Category Archives: Native Plants

The KISS Principle – Winter Sowing 101

By Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

“If it’s not easy, you’re doing it wrong” Trudi Davidoff

For the last few years I’ve been hearing people (especially those in the native plant field) raving about winter sowing. What’s that I asked? Simple, they said – a germination method where you put seeds in an enclosed container out in your garden in winter and let Mother Nature make you more plants.

Hmm, I thought, that sounds too easy. As someone who has struggled for year with starting plants from seeds (especially annuals, vegetables, or herbs) and lost many sad looking seedlings to damping off I was intrigued.

Now I know it really is straightforward (although it requires an Ontario twist – more later) – and I am all about using a KISS principle – Keep It Simple Stupid!  

My plants – June 2022. As you can see not all successful. I love the Hunk O’ (or Chunk O’) transplanting method once they have grown (see FAQs)

Started in 2000 by Trudi Greissle Davidoff of New York in an essay, the Winter Sowing Method is a low cost (bonus!!!), temperate climate method of producing sturdy plants for your garden. There is no need to set up lights or have a space inside your house and best of all, no hardening off process. In 2006, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recognized the viability of the technique by adding the term to the National Agricultural Library Thesaurus.

The Basics

So how does it work? For winter sowing you use a recycled container (bonus!) to create a mini greenhouse that protects the seeds from animals, birds and other pests, as well as from our often variable spring weather, until they get big enough to transplant into your garden. This is one case when you actually want your seeds to be placed outdoors and exposed to the elements (including freezing temperatures, snow, and rain).

You can use any container that’s deep enough to hold sufficient potting mix and has a clear or translucent covering that is tall enough to allow the transplants to grow. It must have drainage holes in the bottom as well as ventilation holes in the top. You can use perennial or annual seeds – basically anything as long as it isn’t a tropical seed (for obvious reasons). Native seeds are particularly good because they need a period of cold stratification to germinate – why not take advantage of natural temperatures, rather than artificially refrigerating seeds that need this process?

My winter sowing containers – January 2022

You fill the container with potting mix (at least 4-5 inches), sprinkle in your seeds, make sure the mix is moist, tape or secure the top of the container in some fashion, and put it outside. It’s good to check on the containers periodically so they don’t dry out or become waterlogged. Then you wait – it really is that simple.

Ok, I know there are questions – When do I start where I live? When do I plant x seeds? What soil do I use? Let me try and answer some of the basic ones and point you to other resources as well.

Trudi’s original website is no longer active but there is a very active Facebook page that follows her method – Winter Sowers – which I highly recommend for all the basic information and lively discussions amongst members. Trudi is an admin on the page.

Timing for Winter Sowing?

You can start winter sowing anytime after the Winter Solstice (December 21st). Perennials are generally done first, as they often require (or benefit from) cold stratification, then hardy annuals, then tender annuals. But the bottom line is that the seeds will germinate when the conditions are right for each kind of seed. That is the beauty of winter sowing! Many people winter sow their perennials in January but then wait until March to start their annuals. It really doesn’t matter – do what works for you!

They are ready to plant whenever the outside temperature has sufficiently warmed and they are the right size (2 to 3 inches or more importantly at least two sets of real leaves).

What Soil to use?

It’s recommended to use a sterile potting soil mix; avoid soil bags that say they are ‘weed free’ because they can contain chemicals mixed into soil to prevent any weed seeds in that bag from germinating. So they will also prevent the germination of seeds you sow in that same soil! If you live in an extremely dry environment, you might want to use soil that has moisture retentive crystals – otherwise this is not necessary (and can even be a problem in wet winter regions like the U.S. Pacific Northwest). Using fertilized soil for a sowing medium is a personal preference.

What Containers? The Ontario Twist

Most winter sowers tend to use milk jugs for their seeds, but these are not readily available in Ontario – we still love our milk bags! But the reality is that you can use any container for winter sowing as long as it can hold at least 3 inches (7.6 cm) of potting soil. I have seen various other things used –  juice bottles, clear pop bottles, blue and green bottles, aluminum pans, salad boxes, plastic containers, pretzel barrels, cheese curl containers, ice cream buckets, nut containers, and vinegar jugs. They must be translucent (some light passes through) or transparent (all light passes through). Opaque materials will not work. Personally I have used the large fresh spinach containers or aluminum roasting pans with clear lids.

