Category Archives: Information

Starting from scratch — 2 months later

By Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

As mentioned in the my previous blog, creating healthy soil is to be the topic of this article.

Healthy soil is made up of the following components:

Sand, silt and clay – in any soil they are the bones, the structure that is the foundation on which the rest is built. About 48% of the soil.

Air spaces – are the lungs of the soil. They allow for movement of oxygen, water, and nutrients. About 25% of the soil

Organic material – is the food which nourishes the soil to make it a living microcosm for plants to grow in. The microorganisms in the soil process the organic material into a form that plants can use when they need it. The larger organisms in the soil help to maintain its structure. The organic material in the soil is also like a sponge which will hold many times its weight in water. This represents ideally about 4% of the soil.

Water – is like blood. It carries the nutrients from the soil to the roots of plants in a form the plants can use.

In the housing development where I live, we have been provided with good bones. Some of the soils may have more or less of one component than another, but for the most part the bones are good.

From my perspective, the biggest issues are:

  1. compaction from all of the heavy construction equipment that has been driven over and over the sites. Even when the topsoil was put down, dump trucks and bulldozers were used. The soil and sub soil are deeply compacted.
  2. lack of organic material in the soil.
  3. the inability of the soil to retain water.

To overcome these problems the soil needs to be aerated, whether by mechanical means with a core aerator or by hand with a shovel. The plugs of soil, although unsightly, can be left on top of the soil to dry out and then run over with a lawn mower to break them up and spread them over the ground or lawn. Then organic material needs to be added to the soil. For the grass, I would add compost which you can purchase in bulk from garden centres. Spread 1-2 cm (1/2”) over the lawn and rake it in. You may want to add a little grass seed where there are bare spots. With the compost, you won’t have to add any other fertilizer and you won’t have to water very much. For my flower and vegetable beds I add a more generous amount of compost or manure, working the manure into the soil so it doesn’t smell.

It takes 2.5cm (1”) of water to penetrate 15cm (6”) into the soil. With air spaces and multiple surfaces for the water to adhere to and with organic material to act as a sponge and hold the water, the water will stay In the soil better and not run off. For growing vegetables 2.5cm per week is a good rule of thumb. Add more if it’s very hot or windy. With healthy soil, watering the lawn and garden is less of an issue.

The most common grass used for sodding is Kentucky Blue Grass. It is natural for this grass to go dormant in the hot summer months. With good healthy soil to support it, the grass will be able to overcome the drought and revive as the weather gets cooler.

You know you have healthy soil when it has a nice crumbly texture, the surface of the soil doesn’t crack from the heat and when the soil absorbs water instead if having the water sit in pools or run off into ditches. I’ve added a couple of web sites with further information about healthy soils and adding compost to lawns.

Resources

Healthy Soils, UMass Extension
Compost for Summer Lawns, Planet Natural Research Center

Bewitching Witch Hazel

By Lois Scott, Master Gardener in Training

Although the title to this blog may sound overstated, I find my Common Witch Hazel, known botanically as Hamamelis virginiana, to be anything but common. This native, deciduous shrub has a rounded crown with a graceful, vase shaped growth habit and yellow, fragrant flowers that emerge September to October along with yellow fall leaf colour. The flowers are ‘stem hugging’ clusters with four ‘crinkly, strappy, ribbon shaped petals’ that usually emerge while the leaves are still on the tree.

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Witch-Hazel blossoms in the author’s garden

The Common Witch Hazel grows in eastern North America including eastern and southern Ontario and can be found in woodlands, and along forest margins and stream banks.  In the garden it can be used as a shrub, hedge, or as in my case, pruned into a small, multi-stemmed specimen ‘tree’, which suits my small suburban garden.  Growing 15-20 feet high and wide, in full sun to part shade it grows well in average, medium moisture well drained soil.  It is a low maintenance shrub with no serious insect or disease problems and requires only minimal pruning done in spring.  (As with any woody plant pruning out dead, damaged or diseased wood should be done when discovered.) Among its many charms this native shrub has a beautiful winter silhouette, attractive grey bark, attracts birds and is considered tolerant of road salt, deer, erosion and clay soil.  According to the Morton Arboretum, Common Witch Hazels also serve as a host plant for the larvae of the spring azure butterfly.  What’s not to love!

