Category Archives: Bees & Pollinators

Low Growing Natives for Lawn Replacement

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener

I recently listened to a talk by Lorraine Johnson who is the former president of the North American Native Plant Society and is the author of numerous books on gardening and environmental issues. I was inspired by her talk and have started plans to turn part of my front lawn into a native garden.

I have struggled for years to grow grass near the bottom of our front yard.  The soil is mostly clay with a lot of rock.  We have no sidewalks and this part of the lawn sits at the curbside where it could be affected in the winter by salt and sand.  It faces north/west and receives a very hot sun, especially in the afternoon.

I am not a regional native plant purist.  I get excited about most plants and have a variety of perennials in my gardens.  I am hoping to fill this garden bed with as many native plants as possible, but I do recognize that some of the plant varieties are not always considered native.

There are a number of lovely native plants for sun that have height, but I am cognizant of the fact that my neighbour requires a safe line of sight to the street when they come down their driveway.  For this reason I would like to use mostly low growing groundcover with a few taller plants positioned in areas that will give a pleasing look to the garden bed, but also not impede on visibility.

I have begun to research native groundcovers and other low growing plants that would survive in the conditions I’ve described and here is what I have found so far.  Some of these are new to me, but others are plants I already have in my backyard.

Have you considered replacing part of your lawn?  I would love to hear about your ideas and your successes and failures.

Bearberry (Kinnikinnick) Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

This plant grows 6 to 8” tall and has a spread of approximately 3 feet and is similar to a low growing shrub.  It has a white bloom with a tinge of pink in May.  It’s drought tolerant once it’s established. Rounded berry-like fruits ripen in August to September.  Birds love the fruit!  I have a friend who has found that this plant will disappear over time and because it prefers a sandier soil, it may not be the perfect plant for my home.  However, I may give it a try as I occasionally enjoy pushing the limits.

Creeping Juniper, Juniper horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’

This plant is known to be salt tolerant, likes sandy soil and full sun, grows to a height of 8” and spreads to approximately 7 ft.  It is a non-flowering evergreen.  It spreads by long trailing branches. Foliage is primarily scale-like (adult) with some awl/needle-like (juvenile) needles appearing usually in opposite pairs. Foliage is typically green to blue-green during the growing season, but often acquires purple tones in winter. It likes to grow over rocks; however, it is a slow grower and takes some time to get established. 

Prairie Smoke, Geum triflorum

Prairie Smoke; Author’s garden

This is a tough plant, and grows to about 6 – 12 inches.  It has a lovely reddish pink to purple bloom with interesting seed heads.  It is drought tolerant.  My one concern is the hot afternoon sun, as my research shows it may prefer a bit of shade later in the day.  As the flower fades and the seeds begin to form, the styles elongate (to 2″ long) to form upright, feathery gray tails which collectively resemble a plume or feather duster.  They are very unique.  It spreads by rhizomes and can be naturalized to form an interesting groundcover.

Small Pussytoes, Antennaria howelli

It has spoon-shaped basal leaves, is known to be drought tolerant, and has flower heads that look like little shaving brushes.  There are three to 15 flower heads in a flat to rounded cluster at the top of the stem. Stems are erect, green to reddish, covered in long, white, matted hairs and sometimes glandular hairs. Horizontal, above ground stems (stolons) emerge from basal leaf clumps, spreading in all directions, rooting at the nodes and forming colonies.

Pasque Flower, Anemone patens or sometimes Pulsatilla vulgaris

Pasque Flower; Author’s garden

Pasque flower grows up to 12 inches tall and forms a rounded clump, which increases yearly. It never gets out of hand, making it a desirable plant.  It carries one flower with purple petals and yellow stamens, on top of each stem.  The bloom is quite large, up to 2 inches in relation to the overall size of the plant.  It is not fussy about soil conditions, but may go dormant during drought.  It blooms in late spring into summer.

