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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.

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

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.

A new kind of lawn?

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

If you scroll through some of the gardening groups on Facebook these days, you’ll often see people asking “How do I get rid of the clover in my lawn?” Shortly thereafter, you’ll see a lot of people respond with “Love my clover”, “Leave it”, “Food for pollinators”, etc., all of which is true. This post follows fellow MG Emma Murphy’s post from last week quite well, I think!

As a contract gardener/landscaper, if I had a loonie for every person who asked me what to do about their weed-ridden lawns post-herbicides, I’d be a rich person.

Clover may be just the ticket, as it requires less water, fertilizer and weeding than lawns without clover. It stays green all summer. It requires little or no mowing as it only grows 10-20cm (4 -8″) high. It out-competes other weeds, as it has a dense root structure. It grows well in poor soil. It feels great on bare feet. The seed is inexpensive (see below for a tip on where to buy it!)

White clover (Trifolium repens) or Dutch white clover can be established in an existing lawn by overseeding whatever is currently there or by planting a mixture of clover and basic grass seed in a new lawn. From my reading, I’ve found that people have had disappointing results when trying to establish a pure clover lawn. You really need both clover AND grass as they are complementary to each other and one supports the other. Clover does best in full sun, but can do OK in partial shade. It doesn’t grow well in full shade. When mixed with grass, it does well in high traffic areas as well.

Author’s back lawn showing already successfully combined grass and white clover

For us, it started with the white grubs. Whole sections of grass in the front yard are gone. Just gone. Turns out that grubs also do not like clover. Bonus.

Be sure to use Dutch white clover and not the larger red clover. The best time to plant clover is in the early spring before the grass starts growing quickly because the other broadleaf plants are not in competition with it. Early seed sown will germinate when the soil starts to warm up in late April. Clover seed can be purchased at your neighbourhood garden centre or hardware store, but I’ve found it to be much cheaper (less than half price) at my local co-op as it is also a farm product. Clover seed to cover my large front lawn (150ft x 150ft) cost about $10 at the Co-op. About 2 ounces of clover is needed for every 1,000 sq ft of lawn, so my front yard required about 3 pounds or 1.4kg of clover, mixed with about $30 worth of grass seed.

Late summer/early fall is an alternative time to plant. The grass should be cut short and raked first to remove any existing thatch. Clover seed can be spread onto the soil along with grass seed on a 10:1 or 15:1 grass/clover ratio. I’d suggest top-dressing with some triple mix for best results so that the seeds are covered well. Most seed will germinate in less than a week if the temperature is above 15C and if it’s well watered.

It may be necessary to overseed with clover every 2-3 years for the first few years until the mixture gets established.

One caution: If you or any of your loved ones are allergic to bee stings, clover may not be right for you. The clover will flower, and bees will be attracted to the flowers! You can, however, minimize this risk by mowing regularly from June through August during flowering time.

Author’s front lawn showing recent overseeded and top-dressed grass/clover mix.

Resources:

How to Overseed Clover Into a Lawn
Establishing White Clover in Lawns:
Advantages and Disadvantages of Clover Lawns

Lupins

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

I have just finished cutting back my lupins for a possible second bloom, scattering their seeds and transplanting baby lupins that have popped up in all the wrong places.

Lupinus, or more commonly known as Lupins, are one of my favourite plants especially in the late spring when they are first in bloom. I tend to lean towards plants that need little to no care, that will attract insects, will self seed but are not invasive, and that give me joy when they are in bloom. Lupins fit that category for me perfectly.

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Lupins in the author’s garden

Lupin is a genus of flowering plants in the legume family Fabaceae, along with peas and beans. They have been grown since the days of the ancient Egyptians and were eaten by the Romans. Lupins like well drained soil, preferring sandy soil, but in my garden they grow well in clay. They grow in either sun or partial shade conditions. I will often let some of the flowers on my plants go to seed, self-seeding throughout the garden. But depending on where they decide to grow, I tend to transplant them and move them around. When digging up a lupin, take care to dig up the large tap root. I prefer to dig them up when they are very small, so I don’t damage the root any more than necessary. I also find it easier on both me and the plant to transplant them into a pot, rather than directly in the ground. This enables me to keep the plant in the shade for a few days, water more often and just baby them along more.

