Category Archives: Shrubs & Trees

The Light in Your Garden

by Chris Freeburn, Master Gardener

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

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

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

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

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

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

GreenUP Ecology Park Spring Sale

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

GreenUP Ecology Park Spring Sale – Saturday May 18th 2019

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

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

plantsalecourtesyofGreenUpFBpage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Facebook Groups for the Green Community

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

Two weeks ago, I wrote about iPhone and Android apps that can help you to identify plants & trees, know where/when/how/what to plant and also help you to connect with like-minded people for discussion.  Facebook groups serve similar purposes.  At this time of year, these groups are eye-candy for the green community as they often remind us how few days are left until spring, where to attend local (indoor) green/gardening events, and how to care for those houseplants that need a fb groups bloglittle TLC.  During the gardening season, these groups magically transform to become a forum for a little bragging for those inclined to share pictures of the results of their hard work, and also a forum for those needing a little help.  I’ve posted a plant picture to one of them, and had a definitive answer to an identification question in literally less than ONE MINUTE (Thanks, Jeff Mason!).

Here’s a list of some of the (mostly local) groups that I’m a member of.  There certainly are a lot more!  Most are public, but don’t let the ‘closed group’ label scare you.  If anything, closed groups are completely welcoming to gardeners!  They just may ask you to answer a few simple gardening questions to make sure that the group doesn’t get infected by spammers.

Over the Fence with Peterborough Master Gardeners (530 members)

A local group specializing in plant identification, local events, and gardening questions answered by knowledgeable Master Gardeners. Novice, expert and professional gardeners are encouraged to join and post freely.

Ontario Gardeners (3, 571 members)

This group is for us Ontarian’s to post, chat or ask about plants we have in the yard, pond or house. Check out our files section newly created Oct.2016 and will be added to over time. Happy Gardening!!!

Canadian Gardeners (10,443 members)

This group is for anyone that wants to discuss flower gardens & vegetable gardens that live in Canada. Help others with tips, share your gardening secrets and stories and maybe learn a thing or two yourself! Lots of gardening links, self help and diy posts. Share your favorite gardening books, tools, websites and photographs with your fellow Canadian Gardeners! Add your zone to aid in advise, tips and to give your fellow Canadian Gardeners the idea of conditions you garden in 😊

GardenOntario (2,026 members)

To reach, connect and help educate all members through gardening related articles, videos, live broadcasts, activities and events happening with our societies across Ontario. Affiliated with the Ontario Horticultural Association.

Canadian Succulent & Cactus Hoarders (2,166 members, closed group)

A community place for Canadians who are addicted to collecting succulents and cacti. Ask questions and show off your collection! For now buy/sell/trade posts will be allowed until the group grows big enough that it warrants a separate group.

Plants for Peterborough Canada (657 members, closed group)

Peterborough Ontario Canada – A place to share plants for free. Upload pictures, share tips, get help thinning your gardens, get advice, play the *What on earth is growing in my garden game* offer plants, get plants, swap plants, its allllllllllll about plants! We encourage FREE share. Please save the selling of plants for kijiji. We also encourage you to share photos of your gardens, and upcycling ideas to beautify them!

Garden Deals for Peterborough, Canada (208 members, closed group)

If you know of a good deal on plants or gardening material in the Peterborough, Ontario, area – please post it here. Also – please share if you find unique plants that people may be interested in!!

Garden Seminars & Workshops: Every Gardener’s Should-Do List

By Lee Edwards, Master Gardener

As Gardeners, we already know that gardening has many benefits including improving our health and connecting us with nature, to name just a few.  That said, did you know that attending gardening seminars and workshops can also improve your health- brain gain, ramp up your gardening skills, get you out meeting others with similar interests, and increase your communication abilities?  Even more, seminars and workshops add new ideas to your horticultural know-how, empower your confidence in gardening, and help to propel you to new gardening heights.

