Category Archives: Compost

Lawn Care

by Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener in Training

One thing that characterizes our gardens and landscapes from those in other parts of the world is our obsession with the lawn. The desire to have a smooth, green, flawless carpet has created an industry worth billions of dollars. I find that most serious gardeners have no time for the care and maintenance that a lawn requires. Like myself, they would rather be planting a new annual, perennial, or shrub.

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Whether you are a big fan of lawns or not, it is important for us to understand how to best maintain a healthy lawn. Learning to do so in a sustainable way is critical as we move forward in our partnership with the environment.

What good is a lawn? Well, like all plants, turfgrass provides oxygen, helps filter pollutants from the air, and cools us in the summer through transpiration. It also provides a place for people to play a number of different sports, a place to walk, and creates a beautiful setting around a cemetery.

When thinking of your lawn, choose a seed that is appropriate for your region and your soil conditions. A good quality grass seed usually has a mixture of Kentucky Bluegrass, Fescue and Perennial Ryegrass. If you can get over the need for a grass only lawn, consider mixing your seed choice with some Dutch white clover. Clover provides nitrogen, stays green, and is drought tolerant.

grass-15571_1280White clover in grass

It is possible to seed in the spring, but usually the best time is in late summer (around August 15 to September 15) as bluegrass and fescue are cool season species. Also, fewer weeds germinate during this period of time. When over-seeding, be sure to water daily until the seedlings are at least 2 inches tall, then switch to deep watering once a week.

Fescues are more shade tolerant than bluegrass or ryegrass and germinate well in clay soils. Fescue is also more drought tolerant and are often vigorous growers. Ryegrass will act as a nurse grass for the slower germinating bluegrass. Its’ rapid germination will help to establish the lawn quickly and it produces little or no thatch.

Kentucky Bluegrass will give you that nice smooth texture with a dark green colour. Unfortunately, it doesn’t perform as well in heavy shade, has slower germination and prefers well drained alkaline soil. Therefore, with clay soil, it is best to have a higher percentage of fescue varieties and perennial ryegrass as part of the mixture.

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Once established, your lawn will require a good management plan. To support the rapid growth in the growing season, your lawn will require a continuous supply of nutrition. Most lawn fertilizers are made up of nitrogen (N), phosphate (P) and potassium (K). Generally, nitrogen makes the lawn green, phosphorus produces healthy roots, and potassium builds hardiness (for more info check this link out).

In an ideal world, we would hope that the seed would benefit from an active population of earthworms, fungi, bacteria and a healthy supply of microorganisms. If you prefer to use organic lawn care, fertilize with 1 to 2 cm of compost each spring. This will help to feed the lawn naturally and supply the appropriate nutrients to the clay soil. A yearly practice of topdressing with compost will also help to increase the topsoil depth, especially if you live in a newer subdivision. The topsoil should be at a depth of at least 6 to 8 inches. This is often not the case when they build new homes.

During drought situations, let your lawn go dormant as it will grow and become green again once rain returns.

Always mow with your blades set high (2 ½ inches). This will help to crowd out the weeds and protect the grass roots from drying out. Be sure to maintain your mower blades to keep them sharp so they do not tear the grass blades. Mow only as often as needed to remove 1/3 of the grass blade at one time. Using a mulching mower and leaving the grass clippings on the lawn will help to return nitrogen to the soil.

It is important with clay soil to aerate and dethatch. Clay soils are often compacted and will benefit from removing soil cores and raking out thatch in the early spring to allow water drainage, increase air movement and supply nutrients.

The Peterborough Master Gardeners recently visited the Guelph Turfgrass Institute, established in 1987. It is part of the University of Guelph and they are dedicated to conducting quality research and providing accurate and timely information and education services in turfgrass science with a special emphasis on environmental sustainability and enhancement. The website has many good articles on lawn care, pest management, and irrigation.

Guelph

 

 

 

 

 

Mulch–Do you love it or hate it?

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

Mulch may be used as a noun or as a verb.  I make a list to pick up some “mulch” (noun) at the garden centre so that I can come home and “mulch” (verb) my flower garden.

I mulch my gardens including my vegetable garden, my flower gardens and my container gardens. Mulch is amazing and is even used by mother nature without any human intervention. If you walk through a pine forest, you will notice that the pine needles are in a thick layer on the forest floor. Mother nature does this for a reason!

Benefits of Mulch

Mulch helps to:

  • moderate soil temperature – it keeps soil cooler in summer and warmer in winter.
  • reduce weed growth – covers the soil to reduce sunlight for weed seed germination and weakens growth of sprouted weeds.
  • retain moisture – it provides protection from drought.
  • build good soil structure and improve soil texture as it decomposes.
  • protect the soil – reduce erosion by water and wind.
  • protect plant foliage from soil splash which can transfer fungus to the leaves of plants.

