Category Archives: Information

Low Growing Natives for Lawn Replacement

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bearberry (Kinnikinnick) Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

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

Creeping Juniper, Juniper horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’

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

Prairie Smoke, Geum triflorum

Prairie Smoke; Author’s garden

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

Small Pussytoes, Antennaria howelli

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

Pasque Flower, Anemone patens or sometimes Pulsatilla vulgaris

Pasque Flower; Author’s garden

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

Nodding Wild Onion, Allium cernuum

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

Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberosa

Butterfly Weed with Zinnias; Author’s garden

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

Check out the following nurseries for native plants

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

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

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

In Praise of Sunflowers

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

The weather outside at this time of year is a bit frightful, so as a diversion, let’s vault ourselves temporarily into mid-summer and learn about that giant of summer flowers — the sunflower. In all their colourful glory, these plants are a happy sight to behold—but there’s more to their nature than just beauty. The multipurpose plants deliver healthy snacks for us, useful oils, and seeds for our feathered friends.

Sunflowers are members of the family Asteraceae, which all form a composite head (capitulum) made of masses of simple flowers (florets) that each produce a seed if successfully pollinated. Sunflowers typically have between 1,000 to 1,400 florets, and potential seeds, per head. The capitulum is surrounded by petals, making the whole structure seem like one single flower. The latin name for the common sunflower is Helianthus.

Butterflies, beneficial insects, hummingbirds and birds flock to sunflower heads for food, pollen and nectar. Insects enjoy the flower pollen and nectar while birds feast on the seeds. Plant tall varieties along a fence to block an unsightly view, or try them in the back of the flower border or along the side of the house or garage. You can also use sunflowers instead of corn in a Native American ‘Three Sister’s Garden’: Plant pole beans to grow up the clump of 3-week old sunflower stalks, and plant winter squash and pumpkins around the base of the clump 3 weeks after the beans. The beans will climb up the flowers and the low-growing squash will shade out weeds and prevent the soil from drying out.

The flowers not only look like the sun; they need a lot of it. They grow best with about six to eight hours a day but more is even better. They can grow as tall as 16 feet, although many varieties have been developed to thrive at different heights. Flowers planted too close together will compete and not blossom to their full potential.

Sunflowers display a behavior called heliotropism when they are young–the flower buds and blossoms will face east in the morning and follow the sun as the earth moves during the day. However, as the flowers get heavier during seed production, the stems will stiffen and the mature flower heads will generally remain facing east.

Although sunflowers can be started indoors in individual peat pots, it is easiest to sow seeds directly into the soil after all danger of spring frost is past. However, where the growing season is short, sunflowers can be safely planted up to 2 weeks before the last expected spring frost.

Resources

Sunflower Facts – Things You Didn’t Know About Sunflowers

How to Plant, Grow and Care for Sunflowers: The Old Farmer’s Almanac

Helianthus: Wikipedia

Winter Bird Treats

By Lois Scott, Master Gardener

I have been fortunate this winter to have the ability and opportunity to carry on with regular, ‘socially distanced’ walks in my neighbourhood and to be able to enjoy the winter interest provided by nature. 

On several walks I was quite excited to see small flocks of Pine Grosbeaks and Cedar Waxwings feeding on ornamental crabapple trees (Malus species) in two neighbouring gardens that I pass by.  For me it was a special treat to see Pine Grosbeaks, as they are a somewhat irregular winter visitor to the Kawarthas.  Their breeding range is in the boreal forest and, according to Drew Monkman, if there is food they stay put. If not they travel south where you may see them on feeders or fruit trees, such as crabapples.  

Crabapples, typically planted for their flowers, produce colourful fruit that is not only attractive in winter but a potential source of food for birds.  In choosing a variety to plant, Landscape Ontario recommends considering resistance to disease and insects, and fruit persistence, which is important for feeding the birds as the crabapples need to stay on the tree. Another noteworthy fact is that birds can be picky eaters and in their estimation apparently not all crabapples are created equal.  For example they like ‘Prairiefire’ whereas they do not like ‘Adams’, ‘Donald Wyman’ or ‘Red Jewel’.  Who knew!  I don’t know what the varieties are of the two different trees I saw birds in but the tree in the first photograph shows the tree fairly well stripped of fruit. In the second photo there is still plenty of fruit that they have not come back to finish. 

