Ode to the Clematophile!

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

I can not claim to be a clematophile (Clematis expert) but I do like Clematis!   Clematis are wonderful perennial flowering plants … many grow as vines, some are more like small shrubs, some are evergreen and some are herbaceous so die back to the ground each winter.  Their flowers come as bell-like or more star-like shapes with sepals that are single or double; some are scented.  And the colours!  They range from white or yellow to pink or red to purple or blue … pale to deep and some are even striped.  Some flowers grow as large as 25 cm (10in) across!  The beautiful clematis blooms are followed by eye-catching fuzzy seed heads.  There are lots of choices in the genus Clematis.

Clematis seed head

Clematis grow in zones ranging from 3-11.  If you are not sure which zone you are in, check here.   Choose a plant from a reputable dealer.  Look for those that have strong stems and are at least 2 years old so that their root structure is well developed.  Most Clematis prefer sun or part shade but like their roots kept cool so mulch or plant another perennial close by to shade the roots.  Plant your Clematis in moist but well drained soil with lots of well-rotted, organic matter (eg. finished compost) added.  Plant the ripened stem (brown, no longer green) about 16 cm (6 in) below the final soil level.  Clematis prefer neutral to slightly alkaline soil.  All new plants need to be watered regularly until they are established and during dry conditions.  Fertilize with an all purpose organic fertilizer monthly but stop when flower buds are ready to bloom in order to prolong bloom time.  You may start fertilizing again after flowering has ended but stop feeding in late summer early autumn.

Clematis on trellis

Pruning your Clematis for the best blooms may seem complicated.  The confusing part for me was that some references refer to groups 1,2,3 and others use group A, B, C  while others will use the species names.  What is important is knowing what you have and then you can determine how to prune.  Read your plant label for pruning directions or if you do not know which Clematis you have:

When does your Clematis flower?

  1. *flowers on old (previous year) wood in early to late spring, early summer.
    *does not need regular pruning – prune to remove damaged stems or to keep your plant tidy and growing within it’s allocated space.  Prune after the flowering period has ended.
  2. *flowers  early on old (previous year) wood and again in late summer on new current year’s growth. 
    *prune to remove damaged or weak stems and the early flower shoots (encourages the second period of flowering) immediately after the early flowering period.
  3. * flowers on current year’s growth in mid to late summer. 
    * prune back all of the previous year’s stems to the lowest pair of live buds in  early spring.
Clematis growing through shrub, author’s garden

Clematis may suffer from snails, slugs, aphids or mildew.  Clematis wilt is a fungal disease that may result in the sudden collapse of a previously healthy plant.  Cut back affected part of the plant, even right to the ground if necessary, if fungus wilt occurs.  I have to say that I have only ever experienced the odd slug-chewed clematis leaf in my garden just east of Peterborough.

Clematis will grow on a trellis and in a container, through the branches of another shrub or even up into trees.  It may be used as a ground cover and the shrub types look great in the perennial border.  Clematis flowers are lovely and will attract pollinators and provide them with pollen and nectar.

Read plant labels, talk to garden nursery staff  and other gardeners in your area and/or google to ensure that you purchase the clematis that is right for you.  We may not all become clematophiles but we can still have some of these wonderful plants in our gardens!

For more information check out:

Clearview Horticultural Products – Clematis and Vine Guide

International Clematis Society

Timber Press Pocket Guide to Clematis by Mary Toomey with Everett Leeds and Charles Chesshire, ISBN-13:978-0-88192-814-3

Clematis ‘Stand by Me’, bush type, author’s garden

Joys of Nature and Spring Garden Tasks

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener

April 22nd was Earth Day.  It is a time for reflection on what we can do to help develop a new approach to conservation and it can all start in our own yard. As we experience what we all hope will be our last full shutdown, we need to remain optimistic in the growing interest in gardening with natives and the number of younger people who are learning to grow their own vegetables.  Douglas Tallamy, author of Nature’s Best Hope, writes that as homeowners, we need to “turn our yards into conservation corridors that provide wildlife habitats”.

Spring is a time of renewal.  To help us get through the stressful days of this lockdown, a walk outdoors will help you experience the joys of nature and all it has to offer! 

I have created two lists.  The first is ‘Joys of Nature’ that you will encounter this time of year.  The second is ‘Garden Tasks’ to tackle over the next few weeks.

