Category Archives: Pruning

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?


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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)

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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


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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.


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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.


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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.
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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.


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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.


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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

 

 

Spring Cleaning Your Gardens

by Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

It is that time of year again…..time to start to prepare your gardens and lawn for the outdoor living season.

It may be too early yet to walk on your lawn, it should be firm not mushy with moisture, or in your gardens, the soil should be crumbly and not stick together. I know that it is still very early but there are a few things that you can do.

I have started to cut back the ornamental perennial grasses. These grasses begin to grow early. They like cool weather so they need to be cut back in preparation for this early growth garden.

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I have also begun to remove some of the debris around the edges of my perennial gardens. I avoid walking in the gardens because they are still quite wet and partially frozen in some cases. We also have a small pond that I have been able to cut back the cattails. I will not get to carried away with this yet because there are some “critters” that live in the garden clutter that I do not want to disturb. For example, ladybugs will still be snoozing. You also do not want to accidentally discard a praying mantis egg case. Both insects are beneficial insects because they are predators and will eat other less beneficial insects in your garden.

My garden shed was opened this weekend. I have started to move out my rain water collection barrels and to put them in place.

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It is a great time to inspect your trees and shrubs before they leaf out. Remove any winter injured growth and any growth that does not keep the plant balanced or where branches rub together. There are some flowering shrubs that, if you prune now, you may remove this year’s flower buds so know what you are dealing with before you prune.

It is also not to late to do some planning. You will soon be able to see what survived the icy Ontario winter and what did not. You can think about what you would like to plant in the place of those that did not survive. Always remember to think about your plant zone, amount of light, moisture requirements and the type of soil when choosing a new plant. Matching a plant to the growing conditions is the best way to grow a plant that has a chance to thrive and overwinter successfully.

There is lots more to do but it is still early spring! Stay focused and finish one task at a time and your garden will be outdoor living ready before you know it.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.).

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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.

The Myth of Fragile Roots Planting Trees and Shrubs

By Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

(This blog entry builds on last week’s excellent post by Sue Flinders-Adams)

“When you transplant, try not to disturb the roots, just take the whole pot-shaped lump of soil/roots and pop it into its new home.” How many people have heard this story when purchasing a new tree or shrub from a nursery?

We take a shrub out of its container and see white fragile-looking roots and instinctively we don’t want to damage them or add to transplant shock. We know that healthy growth in a shrub is dependent on a good root system, so why would we mutilate or injure them?

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Are Roots Really That Fragile?

Well, it turns out that those roots are not as fragile as we think. While you should take care with when transplanting seedlings, especially annual flowers and vegetables, woody perennials, shrubs, and trees all benefit from a more vigorous approach, according to Linda Chalker-Scott, Ph.D., Extension Horticulturist and Associate Professor at Washington State University and one of the ‘Garden Professors’ that I admire for their scientifically-based knowledge of horticulture.

Garden Professors on Facebook or Garden Professors Website

When we purchase gallon-sized pots in the nursery, the plants are often pot-bound, the often suffered from circled root systems, which if not corrected become even more problematic once the shrub is in the ground. Eventually they become girdling roots, which will lead to the early death of otherwise healthy trees and shrubs, as you see below.

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(photo courtesy of Tim Hamilton)

Think of it this way – roots respond to respond to pruning in much the same way as the crown—it stimulates new growth. If you prune the roots when you transplant, especially those that are excessively long or misshapen, the plant will respond by generating new, flexible roots that help them establish in the landscape. The best way to do this is by root-washing the shrub – taking it out of the pot, putting it in a wheelbarrow or other container, and washing off all the media so that you can see what the root system looks like.

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Two Critical Things to Do

  1. Prune the roots in a root-bound shrub or tree to avoid future problems
  2. Remove the media (soil) that shrub or tree came in

The second suggestion relates to the soil that comes with your tree or shrub. I always thought you just put it right in the ground, but evidence suggests that (generally) the container media is a soil-less mix with a large proportion of organic matter and pumice. It is best to remove this media as part of your root inspection, and use it as topdressing after planting, followed by mulch.

If you put the media in with your new plant, the material will inhibit root development outside the planting hole. It will also lose water more rapidly than the surrounding native soil (because of its porous nature), resulting in increased water stress to your new transplant.

Watering is Essential

As with all transplanting, regular and deep watering is needed to keep the new shrubs or trees happy while they establish their new root systems. The fall is a great time to plant trees and shrubs so happy planting!

