Category Archives: Perennials

beware! Think twice about these plants for your garden

by Rachel Burrows, Master Gardener

Plants are unable to hide or run away when faced with danger such as being eaten by a hungry rabbit. However some plants are toxic and can cause anything from mild discomfort to fatal consequences. Many of them are lovely to look at but it is wise to know which are poisonous especially if you have young children or pets.

Castor bean plant

Castor Bean Plant (Ricinus communis)

A friend phoned me and said that she had a fabulous plant with very unusual seed heads and would I like to take a look at it as she didn’t know what it was. Castor bean plants contain ricin, one of the most toxic substances known. The ricin is in the seeds which are covered with a prickly coating and are pretty shade of dark red. If the seed is swallowed whole without damaging the seed coat it will likely pass through the digestive system harmlessly. However, if it is chewed and swallowed the ricin will be absorbed within minutes and is usually fatal. One seed is enough for a deadly dose for a child and about four for an adult. My friend was very surprised and agreed to dig the plant put of her garden and dispose of it safely. These plants are often grown for their ornamental properties as they are tall and a lovely colour.

Yew

Yews (Taxus)

Again, another popular plant for hedges and often seen in gardens. The entire shrub is poisonous except for the red flesh of the berries. The oval, black seeds within the berries are highly toxic and can be fatal within a few hours of eating as few as 3 seeds. The toxin in yews is taxine which is a cardiac suppressant. I grew up on a farm and we all knew not to have yews in fields with livestock.

Rhododendron

Rhododendron

Not so hardy and a little harder to grow in this area but very common further south and in parts of England. All parts of the rhododendron are poisonous, even honey produced form the shrubs is poisonous.

Mountain laurel flower

Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia)

This shrub is a close relative to Mountain Laurel and all the green parts, twigs, blooms and pollen are toxic. It’s blooms are gorgeous but beware!

Lily of the Valley

Lily of the Valley (Convalliaria majalis)

Lily of the Valley is valued for its lovely perfume and as a ground cover, although some people see it as a menace as it does spread quickly. The entire plant is poisonous and causes the heart’s contractions to intensify.

Monkshood

Monkshood (Aconitum)

This is a stunning, tall perennial which blooms late in the season with striking purple flowers. All parts of the plant especially the roots and seeds are extremely poisonous. Eating as little as 1 gram may cause death. Even the sap can cause fingers to become numb.

Delphinium

Delphinium

Another lovely and showy perennial, but all parts of the plant are poisonous, especially the seeds. Death can be caused in as little as 6 hours.

Foxglove

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)

Another commonly grown plant that produces the well known heart medication. However, the whole plant is poisonous and the toxin is deadly in high doses.

There are several other poisonous plants that you might want to think twice about before bringing them into your garden. Be aware of their deadly potential especially if you have young children or pets. By all means grow them if you love them, just be careful.

Did you know? There’s a garden in England dedicated to poisonous plants? Take a tour – virtually..

For further information and pictures of other poisonous garden, wild and house plants check out these websites

Ontario Poison Centre – Plants

Good Housekeeping List of Poisonous Plants Around the Home

Landscape Ontario – List of Poisonous Plants


Native Plants: Guilt

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

Like a lot of other gardeners during this time of COVID, I have taken advantage of the many, many gardening presentations, seminars, talks, and webinars that have all been available online–not to mention catching up on my reading. The two books that I am currently reading are both by Douglas Tallamy and have been recommended numerous times. They are ‘Bringing Nature Home’ and ‘Nature’s Best Hope’. Both are packed full of facts and figures; the first one providing a list of recommended native plants as well as basic information regarding the insects that are eaten by bird and wildlife. The second book, which is one of the main reasons why I like it so much actually has a plan (or approach as the book calls it) for turning our home gardens into wildlife habitats and extending that approach to create corridors preserving our native wildlife.

What I have noticed among the many presentations, seminars, etc. is the focus on native plants, native wildlife preservation, sustainable and organic gardening and environmental gardening.  I am definitely all in favour of this shift; in fact I believe that this has been too long coming. We, as a whole, are definitely a little late to the table. Now this is just my personal opinion but I feel that as a nation, as a people, we do seem to be forever running behind a problem trying to come up with solutions only when the situation becomes critical!

I have to admit that I am as much at fault as the next person. My garden is only approximately 40% native plants, the rest being ornamental. Although if you count bulbs and annuals, that figure could drop down to about 30%.

