Category Archives: Seeds

Winter in Ontario – A Gardener’s Survival Guide

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

If you’re a passionate gardener like me, right now you are buried in the snow and cold of winter and suffering from the January blues. You dream of your garden every night, envisioning the bright colours and textures and green of your summer paradise. You consider heading south for a vacation, not just for the warmth and sun but just to see some incredible tropical plants and green things. You start thinking about moving to some place where you can garden year round…

But I digress. Don’t get me wrong. I like the winter season. My body needs a rest from the garden, I need time to plan for next year’s garden, it’s time to order seeds and attend garden workshops, and there are so many good gardening books and blogs to read.

I thought I would share my Top 5 Ways for Gardeners to Survive Winter. I have more ways, but that’s another story..

1. Review your Garden Photos

I love to spend particularly dull winter days reviewing photos of my garden from last year or previous years. Digital cameras and our smart phones make it so much easier these days to capture our gardens in all their glory, so take the time to enjoy the beauty you created when you need a pick up. I’ve sprinkled a few of mine throughout this blog (you’re welcome!).

peony

(created by Joe and Hazel Cook at Blossom Hill Nursery)

2. Join a Local Garden Club, Horticultural Society, or Master Gardener Group

Nothing feels better than sharing your gardening love with others who share your affection for all things growing. Find your local Ontario Horticultural Society, or think about becoming a Master Gardener. In my area we have many wonderful horticultural societies including Lakefield, Peterborough, NorwoodOmemee, Ennismore, Bobcaygeon, and Fenelon Falls. I meet interesting people, chat about gardening issues or successes, and get to hear from terrific presenters. Great value for money. I also love being a Peterborough Master Gardener, sharing my love and knowledge of gardening with others.

3. Seed Catalogues!

I am relatively new to growing my own plants from seed, as my garden is mostly full of perennials and shrubs. However, after a Master Gardener field trip to William Dam Seeds a few years ago, a new interest in growing dahlias (after being inspired by a vendor at the Peterborough Garden Show) and a new vegetable garden in our back yard (courtesy of my husband – the veggie gardener), I have entered this world, and there is no turning back. Reading through hardcover or online seed catalogues (even if you don’t buy anything!) is guaranteed to put a smile on any gardener’s face. Google Canadian seed companies and many should pop up.

hyacinth

4. Find a Great Garden Blog or Website

There are so many amazing gardening blogs and website out there. I tend to follow those who have similar growing conditions to me (Zone 4b, harsh winters, Central Ontario) but I do have several (including a few in the UK like The Frustrated Gardener and the Anxious Gardener) which I like to just view and enjoy. Some of my favourites below.

The Laid Back Gardener (Quebec)

The Impatient Gardener (southeast Wisconsin)

The Gang at Savvy Gardening (Pittsburgh, Halifax, Dundas)

The Gardening Girl (just north of Toronto, Ontario)

sunflower

5. Buy a new Houseplant (or 2, or 10)

Confession – I am a much better gardener outside than inside. While I love seeing the greenery all winter, our harsh interior conditions (furnace heat and no humidity) are not ideal for houseplants. However, the arrival of two rambunctious kittens into our home in October sparked a review of my houseplants. So many plants are problematic for felines that many got rehoused with friends or just thrown out. A week ago I had a craving for some greenery, so I ventured out to a local nursery with great houseplants (Burley’s Gardens) to find some ‘safe’ plants. I came home with some Peperomias, a prayer plant (Maranta leuconeura), African violets, a money tree (Pachira aquatica), and a Phalaenopsis orchid. It appears all of these are relatively safe for cats. There is a good list here of plants that are toxic (or non-toxic) for cats. However, it’s just a general list – it depends on how much is ingested, what plant part, age of cat etc. etc. Do your research.

I hope these ideas help get your through these cold winter days and nights. And just remember, all that snow provides a lovely warm blanket for your plants, so thank Mother Nature for that and dream of spring!