Want To See How It’s Done?

Doug Gifford of Michigan recently posted to the Garden Professors Facebook page about his root washing, root-pruning, and planting of shrubs. You can check out the link here. Credit to Doug for most of the photos on this blog post.

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A Special Note

If you plant a shrub or tree already in full leaf they will be more stressed than those that are dormant. Dormant planting is better as all resources go towards root establishment. You may see leaf damage or even death in the short run. But as long as the roots are kept cool and moist throughout the transplanting process, and as long as you keep the area mulched and watered, it should be fine in the long run.

Check out more detail on this issue in this blog post. It talks about the four things that result in landscape planting failures and how changes in the nursery industry have resulted in more problems with roots. Many of these issues also apply to balled and burlapped (B&B) trees – more information here.

This year, Dr. Chalker-Scott extended her experiment to perennials, as talked about in this blog entry  Three months later she revisited the site – here are the results.

For more information on other horticultural myths check out these pages. Even better? Spread the word to others 😊
Horticultural Myths – Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott
Garden Myths (Robert Pavlis’ site – he is based in Guelph, Ontario)

Where’s the Rain? How to Deal with Drought Conditions in Your Gardens

By Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

(top photo courtesy of the Missouri Botanical Gardens website; Dogwood (Cornus) wilting from water stress)

Just two years ago, the Peterborough area experienced Level 2 drought conditions. Local residents and businesses were encouraged to reduce their water use by 20 per cent daily and there were 11 days in August when daytime temperatures were higher than 30 degrees Celsius.ONDrought_zpsal2mmbjn

Drought conditions usually relate to sunny, dry conditions, combined with an extended period of very hot weather, and it looks like the summer of 2018 is shaping up to be very similar to 2016. “The watershed region received below normal precipitation amounts in June, and during the first two weeks of July precipitation has been 25% of normal.” said Dan Marinigh, Chief Administrative Officer for Otonabee Conservation.

So what can a gardener do to help their gardens survive (and even thrive) during dry or drought conditions?

In the Short Term

Just before or during drought conditions

Recognize the Signs of Stress

Plant dehydration symptoms include:
• Curling or rolling of leaves
• Slowed/no growth, undersized leaves
• Leaves, blossoms, or fruits drop prematurely
• Wilting, limp and droopy leaves
• Leaf scorch, yellowing and/or browning, death of leaf edges
• Dead or brown/dying extremities starting from the outer leaves inward

Water Wisely

Avoid watering during the heat of the day when evaporation rates are highest. Water either very early in the morning or late in the evening, and adhere to any watering restrictions that may be in place. Try and keep water off flowers, as sunlight is magnified through water droplets and can damage delicate flowers. Depending on your garden, consider hand watering rather than using a hose or sprinkler. Hand watering using a watering can targets the water to the areas that really need it, keeping waste to a minimum.20180716_133136

Harvest Water

Water harvesting is a great way to use water from your home’s roof and direct it onto the landscape, where the soil becomes your “holding tank.” The best example is using a water barrel – we have four of them in our garden and they are a great investment. You can also practice ‘passive’ water harvesting by creating depressions that fill with water from the roof runoff or formal rain gardens, both of which help with stormwater runoff issues. You can find out more about rain gardens here. Peterborough Greenup Rain Program 20180716_132548

Reduce Stressors

Skip the fertilizer or pruning live branches during drought conditions. No need to add to the plant stress! When soil moisture is low or temperatures are high, plants don’t benefit from fertilizer and without adequate water, fertilizer can burn your plants. Excessive pruning will stimulate new growth that will not be drought tolerant. However, it is good practice to deadhead flowers, as removing spent blooms before they have a chance to set seed saves energy for your plants.

Make Priority

Give priority to watering newly planted trees and shrubs during periods of drought. Young plants have not had sufficient time to establish deep root systems, and depend on surface water for survival. Do not let the root balls of newly planted trees and shrubs dry out completely or become too saturated.