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Photo showing the large taproot on lupin seedlings

For me, lupins in my garden tend to be short-lived perennials, lasting anywhere from 3-5 years. They do not grow true from seed so to ensure that you have a true seedling you should take basal cuttings. A basal cutting is best done before the plant has flowered; you cut a shoot close to the root, take off all the leaves, nip out the top of the cutting and then transplant into a pot filled with compost and soil. When you see roots coming from the bottom of the pot, you can then transplant the lupin into your garden.

Because lupins are members of the legume family they are nitrogen fixer plants. Using a specific bacteria, ‘rhizobia bacteria’, that allows them to draw nitrogen from the air, convert and then store the nitrogen in nodules that grow on their roots. The nitrogen can become available to other plants in a number of ways. If a nodule breaks off and decomposes, the nitrogen becomes available in the soil and when the plant dies or if the plant is tilled back into the ground, the nitrogen also becomes available. In addition, lupins have a large tap root that is great for breaking up compact soils.

Most of the lupins you buy in garden centres are not native to Canada, as there is a native lupin–the wild lupin or Lupinus perennis which is considered native in Ontario. It is normally blue or purple and prefers a dry, sandy soil, but will grow in any well-drained soil. Wild lupins are often used in restoration projects because the large tap root helps to control erosion. It is also essential to the endangered Karner Blue butterfly which feeds exclusively on it and is a host to other butterflies. If you want to add this plant to your garden, you are best to buy the seed from wildflower farms and ensure you follow the instructions carefully as the seeds need specific conditions to germinate.

An example of a wildflower nursery selling the seed is given below:

https://www.wildflowerfarm.com/index.php?route=product/product&path=18&product_id=112

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.

GriffinsGreenhouses
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.

 

 

Spring Ephemerals

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

Definitions of “spring” and “ephemeral”, curtesy of Merriam-Webster online dictionary, are “to come into being” and “lasting a very short time”.  Two wonderful words, when used together, mean those lovely but short-lived flowers that we may see on our walks through woodland gardens or deciduous forests at this time of year!

My list of favourite spring ephemerals includes:

Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) – Of course, this native plant comes to mind first.  It is Ontario’s official flower but not Ontario’s only trillium … there are four other native species. Trillium grandiflorum produces one large, white, three-petaled flower above three, simple, broad leaves.  The flower fades to pale pink as it ages.  Red seeds are produced which are mainly dispersed by……ants!  Seeds germinate slowly and take 4-5 years to become a mature flowering plant.  Plants grow to reach 30-45 cm (12-18 in.) high, prefer moist rich soil and dappled shade.

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Trillium grandiflorum

Dog-toothed violet (Erythronium americanum) –  These pretty little native flowers grow from a corm.  They are small, just 15 cm (6 in.) high but their bright, yellow flowers stand out  and along with their spotted leaves (hence their other common name “Trout Lily”), are one of the earliest spring ephemerals to appear.  They prefer rich, moist but well-drained soil and part to full shade.

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Erythronium americanum

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) – If you remember your high school latin, you will recognize where Sanguinaria originates when you learn that all  parts of this native contains an orange/red juice.  The Latin sanguinarius means “bloody”.  S. canadensis is the only species in this genus.  It produces a white flower, that may be tinged in pink, and has deeply lobed, flat leaves.  It prefers part to full shade and well drained, moist, rich soil but seems to survive in varying soil conditions.  This plant will grow under your black walnut tree!  S. canadensis grows 15-30 cm (6-12 in.) high and spreads through rhizomes.

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Sanguinaria canadensis

Mayapple (Polophyllum peltatum) – Mayapple makes a great groundcover.  It grows up to 45 cm (1.5 ft.) tall and produces one white flower which appears under it’s umbrella-like, multi-lobed, two leaf foliage in late spring…..a single leaf means no flower and no fruit.  The leaves and root are poisonous as is the immature green fruit.  Only the mature yellow fruit is edible.  This plant spreads through rhizomes, prefers light shade and moist, rich soil.

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Polophyllum peltatum

Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema tryphyllum) – Where do I start; this plant has a very interesting flower …. the spathe is the most conspicuous part.  It is a hooded, tube-like structure and houses the spadex which is a spike and is where the actual flowers are located.  Clusters of bright, red berries form in the fall.    It grows 30-90 cm (1-3 ft.) tall and prefers moist, rich, slightly acidic soil and part to full shade.  Jack-in-the-pulpit grow from corms.

