Category Archives: Drought

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”.

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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).

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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

Facing Climate Change: What Gardeners Need to Know

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener

I recently attended a Master Gardener’s Technical Update at the Toronto Botanical Gardens. The subject was Facing Climate Change: What Gardeners Need to Know. The speakers were Dr. Jon Warland, Dr. Steven Hill and Lorraine Johnson. As we sat listening to how our climate is changing and the impacts that this has on current gardening practices, it was not lost to us that we were about to experience an upcoming ice storm at the same time that Australia was dealing with horrific fires. And then on January 17th, Newfoundland is hit with one of the worst winter storms they have ever had!

Some interesting facts I took away with me that day were:

  • Plants that were once borderline hardy are now easily surviving our winters.
  • Severe storm conditions are damaging many of our trees.
  • The Sugar Maple could disappear in this century from the Greenbelt area.
  • Invasive plants are taking hold and pushing out some of our woodland native plants.
  • The average concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere was about 250 parts per million (ppm) in pre-industrial times. Now it exceeds 400 parts per million (ppm).
  • The peak bloom date for cherry trees in Washington, D.C. has shifted earlier by approximately five days since 1921.
  • The current climate in the Golden Horseshoe area will be in Algonquin Park by the end of the century.

Lorraine Johnson spoke at great length about our perception of what was a ‘nice’ garden. She believes that we need to understand the benefits of growing native plants that will be hardy enough to withstand the unpredictable extremes in climate. She presented several examples of people who had replaced their front lawns with native plants or vegetables and had been instructed by the cities to remove the plants or had received bills when the city moved in and cut it all down only because it was considered ‘messy’ and ‘unappealing’!

What we can do as gardeners:

  • Consider using native plants. You will be rewarded with lots of birds, butterflies and insects to help cultivate a natural ecosystem.
  • Grow as many plants as possible (I won’t have a problem with this one). Gardening is a journey and learning what plants work best in your conditions takes time and patience.
  • Learn to live with some weeds, nibbles in leaves, as well as leaf spots. Focus on cultivating plant health.
  • Stop watering your lawns as it is estimated that nearly one-third of all residential water is lost in the watering of lawns. Your lawns will go dormant in dry periods but will return with the fall rains.
  • Consider a rain garden to minimize surface runoff.
  • Include a diverse mix of plants, shrubs and trees to prepare for the possibility of losing certain plants due to climate change.
  • Leave grass clippings on your lawn to add nutrients
  • Mulch fall leaves and add to your lawn or flower beds to avoid having leaves sent to the landfill where the organic material undergoes anaerobic (without oxygen) decomposition that produces the greenhouse gas methane with is worse than CO2.
  • Grow your own vegetables or buy locally from farmers markets to help reduce greenhouse gases when food travels thousands of kilometres from farm to grocery store.
  • MOST IMPORTANT … Get out in your gardens and be thankful for the beauty that surrounds you!

Resources:

The Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation have put out a good report on Gardening in a Changing Climate.

In 2018, Cornell University produced Gardening in a Warmer World.

Becoming the Caretaker of your Garden

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

I first heard the term to be ‘caretaker of your garden’ at a permaculture course a few years ago. It has resonated with me ever since and has changed both the way in which I garden and also the way that I perceive my garden. Being the “caretaker of your garden” means that while you own the land that your garden is on, it is only temporary. You are, in fact, simply looking after that piece of land for a relatively short period of time before passing it on.

For me, being the caretaker of my garden makes me consider the longevity of the garden, what takes away from the health of the garden and what gives back to the garden; how to feed not just my family but also the wildlife whilst providing safe habitats; how to make the garden more self-sustainable reducing my time spent pruning, weeding, and imposing my unnatural demands on the garden thus allowing myself more time to simply enjoy the garden. For most of us, we are already doing the groundwork for this change already–it is simply a shift in the way we view ownership of our garden, or more specifically, the plot of land the garden sits on.

The following are some of the practices that I follow:

  • A healthy garden always starts with healthy soil. I amend my soil annually with leaf compost. I have 2 large leaf composters in my back garden which I fill with bags of leaves I collect from neighbours. I also mulch up approximately 20 bags of leaves and spread these liberally over my vegetable and perennial gardens in the fall.

