Category Archives: Native Plants

A Few of My Favourite Native Plants

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

I’ve been gardening for more than 25 years and, like many of you, thrill at the opportunity to discover new plants for my gardens. Over the past few years these have been mostly native plants, as I learn about all the benefits that they bring – here’s just a few examples of why native wildflowers, grasses, shrubs and trees do so much more than just add beauty to the landscape:

  • They support birds, pollinators and wildlife – native gardens attract birds and butterflies and provide habitat and food for native pollinators
  • They increase biodiversity – native plants increase garden health and resilience, and help contribute to a broader effect to nurture and sustain living landscapes
  • They’re tough and low maintenance – because they’re adapted to grow in their native range, locally native plants tend to thrive with little to no care and conserve one of our most precious resources – water
  • They help you save money AND create a healthier environment for people – native plants don’t require expensive fertilizers and chemicals, or toxic pesticides and herbicides
  • They help with climate change – no lawn mower costs or exhaust! and long lived native trees help store carbon dioxide
  • They make gardening easier – if you select the right native plants for your garden, you don’t have to modify or amend your soil

I’m just going to share three favourite native plants in my garden, with hopes that you may consider them for yours.

Culver’s Root (Veronicastrum Virginicum)

Culver’s Root offers a strong upright, architectural accent to any perennial garden that attracts attention from both people and pollinators!! It can reach heights of 5 feet if it’s happy (although mine hasn’t achieved that yet) and the spikes of white flowers open from the bottom up in mid-summer. It has finely toothed leaves that are lanceolate and occur in a whorl of 3 to 8 leaflets. The inflorescence has several wand-like flowering spikes that resemble an elegant candelabra.

Culver’s Root grows in zones 3-8, in full sun to part shade but it does like moist, well-drained soil. The seeds are so tiny that they should be directly sown on the soil surface in fall or in the spring – I’ve tried winter sowing some this year so we’ll see how that goes.

The plant really has no other synonyms; apparently the name was derived from a Dr. Coulvert, a late 17th to early 18th century pioneer physician who found laxative properties in the plant. More information here.

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)

Who doesn’t love bright red flowers in the garden? For those who say native plants can’t be showy I give you this amazing example to disprove that theory. Named for its scarlet red flowers, its tubular flowers are a magnet and important nectar source for hummingbirds and swallowtail butterflies.

Like Culver’s Root the flowering spikes open from the bottom to top and bloom for several weeks. They grow best in moist, rich soils in full sun to partial shade.

I’ve only had my plants for two seasons but I understand that the parent plants will not persist after a few years, so it’s important to either let it go to seed (so it reseeds naturally) or collect seed – this is another plant where I am trying out winter sowing (native plants are a great choice for this propagation method). While many sites will tell you it needs a really moist site mine have done fine, although I do keep the plants well watered in drier times. More information here.

Green Headed Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata)

Also commonly called Cut Leaved (or Cut Leaf) Coneflower, this is the straight species, not to be confused with the double cultivar many of us have in our rural gardens (often called the Outhouse Plant – or Rudbeckia laciniata “Golden Glow”).

Not a small plant (it grows 4 to 5 feet tall in my garden), it clumps and spread by rhizomes so only one to consider if you have the space! Its bright yellow, daisy-like drooping flowers with green centre disks (which can be about 3 inches across) bloom later in the summer season. It prefers moist soil, but grows well in average, medium, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. In nature it is often found in woods, meadows, streambanks, and roadside ditches.

The Cherokee natives call this plant Sochan and the spring basal leaves are a traditional Cherokee food. Butterflies are attracted to nectar from the blooms and songbirds, especially American Goldfinches, eat the seed in the fall. It is moderately deer resistant. More information here.

So I hope you’ll take the opportunity to seek out native plants to add to your garden, finding ones that are native to your region and appropriate to your conditions. Happy Gardening!!

Year of the Garden 2022

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

Canadians love to garden!  2022 is the Canadian ornamental sector’s centennial and has been declared by the Canadian Garden Council as the Year of the Garden.  For more information, check Year of the Garden.