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Arisaema tryphyllum

Next time you go for your woodland walk look for the spring ephemerals.  Their appearance signals that warmer weather is coming very soon!  Let the gardening season begin!

Many nurseries now carry native plants and some specialize in natives.  Just be sure to ask about the origin of the plants that you are buying, you are looking for plants that have been nursery propagated not harvested from the wild.

Suggested Nurseries

Resources

Books

  • The Ontario Naturalized Garden, by Lorraine Johnston ISBN1-55110-305-2

Websites

 

Permaculture: Where do I start?

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

So what do gardeners do in the winter? Once we’ve read all our seed magazines and compiled our purchasing lists, or designed new or changes to existing perennial beds, or decided on our vegetable crop rotation for the upcoming season, or read a new gardening book, or watched some gardening videos or TED talks, or found ourselves in the middle of taking a gardening course, what next? Personally, once I’ve exhausted all these possibilities, I tend to reread my favourite gardening books. I have an incredibly bad memory and find it really helps me when I reread the same books over and over; hoping eventually something will sink in. My books to reread this year are both permaculture-related: Toby Hemingway’s “Gaia’s Garden” and Rosemary Morrow’s “Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture”.

When I first became interested in permaculture a number of years ago, I started reading books and watching videos by the two founders, Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. The concept, ethics, and principles resonated with me, but I have to admit that I struggled based on the literature available at that time, to understand how to translate this into my own Canadian garden. It was not until a couple of years later that I attended a couple of local permaculture design courses and read the book by Toby Hemingway who focuses on North American gardens, that I felt confident enough to bring some of those concepts and methods into my home garden

As I mentioned in my last blog, permaculture is a design system, a set of guidelines, principles and practices for sustainable living and land use, working with nature in a continuous cycle that benefits both people and wildlife. As with anything new or overwhelming, it is easy to be deterred by the big picture.  Instead, focus on smaller ideas or concepts. If you start implementing smaller more manageable tasks, it will give you confidence to tackle the larger concepts.

The following are a few easy-to-implement permaculture techniques to get you started:

  1. Sheet mulching. This was actually the first group activity I performed in my first design course.  It can also be called lasagna gardening. Permaculture encompasses a no-dig philosophy focusing on building soil life. Sheet mulching allows you to create new beds whilst eliminating weeds and building up the health of the soil. It is also a lot healthier on your back. You simply lay a heavy layer of newspaper or cardboard over the area and top it with 12 inches or so of organic mulch.
  2. Keyhole garden beds. Keyhole beds are often used in permaculture because they maximize use of space, whilst building soil fertility.  They decrease irrigation needs and are easy to plant, harvest and maintain. The bed can be either raised or not, and is often created in a circular pattern which decreases the space required for paths and increases space for plants. This type of bed is most often used for growing herbs & vegetables and because of the circular design, plants with different growing requirements can be planted together often creating different microclimates. For more information: https://permaculturefoodforest.wordpress.com/2016/04/14/keyhole-gardens/
  3. Creating gardening communities or guilds. In permaculture, a guild can be defined as a grouping of plants, trees, animals and insects that work together protecting their health, habitat and productivity. Probably one of the most familiar guilds is the Three Sisters Guild in which squash, corn and beans are grown together; each one supporting and benefiting the others. The beans grow up the corn and provide nitrogen, whilst the squash mulches and covers the soil. In my last garden, I grew apple tree guilds, surrounding each apple tree with daffodils in the spring (deter predators from chewing bark), comfrey and yarrow, and herbs such as dill & fennel along with chives & onions.
  4. Multiple stories or forest gardens. As an avid gardener and someone who has difficulty saying ‘enough is enough’ when it comes to plants–and also the owner of a small city garden–this technique is one I am especially interested in. The idea is that a garden can have multiple stories or layers; from a low herb or ground cover layer up to perennials, shrubs, small trees and finally the canopy trees. The plants in each layer combine and support each other to create and maintain a healthy ecosystem.

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Vegetable garden incorporating annuals and perennials

Permaculture is much more than the simple examples I have given.  It can encompass everything from designing landscapes and buildings, to water and waste management. The benefits for me include enriching the land, feeding and providing habitat, growing food for my family, and giving me somewhere to unwind and feel good about life. However, I am omitting one very important benefit for myself–by incorporating some permaculture practices into my garden, the garden tends to look after itself much more with less interference and work for me!