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  • I cut back very little in my garden in the fall mainly just anything that is diseased. In the spring I cut everything up into 1-2 inch pieces and drop them back on the garden. This also acts as a mulch as well as amending the soil.
  • Plants that have multiple uses are important to me. This may be because I have a small garden; multiple functions can include fix nitrogen, use as a fertilizer, be edible or medicinal etc. as well as aesthetically pleasing.
  • Including vegetable plants in the perennial bed. I will often do this if I run out of room in my vegetable beds, however a lot of vegetable plants have amazing foliage and are great to line paths and place in the front of beds.
  • Recently I have made efforts to increase diversity in my small garden, increasing the number of native plants. Native plants are generally hardier, more adapted to our climate and require less maintenance; they also tend to attract more wildlife and pollinators.
  • I try to water as little as possible using rain barrels as much as I can.  I must admit that any plants that do require more water, or in fact more maintenance of any kind, tend to be replaced fairly quickly.ironweed suzanne

For anyone who has not heard of permaculture, it is a set of guidelines, principles and practices for sustainable living and land use. When you narrow down permaculture to your home garden, you are in effect looking at a more sustainable, natural method of gardening mimicking that found in nature to create a cohesive garden, in which all elements benefit, nurture and interconnect with each other. Whilst that does sound like a fairly lofty aspiration, the good news is that just by implementing or adding a couple of permaculture practices can have a significant impact on your garden, but that sounds like a blog for another day.

For me the term ‘being caretaker of your garden’ and the reasoning behind it align with my passion and concern regarding climate change and environmentalism. Whilst the changes I make may only have a small impact these type of changes can add up and often lead to something bigger.

For further information on permaculture:

Scree Gardening

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

My casual interest in scree gardens became a burning desire to have one (you know the feeling) when I went on my first Peterborough Master Gardener garden tour in 2017. We visited a nursery that had amazing demonstration scree and rock gardens. I was smitten!

A scree garden is found in nature. Small rocks and gravel travel down the side of a mountain because of the freeze-thaw action on the rockface. This material accumulates in crevices, on rock shelves and at the mountain base. It drains well and is home to plants that survive on only rain. Scree gardens are good for areas that are already rocky, sandy or do not have a lot of soil to begin with. However, they can be replicated pretty much anywhere with a raised bed to ensure good drainage. A raised bed is especially important if you have clay soil. Choose a sunny site that is not overshadowed by trees. You don’t want the constant challenge of leaf litter on your garden. As when creating any new garden, make sure all weeds and grass are removed before you start.

Different sources quote different mixes for the actual garden “soil” to use in your raised bed. I used what I had for mine. This consisted of some larger rocks in the bottom, and then a layer of gravel, then mostly sand, and gravel mixed with some garden soil. The sand, gravel, and garden soil mixture was used to fill the spaces in the rocks up to the top of my raised bed. Remember that you are trying to replicate nature so your scree must have excellent drainage and not be overly rich.

I chose plants that I knew could take dryer soils and thrive in my Southern Ontario garden with it’s summer heat and high humidity. There are lots of lists of potential scree and rock garden plants on the internet. Some local nurseries carry plants that will thrive in well drained conditions. Once that you have found plants that will grow, as with any garden, choose plants that will give you the look that you want ie. colour, texture, height and spread.

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Author’s garden

In her book “Pocket Gardening”, gardening writer Marjorie Harris talks about how to maintain the scree and rock gardens. Ms. Harris recommends topdressing the garden with leaf mold and coarse sharp sand or 3/8 inch gravel when plants are dormant which means very early spring or late fall.

Have fun with it and make your garden into what makes you happy!

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Author’s garden

Resources

Anna’s Perennials –  Ontario Rock Garden & Hardy Plant Society –  Rock Wall Gardens

Adding Diversity to Garden Design

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

In June this year, I was sitting with my son on the deck looking at the backyard. He asked me why I had so much grass in the garden. Now, he is definitely not a gardener, so I was a little confused until I realized he was referring to all of the daylily leaves. I felt it my duty to point out the stunning delphiniums, peonies, irises, and lupins which were all in bloom. I also tried to explain that in another month or so the garden will be a riot of colour when all the daylilies and coneflowers started flowering. Daylilies have always been my favourite plants; they are hardy, drought tolerant, low maintenance and beautiful in bloom. See our blog post from July 22 describing how daylilies are the perfect perennial. I probably have at least fifty different varieties, all of which I bought over from my last garden four years ago. But as I sat there looking at the garden I did wonder if maybe I should add more diversity.

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Author’s garden in late spring

Shortly after, I was watching my new favourite garden show on Netflix, ‘Big Dreams, Small Spaces’ with Monty Don. If you have not heard of him, Monty Don is something close to a hero to most British gardeners. In this episode, he was relaying a gardening principle to the couple that were designing their new backyard.  He mentioned that for simplicity and cohesiveness “no garden needs more than seven different plants”.  I was trying to remember where the back button was on the remote as I wasn’t sure I’d heard correctly, but he did partially redeem himself when he clarified that statement by saying that you do not have to take this too literally, but that a good garden can be made with just seven different plants. My current garden design is more of an English cottage garden, informal with little space between plants and if I was going to add more diversity this summer, I would definitely have more than seven different plants.

