Category Archives: Shrubs & Trees

Late February: Tree Pruning Time!

By MJ (Mary-Jane) Pilgrim, Master Gardener

Last year at around this time on a beautiful, sunny and mild Saturday, I found myself in an apple orchard south of Norwood learning the intricacies of pruning apple trees. Fruit trees need to be pruned in order to open up the tree canopy to sunlight and air circulation which promotes fruit production and a healthy plant.

Most trees benefit from some pruning, but an important aspect of the task is knowing when to prune. Proper timing helps to insure attractive, healthy, productive trees and shrubs.

February through March is generally regarded as the best time to prune most deciduous trees. The absence of foliage at this time of year gives the individual a clear view of the tree and allows the selection and removal of appropriate branches.

The best time to prune flowering trees or shrubs is right after they’ve finished blooming. Unlike other trees in this article, pruning of these is unlikely to have anything to do with February or March!

Prune evergreen shrubs, such as juniper and yew, in late March or early April before new growth begins. Light pruning may also be done in mid-summer. Avoid pruning evergreen shrubs in the fall as fall pruned evergreens are more susceptible to winter injury. Late winter is the best time to remove unwanted lower branches on evergreen trees.

Back to the apple orchard. Late February to early April is the best time to prune fruit trees in our area. Pruning should be completed before the fruit trees begin to break bud (leaf out) in early spring.

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I learned that the first rule of pruning is to remove any dead, injured or diseased branches. Cut just past the “branch collar”–the wrinkled part where the branch connects to the trunk or another branch.

Then, moving up and around the tree, look for branches that cross each other and eliminate the ones that are not evenly spaced or are not at the best angle. Competing branches will cause problems for the tree. Fruit trees should only have one central leading branch. If two or more exist, choose the healthier one and remove the others.

It was definitely an interesting afternoon. Much thanks to my friend Carl for the lesson!

Three Items of Likely Interest

While we’re on the subject of trees, I thought the following timely items would be of interest to our readers.

Ecology Park Spring Sale, Victoria Day Weekend. Mark your calendar now and plan to support Ecology Park programs with purchases of over 150 species of edible and native plants, shrubs, and trees that thrive in our region of Ontario and provide important habitat for wildlife and pollinators.

ORCA Seedling Program — Otonabee Conservation can assist you in reforesting or planting additional trees on your property through the Tree Seedling Program. Orders for trees can be placed in early March for delivery in late April. Tree whips (3-4yrs old) come bare root. Trees range in price from $1 per tree to $4 per tree, but there is a minimum order of 25 trees of a single variety so you may want to split an order with a friend or two (or three). See the link below for more information. Order deadline this year is March 10, 2020.

Coincidentally, the Peterborough Horticultural Society speaker this coming Wednesday February 26 (2020) is Vern Bastable from Peterborough Green Up. Vern will be speaking about “Choosing the Right Tree”. Guests are always welcome for a nominal $2 charge. The meeting is held at the Peterborough Lions Centre in Ashburnham from 7pm-8:30pm sharp and refreshments are served before the meeting.

Lastly, here are some resources that you may find helpful.

Bringing Spring Indoors

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

I’m trying something new today. If you’re like me, you’re going a bit loopy by mid-February. The snow just keeps on falling, you have no more room for new houseplants, and you just want to see some green or flowers. Two years ago I went to visit friends in Florida and it just rejuvenated this gardener’s soul to see the two Gs – green and growth, plus some beautiful flowers like these.

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Starburst (Clerodendrum quadriloculare)

Where was I? (distracted by looking through all my February Florida flower photos!). Back to the blog topic at hand.

Often people force bulbs like paperwhite narcissus, muscari and hyacinths in mid-winter, but in many cases that requires remembering to put the ones that require a cold period in the fridge or other cold spot (and I never remember).

Then I saw someone “forcing” flowering shrub branches and I said “I can do that!”. The key is to cut branches and fake them into thinking it’s spring and time to flower.

Under normal conditions, warming spring temperatures and lengthening days trigger flower buds to swell and open.