But do not panic just yet, Douglas Tallamy does not recommend that we ‘adopt a slash and burn policy towards the aliens that are now in your garden’, thank goodness for that. What he does suggest is two-fold, if an alien plant dies replace it with a native plant that has the same characteristics, and two, create new beds with native plants if you have space and if not, dig up some of your lawn.

So here is my dilemma, and guilt. I have no more space to expand and only a very narrow patch of lawn in the back garden for my husband, dogs and future grandchildren. So I either have to wait for something to die, which is not happening fast enough to outweigh my guilt, or dig up a plant replacing it with a native. This is not quite as easy as you think. I have walked around my garden a number of times looking for plants to give away to plant sales or neighbours. The problem is the less plants you have the more each plant tends to have its own story, your mother or good friend gave it to you, you’ve inherited it from someone you care about, the plant reminds you of a certain time, the list and stories go on.

Photo of backyard in author’s garden showing on the left the narrow strip of lawn

One of my favourite native plants is culver’s root. It always and consistently has the most insect activity of any plant in the garden. I already have two. But would I want to dig up the rose bush that my mother bought me because coincidentally it has the same name as my grandmother and replace it with a third culver’s root?

What about ironweed? I love this tall, stately plant covered in late summer with purple flowers. Again I already have two, but would I want to dig up the delphinium that a neighbour gave me 15 years ago, that had apparently been growing in her yard for 30 years prior to that and replace with an ironweed?

Picture of Ironweed in author’s backyard

What about all the daylilies I have spent years collecting, each one unique and individual, or the peonies I bought from my last garden, one in each colour? Now, I understand that maybe not all of my ornamentals have the same level of memories, and that, yes, they would be going to good homes. But it is a difficult decision, I want to increase the natives in my garden, I want to do what is right and sustainable, and I want to increase the wildlife in my garden. I have even given talks myself encouraging gardeners to add at least one native plant to their garden each year. But do I really have time to wait; my guilt levels and motivation levels want me to act now, to take a stand, to encourage by action.

As Douglas Tallamy concludes: ‘Our success is up to each one of us individually. We can each make a measurable difference almost immediately by planting a native nearby. As gardeners and stewards of our land, we have never been so empowered – and the ecological stakes have never been so high.’

Ode to the Clematophile!

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

I can not claim to be a clematophile (Clematis expert) but I do like Clematis!   Clematis are wonderful perennial flowering plants … many grow as vines, some are more like small shrubs, some are evergreen and some are herbaceous so die back to the ground each winter.  Their flowers come as bell-like or more star-like shapes with sepals that are single or double; some are scented.  And the colours!  They range from white or yellow to pink or red to purple or blue … pale to deep and some are even striped.  Some flowers grow as large as 25 cm (10in) across!  The beautiful clematis blooms are followed by eye-catching fuzzy seed heads.  There are lots of choices in the genus Clematis.

Clematis seed head

Clematis grow in zones ranging from 3-11.  If you are not sure which zone you are in, check here.   Choose a plant from a reputable dealer.  Look for those that have strong stems and are at least 2 years old so that their root structure is well developed.  Most Clematis prefer sun or part shade but like their roots kept cool so mulch or plant another perennial close by to shade the roots.  Plant your Clematis in moist but well drained soil with lots of well-rotted, organic matter (eg. finished compost) added.  Plant the ripened stem (brown, no longer green) about 16 cm (6 in) below the final soil level.  Clematis prefer neutral to slightly alkaline soil.  All new plants need to be watered regularly until they are established and during dry conditions.  Fertilize with an all purpose organic fertilizer monthly but stop when flower buds are ready to bloom in order to prolong bloom time.  You may start fertilizing again after flowering has ended but stop feeding in late summer early autumn.

Clematis on trellis

Pruning your Clematis for the best blooms may seem complicated.  The confusing part for me was that some references refer to groups 1,2,3 and others use group A, B, C  while others will use the species names.  What is important is knowing what you have and then you can determine how to prune.  Read your plant label for pruning directions or if you do not know which Clematis you have:

When does your Clematis flower?

