Category Archives: Bees & Pollinators

Comfrey Tea

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

I have just finished making a couple of batches of comfrey tea which I will use as a liquid fertilizer on all my pots, vegetables and anything that looks like it needs a pick-me-up. Comfrey is by far my favourite plant to have in a garden, although I should just add that in my garden, my comfrey plant is relegated to an area at the very back behind the leaf composter, as you can see in the following picture:

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Comfrey is a plant that should be in every garden. In my garden I use it strictly for either mulch or as a fertilizer, which is why the location of the plant is not as important. However comfrey has many more uses; it is an amazing multi-functional plant meaning that it can take on many different roles in a garden. It attracts both bees and other beneficial insects with its pink and purple flowers. Traditionally comfrey (once called knitbone) was used for wound healing, with poultices made of mashed leaves being used to heal cuts and scrapes. The long, large tap root can be used to break up hardpan and heavy clay soils. In addition the tap root is very efficient at ‘mining’ the soil for minerals and nutrients, which is then stores in its leaves–this is known as a dynamic accumulator plant. The leaves can be cut and simply laid on the ground as a mulch wherever they are needed or even added to the composter, or they can be used in a tea form.

By cutting down the plant to about 12 inches, this will trigger the plant to regrow. I typically cut mine back 2-3 times per year. In my last garden, I used comfrey in the orchard where I would plant 3-4 plants around each fruit tree. The comfrey attracted pollinators and other insects to the orchard and I cut the comfrey down using the leaves as a mulch around the trees.

The following picture shows my comfrey plant just after I cut it back:

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Making compost tea is easy, however I should add that it does smell really bad, so you just need to be aware of this when choosing a place to let it sit for the 2 weeks or so it requires. All you need to do is cut the plant down and add the leaves and stems to a bucket of water. I put mesh over the top of the bucket to keep away the mosquitoes, and leave it in an area of the garden where it will not be disturbed for approximately 10 days to 2 weeks. After that time, strain all the decomposing material off straight to the composter and you have your undiluted liquid. I use this at about 1 part manure tea to 10 parts water, and mix straight into to a watering can.

The following photo shows the comfrey tea after I have strained out all the leaves:

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There are many videos you can find online showing different ways to make the tea. Here is one that is easy to follow:

I have been using comfrey tea as a fertilizer for roughly 10 years, if not more, and have never had any plants that have had an adverse reaction to it. It is not a miracle grow; it will not double the size of your plants, but it is free, you know exactly what is in it, you have the knowledge that you’ve made it yourself, it is all natural and organic, and for plants in pots, raised beds, or greenhouses you are feeding those plants with nutrients that would normally be present in the soil found in your garden.

My Five Favourite Perennial Plants

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

During the winter months, Ontario gardeners have a number of survival techniques to make it through the “non-green” time of the year (this includes most of Canada, except for those lucky folks on Vancouver Island). We read gardening books, travel elsewhere to see lush green vegetation and flowers, pore over seed catalogues, or surf the web in search of colourful blooms in the Google Image Gallery.

Once spring arrives (still waiting in Central Ontario…) our thoughts turn to getting into our gardens and all the newest plants profiled online, in magazines, and by our favourite garden bloggers. While I love to look at new perennial plants, I thought I would share my five favourite, easy care perennials with all of you, along with the reasons why I love them. I am not a fussy gardener, and I don’t like fussy plants that require a lot of hand holding. To survive in my garden you have to be tough, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be beautiful. I also like my garden to add to the ecological diversity, so I like to plant things that attract pollinators and birds.

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1. Daylilies (Hemerocallis)

Daylilies may be one of the most carefree of all flowering perennials. They grow quickly and live for a long time (looking nice even when not in bloom). They thrive in almost any soil, will grow in sun or shade, and don’t seem to be troubled by insect pests or disease. Known for being tough, they dazzle us with their big, colourful flowers in all shapes and sizes. Blooms begin in midsummer and continue into early fall. The best part? New blooms every day. Daylilies combine well with other perennials like coneflowers (Echinacea), bee balm (Monarda), and summer phlox (Phlox paniculata). For me they are a mainstay in the garden, and I can share with friends, dividing as my clumps get big.