You do need some sort of cover on your container, as it helps keep heavy rains under control (so they drip slowly into your containers), it keeps more moisture in so that you have a higher germination rate of your seeds, and it keeps weed seeds out of your containers.

How do I Label?

Labelling is really important unless you’re a genius at identifying new sprouts! I recommend putting in two labels – one on the underside of your tray and one on a popsicle stick in the container. Trudi recommends using duct tape and an industrial sharpie. Tip – place your labels before you fill the tray with soil and put them so they don’t impede the water drainage holes. There is lots of discussion on the best pens to use for labelling – everything from paint pens to garden markers, livestock markers, and china/grease markers.

This will be my second year winter sowing just north of Peterborough – I learned a lot in my first year, most importantly to transplant my seedlings before they get too big and dry out. I wrote a blog earlier this year about some of the cool native plants that I winter sowed last winter.

I hope this blog encourages you to consider winter sowing for your garden, particularly for native species to your area – seeds are so much cheaper than plants and then once they go to seed you are all set to grow even more plants, either for yourself or to share with friends!

Want More Information?

Some videos (and posts) you may want to check out – there are lots of winter sowing videos out there (sometimes with conflicting information) but these are two that are recommended by the online group

Dolly Foster – Hort4U Winter Sowing Presentation

All The Dirt on Winter Sowing

Planting Native Seeds (Facebook link)

WinterSowing 101 – Jug Prep (if you have milk jugs) (Facebook link)

Frequently Asked Questions (Facebook link)

A Garden for the Winter Solstice

by Lois Scott, Peterborough Master Gardener

The winter solstice, which this year happens December 21 at 4:47pm, marks the northern hemisphere’s furthest tilt from the sun and results in the shortest day and longest night of the year.  Many ancient cultures celebrated at this time to welcome the return of longer days and the promise of spring with plants playing a large symbolic role.  I certainly welcome the return of longer days and the pleasure in watching my garden wake up but for right now I enjoy the garden as it stands in winter.

I won’t be burning a yule log, which was traditionally Oak as it represented strength and endurance, but I enjoy the knowledge that the Oak trees in my environment are valuable contributors to supporting life in the garden.  Oaks (Quercus spp.) support over 500 species of lepidoptera (butterfly and moths) caterpillars which is more than any other native tree or plant. Read more

I don’t have the shiny, English holly (Ilex aquifolium which is invasive in the Pacific Northwest) in my garden. I do have a native holly, Ilex verticillata or Common Winterberry.  I have a male and female plant as you need both for pollination and the resulting flowers and red berries.  Although it is found naturally in swampy, acidic areas it is growing in my average garden soil.  It doesn’t have evergreen leaves but the persistent red berries are loved by over 40 species of birds!  Beautiful red berries and birds in the winter?  That is a win-win for me! 

A winter garden is certainly enhanced by including coniferous (evergreen) trees.  Coniferous trees such as pines, spruce and cedar are considered by many cultures to be a symbol of resilience and renewal.  For many of us we enjoy using the greenery to brighten our winter pots and interiors at this time of year.  In our winter gardens native evergreens provide not only beautiful contrast with the snow but provide important sources of shelter and food for local wildlife. Well placed coniferous trees can also provide windbreaks for our homes. Read more.

I hope that this winter solstice finds you happily enjoying your winter garden and appreciating its benefit to our environment.

The Fall of a Fall Favourite

By Lois Scott, Master Gardener

Sometimes it feels like my garden will never reach the ‘mature’ stage even though I have been gardening in the same spot for 36 years.  There are a variety of reasons for that, but one major one was my need to remove plants that are now considered invasive. “Invasive species are considered one of Canada’s greatest threats to the survival of our wild animal and plant life.  Invasive species kill, crowd out and devastate native species and their ecosystems”.  https://www.invasivespeciescentre.ca/learn.