Our gardens became even more important to us over the last couple of years while we were sheltering at home due to the covid pandemic.   2022 is a year for us to share our gardening passion and knowledge.  It is the mission of the Peterborough and Area Master Gardeners to inform, educate and inspire the residents of Peterborough and area to create healthy and vibrant gardens, landscapes and communities through the use of safe, effective, proven and sustainable horticultural practices.  Peterborough has even declared itself as a garden-friendly city as part of the Year of the Garden festivities!

So, think how you can “live the garden life” … maybe consider gardening indoors with house plants, or in containers on your balcony or create a new garden in your yard.  You could join your local Horticultural Society to learn more about plants and then perhaps become more involved in the community.  Your next step might be to become a Master Gardener!

The Peterborough and Area Master Gardeners will celebrate the Year of the Garden by partnering with the Peterborough Public Library to renovate the gardens around their Aylmer Street building.  The gardens had originally been planted with invasive plants.  We will remove the invasives and replace them with native plants from Grow Wild, Native Plant Nursery.  The Peterborough Kawartha Association of Realtors (PKAR) are providing some much needed sponsorship funding for the project.  We are planning to involve the younger crowd in some of the planting along with our great group of adult volunteers.  We hope that, with some growing time, the gardens will become a haven with native plants and local pollinators and a beautiful spot for human visitors to rest. 

June 18/2022 has been designated as the Year of the Garden day in Peterborough.  The opening of the newly planted gardens at the Peterborough Public Library will be on that date from 10 until 2 pm.  There will also be a story walk for children, a Master Gardener advice table and more.   Another great event happening that day is the Peterborough Horticultural Society’s garden tour.  Tickets will be on sale soon for the tour.  Follow the Peterborough Master Gardeners and the Peterborough Horticultural Association on social media for more information.

Am I a Problem?

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

Well, yes … I am, but I have a plan.  February 28-March 4/22 is National Invasive Species Awareness Week.   This is an international event whose purpose is to raise the awareness of invasive species.  “Invasive terrestrial plants in a forest ecosystem can be trees, shrubs, or herbaceous plants that have been moved from their native habitat to an introduced area where they are able to reproduce quickly and crowd out native species. These plants are introduced and spread by infested packaging material, seed dispersal by both environmental and human sources, or by escaping from gardens.”  Also look at Ontario’s Invading Species Awareness Program  for more information.

Biodiversity is essential to the continued healthy life of an ecosystem.  Invasive plants can quickly destroy it and humans require the natural resources found in a healthy ecosystem.  We need food and we need water to survive.  We are a part of the ecosystem too.  Doug Tallamy says it best in his book, “Bringing Nature Home” where he writes “…ecosystems with more species function with more efficiency, are better able to withstand disturbances, are more productive, and can repel alien invasions better than ecosystems with fewer species.”

I became aware of invasive species about 15 years ago when on my walk to work, I noticed some English ivy (Hedera helix) growing in a small wooded area.  Then, I realized that English ivy had totally carpeted that area.  There were no other plants!  A couple of years later, I saw the same thing but this time, it was a larger forested area and the culprit was goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria).  Since then I have read more about invasive plants and, sadly, now often see problem areas. 

So, back to my plan.  I was aware of some of the invasive herbaceous perennials so had steered away from them.  See terrestrial plants and  aquatic plants for more information.  However, my husband and I are tree lovers and have a rural property so we frequently indulge in purchasing new trees to add to our collection.  Unfortunately, we ended up with two Norway maple (Acer platanoides) trees, two burning bush (Euonymus alatus) and a barberry (Berberis thunbergii) shrub.  This year, I plan to convince my husband that they must go.  I would like to replace the trees with two red maple (Acer rubrum) or perhaps a couple of sugar maple ((Acer saccharum).  The burning bush will be replaced by a couple of native viburnum maybe nannyberry (Viburnum lentago) and the barberry, well, it will be replaced by a native bush honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera).  See Southern Ontario Grow me Instead Beautiful Non-invasive Plants for Your Garden. This is a great resource.  It includes some native and some non-native plants to include in your garden plans.

I am inspired to be a better gardener every time I write a blog for the Peterborough & Area Master Gardeners.  I hope that you will have a look at some of the links above and below and be inspired too.  Please only use non-invasives in your gardening plans this year. 