Crabapple trees in the author’s neighbourhood

There are other excellent choices of native trees and shrubs that can provide winter food sources for birds.  The hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), a shade tree that works well in ‘difficult’ urban areas, hawthorns (Crataegus species), highbush cranberry (Viburnum trilobum), and red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) are a few good choices. 

For a more comprehensive list of crabapple varieties and other native species to feed the birds in winter please check out the following links.

For more general information on attracting birds to your garden please check out Master Gardener Judy Bernard’s excellent posts on our Peterborough Master Gardeners website.

Year in Review, Part II

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

I wrote the first part of this two-part blog on a beautiful fall day, with a temperature of around 20 degrees and blue skies. Today as I’m writing it is the type of winter day that I love, temperature hovering around zero, snow on the ground and I don’t need 4 or 5 layers of clothes on when I go out for a walk. The first part of my year in review blog that was published back in November described some of the many challenges and learning experiences I faced gardening in 2020, including growing Sicilian zucchinis, handling Creeping Charlie in my lawn, and becoming more selective when deadheading. In this second section I’ll continue on with the challenges, including staking perennials, trying to grow an English cucumber and battling with the wildlife over the grapes, blueberries and currants.  

Now I have to admit before I start, that staking is not really my thing; it typically needs planning and thinking ahead. You can stake reactively as I tend to do, but by then it is often too late; the plants still look untidy, flop over adjacent plants and you can see the stakes, which for me personally is an issue. Last spring my iris, lupins and especially peonies grew so tall so quickly that they easily outgrew the old peony cages that surrounded them.  My fall asters also fell over as they hadn’t been staked at all and were easily over six feet tall. So this spring I need to be more preventative and stake as early as I can. There are many different types of stakes that you can use such as grow-through supports as in peony cages or tomato cages. These work well if the plants are not too tall, although I do have some of the larger tomato cages in my garden. Grid-type supports also work well for plants that bloom heavily, and for irises I tend to use single stakes that I can just move around the garden as needed. You can also make your own supports using bamboo stakes or tree branches and twine or even chicken wire. Most gardening catalogues, such as Veseys or Lee Valley sell plant supports in many styles. For me however, I tend to find them quite expensive and tend to work with tomato cages or make my own.  For more information please see the following article: https://www.bhg.com/gardening/flowers/perennials/staking-and-training-perennials/

English cucumbers, what can I say, I still tend to prefer these over other varieties that definitely grow much better here. English cucumbers tend to be longer, thinner, with an edible skin and in my opinion taste better. They do not however like cold temperatures, so if planting in the garden ensure that all danger of frost has long passed, and in fact, wait a further week or two after that. They also have shallow roots so need more frequent watering. I also find that for me they grow stronger and healthier if I provide some type of shade when it gets really hot. English cucumbers will also grow straighter and longer if the fruit can hang, so growing on a vertical support works really well. However, after saying all that, I still am unable to grow them as well as I would like and they are definitely very labour-intensive. So for this year, I am going to grow a different variety, although in saying that I have not tried growing cucumbers in containers, so that might be an option to try. Greta’s Organic Gardens have some interesting cucumber varieties for seed purchase, including Crystal Apple Cucumber that is shaped like an apple when mature, a Miniature White Cucumber which needs no peeling and is eaten when smaller than 3 inches. Lastly a Spacemaster Picking Cucumber that can be grown in either a container or a hanging basket. This company is one of many Organic seed companies based in Ontario. https://www.seeds-organic.com/pages/contact-us

And last but not least, one of my favourite subjects last year in the garden was the wildlife, namely the dreaded squirrels and rabbits. We have a few different structures that we have built to keep out the animals, including:

And:

Not to mention:

This last picture shows simple plant trays with a mesh bottom lying upside down over new seedlings. I use these both to deter the animals and also to help keep the seedlings shady. However, none of these prevented the squirrels from taking bites out of most of my tomatoes, eating all my grapes, of which we had a bountiful crop, and the birds from eating my blueberries and white currants. The previous year I had put nets over the blueberries and currants which had helped, however since then I have read a few articles stating that the types of netting I was using could damage both birds and other wildlife so I was reluctant to put it on again. I have since done more research but not found anything yet suitable for my needs. However it is only January and will likely get a lot colder, which gives me plenty of time to do more investigation and come up with something suitable.

