Category Archives: Garden Cleanup

The importance of stretching when gardening

Make sure you warm up and stretch like you would for other activities!

By Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

(Disclaimer – The information provided is for general educational purposes only and not intended as medical advice; please discuss your personal situation with a medical professional)

The last time I was at my physiotherapist she said that more than half the cases she sees in April and May are related to gardening and sports injuries. People rush into doing things too quickly and most injuries could have been avoided by simply stretching properly to warm the body up.

“The secret to a healthy garden is a healthy gardener.”

Canadian Physiotherapy Association

Gardening is wonderful for your physical, mental, and emotional health, but if you don’t take care to stretch your body before spending time crouching, bending, and pulling weeds, you’ll end up feeling stiff and sore or potentially injuring yourself. This is especially important at the beginning of the season when we’ve been less active over winter but are overly enthusiastic to get into our gardens and complete all our spring tasks.

A stretching routine before and after gardening helps to minimize muscle imbalances, prevent injury, and improve your ability to garden for longer periods.

A warm up and stretches are critical to avoiding injury, particularly as we get older.

First, take a walk around your garden (or around the block) for 5 to 10 minutes to warm up your large muscle groups. The best stretches prior to gardening are dynamic stretches because they prepare your muscles for the repetitive movements required with gardening. After you finish gardening static stretches are better to improve your overall flexibility. Read more here.

This warm up will raise your heart rate and body temperature, as well as giving you an opportunity to assess your gardening situation and think about your plan for tackling the tasks ahead.

Yawning and stretching at the same time – cats are multitaskers!
(the cat stretch is great for your back as well) #gratuitouscatphoto

An excellent resource is this Michigan State University Rehabilitation Department page. Don’t let the name fool you – these recommendations and terrific embedded videos, as well as the brochure show you how to avoid having to pay them a visit!!

Source: Michigan State University Rehabilitation (https://rehab.msu.edu/media/tips/Gardening_Brochure.pdf)

Here’s some of the key videos:

MSU Gardening Warmup – Upper Extremities

MSU Gardening Functional Five

MSU Gardening Cool Down

And one more from the Marshfield Clinic Health System

Cindy Haynes of the Iowa State University Department of Horticulture has some great advice on preparing your body for the gardening season ahead. Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor at the University of Vermont’s Extension Department of Plant and Soil Science lists a number of stretches in this article.

The SouthEast Wisconsin Master Gardeners teamed up with the University of Wisconsin – Extension department to create this informative body mechanics brochure which includes both stretches and tips for various activities like bending, lifting, and turning.

If you suffer from arthritis, this publication by the U.S. National AgrAbility Project called Arthritis and Gardening contains information about arthritis, how it affects gardening activities, and things you can do to minimize its effects.

A few final words from my own experience:

  • Make sure you always have enough water with you and drink plenty of it, particularly in the summer months. Dehydration can impede your body function and lead to aches and pains. Read more detail here.
  • While doing repetitive activities, limit any one to 20 minutes, then take a 5 minute break and stretch. Then your next activity should not involve the same muscle group. So weed for 20 minutes, stretch, then rake for 20 minutes.
  • After a busy day gardening and completing some static stretches, a warm bath with Epsom salts does the body a lot of good.

Gardening is a great activity for maintaining and improving your body’s range of motion, bone density and muscle strength, and joint flexibility, not to mention the benefits of reducing stress and anxiety, which we are all dealing with during this pandemic.

At Sergeant Phil Esterhaus used to say on the TV show Hill Street Blues “Let’s be careful out there”.

Don’t Spring into Spring Clean-Up just Yet

By Anica James, Master Gardener in Training

Spring is finally here, a time for new beginnings. The days are getting longer, birds are singing their hearts out and the snow has melted for the most part, but it’s still too soon to do any kind of clean up in your yard. It may be tempting to get out the rake or leaf blower just because it’s sunny and leaf bags are on sale at your local box store, but we need to hold off just yet for the sake of helping other creatures and pollinator species who are still asleep.

