Category Archives: New Gardens

Gardening Is Not Cancelled

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

Just when Ontario gardeners thought spring was peeking through the piles of snow – with warmer weather and the change to daylight savings time – we’ve been derailed, and not by Mother Nature.

GDD2

It’s been a tough few weeks with the increasing spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to North America. People are becoming increasingly alarmed, and in the past few days we have seen measures by our local health authorities and governments to ‘flatten the curve’ of the pandemic by imposing restrictions on travel, movement, and large events. For best information on the COVID-19 situation contact your local health unit or the Government of Ontario website. Peterborough Public Health, led by Medical Officer of Health Rosana Salvaterra, also has great resources.

curve
Flattening the curve – Proactively instituting protective measures to protect our healthcare system’s capacity to respond.

For Ontario gardeners, the past week has seen the cancellation of two major garden shows, numerous Seedy Sundays (and Saturdays), various Ontario Horticultural Association District meetings, and local meetings (in venues that have closed their doors to external groups). 90116313_3010310689020706_8668654371803758592_oThe biggest shock was the last minute cancellation of Canada Blooms just before its opening (March 13-22) as so much hard work and preparation goes into this event (6 days of building, but also plant-forcing, planning, designing etc.). But all is not lost! Thanks to Paul Gellatly (new Director of Horticulture at the Toronto Botanical Gardens), Sean James (Master Gardener and gardening consultant), and Helen Battersby (Toronto-based writer and garden speaker), we have photos and video of Canada Blooms before it was dismantled so that everyone can appreciate the results, even if we don’t have “smell-o-rama” and can’t see it in person.

Photos of Canada Blooms (thanks Paul Gellatly) Here and here

(note that all the TBG’s plants from Canada Blooms will be on sale at the TBG at 777 Lawrence Ave East on March 14th and 15th from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.)

Video Tour of Canada Blooms (thanks Sean James) Here

More Photos of Canada Blooms (thanks Helen Battersby) Here

gardenshow

The Peterborough Garden Show is also a huge draw for Ontario Gardeners. This year was to be the 20th Anniversary show – completely community run by volunteers from the Peterborough Horticultural Society, with all profits being reinvested in the community in Peterborough.

In addition, our beloved Peterborough Seedy Sunday this March 15th has been cancelled (along with many others across the province). Organizer Jillian Bishop (of Nourish and Urban Tomato) is encouraging people to visit the website and click on links for the various vendors to support them by buying seeds online.

89690140_2770661179669493_8297570305530920960_o

What are Gardeners to Do?

Don’t give up hope.

  1. Bring spring inside! Check out my recent blog on bringing dormant spring flowering branches inside and forcing them for early colour and bloom.forsythia-4083551_1920
  2. Plant some seeds! You may not be able to go to Seedy Saturdays/Sundays but you can order seeds from local companies or find them at your local nurseries. A great activity for March Break with kids.
  3. Do some virtual garden tours! Google Arts and Culture has some, or there’s a virtual tour of Prince Charles’ Highgrove Gardens that I just found. I’m sure a quick Google search for “virtual tour” and “gardens” would bring up many more.Highgrove
  4. Plan your 2020 garden. Whether it’s reworking your perennial beds, planning a new garden, or deciding on your vegetables and herbs for this year, best to get your design ideas laid out now before spring arrives. Maybe think about a rain garden or pollinator garden for this year?
  5. Clean your tools. Get in your garage or garden shed and take inventory of what tools need repair or replacing, and what new tools may be helpful this season. Clean your tools now so you are ready for the season.20190713_140635
  6. Get outside. Yes we might still have snow (well some of us do) but that doesn’t stop you wandering around your garden and dreaming does it?
  7. Go wander in nature. Many of the COVID-19 restrictions are stopping our regular activities in our communities. But that is no reason not to enjoy our wonderful environment. Take this opportunity to get out for a hike, see the plants emerging from their winter hibernation, listen to the spring birds singing, and relax in nature. (more on this in our MG Sharleen’s blog on Monday)09_RiverView

These are challenging times, but our gardens and love of gardening will help get us through. If you have other ideas please tweet them out to us or share them on our Facebook page.

 

 

Book Reviews: “Bringing Nature Home”, “Nature’s Best Hope” and “The Living Landscape”

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

Are you concerned about the natural world? Do you want to know what you, one person, one gardener, can do?