I also recommend reading, or re-reading, a blog by Laura Gardner, Master Gardener in Training posted on February 2/2022: Expanding Your Native Garden Palette.  For more information on what to do if you have a problem, see Best Management Practices Data Base

A new group on Facebook is the Canadian Coalition for Invasive Plant Regulations. The group is very concerned about the spread of invasive plants in Canada and would like to do something about it.

Expanding Your Native Plant Palette

By Laura Gardner, Master Gardener in Training

Last year I posted about Doug Tallamy’s most recent book and talked about how Quercus (Oaks) are the number one “keystone plant species.” A keystone plant is one that supports the entire life cycle of many different wildlife species—all critical to the food web. The list of keystone plants is actually quite short as only 14% of native plants support 90% of butterfly and moth species.[i] Some of these, like Danaus plexipplus (Monarch Butterfly), are specialists in that they require host plants from the genus Asclepias (Milkweed) to complete their lifecycles. Recently I learned that while most native bees are generalists and they seek out a range of plants for pollen, there are certain specialist native bees that are restricted to either a single plant genus or to a few genera. Horticulturist Jarrod Fowler determined that of native bees in the Northeastern United States, only 15% restricted pollen foraging to 33 plant genera and only 201 native host plants.[ii]

As examples of specialist bees, authors Lorraine Johnson and Lorraine Johnston mention in their book A Flower Patch for the Rusty-Patched Bumblebee: Creating Habitat Gardens for Native Pollinators in the Greater Toronto Area, two whose sole pollen source plants include Oenothera (Evening Primrose) and Monarda (Bee Balm): Lasioglossum oenotherae (Evening Primrose Sweat Bee) and Dufourea monardae (Bee Balm Sweat Bee). The former is considered vulnerable and the latter is imperiled in Ontario. A recent online presentation by biologist Heather Holm indicated that there are also specific plants that are the sole providers of pollen to Bombus (Bumblebees). For example, Monarda (Bee Balm) provide nectar to them but they do not provide pollen. Pollen is a necessary protein source as is also nectar as a carbohydrate source. Other plants are required for their pollen sources. This list can help as a guide to some of these.

When I first started gardening, I planted different Milkweed and it was all for the endangered Monarch Butterfly. I think I was influenced more by aesthetics and an influential marketing campaign than anything else. While I will continue to have these plants in my garden and continue to support Monarchs, I have become more thoughtful in my choices—especially since the percentage of native plants that are supportive is so small. What can we do to improve our native garden palettes? A good approach is to choose a wide range of geographically appropriate native plants from the top keystone genera that have flowers of different shapes, colours, season-wide blooming periods, and provide nectar and pollen. Plants that historically or genetically evolved in our region will be the most supportive of the native wildlife in our region. Consider also adding some individual species that support specific specialists. As with all plants, you still need to consider whether your planting site is suitable [e.g., light level, soil type (loam, clay, sandy), pH (acidic, alkaline), moisture, drainage, etc.].

To help, here are two lists provided by the National Wildlife Federation that can apply to gardeners of the Peterborough area—one for northern gardens in the Northern Forests ecoregion and one for southern gardens in the Eastern Temperate Forests ecoregion. There are also two other related lists for Eastern Temperate Forests and Northern Forests—these also provide examples of ferns, vines, and grasses that are host plants and/or provide nectar and pollen. Heather Holm has also put together a wonderful list of native trees and shrubs for pollinators with their flowering periods. There are a few plants on a couple of the lists that are not found in nature in Peterborough County, however, the majority are.

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You may be surprised to see Solidago spp. (Goldenrod) listed as the top flowering keystone plant genus. There are 25 species native to Ontario and some of them are easily managed and do not spread like the ubiquitous S. canadensis (Canada Goldenrod) that you tend to see along roadsides and in fields. Last year I added S. caesia (Blue-Stem Goldenrod) to my garden and this year I am looking forward to adding S. rigida (Stiff Leaf Goldenrod) and S. flexacaulis (Zig-Zag Goldenrod). What will you be planting this year?

For Expanded Learning

Johnson, Lorraine and Ryan Godfrey. Get to Know Goldenrod. Online: https://www.toronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/97fc-DS-21-0224-GoldenRodFactsheetDigital.pdf

Holm, Heather. Pollinators of Native Plants: Attract, Observe and Identify Pollinators and Beneficial Insects with Native Plants (Pollination Press, 2014).