Although we are all anxiously waking up from our own personal winter hibernation–whether it be mental or physical–many creatures around us are still sound asleep in the leaf litter or below the mulch and we should not disturb them just yet. When you clean up your yard too soon, all for the sake of aesthetics or curb appeal, you are essentially removing all of the beneficial insects in your vicinity, like those responsible for making your flowers bloom or for your fruit and vegetable plants to produce food.

Some beneficial pollinators overwinter in the hollow stalks of perennials and under rocks. Examples of insects local to us that are still in diapause state are butterflies (like Mourning Cloaks or Question Marks), lacewings, ladybugs, mason bees and parasitic wasps, which all spend the winter either as pupae or adults hidden away in your yard. Even Luna moths and black swallowtails spend the winter months in cocoons or pupa that look just like a crumpled brown leaf, so be on the lookout for those.

It is best to wait until the temperature is consistently 10 degrees Celsius before you start raking leaves, turning soil, or using a leaf blower. Personally, I like to play it safe with the 10 For 10 rule: 10 degrees for 10 days. This allows nature to take its course and it allows me to have enough time to observe my property and familiarize myself with the various kinds of flora and fauna that emerge post-winter.

If you do decide you feel so inclined to “tidy up” this early, do it with purpose and be mindful of the sleeping and living creatures that are still hidden away. Take your time, look for any signs of beneficial insect stages and either take note and leave it for a later date, or carefully cut and set it aside in a natural area so solitary bees and others insects can still use the refuse for food or shelter. Refrain from adding more mulch because it can trap certain kinds of beneficial bees, beetles and flies that burrow in the ground (almost 70% of Canada’s bee species nest underground). For more information on how to properly “clean up” your yard read Nesting and Overwintering Habitat for Pollinators and Other Beneficial Insects PDF by the Xerces Society.

But again, the best thing to do is wait and to try to remove as little from your property as possible.

So in the meantime, what can you be doing instead of gardening?

  • Get outside, go for walks, enjoy the little things; notice the bulbs emerging naturally and gracefully from the cool earth, poking their way through the leaf litter- now is the time to enjoy the scilla, crocus, pushkinia, galanthus and helleborus
  • Continue to sow vegetable and annual seeds indoors and plan your garden; what are your goals for this year, however big or small?
  • Early spring is the best time of year to be on the lookout for invasive pests and plant species and begin to develop an Integrated Pest Management plan; gypsy moths, garlic mustard, european buckthorn, and goutweed are commonly found throughout the Peterborough area
  • Focus on spring cleaning your tools, your patio furniture, tidying your deck, potting bench or shed; put more focus into the inanimate things
  • Celebrate the beginning of spring by honouring the maple tree, it’s delicious sap and syrup, and the work that goes into providing us all with natural liquid sugar; maybe consider ordering a maple for your own yard
  • Repot indoor plants if needed
  • Read up on and think about ways you can increase pollinator habitat on your property or within your community, no matter the scale

There is so much that you can do while resisting the urge to rake or blow. Relax, enjoy the much needed sunshine that the vernal equinox has brought us after the long winter and try to go at the same pace nature is. Patience will pay off in the long run once you remember that gardening isn’t just about plants.

Great resources for more information about pollinators that spend the winters in our gardens and why we should hold off until mid-April to start yard work:

Planning for pollinators

by Rachel Burrows, Master Gardener

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information

Pollinator Hotels

Pollinator Conservation in Yards and Gardens

Ontario Nature Pollinator Page

Maple Seedlings — it’s that time of year again!

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

One of the main reasons why I bought my current home in the centre of Lindsay was the majestic Maple and Walnut trees lining each side of the road. I was lucky enough to purchase a house with a Silver Maple and a red Norway Maple in the front yard. I now have the front yard of my dreams, partial- to full-shade, and full of hostas, cimicifugas, astilbes, and countless other shade perennials and bulbs.

