Bringing in Your Tropicals for Their Annual Winter Spa Treatment

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

Note: The article was also published recently in the Peterborough Horticultural Society September 2021 newsletter. Apologies to PHS members who have already enjoyed it!

If your houseplants are on “vacation” on the back deck this summer, then at around this time you should think about getting them ready to move back inside for the winter.

Bring your houseplants indoors before night time temperatures dip below 7 or 8 degrees (C).  Most tropicals will suffer damage at temperatures below 5 degrees, a few even below 10 degrees.

Sudden changes in temperature, light, and humidity can be traumatic to plants, resulting in yellowed leaves, dieback, wilting, and even death. To prevent shock when you bring houseplants back indoors, expose plants gradually to reduced lighting.

Before moving day, inspect plants for insects and diseases, and treat as appropriate before bringing plants back inside.  Spray them a couple of times over a 2 week period with a mild soap and water mix so that you don’t bring bugs from outdoors in with your plants.  Alternatively, soaking the pot in a tub of lukewarm soapy water for about 15 minutes will force insects out of the soil. Allow the plant and pot to dry completely afterwards.  If snails, earthworms, or other insects burrowed in the soil, you might want to repot the plants, placing a piece of wire screening over the drainage hole to keep them out next year.

Personal anecdote:  A couple of years ago, I brought a large cactus planter inside without inspections or the soaking method. The next day, we found a curious “deposit” left behind by some unknown critter on our kitchen floor and we kinda freaked out.  We set live traps in the house and were on high alert for a chipmunk or squirrel or even something huge with big teeth that could drag us out of bed by the big toe.  It was a little bit traumatic.  A day or so later, my son found a large toad in the living room and we connected the dots.  Turns out that toads leave very large deposits for their body size (Google it!) and closer inspection of the cactus planter showed an open hibernation hole. Whew!

Moral of the story? Check your plant pots for toads too!

Toad ‘deposit’

Toad — they’re looking for prime hibernation locations at this time of year.

The Late Summer/Fall Garden

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

Your once showy, spectacular plants have finished blooming and their foliage may have withered.  Do not despair, the late summer/fall garden can still be something to behold as well as feeding the pollinators and other wildlife!

Annuals

Plants that grow, bloom, go to seed then die all in one season are annuals.  Annuals may be used to add some much needed colour at the end of our summer season.  Zinnia, Petunia, annual sunflower (Helianthus annuus) and Cosmos are easy to source and grow.  The ornamental kales and cabbages are dramatic plants that will look good in your pots or your garden.

Zinnia various — author’s garden

Shrubs

Hydrangea – I am referring to the panicle (H. paniculata) and smooth hydrangeas (H. arborescens) that bloom on new wood and may be pruned in late winter or very early spring.  This is a plant that steals the show in late summer, fall and even into winter.  They produce large, pink, white or pink/white poufy blooms.  The blooms may be dried for inside décor or left on the plant outside for winter interest. 

Witch hazel – Hamamelis virginiana is a native that blooms with interesting, spidery petaled, yellow flowers in the fall.  This plant will attract birds to your garden.

Perennials

Plants that grow, bloom and produce seed but do not die after just one season … some are short lived but some live for many years.  There are lots of perennials that bloom in late summer and fall.  Many, like the native Aster species and golden rod (Solidago species) provide food for wildlife including the pollinators.

Echinacea purpurea — author’s garden

Some others in my garden include:

Phlox – There are lots of P. paniculata cultivars that bloom in the fall.  This plant comes in a myriad of colours.  Do not confuse this plant with the mid-summer/August blooming dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) which can be quite invasive.  Phlox flowers have five petals and dame’s rocket have four.

Black eyed susan – Bright, happy native plants and cultivars (Rudbeckia species) that may be annual, biennial (germinate in spring of first growing season but do not flower and go to seed until the next growing season) or perennial.  The wild ones that we see on the Ontario road side are most often biennials. 