Nodding Wild Onion, Allium cernuum

My research shows this is a very pretty plant that grows to a height of 1 to 2 feet.  It blooms in mid-summer.  Its grass-like ribbony leaves are long and graceful; its flower cluster hangs down, covered with a fine onion-skin-like sheath before opening.  The blooms in mid-summer are whitish rose coloured and bell-shaped.  The seed heads are round.  It does prefer good drainage.  Looks best when planted in groups.

Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberosa

Butterfly Weed with Zinnias; Author’s garden

This is a butterfly magnet that has clusters of orange flowers borne at the top of 2-to-3-foot stems.  It is probably a little larger than I would like, but thought I might give it a try in the front.  This image is from my garden 3 years ago.  I lost the plant the next year and believe it was because of overcrowding and not enough sun.  The leaves are narrow and dark green.  The plants get bushy if they have lots of room.  The seed pods are large and very striking.  They bloom in mid-summer and prefer a full sun exposure.  Once established, they are drought tolerant.  It emerges from the soil quite late in spring, so it is important to be careful not to disturb the roots.

Check out the following nurseries for native plants

Native Plants in Claremont – https://www.nativeplants.ca/

John’s Garden in Uxbridge – https://johnsgarden.wordpress.com/about/

Grow Wild in Omemee – http://www.nativeplantnursery.ca/

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

Planning for pollinators

by Rachel Burrows, Master Gardener

Did you know that pollinators are responsible for pollinating over 30% of the foods that we eat? Many pollinator species are at risk due to climate change, habitat loss, and pesticide exposure.

So, what are pollinators and what do they do? Bees and other insects, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds and other small birds all need a constant source of food from early spring through to fall. They are looking for pollen-bearing flowers with fairly easy collection of nectar and pollen.

How can we help? There are many ways that we can help in our own gardens. We can provide habitat for pollinator birds and insects by installing nesting boxes both for birds and cavity nesting bees. Fallen trees and an area of bare ground will provide access for ground nesting bees and butterflies. Pollinators really prefer a little less manicured garden!

A pollinator hotel, although brush and logs on the ground are just as good. It’s important to keep in mind that these hotels require regular upkeep. Because they host pollinators at a higher density than a natural nesting site, disease and pathogens can quickly spread among visitors.

Water is another necessity and a shallow container with a couple of small rocks in it is the perfect drinking spot. Try to avoid chemical fertilizers and use compost instead which is better for both your plants and the pollinators.

What plants to choose – plant native when ever possible. Native plants have co-evolved with pollinator species and are well adapted to our local conditions. Pollinators can more easily access single bloom flowers such as echinacea and asters as their stamens and pollen are more exposed. Plant species in clumps to provide a target for pollinators, bees tend to gather pollen from one type of plant at a time. Provide host plants as butterflies such as the Monarch, lay their eggs on specific plants for their caterpillars to feed on. In the Monarchs case milkweeds are the only plant that they will feed on.

Try to have plants to provide four season interest, this can include grasses as they will provide shelter and food. Aim for at least three different species of plants blooming in each of the growing seasons. Study your site to determine the amount of sun and wind exposure and how much water will the plants receive?

Pollinators locate their food sources by sight and smell and the bees will go crazy around plants such as lavender and anise hyssop. Honey bees love white, yellow, blue and purple flowers.

The Peterborough Master Gardeners in conjunction with the City of Peterborough and the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters have installed a pollinator garden with all native species at the McNamara Park. This is a City owned park on McNamara Rd. which runs off Guthrie Drive and along the Otonabee River across from the OFAH building. It is a very peaceful park with many trees and seating areas. It is well worth a visit and may give you further ideas for helping our pollinators in your own garden. You can make a difference!

For more information

Pollinator Hotels

Pollinator Conservation in Yards and Gardens

Ontario Nature Pollinator Page

Ground Covers

By Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

Now that you’ve read with delight all about  the plants that are a Christmas Tradition, I’m turning my attention to a favourite group of plants that I enjoy for my garden. Ground covers.