Ohio State University’s online learning program: Tending Nature: Native Plants and Every Gardener’s Role in Fostering Biodiversity

Pollinator Partnership Canada. Selecting Plants for Pollinators: a Guide for Gardeners, Farmers, and Land Managers in the Manitoulin-Lake Simcoe Ecoregion. Online: https://pollinatorpartnership.ca/assets/generalFiles/Manitoulin.LakeSimcoe.2017.pdf


[i] Narango, D.L., Tallamy, D.W. & Shropshire, K.J. Few keystone plant genera support the majority of Lepidoptera species. Nat Commun 11, 5751 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-19565-4

[ii] Fowler, Jarrod. “Specialist Bees of the Northeast: Host Plants and Habitat Conservation.” Northeastern Naturalist 23, no. 2 (2016): 305–20. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26453772.

Are You in the Zone?

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

Gardeners are used to seeing the “zone” as part of the information provided on the label of most perennial plants, trees and shrubs purchased from a nursery.  Some labels will list a zone with the corresponding temperature in brackets afterwards.  This seems like an easy way to determine if your chosen plant will successfully grow in your garden–you will need to know the average lowest winter temperature, in your region, then figure out your zone.  You then just buy the plant labelled with your zone for success!  Easy, right?  Yes and no!

In Canada, the original 1960’s plant hardiness zones were based on information gathered at 640 weather stations across the country along with the survival results of selected trees and shrubs.  In 2012, revised maps were released using elevation, more locations and more environmental details resulting in a hardiness index which corresponds to a zone .   At present, there are 13 zones ranging from 1-13.  You may also see an “a” or “b” beside the number.  This indicates a slight variation within that region. See Plant Hardiness Zone by Municipality to find your zone.

Zone 5, author’s garden.

In the USA, the system is different.  Again, there are 13 zones ranging from 1-13 and  “a” or “b” indicates variation within the region. See US Plant Hardiness Zones.   However, the US system is only based on minimum temperature and no other factors.  You may read about a plant grown in the US and designated US zone 5.  A US zone 5 labelled plant may require warmer winter conditions than it’s corresponding zone 5 labelled Canadian plant.  Bottom line, US zones may not be the same as Canada’s.

Canadian data is based on previously collected information but we know that the weather does not always follow past patterns — it can, and will, fluctuate (e.g. freeze/thaw cycles).  There may be microclimates (see Microclimate in Wikipedia) in your own gardening space.  Good gardening practices (e.g. soil preparation)  will contribute to the successful growth of your plant.  Plant survival and growth depends on your gardening expertise and knowledge.  The zone is just one indicator of whether, or not, the plant that you are contemplating will grow well in your garden.  Oh, and Peterborough is a Canadian plant hardiness zone 5 b.

Tips: 

#1 The plant hardiness zone site now can be used to explore where the specific plant that you are thinking about purchasing will grow through the “Species-Specific Models and Maps”.  It does this by creating a “climate profile” of the plant and then mapping where it will grow in Canada.  These are preliminary maps but click here to try it out.

#2 Grow native plants!  Native plants are specifically well suited to an area especially if you can purchase locally grown plants or find locally sourced seeds. 

#3 Consult local nursery staff and your knowledgeable fellow gardeners.  They will know what will successfully grow in your area.

#4 Experiment!  If there is a plant that you really must have, but the zone is off a little…..try it.  You will need to choose a protected location for planting and probably baby it along but sometimes it may be worth it. Talking to other knowledgeable local gardeners may be especially helpful….someone may have successfully grown that special plant in their garden and may share their growing tips with you!

Zone 5, author’s garden.

Mushrooms in the Wild

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

Go for a hike in the woods in November, and you’ll see plants you’ve probably never seen before. With the wetness of fall comes an entire forest of miniature fungus elements of many different shapes, sizes and colours. Some can be eaten, others don’t taste very good, some will make you sick and a small number of them will kill you. In general, the types of trees in the forest will determine what fungus and hence what mushrooms will grow there.