Douglas W. Tallamy is Professor and Chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware in Newark, Delaware, USA. In 2007, Mr. Tallamy’s book, “Bringing Nature Home”, was published. It has been updated and expanded several times since then but his message has remained the same:

Plants are not optional on this planet. With few exceptions, neither we, nor anything else, can live without them.”

Plants, through photosynthesis, take energy from the sun and turn it into food. Only plants can do this, we can’t and we, like all other creatures, depend on plants for our energy in order to survive. Mr. Tallamy explains the reliance that exists between the diversity of animal species and the diversity of plants. He explains the damage we are causing with our large lawns and our ornamental trees, shrubs and garden plants. Mr. Tallamy explains what one person, one gardener, can do and why we must. “Bringing Nature Home” is a beautiful book. Its language is compelling, its photos inspiring, and by the end, you will want to tear out your ornamental garden and plant all native plants! Or, at least look at your garden and re-evaluate and elevate what you are trying to achieve…..a pretty garden just won’t cut it anymore.

“The Living Landscape”, published in 2014, and written by Rick Darke and Doug Tallamy, again explains why, then how, to develop home gardens that are ecologically sound but beautiful and that meet our other land use needs (eg. vegetable garden, kids and dogs play area). They help us to also understand that, by using native plants, we will make a “layered landscape” that supports diverse wildlife and a healthy ecosystem. They provide beautiful photos to show us what can be achieved followed by detailed information to tell us exactly how to achieve it.

In 2019, “Nature’s Best Hope” by Douglas W. Tallamy was released. In this book, Mr. Tallamy tries again to not only inspire us but to also unite us in his vision of “a homegrown national park.” At first, I was disappointed with this book….ho hum, more of the same with fewer, and less dynamic, photos. Mr. Tallamy does explain again why we must start living on the earth in a way that is sustainable. However, with this book, he proves to us that we can do this because we want to and not because we feel we are forced to. We can create biological systems in our own yards that connect to others in your neighbour’s yard…..”a homegrown national park.” We can do this with native plants which will attract native insect species including pollinators, native birds and so on, to spread out across the food web to humans. “Nature’s Best Hope” was a harder read maybe because Mr. Tallamy states just the facts. In Chapter 11, titled “What Each of Us Can Do”, he succinctly lists exactly that. Mr. Tallamy believes that humans have “the intelligence, knowledge and ability” and “wisdom” to successfully restore natural habitat and ecosystems. I do too.

I recommend that you read all three of the books listed.

Resources

Darke, Rick & Tallamy, Doug.( 2014). The Living Landscape. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon, USA.

Tallamy, Douglas W. (2016 – 10th printing). Bringing Nature Home. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon, USA.

Tallamy, Douglas W. (2019). Nature’s Best Hope. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon, USA.

butterfly-17057_640

Planning and Dreaming

by Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

Winter is a time for planning and dreaming about our gardens.

Since we decided to move and downsize, I’ve been planning on how I want to create my new garden. Right now, under the snow, is mostly compacted construction zone. Debris from bricks, rocks, and stones ( I’ve collected some of the larger stones for garden beds) and weeds have been partly covered by sand fill. I’m hoping that we will have topsoil and sod fairly early in the spring. In the meantime, I’ve been dreaming and planning.

watercolour-2045917_1920

Our house is oriented east-west. There are two story houses to the north and south of us. Before planning on what shrubs and plants to put in those areas, I want to see how much shade they provide and for how long during the daytime. I’m keeping a record of where the sun is in the sky relative to those areas. The front and back are wide open, like a blank canvas.

summer-4282857_1280

At the same time, I’m making plans for what trees and shrubs I want to put in those areas. My choices are for mostly native shrubs, trees and and fruit producing plants. Other than the usual garden centres, I’ve been looking for places to purchase native plants and have found some close by Peterborough that grow shrubs and trees. Richardson’s Pineneedle Farms in Pontypool is one. They are a major commercial grower and have a lot of native shrubs and trees for sale. You can buy in bulk there. Another one Eastern Evergreen Inc. grows white cedar for hedges and is located in Warkworth.

With an office in downtown Peterborough, Cedar Ontario has a long track record of providing healthy natural eastern white cedar trees and installing hedges throughout Peterborough and the Kawarthas.