JOYS OF NATURE

Hepatica image compliments of Joan Harding, Peterborough MG
  • My garden makes me smile this time of year with all the blooming Daffodils (Narcissus), Hyacinths, Hellebores and even Lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis). 
  • Local ponds are alive with the sounds of the spring peepers and the chorus frogs.  If you take a walk and come across a wetland, you will be amazed at the sound.
  • Many of the migrating birds and waterfowl have returned.  My feeders are being well used by the yellow finches, grackles, house finches and mourning doves.  If you enjoy the hummingbirds, don’t forget to get your feeders out now.  They will soon be back!
  • A walk through the woods will reveal the beauty of the spring ephemerals.  Ephemerals are short-lived spring flowers that take advantage of the sunshine before the trees get their leaves.  I have seen bloodroot, hepatica, coltsfoot and the beginnings of the trilliums and the dog-toothed violets.
  • If you are out digging in your garden, don’t be surprised if a robin will follow you around in the hopes you might throw him a much sought-after worm.  Robins are already nesting so the female is likely to be at the nest site.
  • Watch for early butterflies such as the Mourning Cloaks, Eastern Comma and the Spring Azure.
  • In early May, you should begin to see the white blossoms of serviceberries and the beginnings of the lilacs and the cherry blossoms.

Get outdoors, take a deep breath and walk slowly through a local park or wooded area and enjoy many of the items mentioned above.  Do it now before the return of the blackflies and mosquitoes!!

If you are interested in a sample of simple nature events in the Kawarthas, Drew Monkman, a retired teacher and well known environmentalist and advocate for climate control, has written this monthly almanac: https://www.drewmonkman.com/sample-page/monthly-almanacs/

SPRING GARDEN TASKS

Author’s Spring Garden… Hyacinths, Bloodroot and Daffodils
  • Only rake your lawn if walking on it leaves NO footprint.  The time to overseed your lawn is generally when the lilacs are in bloom.
  • Now is the time to top dress a generous amount of compost and other organic material into your garden beds.  Let the earthworms do the work.  I do not suggest that you rototill your garden as this disturbs the beneficial life in the soil.  Bacteria, mycorrhiza and insects are damaged, sometimes beyond repair, with rototilling.
  • Prune overgrown vines and shrubs such as some hydrangea and some of the clematis; basically all the shrubs and vines that do not bloom in spring.  Do not prune lilacs as they bloom on last year’s growth.
  • Gradually remove protection on rose bushes and prune down to a swollen bud.  Remove dead, diseased and crossing branches.
  • If you haven’t already, now is the time to sow frost tolerant veggies such as peas, carrots, spinach, lettuce, beets, kale and radishes directly into the garden.
  • Divide and transplant perennials as growth resumes.
  • Now is a good time to think about planting shrubs and trees.  Maybe you would like to replace an old shrub with something native, such as Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa), Eastern snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) or Gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa)
  • Be sure to have your rain barrels set-up and ready to collect that wonderful spring rain.
  • Keep your bird baths filled and cleaned.
  • If you have been growing tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and annual flowers indoors, early May is the time to begin to harden off those young seedlings.
  • The soil is still quite soft, so now is a good time to edge your garden beds as well as start to pull all those weeds that seem to survive no matter what the weather.

    Get out in your gardens, enjoy the warmer temperatures and don’t forget to get your knees dirty!

In Praise of Spring Bulbs

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

Spring bulbs are one of the most rewarding of garden plants. For very little maintenance, they show off their grandeur year after year while announcing the arrival of spring and a strengthening and more powerful sun.

“The more, the merrier” is my motto when it comes to bulbs. From snowdrops to crocus to daffodils to hyacinths to tulips, they all provide a show in the garden for very little effort, and they chase away the late winter browns. You likely have more room for bulbs than you think because you can plant them underneath perennials and shrubs that will hide the bulb foliage while it is dying down in late spring.

Spring bulbs are planted in between September and frozen ground during the year previous, and they spend the winter underground preparing for their showtime when the snow fades away. You’ll find bulbs of all types for sale in that timeframe at your local nursery centre, in supermarkets and in big box stores.

The secret to being able to plant more bulbs each year in the fall is to know what you have growing already and where. This spring: take pictures and more pictures so that you know where these reliable soldiers are and you can then avoid shoveling into an existing clump this summer.

