Category Archives: Information

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!

It’s not too late …

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

As I type this, we in central Ontario are in the midst of a burst of spring-like weather, and it’s supposed to continue for a few days yet. It gives us all a second chance to finish fall chores not completed when the snowfall and killing frosts hit in the last few weeks.

Author’s recently received Breck’s bulb order, still in the box!

If, like me, you failed to get all of your tulips and daffodils planted, do not worry. As long as you can get a shovel in the ground it’s OK to plant spring flowering bulbs. Some pros suggest they actually do better if planted when the ground harbors a bit of frost, so take advantage of those late season sales and plant away. Also, by planting later, you may experience fewer issues with squirrels stealing your bulbs. The arrival of snow doesn’t mean you’ve missed your chance, either. If the ground hasn’t completely frozen yet, you’re in luck, even if you have to break through the frozen crust first.

If you regularly find that squirrels munch on your buffet of bulbs, you may wish to purchase some “chicken wire” at your local co-op store. Cut a small round circle about the same size as the hole you’re going to dig. Plant the bulbs at the recommended depth, and then cover with some soil up to about 2″ from the surface. At that height, plant the chicken wire, and cover over with a bit more soil and mulch. The added benefit of the chicken wire is that should you forget where you planted tulips next summer after their foliage has died back, the chicken wire will be a good reminder when you hit it with your shovel. The bulbs will happily grow through the 1″ holes in the wire next spring.

An amazing purchase of mine a few weeks ago is a small cordless drill auger attachment. It works wonders to create just the right size of hole for my bulbs, with very little effort. Mine is only about 6″ tall and makes about a 2″ hole. I move it around a bit to make the hole just big enough for 5-6 bulbs. Worth the $10 investment, for sure.

Remember: Bulbs are not seeds. They are alive and need to be planted in the fall. They will not last in storage — or that sack on a shelf in the garage. They require somewhere between 13-14 weeks of sub-zero temperatures before they’ll bloom next spring.

So what do you do if you find a bag of bulbs in January? There is a method of bulb planting that can work even during the coldest winter. It’s called the “no-dig” method. Simply move the snow away from your chosen location and place your bulbs on the frozen ground. Cover them with a bag or two of garden soil to a depth of three times the height of the bulb, and that’s it! The bonus of this method is that the soil above the bulbs will likely freeze quickly, and squirrels won’t harvest half of your crop. This method also works in areas where there are so many roots that digging a hole for bulbs is challenging. Try it!

Resources:

HGTV: When is it Too Late to Plant Bulbs?

Country Living: It’s Not Too Late to Plant your Spring Bulbs

Meditation in Motion – Gardening as Therapy

By Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

“Caring for your garden can be a great form of mindfulness meditation. By connecting with the earth and with the practice of gardening, you can cultivate a healthy mind and feel calm and connected. Simply planting a seed with intention, or touching soil, can be transformative. Go ahead and get a little dirty.” — Suze Yalof Schwartz, founder of Unplug Meditation and author of “Unplug: A Simple Guide to Meditation for Busy Skeptics and Modern Soul Seekers.”

As I watched the first snowflakes fall on my gardens the other day, I reflected on this growing season and how much my gardens (and gardening) have supported my physical, mental, and emotional health, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic where so many other activities have not been possible.

Gardening is just so therapeutic on many levels. What I love best from year to year is the transformation from an area of soil with some structure (shrubs etc.) to a lush environment buzzing with pollinators and birds and chipmunks just a few months later. A garden is so satisfying because it builds over time – plants, shrubs, and trees get larger and healthier with each passing year, and your garden becomes more beautiful over time.

Medical studies have shown that gardeners live longer because they are active, have better body circulation, lower blood pressure, less stress, the list goes on….

Horticultural therapy is now widely practiced, where participants become “plant caretakers”, supporting their recovery and improving their moods, resulting in shorter stays in medical facilities. Some of my fellow Peterborough Master Gardeners do wonderful work at our local retirement and nursing homes with their gardening activities.

