Category Archives: Soil

Starting from scratch — 2 months later

By Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

As mentioned in the my previous blog, creating healthy soil is to be the topic of this article.

Healthy soil is made up of the following components:

Sand, silt and clay – in any soil they are the bones, the structure that is the foundation on which the rest is built. About 48% of the soil.

Air spaces – are the lungs of the soil. They allow for movement of oxygen, water, and nutrients. About 25% of the soil

Organic material – is the food which nourishes the soil to make it a living microcosm for plants to grow in. The microorganisms in the soil process the organic material into a form that plants can use when they need it. The larger organisms in the soil help to maintain its structure. The organic material in the soil is also like a sponge which will hold many times its weight in water. This represents ideally about 4% of the soil.

Water – is like blood. It carries the nutrients from the soil to the roots of plants in a form the plants can use.

In the housing development where I live, we have been provided with good bones. Some of the soils may have more or less of one component than another, but for the most part the bones are good.

From my perspective, the biggest issues are:

  1. compaction from all of the heavy construction equipment that has been driven over and over the sites. Even when the topsoil was put down, dump trucks and bulldozers were used. The soil and sub soil are deeply compacted.
  2. lack of organic material in the soil.
  3. the inability of the soil to retain water.

To overcome these problems the soil needs to be aerated, whether by mechanical means with a core aerator or by hand with a shovel. The plugs of soil, although unsightly, can be left on top of the soil to dry out and then run over with a lawn mower to break them up and spread them over the ground or lawn. Then organic material needs to be added to the soil. For the grass, I would add compost which you can purchase in bulk from garden centres. Spread 1-2 cm (1/2”) over the lawn and rake it in. You may want to add a little grass seed where there are bare spots. With the compost, you won’t have to add any other fertilizer and you won’t have to water very much. For my flower and vegetable beds I add a more generous amount of compost or manure, working the manure into the soil so it doesn’t smell.

It takes 2.5cm (1”) of water to penetrate 15cm (6”) into the soil. With air spaces and multiple surfaces for the water to adhere to and with organic material to act as a sponge and hold the water, the water will stay In the soil better and not run off. For growing vegetables 2.5cm per week is a good rule of thumb. Add more if it’s very hot or windy. With healthy soil, watering the lawn and garden is less of an issue.

The most common grass used for sodding is Kentucky Blue Grass. It is natural for this grass to go dormant in the hot summer months. With good healthy soil to support it, the grass will be able to overcome the drought and revive as the weather gets cooler.

You know you have healthy soil when it has a nice crumbly texture, the surface of the soil doesn’t crack from the heat and when the soil absorbs water instead if having the water sit in pools or run off into ditches. I’ve added a couple of web sites with further information about healthy soils and adding compost to lawns.

Resources

Healthy Soils, UMass Extension
Compost for Summer Lawns, Planet Natural Research Center

Container Gardening

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener

Container gardening has grown in popularity for many reasons. As property sizes have decreased, it has allowed those with small yards or even those living in condos to enjoy the colour and blooms that abound in containers. They allow you to bring the garden to the deck, patio, steps, driveway or the front entranceway. You can grow tropicals, keep invasive plants under control, ensure easy gardening for those with aging bodies and they can be placed wherever you need them. A container of herbs right near the kitchen door will ensure the cook in the home has easy access. A well designed container can add colour and texture to any area in your home or apartment and it can be a wonderful introduction to gardening for children as well as adults.

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Container gardens at Griffin’s Greenhouses, Lakefield, ON.  Used with permission.

When choosing your container, ensure you choose one that is large enough to allow adequate root growth as well as appropriate drainage holes. Remember that a large terra-cotta pot will be heavy, so you may find it is preferable to use one of the newer styles made from synthetics such as fiberglass, although these can be fairly expensive. Remember that extra work will be needed to keep smaller containers watered.

When choosing your plants, use ones that have similar cultural requirements, such as sun or shade, moisture loving or drought loving, and vigorous growing or slow growing. Colour is a personal preference, however, it is pleasing to the eye to use complimentary harmonies such as purple and green or analogous harmonies such as pink and blue. The container will be more interesting if you have contrasting leaf shapes. You need not limit yourself just to annuals, although they will provide more long-lasting colour. A popular formula to follow is ‘thriller, filler, spiller’. Thrillers provide the drama and are typically the tallest part of the container. Common thrillers are canna lilies and ornamental grasses. The filler gives the container body and substance and often surrounds the thriller. Examples of fillers would be coleus, geraniums or even coral bells. The spiller can create a flow by pouring over the edge of the container, such as wave petunias, lobelia or sweet potato vine.