So, who were the super villains in my garden?  I’m looking at you, Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus) and also you, Barberry (Berberis).  I was initially truly disappointed when I realized they needed to go but then my short attention span came into play and I was on to the next thing.  What new plants could I get to replace said villains?!!!  And they are environmental villains:

Burning Bush
Japanese Barberry

Burning bushes are certainly very visible at this time of year due to their intense red foliage, but Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) makes a wonderful substitute for both Burning Bushes and Barberry.  They are native to Ontario, will grow up to 2.5 metres tall, have white flowers in spring and their fall colour is dramatic.  They will grow in moist or dry areas and they attract pollinators and songbirds.  There are actually many native shrubs that are very ‘ornamental’ and worthy garden additions.  https://www.inournature.ca/best-native-shrubs

Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa)

At the risk of blathering on about native plants, one small benefit for me is that if I choose a native plant that is not aggressive (rampant spreader etc) and is suited to the conditions of the site (right plant, right place) I won’t find myself having to hack out this year’s fan favourite that turns into next year’s invasive disaster.  Always a good thing for me and the wildlife and pollinators in my garden!

Native Plant Gardening for Birds, Bees & Butterflies

by MJ Parker, Master Gardener

I recently downloaded “Native Plant Gardening for Birds, Bees & Butterflies” from my local library. This book was a fabulous find for me because I am currently planning a buffer area by the water in our new place. Going through this book reminded me of when I was a kid with a new Sears or Eaton’s catalogue – always an exciting event – something only people of a certain age will remember.

Book cover

The book was written by an entomologist, Jaret C. Daniels, currently living in Florida but the area covered by the book is the upper Midwest which is roughly parallel to us here. I have ordered plants from Minnesota before with no problems and some of the plants I currently grow are in the book.About 1/4 of the book is devoted to why we should plant gardens for birds, bees and butterflies. He does a brief summary on a number of topics about the actual mechanics.

False Indigo (Baptisia australis)

Most of the book, however, was a precis of individual plants roughly divided into sun, shade, and bog. Each plant started with a picture, then a summary of what it would attract and ended with specific location and cultivar tips. And this plant section was the part that I found extremely interesting and helpful.

New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus)

So what I did was I sat down with a pen and paper over a number of days and compiled a list of what would work for me and plants I wanted to get. I ended up with a comprehensive list of plants, some I had forgotten to bring from the old place and some completely new to me.

And to date I have already placed 2 seed orders for some of the things on my list.

Google Lens (free!) for all of your identification needs

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

If you’re outside enjoying the fresh air, and happen across a flower or bird or insect and you’re not sure what you’re looking at, a new feature from Google can help you out.

Google Lens lets you search what you see. Using a photo, your camera or almost any image, Lens helps you discover visually similar images and related content, gathering results from all over the internet.

All you need to do is: On your phone, open the Google app and in the search bar, tap Google Lens. Point your camera at the flower to identify the plant. Swipe up to learn about the discovery.

On Android, Google Lens is likely already built right in — open the Google App or Google Photos app. Tap Discover or tap the Google Lens icon.

On Apple, Google Lens is part of the Google app — a separate app from using Google on Chrome, Firefox or Safari. Go to the App Store and download/install Google as a unique app if you haven’t already done so.

When you open the Google App, you’ll see a screen like this with the Lens icon. It’s your window to discovery!

Last week, I went for a long walk and checked out a lot of the volunteer trees and plants along the rural roadway. Sometimes I wanted to verify an item I thought I already knew, but more often I wanted to determine the name of a common but name-unknown item. Google Lens scored on both fronts. Now if only I could remember all of those names!

If you have a bug infestation, use Google Lens to identify the bug if you can get it to sit still long enough!

There’s plenty more you can do with Google Lens, too, including pulling the contact information from business cards, identifying unusual foods and almost anything else. It can also translate words on the screen into other languages, and read them back to you.