Pictures are also helpful when it comes time to divide those happy but oversized clumps of bulbs. When the flowers begin to decrease, it’s time to divide and replant. The best time to do this is when the foliage has browned in late spring. Dig up the clumps, being careful to dig deep enough so as to not slice them into pieces by mistake. Replant a few immediately and store the rest in a dry place until the fall.

An alternative to pictures is to come up with a “bulb marking system” — I use green metal miniblinds to mark my bulbs. Unfortunately, the miniblinds do travel sometimes so I need to reinstate them in the spring if that has happened. The markers are a visual reminder that although it appears later in the summer that a particular location is bare, it is not and you’ll avoid having to replant those spring beauties.

If you purchased forced bulbs in the supermarket in February (like paperwhites, daffodils or tulips), these can be planted out into the garden that same year. After the greenery has died back, store them in a dry place until the fall and then plant them with other purchased bulbs.

For autumn planting: Choose the site for your new bulbs and prepare the area with compost and bone or blood meal. I usually plant 5 or 6 in a group initially for tulips, daffodils and smaller bulbs like crocus.

If squirrels and chipmunks are bothering your tulips after planting, try cutouts of 1″ chicken wire planted into the soil just above the bulbs. The bulbs will happily grow through the mesh next spring but the critters can’t dig past the wire mesh.

If squirrels are bothering your tulips in the spring, try daffodils instead. You could also try planting allium bulbs with your tulips as they emit an odour that the critters do not like. Other suggestions are some raw onions cut up and scattered around the bulbs or tall chicken wire cylinders, even if they are unsightly. Might be worth a try.

Lastly, you may also choose to embark on a squirrel-feeding program during bloom time to discourage the striped and bushy-tailed rodents from munching on your blooms in favour of yummy peanuts. Be aware, though, that this may actually encourage more squirrels to your buffet!

The importance of stretching when gardening

Make sure you warm up and stretch like you would for other activities!

By Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

(Disclaimer – The information provided is for general educational purposes only and not intended as medical advice; please discuss your personal situation with a medical professional)

The last time I was at my physiotherapist she said that more than half the cases she sees in April and May are related to gardening and sports injuries. People rush into doing things too quickly and most injuries could have been avoided by simply stretching properly to warm the body up.

“The secret to a healthy garden is a healthy gardener.”

Canadian Physiotherapy Association

Gardening is wonderful for your physical, mental, and emotional health, but if you don’t take care to stretch your body before spending time crouching, bending, and pulling weeds, you’ll end up feeling stiff and sore or potentially injuring yourself. This is especially important at the beginning of the season when we’ve been less active over winter but are overly enthusiastic to get into our gardens and complete all our spring tasks.

A stretching routine before and after gardening helps to minimize muscle imbalances, prevent injury, and improve your ability to garden for longer periods.

A warm up and stretches are critical to avoiding injury, particularly as we get older.

First, take a walk around your garden (or around the block) for 5 to 10 minutes to warm up your large muscle groups. The best stretches prior to gardening are dynamic stretches because they prepare your muscles for the repetitive movements required with gardening. After you finish gardening static stretches are better to improve your overall flexibility. Read more here.

This warm up will raise your heart rate and body temperature, as well as giving you an opportunity to assess your gardening situation and think about your plan for tackling the tasks ahead.

Yawning and stretching at the same time – cats are multitaskers!
(the cat stretch is great for your back as well) #gratuitouscatphoto

An excellent resource is this Michigan State University Rehabilitation Department page. Don’t let the name fool you – these recommendations and terrific embedded videos, as well as the brochure show you how to avoid having to pay them a visit!!

Source: Michigan State University Rehabilitation (https://rehab.msu.edu/media/tips/Gardening_Brochure.pdf)

Here’s some of the key videos:

MSU Gardening Warmup – Upper Extremities

MSU Gardening Functional Five

MSU Gardening Cool Down

And one more from the Marshfield Clinic Health System

Cindy Haynes of the Iowa State University Department of Horticulture has some great advice on preparing your body for the gardening season ahead. Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor at the University of Vermont’s Extension Department of Plant and Soil Science lists a number of stretches in this article.

The SouthEast Wisconsin Master Gardeners teamed up with the University of Wisconsin – Extension department to create this informative body mechanics brochure which includes both stretches and tips for various activities like bending, lifting, and turning.

If you suffer from arthritis, this publication by the U.S. National AgrAbility Project called Arthritis and Gardening contains information about arthritis, how it affects gardening activities, and things you can do to minimize its effects.