Container soil lacks natural nutrients found in regular garden soil, therefore, fertilizing is necessary every couple of weeks. Using regular garden soil is not advisable as you will get poor drainage. It is best to use a good soilless mix. In the heat of the summer, containers will need daily watering. Fertilizing every two weeks is a good rule of thumb, but in hot weather you may need to feed more often as water use increases.

At the end of the season, the tender annuals will be discarded. I often use Coleus in one of my pots and in the fall I take cuttings and root them in water and then repot them indoors for the winter months, to be used again the following spring. I usually cut the annuals to the soil level and use the existing soil in the container to insert some winter greenery. The soil will eventually freeze and hold the greenery in place.

When we last travelled to England, we stayed across from a small thatched roof home where an older couple grew almost everything in pots. They had very little property but still managed to have a very interesting garden. I enjoyed watching them with their morning tea wandering through their front yard inspecting and watering their many containers.

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Picture from author’s garden.

 

This is one of my pots from last year. As you can see the fillers (dragon wing begonias) and spillers (sweet potato vine) did so well that the thriller (Kimberly Queen fern) did not have an opportunity to shine. I find that my pots respond differently every year. It depends very much on the weather conditions, remembering to fertilize on a regular basis and the type of plants used. It is fun to experiment and try new and different colour schemes. Have fun with it!

The University of Georgia has published the following on Gardening in Containers. It contains some good information on soil mixtures and fertilizers as well as some suggested plants

Garden Myths

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

Gardeners have been passing down tips, tricks, and knowledge for generations. Some of this advice is science-based and works, but much of it is a mix of folklore and superstition. While some of it is benign, some of it may actually harm your gardens or have you spending money when you don’t need to.

Here are five of my favourite garden myths – there are hundreds out there – just google ‘garden myths’ and you’ll see what I mean.Picture1

I think social media has intensified the problem – in the past information spread through word of mouth, often handed down through generations. Now anyone with a computer can claim to be an expert, and provide inaccurate information that others will share.

Part of my reason for becoming a Master Gardener was to expand my gardening knowledge and share my passion for growing with others using solid, science-based information. We offer our services to the public in many forms – through presentations, advice clinics, answering email queries, and publishing blogs like this one!

The Master Gardeners of Ontario (MGOI) website shows where all the Master Gardener groups are located – find yours and their website and take advantage of their knowledge and expertise. If they don’t have the answer they will go research it for you.

MGOI also has a great Facebook page where you can post questions to Master Gardeners. And I highly recommend The Garden Professors Facebook page for science-based gardening information.

Make sure to follow the Peterborough and Area Master Gardeners through our
Weekly Blog (by clicking on ‘Follow’ in the left column on the homepage)
Facebook Page
Twitter or reach us at contact@peterboroughmastergardeners.com

Myth: You Should Stake A Newly Planted Tree

Truth: Unless it’s top-heavy or in an especially windy site, your tree does not require staking. Some movement is actually good for young trees. I loved this description “Just as our muscles grow larger with exercise, tree trunks grow thicker and stronger when they’re allowed to move.”

The response of trees and plants to wind is called thigmomorphogenesis (yes that’s a word!). The buffeting from winds releases ethylene gas, a growth mediator that triggers the formation of wood-strengthening lignin.

While staked trees tend to grow taller, their trunks are skinny and weak, so if you decide you must stake, stake as loosely as possible and only for a short time (no longer than six months). Make sure to use something soft against the tree bark to keep from cutting into it. But best to practice tough love – your tree will appreciate it.

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Photo used with permission of The Garden Professors  http://gardenprofessors.com/

Myth: Gravel in The Bottom of Containers Improves Drainage

Truth: This myth will not die. We’ve all been told to place stones or pieces of pot at the bottom of our containers “for drainage”. The reality is that added gravel or rocks to the bottom of your pot will actually accelerate the potential for root rot, rather than preventing it. Water is pulled down through the container by gravity and builds up near the drainage hole. A layer of gravel at the pot’s base serves as the drainage hole and collects water in the same way. So gravel actually moves the pool of water higher up the pot, where it damages your plant.

As long as there is a hole in the bottom of the container, water will find its way out without the need for stones.