  1. *flowers on old (previous year) wood in early to late spring, early summer.
    *does not need regular pruning – prune to remove damaged stems or to keep your plant tidy and growing within it’s allocated space.  Prune after the flowering period has ended.
  2. *flowers  early on old (previous year) wood and again in late summer on new current year’s growth. 
    *prune to remove damaged or weak stems and the early flower shoots (encourages the second period of flowering) immediately after the early flowering period.
  3. * flowers on current year’s growth in mid to late summer. 
    * prune back all of the previous year’s stems to the lowest pair of live buds in  early spring.
Clematis growing through shrub, author’s garden

Clematis may suffer from snails, slugs, aphids or mildew.  Clematis wilt is a fungal disease that may result in the sudden collapse of a previously healthy plant.  Cut back affected part of the plant, even right to the ground if necessary, if fungus wilt occurs.  I have to say that I have only ever experienced the odd slug-chewed clematis leaf in my garden just east of Peterborough.

Clematis will grow on a trellis and in a container, through the branches of another shrub or even up into trees.  It may be used as a ground cover and the shrub types look great in the perennial border.  Clematis flowers are lovely and will attract pollinators and provide them with pollen and nectar.

Read plant labels, talk to garden nursery staff  and other gardeners in your area and/or google to ensure that you purchase the clematis that is right for you.  We may not all become clematophiles but we can still have some of these wonderful plants in our gardens!

For more information check out:

Clearview Horticultural Products – Clematis and Vine Guide

International Clematis Society

Timber Press Pocket Guide to Clematis by Mary Toomey with Everett Leeds and Charles Chesshire, ISBN-13:978-0-88192-814-3

Clematis ‘Stand by Me’, bush type, author’s garden

Low Growing Natives for Lawn Replacement

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener

I recently listened to a talk by Lorraine Johnson who is the former president of the North American Native Plant Society and is the author of numerous books on gardening and environmental issues. I was inspired by her talk and have started plans to turn part of my front lawn into a native garden.

I have struggled for years to grow grass near the bottom of our front yard.  The soil is mostly clay with a lot of rock.  We have no sidewalks and this part of the lawn sits at the curbside where it could be affected in the winter by salt and sand.  It faces north/west and receives a very hot sun, especially in the afternoon.

I am not a regional native plant purist.  I get excited about most plants and have a variety of perennials in my gardens.  I am hoping to fill this garden bed with as many native plants as possible, but I do recognize that some of the plant varieties are not always considered native.

There are a number of lovely native plants for sun that have height, but I am cognizant of the fact that my neighbour requires a safe line of sight to the street when they come down their driveway.  For this reason I would like to use mostly low growing groundcover with a few taller plants positioned in areas that will give a pleasing look to the garden bed, but also not impede on visibility.

I have begun to research native groundcovers and other low growing plants that would survive in the conditions I’ve described and here is what I have found so far.  Some of these are new to me, but others are plants I already have in my backyard.

Have you considered replacing part of your lawn?  I would love to hear about your ideas and your successes and failures.

Bearberry (Kinnikinnick) Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

This plant grows 6 to 8” tall and has a spread of approximately 3 feet and is similar to a low growing shrub.  It has a white bloom with a tinge of pink in May.  It’s drought tolerant once it’s established. Rounded berry-like fruits ripen in August to September.  Birds love the fruit!  I have a friend who has found that this plant will disappear over time and because it prefers a sandier soil, it may not be the perfect plant for my home.  However, I may give it a try as I occasionally enjoy pushing the limits.

Creeping Juniper, Juniper horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’

This plant is known to be salt tolerant, likes sandy soil and full sun, grows to a height of 8” and spreads to approximately 7 ft.  It is a non-flowering evergreen.  It spreads by long trailing branches. Foliage is primarily scale-like (adult) with some awl/needle-like (juvenile) needles appearing usually in opposite pairs. Foliage is typically green to blue-green during the growing season, but often acquires purple tones in winter. It likes to grow over rocks; however, it is a slow grower and takes some time to get established. 

Prairie Smoke, Geum triflorum

Prairie Smoke; Author’s garden

This is a tough plant, and grows to about 6 – 12 inches.  It has a lovely reddish pink to purple bloom with interesting seed heads.  It is drought tolerant.  My one concern is the hot afternoon sun, as my research shows it may prefer a bit of shade later in the day.  As the flower fades and the seeds begin to form, the styles elongate (to 2″ long) to form upright, feathery gray tails which collectively resemble a plume or feather duster.  They are very unique.  It spreads by rhizomes and can be naturalized to form an interesting groundcover.