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Witch-Hazel in the author’s garden

Hamamelis virginiana has an interesting reproductive process.  The flowers are wind or insect pollinated but after pollination fertilization of the ovules is delayed until the following spring with the fruit developing during that growing season.  The fruits are greenish seed capsules that become woody by fall.  These woody seed capsules then split open ‘exploding’ its one to two black seeds up to 30 feet away.  According to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden fruit set is very low.

If you are eager to add this or some other native plant to your garden/property, drop in to Peterborough’s GreenUP Ecology Park for plants and expert advice.

References

Missouri Botanical Garden: Hamamelis virginiana
The Morton Arboretum: Common Witch-Hazel
Brooklyn Botanic Garden: Native Witch-Hazel

What We Want and What Trees Need–Or Which Tree do I Buy?

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

We plant trees for various reasons. Trees are one of the main contributors to a beautiful landscape. They provide shade and can provide a windbreak. Trees sequester carbon and help to clean the air … some can even help to clean toxins from the soil. They serve as homes, shelters, and food for many birds and other small and large creatures including humans. A stroll through a forest can cool, calm, and inspire us!

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There is a lot to consider in order to choose the right tree for you.

Make a List:

  • Do you want shade, shelter, privacy or just something to fill a spot?
  • Do you want a tree that produces fruit or flowers?
  • Do you prefer leaves (deciduous trees) or needles (coniferous trees)? · Do you want a native tree?  See Ontario Tree Atlas to see which trees are native to your area of Ontario.
  • Think about your budget. Some trees are more costly than others.

Location Considerations:

Stand in your chosen potential tree planting location and look around.

  • How close is your home and other buildings including the neighbour’s?
  • Are there any overhead wires that the tree’s branches will interfere with as it matures? Will the mature tree block window views?
  • Will mature tree roots eventually interfere with a building’s foundation or septic system? Will it’s branches scrape against walls, roofs or hang over the neighbour’s yard?
  • Will the tree drop fruit, seeds, twigs or large amounts of leaf debris on your sidewalk or deck?
  • How close are you to a road or parking area? Pavement impedes water and air from getting to the tree’s roots. Air pollution and road salt are very hard on many kinds of trees.

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Growing Conditions:

Next, lets look at what trees need. Different trees need different growing conditions.

Soil

  • Determine your soil’s texture. Sandy soil will not retain water or contain many nutrients. Clay soil has lots of nutrients but may not drain well. Silt soil may not drain at all. Most soils are a combination of sand, clay and silt and will benefit from the addition of organic matter. Seee Soil Types and Soil Texture for more information.
  • Test your soil’s pH, if very acid or very alkaline, it will affect a trees ability to access soil nutrients. There are home test kits available or you may send a soil sample to a soil testing laboratory in Ontario. See Soil Testing Laboratories List for more information.
  • Evaluate your subsoil especially if you live in a new subdivision. Newer subdivisions often have a thin layer of topsoil on compacted subsoil. You may need to replace some of the subsoil with topsoil or at least break the subsoil up so that the tree will not develop a shallow root system. A tree’s roots need to be able to spread out to access water and air.

See All About Soil for lots more information on soil.

Water

  • Water is necessary for the tree roots to absorb nutrients and for other life processes. Some trees prefer more water while others prefer a well drained site and there are lots of variations in between. How much moisture will be available to your tree?

Sun

  • Buildings, other structures and other trees can shade the soil. Many trees need full sun but many will tolerate partial shade. How much sunlight will your tree receive in a day?

Plant Hardiness Zone

  • The plant hardiness zone of your potential tree planting location will indicate the weather conditions that your tree needs. In Canada, the zones are based on maximum temperature, minimum temperature, rainfall, snowfall, frost free period and wind. See Plant Hardiness of Canada to figure out your plant hardiness zone.