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Over the Long Term

Planning for Future Drought Conditions

Think About Plant Selection

Use appropriate plants, which are often marked as drought tolerant or resistant. Consider native plants, which generally adapt better, have lower water demands, and fewer pest problems. Group plants according to how much water they need. Ask your local garden centre or nursery staff which plants they recommend. Check out members of the local Peterborough Area Garden Route. Peterborough and Area Garden Route

Maintain Healthy Soils

Good soil is the foundation for good plant growth. Anything you can add to your native soil like compost or other organic matter will make it easier for roots to penetrate deeper, creating more expansive root systems that can seek out water and nutrients. The result? Healthier, more drought-resistant plants. Good soils are better able to absorb surface water runoff, minimize erosion, and access nutrients and sediments.fresh-2386786_640

Use Mulch

Mulch reduces evaporation, moderates soil temperature, and inhibits weed growth. It is estimated that three quarters of the rain falling on bare soil is lost to plants through evaporation and runoff. Both of these are reduced up to 90 percent by adequate mulch. Use compost, wood chips, bark nuggets, shredded bark mulch, shredded leaves, or any other organic material to cover the surface of the soil at least 5 cm deep.

Water Well

Deep watering encourages roots to go deep down in the soil to where it is moist and a lot cooler. Water less frequently but for longer periods, so water reaches deep into soil. Good thorough watering promotes healthier plants. Also, water only when necessary, based on condition of the plant. Most plants will normally wilt in hot sun, and then recover when watered. Also, a dry surface is not always a sign of water need. The surface generally dries out first and is not a true indicator of what is going on down deep near the plant root. Make use of a hand trowel to check for moisture.

Weed Management

Weeds will compete with your plants for moisture and nutrients. Keep your gardens and areas beneath trees and shrubs weed free. Once the weeds are eradicated, apply mulch.

Consider Alternate Watering Methods

Investigate use of soaker hoses or other irrigation techniques using a timer, which keeps water on the soil and reduce losses by evaporation. Adjust watering frequency and amounts based on season, temperature, and amount of rainfall. Overhead watering uses more water and encourages fungal diseases.

Practice Water Conservation

Not just in your gardens. Water is our most valuable resource. Learn how to reduce water use throughout your house and gardens at this link.
Water Conservation Fact Sheet – Otonabee Conservation 20150822_185728

Roses are Easy!

By Cauleen Viscoff, Master Gardener

EASIEST ROSES:

  • The new Landscape roses: “Drift”, “OSOEasy” etc.
  • Disease resistant, hardy and ever-blooming.
  • However, there are others just as lovely that require a bit more care.
  • Do your research: know your space and sunlight.

ROSES NEED 6 – 8 hours each day … otherwise they’ll struggle for nutrients and have weaker blooms and roots.

ZONE: Push your zone with roses and they don’t do their best.roses2
READ THE TAGS: Printed in US? Our zone 6 is their zone 5.

ROSES COME:
Bare Root (own root or grafted) – no leaves, no soil
Bagged: bare root in sawdust
Potted: blooming in pot

PLANTING:

  • Soak each rose for an hour or two before planting.
  • Dig hole deeper and wider than needed.
  • Don’t amend the soil – (recent construction?  remove stones, etc; add compost to existing soil otherwise roots will stay encircled in the composted hole without spreading out.)
  • Fill hole with water; let drain away.

POTTED:  Tangled, encircling roots? Slash down each side, teasing roots out. If rose comes out of pot easily, shake off the soil, and rinse well to rid of nursery chemical fertilizer.roses1

GRAFTED: plant bud union 4 inches below surface – protects against frost and the (graft point) should form its own roots over time.

BARE ROOT: mound soil; place roots over mound. Fill in and tamp down gently.

PRUNE and GROOM:

 

When Forsythia blooms in Spring — 4D’s: dead, diseased, dying, design.
Groom all summer: deadhead; broken canes or out of shape.
Never prune climber to ground or else it has to start all over. Prune side branches horizontally for blooms.

BOTTOM LINE: Know your space, light and rose.
Then, buy the one you love.

Is it Dead?

By Emma Murphy, Peterborough Master Gardener

It’s been a long, cold, snowy winter in the Peterborough Ontario area, and a long, cold, wet spring. After our recent ice storm in mid-April, one was left wondering if spring would ever arrive. One thing is for sure – spring has been delayed in our area by several weeks.

Late Arrivals

Some trees, shrubs, and plants are always late arrivals – think of the Northern Catalpa tree (which can leaf out almost a month after other trees), Echinacea (Purple Coneflower), and Platycodon grandiflorus (Balloon Flower).

However, this spring has some gardeners in a panic. While many woody plants are sprouting buds, maybe one of your plants isn’t doing anything to show the slightest sign of life. Is it dead? Before panicking and assuming they are dead, look for some reasons for the delay.