Gardening with Ferns

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

Ferns are fascinating plants! They evolved more than 350 million years ago. Ferns and their allies were the most common plants during prehistoric times. Today, there are over 12,000 fern species growing everywhere except at the poles.

Ferns are special in the gardening world. They are exotic and beautiful but not as flamboyant as many plants. We have developed a fern “dictionary” to describe them. For example, an entire fern leaf is actually called a frond and the stem is called a stipe. Ferns reproduce via spores which are not the same as seeds and ferns do not produce flowers. If you study ferns, you may be a pteridologist….oh my!

Fern propagation means collecting spores or bulblets. Fern propagation, using spores or bulblets, is explained here . There is only one native Ontario fern that produces bulblets. It is the bulblet fern or Cystopteris bulbifera. The easiest way to obtain a new fern is, of course, to buy one. A list of local vendors is below. Some ferns spread via rhizomes or underground runners, just split the root with a sharp shovel and separate out the fronds of the new plant. You may also split ferns with fibrous roots as you would many perennials, once they reach an adequate size, again using a sharp shovel. You may split then plant ferns in the spring or fall. Check out your friend’s gardens…you may find a fern, or two, growing that your friend may be willing to share. Please do not harvest from the wild. Some fern species no longer grow in the wild because of over harvesting.

Maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum), Author’s garden

Ferns may be used in your garden as an exclamation point or a secret quiet spot, mixed in with your other shade loving perennials or in a woodland garden. I have some ferns mixed in my gardens now but 2021 is the year that I plan to tackle the creation of a woodland garden. I have already put in an order for some ferns including the bulblet fern (Cystopteris bulbifera), ghost fern (Athyrium X Ghost) and the ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris). This grouping should work well together because they all prefer shade or part sun and moist soil with lots of organic matter. I plan to amend their location with compost and to mulch after planting to maintain moisture and reduce weeds. These plants are perennials so I will expect to see them again next year.

Ferns are beautiful plants whose graceful, arching fronds would make a great addition to your garden!

Resources

American Fern Society

Ontario Ferns

Peterson Guide to Ferns, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Second Edition (Sept. 26 2005), ISBN-10: 0618394060

Where to Buy Ferns

Gardens Plus, Peterborough

Ground Covers Unlimited, Bethany

Native Plants in Claremont

Please support your local nurseries. Many of them, including those listed above, carry the more unusual plants that you will not likely find at the big box stores.

Ground Covers

By Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ground covers in the author’s garden

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

Favourites from My Bookshelf

By Lois Scott, Master Gardener

The Internet conveniently provides seemingly endless avenues when searching for information on best practices for gardening but there are times I prefer to turn to my bookshelf for a favourite and trusted author.  Here is a collection of books that I find useful in a practical sense or just to reread to refresh my mind on certain topics. 

How Plants Work by Linda Chalker-Scott, a well-known “associate professor and extension urban horticulturist at Washington State University” is an excellent resource for me.   Quoting the back cover “this book arms you with the information that will change the way you garden.  You’ll learn how to fertilize and prune more effectively, how to weed less and how to determine which garden products are worth your time and money”.  She discusses the science of how plants work but most importantly for me, translates that into practical science-based practices for my garden.  As a bonus it does include attractive, instructive photographs.  Dr. Chalker-Scott is a very engaging author.  I also recommend her other books The Informed Gardener and The Informed Gardener Blooms Again which are both collections of her Garden Myths.

What A Plant Knows:  A Field Guide to the Senses by Daniel Chamovitz is another fascinating book about how plants work.  In this book Dr. Chamovitz discusses the science around what a plant sees, smells, feels, hears (or doesn’t hear), how it knows where it is and what it remembers.  This book is beautifully written, very engaging and the science quite accessible.

The Pruning Book by Lee Reich is very useful, practical and well written. .  Dr. Reich takes the reader through the basics of pruning, the tools and the plants, including ornamental trees and bushes, evergreens, vines, fruit and nut trees/bushes, houseplants and herbaceous plants.  For the adventurous he also describes specialized techniques such as topiary and espalier.  There are many useful photographs and diagrams along the way that are both instructive and attractive.