So, what does a gardening seminar or workshop look like?  Well, unlike lectures, they tend to be short, interesting, educational talks or demonstrations usually featuring a speaker engaged with a small group of attendees focused on garden topics of interest to the attendees.  During the event attendees typically get the opportunity to ask questions, participate in hands-on activities if any, learn something new, connect with speakers and increase their existing knowledge.

Indeed, during the cold winter as outdoor gardening slows down, attending a garden seminar or workshop is a great way to break up the long winter months away from the garden while remaining involved in garden goings-on and being amongst gardening enthusiasts.  The lively energy and creative atmosphere that permeates these events are infectious to everyone, worth the time and fee to attend, not to mention downright fun most-times.  Truly, garden seminars and workshops should be on every gardener’s yearly to-do list.  If you’ve never been to a garden seminar or workshop, now may be the time to try one, to investment in yourself, inspire your creative growth and add to your gardening knowledge.

Did you know that the Peterborough & Area Master Gardeners annually present a wonderfully fun and informative gardening seminar called “A Day for Gardeners?”

2019 Save the Date

A Day For Gardeners Seminars by Peterborough & Area Master Gardeners

A day of fun, friendship, food and learning.  Select 3 of 6 seminars presented by Master Gardeners and speakers on topics of interest to both new and experienced gardeners.

Date:   Saturday, March 2nd, 2019
Place:  Activity Haven Centre – 180 Barnardo Ave, Peterborough, ON K9H 5V3
Time:  10:00am – 3:00pm
Price:   $35 – EARLY BIRD (register and pay by February 2nd, 2019)
$40 – after February 2nd.
Includes lunch.  Walk-ins on day of seminars are welcome if room is available.

Have Fun Gardening!

 

What’s that Rattling in the Trees?

By Pat Freistatter, Master Gardener

beech-10835_640Have you ever wandered through a forest or a neighbourhood in the winter and hear rattling in the trees and looked up to see brown leaves still in a few of the trees? Why did those leaves stay on when all of the other trees lost their leaves? We know that, by definition, deciduous trees drop their leaves in the fall. Coniferous trees, such as pine (Pinus) and spruce (Picea), keep most of their needle-like leaves all year round with some needles dropping throughout the year. There are also trees that are coniferous trees with deciduous characteristics as they lose their leaves in the fall (e.g. larch and tamarack Larix). So how do we explain deciduous trees that retain their dead and brown leaves?

Marcescence

The term developed by scientists that is applied to trees that retain dead and drying leaves in the fall and winter is “marcescence”. A typical deciduous tree has an area at the base of each leaf (petiole) that contains thin walled cells that break easily and allow the leaf to drop. A marcescence leaf does not have this area.

Why do some deciduous trees experience marcescence?

Deciduous trees are thought to lose their leaves in the fall in an effort to reduce water loss and frost damage. So why do some deciduous trees retain their dead leaves?

The scientific evidence available to explain this phenomenon is limited. However there are several theories as to why the dead leaves are retained. The dead leaves may hide the leaf buds from being eaten by browsing animals such as deer and moose. Leaves left on trees also trap snow which results in more moisture being available at the base of the tree. The leaf buds on the tree may be protected from frost damage and drying by the leaves. Also when the leaves do finally drop in the spring, they will provide a source of nutrients that can give the tree a competitive advantage.

What trees are most likely to have marcescence leaves?

acorn-leaf-3704584_640Marcescence is more often seen on young trees and may disappear as the tree matures. It may also be seen only on a few branches or on the lower branches of taller trees. If the retained leaves are on a conical-shaped tree with bleached, light tan leaves, it’s probably an American beech (Fagus grandiflora). There are also many species of oak (Quercus), witch hazel (Hamamelis), and hornbeam (Carpinus) that retain leaves in the winter.

What is really interesting is that beech and oak tree species are closely related. Also the beech family of trees includes many evergreen species that do not grow in our area (e.g. Tanoaks – Notholithocarpus densiflorus). It may be that the beech and oak trees are still evolving to becoming fully deciduous trees from their evergreen past. Humm… who said plants are not interesting. Enjoy the rattle in the trees in your area!