“Which Tree do I Buy” Example:

You love trees that flower. You have decided to plant a tulip tree in the small courtyard of your condo in Peterborough, great, they grow in zones 3-4 … so far so good for the Peterborough area. However, tulip trees can grow over 35 m (115 ft) according to the University of Guelph, so a tulip tree is not a good choice for the tiny yard of a condo. The mature tree will be far too large!

In summary, make a list of what you want and your specific growing conditions. We have many locally owned plant nurseries nearby. The staff will use their expert knowledge to help you choose a tree appropriate for your needs and growing conditions.

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Additional Resources

Arboretum at the University of Guelph

Ontario Trees and Shrubs

Plant Resources, Landscape Ontario – scroll through has lots of info on various kinds of trees

Alchemy in the Garden – Layering

by Marilyn Homewood, Master Gardener in Training

“A seemingly magic process of creation”

Layering is an asexual (vegetative) method of plant propagation that produces genetic replicas of the parent plant. In this technique, the newly developing offspring remains attached to the parent plant.  This keeps it supplied with water, carbohydrates and nutrients avoiding some of the pitfalls of traditional cuttings.

What makes this possible is totipotency. Every cell in any plant—except for egg and sperm —is capable of regenerating into a complete organism or differentiating into specific cell tissues. Under appropriate conditions, a cell can be induced to multiply into roots, shoots, leaves, or flowers.  One example of this is the formation of adventitious roots.  These are roots that form from “non root” tissues.  Growth of these roots are promoted in part by the plant’s own hormone auxin.

“Wounding” the shoot being layered by making a small sloping shallow cut on the underside of the stem/branch induces this process.  Wounding is known to produce adventitious roots by increasing levels of auxin at the wound site and by forming callus (dedifferentiated plant tissue capable of becoming roots).

Simple Layering

  • Select a young vigorous shoot that is low to ground
  • Wound stem, keeping wound slightly open using matchstick
  • Dust with rooting hormone
  • Dig shallow hole, set stem in contact with soil,
  • Secure stem in place (u-shaped pin or rock)
  • Fill hole and mulch to keep moist
  • Check for roots in fall, sever from parent and replant new shrub
  • Recommended for climbing roses, forsythia, honeysuckle and boxwoodSimple

Tip Layering

  • Works well on plants with long whippy stems like berry crops
  • Tip of shoot is pegged into soil, secured and buried at point of contact
    Tip

Serpentine Layering

  • Similar to simple except that multiple points are wounded and buried
  • Good for plants that produce long shoots such as clematis, grapes, wisteria, rambler roses, vining honeysuckle, willow and viburnum
    Serpentine

Stooling/Mounding

  • Process encourages masses of basal shoots which are allowed to layer naturally
  • Cut parent shrub back to near ground level in dormant season to encourages masses of basal shoots
  • In spring, when shoots are at 15cm, they are covered with dirt leaving tips exposed
  • Repeat process as shoot grow to 25 cm
  • Buds inside dirt will form roots
  • When plant reaches dormancy again, remove soil and newly rooted shoots and plant on
  • Recommended for this technique are smoke bush, dogwoods, spirea, daphne, magnolia, cotoneaster
    Stooling

Resources

Bryant, Geoff (1992) Propagation Handbook, Basic Techniques for Gardeners, Stackpole Books

Dunn, Bruce (Feb. 2017) Layering Propagation for the Home Gardener, Oklahoma State University Extension, http://extension.okstate.edu

Evans, Ervin, Blazich, Frank (Jan. 1999) Plant Propagation by Layering, North Carolina State Extension, http://content.ces.nscu.edu

Rich, Lee (2007) Making More Shrubs, http://finegardening.com

Stefman, Bianka, Rasmussen, Amanda (2016) Physiology of Adventitious Roots, Plant Physiology, Vol 170 pp 603-617.

Yadav, Deependra, Sing, S.H. (2018) Vegetative Methods of Plant Propagation: I- Cutting, layering, budding, Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry, 7 (2) 3267-3273.