I am looking forward to adding to the bookshelf in the near future.  I do have two of Doug Tallamy’s books on order from The Hunter Street Book Store in Peterborough where the above books can also be ordered.   The Peterborough Public Library has a hard copy of The Informed Gardener, and electronic copies of How Plants Work and What a Plant Knows.  Also available at the library are electronic copies of two of Lee Reich’s other books Weedless Gardening and The Ever Curious Gardener.  I am also always interested in other gardener’s favourite books to potentially add to my collection. 

Bromeliads

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener

Continuing on a similar theme to last week’s blog on Orchids by Master Gardener Cheryl Harrison, I thought I would touch on another family of plants that are tropical and exotic; the Bromeliaceae family.  Known as Bromeliads, it is a large family which includes more than 50 genera and at least 2,500 known species which are native mainly from an area stretching from the southern U.S. to Central and South America.

Before COVID, we would do an annual visit to the Sarasota area in Florida.  One of my favourite places to visit is the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens.  Selby Garden botanists have made hundreds of expeditions into the tropics and subtropics and have contributed to the most diverse living and preserved collection of epiphytes in the world.  They have a greenhouse that is beautiful to walk through with very knowledgeable volunteers to answer questions.

Many bromeliads are stiff-leaved, rosette-forming plants with brightly coloured leaves, bracts and flowers.  The majority of them are epiphytic, meaning that they grow on the branches of trees without taking nutrients from the tree.  They can also be lithophytic which means they reside on rocks, and the remaining are generally terrestrial, meaning that they grow in soil.  Bromeliad flowers can last several months, but they generally only bloom once.  The mother plant will produce new plantlets, also called ‘pups’.  They are incredibly resilient but do not like to be overwatered.  Their roots are usually used for balance and not for transferring nutrients.  Instead, the leaves take in all of the water and nutrients the plant needs.  They never breath out carbon dioxide almost as if they hold their breath in order not to lose moisture.  It is a very special photosynthesis.

A picture of a Bromeliad Tree taken at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers

Many bromeliads have leaves that form a reservoir to hold water at their bases (known as tank bromeliads), with the largest holding up to two gallons of water.  Types that don’t hold water are called xerophytic or atmospheric bromeliads.

One of the most well-known Bromeliads is in the Ananas genera.  This is the pineapple, Ananas comosus.  Europeans first found out about bromeliads when Columbus went on his second trip to the New World in 1493.  The pineapple was being cultivated by the Carib tribe in the West Indies.  After colonization, it was rapidly transported to all areas of the tropics and became a very important fruit.

Another genus is Tillandsia.  It is the largest group in the family and this genus is also known as “air plants”.  Most do not form tanks and have grey-green leaves and are densely covered with fuzzy scales that give the plants their characteristic colour.  Tillandsia require more humidity than other bromeliads and tend to dehydrate in the dry air of most homes, but can still be grown successfully with more frequent watering.

Spanish Moss falls under this genus, Tillandsia usneoides.  It is very prevalent in Florida and is neither Spanish nor a moss.  Unlike other epiphytes that have roots to anchor themselves to their host tree, Spanish moss has tiny scales on its leaves and its curved structure to cling to its host tree.  It is important for diversity as its large mats that drip from trees harbor a great variety of insects, birds and bats.  In Florida, you usually see Spanish Moss clinging to Live Oaks.

Author standing under a Live Oak tree covered in Spanish Moss


Bromeliads will survive for months or even years under less than ideal conditions.  They need satisfactory light, temperature and humidity.  It is best to use water that is not softened.  You should use a potting mix that holds moisture yet drains quickly.  Orchid bark mixed with course perlite and humus is good for most bromeliads.  The small air plants only need to be misted with a spray bottle or put in a bowl of water for an hour.  If you would like to learn more about these amazing plants, visit University of Wisconsin-Madison.

don’t be afraid!

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

The idea of growing and caring for orchids may be daunting, but perhaps you would like to try something new.  Don’t be afraid! A few years ago, I was seduced by a beautiful, exotic bloom and bought my first orchid.  I was very happy to discover that even I could successfully grow orchids!