 

2.  Blanket Flower (Gaillardia)

One of those flowers where I actually think the Latin name is prettier than the common name. It’s another summer and fall perennial that blooms right until the first frosts, providing a late season burst of colour in your garden. Part of the sunflower family (Asteraceae) and native to North and South America, blanket flowers come in a range of colours (yellows/reds/oranges), although I find that the tried and true Gaillardia x grandiflora is my favourite. These are not the longest lived perennials, but reproduce well so I have never had an issue with them dying out. They are easily divided, can handle poor soil, and will bloom continuously, although I find deadheading does extend their blooming (something to do while you drink your coffee or tea and wander around your garden in the morning).

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3. Purple Coneflower (Echinacea)

I agree with many other that no garden should be without this tough native flowering plant with large, purplish pink flowers. The common name derives from the prominent cones in the center of a single layer of slightly reflexed petals. These plants are wonderful summer bloomers, providing food for butterflies, bees, and other pollinators. I love them in the fall and winter too, as I leave them up in the garden and wonder at the finches that land on them and hungrily eat the seedheads. All parts of the plant have medicinal properties and you often see it in natural cold and flu remedies.

Native Echinacea only comes in purple, pale purple, or yellow, but hybridized echinacea (derived from E. purpurea)  can be red, orange, pink, and green. While there are lots of new hybrids out there now with different colours and shapes I am still partial to the tried and true varieties, although I confess to liking Echinacea ‘Merlot’ with its reddish stems. Read more here about which one to choose (true natives vs hybrids) and why. Coneflowers can propagated by root or clump divisions. This year I am on a search for our native Echinacea pallida, which has thinner reflexed petals and a pale purple hue.

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4. Asters (Astereae)

Aster comes from the old Greek word ‘astér’ which means ‘star’ and refers to the shape of the flower. These lovely delicate daisy-like flowers come in all shades of pink, purple, lavender, and white. Flowering from early summer to fall (depending on variety), they can be started from seeds, but purchasing young plants is the best option. Plant them out in spring for summer blooming that usually extends to fall. Asters do well in full and partial sun conditions but like good soil and drainage for best show. I love the combination of fall asters and goldenrod in the late summer and fall in my garden – so much colour and texture! There are so many asters – you can learn more about this fascinating group of plants here (for Ontario) and also here.

5. Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia)

What can I say? I LOVE the Rudbeckia family of flowers. With lovely bright yellow petals and contrasting centres, these plants demand attention. Rudbeckias in general are perennial, but the smaller Rudbeckia hirta can be grown as an annual if started early enough. In most zones they start flowering from early summer and continue on until fall. The ‘Goldsturm’ black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’) is considered to be among the best perennials of all time (Perennial Plant of the Year in 1999), bringing a bursts of colour from late summer into October. These drought-tolerant plants can grow about two-feet tall and offer the best visual effect when planted en masse. A shorter variety Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Little Goldstar‘ – grows to just knee height if that is more to your liking. Rudbeckia hirta ‘Irish Eyes’ and ‘Indian Summer’ are also popular.

My two favourites are the butterfly magnet Rudbeckia triloba and Rudbeckia laciniata ‘Hortensia’, commonly called the Outhouse Plant. The first (triloba) is an excellent native addition to naturalized areas, wildflower meadows, prairies, cottage gardens, native plant gardens and borders. Plants form a rosette of green leaves the first year, then the second year they produce bushy, upright stems loaded with thousands of tiny brown-eyed golden daisies from midsummer on. As a self-seeding biennial, it is ideal for naturalizing. The Outhouse Plant is an old heirloom selection – very tall, with many fluffy double chrome-yellow daisies on the top. It’s not a bad idea to pinch these down in June to get them to be bushier, as they tend to flop in the windy summer thunderstorms. Be warned – this one can be a vigorous spreader, so keep on top of it!

 

 

 

Agastache: Herb of the Year 2019

By Christine Freeburn, Master Gardener

agastache-3966329_960_720Agastache (pronounced AG-a-stak-ee) has been chosen as Herb of the Year 2019. This name is actually the plant genus and includes many different species native to North America. All species attract bees and butterflies and deer do not usually eat. The plant we are most familiar with is Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) which has a strong anise or licorice fragrance to its leaves. It is a prairie plant that likes sun and grows 3′- 5′ tall in any type soil as long as it is well drained. Anise Hyssop has average moisture requirements and is a perennial herb zone 4. Bloom time is mid summer and common flower colour is purple, but it can be found in white and pink. The native strains can reseed, but you can find sterile cultivars like Blue Fortune which may need support. Use the leaves in teas, green salads, or fruit salads. The flowers are edible also. You can use as cut flowers or dry the flowers for arrangements.