Bugbane – Another pretty native (Actaea species formerly Cimicifuga) that blooms in the fall.  I spent lots of time trying to get a good photo of a bumblebee on this plant’s bloom but it was too fast for me!

Anise hyssop – The bees love Agastache foeniculum.  I have mine planted along a path.  It is tall and quite dramatic when in bloom.

Antennaria — author’s garden

Plume poppy – This is the plant that everyone will ask “what is that”.  Macleaya cordata growsvery tall and has an interesting seed head and large leaves.  Beware though because it can spread through rhizomes (underground roots) and it exudes an orangey sap when pulled.  It is easy to control just by pulling the plants when small but wear gloves to avoid touching the sap…it is poisonous.

Coneflower –  Echinacea purpurea is a native plant but there are lots of colourful cultivars.   Birds eat the seeds held in the spent blooms in winter.

Hydrangea — author’s garden

Pussy toes –  The bees love this native (Atennaria species) too.  Just like it’s common name, this plant has cute little flowers that resemble the toes of a soft, white kitten.

Sedum/stonecrops – These plants are some of the toughest, hardworking plants in your garden.  They can take lots of heat and dry conditions. There are many, many to choose from … some bloom in spring and some bloom into the fall. The sometimes colorful foliage can add interest and the blooms will attract pollinators.

Sedum — author’s garden

So observe your garden, does it need some help this time of year?  Try shopping the fall sales at your local nursery.  If you can fit in some of these plants, you will have a beautiful garden full of late season blooms. 

Reaping the Flower Harvest

By Marilyn Homewood, Master Gardener

Despite a delayed start followed by early heat and drought,  seedlings did grow and flowers eventually bloomed. The biggest challenge proved to be the prolonged early drought.  Being on a dug well, I was only really prepared to water the dahlias from the well.  Luckily, I have a free running spring behind my farm.  After assembling a sufficient number of containers, I found that fetching water from the spring provided enough moisture to get plants established and supported until it rained.  I divided the bed into 4 sections and watered each on a rotating basis.    

Fetching water

The lack of water and heat made for some small blooms initially but attractive non the less.  By mid-August, I was cutting snapdragons (who proved to be the workhorses of the garden), loads of zinnias and scabiosa as well as various fillers such as dara and celosia.  Then the gladioli, sunflowers and dahlias decided to show up. Suddenly, I seemed to be doing as much deadheading as harvesting cut flowers. 

Harvesting flowers correctly and caring for them ensures a longer vase life and more enjoyment from your flowers. To keep flowers alive, you must preserve the stems’ ability to take up water after cutting.  The tubules that water moves through can become blocked either by air bubbles or by bacterial growth.  Recutting stems exposes fresh tubules to water and the use of a few drops of bleach in vase water reduces bacterial growth.

Conditioning Flowers

Key things to remember:

  • Cut the flower at the correct stage.  This varies between flower types.  Some like peonies are best cut when the bud is unopened but coloured and soft.  Conversely, zinnias must be fully open.
  • Harvest during the coolest parts of the day (early morning or dusk) when plants are well hydrated
  • Use clean, sharp clippers to prevent crushing the stems (which damages the tubules in the stem)
  • Take a clean bucket of warm water into the garden and place newly cut flowers in bucket after stripping lower leaves off
  • Allow flowers to rest (condition) in a dark, cool place prior to allow them to rehydrate
  • Use clean vases and recut stems prior to arranging
  • Change water daily and recut stems every other day
  • Homemade flower food can be helpful.  Use one teaspoon sugar and one teaspoon to bleach per litre of water
  • Keep flowers out of direct sunlight and away from ripening fruit (ethylene gas).  Both shorten bloom life

In addition to those flowers grown specifically in the cutting garden, I was able to utilize some of the plants in the landscape beds as accents for arrangements without taking away from the landscape value.  Perennials such as liatris, grass seed heads and foliage are interesting additions.  