There are so many types of mulch to choose from that there is sure to be something to suit every gardener.

Organic Mulch

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Pine needle mulch – waiting for plants. South Carolina garden. 
  • Adds nutrients to the soil as it decomposes, living mulches may be fragrant and attract pollinators.
  • Grass clippings, dried shredded fall leaves, leaf mould, conifer needles, clean straw or hay, wood chips or sawdust, shredded newspapers, shredded bark, coconut/nut husks, finished compost, cover crops, creeping groundcover perennials (eg. Thyme – covers the ground well and it flowers) or even closely planted gardens.

Inorganic Mulch

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Stone mulch, author’s garden
  • Permanent, does not break down easily and does not add nutrients to the soil.
  • Geotextiles (landscape fabric), plastic and stone.

 

Mulch Application

Yes, mulching your gardens is work but the benefits are definitely worth it.

Apply mulch to damp soil, 5-10 cm (2-4 inches) deep using a shovel, a garden fork or a bucket. It really depends on the type of mulch which tool will work the best for you.

Do not cover the crown (centre of plant where the stems originate) or mulch right up to the trunk of your trees. You may smother your plant if you cover it with mulch or attract insects to your tree’s trunk if you mulch too close. You will need to re-apply organic mulch every couple of years as it breaks down and becomes part of the garden soil.

Purchasing Mulch

Mulch may be purchased in bulk or in bags. Be sure to ask questions about the product. You want mulch that is free of weed seeds and disease. If you prefer dyed mulch, you will want mulch where the dye used is not poisonous to you or the other critters in your garden.

Oh, I forgot one of the most important benefits of mulch … your soil and your plants are healthy and happy, so enjoy those beautiful gardens!

authors garden
Author’s garden

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.

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.

plantsalecourtesyofGreenUpFBpage

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!

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.

 

Truth or Fiction? Are Black Walnuts Toxic in my Garden?

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

As a Master Gardener, one of the most common questions I get asked is about the toxicity of walnut trees (Juglans nigra).

“Well I heard that the juglone stuff in the roots kills everything and that I can’t plant anything under or anywhere near a walnut tree.”

Well yes Virginia, you can plant a garden under a walnut tree, and have it thrive. Let’s look at Exhibit 1 below – an established perennial bed under a walnut tree. It’s at our house, so I guarantee it’s real, and it’s been there since late 2007.

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Lots of lovely perennials here – hostas (Hosta spp.), daylilies (Hemerocallis), bearded iris (Iris germanica), summer phlox (Phlox paniculata), wild ginger (Asarum canadense), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), ditch lilies (Hemerocallis fulva), although those last ones are doing just a little too well LOL. Don’t believe it’s a walnut tree? Here’s a photo from a bit further back on the street.

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Yes, she’s a big old lady – we think she was planted around the same time the house was built, making her about 140 years old. I think she’s getting a bit tired out – most years she doesn’t produce too many walnuts. Her slightly younger cousin is to the left of the barn in the background – LOTS of walnuts off her (and yes a garden under that one too).

So where does this fallacy come from that ‘nothing grows under a walnut’? Well certainly all parts of the walnut tree contain a chemical called juglone (heck it’s even in the Latin name!). Juglone is a chemical that affects other plants growing nearby (a phenomenon called allelopathy). Simply put, allelopathy involves “living or dead plant parts that release chemicals into the soil which have an effect on other plants—positive or negative.” For walnuts it seems like an attempt at self preservation, with juglone acting like a natural herbicide on other plants.

As Professor Linda Chalker-Scott explains in her recent (2019) peer-reviewed Washington State University Extension paper, damage to tomatoes and other crops near walnut trees in the 1920s caused people to believe that toxic chemicals were involved, and this perception persisted and became widespread despite there being no evidence (and this was before social media existed!). The US Department of Agriculture did field testing – no problems. When applied in a laboratory setting to seeds and seedlings it did cause stunting, wilting, and necrosis, but the specific way it did this was unclear. The most recent science suggests that juglone disrupts photosynthetic and respiratory pathways and interferes with water uptake in plants.

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So! It does affect plants – the laboratory says so. Well yes, and no. Field tests do not support the laboratory work, which doesn’t accurately mimic real life conditions in your average residential garden (again, for more detail read the excellent paper referenced above). Two very old University Extension papers (1973 and 1993) continue to be used to state which plants are ‘sensitive’ and which are ‘tolerant’. However these were simply observational papers—meaning that they correlate the presence of walnut trees with damage to other species but do not confirm a causative relationship. Neither should be considered good scientific evidence.