Mushrooms are the fleshy, spore-bearing fruit of various fungi. They are generally short-lived. They can emerge from the ground, expand, produce spores, and die back in a matter of a few days. Some are as big as dinner plates and some as small as pinheads.

This fall, myself and two active friends have been going hiking in different parks, conservation areas and public wild spaces in our area. Whenever we see a new mushroom, we generally stop and take a closer look and we’re often amazed at what we find. In additional to the white, brown and sometimes orange mushrooms, we also find different mosses and lichens. We often taunt each other to try to eat the different mushrooms, but just in jest — recognizing the danger of improper identification.

Mushrooms play an important role in our ecosystem. They are capable of decomposing pretty much any material (plant or animal) in the woods and breaking it down into the primary components of forest soil; providing nutrients that feed the plants growing in it. Many animals rely on mushrooms for food, especially squirrels and other rodents. Slugs also dine on mushrooms, and certain types of flies spend their whole lives on, and in, mushrooms.

Mushrooms develop from a mycelium; a mass of threadlike structures that make up the main part of the fungus. It is usually embedded in soil or wood. These mycelia often form connections, called mycorrhizae, with the roots of coniferous trees and other plants. Unlike plants, mushrooms cannot synthesize their own food from the sun’s energy. They lack chlorophyll – the substance which permits plants to use sunlight to form food. Mycorrhizae assist the plants around mushrooms in absorbing water and nutrients, and in turn, the fungi receives some of the carbohydrates the plant produces through photosynthesis — it’s a symbiotic relationship.

Most interesting to me are the mushrooms that grow in rings. Recently, while hiking the “UpTown” trail in HaroldTown Conservation Area east of Peterborough, we spotted several large rings of mushrooms and wondered how and why they were growing like that. Turns out that when a mushroom spore lands in a suitable location, the underground roots grow out evenly in all directions. As the fungus grows and ages, the oldest parts in the center of the pile die, creating a circle. When the fungus roots produce its mushrooms, they appear above-ground in a ring. The ring continues to grow outwardly, eating up all of the nutrients in its path, and leaving behind nutrient-rich soil.

There are edible mushrooms in our forests like chanterelles, morels, and porcini mushrooms. Also to be found from the fungi family are edible puff balls. Foraging is prohibited in Ontario’s provincial parks without proper authorization and also in conservation reserves, unless the forager is harvesting for personal consumption. In Toronto, foraging for any purpose is illegal in city parks and natural spaces. The Ontario Poison Centre views foraging as an “extremely dangerous” hobby because the difference between safe and toxic mushrooms can be microscopic.

Warning: Never consume a wild mushroom unless you are certain of its identity and edibility. Do not attempt to identify a mushroom from comparing photographs alone. Check out all the characteristics and if in any doubt, do not eat them.

Foraging aside, my suggestion after my experiences this fall is to get out and hike in the forest before the snow falls because there are still thousands of mushroom creatures along the forest floor in different shapes, sizes and colors. It’s a whole new garden in the fall once most of the green has disappeared. Take a camera along with you!

Resources:

https://www.tvo.org/article/where-the-wild-things-are-foraging-in-ontario

https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/wild-mushrooms-in-canada

Not Your Everyday Goldenrod

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

I was recently at a market where a local garden group was selling some plants including many native plants. I noticed a striking goldenrod. I remarked to one of the vendors that it still seems odd to me to see goldenrod for sale when it is so common in rural Ontario. The vendor rightly chastised me because this goldenrod was not your very common goldenrod (Solidago canadensis), it was Gray Goldenrod (S. nemoralis) . The vendor went on to describe some of the positive attributes of this plant. I have to say that the bright yellow, fluffy flowers were beautiful!

This market interaction set me thinking more about the native varieties of goldenrod, or Solidago, species. There are over 100 species of this perennial native with over 25 being found in Ontario. This plant often gets bad press as being a plant whose pollen causes allergies but the likely culprit is ragweed (Ambrosia species). Ragweed and goldenrod bloom at the same time and are often found growing in the same areas. Goldenrod’s lovely yellow flowers (note that there are a couple of Ontario species with white flowers) are attractive to bees and butterflies. They serve as a good source of nectar in the fall and their heavy pollen grains attach easily to the bodies of pollinators. Ragweed flowers are green, do not produce nectar and produce large amounts of light pollen that easily becomes airborne … hence your sneezing and your itchy eyes.