The only thing left to do is to sit back and enjoy!!

Earth laughs in flowers.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Resources

A Year in Flowers, Erin Benakein, Chronicle Books, 2020

https://thekokorogarden.com/flower-growing-guides

https://www.thegardenersworkshop.com/how-to/lisas-tips-tricks/cut-flower-harvest-guide/

Stripey Things in the Garden

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

A couple of weeks ago, Laura Gardner posted an article in this blog about insects in our gardens in general. I’d like to follow up on that post with one specifically addressing the variety of stripey flying insects in our gardens.

Bees, wasps and hornets are often lumped into one stinging group but is important to understand the difference between bees, wasps and hornets in order to appreciate their significance in the garden.

Bees are mostly hairy, have fat legs and short fat bodies. They eat pollen and nectar, and in the process of gathering these, they pollinate flowers. Bees die after they sting. There are over 400 discovered varieties of bees in Ontario.

Honey bees at work, Pixabay.

Wasps and hornets have hairless bodies and tend to be long and sleek with a narrow between the abdomen and thorax. They are predators and for the most part they eat other insects. A hornet is a larger type of wasp with black and white rings instead of black and yellow. The most common type of wasp in Ontario is the yellow jacket, but there are three others in this region: Bald faced hornets, paper wasps and mud dauber wasps. Wasps and hornets do not die after they sting, and can sting multiple times.

Wasp, Pixabay.

For the most part, wasps are not important pollinators but they are hunters and their prey is other insects. They play an important role in protecting your plants. Wasps spend their summers seeking out aphids, flies, caterpillars and other bugs – many of them pests – to feed to their larvae. Hundreds or even thousands of larvae can be produced each year in a paper wasp hive, so they look after a lot of bugs!

How can we coexist with these scary, menacing fliers? Wasps sting when you threaten them. If you get stung it is probably your fault – it may not be intentional – but you are still to blame. If you swing at them or make sudden movements, they will feel threatened and there is a good chance you will be stung. The best way to avoid the pain is to treat bees and wasps with respect. Move calmly and deliberately, give them space to go about their business, and they will ignore you. If you do get stung, wash the area with soap and water and apply an ice-pack. You might want to take an anti-histamine tablet or use an anti-histamine lotion. If you have an extreme reaction, get to the ER fast. Otherwise, try a fresh-cut raw onion (it has enzymes that counteract the venom), anti-perspirants that contain aluminum zirconium, After-Bite, or a simple paste made from baking soda and water to ease your suffering.

Most people don’t want to have wasps living alongside them, but if you can possibly leave the nest alone, it is advisable to do so. After all, wasps are so common that even if you can’t see a nest, it’s probable there’s one nearby. The wasp colony will die when the cold weather hits. If the nest is left in place it is unlikely that wasps will build there again the following year, so you can dispose of any visible wasp nests in winter or early spring. The only wasps to over-winter are the fertilized queens which start new colonies in the spring.

Wasp nest, Pixabay.

The best way to deal with wasps is to minimize their numbers by deterring them from the area. Do not keep any food (including your pet’s) lying around. Keep drinks covered when outdoors and always ensure that garbage cans are tightly sealed. Also, keep any fallen fruits from nearby trees, shrubs and gardens picked up as their sweet juices attract the wasps.

Fake wasp nests are available to the homeowner to hang in trees near the house. Since the wasps are territorial, they will probably set up housekeeping somewhere else.

Last year, we had wasps nesting in two places under our vinyl siding. Since they were near our back door, we tried some of the sprays available but found that they weren’t effective. One day, I bravely (and quickly) put duct-tape over the nest entrances, and the problem was solved instantly. If only I’d tried that before heading to the hardware store!

If you can find a way to coexist with the majority of these insects, your gardens will thank you.