2019-Smith-8' 3rd season-2
Photo courtesy of Cedar Ontario

When it opens, Ecology Park in Peterborough is another good place to purchase native plants. Their big annual plant sale is Saturday May 16th at 10 am. Remember to bring your own containers for leaf compost and cedar mulch. The bulk sales are self loading , with a 20 bucket limit per person, per visit. Knowledgeable staff and are there to help you (and often Master Gardeners are there too).

plantsalecourtesyofGreenUpFBpage

In the meantime, I’m researching trees and shrubs, drawing plans, and dreaming.

 

 

Gardening Resolutions for A New Year

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

As this decade comes to a close, I like to think that I over the past ten years that have learned some things about gardening. And with that in mind, I’ve set a few New Year’s resolutions to guide me through this next year (and decade).

1. Be Better at Cleaning My Tools

I have some great tools – my Felco #12 secateurs/pruners (several pairs), my delightful drain spade, and my Japanese hori hori knife. But I am neglectful and do not clean these well during the season and especially at the end of the gardening year. My resolution to improve my tool maintenance for next year. Some guidance here and here.

20190713_140635

2. Make a Plan

I was basically back to square one in my garden a few years ago after a major house renovation. Since then we have installed some hardscaping and I have tried to replan my gardens. I’m 15 years older than when I first did my gardens, so my plan needs to take into account my aging and energy level, so I have eliminated those fussy perennials and focused more on a garden built on flowering shrubs that are lower maintenance. But I don’t have a plan, and my engineer husband keeps saying “where’s the plan?”. So my resolution is to spend this January laying out a plan for spring, rather than just going with my gut.

gardenplan

3. Don’t Order Too Many Seeds

This will be a tough one. After all who hasn’t looked out their window in January at the snowy landscape while reviewing seed catalogues and dreaming of a perfect garden? The diversity available via seed companies is just astonishing these days, and it’s nice to grow something that your friends don’t have and that you can keep seed for the next year! But we all tend to indulge and over purchase, so my resolution is to have a specific place for any seeds that I order (see previous note for a plan), and to test all the existing seeds I have for viability like this.

rucola-salad-plant-leaf2

4. Share my Knowledge and Start a Blog

While I write a blog for the Peterborough Master Gardeners on a regular basis, I’d like to start a garden blog of my own. The challenge? Just finding the time when I work full time and write for a living. My resolution is to spend January getting a basic blog set up, and then to try and write once a week starting in February. I’ll share a link once it’s up and running, and you can all hold me to task for getting it off the ground. The great part is there is lots of good advice on how to start a blog out there.

wordpress-265132_1280

Create a Holistic Garden

I am passionate that my garden should be more than just beautiful flowers – it should be a wonderful habitat for birds and bugs and critters and pollinators, and everything in between. I want to know that I am making a difference that contributes to supporting our local ecology and habitat. My resolution is to continue focusing on this as I re-establish my garden, and share my knowledge with others so that we can all make a difference.

Wishing everyone a Happy New Year and a wonderful 2020 gardening season, wherever you may be.

GDD

My Favourite Garden Tools

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

By day I am a writer and editor, using words, graphics, and design to communicate with my audiences. However, once that working day is over, I have an entirely different set of tools that I use in my garden landscape. What are those “tools of the trade”? Here are my favourites – what are yours?


20190713_144228

A Giant Wheelbarrow 

A good wheelbarrow is worth its weight in gold to a gardener. An essential tool, I use it to transport tools, dirt, mulch, rocks, and garden cuttings from one place to another. For me the most important features are the volume and the wheels. While I have another ‘regular’ one wheel wheelbarrow, this yellow two-wheeled monster is my best friend. I love the stability of the two wheels in my ‘not-flat’ garden. I have had it for so long the bottom plastic has finally cracked from all the big boulders I have dumped into it, but the yellow barrow bottom is now covered with a sheet of metal so it’s still functional. I’ve replaced the original pneumatic (air filled) tires with airless tires. Now I just need to find a new barrow that doesn’t cost more than replacing the entire wheelbarrow! (Special mention to my second favourite wheeled vehicle – an old Radio Flyer red wagon. Acquired from a cousin, this metal workhorse is great for moving plants around, especially in tight spots)

20190713_144159


20190713_140635.jpg

My Felco #7 Secateurs and Leather Holder

Pruners or secateurs (from the British – a pair of pruning clippers for use with one hand) are indispensable to the serious gardener. There are many brands on the market, but there are two primary types, so it’s important to get the ones that match your needs. Anvil pruners have a blade that pushes the plant material onto a cutting board, whereas bypass pruners have two blades that pass by each other to create a cut. Anvil pruners tend to crush soft plant tissue but, used properly, bypass pruners minimize plant damage. You can read more in Robert Pavlis’ blog on the subject here.