Solidago canadensis, author’s garden

Goldenrod is an easy keeper in the garden. It can grow in a variety of soils, many prefer sun but some grow well in part shade or shade and most prefer average moisture but some can grow well in very moist soil. Goldenrod spreads via seed and through rhizomes (horizontal underground stems). Some species (Tall goldenrod (S. altissima), Canada goldenrod (S. canadensis), and Giant goldenrod (S. gigantea) can quickly take over a small garden. These may be grown in a pot , in a bordered area or in that hot dry area of the garden where not many other plants will grow. This will help to keep them in check.

Goldenrod can be quite a tall plant and is very pretty in drifts in the garden, as a background plant or even as a focal point. I started a woodland garden this year and planted a zigzag goldenrod (S. flexicaulis) which grows in full shade. Goldenrod is great for adding colour to the fall garden and when grown alongside beautiful purple asters (for example, New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), the display is stunning!

Goldenrod has many positive attributes from its beautiful, bright yellow flowers and its tall upright growth habit to the many species that will grow in a variety of conditions including that hot, dry spot in your garden.

Goldenrod may be purchased at most native plant nurseries or grown from seed. For more information on the different species of goldenrod, please check here. For more information on growing golden rod, please check here.

Seed Saving and Bombing

By Anica James, Master Gardener in Training

With the autumn equinox right around the corner, this is the perfect time of year to be collecting seeds. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I find seed collecting both rewarding and therapeutic. There is something about spending an intimate amount of time with different plant species, getting to know them and discover how the plant truly grew. It’s amazing that something as tall and beautiful as a Foxglove grows from the tiniest of seeds. Whether you are collecting seeds from fruits and vegetables, wildflowers, ornamental flowers, grasses or trees, you will notice that each seed has various characteristics that make it unique.

A homemade seed saving library that was installed in East City

I always carry a pen for labeling, a big stack of envelopes, usually a pair of secateurs or snips, and sometimes paper lunch bags for larger seeds. I go for a meditative walk through the woods or around my yard, carefully collecting my stash, labeling the envelopes or bags, and bringing them home for extra drying time. For some seeds I use a sieve to take off any chaff that is still clinging on, and then I weigh everything out on my scale and divide certain seeds up into packages I make out of old scraps of paper (vintage National Geographic magazines are my favourite to use). Before the pandemic started, there was an annual Seedy Sunday event held every March in Peterborough; keep your eyes and ears peeled for future dates because this is a great place to meet other seed collectors and swap findings.

Insects love to hang out amongst the pods. Always be sure to clean your seeds.

I encourage you to go for a walk around your property or nearby country road and collect your own seeds because not only is it a fun and free way to help you grow different plants on your own, but you can also share or sell any leftover seeds you have. Some of my favourite native varieties to collect are:

Aquilegia canadensis, wild columbine

Asclepsias tuberosa, butterfly weed

Aster novae-angliae, New England aster

Coreopsis lanceolata, lanceleaf coreopsis

Dalea purpurea, purple prairie clover

Monarda fistulosa, wild bergamot

Rudbeckia hirta, black-eyed Susan

Symphyotrichum oblongifolium, aromatic aster

Another thing that I like to do is create seed bombs that I can use for guerilla gardening projects. Seed bombs are a great activity to do with kids and it encourages them to get messy and add to the beauty of this world. I personally like to “bomb” public areas around commercial properties and newly built subdivisions with wildflower seeds, anything to bring some life back into the beige-grey landscape.

Basic envelopes that I use when I am collecting seeds. Once I have everything at home I sort and clean them and put them in new labeled envelopes.

Materials you will need:

  • Wildflower seeds or seeds collected from the garden
  • Water
  • Peat-free compost.
  • Powdered clay (found in craft shops); some people also use cat litter
  • A bowl to mix everything in
  • A tray to dry the seed bombs on

How to build your bombs:

  1. In a bowl, mix together 1 cup of seeds with 5 cups of compost and 2-3 cups of clay powder.
  2. Slowly mix in water with your hands until everything sticks together. It should have the same texture and consistency as muffin batter (kids love this because it’s like making slime)
  3. Roll the mixture into firm, even balls and then leave the balls to dry in a sunny or warm spot
  4. Once they are dry, plant your seed bombs by throwing them at bare parts of the garden or land and wait to see what pops up! (I usually like to time my guerrilla plantings with the rain).