A few final words from my own experience:

  • Make sure you always have enough water with you and drink plenty of it, particularly in the summer months. Dehydration can impede your body function and lead to aches and pains. Read more detail here.
  • While doing repetitive activities, limit any one to 20 minutes, then take a 5 minute break and stretch. Then your next activity should not involve the same muscle group. So weed for 20 minutes, stretch, then rake for 20 minutes.
  • After a busy day gardening and completing some static stretches, a warm bath with Epsom salts does the body a lot of good.

Gardening is a great activity for maintaining and improving your body’s range of motion, bone density and muscle strength, and joint flexibility, not to mention the benefits of reducing stress and anxiety, which we are all dealing with during this pandemic.

At Sergeant Phil Esterhaus used to say on the TV show Hill Street Blues “Let’s be careful out there”.

Let Us Praise Famous Oaks

By Laura Gardner, Master Gardener in Training

Ed: This post was released in error on March 22. Apologies if you’ve already read it — perhaps you can glean something from it upon second reading as well?

Quercus macrocarpa (bur oak) in Centennial Park, Peterborough, ON.

There are a pair of Quercus macrocarpa (bur oak) trees in a park near my house in Peterborough and I often look at them in awe. I estimate that these trees are between 100 and 150 years old. What is amazing is that they could live another 150 years. If they receive enough sunlight and moisture and their roots are undisturbed, this lifespan is possible. Sadly, most trees planted in cities are not long-lived due to stresses like heat, drought, road salt, compacted soil and interference by sewer or other utility lines. For these reasons, backyards tend to be the better locations for trees in urban environments. If you are planning to plant a tree on your property this year, Douglas W. Tallamy’s latest book, The Nature of Oaks: the Rich Ecology of Our Most Essential Native Trees, published by Timber Press, will make you seriously consider an oak tree.

Tallamy, an entomologist who researches the relationships between insects and plants, is well known for his other books that seek to change the way we garden by encouraging us to incorporate more native plants. His latest book honours the oak tree and provides a month-to-month chronicle of the life of one on his property.  While small at 200 pages, the book has many interesting and informative anecdotes about the types of insects, birds, mammals, fungi, and micro-organisms that live in, on, and around these trees. Tallamy aims to instill in us an interest in these great trees and to recognize their important role within the food web.

What makes oak trees so special? In addition to moderating the climate, reducing pollution, producing oxygen, and storing carbon from the atmosphere, they have an enormous impact on the lives of other species. Within our ecosystem, oaks support more life than any other North American tree genus (p. 12) and they are considered a “keystone species.” A “keystone species” is one that produces food that supports a broad range of life forms. Over the course of its lifetime, an oak can produce over 3,000,000 acorns. Other trees such as birch, cherry, hickory, pine, maple, and willow are also “keystone” species (p. 39) but they are not as supportive as oaks. In his research, Tallamy measured the degree of this support by counting the number of moth and butterfly species that live, feed, and reproduce on different trees. The Lepidoptera Index places oaks at the top of the list at 532 species of moths and butterflies. One of the reasons as to why they support so many species is because they grow in a wide range of ecological zones (p. 41). Most species near the bottom of the list are non-native trees and shrubs. Most of our native insects and animals have not fully adapted or evolved to non-native plants or are only adapted to a small number of plants—referred to as host plant specialization (p. 37). Certain birds, like the black-capped chickadee need between 6,000 and 9,000 caterpillars to raise one clutch of young. Filling bird feeders with seed can be beneficial for them, but planting trees are necessary as up to 50% of their diet consists of insects (p. 34).

There are a number of unique and fascinating attributes of oaks that are explored in the book. Masting is a survival adaptation that occurs periodically in oaks where they produce many acorns. Since animals cannot eat them all, this allows more trees to grow (p. 18). Masting occurs on different cycles for both white and red oaks and this ensures food is consistently available for animals (p. 120). Many oaks retain their dead leaves through the fall and winter. Marcescence is thought to be a defence mechanism that deters animals from eating the tender buds (pp. 27-28).  Concerning acorn production, as an oak tree has both male and female flowers, a few can self-pollinate and grow acorns. However, for optimum production, an oak tree must be planted with another of its own species or be in close proximity to another of its own species for pollination (by wind) to occur (from either the “red oak” or the “white oak” group).