I only use bypass pruners; my Felco #7s are comfortable, light, efficient, and ergonomic. Why Felco? Because they are excellent quality and last forever. There are many models; many friends like the Felco #2s, but there are some designed for left handed people (Felco #9), people with small hands, or people like me that want to minimize hand strain, which is the focus of Felco #7. It provides me with hand and wrist protection, and optimizes the force exerted by the revolving handle. I should probably buy shares in this company. 9a2684c4213171476e13732af3b26537


20190713_140910


A Drain Spade

There are lots of different spades out there, so take the time to find one that works for you. Your height, the weight of the tool, what you need to use it for, and ergonomic considerations should all be taken into account. I have both shovels and spades – shovels tend to have longer handles and a more curved blade than spades – but once I used my drain spade I realized it was going to be my favourite. It’s heavy but I love the long blade for getting deep into the earth, and the narrowness for getting into tight spots. I have actually managed to dig the full taproot of a mature lupin and transplant it (and have it survive) using this spade, and that is an accomplishment in itself.


covertwitter

Great Gloves

Gloves are a very personal item of clothing for gardeners, but since this is my blog I’ll let you know my favourites are the West County gloves I can get from Lee Valley (the orange ones above) and the Noble Outfitter gloves I just picked up at the TSC Store (the only ones that fit me as I am wearing a finger splint at the moment – that’s a whole other story). Many people like the nitrile and latex gloves, especially for fine gardening work like pruning, but they are too hot for my hands. I am pretty tough on my gloves, so it’s normal for me to go through a few pairs each season.


20190713_140804

My Garden Bandits

What the heck is a Garden Bandit™? Nope, it’s not a robber, just a very handy tool for weeding and clearing areas with minimal hand strain. Its innovative shape, designed after a garden tool used by early settlers, allows you to remove weeds but cutting them off at their roots. It also lets you safely work soil close to existing plants without damaging foliage or tender feeder roots. I got mine from Brenda at the Avant Garden Shop in Peterborough. Made in Canada, the bandit is not sold in big box stores, so contact your local birding/gardening store or nursery to see if they stock them. Check them out here.
bndt_icon2


20190713_141013.jpg

Collapsible Garden Bags

A variation on traditional English ‘tip bags’ and often called kangaroo bags, these lightweight, collapsible bags are great for collecting weeds and waste (and leaves when that time comes). They can be collapsed and stored away easily when not being used, and who doesn’t like space-saving things! I have had several of these bags, but I am not sure where I got these particular ones. They do have them at Lee Valley (or give Google a try). I like them better than the plastic tubs because (well, plastic!), they are lightweight, and I can maneuver them into tight spaces.


20190713_140530

Hori Hori Knife

I was introduced to this tool by my fellow Master Gardeners, and now I understand why it’s a favourite (as you can see I have two of them!). Made in Japan, the hori hori knife is a cross between a knife and a trowel, and can serve multiple functions, including dividing perennials or planting. Traditionally used in Japan to collect specimens for bonsai (hori means “digging”), the knife has a rust-resistant steel blade with a serrated edge on one side and a sharpened edge on the other. About 12 inches overall, it has a hardwood handle and comes with a belt sheath. I have only ever seen these at Lee Valley.


20190713_140827

A Wide Brimmed Hat, Bandanna, Sunscreen, Bug Spray, and Towel

Last but not least the essentials for all gardeners – a nice wide brimmed hat and sunscreen to protect you from the sun’s rays, bug spray (I feel like I am wearing this 24/7 this year!), and a towel to wipe off all that sweat – gardening can be a great workout.

One final hint – you may notice that most of my tools are bright colours. If you – like me – tend to ‘lose’ tools in the garden, or the compost, or the leaf pile, or under a plant, you’ll want to look for tools in nice bright colours so that when your husband turns out the compost in the spring he can say ‘hey honey I found your garden bandit’. That reminds me – I need to put some paint on my hori hori knives!

Happy Gardening! 