Small Pussytoes, Antennaria howelli

It has spoon-shaped basal leaves, is known to be drought tolerant, and has flower heads that look like little shaving brushes.  There are three to 15 flower heads in a flat to rounded cluster at the top of the stem. Stems are erect, green to reddish, covered in long, white, matted hairs and sometimes glandular hairs. Horizontal, above ground stems (stolons) emerge from basal leaf clumps, spreading in all directions, rooting at the nodes and forming colonies.

Pasque Flower, Anemone patens or sometimes Pulsatilla vulgaris

Pasque Flower; Author’s garden

Pasque flower grows up to 12 inches tall and forms a rounded clump, which increases yearly. It never gets out of hand, making it a desirable plant.  It carries one flower with purple petals and yellow stamens, on top of each stem.  The bloom is quite large, up to 2 inches in relation to the overall size of the plant.  It is not fussy about soil conditions, but may go dormant during drought.  It blooms in late spring into summer.

Nodding Wild Onion, Allium cernuum

My research shows this is a very pretty plant that grows to a height of 1 to 2 feet.  It blooms in mid-summer.  Its grass-like ribbony leaves are long and graceful; its flower cluster hangs down, covered with a fine onion-skin-like sheath before opening.  The blooms in mid-summer are whitish rose coloured and bell-shaped.  The seed heads are round.  It does prefer good drainage.  Looks best when planted in groups.

Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberosa

Butterfly Weed with Zinnias; Author’s garden

This is a butterfly magnet that has clusters of orange flowers borne at the top of 2-to-3-foot stems.  It is probably a little larger than I would like, but thought I might give it a try in the front.  This image is from my garden 3 years ago.  I lost the plant the next year and believe it was because of overcrowding and not enough sun.  The leaves are narrow and dark green.  The plants get bushy if they have lots of room.  The seed pods are large and very striking.  They bloom in mid-summer and prefer a full sun exposure.  Once established, they are drought tolerant.  It emerges from the soil quite late in spring, so it is important to be careful not to disturb the roots.

Check out the following nurseries for native plants

Native Plants in Claremont – https://www.nativeplants.ca/

John’s Garden in Uxbridge – https://johnsgarden.wordpress.com/about/

Grow Wild in Omemee – http://www.nativeplantnursery.ca/

Year in Review, Part II

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

I wrote the first part of this two-part blog on a beautiful fall day, with a temperature of around 20 degrees and blue skies. Today as I’m writing it is the type of winter day that I love, temperature hovering around zero, snow on the ground and I don’t need 4 or 5 layers of clothes on when I go out for a walk. The first part of my year in review blog that was published back in November described some of the many challenges and learning experiences I faced gardening in 2020, including growing Sicilian zucchinis, handling Creeping Charlie in my lawn, and becoming more selective when deadheading. In this second section I’ll continue on with the challenges, including staking perennials, trying to grow an English cucumber and battling with the wildlife over the grapes, blueberries and currants.  

Now I have to admit before I start, that staking is not really my thing; it typically needs planning and thinking ahead. You can stake reactively as I tend to do, but by then it is often too late; the plants still look untidy, flop over adjacent plants and you can see the stakes, which for me personally is an issue. Last spring my iris, lupins and especially peonies grew so tall so quickly that they easily outgrew the old peony cages that surrounded them.  My fall asters also fell over as they hadn’t been staked at all and were easily over six feet tall. So this spring I need to be more preventative and stake as early as I can. There are many different types of stakes that you can use such as grow-through supports as in peony cages or tomato cages. These work well if the plants are not too tall, although I do have some of the larger tomato cages in my garden. Grid-type supports also work well for plants that bloom heavily, and for irises I tend to use single stakes that I can just move around the garden as needed. You can also make your own supports using bamboo stakes or tree branches and twine or even chicken wire. Most gardening catalogues, such as Veseys or Lee Valley sell plant supports in many styles. For me however, I tend to find them quite expensive and tend to work with tomato cages or make my own.  For more information please see the following article: https://www.bhg.com/gardening/flowers/perennials/staking-and-training-perennials/