(Agastache scrophulariifolia is known as Purple Giant Hyssop and is similiar to Anise.

Agastache nepetoides is the native Yellow Giant Hyssop or Catnip Giant Hyssop that grows in forests which blooms yellow in summer and grows 2′ to 8′. It is rare in southern Ontario, being more common in the eastern states.

Other varieties of Agastache are Korean Mint (Agastache rugosa) which is zone 6 and Rose Mint or Mexican (Agastache pallidiflora) which is zone 7.

 

Spring Cleaning Your Gardens

by Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

It is that time of year again…..time to start to prepare your gardens and lawn for the outdoor living season.

It may be too early yet to walk on your lawn, it should be firm not mushy with moisture, or in your gardens, the soil should be crumbly and not stick together. I know that it is still very early but there are a few things that you can do.

I have started to cut back the ornamental perennial grasses. These grasses begin to grow early. They like cool weather so they need to be cut back in preparation for this early growth garden.

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I have also begun to remove some of the debris around the edges of my perennial gardens. I avoid walking in the gardens because they are still quite wet and partially frozen in some cases. We also have a small pond that I have been able to cut back the cattails. I will not get to carried away with this yet because there are some “critters” that live in the garden clutter that I do not want to disturb. For example, ladybugs will still be snoozing. You also do not want to accidentally discard a praying mantis egg case. Both insects are beneficial insects because they are predators and will eat other less beneficial insects in your garden.

My garden shed was opened this weekend. I have started to move out my rain water collection barrels and to put them in place.

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It is a great time to inspect your trees and shrubs before they leaf out. Remove any winter injured growth and any growth that does not keep the plant balanced or where branches rub together. There are some flowering shrubs that, if you prune now, you may remove this year’s flower buds so know what you are dealing with before you prune.

It is also not to late to do some planning. You will soon be able to see what survived the icy Ontario winter and what did not. You can think about what you would like to plant in the place of those that did not survive. Always remember to think about your plant zone, amount of light, moisture requirements and the type of soil when choosing a new plant. Matching a plant to the growing conditions is the best way to grow a plant that has a chance to thrive and overwinter successfully.

There is lots more to do but it is still early spring! Stay focused and finish one task at a time and your garden will be outdoor living ready before you know it.

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The Peterborough Garden Show

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

It’s coming in 25 days.  It can’t come soon enough.  In our city, “The Garden Show” is a true sign of spring.  It’s an occasion that brings together speakers, workshop leaders, vendors, horticultural society members, master gardeners, exhibitors and many others for one reason:  “For the Love of Gardening”.PGS-logo-small

This year marks the 19th fantastic show: 
April 26 – 28, 2019 (Friday 5-9pm, Saturday 10am-5pm & Sunday 10am-4pm).

And there’s great news ! The show has MOVED – to Fleming College’s brand new Trades and Technology Centre on Brealey Drive with lots of FREE parking and a $10, one-price ticket so you can enjoy the show all weekend.

The Peterborough and Area Master Gardeners will have a booth at the show, and will be happy to answer any gardening questions that you may have. Watch for our red aprons!

The theme “Coming Up Roses” is reflected in several of the amazing speakers along with educational and fun workshops and demos.

This award-winning show was honoured in 2017 with both a “Canada 150 Garden Experience”, and “Garden Event of the Year” by the Canadian Garden Council, so come and see what all the fuss is about.

You will find many of your old favourite vendors along with some new ones.

…and don’t forget the popular “Little Green Thumbs” Children’s Garden that is always teaming with liveliness and action! There are learning activities, face painting, crafts and even a take-home project. Their theme this year is “Miniature Gardens for Elves and Fairies”.

All the show profits go back into our community to fund scholarships for post-secondary students studying in horticulture-related fields,various local projects & Community Gardens.  Since 2002, the show has put over $200,000 back into our community.

Please save the date, visit and and learn why “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” in 2019.

Learn more about the incredible speakers, workshops, bus trips, places to stay and tickets here: peterboroughgardenshow.com.

 

Garden Tech for the Green-Finger Inclined

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

Gardening is supposed to be natural, right? Many who enjoy the outdoors and gardening downplay screens and technology and also tend to encourage others to put down the devices and experience what’s in front of them. But what if you don’t know anything about what IS in front of you? Your smart phone or tablet can be quite the gardening companion.