Front Garden

However as I learned in the first spring, having two very large maple trees, especially a Norway maple, in the garden does come with some disadvantages. The first spring after I moved in, thousands of seedlings emerged in the front perennial bed. At that time I had not dug out my entire front garden; 50% of it was still lawn, so it was a little more manageable. The small seedlings in the perennial bed I pulled out and I mowed over the seedlings in the lawn. Once my entire front garden became perennial beds three years ago, the number of seedlings exploded. I probably should add, just to be fair to my two maple trees, that it is not entirely their fault. In the fall I leave most of the leaves on the soil, occasionally raking them up, mulching them and spreading them back down. I also collect bags of leaves from friends and neighbours and after mulching them up, I spread them liberally over both the front and back garden. Both these practices definitely increases the number of seedlings I get, but I tend to weigh the benefits of improving the soil against dealing with the seedlings.

many seedlings
The photo above shows approximately 10 maple seedlings in between spring bulbs

Norway maples, as most people are now aware, are considered an invasive species. They are fast growing, often out-competing native trees. There were widely planted in most cities due to their vigorous growth and tolerance of city conditions including soil compaction, pollution, and salt. They also produce huge numbers of seed, which can grow in very dense conditions and grow very quickly. Now, I have to add here that my other maple tree, the silver maple, also produces large numbers of seed. Whilst it is a native tree, it also grows very quickly and is widely planted in cities. It is also a tree that is disliked by many; you only have to do a search on the internet to find many articles similar to this one by the Globe and Mail.

So back to the main reason for writing this blog — how to deal with the thousands of maple seedlings that germinate every spring. Before you can begin to eradicate anything you need to be able to identify it.  I quickly learned how to identify a maple seedling; see picture below.

3 maple seedlings 1
Close up picture of maple seedlings

Once you have pulled out a few hundred or thousand of these, you will be able to spot one from at least a 20-30 foot distance. Beware, they like to hide under piles of leaves, or try to blend in with your other spring ephemerals, such as under the leaves of yellow wood poppies or hellebore. They germinate rapidly once the weather warms, making it difficult to pull them out without stepping on other bulbs or perennials that are just starting to emerge. They often stand there taunting you in the middle of your bloodroot, knowing that you won’t weed in between until after the plant has finished flowering, at which point the maple seedling has grown a few more inches. The following are some of the strategies that I have developed over the past three years for handling the maple seedlings that germinate in my garden each year:

  • Pull them out as early as you can. If you can pull them when they are only 1 or 2 inches tall they can easily be pulled by hand. When I say easily here I am referring to the strength needed to pull them, not the wear and tear on your back and knees, which I will attempt to address later. But beware as I mentioned earlier, the seeds grow quickly. If the seedling is more than a few inches in height you might want to use a pair of pliers allowing you to get a good grip on the seedling before pulling out. Unfortunately if the seedling is much bigger than that, you may have to dig it up.
  • The strategy that I use most often is to try and turn it into a game as this also stops you from tearing your hair out. Whenever I leave the house, I make myself pull out 10-50 seedlings. The amount often depends on how much of a rush I am in, but I never leave the house without pulling at least 10 out. I must admit that this has occasionally made me late for an appointment, but the knowledge that I have done something productive is well worth it. Now this game can also be played in reverse (I know, it’s sounding more fun all the time), meaning that you can play it when you return from whatever you were doing. If it’s dark you may have to grab a flashlight and if you’re carrying grocery bags, they can be left on the driveway, at least for a short while. Before you go into the house, pull up at least 10 seedlings. Trust me, this game will grow on you.
  • Enlist family and anyone else who (usually) routinely visits you to partake in this game also. Do not make them a cup of tea unless they can produce 10 pulled seedlings. I was able last year to persuade my husband on a couple of occasions to join me, although I’m not sure that he participated in it strictly for the enjoyment factor.
  • Pay your children or your neighbour’s children (when it’s safe to invite them over) to pull them out.  The only trouble with this is they will only be able to pull out the seedlings that can be reached via the path. But if you’re lucky, they may take cookies as part payment.