English cucumbers, what can I say, I still tend to prefer these over other varieties that definitely grow much better here. English cucumbers tend to be longer, thinner, with an edible skin and in my opinion taste better. They do not however like cold temperatures, so if planting in the garden ensure that all danger of frost has long passed, and in fact, wait a further week or two after that. They also have shallow roots so need more frequent watering. I also find that for me they grow stronger and healthier if I provide some type of shade when it gets really hot. English cucumbers will also grow straighter and longer if the fruit can hang, so growing on a vertical support works really well. However, after saying all that, I still am unable to grow them as well as I would like and they are definitely very labour-intensive. So for this year, I am going to grow a different variety, although in saying that I have not tried growing cucumbers in containers, so that might be an option to try. Greta’s Organic Gardens have some interesting cucumber varieties for seed purchase, including Crystal Apple Cucumber that is shaped like an apple when mature, a Miniature White Cucumber which needs no peeling and is eaten when smaller than 3 inches. Lastly a Spacemaster Picking Cucumber that can be grown in either a container or a hanging basket. This company is one of many Organic seed companies based in Ontario. https://www.seeds-organic.com/pages/contact-us

And last but not least, one of my favourite subjects last year in the garden was the wildlife, namely the dreaded squirrels and rabbits. We have a few different structures that we have built to keep out the animals, including:

And:

Not to mention:

This last picture shows simple plant trays with a mesh bottom lying upside down over new seedlings. I use these both to deter the animals and also to help keep the seedlings shady. However, none of these prevented the squirrels from taking bites out of most of my tomatoes, eating all my grapes, of which we had a bountiful crop, and the birds from eating my blueberries and white currants. The previous year I had put nets over the blueberries and currants which had helped, however since then I have read a few articles stating that the types of netting I was using could damage both birds and other wildlife so I was reluctant to put it on again. I have since done more research but not found anything yet suitable for my needs. However it is only January and will likely get a lot colder, which gives me plenty of time to do more investigation and come up with something suitable.

Gardening with Ferns

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

Ferns are fascinating plants! They evolved more than 350 million years ago. Ferns and their allies were the most common plants during prehistoric times. Today, there are over 12,000 fern species growing everywhere except at the poles.

Ferns are special in the gardening world. They are exotic and beautiful but not as flamboyant as many plants. We have developed a fern “dictionary” to describe them. For example, an entire fern leaf is actually called a frond and the stem is called a stipe. Ferns reproduce via spores which are not the same as seeds and ferns do not produce flowers. If you study ferns, you may be a pteridologist….oh my!

Fern propagation means collecting spores or bulblets. Fern propagation, using spores or bulblets, is explained here . There is only one native Ontario fern that produces bulblets. It is the bulblet fern or Cystopteris bulbifera. The easiest way to obtain a new fern is, of course, to buy one. A list of local vendors is below. Some ferns spread via rhizomes or underground runners, just split the root with a sharp shovel and separate out the fronds of the new plant. You may also split ferns with fibrous roots as you would many perennials, once they reach an adequate size, again using a sharp shovel. You may split then plant ferns in the spring or fall. Check out your friend’s gardens…you may find a fern, or two, growing that your friend may be willing to share. Please do not harvest from the wild. Some fern species no longer grow in the wild because of over harvesting.

Maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum), Author’s garden

Ferns may be used in your garden as an exclamation point or a secret quiet spot, mixed in with your other shade loving perennials or in a woodland garden. I have some ferns mixed in my gardens now but 2021 is the year that I plan to tackle the creation of a woodland garden. I have already put in an order for some ferns including the bulblet fern (Cystopteris bulbifera), ghost fern (Athyrium X Ghost) and the ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris). This grouping should work well together because they all prefer shade or part sun and moist soil with lots of organic matter. I plan to amend their location with compost and to mulch after planting to maintain moisture and reduce weeds. These plants are perennials so I will expect to see them again next year.

Ferns are beautiful plants whose graceful, arching fronds would make a great addition to your garden!

Resources

American Fern Society

Ontario Ferns

Peterson Guide to Ferns, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Second Edition (Sept. 26 2005), ISBN-10: 0618394060

Where to Buy Ferns

Gardens Plus, Peterborough

Ground Covers Unlimited, Bethany

Native Plants in Claremont

Please support your local nurseries. Many of them, including those listed above, carry the more unusual plants that you will not likely find at the big box stores.

Planning for pollinators

by Rachel Burrows, Master Gardener

Did you know that pollinators are responsible for pollinating over 30% of the foods that we eat? Many pollinator species are at risk due to climate change, habitat loss, and pesticide exposure.