More information on this topic can be found at:
What is a TanOak Tree April 4, 2018
Why do Some Leaves Persist on Beech and Oak Trees? Nov 22, 2010
About Marcescence March 20, 2017
Leaves that Don’t Leave Feb 9 2016

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)

Preparing Your Perennial Garden for (gasp!) Winter…

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

Winter is fast approaching, and it’s time to prepare your gardens for the long, cold months ahead. By spending a little time this fall preparing, you can insure a healthier start to next year’s  season. Here’s a checklist of fall activities to get them ready for winter before it gets too cold to comfortably work outside.

  1. In all areas, spring-flowering bulbs, such as tulips and daffodils, should be planted six weeks before you expect the ground to freeze.
  2. Dig and store tender summer bulbs, such as dahlias and canna lilies, after the first hard killing frost. Store them in wood shavings or crumpled/shredded newspaper in a cool, dry place.
  3. Stake and tie up any young trees or shrubs that may break under the weight of wet snow or ice. Use soft (but strong) ties around the bark of trees, as wire or twine can cut into the bark and cause serious damage. Place wooden tepees over shrubs growing under eaves where snow tends to fall off the roof.
  4. After the first couple of frosts, hosta and daylily leaves will pull up very easily. Doing the removal in the fall means that you don’t have to deal with a slippery mess next spring.
  5. To prune or not to prune perennials to ground level? It’s a good idea to leave some plant material for visual interest through the winter months; ornamental grasses and hydrangeas have attractive seed heads and always look gorgeous in the winter, especially sprinkled with snow. With the exception of hosta and daylily leaves, I choose to leave everything else for spring cleanup.
  6. Protect hybrid roses with rose cones or bark mulch piled over the crown of the plant after a hard freeze.
  7. Remove all weeds from your perennial beds, and add compost to create a good base for next year’s growth. Compost applied in the fall is better than the spring as it has had time to break down and release its nutrients into the soil.
  8. Move containers to a protected location when frost threatens. After a frost, remove soil and plants from containers and store ceramic and clay pots in a garage or basement. Place used potting soil in the compost pile. If the containers have perennials planted in them, consider digging a hole to bury the plant including the pot, or bury in leaves in a protected area. Potted perennials will not usually survive the winter if not buried/covered.
  9. Instead of raking and bagging the leaves to cart off to the landfill, shred leaves with a mower to create amazing leaf mulch which can be spread on the garden as a winter protectant.  The earthworms will love the food, and the leaves will eventually break down, adding nutrients to the soil. If you decide to cover gardens with unmulched leaves, do not apply a thickness of more than about 10 centimetres (four inches). Any deeper will smother bulbs and perennials trying to grow in the spring.
  10. Take pictures of your gardens to assist with your dreaming and planning for the next season after the snow flies!
  11. As you wind down the garden season, make notes on what worked and what didn’t work, to help you plan for a successful garden next year. You are more likely to remember key points now rather than next April or May.
  12. Join a local garden or horticultural society. Many organizations meet over the winter on a monthly basis and provide interesting speakers who can help chase away the winter blues and provide you with great ideas for your upcoming garden season.

The Importance of Plant Labelling

By MJ (Mary-Jane) Pilgrim, Master Gardener

Why should we label the plants in our gardens? The answer is simple–so that we know their names & can then give them the correct care. For herbaceous plants, the labels act as placeholders over the winter, so that we don’t accidentally disturb them, or try to plant bulbs too close to them while they are dormant.

Figuring out how to handle labeling is one of the trickier parts of perennial and vegetable gardening. Do you keep the tags your plants come with, filling your garden with dozens or hundreds of bits of plastic? Do you tape them into a special garden notebook, so you can keep track of where all of the information for your plants? Or do you simply toss the labels in the recyling bin as soon as you get the plants in the ground?