Resources:

Why Wasps are Good for Gardeners
Understanding Wasps–They are not Evil!
Bees, Wasps and Hornets: What You Need to Know
Bee Species in Canada

Ditch Lilies – a Cautionary Tale

By Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

Once upon a time there was a gardener who wanted something that grew quickly to screen a neighbour’s unsightly yard and house addition. She noticed that the ‘ditch lilies’ that surrounded her front yard tree (already there when she moved in) seemed to be pretty vigorous, so she planted a row of them between the yards, along with some small bridal wreath spirea (Spirae aprunifolia).

What she didn’t realize was that she had unleashed a horrible monster into her garden, one that quickly engulfed any other plants, sucked all the moisture out of the soil, and eventually killed most of those spirea.

Yes that gardener was me, many years ago, before I knew better and before I became a master gardener. So this year I knew I had to finally tackle the monster, remove all these plants, and reclaim this garden area. I knew how much work it would be (it took me three weekends this spring), but I got it done. Here’s my story…

Even though you see it growing in ditches around the province, Hemerocallis fulva (aka ditch lily, tawny daylily, orange daylily, tiger lily) is native to China, Japan and Korea and was introduced to North America in the early 19th century. They spread via seed and a network of tuberous roots, and can reproduce and proliferate from a small fragment left behind during removal. In 2020 the Ontario Invasive Plant Council added this plant to their invasives list, and their Grow Me Instead Guides offer some native alternatives to consider.

Screen capture from the Grow Me Instead Guide on Hemerocallis fulva

Garden bed, spring 2021

So this was my garden bed in May this year – just waiting to burst out and take over, again. Every single one of these plants had to be dug and lifted, making critically sure to get every last bulb. These photos show how many bulblets can be on just one stem – it was quite overwhelming to think of the job ahead.

All the plants that were dug out were put in black plastic garbage bags and left out in the hot sun beside our barn for a month. At last count I used 45 garbage bags, and they were a slog to carry as they were heavy!! Eventually they went to our rural dump, where the hot composting they do should ensure their demise.

Bit by bit, over three weekends, I got them all out. It was beneficial to have a dry spring, as it made digging them out a little easier. But still a workout!

Once everything was cleared out, I weeded the soil for anything else. All that remained were my tulips and a few hardy perennials that had been gasping for air for more than a decade.

Getting there.
Ready for a fresh load of soil.

With a fresh load of soil on top and a final check for bulblets done (and knowing that I would have missed a few), I put in some new plants, aiming for 50 percent native plants (those marked with a *). The area has both sun and shade spots so I needed to be careful with my choices.

For sun, Echinacea*, Gray-headed coneflower* (Ratibida pinnata), summer phlox (Phlox paniculata), American Witch Hazel* (Hamamelis virginiana), New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), Sedums, Switch grass* (Panicum virgatum), Lesser catmint (Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta), Black-eyed Susans* (Rudbeckia hirta), lupins, Giant fleeceflower (Persicaria polymorpha), Cyclindrical Blazing Star* (Liatris cylindracea)[once I can convince the bunnies to stop eating it – see green covers], and Virginia Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum).

For part shade/shade, Mourning Widow Geranium (Geranium phaeum), Purple Flowering Raspberry* (Rubus odoratus), hostas, Sensitive Fern* (Onoclea sensibilis), Virginia Waterleaf* (Hydrophyllum virginianum), Columbine (Aquilegia), Starry False Solomon’s Seal* (Maianthemum stellatum), Buttonbush* (Cephalanthus occidentalis), Zig-zag goldenrod* (Solidago flexicaulis) and Berry Bladder fern* (Cystopteris bulbifera). Also the infamous Outhouse Plant (Rudbeckia laciniata ‘Hortensia’), to be replaced with something else next year. Any suggestions for fast growing native shrubs that can handle part share welcome!

The garden bed needs time to fill in, so we’ll see what it looks like next year. In August I went back into the bed and sure enough, there were new ditch lilies growing in a few places. Remember it only takes one bulblet for them to grow. But half an hour later they were all gone as well.