Can’t wait for Kermit to reappear at my pond.

kermit

 

Weed Control

by Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener in Training

Some of Mother Nature’s weedier creations can become a real nuisance in the garden because they rob other more desirable plants of nutrients, moisture and light. If they become established, they can be very difficult to control, therefore, it is highly recommended for the health of your plants, that you weed on a regular basis. The best time to weed is right after it rains as the weeds will be much easier to pull.

A weed is generally any plant that is not welcome in your garden! They are usually plants that can grow in any kind of soil, reproduce prolifically and interfere or compete with other more desirable plants. Many weeds have been introduced from another country and often become invasive. They can be very difficult to control and it is important that all gardeners try to prevent these particular plants from taking hold and spreading through their neighborhood.

Weed Identification can be intimidating! A few of the more common weeds, generally found in your lawn are:

BROADLEAF PLANTAIN, Plantago major (pictured above)

Broadleaf plantain is a perennial weed that spreads rapidly by seed and new shoots arising from the roots. Broadleaf plantain is distinguished by its rosette of dull green, oval leaves with thick green stalks, and its elongated spikes of tiny green flowers. Each flower is followed by a small egg-shaped pod with 5 to 15 tiny dark brown or nearly black seeds that are rather glossy. The flowers set seed from spring until late autumn. Broadleaf plantain is easily removed with a dandelion fork. It can be out-competed in a lawn by over-seeding and aeration.

COMMON CHICKWEED, Stellaria mediastellaria-media-846435_640

The common chickweed may be an annual, winter annual or perennial. They have small white flowers with 4 to 5 petals. They reproduce by seed and by horizontally spreading leafy stems that root at the nodes. Common chickweed will flower through the spring, summer and fall. One plant can produce 10,000 to 20,000 seeds. The seed remains viable for up to 10 years.  Hand-weeding is best when the seedlings are small. It can be reduced by over-seeding since chickweed doesn’t like a lot of competition.

PURSLANE, Portulaca oleraceaPurslane

Purslane is a summer annual, reproducing by seed. It has fleshy leaves and stem, which lie prostrate on the ground. The seeds in small capsules are black, kidney-shaped and extremely small. An average plant produces 60,000 seeds. Purslane is one of the most common weeds in gardens throughout Ontario. Though rarely producing roots from the stem, if even a small portion of the root of an uprooted plant touches the soil, it can grow a new root system and become established. It is easily pulled and dies at first frost.

CREEPING BUTTERCUP, Ranunculus repensbuttercup

Creeping buttercup is a perennial and reproduces by seed and runners. There are two common buttercups, one is a tall buttercup and the other is a creeping buttercup. The tall plant does not have runners and, therefore, reproduces by seed only. Both will flower in early spring to the end of July. Flowers are bright yellow, about 1 inch across. Each plant is capable of producing up to 250 seeds. The first leaves are kidney-shaped and somewhat hairy below. This weed is poisonous to grazing animals, and care should be taken to control it from spreading. Creeping buttercup survives best in moist location, so any improvement in drainage will help to control it. Persistent cultivation will also help, as well as constant mowing.

CREEPING CHARLIE or GROUND IVY, Glechoma hederaceaCreeping-Charlie

Creeping Charlie, also known as Creeping Jenny or Ground Ivy is a perennial which reproduces by creeping tangled rootstocks and also by seed. It is part of the mint family. The leaves are opposite and palmately veined. They have a bright green surface. The seeds are smooth and dark brown. The plant reproduces well through its surface runners. It has rapid growth in early spring and is a persistent plant whose leaves and stems stay green under the snow, allowing it to flower early. It flowers in spring around the same time as the dandelion. This plant spreads easily in a lawn, particularly in shady areas. Close mowing will help. If possible, be sure to dig out the small seedlings by hand in early spring. With large patches, heavy mulch or newspaper would help to kill an infestation.