 

Container Gardening

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener

Container gardening has grown in popularity for many reasons. As property sizes have decreased, it has allowed those with small yards or even those living in condos to enjoy the colour and blooms that abound in containers. They allow you to bring the garden to the deck, patio, steps, driveway or the front entranceway. You can grow tropicals, keep invasive plants under control, ensure easy gardening for those with aging bodies and they can be placed wherever you need them. A container of herbs right near the kitchen door will ensure the cook in the home has easy access. A well designed container can add colour and texture to any area in your home or apartment and it can be a wonderful introduction to gardening for children as well as adults.

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Container gardens at Griffin’s Greenhouses, Lakefield, ON.  Used with permission.

When choosing your container, ensure you choose one that is large enough to allow adequate root growth as well as appropriate drainage holes. Remember that a large terra-cotta pot will be heavy, so you may find it is preferable to use one of the newer styles made from synthetics such as fiberglass, although these can be fairly expensive. Remember that extra work will be needed to keep smaller containers watered.

When choosing your plants, use ones that have similar cultural requirements, such as sun or shade, moisture loving or drought loving, and vigorous growing or slow growing. Colour is a personal preference, however, it is pleasing to the eye to use complimentary harmonies such as purple and green or analogous harmonies such as pink and blue. The container will be more interesting if you have contrasting leaf shapes. You need not limit yourself just to annuals, although they will provide more long-lasting colour. A popular formula to follow is ‘thriller, filler, spiller’. Thrillers provide the drama and are typically the tallest part of the container. Common thrillers are canna lilies and ornamental grasses. The filler gives the container body and substance and often surrounds the thriller. Examples of fillers would be coleus, geraniums or even coral bells. The spiller can create a flow by pouring over the edge of the container, such as wave petunias, lobelia or sweet potato vine.

Container soil lacks natural nutrients found in regular garden soil, therefore, fertilizing is necessary every couple of weeks. Using regular garden soil is not advisable as you will get poor drainage. It is best to use a good soilless mix. In the heat of the summer, containers will need daily watering. Fertilizing every two weeks is a good rule of thumb, but in hot weather you may need to feed more often as water use increases.

At the end of the season, the tender annuals will be discarded. I often use Coleus in one of my pots and in the fall I take cuttings and root them in water and then repot them indoors for the winter months, to be used again the following spring. I usually cut the annuals to the soil level and use the existing soil in the container to insert some winter greenery. The soil will eventually freeze and hold the greenery in place.

When we last travelled to England, we stayed across from a small thatched roof home where an older couple grew almost everything in pots. They had very little property but still managed to have a very interesting garden. I enjoyed watching them with their morning tea wandering through their front yard inspecting and watering their many containers.

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Picture from author’s garden.

 

This is one of my pots from last year. As you can see the fillers (dragon wing begonias) and spillers (sweet potato vine) did so well that the thriller (Kimberly Queen fern) did not have an opportunity to shine. I find that my pots respond differently every year. It depends very much on the weather conditions, remembering to fertilize on a regular basis and the type of plants used. It is fun to experiment and try new and different colour schemes. Have fun with it!

The University of Georgia has published the following on Gardening in Containers. It contains some good information on soil mixtures and fertilizers as well as some suggested plants

Forbidden Love!

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

Ok, I know that peonies may not be the trending plant but I love them! Like many grandmothers, my maternal grandmother grew peonies around her farmhouse… Their fragrance filled the air and they sprawled magnificently after a rain. I found them captivating!

Peonies were first described as medicinal herbs in China around 200 B.C. Traditional Chinese medicine still uses peony extracts to treat various ailments. Peonies were introduced to Europe, and England, in the late 1700’s. English, and French, nursery sales began in the early 1800’s as did hybridization. The public was delighted!

There are many reasons to use peonies in your garden. They are beautiful in bloom and many are wonderfully fragrant. Peonies are excellent when used as a focal point, an accent plant, to hide spent tulip blooms, to shade clematis roots or even as a hedge whose flowers can be used for cutting.