I spent this summer with pen and paper in hand walking around the garden, asking myself if I really needed 20 different variations of pink daylily, some of which even I struggled to tell apart or did I need the same daylily variety in four different places in the garden. I also noticed the daylily blooms had very few insects compared to the spectacular activity around the native plants. I made copious notes in my notebook and labelled many plants I wanted to move or give away. Because of a rising concern for environmentalism and climate change, I also wanted this to be reflected more in my garden. To do this I decided I needed to do the following:

  • Plant more native plants. I have collected seed from most of my native plants including swamp milkweed, culver’s root and liatris and will use these to fill in over the next few years.
  • Add more edibles to the perennial garden. I tend to edge with swiss chard, beets or cardoon. I don’t actually eat the cardoon but I love the foliage on the plant.
  • Choose more plants that have multiple functions, i.e. yarrow which attracts insects, is drought tolerant, is a nutrient accumulator bringing nutrients from deep in the soil and storing them in the leaves, has attractive flowers in many colors, and can be used as a manure tea.

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Author’s garden in summer

I’m excited for next year to see the changes I’ve made. I’m hoping that I have still kept the basic structure of the garden design with the emphasis on the summer color whilst adding more variety, especially pollinator and native plants. I learned this summer that a garden design does not have to be static; it can evolve as your values and beliefs evolve.

The design of your garden can be very personal, ever changing, reflecting who you are. For me it is somewhere where I feel at peace with the world–there is nothing I like more than taking a cup of tea out to the garden in the morning and just sitting and looking around.

What I Found at the Landfill…

By Mary-Jane Parker, Master Gardener

The other day I took four garbage pails of green waste to the local landfill composting facility. As I was emptying my pails, I looked down and discovered a huge pile of cactus that someone had discarded. I carefully (because they are covered in spines!) put one in a pail, took it home and planted it in a hot , dry and sandy area around the pumping chamber, hoping it would root.

Opuntia are native to the Americas and hardy even in southern Canada. After flowering, they produce fruit which I have seen in grocery stores – albeit bigger varieties of the plant.

Three days later, this is what happened! The little pear shaped protrusions above the pad started blooming one by one. Awesome!

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Daylilies: The Perfect Perennial

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

Daylilies are popular perennial flowering garden plants. They bloom in our area in July and are often called the ‘perfect perennial’ because of its amazing qualities: showy flowers, wide array of vibrant colors, drought tolerance, ability to grow in most hardiness zones and low care requirements. Daylilies are a remarkable and stunning addition to any garden.

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Daylilies are not true lilies even though their trumpet-like flowers resemble lily flowers. True lilies of the genus Lillium grow from onion-like bulbs, while daylilies grow from a mass of fleshy roots that hold moisture and nutrients. Unlike true lilies, daylily flowers are edible and can be consumed raw or cooked.

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Chicago Heather Marsh

Daylily blooms grow at the end of tall stalks called scapes that can range from 6 to 36 inches long. The genus name, Hemerocallis, is derived from Greek words for beauty and day, referring to the fact that each pretty bloom lasts only one day. Don’t be discouraged though; each daylily flower stalk produces many buds so flowers are produced over a bloom period of several weeks. Many cultivars are reblooming which means that the bloom period for those varieties are extended. There are 20 native species of daylilies and more than 80,000 hybrids.

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Homeward Pilgrim

Because they grow wild in so many places, many people think daylilies are a native North American plant, but they are not. They were introduced to North America by Europeans during the colonial period. Their roots can survive out of the ground for weeks which allowed them to arrive here with the colonists’ ships and spread across the Americas in pioneer wagon trains.

They grow best in zones 4 through 9.  They suffer few pest and disease problems and have a long blooming season. They can be a great solution for areas that are steep or otherwise hard to mow. Their dense root system reduces soil erosion and can choke out most weeds.

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Rocket Booster

In the wild, daylilies occur only in orange or yellow. But since the 1930s, breeders have developed hybrid varieties with flower colors ranging from cream through varied shades of yellow, orange, red, crimson, pink and purple. There are hybrids that have petal edge bands or petal tips or throats of a contrasting color, or with ruffled or scalloped petal edges.

Daylilies will grow for many years without any attention, but the plants will produce more flowers if they are divided about every 5 years or so. This is a job for late summer, after the plants have finished blooming. Dig up the entire plant and place it on a tarp. Cut or pull the clump apart into manageable clumps. Before replanting, use scissors to trim the foliage back to a height of 5 or 6″. When re-planting, daylilies must go into the ground at least 6 weeks before the ground freezes and should be in a location where they get at least six hours of sun daily.

For more information:

Everything You Should Know about Daylilies
All about Daylilies
How to Grow Daylilies

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!

 

 

 

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.

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