All of my orchids are  Phalaenopsis orchids; these are the easiest ones to grow.  I love the airy sound of the Latin name and it suits the common name perfectly which is “moth orchid”.   These orchids bloom in many different gorgeous colours and have shiny, thick and leathery green leaves.  Their aerial roots are part of what makes them look so exotic.  They like the average home’s indoor temperatures and light levels so make great indoor plants.

Phalaenopsis orchids.

Phalaenopsis orchids are epiphytes, or air plants, which means that they grow on rocks or trees in their natural, usually tropical or subtropical, habitat.  They get much of their water and nutrients from the air.  As indoor plants, these orchids will need to be potted in a special potting mix.  Orchid potting mix often contains bark, vermiculite, perlite and moss. Regular potting soil retains too much water which will rot the roots of your Phalaenopsis orchid.  Orchid pots often have holes in the sides of the pot in order to keep the roots well aerated. This inner orchid pot is then often placed in an outer more decorative pot as shown in the picture above.  Orchids need to be repotted every 2-3 years as the bark in the potting mix breaks down.  Orchid potting mix is available from many of our local nurseries.

Phalaenopsis orchids do not like direct sun but will do well in indirect light close to an east or west window.   You may put them outdoors during the warm summer months but not in direct sunlight.  They like high humidity and may benefit from sitting on a drip tray.

Example of a drip tray.

I water my orchids once a week.  I flood the surface of the potting medium with room temperature, non-chlorinated water until it runs through the bottom of the orchid’s pot.  I allow the excess water to drip from the bottom of the orchid pot before placing it back into its outer pot.   I have also used ice cubes to water my orchids.  Place 2-3 ice cubes on the surface of the potting media, not on the plant, once a week, and let them melt.  I know, I know, ice to water a tropical plant??!!  The Ohio State University and the University of Georgia did some experimenting to prove that ice cubes will not harm your orchid.  Check out the results here (Watering Phalaenopsis orchids with ice cubes) .  I do not fertilize my orchids but if you wish to do so here is a link (How do I feed my orchid).

When you purchase your orchid, it may be in full bloom.  Don’t just look at that beautiful bloom!  Check the plant for signs of poor health, disease and/or pests.  The plant’s leaves should be firm, shiny and green not pale and floppy, wrinkled, cracked or missing pieces.  There should be no insects living on your plant.  If you can, look at the roots in the pot, make sure that they are white/cream coloured.  Black/brown roots indicate root rot.  The best place to purchase your orchid is from a reputable local nursery.  Big box stores may have what appear to be lovely plants but you may bring home more than you bargained for…perhaps pests or disease that will kill your orchid and infect your other indoor plants. 

The gorgeous blooms on your orchid will eventually die and drop off.  Cut the flower stem back to the node closest to the where the bottom flower was located.  The stem may die then you will cut it off close to the parent plant or it may develop into a new flower or a baby plant called a keiki.  Cooler night temperatures may encourage reblooming.  I move my plants to my cooler basement to encourage them to rebloom.  Note that they are still exposed to lots of indirect light during the day in my basement.

Don’t be afraid.  Give Phalaenopsis orchids a try.  They are well behaved indoor house plants and their blooms are spectacular!

Phalaenopsis orchid.

Resources

American Orchid Society   
Canadian Orchid Congress

Year in review: part 1

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

It is a beautiful fall day as I’m writing this blog, blue sky and temperature around 20 degrees. I have just finished the last jobs before putting my garden to bed for the winter. The last of my 30 or so bags of leaves have been mulched and put onto the gardens, apple trees have all been wrapped to prevent rabbits and squirrels from eating the bark off of them, and I have emptied the rain barrels onto the trees, shrubs and fruit bushes.

Time for both a well earned rest and for me to put together my garden review list for this year. All season long I jot down notes of anything that is working, not working or something that I need to concentrate on or remember for next year and then I compile it into one list. This year I’m going to share my list in this blog, although the list is a little long for just 1 blog so I’ll split it in 2 parts.