Please note: I do not receive any compensation for mentioning where you can get these items

 

 

The Light in Your Garden

by Chris Freeburn, Master Gardener

Growing any plant successfully in your garden depends on many factors and an important one is the amount of light you get throughout the day. Growing Hosta out in the blazing sunshine is fine when they first emerge in springtime, but most Hosta will fry with the hot summer sun all day long. A peony without enough sun will have lovely green leaves, but will probably not give you any flowers.

Take a day or two to notice when your flower beds are in sun and for how long. Full sun means at least 6 hours of sun a day. Full shade means no direct sun. Part sun should only be about 3 hours. Morning sun is the best as it is not harsh and hot like late afternoon sun, so if you have gardens facing east, you have the best light for most plants.

3

Knowing which direction your home sits is important too. Get your orientation fixed in your mind. Remember that trees and buildings will shade the gardens as the sun moves throughout the day. As the seasons change, the sun will move slightly in its orientation and where the sunlight comes from will change. Be prepared when you go plant shopping, read plant tags and talk to experts to be sure you are putting the right plant in the right place for the right light requirements.

Like growing just outside your garden growing zones, gardeners can also grow outside sun requirements. Hybridizing has enabled us to have plants that will grow outside their normal light needs. For instance, there are now Hosta that will take a lot of sun. Try to stretch the limits if you want that certain plant in that certain place, but remember to monitor it to be sure it is not being stressed and is performing at its best.

1

Lighting may change in your garden. If a big tree is removed, a full shade garden can become a full sun garden. As a tree grows in your or your neighbour’s yard, or if a new building goes up, it will become more shaded. You may find that you will have to relocate plants when this happens.

Spend more time in your garden, just watching. It is good for your education and good for your soul.

GreenUP Ecology Park Spring Sale

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

GreenUP Ecology Park Spring Sale – Saturday May 18th 2019

The GreenUP Ecology Park  has often been called a hidden gem, it has been in Peterborough in its current location for 25 years, but many people are still unaware of its existence. I first discovered the park approximately 8 years ago when I was researching native plants. At that time I wanted to plant a large perennial bed filled exclusively with native plants. I spent all winter researching the plants I wanted and where I could buy them locally and came across the Ecology Park and better still discovered they were holding a spring sale.

I dutifully arrived on the day of the sale 5 minutes after opening only to discover a very, very long line of people all carrying totes, boxes, bags, anything that could be used to carry plants. Even though it was incredible busy I was able to find almost everything on my list with help from the many knowledgeable volunteers and staff that were on hand to help. I was quickly and efficiently processed through the payment line, and was soon on my way home to start planting. The quality and choice of plants was extensive, and I knew then that I had found something special. I have been returning to the Ecology Park every year since either as a customer or as a volunteer.

plantsalecourtesyofGreenUpFBpage

Native plants are plants that grow locally in a particular area. Whether you are planting an entire garden of native plants or simply planting one or two, the benefits are numerous. Native plants tends to be more hardy to the local conditions, needing less watering, and next to no pesticides or fertilizers. They can improve air quality, help in managing rain water runoff and maintain healthy soil as their root systems are deep and help prevent soil from compaction and erosion. Native plants provide both habitat and food sources for wildlife, as many native pollinators rely on native plants. There are numerous interesting articles on the internet detailing the benefits of planting with native plants – I have listed a few below. There are also links to two other native plant nurseries (in addition to Ecology Park).

Why Native Plants Matter
Benefits of Native Plants
List of Native Plants in Ontario
(from Ontario Wildflowers – a comprehensive list)

Native Plants in Claremont
Ontario Native Plants (online only – ship from Hamilton)

sale

This year the GreenUP Ecology Park Spring Sale is being held on Saturday May 18th from 10 am until 4 pm. As well as trees, shrubs and wildflowers you can also buy vegetables and annuals at the sale along with compost, mulch and wood chips, but make sure you bring your own containers to hold the compost or mulch. A list of available trees, shrubs, wildflowers and grasses is available on the Ecology Park website.

Children are welcome, even encouraged. While you shop there is a large children’s play area complete with a willow trail and cedar maze to keep them entertained. Be sure to check out the latest addition to the park, the new children’s education shelter which has been built using sustainable practices.

PatF

And finally, the Peterborough Master Gardeners will be on hand wearing their red aprons between 10 am and 2 pm to answer any gardening questions you might have. Be sure to stop by and say hello!

Happy Easter!