I suspect I will on alert for the odd ditch lily plant showing up for the next few years, but I’m really proud to have removed this nasty invasive plant from my garden and rejuvenated it with native plants. And my two lovely sugar maple trees are glad for some more breathing room.

NOTE: The orange, single flower Hemerocallis fulva is the only daylily currently listed as invasive. It is a diploid daylily. Most cultivated daylilies are triploid and do not spread invasively like the ditch lily.

Lending Insects a Helping Hand in our Gardens

By Laura Gardner, Master Gardener in Training

When some of us think of insects, it is common for them to be thought of in a negative light. Some of our earliest childhood memories include being stung, bitten, or just plain scared by the sight of them. I can remember running screaming from an outhouse at a provincial park when I was about five years old. What was so scary? It was the sight of a Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia) hanging in its web in the stall. Fortunately, the experience didn’t make me fear or dislike spiders and as a gardener I know how beneficial they are to have around. While some insects certainly do deserve our scorn— invasive species such as the LDD moth (Lymantria dispar dispar); Emerald Ash Borer (Agrilus planipennis); Japanese Beetle (Popillia japonica), etc.—by and large, the majority of insects are harmless and beneficial. Not long ago, I saw a couple—perhaps grandparents, out for a walk with their grandson. One of them was urging the young boy to stomp on an ant on the pavement, calling out “Get it! Get it!” It was disheartening to see. It is experiences like this that call for a shift in our thinking about insects.

Bumblebee (Bombus sp.) on False Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides)

I recently got a sneak preview of a book by British entomologist Dave Goulson called Silent Earth: Averting the Insect Apocalypse (Harper Collins). It is to be published this Fall (September 2021). The copy I reviewed was an e-book proof and so page numbers referred to here may change in the final published copy. Goulson’s work is primarily focused on bumblebees and as the founder of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust in the UK, he is dedicated to reversing the decline of them. He is also known for his work that was instrumental in influencing the European Union’s decision to ban neonicotinoids in 2013. Goulson wrote this book in an effort to bring more public attention to the recent and rapid decline of global insect populations—which are critical for our planet’s survival. He also explores the chief causes of insect declines such as habitat fragmentation, industrial farming practices, pesticides, climate change, and non-native insect diseases (p. 71) and provides suggestions for readers that can help support insects—especially gardeners.

Bumblebee (Bombus sp.) on Sweet Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum)

Here are a few highlights from the book:

Goulson refers to a phenomenon called “Shifting Baseline Syndrome” where humans tend to only see their current world as “normal” and are unable to detect changes over time. Humans also tend to have something called “personal amnesia” in which they downplay the extent of change (p. 64-65). With these points in mind, it is no wonder that most people would not know that insect populations have recently declined by as much as 75% (p. 50) and that there have been parallel declines in populations of insectivorous birds (p. 58). One bird that I remember as a child that I haven’t seen since is the Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna). This species is one of those that depends on insects in its diet.

One concern that the author has is the level of human awareness of the existence of the natural world. It is important to learn the names of plants and animals—otherwise they cease to exist. If they don’t exist, their importance can’t be recognized. Astonishingly, in 2007, some of the words eliminated from the Oxford Junior Dictionary included words such as acorn, fern, moss, clover, kingfisher, otter, among others (p. 225).

87% of all plant species require pollination in order to flower, produce fruit/seeds, and ensure perpetuation of the species. This includes 75% of all agricultural crops (p. 26). Most of this is performed by insects and a large part is performed by those other than bees—flies, ants, beetles, wasps, moths and butterflies. A world without insects means that we would need to subsist mainly on cereal crops as these can be wind-pollinated. I can’t imagine going without fruits such as strawberries, apples, cherries, raspberries, and even my morning coffee (p. 26).

