Category Archives: Perennials

Year in review: part 1

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

It is a beautiful fall day as I’m writing this blog, blue sky and temperature around 20 degrees. I have just finished the last jobs before putting my garden to bed for the winter. The last of my 30 or so bags of leaves have been mulched and put onto the gardens, apple trees have all been wrapped to prevent rabbits and squirrels from eating the bark off of them, and I have emptied the rain barrels onto the trees, shrubs and fruit bushes.

Time for both a well earned rest and for me to put together my garden review list for this year. All season long I jot down notes of anything that is working, not working or something that I need to concentrate on or remember for next year and then I compile it into one list. This year I’m going to share my list in this blog, although the list is a little long for just 1 blog so I’ll split it in 2 parts.

I don’t plant many annuals in my garden–a couple of urns out front with 2 hanging baskets, and some large pots at the back. I love the colour that annuals provide all season, but they typically need more watering than I like to do, and I find them expensive. Last year I overwintered some cuttings I took from both my coleus and sweet potato vines as well as overwintering the purple fountain grass. All the cuttings worked great, and in the spring after hardening off I was able to plant them into my pots and urns; they grew really lush and full. The green potato vine was much stronger and more robust all season than either the purple or copper plants, however the purple fountain grass grew back very slowly never really getting the vibrant purple colour back. This year I’ve taken even more cuttings from my coleus along with the green and purple sweet potato vine. However, I decided that I would rather spend the money on new fountain plants each spring.

Urn in author’s garden

I have 2 large compost piles that I use all year, filling to the top with leaves and then burying food scraps the rest of the year. This year I religiously turned the one pile every couple of weeks starting as early as I could and was rewarded with compost all gardening season. In the second pile though, a couple of errant zucchini plants started growing producing lush growth and lots of flowers and I thought ‘why not leave them?’. I’m sure you can guess the rest, not a single zucchini and I was not able to use any of the compost all season. Note to myself if anything accidentally grows out of the compost next year, turn it back in.

For the first time this season I grew Sicilian zucchini, now I didn’t actually realize I had bought this variety until it started growing up the espaliered tree fence and growing 2-3 foot long zucchinis. I’m definitely going to grow them again next year, although in a different location. When the frost finally killed off the plants and we pulled them off the fence, the wires were no longer taut and needed some tightening. Another point to note is that the zucchinis were consistently eaten throughout August and September when they were barely an inch or two longer. I’m not sure why that only happened later in the summer, maybe the squirrel or rabbit population doubled when I wasn’t looking. I’m thinking of placing bags over the fruit as it is growing, hoping by the time it gets to a foot or more it won’t be quite so attractive to predators.

I tend to leave my perennials to self seed as I love growing plants from seed; it is probably one of my favourite things to do in the garden. I have set aside a nursery plot and any seedlings I find in the garden I move into the nursery. Unfortunately this year I noticed a definite increase in the number of swamp milkweed, verbascum and New England asters seedlings. Now I love these plants, but they are taking over both my garden and my garden paths. I grow Verbascum nigrum which is a beautiful stately plant with either yellow or white flowers. It tends to be a short lived perennial but as it grows profusely from seed, I always have a few plants in my garden. Swamp milkweed is a host for the monarch butterfly; in my garden I have both pink and white flowering plants. They prefer moist to wet soil and because my soil is dry, they are also short-lived. Not so the New England aster; this is a native aster which grows 4 to 5 foot with beautiful purple blue flowers, however it can get very large in just a couple of years. Next year I have to dead head these plants, leaving only a couple to go to seed, which I can then harvest and plant in a specific area of the nursery.

Verbascum in author’s garden; this one plant bloomed all summer.

On the positive side, I was surprised by an abundance of aquilegia (commonly known as columbine) in my front garden that I was not expecting. I had left the seedlings thinking from a distance they were meadow rue, only to be surprised by this showing:

Aquilegia in author’s front garden

Aquilegia are one of my favourite plants, but I tend not to grow them as I find in my garden they are eaten by slugs. One day I have a beautiful plant in full flower, and the next day just a few stems still standing. I’ve slowly been replacing them by meadow rue, which for me has a similar lacy look, which I like when paired with hostas and brunnera. Slugs don’t seem to like meadow rue, but for some unknown reason this year, they also left the aquilegia alone. Based on this I have since ordered some seeds from the native aquilegia, Aquilegia Canadensis, which has beautiful red and yellow flowers and also likes sun to part-shade.