Marcescent Quercus rubra (northern red oak) along Heritage Trail, Peterborough, ON

Tallamy also provides us with some tree planting advice and seeks to dispel some of the myths around planting oaks. His first choice would be for us to plant an acorn in the fall but the next best choice would be to plant a bareroot whip in the spring. A bareroot whip is a pruned dormant tree that is only a few feet tall. It should be planted in the spring so it can break its dormancy naturally. Overall, he recommends purchasing the youngest tree available because it will have a better chance of survival than a larger tree. Larger trees often have damaged roots at planting and have a 50% chance of dying in the first few years after transplant. (p. 47)

While some oak species grow to great heights and widths, they do grow relatively slowly, and most people will not live to see their tree at its peak. Some may be concerned about its root system, but they extend deeply into the ground and tend not to interfere with driveways or sidewalks like some other species. Tallamy recommends planting two or three trees spaced 10 feet apart—in a grove. This may seem too close, but it is true to their nature in the wild. The trees’ roots will also bind together and the resulting strength of them will be able to withstand extreme weather and lessen the chances of damaging property.

For those with smaller lots, it may not be practical to plant more than one oak, let alone a larger species like Quercus alba (white oak) or Quercus macrocarpa (bur oak). There are several smaller oak species that may suit. Of these, two are native to the Carolinian zone of Southwestern Ontario: Quercus prinoides (dwarf chinquapin oak) and Quercus ilicifolia (bear oak) and one from the US Northeast: Quercus marilandica (blackJack oak). While the soils of the Carolinian zone are drier and sandier, these trees can be adaptable to other soil conditions. Nutcracker Nursery in Maskinonge, Quebec specializes in growing these hard-to-find oaks and they ship bareroot stock. The stock is grown in cooler zone 4B and in clay-loam soils. Peterborough GreenUp advises that while it is preferable that trees be selected from within their native eco-zone, climate change is making it more possible for us to consider some species from outside. Selecting a site that is shielded from winter winds is recommended.

Since an oak is a shade tree, there may be concerns about what can be grown beneath them but there are many plants that are suitable for the understory. Tallamy makes recommendations that are more suited to US states but I will suggest some possible plants suited to our area: Asarum canadense (wild ginger), Polygonatum biflorum (smooth solomon’s seal), Aquilegia canadensis (eastern red columbine), Ceanothus americanus (New Jersey tea), and Amelanchier alnifolia (Saskatoon serviceberry), just to name a few.

This little book is not only fascinating to read, it is inspiring. When the declining non-native Acer platanoides (Norway maple) is eventually removed from my yard, I am going to see about replacing it with a native oak “keystone species.”

Other Resources

Nutcracker Nursery and Tree Farm

Peterborough GreenUp. Choosing the Right Tree in Peterborough, Ontario

Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. Lepidoptera Index, June 2017

Tree Atlas of Ontario

Nativars and Pollinators

By Lois Scott, Master Gardener

The term “nativar”, while not a scientific term, is being used to describe native plants that have been cultivated by horticulturalists.  So, what exactly is a cultivated plant or cultivar?  A cultivar is a plant that has been bred for specific characteristics such as improved growth habit, specific leaf colour, flower colour, or disease resistance to list a few examples.  Many cultivars are sterile, meaning they do not produce seeds or if they do produce seed, the seed will likely not produce a plant identical to the parent plant. 

The way to identify a cultivar of a native plant or “nativar”, is by looking at the plant name.  If you check out the photos of plant tags, you will see one for the straight species native plant (not a cultivar) that gives both the common name, False Indigo and the scientific name, Baptisia australis.  The other tag is for a Baptisia cultivar named ‘Cherries Jubilee’.  ‘Cherries Jubilee’ is the cultivar name.  The cultivar name is usually in single quotation marks.

There are a number of very important reasons to plant straight species native plants in our gardens including the support of pollinators.  The question is, do native cultivars support pollinators in the same way? 

Annie White, a researcher at the University of Vermont has found “that changing flower size, colour or shape changed the availability and/or quality of pollen and nectar offered by the flower which negatively impacted pollinators” and “the more manipulated the cultivars became, the less attractive they became to pollinators”.  To read more about Annie’s research and results check out this link.  https://pollinatorgardens.org/2013/02/08/my-research/

If you are looking for pollinator-friendly native plants that are not cultivars check out nurseries that specialize in native plants such as Peterborough’s Ecology Park.  https://www.greenup.on.ca/ecology-park/  

When at the garden centre, you will now know how to distinguish a straight species such as Echinacea purpurea (purple coneflower) from an Echinacea cultivar like Echinacea purpurea ‘Razzmatazz’.