Basically, our gardens are a more intimate form of enjoying and appreciating nature, helping us understand how everything is interrelated in nature, and how we can contribute to the cycle of life by planting a seed and nurturing our flowers, shrubs, and trees. It’s a powerful connection that gives us a sense of optimism and purpose. As Audrey Hepburn said..

My experience with gardeners is that they are lifelong learners, much of that from trial and error. In general we are a patient lot, planning each year and persevering through the seasons. We can also be stubborn and focused, to be found in the garden from early morning through sunset, having totally forgotten about time.

Gardening as Active Meditation

Active meditation or “meditation in motion” is an activity that requires full attention and concentration without needing much deep intellectual thought. Trail running, mountain biking, hiking, and riding a horse are all examples of active meditation, where you must focus on what’s right in front of you.

Trying to figure out the emerging weeds from the young seedlings, setting up your pots and planting your seeds, determining the best tool for an activity – all these things demand your full attention and presence. At the same time, you are allowing your mind to relax and stop worrying about all of life’s daily concerns. Of course, all is this is premised on your attitude. If you look forward to spending time in your garden, viewing it as a pleasure instead of as a “chore” or something that must get done, then you will experience all the positive benefits of gardening.

Certainly no one is saying gardening is not hard work, but on a sunny spring day I can lose hours working in the garden, totally absorbed in the physicality of the activities. Especially after a long winter I appreciate the texture and smell of the soil, the breeze, the birds, the flowers, the trees, and the clouds and sky.

So as the season of outside gardening winds down (yes I actually got all my bulbs in the ground already), my thoughts turn to all that my garden gave me this past year, and I start on my plans for next year. Ever the optimist..

Whether you call it meditation, mindfulness, or ecotherapy, gardeners are blessed to have a steady place of solace in these trying times. Here’s to great memories and planning for next spring.

Some further reading if you are interested

How a Garden Grows You

Why are Gardens so Good for the Soul?

Why COVID gardening is about more than just food

How the Coronavirus Changed Gardening

Gardening is fundamentally an act of enormous hope because everything you do in the garden is for the future.
Barbara Frum, Canadian Broadcast Journalist

Chrysanthemums: perennials?

By Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

One of the early signs that summer is coming to a close is the proliferation of potted mums. These beautiful fall flowers come in a range of colours from white to yellow to burgundy and almost everything in between. They disappear when flowering is done, only for new ones  to appear next year all potted up and blooming profusely again. Although they are perennial (zone 5-9), one doesn’t usually find them in the flower bed, but instead they are displayed in wonderful potted arrangements. 

At the end of the season, rather than putting them in the compost, why not try planting them?

There are a few things one can do to try to help your mums survive the winter in the ground:

  • Choose plants whose buds haven’t started to open. Plant them in a larger pot with fresh potting soil for display purposes, then, at the end of the season plant them directly in the ground. 
  • Mums need full sun 5-6 hours daily.
  • Mums need rich well drained soil, so add compost to the soil when planting.
  • After blooming is finished cut the plant back to about 10cm from the ground. (Or wait and do this in the spring )
  • Mums have shallow roots, so it’s important to mulch them well with several inches of mulch to keep the roots from heaving through the freeze thaw cycles of winter. If you see that they have heaved, just push them back into the ground.
  • They also need lots of water, so keep them well watered in the pots as well when you put them in the ground

If you’ve been successful and the mums survive the winter, the operative word here is “if” as they have been forced into the wonderful growth we see. So, if they survive:

  1. As they are susceptible to mildew, they need plenty of air circulation, and morning sun to dry the dew from the leaves. Don’t plant them where they will be boxed in.
  2. Once they have reached a height of 15cm pinch the new growth back to encourage side shoots and more fall flowering. This can be done a few times until mid to late June.
  3. Keep the plants well-watered and fertilized with a 5-10-10 fertilizer.
  4. Enjoy another burst of colour from these amazing plants the next fall.