If you are interested in learning more about seed saving locally, Jill Bishop from Nourish has some great reference material and sometimes offers workshops, especially to those who are members of local community gardens. https://nourishproject.ca/basics-seed-saving

Seeds of Diversity is another great resource https://seeds.ca/

Coriander seeds which I save and collect every year for culinary purposes.

The Late Summer/Fall Garden

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

Your once showy, spectacular plants have finished blooming and their foliage may have withered.  Do not despair, the late summer/fall garden can still be something to behold as well as feeding the pollinators and other wildlife!

Annuals

Plants that grow, bloom, go to seed then die all in one season are annuals.  Annuals may be used to add some much needed colour at the end of our summer season.  Zinnia, Petunia, annual sunflower (Helianthus annuus) and Cosmos are easy to source and grow.  The ornamental kales and cabbages are dramatic plants that will look good in your pots or your garden.

Zinnia various — author’s garden

Shrubs

Hydrangea – I am referring to the panicle (H. paniculata) and smooth hydrangeas (H. arborescens) that bloom on new wood and may be pruned in late winter or very early spring.  This is a plant that steals the show in late summer, fall and even into winter.  They produce large, pink, white or pink/white poufy blooms.  The blooms may be dried for inside décor or left on the plant outside for winter interest. 

Witch hazel – Hamamelis virginiana is a native that blooms with interesting, spidery petaled, yellow flowers in the fall.  This plant will attract birds to your garden.

Perennials

Plants that grow, bloom and produce seed but do not die after just one season … some are short lived but some live for many years.  There are lots of perennials that bloom in late summer and fall.  Many, like the native Aster species and golden rod (Solidago species) provide food for wildlife including the pollinators.

Echinacea purpurea — author’s garden

Some others in my garden include:

Phlox – There are lots of P. paniculata cultivars that bloom in the fall.  This plant comes in a myriad of colours.  Do not confuse this plant with the mid-summer/August blooming dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) which can be quite invasive.  Phlox flowers have five petals and dame’s rocket have four.

Black eyed susan – Bright, happy native plants and cultivars (Rudbeckia species) that may be annual, biennial (germinate in spring of first growing season but do not flower and go to seed until the next growing season) or perennial.  The wild ones that we see on the Ontario road side are most often biennials. 

Bugbane – Another pretty native (Actaea species formerly Cimicifuga) that blooms in the fall.  I spent lots of time trying to get a good photo of a bumblebee on this plant’s bloom but it was too fast for me!

Anise hyssop – The bees love Agastache foeniculum.  I have mine planted along a path.  It is tall and quite dramatic when in bloom.

Antennaria — author’s garden

Plume poppy – This is the plant that everyone will ask “what is that”.  Macleaya cordata growsvery tall and has an interesting seed head and large leaves.  Beware though because it can spread through rhizomes (underground roots) and it exudes an orangey sap when pulled.  It is easy to control just by pulling the plants when small but wear gloves to avoid touching the sap…it is poisonous.

Coneflower –  Echinacea purpurea is a native plant but there are lots of colourful cultivars.   Birds eat the seeds held in the spent blooms in winter.

Hydrangea — author’s garden

Pussy toes –  The bees love this native (Atennaria species) too.  Just like it’s common name, this plant has cute little flowers that resemble the toes of a soft, white kitten.

Sedum/stonecrops – These plants are some of the toughest, hardworking plants in your garden.  They can take lots of heat and dry conditions. There are many, many to choose from … some bloom in spring and some bloom into the fall. The sometimes colorful foliage can add interest and the blooms will attract pollinators.

Sedum — author’s garden

So observe your garden, does it need some help this time of year?  Try shopping the fall sales at your local nursery.  If you can fit in some of these plants, you will have a beautiful garden full of late season blooms. 