Peony flowers come in various colours including red, rose, lavender, yellow and lots of lovely shades of pink and white. The flowers can be many petaled or have as few as five petals. Peonies are not invasive and are long-lived. Once established, peonies are drought-resistant, easy-care perennials. They are also deer and rabbit resistant probably because the flowers and leaves have a bitter taste.

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Very early herbaceous peony – author’s garden

Herbaceous peonies are the most common of the three common types. Herbaceous peonies grow in zones 2-8. They die back to the ground in the fall and are dormant all winter. They bloom in May to June depending on the cultivar. Woody peonies, often called tree peonies, are small shrubs that lose their leaves in the fall but keep their strong, woody stems all winter. Woody peonies like it a bit warmer growing in zones 4-8. They do not like to be moved once established. Finally, itoh, or intersectional, peonies are fairly new. They are a cross between the woody peony and the herbaceous peony. They too prefer zones 4-8 and die back to the ground in the fall followed by winter dormancy. Itoh peonies have strong stems, often a longer flowering period and large blooms.

In the fall, plant peonies in well drained, rich soil in full sun or full sun/part shade in areas with very hot afternoon sun. Do not plant the peony crown any deeper than a couple of inches. Lightly fertilize your plants annually with composted manure but do not allow the manure to come in direct contact with the plant’s crown. Mulch to help retain moisture. Water if soil is dry in the spring for good bloom production and as needed usually just the first summer after planting. Maintain space around your peonies to encourage good air circulation otherwise, peonies can be prone to fungal diseases. In late fall, remove all peony debris to help prevent disease and pests.

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Herbaceous peony – author’s garden

My peony is not blooming…..why?

Reasons include planted too deep, not enough sun, weather extremes (eg. hard spring freeze may damage flower buds), disease or pests, newly planted (can take up to three years for a young plant to bloom), too old (takes several decades, divide the plant to rejuvenate), too much fertilizer will encourage foliage growth not blooms but not enough can result in undernourished roots that are unable to support blooming. Just a caution, do not remove peony leaves in July or August, their removal can weaken the roots so that they are unable to support blooms.

I love peonies! Their blooms are glorious and their foliage stays lovely and green after the flowers are gone. They are easy care perennials that can add colour, texture, drama and a sumptuous fragrance to your garden. If you grow peonies now, you know already, if not, try them… You will be captivated too!

More Information:

The American Peony Society

Peonies by Allan Rogers, Timber Press Inc., ISBN 0-88192-662-0

The Canadian Peony Society

My Favourite Pruning Book

by Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

I have a lot of gardening books and whilst I do search on the internet if I have a quick question, there are a few books that I go to repeatedly and often. One of these is from the UK Royal Horticultural Society Pruning & Training. I am sure you could find a similar book in Canada but as this book was given to me a few years ago by my father-in-law as a present, it has special meaning for me.

I love growing fruit, apples, grapes, currants, blueberries, to name a few and as I have a smaller city garden, this comes with challenges. I have to make use of all available space and prune effectively to fit everything I want into my garden. Hence the reason why this book is so important to me and why I use it so often.

There are chapters on ornamental trees as well as ornamental shrubs and roses and a good introduction describing the parts of a plant as well as the principles of pruning and training. But it is the chapters on tree fruits, soft fruits and climbing plants that I refer to most often. I actually have PostIt® notes on the sections that describe the pruning shapes I have chosen for my apples, currants, gooseberries and grape so I can check I am doing it correctly. I must admit it took a few years to observe the effectiveness of pruning well, I was always hesitant to cut off too much of the plant, much as I still save every perennial seedling that comes up in my garden. In my last house we had a grape for approximately 6 years and whilst we did get some fruit on it, we could have doubled or tripled the harvest with better pruning, but I hated to cut so much off.

For my grape vine I originally had it growing over an arch, but it soon outgrew that support, so we had to build a new support system and then re-prune it into its new system. There are many different systems that can be used for grapes including the rod and spur system in which the grape is grown along 3-4 horizontal wires to the guyot system in which shoots from two horizontal stems are grown vertically.