The ability of the app to actually CORRECTLY identify plants and bugs is pretty decent, and will get better over time. It helps to allow Google to use location services, so that it’s not searching through the entire rain forest to determine the name of the plant in your neighbourhood. You can also allow Lens access to your photos, so that you can identify items you’ve already taken pictures of.

Best of all, it’s free and will always be free. Try it!

The Golden Glow Has Got To Go

By Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

Last year around this time I wrote a blog about reclaiming a garden bed from the dreaded ditch lily (Hemerocallis fulva), now considered an invasive species by many organizations including Ontario Parks and the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the U. S. National Park Service. If you’ve ever struggled with this plant you know what I mean.

The other plant growing in our large Lakefield garden when we moved in (more than 20 years ago) is what I was told was called an ‘outhouse plant‘. I eventually learned that the Latin name for this plant (also called golden glow or tall coneflower) was Rudbeckia laciniata “Hortensia”.

Rudbeckia laciniata “Hortensia” or Outhouse Plant, circa 2005 in my garden

It’s a cultivar of our native Rudbeckia laciniata, also known as Cut Leaf Coneflower or Green Headed Coneflower, which has a lovely simple daisylike flower (whereas the Hortesia cultivar is a double ‘puffy’ flower).

Our lovely R. laciniata elsewhere in the garden. It will do better (and flop less) if it’s in a garden bed with other tall and native plants.

The outhouse plant was pleasant enough so I let them grow for years in what I call our ‘back 40’, meaning our naturalized garden area at the back of the property, behind the cedar rail fence. Yes they were tall and gangly, and fell over in thunderstorms. Yes they spread, but they gave the prolific Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) and New England Asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) a run for their money in August/September. And hey, I had more than enough to deal with in the rest of my more organized garden!

However, as I started to learn more about both native (and invasive) plants over the years I realized that I might have a problem. The outhouse plant isn’t a huge problem per se, as it can be controlled through digging, Chelsea chop etc., but its double shape means that it offers minimal benefit as food for our pollinators. And I wanted plants that not only look beautiful but have an ecological benefit. So I sat in my hammock and pondered.

Sitting in my hammock contemplating the outhouse plant’s fate
(he’s watching on the right)

As a result of winter sowing (first time this past winter – highly recommend!) I have lots of new native plant seedlings, including some of the ones I featured in my May blog – A Few of My Favourite Native Plants – Culver’s Root (Veronicastrum Virginicum), Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis), and Green Headed Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata). I certainly have lots of the native Rudbeckia, as well as Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), Giant Ironweed (Vernonia gigantea), and Purple Giant Hyssop (Agastache scrophulariifolia).

So the clearing of the outhouse plant began in earnest last week, and by the end of two afternoons I had an area to work with.

The initial chop of material
Then removal of the actual plants and roots

Definitely not light work, but not too difficult either compared to other plants. The area is now clear, and I’ll be putting in Green Headed Coneflower (the native), Boneset, Giant Ironweed, and Purple Giant Hyssop. They can all tolerate a little competition (a good thing for native plants, especially tall ones) and basic soils.

If I have space I might even mix in some shorter plants like native Bush honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera) and Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea) in at the front as they can tolerate dry conditions. The area is mostly sunny all day. Unfortunately my beloved Cardinal Flower and Turtlehead are too dry for this location.

We’ll see how this experiment works and check back in with you all on another blog. If it works we’ll expand into another area of outhouse plant that I recently cut down, but haven’t removed yet…a work in progress. There are only so many hours in my (still working part time) day. And I still need to get that Canada Ggoldenrod under control…but that’s another story…

Outcompeting Invasive Plants, Part II

By Laura Gardner, Master Gardener in Training

This article was published in err a couple of weeks ago, and is being republished today as a corrective measure. Apologies. -Ed.