Do not, on any account leave any seedlings, thinking you will pull them out next year. When I moved into my current house, I had maple trees 3 to 4 feet tall growing next to the foundations of the house, the garage, and anywhere where it was almost impossible to get a spade in to dig them out. They grow very quickly; do not look away!

pile of maple seedlings

Photo above shows how many seedlings I collected in 5 minutes yesterday.  Unfortunately, this year looks like another bumper year for these volunteers in my garden.

What to Do About Road Salt Damage

By Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

With a retaining wall and a paved boulevard, we have never had to worry about salt damage to our lawn and plants. Now, living in a new development with grass growing right to the street and grass boulevards, salt damage from road salt is a new fact of life. We have all seen the damage to certain trees (cedars especially) where the foliage has turned brown from salt spray. Sod gets chewed up from the plows and grass at the side of the road turns brown as well.

In addition to the mechanical damage from snow clearing, there are some other things which are happening to cause this damage:

  • The salt spray causes the foliage to dry out. On deciduous plants, the buds can be desiccated by the salt.
  • Salt absorbs a lot of water. Even if the ground is wet, if there is salt in the ground it is preventing the plants from accessing the water.
  • Salt breaks down into its component ions of sodium and calcium. The calcium gets absorbed into the leaves preventing photosynthesis. The sodium prevents the roots from taking up necessary nutrients.

In early spring there are things we can do to help our plants to recover from and to mitigate the effects of salt and salt spray:

  • Gently rake and remove as much of the salt and sand that has been left behind around the curb area after the snow has melted. For the rest of the lawn, you need to wait until the ground has thawed and dried out; you don’t want to leave foot impressions in the lawn.
  • Hopefully we will have lots of rain to wash the salt spray from the boughs of the plants, and to wash that water away. If not, then wash the spray off of the plants.
  • Water, and lots of it, applied slowly over several days is the way to rinse the salt that has gotten into the soil out. It takes 7-8cm of water to rinse 50% of the salt out of the soil; 13cm to wash 90% out. If we have a dry spring, and don’t get that much water over a few days, then where possible augment rainfall with water.

As we get ready for winter we can take steps to protect our gardens in the fall:

  • Put a good layer of mulch in the form of leaves over the perennial beds close to the roads. This can then be removed in the spring, taking much of the salt with it.
  • Protect trees and shrubs with burlap wrapping.
  • Put up a barrier or screen to prevent salt runoff back onto your property.
  • Use other materials around your home, like sand or salt alternatives to provide traction in icy conditions.
  • Use salt-resistant plants close to roads and sidewalks.

Now, let’s hope for lots of spring rain to freshen up our gardens and get the growing season underway!

The following web sites will give you more information about what to look for as well as having suggestions for salt resistant plants:

Salt damage in Landscape Plants
Salinity, Salt Damage

Before and after the same spot of lawn.

 

Halloween Gardening

By Christine Freeburn, Master Gardener

What can you do in the garden now, with Hallowe’en just around the corner?

DSCN7053Plant garlic! Yes, this is the time of year to plant garlic for harvesting next summer. You can probably still find garlic bulbs at farmers markets. Buy locally grown garlic, not product of China. Separate the cloves from the bulb and plant at a depth of 3 times the height of the bulb in rows in the garden. Cover two-thirds deep with soil and then top off with straw or mulch. For full details, see this fact sheet on growing garlic.

DSCN5616Plant tulips! Although it may be too late to plant daffodils, you can still pop some tulips into the ground, even up to freeze up. Squirrels do love tulips, but if you plant them deep enough (6 to 8 inches), use hen manure or bone meal, and cover up the bare spot with leaves or mulch, you should deter them. Check this link for more spring bulb information.

Cut some hydrangea blooms! Hydrangeas have been tinged by the frost and many are lovely shades of pink. Bring some into your home and place in an empty vase and they will dry naturally.

Cut back some perennials. Putting your garden to bed in the fall, gives you a head start in spring. It also gets you into the garden to pull any weeds that have sprung up and may be going to seed. Cutting back daylilies, iris and hosta can tidy up the garden, but I recommend not chopping everything down. Cut back any seed heads that you don’t want to reseed. Leave your grasses and sedums standing. They will help to hold the snow in the garden which helps to insulate the frozen ground, which is a good thing.