I don’t plant many annuals in my garden–a couple of urns out front with 2 hanging baskets, and some large pots at the back. I love the colour that annuals provide all season, but they typically need more watering than I like to do, and I find them expensive. Last year I overwintered some cuttings I took from both my coleus and sweet potato vines as well as overwintering the purple fountain grass. All the cuttings worked great, and in the spring after hardening off I was able to plant them into my pots and urns; they grew really lush and full. The green potato vine was much stronger and more robust all season than either the purple or copper plants, however the purple fountain grass grew back very slowly never really getting the vibrant purple colour back. This year I’ve taken even more cuttings from my coleus along with the green and purple sweet potato vine. However, I decided that I would rather spend the money on new fountain plants each spring.

Urn in author’s garden

I have 2 large compost piles that I use all year, filling to the top with leaves and then burying food scraps the rest of the year. This year I religiously turned the one pile every couple of weeks starting as early as I could and was rewarded with compost all gardening season. In the second pile though, a couple of errant zucchini plants started growing producing lush growth and lots of flowers and I thought ‘why not leave them?’. I’m sure you can guess the rest, not a single zucchini and I was not able to use any of the compost all season. Note to myself if anything accidentally grows out of the compost next year, turn it back in.

For the first time this season I grew Sicilian zucchini, now I didn’t actually realize I had bought this variety until it started growing up the espaliered tree fence and growing 2-3 foot long zucchinis. I’m definitely going to grow them again next year, although in a different location. When the frost finally killed off the plants and we pulled them off the fence, the wires were no longer taut and needed some tightening. Another point to note is that the zucchinis were consistently eaten throughout August and September when they were barely an inch or two longer. I’m not sure why that only happened later in the summer, maybe the squirrel or rabbit population doubled when I wasn’t looking. I’m thinking of placing bags over the fruit as it is growing, hoping by the time it gets to a foot or more it won’t be quite so attractive to predators.

I tend to leave my perennials to self seed as I love growing plants from seed; it is probably one of my favourite things to do in the garden. I have set aside a nursery plot and any seedlings I find in the garden I move into the nursery. Unfortunately this year I noticed a definite increase in the number of swamp milkweed, verbascum and New England asters seedlings. Now I love these plants, but they are taking over both my garden and my garden paths. I grow Verbascum nigrum which is a beautiful stately plant with either yellow or white flowers. It tends to be a short lived perennial but as it grows profusely from seed, I always have a few plants in my garden. Swamp milkweed is a host for the monarch butterfly; in my garden I have both pink and white flowering plants. They prefer moist to wet soil and because my soil is dry, they are also short-lived. Not so the New England aster; this is a native aster which grows 4 to 5 foot with beautiful purple blue flowers, however it can get very large in just a couple of years. Next year I have to dead head these plants, leaving only a couple to go to seed, which I can then harvest and plant in a specific area of the nursery.

Verbascum in author’s garden; this one plant bloomed all summer.

On the positive side, I was surprised by an abundance of aquilegia (commonly known as columbine) in my front garden that I was not expecting. I had left the seedlings thinking from a distance they were meadow rue, only to be surprised by this showing:

Aquilegia in author’s front garden

Aquilegia are one of my favourite plants, but I tend not to grow them as I find in my garden they are eaten by slugs. One day I have a beautiful plant in full flower, and the next day just a few stems still standing. I’ve slowly been replacing them by meadow rue, which for me has a similar lacy look, which I like when paired with hostas and brunnera. Slugs don’t seem to like meadow rue, but for some unknown reason this year, they also left the aquilegia alone. Based on this I have since ordered some seeds from the native aquilegia, Aquilegia Canadensis, which has beautiful red and yellow flowers and also likes sun to part-shade.

And finally the dreaded creeping charlie in my lawn. I have a small lawn which I have been overseeding with clover in my attempt to make the lawn healthier and more low maintenance. Clover has a lot of great benefits in a law including growing in poor soils. Clover is a nitrogen fixing legume, so it will improve the health of the soil and the surrounding grass, needs less watering and mowing, attracts beneficial insects, and crowds out weeds. Unfortunately though it does not crowd out the creeping charlie and actually seems to co-exist with it harmoniously. The recommended solution in a lawn is to hand pull the creeping charlie and because it grows by rhizomes which then root into the soil, removing all parts of the plant can be very time consuming. I have heard that it is easier if you soak the ground first or weed after it has rained. Note to myself, recruit an army to help me after each rainfall in the spring, either that or learn to love it!