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener-In-Training

I hope that you have had a good weekend with family and friends and had a chance to enjoy a little time outdoors. This time of year brings thoughts of spring bulbs, budding trees and the sound of birds which are getting very active. It won’t be long until we see our first hummingbirds in the Peterborough area.easter-3123834_640

A planned outing to some of your favourite garden centres at this time of year can be fun and educational. We are lucky here in Peterborough and the surrounding area to have a number of excellent nurseries that carry quality plants and have knowledgeable staff to help with your questions.

Go to gardenroute.ca for some amazing local businesses that specialize in being growers, maintaining gorgeous display gardens and full service garden boutiques. Members of “The Route” are Anna’s Perennials, Avant-Garden Shop, Blossom Hill Nursery, Gardens Plus, Garden Style Bridgenorth, Greenhouse on the River, Griffin’s Greenhouses, Johnston’s Greenhouses, Keene on Gardens and Williams Design Studio.

PGS-logo-tinyAll of these businesses and more can be found this weekend at the Peterborough Garden Show. It runs from Friday, April 26th to Sunday April 28th. The Peterborough & Area Master Gardeners will be there giving gardening advice and are available to answer all your questions! Come visit us at our booth. We are the ones with the red aprons! This year’s show is in a new venue, Fleming College’s Kawartha Trades and Technology Centre. Lots of free parking and the cost is only $10.00 which gives you access to the show for the whole weekend. There are many wonderful speakers and workshops. All the proceeds go back to the community. Check it out at peterboroughgardenshow.com.  Hope to see everyone at the show!

The Peterborough Garden Show

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

It’s coming in 25 days.  It can’t come soon enough.  In our city, “The Garden Show” is a true sign of spring.  It’s an occasion that brings together speakers, workshop leaders, vendors, horticultural society members, master gardeners, exhibitors and many others for one reason:  “For the Love of Gardening”.PGS-logo-small

This year marks the 19th fantastic show: 
April 26 – 28, 2019 (Friday 5-9pm, Saturday 10am-5pm & Sunday 10am-4pm).

And there’s great news ! The show has MOVED – to Fleming College’s brand new Trades and Technology Centre on Brealey Drive with lots of FREE parking and a $10, one-price ticket so you can enjoy the show all weekend.

The Peterborough and Area Master Gardeners will have a booth at the show, and will be happy to answer any gardening questions that you may have. Watch for our red aprons!

The theme “Coming Up Roses” is reflected in several of the amazing speakers along with educational and fun workshops and demos.

This award-winning show was honoured in 2017 with both a “Canada 150 Garden Experience”, and “Garden Event of the Year” by the Canadian Garden Council, so come and see what all the fuss is about.

You will find many of your old favourite vendors along with some new ones.

…and don’t forget the popular “Little Green Thumbs” Children’s Garden that is always teaming with liveliness and action! There are learning activities, face painting, crafts and even a take-home project. Their theme this year is “Miniature Gardens for Elves and Fairies”.

All the show profits go back into our community to fund scholarships for post-secondary students studying in horticulture-related fields,various local projects & Community Gardens.  Since 2002, the show has put over $200,000 back into our community.

Please save the date, visit and and learn why “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” in 2019.

Learn more about the incredible speakers, workshops, bus trips, places to stay and tickets here: peterboroughgardenshow.com.

 

Truth or Fiction? Are Black Walnuts Toxic in my Garden?

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

As a Master Gardener, one of the most common questions I get asked is about the toxicity of walnut trees (Juglans nigra).

“Well I heard that the juglone stuff in the roots kills everything and that I can’t plant anything under or anywhere near a walnut tree.”

Well yes Virginia, you can plant a garden under a walnut tree, and have it thrive. Let’s look at Exhibit 1 below – an established perennial bed under a walnut tree. It’s at our house, so I guarantee it’s real, and it’s been there since late 2007.

BP4

Lots of lovely perennials here – hostas (Hosta spp.), daylilies (Hemerocallis), bearded iris (Iris germanica), summer phlox (Phlox paniculata), wild ginger (Asarum canadense), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), ditch lilies (Hemerocallis fulva), although those last ones are doing just a little too well LOL. Don’t believe it’s a walnut tree? Here’s a photo from a bit further back on the street.

BP1

Yes, she’s a big old lady – we think she was planted around the same time the house was built, making her about 140 years old. I think she’s getting a bit tired out – most years she doesn’t produce too many walnuts. Her slightly younger cousin is to the left of the barn in the background – LOTS of walnuts off her (and yes a garden under that one too).