Gardening With Walnut Trees – My Story

I am sure the scientists, arboretums, farmers, and garden writers will continue to debate this topic for a while. Meanwhile, here’s our story. In 2007 I wanted a garden bed under our black walnut in my front yard. At the time I had heard the walnut horror stories, so I thought – well, how about I just don’t disturb the roots of the tree? (not a good thing to do when establishing any garden beds under a tree). I put good topsoil and compost down, making sure to minimize tearing up of the soil and roots, and planted, and watered, and waited. Things grew. Winter happened. Next spring plants came up. For the most part I just moved perennials that were already on site, although some hostas were new. Here’s the garden in 2008 in the fall.

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Fall asters (Astereae spp.), sedums (Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ in this case), hostas (Hosta spp.), wild ginger (Asarum canadense), fall rudbeckias (Rudbeckia fulgida and triloba), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius), iris (Iris spp.), astilbe (Astilbe spp.), sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum), Ozark sundrops (Oenothera macrocarpa), coral bells (Heuchera spp.), cranesbill (Geranium spp.). All doing just fine.

And 2009 below, in the spring. Irises (Iris spp.) lemon lilies (Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus), lungwort (Pulmonaria spp.), poppies (Papaver rhoeas), ditch lilies (Hemerocallis fulva), variegated solomon’s seal (Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’), bracken (Pteridium aquilinum), bleeding hearts (Dicentra spectabilis), daylilies (Hemerocallis spp.).

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Certainly, planting in general under walnuts is challenging – they cast dense shade and have extensive, water hungry root systems. Watering after establishment and for the first season is critical. We also had our walnut tree pruned professionally (it needed it) so it actually gets decent sunlight in the latter part of the afternoon. Like any fruit or nut tree they are messy, from their spring pollen to their leaves and nuts…oh those nuts.. 2017 was a crazy year – buckets of walnuts (I even had to engage my neighbours’ lovely children from across the street to help collect them) to 2018, with almost no walnuts. My trees are old too – although well pruned, their leaves drop at that first hard frost. 1

 

In Defence of Walnut Trees

Black walnuts are not all bad, and I will continue to treasure them in my yard. They are an amazing shade tree, are highly valued for their fine grained dark wood (for furniture), a great food source for wildlife and birds, and my white breasted nuthatches’ favourite spot to hide their seeds.

We have definitely had our challenges with our walnut trees, and I’ve learned a great deal over the past 20 years. But one thing I know – I can garden with them around. You can too.

Note: Black walnuts are not the only tree that produce juglone – other members of the Juglandaceae also produce it as well as hickory trees. Butternut, English walnut, bitternut hickory, pignut hickory, pecan, shagbark hickory, mockernut hickory are in the same family.

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!

Preparing Your Perennial Garden for (gasp!) Winter…

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

Winter is fast approaching, and it’s time to prepare your gardens for the long, cold months ahead. By spending a little time this fall preparing, you can insure a healthier start to next year’s  season. Here’s a checklist of fall activities to get them ready for winter before it gets too cold to comfortably work outside.

  1. In all areas, spring-flowering bulbs, such as tulips and daffodils, should be planted six weeks before you expect the ground to freeze.
  2. Dig and store tender summer bulbs, such as dahlias and canna lilies, after the first hard killing frost. Store them in wood shavings or crumpled/shredded newspaper in a cool, dry place.
  3. Stake and tie up any young trees or shrubs that may break under the weight of wet snow or ice. Use soft (but strong) ties around the bark of trees, as wire or twine can cut into the bark and cause serious damage. Place wooden tepees over shrubs growing under eaves where snow tends to fall off the roof.
  4. After the first couple of frosts, hosta and daylily leaves will pull up very easily. Doing the removal in the fall means that you don’t have to deal with a slippery mess next spring.
  5. To prune or not to prune perennials to ground level? It’s a good idea to leave some plant material for visual interest through the winter months; ornamental grasses and hydrangeas have attractive seed heads and always look gorgeous in the winter, especially sprinkled with snow. With the exception of hosta and daylily leaves, I choose to leave everything else for spring cleanup.
  6. Protect hybrid roses with rose cones or bark mulch piled over the crown of the plant after a hard freeze.
  7. Remove all weeds from your perennial beds, and add compost to create a good base for next year’s growth. Compost applied in the fall is better than the spring as it has had time to break down and release its nutrients into the soil.
  8. Move containers to a protected location when frost threatens. After a frost, remove soil and plants from containers and store ceramic and clay pots in a garage or basement. Place used potting soil in the compost pile. If the containers have perennials planted in them, consider digging a hole to bury the plant including the pot, or bury in leaves in a protected area. Potted perennials will not usually survive the winter if not buried/covered.
  9. Instead of raking and bagging the leaves to cart off to the landfill, shred leaves with a mower to create amazing leaf mulch which can be spread on the garden as a winter protectant.  The earthworms will love the food, and the leaves will eventually break down, adding nutrients to the soil. If you decide to cover gardens with unmulched leaves, do not apply a thickness of more than about 10 centimetres (four inches). Any deeper will smother bulbs and perennials trying to grow in the spring.
  10. Take pictures of your gardens to assist with your dreaming and planning for the next season after the snow flies!
  11. As you wind down the garden season, make notes on what worked and what didn’t work, to help you plan for a successful garden next year. You are more likely to remember key points now rather than next April or May.
  12. Join a local garden or horticultural society. Many organizations meet over the winter on a monthly basis and provide interesting speakers who can help chase away the winter blues and provide you with great ideas for your upcoming garden season.