Don’t Spring into Spring Clean-Up just Yet

By Anica James, Master Gardener in Training

Spring is finally here, a time for new beginnings. The days are getting longer, birds are singing their hearts out and the snow has melted for the most part, but it’s still too soon to do any kind of clean up in your yard. It may be tempting to get out the rake or leaf blower just because it’s sunny and leaf bags are on sale at your local box store, but we need to hold off just yet for the sake of helping other creatures and pollinator species who are still asleep.

Although we are all anxiously waking up from our own personal winter hibernation–whether it be mental or physical–many creatures around us are still sound asleep in the leaf litter or below the mulch and we should not disturb them just yet. When you clean up your yard too soon, all for the sake of aesthetics or curb appeal, you are essentially removing all of the beneficial insects in your vicinity, like those responsible for making your flowers bloom or for your fruit and vegetable plants to produce food.

Some beneficial pollinators overwinter in the hollow stalks of perennials and under rocks. Examples of insects local to us that are still in diapause state are butterflies (like Mourning Cloaks or Question Marks), lacewings, ladybugs, mason bees and parasitic wasps, which all spend the winter either as pupae or adults hidden away in your yard. Even Luna moths and black swallowtails spend the winter months in cocoons or pupa that look just like a crumpled brown leaf, so be on the lookout for those.

It is best to wait until the temperature is consistently 10 degrees Celsius before you start raking leaves, turning soil, or using a leaf blower. Personally, I like to play it safe with the 10 For 10 rule: 10 degrees for 10 days. This allows nature to take its course and it allows me to have enough time to observe my property and familiarize myself with the various kinds of flora and fauna that emerge post-winter.

If you do decide you feel so inclined to “tidy up” this early, do it with purpose and be mindful of the sleeping and living creatures that are still hidden away. Take your time, look for any signs of beneficial insect stages and either take note and leave it for a later date, or carefully cut and set it aside in a natural area so solitary bees and others insects can still use the refuse for food or shelter. Refrain from adding more mulch because it can trap certain kinds of beneficial bees, beetles and flies that burrow in the ground (almost 70% of Canada’s bee species nest underground). For more information on how to properly “clean up” your yard read Nesting and Overwintering Habitat for Pollinators and Other Beneficial Insects PDF by the Xerces Society.

But again, the best thing to do is wait and to try to remove as little from your property as possible.

So in the meantime, what can you be doing instead of gardening?

  • Get outside, go for walks, enjoy the little things; notice the bulbs emerging naturally and gracefully from the cool earth, poking their way through the leaf litter- now is the time to enjoy the scilla, crocus, pushkinia, galanthus and helleborus
  • Continue to sow vegetable and annual seeds indoors and plan your garden; what are your goals for this year, however big or small?
  • Early spring is the best time of year to be on the lookout for invasive pests and plant species and begin to develop an Integrated Pest Management plan; gypsy moths, garlic mustard, european buckthorn, and goutweed are commonly found throughout the Peterborough area
  • Focus on spring cleaning your tools, your patio furniture, tidying your deck, potting bench or shed; put more focus into the inanimate things
  • Celebrate the beginning of spring by honouring the maple tree, it’s delicious sap and syrup, and the work that goes into providing us all with natural liquid sugar; maybe consider ordering a maple for your own yard
  • Repot indoor plants if needed
  • Read up on and think about ways you can increase pollinator habitat on your property or within your community, no matter the scale

There is so much that you can do while resisting the urge to rake or blow. Relax, enjoy the much needed sunshine that the vernal equinox has brought us after the long winter and try to go at the same pace nature is. Patience will pay off in the long run once you remember that gardening isn’t just about plants.

Great resources for more information about pollinators that spend the winters in our gardens and why we should hold off until mid-April to start yard work:

Permaculture: Use of Zones

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

I have often heard permaculture referred to as ‘common sense’ gardening and their usage of ‘zones’ as one of their design principles is no exception. However, I have to admit up front that when I designed my previous garden, I had not heard of permaculture and was also unfortunately also lacking in common sense that day! What did I do that would ultimately cause me so much grief over the next 15 years?

We had just over 1 acre and the house was located towards the back of the property, so I decided to place the shed, vegetable garden, herb garden, nursery and greenhouse at the very front of the property. The result was that was pretty well everything that I needed to garden daily was all located as far away from the house as possible.