The chapter on tree fruits starts by showing diagrams of all the different forms or shapes as well as describing basic and pruning techniques. There are lots of photos and diagrams in this book so that you can visually see everything being discussed, which I really like. There is also a section on renovating neglected tree fruits.

I chose to prune my apples trees as espaliers on a four tiered tree, this is my trees fourth year and first year that they have blossoms, so I am hoping to have my first apples. It is fairly time consuming, especially as I didn’t know what I was doing the first couple of years, but I followed the instructions religiously and am now beginning to approach the trees with pruners in hand confidently.

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Espaliered apple tree (Year 4)

My currant and gooseberry bushes were pruned as multiple cordons with three vertical arms. I have this grown both on the same support system that I have for the fruit trees but also on bamboo poles. I find that by growing them in this way as opposed to a bush, I can fit more currant bushes into the same space, I grow red, pink, white and black, and they are easier for me to pick. I still have a high yield of berries and am able to harvest almost all of them.

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Close up of currants

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Redcurrent bushes

There are plenty of videos on the internet showing different pruning techniques, maybe even too many as it is often difficult to choose just one, and then you end up getting side tracked. As I was writing this article and looking up videos, I ended up watching three including one on heucheras. Here’s one you might like from the RHS on renovating fruit trees.

 

 

Garden Myths

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

Gardeners have been passing down tips, tricks, and knowledge for generations. Some of this advice is science-based and works, but much of it is a mix of folklore and superstition. While some of it is benign, some of it may actually harm your gardens or have you spending money when you don’t need to.

Here are five of my favourite garden myths – there are hundreds out there – just google ‘garden myths’ and you’ll see what I mean.Picture1

I think social media has intensified the problem – in the past information spread through word of mouth, often handed down through generations. Now anyone with a computer can claim to be an expert, and provide inaccurate information that others will share.

Part of my reason for becoming a Master Gardener was to expand my gardening knowledge and share my passion for growing with others using solid, science-based information. We offer our services to the public in many forms – through presentations, advice clinics, answering email queries, and publishing blogs like this one!

The Master Gardeners of Ontario (MGOI) website shows where all the Master Gardener groups are located – find yours and their website and take advantage of their knowledge and expertise. If they don’t have the answer they will go research it for you.

MGOI also has a great Facebook page where you can post questions to Master Gardeners. And I highly recommend The Garden Professors Facebook page for science-based gardening information.

Make sure to follow the Peterborough and Area Master Gardeners through our
Weekly Blog (by clicking on ‘Follow’ in the left column on the homepage)
Facebook Page
Twitter or reach us at contact@peterboroughmastergardeners.com

Myth: You Should Stake A Newly Planted Tree

Truth: Unless it’s top-heavy or in an especially windy site, your tree does not require staking. Some movement is actually good for young trees. I loved this description “Just as our muscles grow larger with exercise, tree trunks grow thicker and stronger when they’re allowed to move.”

The response of trees and plants to wind is called thigmomorphogenesis (yes that’s a word!). The buffeting from winds releases ethylene gas, a growth mediator that triggers the formation of wood-strengthening lignin.

While staked trees tend to grow taller, their trunks are skinny and weak, so if you decide you must stake, stake as loosely as possible and only for a short time (no longer than six months). Make sure to use something soft against the tree bark to keep from cutting into it. But best to practice tough love – your tree will appreciate it.

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Photo used with permission of The Garden Professors  http://gardenprofessors.com/

Myth: Gravel in The Bottom of Containers Improves Drainage

Truth: This myth will not die. We’ve all been told to place stones or pieces of pot at the bottom of our containers “for drainage”. The reality is that added gravel or rocks to the bottom of your pot will actually accelerate the potential for root rot, rather than preventing it. Water is pulled down through the container by gravity and builds up near the drainage hole. A layer of gravel at the pot’s base serves as the drainage hole and collects water in the same way. So gravel actually moves the pool of water higher up the pot, where it damages your plant.

As long as there is a hole in the bottom of the container, water will find its way out without the need for stones.