Also known as living mulch, ground covers can go a long way to enhancing your garden. Not only can they stand alone as beautiful additions to your garden, they can also enhance other existing plants by pairing  them with a complementary shrub or perennial. Like mulch, ground covers perform much the same purposes: they insulate the soil from the hot sun, help to keep moisture at the roots of plants, choke out weeds by preventing germination of  weed seeds due to the shade they produce, help protect the soil from erosion through their network of roots and they’re easy to care for. Ground covers also don’t need to be a certain size, although most are less than 30cm tall; think of a collection of large hostas under a treed area, or on a shaded slope that’s difficult to reach with a lawn mower. Although they spread, they shouldn’t be invasive.

Many different types of plants can function as ground covers. From perennials (I’ve already mentioned hostas) to herbs, to shrubs and to mosses – almost any type of low growing plant can function as ground cover. Some are best adapted to shade, as are woodland plants like wild ginger which finds a welcome home under deciduous trees. Others grow best in sun, like creeping phlox which works well with clematis to keep the soil cool at the roots of the vine.

Creeping thymes can not only be walked on, they release their wonderful aroma as you stroll through the patch. They’re wonderful not only for a rockery, but also in between pavers or stepping stones. Since they can be walked on, they also work well as a path through a large flower bed to allow gardening work to be done.

Ground covers can be found for almost any soil type and growing conditions. Many, like sedums, adapt to poor soil, are drought tolerant  and will grow quickly once established to fill in that troublesome area where grass doesn’t want to grow. The article below lists several evergreen ground covers with helpful information about each. Most will grow in our area:

11 Best Evergreen Ground Cover Plants That Make Your Garden Look Greener & Better

Ground covers in the author’s garden

This photo shows two of my favourite ground covers: cranesbill geranium in the foreground, and creeping phlox in the background. Both are keeping the ground cool for the clematis on the arbor.

A new kind of lawn?

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

If you scroll through some of the gardening groups on Facebook these days, you’ll often see people asking “How do I get rid of the clover in my lawn?” Shortly thereafter, you’ll see a lot of people respond with “Love my clover”, “Leave it”, “Food for pollinators”, etc., all of which is true. This post follows fellow MG Emma Murphy’s post from last week quite well, I think!

As a contract gardener/landscaper, if I had a loonie for every person who asked me what to do about their weed-ridden lawns post-herbicides, I’d be a rich person.

Clover may be just the ticket, as it requires less water, fertilizer and weeding than lawns without clover. It stays green all summer. It requires little or no mowing as it only grows 10-20cm (4 -8″) high. It out-competes other weeds, as it has a dense root structure. It grows well in poor soil. It feels great on bare feet. The seed is inexpensive (see below for a tip on where to buy it!)

White clover (Trifolium repens) or Dutch white clover can be established in an existing lawn by overseeding whatever is currently there or by planting a mixture of clover and basic grass seed in a new lawn. From my reading, I’ve found that people have had disappointing results when trying to establish a pure clover lawn. You really need both clover AND grass as they are complementary to each other and one supports the other. Clover does best in full sun, but can do OK in partial shade. It doesn’t grow well in full shade. When mixed with grass, it does well in high traffic areas as well.

Author’s back lawn showing already successfully combined grass and white clover

For us, it started with the white grubs. Whole sections of grass in the front yard are gone. Just gone. Turns out that grubs also do not like clover. Bonus.

Be sure to use Dutch white clover and not the larger red clover. The best time to plant clover is in the early spring before the grass starts growing quickly because the other broadleaf plants are not in competition with it. Early seed sown will germinate when the soil starts to warm up in late April. Clover seed can be purchased at your neighbourhood garden centre or hardware store, but I’ve found it to be much cheaper (less than half price) at my local co-op as it is also a farm product. Clover seed to cover my large front lawn (150ft x 150ft) cost about $10 at the Co-op. About 2 ounces of clover is needed for every 1,000 sq ft of lawn, so my front yard required about 3 pounds or 1.4kg of clover, mixed with about $30 worth of grass seed.