Here’s a selection of apps that can be found in the App Store that will help you know when/where/what to plant, and sometimes more importantly, how to find out what’s already growing in your yard or someone else’s that you admire.

LeafSnap: An Electronic Field Guide — Free (iPhone only)

How many times have you been in a public park or garden and fell in love with the trees, but with no one to ask what they are?  Using visual recognition software, Leafsnap can identify trees from a photo of their leaves alone. I can’t tell you how many times I could have used this!

myGardenAnswers Plant Identifier — Free (iPhone/Android)

With Garden Answers Plant Identifier, you can take a picture of a plant that you want to identify and presto — you’ll get its name and all of the information about it. It’s like having an encyclopedia in your pocket. This is easily one of the best free gardening apps in existence, namely because it can automatically recognize more than 20,000 plants. This app also identifies pests and has a robust Q&A section that covers more than 200,000 of the most common gardening queries.

GrowIt!: Garden Socially — Free (iPhone/Android)

GrowIt allows you to join an enthusiastic community of gardeners, helping you to find inspiration, gather information, and share your own gardens with the world. This app is good if you want to find out what plants will grow well in your local area.  As you find plants you love in their extensive database, you can organize them into projects to help you design your own green masterpiece.

BeeSmart Pollinator Gardener — Free (iPhone/Android)

Want to grow a beautiful garden that also helps the environment? BeeSmart is an app created by Pollinator Partners that helps you choose the best plants for bees that can thrive in your specific location. Win-win.

Gardenate — $1.39 (iPhone/Android)

If you’re looking for a simple calendar for planting garden vegetables that comes with an assortment of useful hints and tips, then you should take a look at this app. Gardenate will be your best companion when it comes to keeping your garden in the best condition. There is information about over 90 plants and herbs, and a calendar to know when it’s the best time for these plants to grow.

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Butterfly Gardening – Monarch Waystation #204

by Mary Jane Parker, Master Gardener

Since 2008, my garden has been a monarch waystation.  In the beginning, when we purchased the property, we had to have a new septic system put in.  Because we are in a floodplain and the ground was saturated with water, we had to go up with the weeping tiles.  This meant that we had a berm at the front of the property and that was the beginning of my butterfly garden.

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Since then I have experimented with all kinds of native plants and wildflowers . The scope and layout of the property was such that formal gardens would have been impossible. Not all plants that I have tried have been successful but some have been my perennial favourites.

Monarda has self-sown over the years as has Phlox paniculata of which I probably have every colour available. Many plants have a personal history. Helianthus maximiliani came from Cathy Forget’s garden in Indian River and Glade Mallow (Napaea dioica) came from Mike and Sue Dolbey’s garden in Young’s Point. Many plants have come from gardens visited on horticultural trips near and far. I always leave room for native milkweed to grow. I have tried cultivated varieties of milkweed and unfortunately, they are not hardy here. The creek at the back of the property has an abundance of Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum) growing naturally and I can’t think of anything prettier than when they are in bloom with the different shades of pink dancing in the breeze. I have always left room for Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota) which not only attracts monarchs but a variety of interesting bugs. In the spring the Korean Lilac (Syringa meyeri) blooms are always a butterfly magnet.

Being a waystation has been fun. There are over 20,000 registered waystations around the world, most in North America, and although there are guidelines to follow, it does not appear that there are any hard and fast rules. The whole point is simply to provide habitat for monarchs and in doing so, you have a place that also attracts other butterflies, birds, and pollinators. Visit www.monarchwatch.org for more info.

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The Plant Lover’s Guide to Salvias (Book Review)

By:  Mary Jane Parker, Master Gardener

If you care deeply about natural gardening and attracting bees, insects and hummingbirds to your garden, then salvias should be one of your go-to plants. They have wonderful flowers and fragrant leaves and for me, they bloom almost all summer.

In this very readable book, The Plant Lover’s Guide to Salvias, John Whittlesey outlines designing with salvia plants in different climate zones. We learn that salvias are generally hot climate plants and many have low water requirements but some of the perennial ones can be treated as annuals in our climate. Some are rated for zones close to ours and will survive here as perennials. I have had Salvia glutinosa growing here for many years and the book rates that one only a US zone 6a. Culinary sage (Salvia officinalis) has overwintered for me also for a number of years.

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The author next goes through and discusses 150 species and exceptional hybrids, their country of origin and specific cultural practices for each and any notable characteristics such as a strong hummingbird attractor.