The process is fairly straightforward:

  • Head outside in your garden, preferably when the temperatures are above zero Celsius and it is sunny
  • Using sharpened secateurs, look for branches with plump buds and cut branches about a foot or so in length; make sure to use clean pruners and proper cuts to protect the rest of the plant
  • Plunge the branches immediately into a bucket of very warm water inside (about as warm as you can stand on your hands); the water helps move that first burst of moisture up into the stems; some people advise submerging the entire stems in water in a bathtub overnight
  • After 6 hours, make fresh cuts (see next bullet) and move branches to water-filled vases. Use narrow necked vases, bottles, or mason jars to keep the branches standing upright
  • Don’t smash the branch ends (old advice) – make a slit or two in the bottom of the stem so it looks like a cross or star pattern from the bottom.
  • Add floral preservative to the water or 1 tablespoon of antibacterial mouthwash per quart of water to prevent bacteria growth
    • Another option is to leave the cut branches in the original bucket of water until they bloom. Then they can be moved into vases, as needed
  • Keep in a cool area (no more than 18 degrees Celsius/65 degrees F) and in indirect light (warmer temperatures cause buds to develop too rapidly and not open properly and direct sun can cause bud drop)
  • Change the water weekly (adding new preservative). If the water discolours or begins to smell replace it, and in 2 to 4 weeks, the dormant flower and leaf buds should open
  • Mix the blooming branches with a cut evergreen branches for a free bouquet

Branches that are a half-inch or less in diameter work best, as do plants that flower earliest in spring. Make a fresh cut whenever the cut ends are exposed to the air for any reason – that exposure will lead to healing, and when the cut end seals, it can’t take up new water.

Among the best bets? Plants that naturally flower before May – things like fruit trees, lilacs, azaleas, rhododendrons, redbuds, witch hazels, forsythias and magnolias – species that produce their flower buds the year before.

It helps to understand each species’ different “chilling” requirements before buds are in position to open. Chill time occurs at 4 degrees Celsius (40 degrees Fahrenheit) and less. Most spring bloomers are ready to flower after about 6 weeks of chilling, but some late-spring bloomers need eight or 10 weeks*.

* Trees and shrubs suitable for forcing from January on: Cornelian cherry dogwood, filbert, forsythia, fothergilla, witch hazel; from early February on: apple, cherry, crabapple, ornamental pear; from mid-February on: beech, birch, Japanese maple, lilac, magnolia, quince, red maple, serviceberry, willow.

What a perfect way to brighten your house in winter while impressing everyone with your gardening expertise. And best of all it’s free..

I’ll be planting some witch hazel this spring to be ready for next year!

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Here’s some other great suggestions from Ottawa Master Gardener Kira Burger on things gardeners can do to keep occupied until the snow melts.

Planning and Dreaming

by Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

Winter is a time for planning and dreaming about our gardens.

Since we decided to move and downsize, I’ve been planning on how I want to create my new garden. Right now, under the snow, is mostly compacted construction zone. Debris from bricks, rocks, and stones ( I’ve collected some of the larger stones for garden beds) and weeds have been partly covered by sand fill. I’m hoping that we will have topsoil and sod fairly early in the spring. In the meantime, I’ve been dreaming and planning.

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Our house is oriented east-west. There are two story houses to the north and south of us. Before planning on what shrubs and plants to put in those areas, I want to see how much shade they provide and for how long during the daytime. I’m keeping a record of where the sun is in the sky relative to those areas. The front and back are wide open, like a blank canvas.

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At the same time, I’m making plans for what trees and shrubs I want to put in those areas. My choices are for mostly native shrubs, trees and and fruit producing plants. Other than the usual garden centres, I’ve been looking for places to purchase native plants and have found some close by Peterborough that grow shrubs and trees. Richardson’s Pineneedle Farms in Pontypool is one. They are a major commercial grower and have a lot of native shrubs and trees for sale. You can buy in bulk there. Another one Eastern Evergreen Inc. grows white cedar for hedges and is located in Warkworth.

With an office in downtown Peterborough, Cedar Ontario has a long track record of providing healthy natural eastern white cedar trees and installing hedges throughout Peterborough and the Kawarthas.

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Photo courtesy of Cedar Ontario

When it opens, Ecology Park in Peterborough is another good place to purchase native plants. Their big annual plant sale is Saturday May 16th at 10 am. Remember to bring your own containers for leaf compost and cedar mulch. The bulk sales are self loading , with a 20 bucket limit per person, per visit. Knowledgeable staff and are there to help you (and often Master Gardeners are there too).

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In the meantime, I’m researching trees and shrubs, drawing plans, and dreaming.

 

 

Gardening Resolutions for A New Year

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

As this decade comes to a close, I like to think that I over the past ten years that have learned some things about gardening. And with that in mind, I’ve set a few New Year’s resolutions to guide me through this next year (and decade).

1. Be Better at Cleaning My Tools

I have some great tools – my Felco #12 secateurs/pruners (several pairs), my delightful drain spade, and my Japanese hori hori knife. But I am neglectful and do not clean these well during the season and especially at the end of the gardening year. My resolution to improve my tool maintenance for next year. Some guidance here and here.