  1. If you planted something late in the season last year, it may still be settling in and putting its energy into root growth before growing leaves. I have a new garden bed I planted last fall and everything in it is late emerging.
  2. I know part of our garden was submerged for an extended period this spring. A spring flood can delay leafing out for trees (but cause no other long term damage).
  3. Did you plant something near the edge of the normal hardiness zone? It is possible that the dormant buds may be dead but the tree may still be ok. You need to give it time to see if it recovers.
  4. For trees and woody shrubs check the branches – try the “bend but don’t break” test – try and bend them a bit – if they are dry and snap rather than bend that is not a good sign.

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Doing the Scratch Test

My favourite trick is the scratch test. It’s very simple – you scrape the bark off a small section of your woody shrub or tree and take a look. With your fingernail or penknife, scratch a section so you can see the cambium (layer just under the outside bark). If the tree/shrub is alive, the cambium will be green. If it’s brown or white and dry, unfortunately, it may be dead. However, don’t give up all hope! If it’s brown you can try another scratch further down the trunk to confirm death (or life!)

If the cambium is dead, the only hope left is that the plant will be able to regenerate from its base. That’s often the case for shrubs, but not all trees. And if a tree does resprout from the base, if it was a grafted tree (the case with most fruit trees, for example), what grows may not be the cultivar you wanted but the stock plant (the tree the desirable variety was grafted on to).

Pruning Options

If you find only part of the stem on a plant is dead you may want to cut the stems back to the first visible green growth. If no new growth is visible, a rule of thumb is to cut the stems back a third of their length at a time until you find green tissue. Prune too early though and you risk further damaging the plants (for example, from a late frost). Check the Old Farmer’s Almanac list of frost dates (for Peterborough that’s about May 12). It is generally safe to prune about two to three weeks before the last frost date, since you are less likely to experience a damaging frost at that point.

Patience

The ultimate word is patience. Warmer weather has arrived now and hopefully you will be able to ascertain any damage to your garden from this tough Canadian winter and wet, cold spring. Happy Gardening!!126-2649_IMG

(Featured image from www.thetreecenter.com)

Some tasks to get started on now…

By MJ Pilgrim, Master Gardener

Spring is just starting to peek through the winter cold and soon it will soon be time to start getting your hands dirty again. Before you break out your trusty garden tools and seed packets, there are a few garden chores you need to tackle to get your garden off on the right foot.

Inspect Raised Garden Beds: Check garden beds for any damage. Over the winter, rain, snow and ice can damage the wood frames of a raised garden bed. Repair or replace as necessary.

Check Your Garden Tools: Get your garden tools a good wipe down and inspect for rust on the tool heads. Oil and sharpen if necessary, paying particular attention to wooden handles that show signs of splits or cracks; rub them down with boiled linseed oil.

fresh-2386786_640Turn Your Compost: It’s time to turn your compost pile and check for any that is black and crumbly and thus ready to use. Making your own compost is free and a great way to amend your soil! Add compost to improve soil by scratching in finished compost into the top one inch of soil.

Top Dress Garden Beds: If you run short of home-grown compost, use well-seasoned manure to top-dress your garden beds in preparation for planting. If you planted a winter cover crop, now is the time to dig it into the soil in preparation for planting the beds.

Plan to Divide Perennials: Spring is a great time to think about dividing or moving plants around as you walk around your gardens.  Any plant that has gotten too large or that has a bare spot in the centre is a good candidate.   Sharing is a cost-efficient way to add more plants to your landscape, but be mindful of pests, disease, and weeds. Only share plants from your garden that are healthy and inspect plants from friends or plant sales thoroughly. If there are any signs of distress or discoloration, do not plant it in your garden.

Weed and Mulch: Eradicate those pesky early spring weeds (or late fall weeds that didn’t get attention) before they get too comfortable in your garden. Be careful of where you step as it will compact the spring soil.  Remove any young weeds first and then put down a layer of mulch. Alternatively, you can plant your garden tightly with perennials, annuals, trees, and shrubs to crowd out weeds. Leaving bare earth anywhere is a recipe for a weed-infested space!

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Prune: Remove any dead branches from shrubs, trees and perennial foliage after new growth has begun. Prune the spring bloomers, like forsythia and rhododendrons, as needed soon after flowering is complete. Thin and shape hedges after the first flush of new spring growth.

Taking the time now to complete a few essential spring garden tasks will bring you benefits for the rest of the season.