Ditch Lilies – a Cautionary Tale

By Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

Once upon a time there was a gardener who wanted something that grew quickly to screen a neighbour’s unsightly yard and house addition. She noticed that the ‘ditch lilies’ that surrounded her front yard tree (already there when she moved in) seemed to be pretty vigorous, so she planted a row of them between the yards, along with some small bridal wreath spirea (Spirae aprunifolia).

What she didn’t realize was that she had unleashed a horrible monster into her garden, one that quickly engulfed any other plants, sucked all the moisture out of the soil, and eventually killed most of those spirea.

Yes that gardener was me, many years ago, before I knew better and before I became a master gardener. So this year I knew I had to finally tackle the monster, remove all these plants, and reclaim this garden area. I knew how much work it would be (it took me three weekends this spring), but I got it done. Here’s my story…

Even though you see it growing in ditches around the province, Hemerocallis fulva (aka ditch lily, tawny daylily, orange daylily, tiger lily) is native to China, Japan and Korea and was introduced to North America in the early 19th century. They spread via seed and a network of tuberous roots, and can reproduce and proliferate from a small fragment left behind during removal. In 2020 the Ontario Invasive Plant Council added this plant to their invasives list, and their Grow Me Instead Guides offer some native alternatives to consider.

Screen capture from the Grow Me Instead Guide on Hemerocallis fulva

Garden bed, spring 2021

So this was my garden bed in May this year – just waiting to burst out and take over, again. Every single one of these plants had to be dug and lifted, making critically sure to get every last bulb. These photos show how many bulblets can be on just one stem – it was quite overwhelming to think of the job ahead.

All the plants that were dug out were put in black plastic garbage bags and left out in the hot sun beside our barn for a month. At last count I used 45 garbage bags, and they were a slog to carry as they were heavy!! Eventually they went to our rural dump, where the hot composting they do should ensure their demise.

Bit by bit, over three weekends, I got them all out. It was beneficial to have a dry spring, as it made digging them out a little easier. But still a workout!

Once everything was cleared out, I weeded the soil for anything else. All that remained were my tulips and a few hardy perennials that had been gasping for air for more than a decade.

Getting there.
Ready for a fresh load of soil.

With a fresh load of soil on top and a final check for bulblets done (and knowing that I would have missed a few), I put in some new plants, aiming for 50 percent native plants (those marked with a *). The area has both sun and shade spots so I needed to be careful with my choices.

For sun, Echinacea*, Gray-headed coneflower* (Ratibida pinnata), summer phlox (Phlox paniculata), American Witch Hazel* (Hamamelis virginiana), New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), Sedums, Switch grass* (Panicum virgatum), Lesser catmint (Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta), Black-eyed Susans* (Rudbeckia hirta), lupins, Giant fleeceflower (Persicaria polymorpha), Cyclindrical Blazing Star* (Liatris cylindracea)[once I can convince the bunnies to stop eating it – see green covers], and Virginia Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum).

For part shade/shade, Mourning Widow Geranium (Geranium phaeum), Purple Flowering Raspberry* (Rubus odoratus), hostas, Sensitive Fern* (Onoclea sensibilis), Virginia Waterleaf* (Hydrophyllum virginianum), Columbine (Aquilegia), Starry False Solomon’s Seal* (Maianthemum stellatum), Buttonbush* (Cephalanthus occidentalis), Zig-zag goldenrod* (Solidago flexicaulis) and Berry Bladder fern* (Cystopteris bulbifera). Also the infamous Outhouse Plant (Rudbeckia laciniata ‘Hortensia’), to be replaced with something else next year. Any suggestions for fast growing native shrubs that can handle part share welcome!

The garden bed needs time to fill in, so we’ll see what it looks like next year. In August I went back into the bed and sure enough, there were new ditch lilies growing in a few places. Remember it only takes one bulblet for them to grow. But half an hour later they were all gone as well.

I suspect I will on alert for the odd ditch lily plant showing up for the next few years, but I’m really proud to have removed this nasty invasive plant from my garden and rejuvenated it with native plants. And my two lovely sugar maple trees are glad for some more breathing room.

NOTE: The orange, single flower Hemerocallis fulva is the only daylily currently listed as invasive. It is a diploid daylily. Most cultivated daylilies are triploid and do not spread invasively like the ditch lily.