So where does this fallacy come from that ‘nothing grows under a walnut’? Well certainly all parts of the walnut tree contain a chemical called juglone (heck it’s even in the Latin name!). Juglone is a chemical that affects other plants growing nearby (a phenomenon called allelopathy). Simply put, allelopathy involves “living or dead plant parts that release chemicals into the soil which have an effect on other plants—positive or negative.” For walnuts it seems like an attempt at self preservation, with juglone acting like a natural herbicide on other plants.

As Professor Linda Chalker-Scott explains in her recent (2019) peer-reviewed Washington State University Extension paper, damage to tomatoes and other crops near walnut trees in the 1920s caused people to believe that toxic chemicals were involved, and this perception persisted and became widespread despite there being no evidence (and this was before social media existed!). The US Department of Agriculture did field testing – no problems. When applied in a laboratory setting to seeds and seedlings it did cause stunting, wilting, and necrosis, but the specific way it did this was unclear. The most recent science suggests that juglone disrupts photosynthetic and respiratory pathways and interferes with water uptake in plants.

Picture1

So! It does affect plants – the laboratory says so. Well yes, and no. Field tests do not support the laboratory work, which doesn’t accurately mimic real life conditions in your average residential garden (again, for more detail read the excellent paper referenced above). Two very old University Extension papers (1973 and 1993) continue to be used to state which plants are ‘sensitive’ and which are ‘tolerant’. However these were simply observational papers—meaning that they correlate the presence of walnut trees with damage to other species but do not confirm a causative relationship. Neither should be considered good scientific evidence.

Gardening With Walnut Trees – My Story

I am sure the scientists, arboretums, farmers, and garden writers will continue to debate this topic for a while. Meanwhile, here’s our story. In 2007 I wanted a garden bed under our black walnut in my front yard. At the time I had heard the walnut horror stories, so I thought – well, how about I just don’t disturb the roots of the tree? (not a good thing to do when establishing any garden beds under a tree). I put good topsoil and compost down, making sure to minimize tearing up of the soil and roots, and planted, and watered, and waited. Things grew. Winter happened. Next spring plants came up. For the most part I just moved perennials that were already on site, although some hostas were new. Here’s the garden in 2008 in the fall.

BP5_plants_2008

Fall asters (Astereae spp.), sedums (Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ in this case), hostas (Hosta spp.), wild ginger (Asarum canadense), fall rudbeckias (Rudbeckia fulgida and triloba), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius), iris (Iris spp.), astilbe (Astilbe spp.), sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum), Ozark sundrops (Oenothera macrocarpa), coral bells (Heuchera spp.), cranesbill (Geranium spp.). All doing just fine.

And 2009 below, in the spring. Irises (Iris spp.) lemon lilies (Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus), lungwort (Pulmonaria spp.), poppies (Papaver rhoeas), ditch lilies (Hemerocallis fulva), variegated solomon’s seal (Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’), bracken (Pteridium aquilinum), bleeding hearts (Dicentra spectabilis), daylilies (Hemerocallis spp.).

BP6_plants_2009

Certainly, planting in general under walnuts is challenging – they cast dense shade and have extensive, water hungry root systems. Watering after establishment and for the first season is critical. We also had our walnut tree pruned professionally (it needed it) so it actually gets decent sunlight in the latter part of the afternoon. Like any fruit or nut tree they are messy, from their spring pollen to their leaves and nuts…oh those nuts.. 2017 was a crazy year – buckets of walnuts (I even had to engage my neighbours’ lovely children from across the street to help collect them) to 2018, with almost no walnuts. My trees are old too – although well pruned, their leaves drop at that first hard frost. 1

 

In Defence of Walnut Trees

Black walnuts are not all bad, and I will continue to treasure them in my yard. They are an amazing shade tree, are highly valued for their fine grained dark wood (for furniture), a great food source for wildlife and birds, and my white breasted nuthatches’ favourite spot to hide their seeds.

We have definitely had our challenges with our walnut trees, and I’ve learned a great deal over the past 20 years. But one thing I know – I can garden with them around. You can too.

Note: Black walnuts are not the only tree that produce juglone – other members of the Juglandaceae also produce it as well as hickory trees. Butternut, English walnut, bitternut hickory, pignut hickory, pecan, shagbark hickory, mockernut hickory are in the same family.