Late summer/early fall is an alternative time to plant. The grass should be cut short and raked first to remove any existing thatch. Clover seed can be spread onto the soil along with grass seed on a 10:1 or 15:1 grass/clover ratio. I’d suggest top-dressing with some triple mix for best results so that the seeds are covered well. Most seed will germinate in less than a week if the temperature is above 15C and if it’s well watered.

It may be necessary to overseed with clover every 2-3 years for the first few years until the mixture gets established.

One caution: If you or any of your loved ones are allergic to bee stings, clover may not be right for you. The clover will flower, and bees will be attracted to the flowers! You can, however, minimize this risk by mowing regularly from June through August during flowering time.

Author’s front lawn showing recent overseeded and top-dressed grass/clover mix.

Resources:

How to Overseed Clover Into a Lawn
Establishing White Clover in Lawns:
Advantages and Disadvantages of Clover Lawns

Is it time to rethink our lawns?

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

Full disclosure – I have never been a fan of lawns. I’ve had a 20 year plan to convert my large property to perennial gardens and paths, and I’m getting there, slowly but surely. 

However, I am fascinated with how (and why) people are so attached to their square green spaces of grass. 

A little history first..

Lawns became popular with the aristocracy in northern Europe from the Middle Ages onward, evolving as a sign of wealth.  Originally they were mostly used as pasture – lawns like we have today first appeared in France and England in the 1700s when André Le Nôtre designed the gardens of Versailles that included a small area of grass called the tapis vert, or “green carpet”.

versailles-4074418_1920

Immigrants to North America brought these traditions with them as they settled the land. Particularly after the Second World War, the creation of the middle class and suburbia and the advent of chemical fertilizers led to a North American culture of ‘the lawn is king’, with the requirement that it was every homeowner’s responsibility to keep it watered, mowed, repaired, and cultivated, just like their neighbours. One article I read even went so far as to blame the rise of lawns on the Scots, who brought their love of lawn bowling and golf to this continent (and therefore the need for flat green areas).

lawn-mower-2127637_1920

Lawn is a cognate of llan which is derived from the Common Brittonic word landa (Old French: launde) that originally means heath, barren land, or clearing.

Lawns are expensive to create and maintain, so why do we still have them? Simply put, the belief is that lawns are indicative of success – if you have a well maintained lawn you have the time and money to create and maintain it, and you care about belonging to your neighbourhood.

Fast forward to current times, where we now see articles in the Globe and Mail asking whether “it’s time to decolonize your lawn” and efforts are underway in many areas to convert lawn areas into more ecologically responsible landscapes to support our pollinators, birds, and wildlife. Whether you simply overseed with some white clover, and reduce or eliminate fertilizers, or convert your entire lawn into a wildflower meadow, there is a full range of options to consider.

Such changes have not been without their challenges. A recent newspaper article shows the conflict between those who want a new attitude towards our properties. Nina-Marie Lister, a Ryerson University urban planner and ecologist removed all her lawn, replacing it with “a lush and layered landscape” filled with “milkweed, boneset and black-eyed Susans, among other plants largely native to the region.” Her neighbours complained and she was visited by a Toronto city bylaw officer – under Toronto’s municipal code, residents need to “cut the grass and weeds on their land” whenever they grow past 20 centimetres.

The comments community lit up, and well known gardener Lorraine Johnson even penned an editorial in the Toronto Star about it.

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Naturalized gardens are becoming a widespread phenomenon, and municipal bylaws will continue to be challenged by those that advocate for increasing biodiversity by creating landscapes that support an abundance of species of flora and fauna. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see someone complain to bylaw about a green lawn destroying biodiversity, filling the landscape with chemicals, wasting water by watering, and creating air and noise pollution through mowing? You see, it’s all a matter of perspective.