Shed way at the bottom of the garden
Closer look at shed

At the time I thought I had a good reason for this, keeping the children and pets close to the house. But ultimately when I needed the pruners to prune the hedge at the back of the garden, or I needed some herbs for the supper I was in the middle of cooking, or I was harvesting or watering, I ultimately came to regret my poor planning choice. So, a few years later when it came to finding a location for the chickens, by then I had attended a couple of permaculture courses, and I placed them as close to the house as possible. A location that while waking me up in the morning, ultimately made me pat myself on the back every day in the winter just before putting on all my winter gear to take out their food and water.

Zoning is a permaculture design tool that allows you to design your landscape according to usage and attention required. It is not limited to home gardens, and can be used on almost anything from a large farm to a kitchen design. By designing your garden using zones, you take into account the usefulness or frequency of each element in your garden, and place those elements closer to your location, which is your house. So something that you use daily, such as a herb garden, would be placed closest to the house, along with pots of annuals which require frequent watering and dead-heading. Using the same principle, fruit trees or a meadow garden requiring less maintenance would be placed further away from the house.

Zones are numbered from 0 through to 5, where 0 is the location of the house, and will be different in everyone’s garden. They are typically shaped by topography, soil type, placement of the sun, and the homeowner’s requirements. So while they are often shown in diagrams and books as either exact circles or half circles, they are more flexible often merging into one another.

Most permaculture books describe the following zones:

0 – Home
1 – Areas closest to your house that requires the most attention, harvesting, weeding, dead-heading, herb and vegetable garden
2 – Less intensively managed areas
3 – Fruit and nut trees, twice weekly maintenance
4 – Wild foods and timber, weekly maintenance
5 – Natural area

But again, these zones can be changed according to your requirements.

To start designing using zones, you need to look at each element in your garden according to how often you use the element or how often you need to care for the element. Zones are created based on relationships, our relationship to our garden, and how different elements in our garden connect with each other. It is best to start with elements closest to your house and work outward.

As an example, I have perennial flower beds in the front of my house and also in the back. The beds in the front are full to partial shade, heavily composted with leaves and packed with large leaved plants. I get very few weeds in the front beds and also do very little deadheading. The beds in the back meanwhile are full sun, plants are not placed as close together, they typically need more dead heading, and while they are also heavily mulched with leaves, the leaves typically only last until mid June. My front beds are in zone 3 and the beds in my back garden are in zone 2. Zone 1 in my garden is for annuals and vegetables in pots and hanging baskets surrounding the house that have to be watered frequently.

Permaculture zones are a tool that can be used when designing your garden to make your life easier. In the book Gaia’s Garden, A Guide to Home-scale Permaculture by Toby Hemingway, the author includes a quote from Bill Mollison, the co-founder of Permaculture, offering guidance for where to plant a herb garden.

“When you get up in the morning and the dew is on the ground, put on your woolly bathrobe and your fuzzy slippers. Then walk outside to cut some chives and other herbs for your omelet. When you get back inside, if your slippers are wet, your herbs are too far away.”

And Sow it Begins

By Marilyn Homewood, Master Gardener in Training

The season has begun! Canada Post has delivered seeds for this intrepid gardener to coax into cutting garden participants by providing the right conditions for survival and growth. In order to germinate, seeds need water, oxygen and warmth.  Some like foxglove have additional requirements such as light.  Once sown, seeds soak up water to soften their outer coat (“imbibition”) and then begin to metabolize stored food reserves.  A seedling soon appears.  At my house, seeds are germinated in a warm room and then moved to the sunroom where it is cooler and brighter.  My growing set up consists of a metal cart (two main levels) with adjustable grow lights hanging above the bottom shelf.  When space runs out on the cart, the tables in the sunroom are enlisted. To brush up on seed starting essentials check out the articles in the resources list.

Tips that have come in handy for me are highlighted below:

Online seed starting calculators.  I wish I had known about this before I calculated all my dates this year! Based on your last frost date, the calculator gives you the date to sow your seeds as well as an approximate date for transplanting seedlings outside. 

Sowing tiny seeds:  Gadgets don’t work for me.  This year I discovered pelleted foxglove seed and loved it.  Not only does the pellet make it large enough to handle easily, it is coloured so you can see it on the soil. For non-pelleted tiny seeds, I use a moistened toothpick to pick the seed up from a dish and drop into the plug tray. 