DSCN4263Don’t rake! Mulch those leaves into your lawn with your lawn mower. It’s easier on your back and is so good for the lawn. Use your leaf blower to mulch into your flower beds too.

What To Do With All Those Fall Leaves?

by Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

What to do with leaves? It used to be that one would rake the leaves, put them into bags to be collected by the municipality, where they would often be put into landfill or composting. They are a rich source of organic material for the garden that helps retain moisture in the soil.

I have a friend that collects leaves that fall on her lawn, bags them and uses them the next spring in her vegetable garden. They first mulch them into the lawn, then, what remains is collected into bags and stored until spring. The leaves are spread between the rows of her vegetable garden in the spring and watered down. When the tender vegetable plants have sprouted, she then uses the leaves to mulch around all of her veggies. By fall there are no more leaves, just rich organic material in the soil for next years garden.

The leaves can also be used to protect tender perennials by covering them with a blanket for the winter. Indeed, mulch all of your perennial beds with leaves in the fall to protect them from winter extremes. And don’t be in a hurry to uncover them in the spring.

I’ve included a couple of links to give you other ideas of how to use this valuable resource.

Things to do with fall leaves

What to do with fall leaves

Waiting for top soil and sod for our new home, I’ve “planted” pots with my shrubs, tulip tree and peonies into the fill along the side of the house. I collected some bags of leaves along the roadside and have mulched the pots for the winter.

IMG_0142

September in the Garden

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

Fall is in the air.  You can see the days getting shorter, and feel that the temperatures are cooling.  The Canada Geese are grouping; ready to make their noisy trip south.  The boats and camping trailers are also heading south.  The monarchs will soon be leaving us for sunnier climates in Mexico.  It’s that time of year where every living thing in our region starts preparing for the colder seasons to come.monarch2015

In the garden, fall is a great time for planting, dividing, weeding, mulching and planning for spring renovations.  The soil is warm, the days are cooler and the rain is usually frequent.  These three items are a big part of what is needed to get new plantings well established before the snow flies.

Fall Planting

Now is the time to plant buy and plant spring-flowering bulbs like tulips, daffodils, allium, snowdrops and crocus.  Shop early for the best selection.  If you are plagued by squirrels, know that they do not go after daffodils — so fill your basket with these instead of some of the more delicious bulbs like tulips that may just make a tasty snack.

Now is also a great time to plant late season annuals like pansies, kale and cabbage for garden bed interest or for front door planters.  It’s also prime tree and shrub planting time.  Water well until freeze-up.

Fall Dividingrudbeckia

September is a great time to divide some of those perennials that have outgrown their space, or that you’d like to share with others.  Watch for obvious division points for hosta, black-eyed susans, coneflower, iris and daylilies.  Plants will have enough time to establish roots in their new homes if this splitting and replanting is done now.  After splitting, cut back any unnecessary leaves or flower stalks from these to make the transition a little easier for these perennials.

Fall Weeding

Many of us have lost interest in this task by now.  However, if you consider that every weed that remains in your beds is likely to go to seed, and that most weeds carry hundreds of seeds, it’s totally in your best interest to keep those beds as weed-free as possible.  For me, this includes deadheading any self-seeding perennials as well.

Fall Mulching

Add some compost, and a two- to three-inch layer of mulch to beds to get them ready for winter. It’s like putting the comforter on the bed.  You can use garden-centre mulch for this, but I have a neighbour with mature maple trees that provide all of the leaves that I can use.  Leaves are great insulator, and best of all, they’re completely free!

Spring Renovation Planning

Lastly, fall is a great time for you to assess areas of the garden which may need renovation next spring.  I sometimes draw maps of the different plants in my garden beds, and it’s not uncommon to see the words “remove”, “divide” and “move” scrawled across these drawings. You may think that you’ll remember all of this next spring, but I have my bets against you on this one!

Here’s to some great fall preparation to make next spring just a little bit more organized and successful.

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.

CherylH1

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.

barrels

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.

CherylH2