Back in a June post[i], I referenced the Ontario Native Plant Council’s best management practices for Alliaria petiolata (Garlic Mustard).[ii] In it they referred to certain native plants that can be used to outcompete it. I would like to mention one other that I am fond of having in my garden. Packera aurea (Golden Groundsel) has a diminutive orange inflorescence and is native to the Peterborough area. It can be aggressive as it reproduces through rhizomes and adventitious shoots on the stems. It is better situated in moist soils and so it may be more subdued in a drier location. In her blog, The Humane Gardener[iii], Nancy Lawson discovered that when she inserted clumps of Golden Groundsel into patches of Garlic Mustard, the latter quickly became surrounded. Garlic Mustard is known to be allelopathic and inhibits the growth of some plants. However, Golden Groundsel does not appear to be inhibited by it.

Golden groundsel, Packera aurea

Anemonastrum canadense (Canada Anemone) is a beautiful vigorous native ground cover that performs well in sun to shaded environments; although it can develop brown leaves in more arid conditions. I am using it to limit the advance of Campanula rapunculoides (Creeping Bellflower). The intent is to envelope it so that it is unable to photosynthesize, grow more foliage, and store energy in its roots. One might argue that this is simply a matter of replacing one problem with another. While it is true that Canada Anemone can be overwhelming, it may be limited by deadheading the flowers, removing rhizomes, adding mulches, and by installing edging below the soil surface. As a native plant, it supports pollinators such as miner bees, sweat bees, and hover flies. The Xerces Society notes that it supports “conservation biological control.”[iv] This is a plant that attracts beneficial insects to your garden which in turn will help control other insects that damage your other plants.

So far, the Creeping Bellflower’s development has been slowed but there are still some basal leaves within the patch and at the perimeter. Right now, it is still a team effort: Canada Anemone and me.


[i] Outcompeting Invasive Plants: Part I. https://peterboroughmastergardeners.com/2022/06/13/outcompeting-invasive-plants-part-1/

[ii] Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata): Best Management Practices in Ontario. Ontario Invasive Plant Council.  https://www.ontarioinvasiveplants.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/OIPC_BMP_GarlicMustard.pdf

[iii] How to Fight Plants with Plants. The Human Gardener. Online: https://www.humanegardener.com/how-to-fight-plants-with-plants/

[iv] Habitat Planning for Beneficial Insects: Guidelines for Conservation Biological Control. Xerces Society. http://www.xerces.org/publications/guidelines/habitat-planning-for-beneficial-insects

The Joy of Sharing our Gardens

Reflections after a Garden Tour

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

It’s been a tough few years for all of us because of COVID-19, but I had time to reflect this weekend on why it’s been hard for me as a gardener. While it’s been wonderful to have our gardens as an oasis and source of comfort during the pandemic, I realized that other than a few close friends, no one had seen all the work (and the results) that my husband Grant and I had achieved over that time.

So it was with great anticipation that we looked forward to our Lakefield garden being featured on a garden tour organized as a fundraiser to celebrate 60 years of the Lakefield Horticultural Society.

While we spent a few very crazy days trying to put the final touches on our garden (my husband decided he would build a beautiful pergola [awesome] a week before the event [not so awesome] so plants had to be moved into pots and then back into the beds just a few days before) — sorry I digress — everything was perfect on the day — the weather was spectacular, we placed the last bits of mulch to cover a few empty patches and we looked forward to welcoming our guests.

The new pergola.

As the first people arrived (I think our first visitor was a man on a bicycle!) I began to realize how much I had missed the joy of sharing our gardens with others. And as the day progressed, it was wonderful to hear other people’s perceptions — for some it was inspiring, for some a bit overwhelming (we have a 3/4 acre property in a small village), for some they loved that we had plants they had never seen before (not your typical garden). Everyone seemed to leave with a smile on their face, which made our day.

Grant created numerous raised beds over the past few years — at my request — and we’ve had great success with them. We also purchased a “COVID present” for ourselves — a long wished-for greenhouse to extend our gardening season, and it’s been put to good use.

We’ve spent time over the past few years planting more native plants as I learn more about the benefits of creating habitat as well as having an aesthetically pleasing garden. Hey, it’s not all about me!! Doug Tallamy’s book is a great start to understanding the benefits we can provide in our humble gardens to the greater ecosystem.