Finally, he discusses general cultural techniques and then provides a listing of sources for plants and seed. After having read the book and descriptions of different salvia species, I have ended up with a two-page list of interesting species I wish to try.

The Peterborough Horticultural Society has this book available in their lending library or you can purchase from Timber Press.

New Garden Planning; a Look Ahead

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

Fall is a great time to get a head start on the new garden that you have been dreaming about for next year.

Deciding the new garden’s location depends on the purpose of the garden.  Will it be a quiet area for relaxing?  Look at the view from outside and also through the windows from inside your home when assessing potential locations.

Consider the growing conditions.  Is the potential location windy, sunny, shady or combination sun/shade?  It may be important to know the location of utility lines and pipes depending on how radical the planned change to the landscape.  Do you have access to water?  New plants usually need supplementary water for their first year.  Also check the area for flooding and provide drainage when necessary.IMG_1164

Think about garden structures……perhaps an arbor, fence or pergola or maybe a bird bath or bench?  For larger structures, you may need a construction permit.  A landscape professional can be a great person to consult at any stage of planning.

Soil condition is vey important to the growth of plants.  Newly built homes often have very little topsoil layered over nutrient poor subsoil.  It may be necessary to dig out some of the subsoil and replace it with good topsoil.  This “digging” step is when to be aware of the location of your utilities.

Create a new garden by edging the chosen area with a sharp shovel or edging tool then placing the material (usually a combination of grass and soil) into the centre of the new garden location.  Smother unwanted growth by covering the area with 4-5 layers of newspaper, or cardboard, and water it down.  Then layer topsoil about 15 cm (6 inches) on top and add additional organic material like composted manure.  Finish the new garden bed with a 7-10 cm (3-4 inch) layer of mulch.  The newspaper/cardboard layer, and the mulch will eventually decompose to become part of the garden’s soil.

Your new garden bed is ready for planting.  Choose plant material by looking at plant catalogues and on web sites.  What a great way to spend a fall or winter afternoon!

Herbs: Humble & Useful

By Vince Picchiello, Master Gardener in Trainingherbs-2523119_640

Perhaps one of the least celebrated plant family in our gardens is the herb.  Many gardeners show their prize possessions of roses and hydrangeas, yet others will speak endlessly of their succulent tomatoes and robust peppers and of course others will offer baskets of pears and pints of raspberries. Few however, honour the forgotten herb.

Herbs are among the oldest cultivated plants. Their early domestication was due to their aromatic, culinary and medicinal qualities.  Herbs are attractive plants and some even bear lovely flowers — such as lavender and chives to name but a few.  For the home cook, the ease from garden or container to the kitchen provides the tastiest and freshest example of ‘local shopping’ and sustainability.

Maintenance and Care

  • While most herbs will survive in virtually any soil, a well prepared soil amended with mature compost and organic material virtually guarantee success.
  • Most are easily started from seed indoors and can be planted as  seedlings in spring (or you can purchase from the nursery).
  • Mulches help to retain moisture and prevent weeds when planted in the garden.
  • There is no need for fertilizers as this may encourage ‘legginess’.
  • Most enjoy full sun with moderate moisture requirements. Others though, may require more moist conditions such as dill, mint, and parsley to name a few.
  • Many are also hardy, which make them tolerant of successive frosts.  Some, however, are tender and don’t do well in frosty conditions.  Examples of these are basil, marjoram and parsley.

Uses for Herbs

chives-3418953_640CULINARY : herbs are used in pesto’s, soups, salads, and flavours for vegetable preserves. Mint can be used as garnish in a drink or tea , parsley or cilantro on fish dishes

HEALING : Valerium and Chamomile are used as calming sedatives and for anti-anxiety, there are herbs for digestive issues, liver cleanses, anti-inflammatories, breath fresheners (mint or basil), first aid (plantain is great for scrapes and insect bites) and if you get industrious one can learn to make slaves, tinctures, and infusions all with many backyard/ container plants.

AESTHETICS: Lavender, lemon balm, roses, and lemon grass make great aromatics – Lets not forget their sheer beauty as some become lush with green foliage others provide lovely flowers

PRACTICAL: Many plants can be grown indoors or outdoors and in containers or in the yard.

In the coming days and weeks as you find yourself plotting and planning your garden/containers for an upcoming season, don’t forget the humble herb.