And finally the dreaded creeping charlie in my lawn. I have a small lawn which I have been overseeding with clover in my attempt to make the lawn healthier and more low maintenance. Clover has a lot of great benefits in a law including growing in poor soils. Clover is a nitrogen fixing legume, so it will improve the health of the soil and the surrounding grass, needs less watering and mowing, attracts beneficial insects, and crowds out weeds. Unfortunately though it does not crowd out the creeping charlie and actually seems to co-exist with it harmoniously. The recommended solution in a lawn is to hand pull the creeping charlie and because it grows by rhizomes which then root into the soil, removing all parts of the plant can be very time consuming. I have heard that it is easier if you soak the ground first or weed after it has rained. Note to myself, recruit an army to help me after each rainfall in the spring, either that or learn to love it!

Chrysanthemums: perennials?

By Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

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

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

Is it time to rethink our lawns?

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

Full disclosure – I have never been a fan of lawns. I’ve had a 20 year plan to convert my large property to perennial gardens and paths, and I’m getting there, slowly but surely. 

However, I am fascinated with how (and why) people are so attached to their square green spaces of grass. 

A little history first..

Lawns became popular with the aristocracy in northern Europe from the Middle Ages onward, evolving as a sign of wealth.  Originally they were mostly used as pasture – lawns like we have today first appeared in France and England in the 1700s when André Le Nôtre designed the gardens of Versailles that included a small area of grass called the tapis vert, or “green carpet”.

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Immigrants to North America brought these traditions with them as they settled the land. Particularly after the Second World War, the creation of the middle class and suburbia and the advent of chemical fertilizers led to a North American culture of ‘the lawn is king’, with the requirement that it was every homeowner’s responsibility to keep it watered, mowed, repaired, and cultivated, just like their neighbours. One article I read even went so far as to blame the rise of lawns on the Scots, who brought their love of lawn bowling and golf to this continent (and therefore the need for flat green areas).

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Lawn is a cognate of llan which is derived from the Common Brittonic word landa (Old French: launde) that originally means heath, barren land, or clearing.

Lawns are expensive to create and maintain, so why do we still have them? Simply put, the belief is that lawns are indicative of success – if you have a well maintained lawn you have the time and money to create and maintain it, and you care about belonging to your neighbourhood.

Fast forward to current times, where we now see articles in the Globe and Mail asking whether “it’s time to decolonize your lawn” and efforts are underway in many areas to convert lawn areas into more ecologically responsible landscapes to support our pollinators, birds, and wildlife. Whether you simply overseed with some white clover, and reduce or eliminate fertilizers, or convert your entire lawn into a wildflower meadow, there is a full range of options to consider.

Such changes have not been without their challenges. A recent newspaper article shows the conflict between those who want a new attitude towards our properties. Nina-Marie Lister, a Ryerson University urban planner and ecologist removed all her lawn, replacing it with “a lush and layered landscape” filled with “milkweed, boneset and black-eyed Susans, among other plants largely native to the region.” Her neighbours complained and she was visited by a Toronto city bylaw officer – under Toronto’s municipal code, residents need to “cut the grass and weeds on their land” whenever they grow past 20 centimetres.

The comments community lit up, and well known gardener Lorraine Johnson even penned an editorial in the Toronto Star about it.

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Naturalized gardens are becoming a widespread phenomenon, and municipal bylaws will continue to be challenged by those that advocate for increasing biodiversity by creating landscapes that support an abundance of species of flora and fauna. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see someone complain to bylaw about a green lawn destroying biodiversity, filling the landscape with chemicals, wasting water by watering, and creating air and noise pollution through mowing? You see, it’s all a matter of perspective.

The debate is far from over, but gardeners should enter the discussion and think about whether there is a way for their green spaces to be just a bit more ecologically friendly.

Whatever your opinion, I encourage you to read these articles and think about the issues surrounding our garden spaces. I know I will never convert the staunch, lawnmower riding king to create a wildflower meadow, but if I just get a few people to think about how they can make a small difference in their own backyards I will be happy. I don’t have all the answers – I just want to stimulate the discussion.