There is definitely a balance — we’re aiming for a 50/50 balance of native/non-native — because I love my daylilies and peonies and don’t want to give them up (they give me pleasure), but I also love the hundreds of pollinators (bees, butterflies, wasps etc.) that flock to my Common Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea), Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum), and Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) because I am choosing to plant native plants.

Boneset (white) and Cardinal Flower (red)

Last winter I grew some native (and non-native) plants using the Winter Sowing technique (because most native plant seed requires winter/cold stratification) and it was a great success (with some lessons learned – but that’s another blog).

Grant set up a Plant Sale area for the garden tour and people were able to buy plants that they saw in the garden (although alas, I did not take any cuttings on my amazing orange Butterfly Weed – a type of milkweed – which really caught everyone’s attention).

The Plant Sale area

Over the day I saw many gardening friends I hadn’t seen in several years, and made all sorts of new friends. It felt like my community was coming together — like we were reconnecting after a long time apart in a beautiful place. And I realized that gardening is both a solitary and a very social activity. We even got featured in the local newspaper.

We raised funds to support our local horticultural society, we got back to feeling ‘a bit normal’, and most importantly we got to reconnect with people over a common passion — the love of gardening.

I hope that all of you will find opportunities to reconnect with people this summer and share your gardens and plants and trade stories about attracting pollinators etc. with others. It’s a feeling like no other. #happygardening

Our lovely rudbeckia and greenhouse in the background.

Native Shrubs

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

In the spirit of adding more native plants to my garden in order to help support diversity, native pollinators and birds, I recently purchased a New Jersey Tea shrub.  Of course, it is also a new-to-me plant so I could not resist!  This made me start thinking about other native shrubs that I could use in my garden….I already have some of the usual non-natives like hydrangea, lilac, forsythia and a few of the dwarf conifers.  But, much to my surprise, I realized that I also have, in addition to the new-to-me New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus), downy arrowwood (Viburnum rafinesquianum) , dogwood (Cornus species) and ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius)! 

New Jersey Tea – My newly purchased shrub is just a baby….it is barely 13 cm (5 inches) tall but will grow to be about 1 meter (3 feet) tall.  I will need to protect it from the rabbits, who also inhabit my garden, by caging it with chicken wire.  New Jersey Tea prefers full sun and well drained soil.  It produces small white flowers in oval clusters at the branch tips in spring.  It is hardy to zone 4.  Additional information is available here.

Downy Arrowwood – My arrowwood is blooming right now.  It is covered with clusters of tiny white flowers and many native pollinators.  The flowers will be followed by blue-black berries that the birds love.  Arrowwood prefers poor, well drained soil…..ours is planted at the edge of a gravel walkway. It can take part-sun to shade and is hardy to zone 3.  At maturity, this multi-stemmed shrub will be 1.8-2.4 meters (6-8 feet) tall.  Additional information is available here.

Dogwood – There are a few different species of dogwood native to Ontario including Pagoda dogwood (C. alternifolia), bunchberry (C. canadensis) and Red Osier dogwood (C. sericea).  There are more but this group are hardy to at least zone 5 (Peterborough area).  They vary in height and growing condition requirements.  For more information on dogwood look hereThe Peterborough and Area Master Gardeners also have a fact sheet available on dogwood here .

Ninebark – Ninebark is a great native shrub for your garden.  It adapts to lots of different soil conditions and moisture levels including drought once established.  It is hardy to zone 3, has pretty white blooms in summer and attractive fall foliage.  I must admit that ours is planted in good garden soil and is mulched to minimize weeds and for moisture retention so my ninebark has it pretty good.  This shrub does prefer full sun for best bloom production. The Peterborough and Area Master Gardeners also have a fact sheet available on ninebark here.

Remember that all new plants need to be coddled for their first year in your garden so keep them watered and watch for insects or critters that may cause damage.  For me, that is fairly easy because I am often out in the garden admiring my new plants!

For more native plant choices and other pollinator information, check out Pollinator Partnership Canada under Resources.  June 20-26/2022 is Pollinator Week in Canada.  Why not celebrate by adding one or more native plants to your garden?