Where’s the Rain? How to Deal with Drought Conditions in Your Gardens

By Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

(top photo courtesy of the Missouri Botanical Gardens website; Dogwood (Cornus) wilting from water stress)

Just two years ago, the Peterborough area experienced Level 2 drought conditions. Local residents and businesses were encouraged to reduce their water use by 20 per cent daily and there were 11 days in August when daytime temperatures were higher than 30 degrees Celsius.ONDrought_zpsal2mmbjn

Drought conditions usually relate to sunny, dry conditions, combined with an extended period of very hot weather, and it looks like the summer of 2018 is shaping up to be very similar to 2016. “The watershed region received below normal precipitation amounts in June, and during the first two weeks of July precipitation has been 25% of normal.” said Dan Marinigh, Chief Administrative Officer for Otonabee Conservation.

So what can a gardener do to help their gardens survive (and even thrive) during dry or drought conditions?

In the Short Term

Just before or during drought conditions

Recognize the Signs of Stress

Plant dehydration symptoms include:
• Curling or rolling of leaves
• Slowed/no growth, undersized leaves
• Leaves, blossoms, or fruits drop prematurely
• Wilting, limp and droopy leaves
• Leaf scorch, yellowing and/or browning, death of leaf edges
• Dead or brown/dying extremities starting from the outer leaves inward

Water Wisely

Avoid watering during the heat of the day when evaporation rates are highest. Water either very early in the morning or late in the evening, and adhere to any watering restrictions that may be in place. Try and keep water off flowers, as sunlight is magnified through water droplets and can damage delicate flowers. Depending on your garden, consider hand watering rather than using a hose or sprinkler. Hand watering using a watering can targets the water to the areas that really need it, keeping waste to a minimum.20180716_133136

Harvest Water

Water harvesting is a great way to use water from your home’s roof and direct it onto the landscape, where the soil becomes your “holding tank.” The best example is using a water barrel – we have four of them in our garden and they are a great investment. You can also practice ‘passive’ water harvesting by creating depressions that fill with water from the roof runoff or formal rain gardens, both of which help with stormwater runoff issues. You can find out more about rain gardens here. Peterborough Greenup Rain Program 20180716_132548

Reduce Stressors

Skip the fertilizer or pruning live branches during drought conditions. No need to add to the plant stress! When soil moisture is low or temperatures are high, plants don’t benefit from fertilizer and without adequate water, fertilizer can burn your plants. Excessive pruning will stimulate new growth that will not be drought tolerant. However, it is good practice to deadhead flowers, as removing spent blooms before they have a chance to set seed saves energy for your plants.

Make Priority

Give priority to watering newly planted trees and shrubs during periods of drought. Young plants have not had sufficient time to establish deep root systems, and depend on surface water for survival. Do not let the root balls of newly planted trees and shrubs dry out completely or become too saturated.

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Over the Long Term

Planning for Future Drought Conditions

Think About Plant Selection

Use appropriate plants, which are often marked as drought tolerant or resistant. Consider native plants, which generally adapt better, have lower water demands, and fewer pest problems. Group plants according to how much water they need. Ask your local garden centre or nursery staff which plants they recommend. Check out members of the local Peterborough Area Garden Route. Peterborough and Area Garden Route

Maintain Healthy Soils

Good soil is the foundation for good plant growth. Anything you can add to your native soil like compost or other organic matter will make it easier for roots to penetrate deeper, creating more expansive root systems that can seek out water and nutrients. The result? Healthier, more drought-resistant plants. Good soils are better able to absorb surface water runoff, minimize erosion, and access nutrients and sediments.fresh-2386786_640

Use Mulch

Mulch reduces evaporation, moderates soil temperature, and inhibits weed growth. It is estimated that three quarters of the rain falling on bare soil is lost to plants through evaporation and runoff. Both of these are reduced up to 90 percent by adequate mulch. Use compost, wood chips, bark nuggets, shredded bark mulch, shredded leaves, or any other organic material to cover the surface of the soil at least 5 cm deep.