FIELD BINDWEED, Convolvulus arvensisbindweed-2453936_640

Field bindweed is a perennial weed that spreads rapidly by seed and creeping roots. It is a hairless, twining, or trailing plant with deep, cord-like roots. There is an extensive spreading, underground root system. The creeping white rhizomes have been reported to grow up to 30m in length and 5m deep. Under favourable conditions, plants may flower within 6 weeks of germination and the twining nature of the plant can cause serious problems with crops. It is part of the morning-glory family. Seedlings can tolerate frost temperatures of minus 8C. Seeds can remain viable for up to 50 years. A severe infestation of bindweed is capable of producing over 800 kg of seed per acre.

An excellent website to help you identify weeds is: www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/facts/ontweeds/weedgal.htm

Frost Dates and Pushing the Limits

By Chris Freeburn, Master Gardener

Many of us have grown up with the rule of planting the vegetable garden on Victoria Day (May 24th) long weekend. With the changing weather, hardier plants and stretching the limits, we have realized that many plants can go into the ground well before that date, while others do need the soil to be warmer.spinach-3368254_640

Cool Weather Crops

Cold weather crops like lettuce, spinach, pea, beet and carrot seeds can be planted well before that mystical date. They actually like a cooler temperature to germinate. If you plant them the first week of May, you should have sprouts coming up by the time you plant other seeds.

Warm Weather Crops

Ground temperatures need to be warm for beans and cucurbits such as squash, pumpkin, cucumber and zucchini. Mid May to early June is probably best for putting actual plants in the ground, if you are in an area that does not get frost. Check your weather network for overnight lows. If the temperatures drop and the night sky is clear, chances of frost are better than on a cloudy night. If the air is still, colder air will settle close to the ground and damage plants. If your property is on a slope or higher ground, the cold air will settle around you in the valleys and you may not be touched by a light frost. Being closer to water often draws the cooler air away. If you have planted tomatoes and peppers and there is a frost warning, go out and cover your tender plants with sheets.

Basil and cilantro do not like cool nights, so leave these tender herbs in pots to bring in overnight or do not plant until June.

Annuals

pansy-3373732_640Some annuals such as pansies, dusty miller and english daisies are cold tolerant while others like potato vine and impatiens do not like temperature changes. Do not plant the latter 2 choices into the ground until all danger of frost has passed and the soil temperature has warmed. If the nights temperatures are dropping, bring your pots into your garage or cover with an old sheet to protect.

Perennials

Perennials have survived the winter frozen in the ground so a bit of frost will not hurt them. If you are buying perennials that have been grown and forced in a hot greenhouse, they will need to be pampered by slowly introducing them to seasonal temperatures. This is called hardening off. To harden off any plants that have been living in a warm greenhouse, put them outside in a shady area, protected from the wind for a few hours over several days. Bring them back into the warmth of your home or heated garage for the night. Increase the number of hours they are outside each day, until they are used to the outside temperatures.

According to the Farmers Almanac, the last frost date for Peterborough is May 14th, however the full moon is on the 28th. If the night of the full moon is clear and cool, we could see frost. Beware!

Benefits of Gardening for Kids

By Amy Woodward, Master Gardener

Spring is upon us and summer is fast approaching…what a great time to introduce children to gardening.  During the spring, children can start planting seeds indoors or plant cool weather crops outdoors.  In the summer children can continue to plant and maintain the garden.  During the fall children can harvest and enjoy what has been sown.amy

As I child I can remember countless hours spent outside in the garden.  In this electronic age, many kids spend time indoors hidden behind a screen or television.  This summer, encourage your kids to limit the amount of screen time and get outdoors and try gardening.  Gardening is a healthy, fun activity that has many benefits for kids.  I would encourage anyone who has considered planting a garden with children to do so.