Myth: Add Epsom Salts To The Soil Helps Tomatoes Grow

Truth: You would think it was a miracle cure for everything
“It helps seeds germinate”
“It makes plants grow bushier”
“It can prevent blossom end rot in tomatoes” (see bonus information at the bottom of this blog!)
“It can prevent transplant shock”
“It results in more flowers”
“It increases chlorophyll production”
“It deters pests, such as slugs and voles”
“It reduces the total amounts of fertilizers needed”

Magnesium sulfate, or Epsom salt, is a naturally occurring mineral consisting of magnesium and sulfur (MgSO4). Magnesium is a necessary element for plant growth but adding unnecessary salts to your soil will destroy your soil structure over time. You are better to simply add compost or worm castings to the soil. There are decades of research that has documented damage done to both plants and soil with overuse and misuse of magnesium sulfate. Want to read more about it? Check out this peer reviewed study by Washington State University’s Extension Center (click here for more of their excellent science-based studies). The best thing epsom salts can be used for is a nice hot bath after working hard in your garden all day.sphynx-1521190

Myth: You Can’t Grow Anything Near A Black Walnut Tree

Truth: This one is a personal favourite, since I have extensive flower and vegetable gardens in the vicinity of two almost 150-year-old black walnuts. While the roots of black walnut (Juglans nigra) do release an allelopathic chemical known as juglone that inhibits the growth of some plants, the idea that nothing grows under a walnut started gaining traction in the 1920s when a Virginia researcher saw his tomatoes were suffering and just assumed the nearby trees were at fault based on folklore he had heard. Washington State University put out an excellent peer reviewed paper in 2019 explaining the history of walnut allelopathy.

Enjoy your walnut trees! Not only are they robust landscape plants but they provide food and habitat for wildlife and birds. Here’s my lovely perennial garden under my walnut tree (and featured in Linda Chalker-Scott’s paper mentioned above) and my previous blog specifically on this topic.

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(Bonus – information on Blossom End Rot)

Research has shown that calcium deficiency is not the cause of blossom end rot. Egg shells won’t correct it. Epsom salts (which are magnesium sulfate) won’t correct it. Nor will coffee grounds, Tums, calcium sprays, dairy products, or any of the other things that are usually recommended for it. It just corrects itself. It’s not caused by a fungus, bacteria, or virus. It’s not in the soil. It’s an internal condition of the plant. The cause appears to be simply environmental: low temperatures at night, fluctuating temperatures, watering too often, etc. Ammonia fertilizer is linked to it, so some forms of plant food can be a problem. But basically: just pick off the fruit that are affected, water more deeply and don’t allow the plant to get severely drought stressed (daily watering is probably not necessary unless you have unusually fast-draining soil or are growing in a container). The next fruit will probably be fine. It’s usually a problem with the first tomatoes, peppers. and squash that set in the season and the rest come along fine.

All about Compost

By MJ (Mary-Jane) Pilgrim, Master Gardener

Spring is here, but it’s still not great weather outside for gardening. In a few more weeks, once the temperature reaches 10 degrees Celsius on a regular basis, you will have lots to do! But for now, here’s something to think about: compost.

Compost is decomposed organic matter like leaves, grass clippings and kitchen waste, and it’s the ultimate garden fertilizer. It contains virtually all the nutrients a living plant needs and delivers them in a slow-release manner over a period of years. Compost made with a wide variety of ingredients will provide an even more nutritious meal to your growing plants. Compost is free, and you can make your own.

April is a great time to check the compost pile if you already have one. If it’s too wet, stir and add dry (brown) material like dry leaves, then cover. If it’s too dry, stir and add water (or green material), and mix thoroughly. Either way, mix thoroughly!

At the end of the month, when the weather has improved and the garden is dry enough to work in, add a 1-2 inch layer of well composted material (sweet smelling, crumbly and dark brown) to your garden beds, scratching it in lightly or even just laying it on top. When the earthworms wake up, they will pull that material further into the soil, saving you the trouble of digging it in.

If you don’t have a compost bin, spring is a great time to start one! In our area (Peterborough, ON), composters are available at City Hall, 500 George St. N., or at the Household Hazardous Waste Depot, 400 Pido Rd.  GreenUp, Ecology Park, hardware stores and your local municipality likely also carries them. By next spring you could have your own fertilizer ready for the garden, and save a lot of food waste like peelings from going directly to the landfill.

If you don’t have/want a physical composter, a different plan is the trench method of adding compost to the garden. In this method, you dig a series of holes or a trench and lay compost down into it throughout the summer. It’s wise to plan where this trench will be and where this year’s garden will stand. At the end of the summer, cover the trench with one to three inches of soil, and plant your garden next spring in the spot where this year’s trench is. That will get different spots of the soil nourished throughout the years. You can learn more about this type of composting from fellow MG Suzanne Seryck’s article from May 2018.