Water Well

Deep watering encourages roots to go deep down in the soil to where it is moist and a lot cooler. Water less frequently but for longer periods, so water reaches deep into soil. Good thorough watering promotes healthier plants. Also, water only when necessary, based on condition of the plant. Most plants will normally wilt in hot sun, and then recover when watered. Also, a dry surface is not always a sign of water need. The surface generally dries out first and is not a true indicator of what is going on down deep near the plant root. Make use of a hand trowel to check for moisture.

Weed Management

Weeds will compete with your plants for moisture and nutrients. Keep your gardens and areas beneath trees and shrubs weed free. Once the weeds are eradicated, apply mulch.

Consider Alternate Watering Methods

Investigate use of soaker hoses or other irrigation techniques using a timer, which keeps water on the soil and reduce losses by evaporation. Adjust watering frequency and amounts based on season, temperature, and amount of rainfall. Overhead watering uses more water and encourages fungal diseases.

Practice Water Conservation

Not just in your gardens. Water is our most valuable resource. Learn how to reduce water use throughout your house and gardens at this link.
Water Conservation Fact Sheet – Otonabee Conservation 20150822_185728

Trench or “Hole” Composting

By Suzanne Seryck,  Peterborough Master Gardener

After squirrels chewed through my black plastic compost bins 2 years in a row, I decided it was time to try something new. Trench or hole composting is a relatively simple, easy and cheap way to compost kitchen and yard waste. The plants are fed at the roots, where they need it the most, producing healthier plants with strong root systems.

The rules of what materials you can compost using this method are similar to that of a compost bin or pile:

  • Dead leaves
  • Kitchen Scraps
  • Newsprint
  • Coffee Grounds
  • Paper
  • Fresh Garden Waste
  • Wood chips
  • Vegetable waste
  • Corrugated cardboard
  • Fresh grass clippings
  • Sawdust
  • Manure
  • Corn Stalks
  • Hay
  • Dry Straw

For more information on what to use look at this Planet Natural article

In just 2 years of composting using this method I have already noticed a difference in the health of my soil, my plants and especially in the number of earth worms.

Trench composting works well in larger vegetable gardens and involves digging a trench approximately 12 to 18 inches deep, filling it with roughly 4 to 6 inches of yard waste and/or kitchen scraps and then back filling with the soil you removed. Trenches can be used either in a rotation cycle, where you would divide the garden into zones, an actively growing zone, a path and a trench composting zone. Each year you would rotate the zones, allowing you to compost the whole vegetable garden in 3 years. The second method is to dig trenches in between the vegetable rows, this method works well if you grow your vegetables in evenly spaced rows. Over time as everything breaks down the compost will then nourish the plants nearby.

compost-trench

However for my small city garden, I found the trench composting system did not work well. I don’t plant in rows and whilst I do practice crop rotation (which is a method of rotating your crops each year to manage soil fertility and help control pests and diseases) I like to use almost every available space in my vegetable garden. Instead I practice “Hole composting”, which works in all types of garden, vegetable, perennial and shrub, just about anywhere where you can dig a 12 to 18 inch hole.

It is especially good if you do not have room for a composter or do not have a sunny location to place a compost bin or pile. Basically you dig a hole, put in the kitchen and/or yard waste, again about 4 to 6 inches and fill the hole in. It really does not get any easier than that. Over time the waste is turned into decomposed organic matter or humus along with millions of microorganisms and there is nothing better for your plants. This type of composting is invisible, does not produce odours, takes very little effort (you don’t have to turn and layer as you would using a compost pile), it costs nothing, and you don’t have to buy other soil amendments or plant fertilizers.

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During the active growing season, I dig holes in my perennial garden and bury my kitchen and yard waste. However, in the fall after I harvest the vegetables I also practice this in my vegetable garden, in particular the areas where I have grown heavy feeders, like corn or squash. The following spring most of the material has decomposed and you are ready to plant. In just 2 years of composting using this method I have already noticed a difference in the health of my soil, my plants and especially in the number of earth worms.

Additional information on trench or hole composting here