The debate is far from over, but gardeners should enter the discussion and think about whether there is a way for their green spaces to be just a bit more ecologically friendly.

Whatever your opinion, I encourage you to read these articles and think about the issues surrounding our garden spaces. I know I will never convert the staunch, lawnmower riding king to create a wildflower meadow, but if I just get a few people to think about how they can make a small difference in their own backyards I will be happy. I don’t have all the answers – I just want to stimulate the discussion.

FUN FACT – clover was an accepted part of lawns until the early 1950s, only becoming a ‘weed’ because the earliest 2,4-D herbicides killed it off along with the dandelions.

For those interested the Canadian Society for Organic Urban Land Care is hosting an online discussion and learning series on the role of land care, horticulture and landscaping in cultivating social and land equity. One of the topics is “Cultural values and how they frame horticultural norms” where the colonization and control of our natural landscapes will be the topic.

For more information:

The American Obsession with Lawns

The History of Lawns

Decolonizing Horticulture by Sundaura Alford-Purvis

Lupins

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

I have just finished cutting back my lupins for a possible second bloom, scattering their seeds and transplanting baby lupins that have popped up in all the wrong places.

Lupinus, or more commonly known as Lupins, are one of my favourite plants especially in the late spring when they are first in bloom. I tend to lean towards plants that need little to no care, that will attract insects, will self seed but are not invasive, and that give me joy when they are in bloom. Lupins fit that category for me perfectly.

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Lupins in the author’s garden

Lupin is a genus of flowering plants in the legume family Fabaceae, along with peas and beans. They have been grown since the days of the ancient Egyptians and were eaten by the Romans. Lupins like well drained soil, preferring sandy soil, but in my garden they grow well in clay. They grow in either sun or partial shade conditions. I will often let some of the flowers on my plants go to seed, self-seeding throughout the garden. But depending on where they decide to grow, I tend to transplant them and move them around. When digging up a lupin, take care to dig up the large tap root. I prefer to dig them up when they are very small, so I don’t damage the root any more than necessary. I also find it easier on both me and the plant to transplant them into a pot, rather than directly in the ground. This enables me to keep the plant in the shade for a few days, water more often and just baby them along more.

suzanne2
Photo showing the large taproot on lupin seedlings

For me, lupins in my garden tend to be short-lived perennials, lasting anywhere from 3-5 years. They do not grow true from seed so to ensure that you have a true seedling you should take basal cuttings. A basal cutting is best done before the plant has flowered; you cut a shoot close to the root, take off all the leaves, nip out the top of the cutting and then transplant into a pot filled with compost and soil. When you see roots coming from the bottom of the pot, you can then transplant the lupin into your garden.

Because lupins are members of the legume family they are nitrogen fixer plants. Using a specific bacteria, ‘rhizobia bacteria’, that allows them to draw nitrogen from the air, convert and then store the nitrogen in nodules that grow on their roots. The nitrogen can become available to other plants in a number of ways. If a nodule breaks off and decomposes, the nitrogen becomes available in the soil and when the plant dies or if the plant is tilled back into the ground, the nitrogen also becomes available. In addition, lupins have a large tap root that is great for breaking up compact soils.

Most of the lupins you buy in garden centres are not native to Canada, as there is a native lupin–the wild lupin or Lupinus perennis which is considered native in Ontario. It is normally blue or purple and prefers a dry, sandy soil, but will grow in any well-drained soil. Wild lupins are often used in restoration projects because the large tap root helps to control erosion. It is also essential to the endangered Karner Blue butterfly which feeds exclusively on it and is a host to other butterflies. If you want to add this plant to your garden, you are best to buy the seed from wildflower farms and ensure you follow the instructions carefully as the seeds need specific conditions to germinate.

An example of a wildflower nursery selling the seed is given below:

https://www.wildflowerfarm.com/index.php?route=product/product&path=18&product_id=112

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

Gardening is Not Cancelled – Continued…

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

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

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

girls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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.

book

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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