are growing the correct variety when growing in a pot. You can also grow salad greens in pots which works really well if located on the patio outside the back door where they are easy to pick. Again you do not need to buy expensive pots, I have been known to grow many vegetables in recycle bins, see picture below or even in an old laundry sink. Again, you just need to ensure you have drainage holes and use a moisture retentive soil combined with compost.

And finally, one last space saving idea that I am planning on trying this year is a pillar of peppers. This idea is from a newsletter that I receive monthly called ‘Dallying in the Dirt‘. Peppers are grown in a pillar made of heavy wire and landscape fabric. The pillar is then filled with soil, holes cut into the fabric at intervals all around the pillar and filled with pepper plants. I’m not sure my pillar is going to be quite as tall as the example shown, but I like to experiment in the garden and this sounds like an interesting method of growing peppers.

 

Thank goodness the seed catalogues have arrived…

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

“Thank goodness the seed catalogues have arrived… I was about to start cleaning my house!”

It starts with the dream.

There’s no better time than now to  dive into a good seed catalogue and start planning for the upcoming growing season. Seed catalogues can be a great resource for bulbs and unique seeds, and offer a far bigger selection than what you can find in your local garden centre. You’ll find inspiration and will likely discover new plants that you must have in your 2020 garden.

You’ll be the most successful if you pick the seed companies that are closest to where you live, or in the same growing region as you. However, you can still have success ordering from a company farther away, but you’ll have to be careful not to order a plant that isn’t in your growing zone.

Below are some popular seed companies from across Canada, with some that are also in close proximity to the Peterborough, ON, area.

Florabunda Seeds

Whether you are an avid gardener or just beginning to get your hands dirty, Florabunda Seeds in Keene, ON, has a wide variety of heirloom and unusual flower, vegetable and herb seeds. They pride themselves in their untreated, non-GMO, and non-Hybrid offerings. They package generously by measurement and not by seed count.  Download catalogueRequest a catalogue.

OSC Seeds

OSC Seeds from Kitchener, ON, features a selection of high-quality seed packets, perfectly suited for the Canadian climate and ready for planting in your garden. Their full line of products includes 30 herbs, 250 vegetables, 240 annuals and 100 perennials & biennials. Request a free catalogue

William Dam Seeds

William Dam Seeds is a family-run company located just outside of Dundas, Ontario, supplying small farmers and gardeners in Canada with seed for food, flowers and soil building. They are proud to offer a varied catalogue of many different seed varieties that are not chemically treated, and some of the seeds are certified organic as well. You can download their online catalogue, or request a mailed copy via their contact page.

Natural Seed Bank

Natural Seed Bank is an online retailer of garden seeds. They sell various organic and untreated garden seeds. Located in Port Hope, Ontario, Natural Seed Bank is 100 percent Canadian owned and operated. All of their seeds are non-GMO and untreated, and many selections are organic. They’re committed to never selling GMO products.

Richters

Richters is your go-to for everything herbal. Located in Goodwood, Ontario, Richters has been growing and selling herbs since 1969. Check out their online catalogue or request a copy to be mailed out.  Online catalogueRequest a catalogue.

Veseys

Veseys is one of the premier seed, bulb and garden supply sites in North America. Located on Prince Edward Island, Veseys has 75 years of history providing products, services, and advice to gardeners.  Be sure to head over and subscribe for your free catalogue. They put on many fantastic specials, have quality products and outstanding customer service. Request a catalogue.

Resources

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Pot, eh?

By Mary-Jane Parker, Master Gardener

This past growing season was my first foray ever into growing marijuana. I tried this because I want to attempt to make a salve that I have been purchasing locally for arthritis (which, by the way, seems to work for me!)

marijuana-101796_960_720I started my seeds inside under lights. When I planted the seedlings outside, one went into the ground in my garden and the other went into a 5 gallon bucket with holes drilled in the bottom. The bucket plant went into my little greenhouse.

I did not fertilize either plant regularly – maybe 3 times the whole summer – but I did water the potted plant pretty well daily. I gather from other growers that I should have fertilized a lot more and then held back on the fertilizing later in season to clear chemicals out of the plants.

I thought this would be a good way to test growing techniques – greenhouse as opposed to outdoors but in the end it was not. I had planted 2 varieties that had very different characteristics. One had a beautiful bluish, reddish tinge to it and the other was twice as bushy.

Both plants ended up being well over 5 feet tall with lots of flowers. I cut them down before first frost and hung them in the greenhouse with shade cloth draped overhead.

So now, I am not sure if all the work was worth the effort and I haven’t even made the salve yet. I don’t know how the hippies from the 60’s and 70’s did it. I was told to trim off all the leaves before I hung the plants. That took an incredibly long time. And apparently I will have to trim the dried flowers off in the very near future. The marijuana plants themselves are kind of interesting architecturally but they stink. Birds for the most part avoided them and I don’t think I saw even one bee on them and I have lots of bees here. At any rate, I will make the salve and reserve judgement until then. We have to try new things, right?

Links:

How to grow marijuana outdoors: a beginner’s guide

How to Grow Cannabis in 10 Easy Steps

Master Gardeners of Ontario Information Sheet: How to grow Cannabis

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GreenUP Ecology Park Spring Sale

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

GreenUP Ecology Park Spring Sale – Saturday May 18th 2019

The GreenUP Ecology Park  has often been called a hidden gem, it has been in Peterborough in its current location for 25 years, but many people are still unaware of its existence. I first discovered the park approximately 8 years ago when I was researching native plants. At that time I wanted to plant a large perennial bed filled exclusively with native plants. I spent all winter researching the plants I wanted and where I could buy them locally and came across the Ecology Park and better still discovered they were holding a spring sale.