Myth: Add Epsom Salts To The Soil Helps Tomatoes Grow

Truth: You would think it was a miracle cure for everything
“It helps seeds germinate”
“It makes plants grow bushier”
“It can prevent blossom end rot in tomatoes” (see bonus information at the bottom of this blog!)
“It can prevent transplant shock”
“It results in more flowers”
“It increases chlorophyll production”
“It deters pests, such as slugs and voles”
“It reduces the total amounts of fertilizers needed”

Magnesium sulfate, or Epsom salt, is a naturally occurring mineral consisting of magnesium and sulfur (MgSO4). Magnesium is a necessary element for plant growth but adding unnecessary salts to your soil will destroy your soil structure over time. You are better to simply add compost or worm castings to the soil. There are decades of research that has documented damage done to both plants and soil with overuse and misuse of magnesium sulfate. Want to read more about it? Check out this peer reviewed study by Washington State University’s Extension Center (click here for more of their excellent science-based studies). The best thing epsom salts can be used for is a nice hot bath after working hard in your garden all day.sphynx-1521190

Myth: You Can’t Grow Anything Near A Black Walnut Tree

Truth: This one is a personal favourite, since I have extensive flower and vegetable gardens in the vicinity of two almost 150-year-old black walnuts. While the roots of black walnut (Juglans nigra) do release an allelopathic chemical known as juglone that inhibits the growth of some plants, the idea that nothing grows under a walnut started gaining traction in the 1920s when a Virginia researcher saw his tomatoes were suffering and just assumed the nearby trees were at fault based on folklore he had heard. Washington State University put out an excellent peer reviewed paper in 2019 explaining the history of walnut allelopathy.

Enjoy your walnut trees! Not only are they robust landscape plants but they provide food and habitat for wildlife and birds. Here’s my lovely perennial garden under my walnut tree (and featured in Linda Chalker-Scott’s paper mentioned above) and my previous blog specifically on this topic.

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(Bonus – information on Blossom End Rot)

Research has shown that calcium deficiency is not the cause of blossom end rot. Egg shells won’t correct it. Epsom salts (which are magnesium sulfate) won’t correct it. Nor will coffee grounds, Tums, calcium sprays, dairy products, or any of the other things that are usually recommended for it. It just corrects itself. It’s not caused by a fungus, bacteria, or virus. It’s not in the soil. It’s an internal condition of the plant. The cause appears to be simply environmental: low temperatures at night, fluctuating temperatures, watering too often, etc. Ammonia fertilizer is linked to it, so some forms of plant food can be a problem. But basically: just pick off the fruit that are affected, water more deeply and don’t allow the plant to get severely drought stressed (daily watering is probably not necessary unless you have unusually fast-draining soil or are growing in a container). The next fruit will probably be fine. It’s usually a problem with the first tomatoes, peppers. and squash that set in the season and the rest come along fine.

Repair or Replace? That is the Question

By Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

A question about sod that didn’t root came to our contact email account recently. The person asked what to do about an area the size of about a dozen rolls of sod that didn’t take or thrive. Replace it or seed over? Below is a photo of the area in question. Because this is the time of year that we see these problems, I thought the answer to this question would make a good blog.

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Since new sod won’t be available for a few weeks, I suggested to try seeding a small area. If the seed germinates and grows, then go for it! If not, remove the dead sod and replace. If you’re replacing, make sure the new sod is freshly harvested that day. Also, I would add some compost to the soil before laying the new sod. The compost will help the soil retain moisture and provide nutrients.

This time of year is perfect for seeding lawns as usually there is more rain and the weather is cooler, which grass prefers for germinating and growing. Top seeding is usually done on top of existing lawns, so I don’t see why it shouldn’t work on your recent sod.

Rather than topsoil, my suggestion is to use compost. Depending on where you get topsoil, it could be full of weed seeds. You can get compost from most garden/landscape supply places. The City of Peterborough also makes and sells compost which you can buy at Ecology Park or at the Bensfort Road transfer station. Take your own containers. The compost will also help the old sod decompose into the soil.