Vermiculite:  Once seeds are sown, covering the tops with vermiculite prevents the formation of a hard crust.  Tiny seeds such as snapdragons and foxglove get barely covered with a fine dusting.

Cold Germinators:  These are hard to start seeds like dara and bupleurum. Some annual varieties fall into this category. Put these seeds into the freezer to stratify for a few weeks. Try to not to forget where you put them.

Consistent Warm Temperature:  Most plants will germinate around 70F.  Bottom heat from a propagation mat can provide faster and more even germination.

Bottom Watering:  Using plug trays or cell packs in trays allows you to water from the bottom. Water wicks up from below reducing incidence of fungal disease and preventing tiny seeds from washing away. Option 2 – use a turkey baster to water small seedlings.  Time consuming but precise.

Supplemental Lighting:  Seedlings need 14-16 hours of good light to develop strong, stalky stems.  Even in the brightest room, the daylength is too short early in the season (February/March).

Succession Planting:  This involves sowing in batches, successively, every few weeks. This spreads out the flowering window and provides blooms over the season. 

Resources:

www.johnnyseeds.com/growers-library/flowers/succession-planting-flowers-planning-frequency-recordkeeping-tips.html

www.finegardening.com/article/10-seed-starting-tips

www.floretflowers.com/resources/seed-starting-101

www.johnnyseeds.com/growers-library/flowers/succession-planting-flowers-planning-frequency-recordkeeping-tips.html

YouTube Video: Indoor Grow Lights — $ vs $$$ comparison

“It’s not about what it is, it’s about what it can become”  
Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

Seeds

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

The excitement is building!  We have been dreaming while looking at seed catalogues.  Some have placed their orders and may have even received some product.  But, did you know that there are local events where you can purchase seeds from local growers and/or swap seeds with people who have  their own seeds saved from plants that they grew?  These events are often called “Seedy Saturday” or “Seedy Sunday”.   

The first Seedy Saturday event was held at the VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1990.  Sharon Rempel had been trying to track down  flower and vegetable seeds for a heritage garden that she was trying to create at a museum in Keremeos, British Columbia.  She could only find what she needed at a Seed Foundation in Washington State.  Sharon wanted to bring together people who were interested in collecting and sharing seeds in British Columbia.  Sharon’s idea, of collecting and sharing seeds, has since become very popular across Canada.

Why are local seeds something to care about?  Seeds produced by locally grown crops/vegetables, flowers and trees, have been produced by plants that successfully grew under local growing conditions.  When we limit the variation in the plants we grow, we lose biodiversity.  Biodiversity is so important because  it ensures that there is genetic diversity which means that the plants have the traits necessary for local growing conditions.  Local seed production can result in new varieties of plants that are more resistant to disease and local pests and better able to adapt to local soils and environmental conditions.  With enough variation in a group, there will always be individuals that can survive changing conditions…..so necessary in today’s world.

Local seeds are often heirloom, or heritage and openly pollinated which means that if you save seeds from these plants, they will grow true to the parent plant.  The other big bonus is that vegetables, grown from these seeds, are often tastier and more nutritious.  For more information, see this Mother Earth News article HERE.

So, back to your local Seedy Saturday or Seedy Sunday….these events are fun!  There is great excitement and bustle as attendees talk about what seeds they have to swap and as they look at the seeds offered by various local vendors.  Workshops and “Ask the Expert – Q & A” are often offered.  Sometimes there is even something to get your really young gardeners off to a good start eg. growing sunflowers.  This year I hope to track down musk melon seeds that will be sweet and ripen quickly in my area.  My grandmother used to grow the best musk melons ever!

This year, Covid 19 remains something that we have to contend with….many Seedy Saturdays and Seedy Sundays have gone virtual!  Check out Seeds of Diversity  HERE for an event near you.  The Peterborough Seedy Sunday is on March 14.  Check out their Facebook page HERE for more details.

If you have not checked out a Seedy Saturday or Seedy Sunday before, have a look virtually this year.  You might discover a delicious new-to-you variety of your favourite vegetable or learn something amazing at a workshop!

Additional Resources

Bringing Nature Home by Douglas W. Tallamy, 10th printing 2016, ISBN 13-978-0-88192-992-8 – information on biodiversity

Seeds of Diversity, https://seeds.ca/sw8/web/home – seed saving resources, pollinators, biodiversity and more

Peterborough, ON, Canada