FUN FACT – clover was an accepted part of lawns until the early 1950s, only becoming a ‘weed’ because the earliest 2,4-D herbicides killed it off along with the dandelions.

For those interested the Canadian Society for Organic Urban Land Care is hosting an online discussion and learning series on the role of land care, horticulture and landscaping in cultivating social and land equity. One of the topics is “Cultural values and how they frame horticultural norms” where the colonization and control of our natural landscapes will be the topic.

For more information:

The American Obsession with Lawns

The History of Lawns

Decolonizing Horticulture by Sundaura Alford-Purvis

Bewitching Witch Hazel

By Lois Scott, Master Gardener in Training

Although the title to this blog may sound overstated, I find my Common Witch Hazel, known botanically as Hamamelis virginiana, to be anything but common. This native, deciduous shrub has a rounded crown with a graceful, vase shaped growth habit and yellow, fragrant flowers that emerge September to October along with yellow fall leaf colour. The flowers are ‘stem hugging’ clusters with four ‘crinkly, strappy, ribbon shaped petals’ that usually emerge while the leaves are still on the tree.

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Witch-Hazel blossoms in the author’s garden

The Common Witch Hazel grows in eastern North America including eastern and southern Ontario and can be found in woodlands, and along forest margins and stream banks.  In the garden it can be used as a shrub, hedge, or as in my case, pruned into a small, multi-stemmed specimen ‘tree’, which suits my small suburban garden.  Growing 15-20 feet high and wide, in full sun to part shade it grows well in average, medium moisture well drained soil.  It is a low maintenance shrub with no serious insect or disease problems and requires only minimal pruning done in spring.  (As with any woody plant pruning out dead, damaged or diseased wood should be done when discovered.) Among its many charms this native shrub has a beautiful winter silhouette, attractive grey bark, attracts birds and is considered tolerant of road salt, deer, erosion and clay soil.  According to the Morton Arboretum, Common Witch Hazels also serve as a host plant for the larvae of the spring azure butterfly.  What’s not to love!

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Witch-Hazel in the author’s garden

Hamamelis virginiana has an interesting reproductive process.  The flowers are wind or insect pollinated but after pollination fertilization of the ovules is delayed until the following spring with the fruit developing during that growing season.  The fruits are greenish seed capsules that become woody by fall.  These woody seed capsules then split open ‘exploding’ its one to two black seeds up to 30 feet away.  According to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden fruit set is very low.

If you are eager to add this or some other native plant to your garden/property, drop in to Peterborough’s GreenUP Ecology Park for plants and expert advice.

References

Missouri Botanical Garden: Hamamelis virginiana
The Morton Arboretum: Common Witch-Hazel
Brooklyn Botanic Garden: Native Witch-Hazel

Lupins

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

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

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

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Lupins in the author’s garden

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

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Photo showing the large taproot on lupin seedlings

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

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

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

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

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

Perennial Gardening with Less Effort

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

Are you spending more time working in your perennial garden this hot, dry summer than enjoying it?  You may want to consider some of these low maintenance tips for fall renovations and next year’s plans.

What does low maintenance mean? Low maintenance does not mean no maintenance and low maintenance is not for lazy gardeners. Low maintenance means making wise plant decisions and doing your homework up front, so you don’t end up with a flower garden that requires tons of work to look good.

Getting to the point of ‘lower maintenance’, however, will be tough.  Prepping a new garden is pure slogging, involving wheelbarrowing compost and mulch, digging & then digging some more.  If your current reality involves plants that were plentiful at your neighbour’s house or at a recent plant sale, it could involve even more digging to get rid of persistent roots.

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Well behaved full sun perennials in the author’s garden

However, you will love the end result of an easy to care for garden if you follow some of the following suggestions.

The first rule of thumb in creating a low maintenance flower garden is to keep it small. Don’t go crazy when you’re picking out plants; stick with 3 or 4 groupings of 3 of the same perennial, and then fill in with annuals if you wish.

The most important tip of all in creating a low maintenance flower bed is mulch. Mulch is a gardener’s best friend. After planting your flower garden and watering it well, always apply a 2 – 3 inch layer of a good, shredded mulch. If you can’t afford mulch right away, shredded leaves and untreated grass clippings will do the trick. Mulch is your #1 defense against weeds and it helps the soil retain moisture so that your plants don’t dry out. Skipping mulch in a low maintenance flower garden is not an option.