Planting Trees

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener

Image Courtesy of pixabay.com

Peter Wohlleben in his well-know book, The Hidden Life of Trees, describes how trees are like families, continually communicating and supporting one another. Trees improve soil and water conservation, moderate climate, increase the wildlife habitat, reduce stress and improve health.

It is imperative we continue to increase the tree canopy in our ever-growing cities.  This became more important after the recent storm that whipped through Southern Ontario and took out so many beautiful trees.

There are many factors to consider when planting a tree and it is easy to make mistakes.  I learned this the hard way this past month when I was able to literally pull a 9-year-old tree out of the ground.  Believe me, I am no incredible hulk!  I made many mistakes when planting that tree; the picture shows it was planted too deep, the roots girdled around the original root ball and by amending the dug hole with compost the tree likely resisted growing roots into the surrounding clay soil.

Image Courtesy of Author

Do your research and purchase a tree that is suitable for your yard conditions: 

  • How much sun and shade you receive each day?
  • What type of soil do you have?  
  • Would you prefer a large tree or one that is smaller and more suitable to an urban setting? 
  • What growing zone do you live in? (Check out this Zone Map if you are unsure)
  • Are you looking for a tree that will attract pollinators?   

I would suggest you consider planting a native tree. Trees that occur naturally in our surrounding area are better adapted to local climate and soil conditions and more resistant to disease. Oak trees are a powerhouse for feeding birds and attracting pollinators and insects, however, they are quite large.  A smaller tree to consider would be an Eastern Redbud or a Fall Witch Hazel.

Here is an article from Landscape Ontario with suggested native trees to consider.

HOLE DEPTH

In well-drained soils, the planting hole width should be two to three times the diameter of the root ball and only as deep as the root ball.  Widening the planting hole produces a hole with a greater volume of loose cultivated soil that allows rapid root growth.  This way roots gain access to a greater volume of loosened soil.  Do not plant the tree’s root flare below the ground.  The root flare should be within the top 5 cm of the soil surface.  Use a brush to find the top of the root flare which is where the structural roots begin.

SOIL AMENDMENT

Remove any grass roots, weeds, rocks or other debris from the planting hole. It used to be believed that you should fill the hole with an organic amendment such as compost, however, recent research has found that this doesn’t improve root development or tree growth and can sometimes be detrimental to tree performance and survival.  It is best to backfill in layers and lightly tamp and water to eliminate air pockets.  Additions of mulch and compost can be surface applied in future years to supplied much needed nutrients.

CREATING A BERM

It is wise to build a 10 cm high berm of soil extending 15 to 20 cm around the periphery of the root ball.  It should be firmed and is intended to keep water from flowing away.

MULCH

Apply mulch such as leaf litter or untreated wood chips evenly at the base of the tree.  It will help to reduce evaporation and suppress weeds.  Be sure to pull the mulch about 15 cm away from the base of the trunk.  The depth should be between 5 to 10 cm. I often see trees planted with mulch piled like a volcano.  This does not allow the water to penetrate to the roots and can also cause damage and disease to the trunk of the tree.

STABILIZATION

Only stake the tree if the roots will not support its height or if it is exposed to high winds. If a tree must be staked, place stakes no higher than 1/3 the height of the tree. Stake the tree loosely so it can move naturally in the wind. This movement will help to increase the tree’s stability.  The staking material should not constrict or rub against the bark of your plant. Remove stakes after roots have established, no longer than one growing season.

LASTLY

Remove all plant identification tags and any trunk protection or packaging material.

Supplemental watering is recommended the first 2-years after planting your tree. A sprinkle with the hose for a couple of minutes does more damage than good as this does not provide enough water to penetrate deep into the soil.  Newly planted trees must be watered regularly until frost.  Also, if water is pooling around the tree, cut back on the watering.

Do not be tempted to add additional fertilizer at this point.  Mineral imbalances can occur and cause more vegetative growth than root growth.

Do not prune the tree beyond removing any dead, diseased or damaged branches.

For further information, check out this Tree Planting Guide from Landscape Ontario.