You may also want to keep an eye out at the garden centres in the spring for perennial Chrysanthemums that you can grow in your garden. There are many beautiful cultivars in a wide range of colours and sizes that will keep your fall flower bed looking spectacular.

Links:

https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/gardening/a20705668/growing-mums/

https://www.gardendesign.com/flowers/mums.html

Planting garlic (Allium sativum)

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener

Happy Thanksgiving! While we navigate through this pandemic, we hope that you will be able to enjoy some happy moments in a safe and healthy environment. The colours have been beautiful this year and I have marveled at the many different shades of red, orange, yellow and green that still exist in my small urban backyard.

Photo credit: Sharleen Pratt

Thanksgiving reminds me that it is time to plant garlic for next years’ harvest. Here is a ‘Fact Sheet’ that I have put together for those who might be interested in planting this very easy to grow root vegetable.

PLANT DESCRIPTION:

Garlic is part of the Onion Family (Alliaceae) and although there are hundreds of varieties, they all fall under two main categories; Hardneck and Softneck.

Hardneck have a long flowering stem called a scape which eventually develops tiny bulbils at its top end. They usually have a single row of cloves and tend to do best in colder climates. They peel easier than softneck but do not store as long. They last approximately 4 to 6 months.

Softnecks are best for warmer climates, will last 9 to 12 months and have more than one row of cloves in each head. They do not develop a flowering stalk or scape. Softneck garlic are the type that are used to make garlic braids.

Elephant Garlic (Allium ampeloprasum) is a type of leek that is grown like garlic, but is 6 to 7 times bigger and has a milder flavour.

PLANTING NEEDS:

Full sun and well-drained soil with infrequent watering.

WHEN TO PLANT:

In the Peterborough area, October is the best month to plant your garlic. It can be done in early spring but you will produce a larger harvest if done in the previous Fall. Do not use garlic from your local grocery store as it may not be the best variety for your region and it’s often treated with an anti-sprouting chemical to inhibit growth. I purchase my garlic from my local nursery or Farmer’s Market and I also use my own garlic that was harvested in early August.

Photo credit: Sharleen Pratt

HOW TO PLANT:

Separate the inner cloves but do not remove the papery covering. Plant the largest cloves with the pointy end up. Space cloves five to six inches apart and two to three inches deep. You can mulch with straw, but I always mulch the garlic bed with shredded leaves which will be plentiful in the next couple of weeks.

CHALLENGES:

I have never had any garlic concerns; however, my daughter did deal with the leek moth this year. Adult moths lay their eggs and the hatched larvae tunnel into the leaves. She was able to keep it under control by going out each morning and removing the leaves that were encasing the larvae. If you have the space, it is always best to rotate your garlic each year.

HARVESTING SCAPES:

Garlic produces a garlic scape which appear on hardneck varieties, usually in June. They look a little like green onions that spiral and have a small bulbil at the end (which looks like a small hat). They should be cut once you see the spiral or they will become tougher the longer you leave them. Cut it at the base where it comes out of the stalk. Chop them up and fry with a little olive oil or they can be made into garlic scape pesto. It is wise to remove the scapes even if you don’t plan on eating them. This allows the energy to go back into growing the underground bulb.

HARVESTING GARLIC:

You will know your plant is ready to harvest when two to three sets of the bottom leaves have died or turned yellow. Do not leave them too long as the bulb will begin to split. Gently pull out the bulbs with a garden fork.

CURING GARLIC:

Garlic needs to be dried. Gently remove the dirt and trim the dangling white roots to approximately 1 cm. I tie my garlic together in bunches and hang it in my shed to dry for two weeks. Keep it out of direct sunlight and ensure it doesn’t get wet.

STORAGE:

Once dried, clean gently. Trim the long stalk off and store in a cool dry area. Garlic does not like to be refrigerated. You could also store them in empty egg cartons.

If you would like to learn more about growing garlic, read this extensive article from the Ontario Ministry.

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.

thumbnail_Witch hazel blossoms_3302 2
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!

thumbnail_Witchhazel garden_3341-0
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