Another important step to keeping your flower garden low maintenance is to install an edging of some type. Allowing the grass to creep into the garden, or allowing the garden to creep into the grass are both problem situations that will require a lot of work to deal with.

Choose and plant flowers that:

  • aren’t vigorous, invasive or self-seeding spreaders (avoid “creeping” anything!
  • aren’t too picky about the soil
  • will survive a wee bit of neglect
  • are relatively drought tolerant
  • don’t require deadheading or minimal deadheading (removal of spent flowers)
  • don’t require staking
  • are not prone to pest problems or diseases.

A good nursery or garden centre with knowledgeable staff is a great place to start — and we are blessed with some great ones in the Peterborough area!

The best easy-care perennials for sun or part sun: Clumping ornamental grasses, Coneflower, Salvia, Daylilies, Black-eyed Susan, Shasta Daisies, Veronica, Lavender, Peony, Blanket Flower, Perennial Geranium (cranesbill), Russian Sage, Penstemon, Sedum Stonecrop (there are some new cultivars out that are amazing, like Firecracker or Lime Zinger), Autumn Joy Sedum, Hens & chicks (Sempervivum).

Low maintenance perennials for shade: Hosta, Ferns (not ostrich), Coral bells, Barrenwort (epimedium), Astilbe, Hellebore, Brunnera, Primula.

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Well behaved shade perennials in the author’s garden

The goal is to get to the point where you only need to set aside 15 or 20 minutes every couple of days to weed and deadhead your plants. Deadheading also reduces the number of “volunteer” plants that you will get as the seeds will also be removed. You can combine weeding with deadheading and get the chores done at the same time. This will keep your flower garden looking beautiful and will help the plants produce more blooms.

Alchemy in the Garden – Layering

by Marilyn Homewood, Master Gardener in Training

“A seemingly magic process of creation”

Layering is an asexual (vegetative) method of plant propagation that produces genetic replicas of the parent plant. In this technique, the newly developing offspring remains attached to the parent plant.  This keeps it supplied with water, carbohydrates and nutrients avoiding some of the pitfalls of traditional cuttings.

What makes this possible is totipotency. Every cell in any plant—except for egg and sperm —is capable of regenerating into a complete organism or differentiating into specific cell tissues. Under appropriate conditions, a cell can be induced to multiply into roots, shoots, leaves, or flowers.  One example of this is the formation of adventitious roots.  These are roots that form from “non root” tissues.  Growth of these roots are promoted in part by the plant’s own hormone auxin.

“Wounding” the shoot being layered by making a small sloping shallow cut on the underside of the stem/branch induces this process.  Wounding is known to produce adventitious roots by increasing levels of auxin at the wound site and by forming callus (dedifferentiated plant tissue capable of becoming roots).

Simple Layering

  • Select a young vigorous shoot that is low to ground
  • Wound stem, keeping wound slightly open using matchstick
  • Dust with rooting hormone
  • Dig shallow hole, set stem in contact with soil,
  • Secure stem in place (u-shaped pin or rock)
  • Fill hole and mulch to keep moist
  • Check for roots in fall, sever from parent and replant new shrub
  • Recommended for climbing roses, forsythia, honeysuckle and boxwoodSimple

Tip Layering

  • Works well on plants with long whippy stems like berry crops
  • Tip of shoot is pegged into soil, secured and buried at point of contact
    Tip

Serpentine Layering

  • Similar to simple except that multiple points are wounded and buried
  • Good for plants that produce long shoots such as clematis, grapes, wisteria, rambler roses, vining honeysuckle, willow and viburnum
    Serpentine

Stooling/Mounding

  • Process encourages masses of basal shoots which are allowed to layer naturally
  • Cut parent shrub back to near ground level in dormant season to encourages masses of basal shoots
  • In spring, when shoots are at 15cm, they are covered with dirt leaving tips exposed
  • Repeat process as shoot grow to 25 cm
  • Buds inside dirt will form roots
  • When plant reaches dormancy again, remove soil and newly rooted shoots and plant on
  • Recommended for this technique are smoke bush, dogwoods, spirea, daphne, magnolia, cotoneaster
    Stooling

Resources

Bryant, Geoff (1992) Propagation Handbook, Basic Techniques for Gardeners, Stackpole Books

Dunn, Bruce (Feb. 2017) Layering Propagation for the Home Gardener, Oklahoma State University Extension, http://extension.okstate.edu

Evans, Ervin, Blazich, Frank (Jan. 1999) Plant Propagation by Layering, North Carolina State Extension, http://content.ces.nscu.edu

Rich, Lee (2007) Making More Shrubs, http://finegardening.com

Stefman, Bianka, Rasmussen, Amanda (2016) Physiology of Adventitious Roots, Plant Physiology, Vol 170 pp 603-617.