I dutifully arrived on the day of the sale 5 minutes after opening only to discover a very, very long line of people all carrying totes, boxes, bags, anything that could be used to carry plants. Even though it was incredible busy I was able to find almost everything on my list with help from the many knowledgeable volunteers and staff that were on hand to help. I was quickly and efficiently processed through the payment line, and was soon on my way home to start planting. The quality and choice of plants was extensive, and I knew then that I had found something special. I have been returning to the Ecology Park every year since either as a customer or as a volunteer.

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Native plants are plants that grow locally in a particular area. Whether you are planting an entire garden of native plants or simply planting one or two, the benefits are numerous. Native plants tends to be more hardy to the local conditions, needing less watering, and next to no pesticides or fertilizers. They can improve air quality, help in managing rain water runoff and maintain healthy soil as their root systems are deep and help prevent soil from compaction and erosion. Native plants provide both habitat and food sources for wildlife, as many native pollinators rely on native plants. There are numerous interesting articles on the internet detailing the benefits of planting with native plants – I have listed a few below. There are also links to two other native plant nurseries (in addition to Ecology Park).

Why Native Plants Matter
Benefits of Native Plants
List of Native Plants in Ontario
(from Ontario Wildflowers – a comprehensive list)

Native Plants in Claremont
Ontario Native Plants (online only – ship from Hamilton)

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This year the GreenUP Ecology Park Spring Sale is being held on Saturday May 18th from 10 am until 4 pm. As well as trees, shrubs and wildflowers you can also buy vegetables and annuals at the sale along with compost, mulch and wood chips, but make sure you bring your own containers to hold the compost or mulch. A list of available trees, shrubs, wildflowers and grasses is available on the Ecology Park website.

Children are welcome, even encouraged. While you shop there is a large children’s play area complete with a willow trail and cedar maze to keep them entertained. Be sure to check out the latest addition to the park, the new children’s education shelter which has been built using sustainable practices.

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And finally, the Peterborough Master Gardeners will be on hand wearing their red aprons between 10 am and 2 pm to answer any gardening questions you might have. Be sure to stop by and say hello!

Seed Starting Tips & Tricks

by Mary Jane Parker, Master Gardener

I have been starting seeds indoors since I was a kid. This was probably the fault of an early teacher for introducing me to Dixie cups and bean seeds or half egg shells as pots. I have run the gamut of single grow lights to a full-fledged grow room with a 1000 watt metal halide lamp on a track – serious stuff. I currently make do with a 3-tiered system which gives me everything I need.

First tip – Pay attention to seed packet instructions if available. They contain the best advice possible for timing. Obvious but a lot of people ignore that.

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Choice of potting mix is personal and requires a trial and error mode to find out what works for you. I personally use a local product because I witnessed someone who owns a commercial nursery trotting out of a store with multiple bags. I thought, hmm, I’m going to try this and have used it ever since.

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Damping off has to be the biggest issue I have faced starting seeds early. There is nothing worse than seeing your wonderful little seedlings wither and die. For years I mixed No Damp with my soil when potting seeds for ornamental (not food) plants.

When this became unavailable, I started using very strong chamomile tea as a soil drench and spray. Seems to work for me. I have also at times sprinkled cinnamon on the soil surface.

Two other important techniques/tools for indoor seeding are air flow – I use a fan when plants are a few inches high. This really strengthens the plants. And before I even start, I sterilize all my trays, etc. because I reuse them for years.

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That’s pretty well it and then it is as Garry Edwards of Meadowview Gardens says “You might as well forget it if they dry out. Seedlings do not thrive on neglect.”

P.S. Garry Edwards suggested that seed packets do not always contain correct info. He noted many instances where they were totally wrong. He also concurred that air flow is important.

Happy Easter!

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener-In-Training

I hope that you have had a good weekend with family and friends and had a chance to enjoy a little time outdoors. This time of year brings thoughts of spring bulbs, budding trees and the sound of birds which are getting very active. It won’t be long until we see our first hummingbirds in the Peterborough area.easter-3123834_640

A planned outing to some of your favourite garden centres at this time of year can be fun and educational. We are lucky here in Peterborough and the surrounding area to have a number of excellent nurseries that carry quality plants and have knowledgeable staff to help with your questions.

Go to gardenroute.ca for some amazing local businesses that specialize in being growers, maintaining gorgeous display gardens and full service garden boutiques. Members of “The Route” are Anna’s Perennials, Avant-Garden Shop, Blossom Hill Nursery, Gardens Plus, Garden Style Bridgenorth, Greenhouse on the River, Griffin’s Greenhouses, Johnston’s Greenhouses, Keene on Gardens and Williams Design Studio.

PGS-logo-tinyAll of these businesses and more can be found this weekend at the Peterborough Garden Show. It runs from Friday, April 26th to Sunday April 28th. The Peterborough & Area Master Gardeners will be there giving gardening advice and are available to answer all your questions! Come visit us at our booth. We are the ones with the red aprons! This year’s show is in a new venue, Fleming College’s Kawartha Trades and Technology Centre. Lots of free parking and the cost is only $10.00 which gives you access to the show for the whole weekend. There are many wonderful speakers and workshops. All the proceeds go back to the community. Check it out at peterboroughgardenshow.com.  Hope to see everyone at the show!