So, what are pollinators and what do they do? Bees and other insects, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds and other small birds all need a constant source of food from early spring through to fall. They are looking for pollen-bearing flowers with fairly easy collection of nectar and pollen.

How can we help? There are many ways that we can help in our own gardens. We can provide habitat for pollinator birds and insects by installing nesting boxes both for birds and cavity nesting bees. Fallen trees and an area of bare ground will provide access for ground nesting bees and butterflies. Pollinators really prefer a little less manicured garden!

A pollinator hotel, although brush and logs on the ground are just as good. It’s important to keep in mind that these hotels require regular upkeep. Because they host pollinators at a higher density than a natural nesting site, disease and pathogens can quickly spread among visitors.

Water is another necessity and a shallow container with a couple of small rocks in it is the perfect drinking spot. Try to avoid chemical fertilizers and use compost instead which is better for both your plants and the pollinators.

What plants to choose – plant native when ever possible. Native plants have co-evolved with pollinator species and are well adapted to our local conditions. Pollinators can more easily access single bloom flowers such as echinacea and asters as their stamens and pollen are more exposed. Plant species in clumps to provide a target for pollinators, bees tend to gather pollen from one type of plant at a time. Provide host plants as butterflies such as the Monarch, lay their eggs on specific plants for their caterpillars to feed on. In the Monarchs case milkweeds are the only plant that they will feed on.

Try to have plants to provide four season interest, this can include grasses as they will provide shelter and food. Aim for at least three different species of plants blooming in each of the growing seasons. Study your site to determine the amount of sun and wind exposure and how much water will the plants receive?

Pollinators locate their food sources by sight and smell and the bees will go crazy around plants such as lavender and anise hyssop. Honey bees love white, yellow, blue and purple flowers.

The Peterborough Master Gardeners in conjunction with the City of Peterborough and the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters have installed a pollinator garden with all native species at the McNamara Park. This is a City owned park on McNamara Rd. which runs off Guthrie Drive and along the Otonabee River across from the OFAH building. It is a very peaceful park with many trees and seating areas. It is well worth a visit and may give you further ideas for helping our pollinators in your own garden. You can make a difference!

For more information

Pollinator Hotels

Pollinator Conservation in Yards and Gardens

Ontario Nature Pollinator Page

Ground Covers

By Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

Now that you’ve read with delight all about  the plants that are a Christmas Tradition, I’m turning my attention to a favourite group of plants that I enjoy for my garden. Ground covers.

Also known as living mulch, ground covers can go a long way to enhancing your garden. Not only can they stand alone as beautiful additions to your garden, they can also enhance other existing plants by pairing  them with a complementary shrub or perennial. Like mulch, ground covers perform much the same purposes: they insulate the soil from the hot sun, help to keep moisture at the roots of plants, choke out weeds by preventing germination of  weed seeds due to the shade they produce, help protect the soil from erosion through their network of roots and they’re easy to care for. Ground covers also don’t need to be a certain size, although most are less than 30cm tall; think of a collection of large hostas under a treed area, or on a shaded slope that’s difficult to reach with a lawn mower. Although they spread, they shouldn’t be invasive.

Many different types of plants can function as ground covers. From perennials (I’ve already mentioned hostas) to herbs, to shrubs and to mosses – almost any type of low growing plant can function as ground cover. Some are best adapted to shade, as are woodland plants like wild ginger which finds a welcome home under deciduous trees. Others grow best in sun, like creeping phlox which works well with clematis to keep the soil cool at the roots of the vine.

Creeping thymes can not only be walked on, they release their wonderful aroma as you stroll through the patch. They’re wonderful not only for a rockery, but also in between pavers or stepping stones. Since they can be walked on, they also work well as a path through a large flower bed to allow gardening work to be done.

Ground covers can be found for almost any soil type and growing conditions. Many, like sedums, adapt to poor soil, are drought tolerant  and will grow quickly once established to fill in that troublesome area where grass doesn’t want to grow. The article below lists several evergreen ground covers with helpful information about each. Most will grow in our area:

11 Best Evergreen Ground Cover Plants That Make Your Garden Look Greener & Better

Ground covers in the author’s garden

This photo shows two of my favourite ground covers: cranesbill geranium in the foreground, and creeping phlox in the background. Both are keeping the ground cool for the clematis on the arbor.

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