Yadav, Deependra, Sing, S.H. (2018) Vegetative Methods of Plant Propagation: I- Cutting, layering, budding, Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry, 7 (2) 3267-3273.

 

Forbidden Love!

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

Ok, I know that peonies may not be the trending plant but I love them! Like many grandmothers, my maternal grandmother grew peonies around her farmhouse… Their fragrance filled the air and they sprawled magnificently after a rain. I found them captivating!

Peonies were first described as medicinal herbs in China around 200 B.C. Traditional Chinese medicine still uses peony extracts to treat various ailments. Peonies were introduced to Europe, and England, in the late 1700’s. English, and French, nursery sales began in the early 1800’s as did hybridization. The public was delighted!

There are many reasons to use peonies in your garden. They are beautiful in bloom and many are wonderfully fragrant. Peonies are excellent when used as a focal point, an accent plant, to hide spent tulip blooms, to shade clematis roots or even as a hedge whose flowers can be used for cutting.

Peony flowers come in various colours including red, rose, lavender, yellow and lots of lovely shades of pink and white. The flowers can be many petaled or have as few as five petals. Peonies are not invasive and are long-lived. Once established, peonies are drought-resistant, easy-care perennials. They are also deer and rabbit resistant probably because the flowers and leaves have a bitter taste.

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Very early herbaceous peony – author’s garden

Herbaceous peonies are the most common of the three common types. Herbaceous peonies grow in zones 2-8. They die back to the ground in the fall and are dormant all winter. They bloom in May to June depending on the cultivar. Woody peonies, often called tree peonies, are small shrubs that lose their leaves in the fall but keep their strong, woody stems all winter. Woody peonies like it a bit warmer growing in zones 4-8. They do not like to be moved once established. Finally, itoh, or intersectional, peonies are fairly new. They are a cross between the woody peony and the herbaceous peony. They too prefer zones 4-8 and die back to the ground in the fall followed by winter dormancy. Itoh peonies have strong stems, often a longer flowering period and large blooms.

In the fall, plant peonies in well drained, rich soil in full sun or full sun/part shade in areas with very hot afternoon sun. Do not plant the peony crown any deeper than a couple of inches. Lightly fertilize your plants annually with composted manure but do not allow the manure to come in direct contact with the plant’s crown. Mulch to help retain moisture. Water if soil is dry in the spring for good bloom production and as needed usually just the first summer after planting. Maintain space around your peonies to encourage good air circulation otherwise, peonies can be prone to fungal diseases. In late fall, remove all peony debris to help prevent disease and pests.

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Herbaceous peony – author’s garden

My peony is not blooming…..why?

Reasons include planted too deep, not enough sun, weather extremes (eg. hard spring freeze may damage flower buds), disease or pests, newly planted (can take up to three years for a young plant to bloom), too old (takes several decades, divide the plant to rejuvenate), too much fertilizer will encourage foliage growth not blooms but not enough can result in undernourished roots that are unable to support blooming. Just a caution, do not remove peony leaves in July or August, their removal can weaken the roots so that they are unable to support blooms.

I love peonies! Their blooms are glorious and their foliage stays lovely and green after the flowers are gone. They are easy care perennials that can add colour, texture, drama and a sumptuous fragrance to your garden. If you grow peonies now, you know already, if not, try them… You will be captivated too!

More Information:

The American Peony Society

Peonies by Allan Rogers, Timber Press Inc., ISBN 0-88192-662-0

The Canadian Peony Society

Spring Ephemerals

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

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

My list of favourite spring ephemerals includes:

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

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Trillium grandiflorum

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

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Erythronium americanum

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

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Sanguinaria canadensis

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

mayapple
Polophyllum peltatum

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

jack
Arisaema tryphyllum

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

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

Suggested Nurseries

Resources

Books

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

Websites

 

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.

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