For me, the answer to all of these questions was ‘no’ simply because most of my first plants came from local plant sales and were probably pretty common (and invasive?) plants. The white paper address label from the sales were usually blank the following spring so I was no further off than when I started. Then, I started buying more unique perennials at garden centres — the real money kind of plants. It seemed a shame to toss those beautiful tags full of information, so I buried them close to the plant which worked well — but the tags did crack and disintegrate after a couple of seasons. Tags created with my simple Dymo labeller were often blackened by the sun after a similar amount of time. Then, I listened to a speaker at my local horticultural society discuss his approach to labels — one of those portable labelling systems that could take a special kind of tape: “high temperature/low temperature”. He reported that his labels were lasting 10 years and counting. Being a “techy” kind of person, I bought one from Brother/Staples about 5 years ago and I’ve been pretty happy with it. I also record plant information and cultivar names into my mobile phone’s “notes” feature in categories such as ‘hostas’, ‘coneflowers’, ‘sedum’, ‘trees’ so that if I forget to create a label, or the label goes through the chipper in the spring (yikes!), I still have something to go back to. Keeping a list of plants I’ve purchased on my mobile device also helps but doesn’t prevent me from purchasing duplicates. Sigh. (Been there, done that, too many times to count).

My last reason for labelling is that any visitor to your garden will ALWAYS want to know the names of your plants! They may already THINK they know what it is, and they are happy to have their knowledge confirmed with the presence of a tag.

Downside of Plant Labeling

  • The amount of time it takes to check the plant, produce the label, and attach it, not to mention regular checking and replacing of broken, moved and missing labels
  • The cost to purchase the labeller ($100 ish) and the label tape ($30 per roll)
  • Labels can be easily be mistakenly moved from one area to another at cleanup time — and a wrong label is worse than no label.
  • Labels can sometimes detract from the beauty of the garden.

Reasons to Label:

  • You’ll remember your plants’ names, and can give them the correct care.
  • You’ll remember which heirloom veggies are which for reordering next year.
  • You’ll know which very expensive perennial you purchased LAST year did not show up at all this year.
  • The labels act as placeholders so that you don’t accidentally plant something new in the space being held by another, but dormant, plant or bulb.
  • “Oh, I’ll remember what this is.” Oh no, you won’t; trust me.
  • Plants are worth WAAAAYYY more at plant sales if you know the cultivar name — we normally know the genus and species, but the cultivar name is much more tricky and often impossible to determine after the fact.

labelling optionsPlant Label Materials:

  • Simple white plastic labels for seed-starting are available at many landscape supply stores, but what to use for the actual marking?
  • Copper labels – use a ballpoint pen to make a true inscription on the thin copper — although these are sometimes difficult to read years from now.
  • Paint the plant names on both sides of hand-sized smooth river-style rocks.
  • Cheapest option: plastic mini-blinds or wooden popsicle sticks but these often fade or disappear.
  • Strips of galvanized “duct hanger” metal strips, cut to length with a plastic label.
  • Metal hairpin-type labels with a plastic label: sturdy, but easy to step on or pull out with a rake.

According to my research, the following will work on plastic, wooden and/or metals tags: pencils, ballpoint pens, paint pens, Sharpies, and supposedly fade-resistant nursery marking pens. According to some articles I’ve read, the unexpected hero is the ordinary pencil on plastic or wood: it’s perfect for all but the shiniest materials. A great suggestion is to include the plant information on the back of the marker, too. If the front fades or is damaged, the info on the more protected back side will hopefully still be readable.

brother-labeller low-resMY Preferred Labeling System: hairpin-type label stakes (Lee Valley), pushed more than halfway down with white “live forever” plastic label tape (Amazon) printed on a small Brother labeller (see picture).

One last suggestion for plant record-keeping is the digital camera. It’s so easy to take a picture of the label right against the plant in the garden — you’ll then have a visual record of the name and where the plant is growing.

Hope this helps to save some time, energy and frustration for someone!