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If you’re new to composting, here are some pointers:

  • Patience is key. It’ll take six months to a year for compost to be ready to use, so think about investing in a compost pile now as part of your spring garden prep. Your garden will have plenty of natural, nutritious food come next gardening season.
  • Don’t forget the water. If your pile is covered or you are having a dry spell, add moisture. The pile should be always be damp, but not wet.
  • Keep the compost loose and turn every so often. That will keep air in the system and allow for healthy decomposition.
  • Have a balance between wet (green) and dry (brown) compost. Add natural items like grass clippings, leaves, pulled plants, weeds, plant-based food scraps and wood chips.
  • Don’t add meats or fatty foods, dairy, fresh animal droppings, or diseased plants.
  • Never add plants containing seed heads to the compost, or next year that plant will pop up everywhere! I will never look at feverfew kindly again, after this happened to me.
  • The basic rule of thumb is to never add a significant amount of one type of material at the same time. Variety is key.
  • Again, always remember patience. Using compost that is not ready will rob garden plants of nitrogen. You’ll know the compost is ready when it crumbles easily and has a very earthy smell.

Resources:

All about Compost
Composting 101
Everything you need to know about compost:

What to Do About Road Salt Damage

By Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

With a retaining wall and a paved boulevard, we have never had to worry about salt damage to our lawn and plants. Now, living in a new development with grass growing right to the street and grass boulevards, salt damage from road salt is a new fact of life. We have all seen the damage to certain trees (cedars especially) where the foliage has turned brown from salt spray. Sod gets chewed up from the plows and grass at the side of the road turns brown as well.

In addition to the mechanical damage from snow clearing, there are some other things which are happening to cause this damage:

  • The salt spray causes the foliage to dry out. On deciduous plants, the buds can be desiccated by the salt.
  • Salt absorbs a lot of water. Even if the ground is wet, if there is salt in the ground it is preventing the plants from accessing the water.
  • Salt breaks down into its component ions of sodium and calcium. The calcium gets absorbed into the leaves preventing photosynthesis. The sodium prevents the roots from taking up necessary nutrients.

In early spring there are things we can do to help our plants to recover from and to mitigate the effects of salt and salt spray:

  • Gently rake and remove as much of the salt and sand that has been left behind around the curb area after the snow has melted. For the rest of the lawn, you need to wait until the ground has thawed and dried out; you don’t want to leave foot impressions in the lawn.
  • Hopefully we will have lots of rain to wash the salt spray from the boughs of the plants, and to wash that water away. If not, then wash the spray off of the plants.
  • Water, and lots of it, applied slowly over several days is the way to rinse the salt that has gotten into the soil out. It takes 7-8cm of water to rinse 50% of the salt out of the soil; 13cm to wash 90% out. If we have a dry spring, and don’t get that much water over a few days, then where possible augment rainfall with water.

As we get ready for winter we can take steps to protect our gardens in the fall:

  • Put a good layer of mulch in the form of leaves over the perennial beds close to the roads. This can then be removed in the spring, taking much of the salt with it.
  • Protect trees and shrubs with burlap wrapping.
  • Put up a barrier or screen to prevent salt runoff back onto your property.
  • Use other materials around your home, like sand or salt alternatives to provide traction in icy conditions.
  • Use salt-resistant plants close to roads and sidewalks.

Now, let’s hope for lots of spring rain to freshen up our gardens and get the growing season underway!

The following web sites will give you more information about what to look for as well as having suggestions for salt resistant plants:

Salt damage in Landscape Plants
Salinity, Salt Damage

Before and after the same spot of lawn.

 

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.

 

 

Permaculture: Where do I start?

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

So what do gardeners do in the winter? Once we’ve read all our seed magazines and compiled our purchasing lists, or designed new or changes to existing perennial beds, or decided on our vegetable crop rotation for the upcoming season, or read a new gardening book, or watched some gardening videos or TED talks, or found ourselves in the middle of taking a gardening course, what next? Personally, once I’ve exhausted all these possibilities, I tend to reread my favourite gardening books. I have an incredibly bad memory and find it really helps me when I reread the same books over and over; hoping eventually something will sink in. My books to reread this year are both permaculture-related: Toby Hemingway’s “Gaia’s Garden” and Rosemary Morrow’s “Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture”.

When I first became interested in permaculture a number of years ago, I started reading books and watching videos by the two founders, Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. The concept, ethics, and principles resonated with me, but I have to admit that I struggled based on the literature available at that time, to understand how to translate this into my own Canadian garden. It was not until a couple of years later that I attended a couple of local permaculture design courses and read the book by Toby Hemingway who focuses on North American gardens, that I felt confident enough to bring some of those concepts and methods into my home garden

As I mentioned in my last blog, permaculture is a design system, a set of guidelines, principles and practices for sustainable living and land use, working with nature in a continuous cycle that benefits both people and wildlife. As with anything new or overwhelming, it is easy to be deterred by the big picture.  Instead, focus on smaller ideas or concepts. If you start implementing smaller more manageable tasks, it will give you confidence to tackle the larger concepts.

The following are a few easy-to-implement permaculture techniques to get you started:

  1. Sheet mulching. This was actually the first group activity I performed in my first design course.  It can also be called lasagna gardening. Permaculture encompasses a no-dig philosophy focusing on building soil life. Sheet mulching allows you to create new beds whilst eliminating weeds and building up the health of the soil. It is also a lot healthier on your back. You simply lay a heavy layer of newspaper or cardboard over the area and top it with 12 inches or so of organic mulch.
  2. Keyhole garden beds. Keyhole beds are often used in permaculture because they maximize use of space, whilst building soil fertility.  They decrease irrigation needs and are easy to plant, harvest and maintain. The bed can be either raised or not, and is often created in a circular pattern which decreases the space required for paths and increases space for plants. This type of bed is most often used for growing herbs & vegetables and because of the circular design, plants with different growing requirements can be planted together often creating different microclimates. For more information: https://permaculturefoodforest.wordpress.com/2016/04/14/keyhole-gardens/
  3. Creating gardening communities or guilds. In permaculture, a guild can be defined as a grouping of plants, trees, animals and insects that work together protecting their health, habitat and productivity. Probably one of the most familiar guilds is the Three Sisters Guild in which squash, corn and beans are grown together; each one supporting and benefiting the others. The beans grow up the corn and provide nitrogen, whilst the squash mulches and covers the soil. In my last garden, I grew apple tree guilds, surrounding each apple tree with daffodils in the spring (deter predators from chewing bark), comfrey and yarrow, and herbs such as dill & fennel along with chives & onions.
  4. Multiple stories or forest gardens. As an avid gardener and someone who has difficulty saying ‘enough is enough’ when it comes to plants–and also the owner of a small city garden–this technique is one I am especially interested in. The idea is that a garden can have multiple stories or layers; from a low herb or ground cover layer up to perennials, shrubs, small trees and finally the canopy trees. The plants in each layer combine and support each other to create and maintain a healthy ecosystem.

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Vegetable garden incorporating annuals and perennials

Permaculture is much more than the simple examples I have given.  It can encompass everything from designing landscapes and buildings, to water and waste management. The benefits for me include enriching the land, feeding and providing habitat, growing food for my family, and giving me somewhere to unwind and feel good about life. However, I am omitting one very important benefit for myself–by incorporating some permaculture practices into my garden, the garden tends to look after itself much more with less interference and work for me!

Spring Flowering Bulbs

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener

Charles Dickens said “Nature gives to every time and season some beauties of its own”. Who can deny that spring-flowering bulbs are a promise of warmer temperatures and hopeful thoughts? Knowing the bulbs will emerge from the near frozen ground helps us to get through the bitter winter. They should be planted now in order for you to be rewarded with wonderful colour in early spring. They can stay in the ground year after year. There are several varieties of bulbs to choose from. The following are some of the more recognizable ones.

thumbnail_tulipsTulips are to Turkey and Central Asia. In the 1600s, they made their way to the Netherlands. Tulipmania took hold in the 1620s and tulip prices skyrocketed. A single bulb could be worth as much as an average family farm. The market collapsed in 1637, but tulips remain widely grown in the that country. Canadians liberated much of the Netherlands during the final months of the Second World War. More than 7,200 Canadians were lost in that conflict. The Dutch have gifted Canadians with 20,000 bulbs a year since that time and they are used in Ottawa’s now famous Canadian Tulip Festival every May. This year marks the 75th anniversary of liberation and the Dutch royal family will mark the celebration by thanking Canadians this year with a gift of 100,000 tulip bulbs. If you want to join the celebration, you can purchase your own Liberation75 tulips for $15.00 through the Royal Canadian Legion. By purchasing the bulbs, you will also be entitled to win a trip to the Netherlands. To place an order visit the Royal Canadian Legion.

There are hundreds of cultivars of tulips; early, mid and late blooming. They need a sunny location with soil that is well-drained and sheltered from the wind since they can be easily broken. Six weeks are needed for the foliage to die back in order to put energy back into the bulb. A rainy spring is bad for success with tulips. Some of the ‘old fashioned’ tulips are Darwin and Triumph. They are very reliable and come back year after year. Squirrels love tulips, so to deter rodents, mix tulips and daffodils together in order to get the scent of daffodils on the tulips. You can also try hen manure which comes in a pellet form. You could use barberry cuttings or crushed egg shells in and around the hole. Others have had success with plastic snakes. Also, squirrels won’t dig past their peripheral vision, so plant at least 6 – 8” deep. You could also try laying a flat board on top and remove it when the ground is frozen.

DaffodilsDaffodils and narcissus bloom earlier than most tulips. Spring sun is needed and they like soil that is well draining or they will rot. Oxalic acid on the bulb make them unpalatable to rodents. ‘Tete a tete’ is a mini daffodil that is very fragrant and also good for cut flowers. However, never include daffodils with other flowers in a vase as they have a sap that will cause the other flowers to wilt.

IMG_4638Alliums are ornamental onions. Most of the varieties bloom in June. They need free draining soil with 6 to 8 hours of sun. They make lovely dried flowers. It is best to plant alliums amongst other plants as the foliage is not desirable.

Muscari or grape hyacinths are amazing small bulbs known as minor bulbs. Snowdrops are also minor bulbs and are the first to emerge, often pushing up through the snow.

Snow crocus are an early blooming crocus and work well in a lawn as they bloom before you need to cut the grass. Dutch crocus are good for forcing and are bigger than snow crocus and tend to bloom a little later in the spring.

Beware of Scilla or Spanish blue bells! They are a small bulb and multiply prolifically, and although they are very pretty, they now sit on the invasive list. Scilla siberica is on the Highly Invasive category of this list put together by Credit Valley Conservation.

Bulbs can also be planted in pots and put in a cool area over the winter. This way, they can be brought in and forced to bloom early. Who wouldn’t be happy with a large pot of beautiful colour after a long hard winter. More information on forcing spring bulbs can be found in this article by Dugald Cameron in Garden Making Magazine.

Happy Planting!

Scree Gardening

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

My casual interest in scree gardens became a burning desire to have one (you know the feeling) when I went on my first Peterborough Master Gardener garden tour in 2017. We visited a nursery that had amazing demonstration scree and rock gardens. I was smitten!

A scree garden is found in nature. Small rocks and gravel travel down the side of a mountain because of the freeze-thaw action on the rockface. This material accumulates in crevices, on rock shelves and at the mountain base. It drains well and is home to plants that survive on only rain. Scree gardens are good for areas that are already rocky, sandy or do not have a lot of soil to begin with. However, they can be replicated pretty much anywhere with a raised bed to ensure good drainage. A raised bed is especially important if you have clay soil. Choose a sunny site that is not overshadowed by trees. You don’t want the constant challenge of leaf litter on your garden. As when creating any new garden, make sure all weeds and grass are removed before you start.

Different sources quote different mixes for the actual garden “soil” to use in your raised bed. I used what I had for mine. This consisted of some larger rocks in the bottom, and then a layer of gravel, then mostly sand, and gravel mixed with some garden soil. The sand, gravel, and garden soil mixture was used to fill the spaces in the rocks up to the top of my raised bed. Remember that you are trying to replicate nature so your scree must have excellent drainage and not be overly rich.

I chose plants that I knew could take dryer soils and thrive in my Southern Ontario garden with it’s summer heat and high humidity. There are lots of lists of potential scree and rock garden plants on the internet. Some local nurseries carry plants that will thrive in well drained conditions. Once that you have found plants that will grow, as with any garden, choose plants that will give you the look that you want ie. colour, texture, height and spread.

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Author’s garden

In her book “Pocket Gardening”, gardening writer Marjorie Harris talks about how to maintain the scree and rock gardens. Ms. Harris recommends topdressing the garden with leaf mold and coarse sharp sand or 3/8 inch gravel when plants are dormant which means very early spring or late fall.

Have fun with it and make your garden into what makes you happy!

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Author’s garden

Resources

Anna’s Perennials –  Ontario Rock Garden & Hardy Plant Society –  Rock Wall Gardens

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

pine needle mulch
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

stone mulch
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!

authors garden
Author’s garden