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2. Make a Plan

I was basically back to square one in my garden a few years ago after a major house renovation. Since then we have installed some hardscaping and I have tried to replan my gardens. I’m 15 years older than when I first did my gardens, so my plan needs to take into account my aging and energy level, so I have eliminated those fussy perennials and focused more on a garden built on flowering shrubs that are lower maintenance. But I don’t have a plan, and my engineer husband keeps saying “where’s the plan?”. So my resolution is to spend this January laying out a plan for spring, rather than just going with my gut.

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3. Don’t Order Too Many Seeds

This will be a tough one. After all who hasn’t looked out their window in January at the snowy landscape while reviewing seed catalogues and dreaming of a perfect garden? The diversity available via seed companies is just astonishing these days, and it’s nice to grow something that your friends don’t have and that you can keep seed for the next year! But we all tend to indulge and over purchase, so my resolution is to have a specific place for any seeds that I order (see previous note for a plan), and to test all the existing seeds I have for viability like this.

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4. Share my Knowledge and Start a Blog

While I write a blog for the Peterborough Master Gardeners on a regular basis, I’d like to start a garden blog of my own. The challenge? Just finding the time when I work full time and write for a living. My resolution is to spend January getting a basic blog set up, and then to try and write once a week starting in February. I’ll share a link once it’s up and running, and you can all hold me to task for getting it off the ground. The great part is there is lots of good advice on how to start a blog out there.

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Create a Holistic Garden

I am passionate that my garden should be more than just beautiful flowers – it should be a wonderful habitat for birds and bugs and critters and pollinators, and everything in between. I want to know that I am making a difference that contributes to supporting our local ecology and habitat. My resolution is to continue focusing on this as I re-establish my garden, and share my knowledge with others so that we can all make a difference.

Wishing everyone a Happy New Year and a wonderful 2020 gardening season, wherever you may be.

GDD

What To Do With All Those Fall Leaves?

by Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

What to do with leaves? It used to be that one would rake the leaves, put them into bags to be collected by the municipality, where they would often be put into landfill or composting. They are a rich source of organic material for the garden that helps retain moisture in the soil.

I have a friend that collects leaves that fall on her lawn, bags them and uses them the next spring in her vegetable garden. They first mulch them into the lawn, then, what remains is collected into bags and stored until spring. The leaves are spread between the rows of her vegetable garden in the spring and watered down. When the tender vegetable plants have sprouted, she then uses the leaves to mulch around all of her veggies. By fall there are no more leaves, just rich organic material in the soil for next years garden.

The leaves can also be used to protect tender perennials by covering them with a blanket for the winter. Indeed, mulch all of your perennial beds with leaves in the fall to protect them from winter extremes. And don’t be in a hurry to uncover them in the spring.

I’ve included a couple of links to give you other ideas of how to use this valuable resource.

Things to do with fall leaves

What to do with fall leaves

Waiting for top soil and sod for our new home, I’ve “planted” pots with my shrubs, tulip tree and peonies into the fill along the side of the house. I collected some bags of leaves along the roadside and have mulched the pots for the winter.

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September in the Garden

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

Fall is in the air.  You can see the days getting shorter, and feel that the temperatures are cooling.  The Canada Geese are grouping; ready to make their noisy trip south.  The boats and camping trailers are also heading south.  The monarchs will soon be leaving us for sunnier climates in Mexico.  It’s that time of year where every living thing in our region starts preparing for the colder seasons to come.monarch2015

In the garden, fall is a great time for planting, dividing, weeding, mulching and planning for spring renovations.  The soil is warm, the days are cooler and the rain is usually frequent.  These three items are a big part of what is needed to get new plantings well established before the snow flies.

Fall Planting

Now is the time to plant buy and plant spring-flowering bulbs like tulips, daffodils, allium, snowdrops and crocus.  Shop early for the best selection.  If you are plagued by squirrels, know that they do not go after daffodils — so fill your basket with these instead of some of the more delicious bulbs like tulips that may just make a tasty snack.

Now is also a great time to plant late season annuals like pansies, kale and cabbage for garden bed interest or for front door planters.  It’s also prime tree and shrub planting time.  Water well until freeze-up.

Fall Dividingrudbeckia

September is a great time to divide some of those perennials that have outgrown their space, or that you’d like to share with others.  Watch for obvious division points for hosta, black-eyed susans, coneflower, iris and daylilies.  Plants will have enough time to establish roots in their new homes if this splitting and replanting is done now.  After splitting, cut back any unnecessary leaves or flower stalks from these to make the transition a little easier for these perennials.

Fall Weeding

Many of us have lost interest in this task by now.  However, if you consider that every weed that remains in your beds is likely to go to seed, and that most weeds carry hundreds of seeds, it’s totally in your best interest to keep those beds as weed-free as possible.  For me, this includes deadheading any self-seeding perennials as well.

Fall Mulching

Add some compost, and a two- to three-inch layer of mulch to beds to get them ready for winter. It’s like putting the comforter on the bed.  You can use garden-centre mulch for this, but I have a neighbour with mature maple trees that provide all of the leaves that I can use.  Leaves are great insulator, and best of all, they’re completely free!

Spring Renovation Planning

Lastly, fall is a great time for you to assess areas of the garden which may need renovation next spring.  I sometimes draw maps of the different plants in my garden beds, and it’s not uncommon to see the words “remove”, “divide” and “move” scrawled across these drawings. You may think that you’ll remember all of this next spring, but I have my bets against you on this one!

Here’s to some great fall preparation to make next spring just a little bit more organized and successful.

Tamarack or Larch?

By Christine Freeburn, Master Gardener

Many of you may have noticed the amazing yellow shades of the tamarack trees last October. They absolutely glowed in the landscape after the maple, oak and other deciduous trees had dropped their colourful leaves.tamarack-trees-208125_960_720

Tamarack and larches are from the Pinaceae family and the Larix genus with different species names to differentiate themselves. They are deciduous conifers, meaning they are evergreens that drop their needles in winter. Their bark seems flaky with reddish undertones. Leaves or needles are a light bluish green turning a bright yellow in autumn. They grow in whorls or tufts around the branch and give the tree a soft fluffy appearance. Cones are small.

European Larch is Larix decidua which grows here in the east. It tends to have droopy branches and grows in fields and open areas as it likes sun. Its needles tend to be a bit longer than the Tamarack needles and it’s cones are bigger.

Tamarack is Laris laricina which grows here in wet swampy areas in full sun. It is native to Canada.

Larch can live up to 850 years and grow 260′ tall while Tamarack are smaller, growing only 65′ high.larch-163340_960_720

There are several dwarf cultivars created for the home garden, however these trees do not do well in cities where they suffer from air pollution.

A strong softwood, Tamarack means ‘wood used for snowshoes’ in the Algonguin language.

Western Larch L.occidentalis grows in western Canada.

Watch for these bright pops of colour this fall.

Mulch–Do you love it or hate it?

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

Mulch may be used as a noun or as a verb.  I make a list to pick up some “mulch” (noun) at the garden centre so that I can come home and “mulch” (verb) my flower garden.

I mulch my gardens including my vegetable garden, my flower gardens and my container gardens. Mulch is amazing and is even used by mother nature without any human intervention. If you walk through a pine forest, you will notice that the pine needles are in a thick layer on the forest floor. Mother nature does this for a reason!

Benefits of Mulch

Mulch helps to:

  • moderate soil temperature – it keeps soil cooler in summer and warmer in winter.
  • reduce weed growth – covers the soil to reduce sunlight for weed seed germination and weakens growth of sprouted weeds.
  • retain moisture – it provides protection from drought.
  • build good soil structure and improve soil texture as it decomposes.
  • protect the soil – reduce erosion by water and wind.
  • protect plant foliage from soil splash which can transfer fungus to the leaves of plants.

There are so many types of mulch to choose from that there is sure to be something to suit every gardener.

Organic Mulch

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Pine needle mulch – waiting for plants. South Carolina garden. 
  • Adds nutrients to the soil as it decomposes, living mulches may be fragrant and attract pollinators.
  • Grass clippings, dried shredded fall leaves, leaf mould, conifer needles, clean straw or hay, wood chips or sawdust, shredded newspapers, shredded bark, coconut/nut husks, finished compost, cover crops, creeping groundcover perennials (eg. Thyme – covers the ground well and it flowers) or even closely planted gardens.

Inorganic Mulch

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Stone mulch, author’s garden
  • Permanent, does not break down easily and does not add nutrients to the soil.
  • Geotextiles (landscape fabric), plastic and stone.

 

Mulch Application

Yes, mulching your gardens is work but the benefits are definitely worth it.

Apply mulch to damp soil, 5-10 cm (2-4 inches) deep using a shovel, a garden fork or a bucket. It really depends on the type of mulch which tool will work the best for you.

Do not cover the crown (centre of plant where the stems originate) or mulch right up to the trunk of your trees. You may smother your plant if you cover it with mulch or attract insects to your tree’s trunk if you mulch too close. You will need to re-apply organic mulch every couple of years as it breaks down and becomes part of the garden soil.

Purchasing Mulch

Mulch may be purchased in bulk or in bags. Be sure to ask questions about the product. You want mulch that is free of weed seeds and disease. If you prefer dyed mulch, you will want mulch where the dye used is not poisonous to you or the other critters in your garden.

Oh, I forgot one of the most important benefits of mulch … your soil and your plants are healthy and happy, so enjoy those beautiful gardens!

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Author’s garden

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.

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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!