Why kids should garden:

  • Creates more family time
  • Reduces stress
  • Encourages children to eat more vegetables
  • It is educational & healthy
  • It is good exercise
  • Helps reduce waste
  • Teaches responsibility

Getting Children Interested in Gardening:pansy-2173208_640

  • Give children their own space such as a square foot garden or their own container
  • Supply children with their own tools
  • Plant flowers that attract insects
  • Grow interesting plants
  • Promote composting

Gardening activities:

  • Convert a sandbox into a garden
  • Set up a worm farm or make a bat house
  • Use eggshells to grown plants in
  • Plant in old rain boots
  • Make garden markers from rocks
  • Create a fairy garden
  • Make a small greenhouse

Recommended Gardening activities for kid’s websites:

https://kidsgardening.org/garden-activities/

https://www.kcedventures.com/gardening-with-kids

https://www.parenting.com/family-time/activities/10-inspired-gardening-projects-kids

Young Seedlings & “Damping Off”

By Christine Freeburn, Master Gardener

There is nothing more disheartening than checking your freshly sprouted seeds to discover them rotted and almost dead. Damping Off is a fungal disease that often kills young seedlings. There are several fungi that are responsible, however the most common ones are soil-borne.

Damping off can be identified by these symptoms:

seedling-1386653__340
Seedling 1386653 by Alex80, 2016, used under CC0 1.0.
  • wilted leaves while soil is moist
  • rotten mushy seedlings
  • roots that have rotted off
  • stems that have thin, brown, almost transparent sections
  • white mold, almost cobweb-like on plant stems or surface of soil

Here are some tips to prevent this disease:

  • don’t plant seeds too closely together – plants need air to be healthy
  • fill container to top with soil, so seedlings grow up where air circulates
  • keep air circulating around the young seedlings – do not cover
  • water from the bottom with room temperature water
  • do not let container sit in water – no waterlogged soil
  • use good sterilized seed starting soil and clean containers
  • keep seedlings warm – cool wet conditions are where fungi thrive
  • apply a natural fungicide like a weak solution of chamomile tea

Basically, the best solution to controlling damping off is to give your young seedlings the best soil, watering techniques, and temperature control to ensure success.

 

Seeds: All of the Dirt

By Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

Spring is almost here!

rucola-salad-plant-leaf
Home gardening by Kaboompics, 2015, used under CC0 1.0.

The seed catalogues have arrived and been perused. Seed varieties have been chosen and ordered. Or not. It’s not too late. It’s almost never too late to buy and plant seeds as different things can be planted almost throughout the growing season.

In addition to Canadian gardening catalogues, you can buy seeds at hardware stores and garden centres. If you are looking for something different, Seedy Saturday or Seedy Sunday is a good option. In Peterborough, it is held on the second Sunday in March at the Emmanuel United (formerly George Street United) Church basement. Many local growers grow their own seeds including many heritage varieties and share/sell the extras they don’t need. There is also the Peterborough Garden Show in April where you can buy seeds not generally available elsewhere.

Let’s get started:

You can buy soil specially prepared for starting seeds. It had the best texture for small seeds to be able to put down roots. The soil should be damp like a wrung-out sponge. Using clean containers, fill them with the potting soil. Read the package carefully for the needs of the seeds. Label your seeds carefully so you will know what you are growing.

Spread the seeds on top of the soil, and then add a dusting of the soil mixture using a sieve to the recommended depth on the package for small seeds. Larger seeds can be pushed gently into the soil. Gently pat the soil, so the seeds are in good contact with the soil. Spray the top of the soil with water. Place a plastic cover lightly over the seeds, allowing for some air circulation.

Some seeds need light to germinate, others don’t. Again, follow the directions. Seeds germinate best with a little heat. The top of the refrigerator is a good place to put them. Once the seeds have their second pair of leaves they can be transplanted into bigger containers. The nice thing about starting seeds indoors is that it can extend the growing season for you and give you many vegetables (or flowers) earlier than you would otherwise have if you just planted them directly. Other plants like tomatoes and peppers need to be started early as they have a longer growing season for them to mature before frost takes them.

Here are some interesting websites which including Starting and Planting calendars:
http://littlecityfarm.blogspot.ca/2011/01/annual-seed-starting-planting-calendar.html

http://espacepourlavie.ca/en/seeding-and-planting-calendar-vegetables

https://www.almanac.com/content/starting-seeds-indoors