Before seeding on top of the sod that didn’t take, rake off as much of the loose grass as possible. Put a good layer of compost over that area, 1/2 inch at least. Before seeding, make sure the old sod and the ground are moist underneath. Two and a half centimetres (1”) of rain/water will soak approximately 15 cm (6”) deep.

Then, seed the area with the same variety of grass that is in the sod so that eventually you will have a uniform lawn. Gently cover the lawn seed with a thin layer of mulch by using the back of a garden rake to rake over the area. Water well.

To keep the existing sod healthy, put a thin layer of compost over that as well and rake it in. The compost will help the soil retain moisture and provide all the nutrients your lawn needs without expensive chemicals.

Resources

Green Up Ecology Park Garden Market
Choose Compost Carefully when Topdressing the Lawn
How to spread Compost on the Lawn

All about Compost

By MJ (Mary-Jane) Pilgrim, Master Gardener

Spring is here, but it’s still not great weather outside for gardening. In a few more weeks, once the temperature reaches 10 degrees Celsius on a regular basis, you will have lots to do! But for now, here’s something to think about: compost.

Compost is decomposed organic matter like leaves, grass clippings and kitchen waste, and it’s the ultimate garden fertilizer. It contains virtually all the nutrients a living plant needs and delivers them in a slow-release manner over a period of years. Compost made with a wide variety of ingredients will provide an even more nutritious meal to your growing plants. Compost is free, and you can make your own.

April is a great time to check the compost pile if you already have one. If it’s too wet, stir and add dry (brown) material like dry leaves, then cover. If it’s too dry, stir and add water (or green material), and mix thoroughly. Either way, mix thoroughly!

At the end of the month, when the weather has improved and the garden is dry enough to work in, add a 1-2 inch layer of well composted material (sweet smelling, crumbly and dark brown) to your garden beds, scratching it in lightly or even just laying it on top. When the earthworms wake up, they will pull that material further into the soil, saving you the trouble of digging it in.

If you don’t have a compost bin, spring is a great time to start one! In our area (Peterborough, ON), composters are available at City Hall, 500 George St. N., or at the Household Hazardous Waste Depot, 400 Pido Rd.  GreenUp, Ecology Park, hardware stores and your local municipality likely also carries them. By next spring you could have your own fertilizer ready for the garden, and save a lot of food waste like peelings from going directly to the landfill.

If you don’t have/want a physical composter, a different plan is the trench method of adding compost to the garden. In this method, you dig a series of holes or a trench and lay compost down into it throughout the summer. It’s wise to plan where this trench will be and where this year’s garden will stand. At the end of the summer, cover the trench with one to three inches of soil, and plant your garden next spring in the spot where this year’s trench is. That will get different spots of the soil nourished throughout the years. You can learn more about this type of composting from fellow MG Suzanne Seryck’s article from May 2018.

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If you’re new to composting, here are some pointers:

  • Patience is key. It’ll take six months to a year for compost to be ready to use, so think about investing in a compost pile now as part of your spring garden prep. Your garden will have plenty of natural, nutritious food come next gardening season.
  • Don’t forget the water. If your pile is covered or you are having a dry spell, add moisture. The pile should be always be damp, but not wet.
  • Keep the compost loose and turn every so often. That will keep air in the system and allow for healthy decomposition.
  • Have a balance between wet (green) and dry (brown) compost. Add natural items like grass clippings, leaves, pulled plants, weeds, plant-based food scraps and wood chips.
  • Don’t add meats or fatty foods, dairy, fresh animal droppings, or diseased plants.
  • Never add plants containing seed heads to the compost, or next year that plant will pop up everywhere! I will never look at feverfew kindly again, after this happened to me.
  • The basic rule of thumb is to never add a significant amount of one type of material at the same time. Variety is key.
  • Again, always remember patience. Using compost that is not ready will rob garden plants of nitrogen. You’ll know the compost is ready when it crumbles easily and has a very earthy smell.

Resources:

All about Compost
Composting 101
Everything you need to know about compost: