Category Archives: Soil

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

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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

Comfrey Tea

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

I have just finished making a couple of batches of comfrey tea which I will use as a liquid fertilizer on all my pots, vegetables and anything that looks like it needs a pick-me-up. Comfrey is by far my favourite plant to have in a garden, although I should just add that in my garden, my comfrey plant is relegated to an area at the very back behind the leaf composter, as you can see in the following picture:

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Comfrey is a plant that should be in every garden. In my garden I use it strictly for either mulch or as a fertilizer, which is why the location of the plant is not as important. However comfrey has many more uses; it is an amazing multi-functional plant meaning that it can take on many different roles in a garden. It attracts both bees and other beneficial insects with its pink and purple flowers. Traditionally comfrey (once called knitbone) was used for wound healing, with poultices made of mashed leaves being used to heal cuts and scrapes. The long, large tap root can be used to break up hardpan and heavy clay soils. In addition the tap root is very efficient at ‘mining’ the soil for minerals and nutrients, which is then stores in its leaves–this is known as a dynamic accumulator plant. The leaves can be cut and simply laid on the ground as a mulch wherever they are needed or even added to the composter, or they can be used in a tea form.

By cutting down the plant to about 12 inches, this will trigger the plant to regrow. I typically cut mine back 2-3 times per year. In my last garden, I used comfrey in the orchard where I would plant 3-4 plants around each fruit tree. The comfrey attracted pollinators and other insects to the orchard and I cut the comfrey down using the leaves as a mulch around the trees.

The following picture shows my comfrey plant just after I cut it back:

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Making compost tea is easy, however I should add that it does smell really bad, so you just need to be aware of this when choosing a place to let it sit for the 2 weeks or so it requires. All you need to do is cut the plant down and add the leaves and stems to a bucket of water. I put mesh over the top of the bucket to keep away the mosquitoes, and leave it in an area of the garden where it will not be disturbed for approximately 10 days to 2 weeks. After that time, strain all the decomposing material off straight to the composter and you have your undiluted liquid. I use this at about 1 part manure tea to 10 parts water, and mix straight into to a watering can.

The following photo shows the comfrey tea after I have strained out all the leaves:

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There are many videos you can find online showing different ways to make the tea. Here is one that is easy to follow:

I have been using comfrey tea as a fertilizer for roughly 10 years, if not more, and have never had any plants that have had an adverse reaction to it. It is not a miracle grow; it will not double the size of your plants, but it is free, you know exactly what is in it, you have the knowledge that you’ve made it yourself, it is all natural and organic, and for plants in pots, raised beds, or greenhouses you are feeding those plants with nutrients that would normally be present in the soil found in your garden.

My Favourite Garden Tools

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

By day I am a writer and editor, using words, graphics, and design to communicate with my audiences. However, once that working day is over, I have an entirely different set of tools that I use in my garden landscape. What are those “tools of the trade”? Here are my favourites – what are yours?


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A Giant Wheelbarrow 

A good wheelbarrow is worth its weight in gold to a gardener. An essential tool, I use it to transport tools, dirt, mulch, rocks, and garden cuttings from one place to another. For me the most important features are the volume and the wheels. While I have another ‘regular’ one wheel wheelbarrow, this yellow two-wheeled monster is my best friend. I love the stability of the two wheels in my ‘not-flat’ garden. I have had it for so long the bottom plastic has finally cracked from all the big boulders I have dumped into it, but the yellow barrow bottom is now covered with a sheet of metal so it’s still functional. I’ve replaced the original pneumatic (air filled) tires with airless tires. Now I just need to find a new barrow that doesn’t cost more than replacing the entire wheelbarrow! (Special mention to my second favourite wheeled vehicle – an old Radio Flyer red wagon. Acquired from a cousin, this metal workhorse is great for moving plants around, especially in tight spots)

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My Felco #7 Secateurs and Leather Holder

Pruners or secateurs (from the British – a pair of pruning clippers for use with one hand) are indispensable to the serious gardener. There are many brands on the market, but there are two primary types, so it’s important to get the ones that match your needs. Anvil pruners have a blade that pushes the plant material onto a cutting board, whereas bypass pruners have two blades that pass by each other to create a cut. Anvil pruners tend to crush soft plant tissue but, used properly, bypass pruners minimize plant damage. You can read more in Robert Pavlis’ blog on the subject here.

I only use bypass pruners; my Felco #7s are comfortable, light, efficient, and ergonomic. Why Felco? Because they are excellent quality and last forever. There are many models; many friends like the Felco #2s, but there are some designed for left handed people (Felco #9), people with small hands, or people like me that want to minimize hand strain, which is the focus of Felco #7. It provides me with hand and wrist protection, and optimizes the force exerted by the revolving handle. I should probably buy shares in this company. 9a2684c4213171476e13732af3b26537


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A Drain Spade

There are lots of different spades out there, so take the time to find one that works for you. Your height, the weight of the tool, what you need to use it for, and ergonomic considerations should all be taken into account. I have both shovels and spades – shovels tend to have longer handles and a more curved blade than spades – but once I used my drain spade I realized it was going to be my favourite. It’s heavy but I love the long blade for getting deep into the earth, and the narrowness for getting into tight spots. I have actually managed to dig the full taproot of a mature lupin and transplant it (and have it survive) using this spade, and that is an accomplishment in itself.


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Great Gloves

Gloves are a very personal item of clothing for gardeners, but since this is my blog I’ll let you know my favourites are the West County gloves I can get from Lee Valley (the orange ones above) and the Noble Outfitter gloves I just picked up at the TSC Store (the only ones that fit me as I am wearing a finger splint at the moment – that’s a whole other story). Many people like the nitrile and latex gloves, especially for fine gardening work like pruning, but they are too hot for my hands. I am pretty tough on my gloves, so it’s normal for me to go through a few pairs each season.


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My Garden Bandits

What the heck is a Garden Bandit™? Nope, it’s not a robber, just a very handy tool for weeding and clearing areas with minimal hand strain. Its innovative shape, designed after a garden tool used by early settlers, allows you to remove weeds but cutting them off at their roots. It also lets you safely work soil close to existing plants without damaging foliage or tender feeder roots. I got mine from Brenda at the Avant Garden Shop in Peterborough. Made in Canada, the bandit is not sold in big box stores, so contact your local birding/gardening store or nursery to see if they stock them. Check them out here.
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Collapsible Garden Bags

A variation on traditional English ‘tip bags’ and often called kangaroo bags, these lightweight, collapsible bags are great for collecting weeds and waste (and leaves when that time comes). They can be collapsed and stored away easily when not being used, and who doesn’t like space-saving things! I have had several of these bags, but I am not sure where I got these particular ones. They do have them at Lee Valley (or give Google a try). I like them better than the plastic tubs because (well, plastic!), they are lightweight, and I can maneuver them into tight spaces.


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Hori Hori Knife

I was introduced to this tool by my fellow Master Gardeners, and now I understand why it’s a favourite (as you can see I have two of them!). Made in Japan, the hori hori knife is a cross between a knife and a trowel, and can serve multiple functions, including dividing perennials or planting. Traditionally used in Japan to collect specimens for bonsai (hori means “digging”), the knife has a rust-resistant steel blade with a serrated edge on one side and a sharpened edge on the other. About 12 inches overall, it has a hardwood handle and comes with a belt sheath. I have only ever seen these at Lee Valley.


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A Wide Brimmed Hat, Bandanna, Sunscreen, Bug Spray, and Towel

Last but not least the essentials for all gardeners – a nice wide brimmed hat and sunscreen to protect you from the sun’s rays, bug spray (I feel like I am wearing this 24/7 this year!), and a towel to wipe off all that sweat – gardening can be a great workout.

One final hint – you may notice that most of my tools are bright colours. If you – like me – tend to ‘lose’ tools in the garden, or the compost, or the leaf pile, or under a plant, you’ll want to look for tools in nice bright colours so that when your husband turns out the compost in the spring he can say ‘hey honey I found your garden bandit’. That reminds me – I need to put some paint on my hori hori knives!

Happy Gardening! 

Please note: I do not receive any compensation for mentioning where you can get these items

 

 

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!

Seed Starting Tips & Tricks

by Mary Jane Parker, Master Gardener

I have been starting seeds indoors since I was a kid. This was probably the fault of an early teacher for introducing me to Dixie cups and bean seeds or half egg shells as pots. I have run the gamut of single grow lights to a full-fledged grow room with a 1000 watt metal halide lamp on a track – serious stuff. I currently make do with a 3-tiered system which gives me everything I need.

First tip – Pay attention to seed packet instructions if available. They contain the best advice possible for timing. Obvious but a lot of people ignore that.

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Choice of potting mix is personal and requires a trial and error mode to find out what works for you. I personally use a local product because I witnessed someone who owns a commercial nursery trotting out of a store with multiple bags. I thought, hmm, I’m going to try this and have used it ever since.

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Damping off has to be the biggest issue I have faced starting seeds early. There is nothing worse than seeing your wonderful little seedlings wither and die. For years I mixed No Damp with my soil when potting seeds for ornamental (not food) plants.

When this became unavailable, I started using very strong chamomile tea as a soil drench and spray. Seems to work for me. I have also at times sprinkled cinnamon on the soil surface.

Two other important techniques/tools for indoor seeding are air flow – I use a fan when plants are a few inches high. This really strengthens the plants. And before I even start, I sterilize all my trays, etc. because I reuse them for years.

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That’s pretty well it and then it is as Garry Edwards of Meadowview Gardens says “You might as well forget it if they dry out. Seedlings do not thrive on neglect.”

P.S. Garry Edwards suggested that seed packets do not always contain correct info. He noted many instances where they were totally wrong. He also concurred that air flow is important.

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.

Caring for Your Houseplants in Winter

By Chris Freeburn, Master Gardener

For avid gardeners, winter months are a resting period with little to do but read about gardening and plan for spring. But we also need to take more care with our houseplants during this time as conditions in our homes have changed from months where windows are open and furnaces are not running.

To give your plants the best chance to stay happy and healthy, remember these four important factors.

Water

Most plants do drink less in the winter months so you can let them dry out between watering. However, plants like asparagus fern, anthurium, dracaena and ferns will still want to be kept moist. Check the soil an inch down or feel how heavy the pot is to be sure you are giving those plants enough water. Always fill your watering can and let it sit for a few hours before using. This allows the water to come to room temperature and also gives time for any chlorine or other chemicals to dissipate. Plants like jade, sansevieria, succulents and cactus will still want to be dry through the resting period.dscn6541

Temperature

Palm, croton, dieffenbachia and most tropicals prefer it warmer while ivies, wandering jew, cyclamen and jasmine like it cooler. So if you have your cyclamen in the same room as your fireplace, it might not be happy. Watch for drafts of cool air from open doors or from hot air blowing from furnaces. Many plants will suffer from this.

Light

Give your plants as much light as you can. That south window that burns everything in summer will give just enough light in the early months of the year. You may need to move some of the plants you keep in other areas to a brighter window. Plants like ferns, figs or philodendrons may want to be in that brighter spot. But be aware of how cool it is. You may have to move your plant back away from the glass

Humidity

dscn6545 (1)Most homes in winter are too dry for most houseplants and this is why we see them suffer by dropping leaves. To increase humidity, you can mist the plant, give it a shower (at room temperature – this also will dust for you!), or set in a saucer with rocks (elevate so the pot and roots are not constantly wet). Placing plants in kitchens or bathrooms where there tends to be more humidity is another idea. Plants that like it humid include ferns, palms, dieffenbachia and dracaena.

Fertilizing in the winter months when plants often rest is not recommended, however if your plant is actively growing with new sprouts, use a weak solution of water soluble fertilizer (20-20-20) once or twice a month.

It is also very important to have a good look at your houseplants on a regular basis. Besides removing spent leaves or flowers, watch for chewed leaves, spidery webs, or wet patches on leaves which can indicate pests. If you spot something, isolate the plant to avoid the pest migrating to the rest of your collection. Pick off the infested leaves, give the plant a good shower or gently wash the leaves with water or safers soap and get a good insecticide. Take your sick plant to the bath tub for a good spray. Remember to spray the soil as well as the plant as many pests lay their eggs in the soil. You can also use plant pest strips. These work very well for fungus gnats and other flying pests.

With a little attention and care over these stressful months, you can keep you houseplants happy and healthy and ready for the next season.