Insects are not only important pollinators, but they assist in the development of healthy soils. Not only do they help to aerate soil, they are valuable decomposers of organic matter—participating in a process along with bacteria that help make nutrients more available to plants (p. 29, 31).  As biological control agents, predatory insects such as Lady Bugs (Coccinellidae spp.), Lacewings (Chrysopidae spp.), Ground Beetles (Carabidae spp.), Wasps (Vespidae spp.), etc., can help us reduce the need for pesticides.

Blue Mud Dauber (Chalybion californicum) on Swamp Milkweed (Syriaca incarnata)

What can we do to help?

Despite the current state, Goulson is optimistic that insect declines can be stabilized or reversed because they are generally good at reproducing—we just need to support them better (p. 216). Here are some ideas:

  1. Learn how to identify the difference between harmful and beneficial insects. The majority (95%) are the latter.
  2. Reduce or avoid the use of pesticides and give beneficial predatory insects a chance to take care of the problem first (p. 277). Even so-called organic treatments such as diatomaceous earth, BTK, horticultural oils, etc. need thoughtful consideration before use as they can harm harmful as well as beneficial insects.
  3. Learn how to differentiate between irreversible and cosmetic damage in your plants. Accept that plants are meant to be food sources for insects and some imperfections and damage is ok. Give up growing ornamental plants that are persistently defoliated by certain insects (e.g. Asiatic Lilies).
  4. Incorporate a wide range of native plants that flower throughout the season in your garden to attract beneficial insects. One of the best late flowering perennials is New England Aster (Symphyotrychum novae-angliae). It provides a valued food source for migrating Monarch butterflies. Some of the best food sources for insects are early flowering trees such as Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.), Maple (Acer spp.), and Crabapple (Malus spp.).
  5. When using mulch in flower beds, leave some soil exposed so that ground nesting bees can have easy access. Some solitary wasps such as Mud Daubers (Sphecidae spp.) also need easy access to bare soil in order to glean material to build their nests.
  6. Reduce lawn and use the space for more plants. Reduce mowing of the lawn that exists. Allow a corner of your garden to “grow wild” and “get messy.”  (p. 277).
  7. Choose native plants over “nativars.” A nativar is a cultivated variation of a native plant. Some are supportive of pollinators but many are sterile or lack pollen and therefore are unable to provide food. The ones that are most likely to be the least supportive will have features such as double blooms, different leaf colours, etc. Reduce planting of ornamental annuals like Petunias, Begonias, Pansies, etc. because of their tendency to have no pollen or nectar (p. 233). That being said, some of these plants can still be enjoyed.
  8. Choose a range of plants that support the broadest number of insect species. While Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) are in the limelight as being supportive of Monarch Butterflies (Danaus plexippus), compared to some other plants, they only support 12 Butterfly and Moth species (Tallamy, Bringing Nature Home). Goldenrods (Solidago spp) support 115 different species. Some, like Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) can be aggressive in small gardens but there are more restrained types such as Blue-Stemmed Goldenrod (Solidago caesia), and Zigzag Goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis).
  9. Avoid aggressive fall and spring clean-up of leaves and hollow, dead stems. Doug Tallamy describes the practice of waiting 7-10 consecutive days of 10 degree C. temperatures for insects to emerge as myth as many insects emerge at different periods throughout the season. For example, Io (Automeris io) and Luna Moth (Actius luna) emerge around mid May (Tallamy, Leaf Litter: Love it and Leave it).
  10. Recognize that commercially produced “Bee Hotels” can become populated by non-native bees such as European Orchard Bee (Osmia cornuta), Horned-Face Bee (Osmia cornifrons), and Blue Mason Bee (Osmia coerulescens) as well as native bees (p. 135). If used, periodically clean them so as to reduce mites and fungi that can be harmful to the bees.
  11. Reconsider taking up beekeeping as a hobby. The European Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) threatens native bees because they take the lion’s share of available plant pollen (p. 139). It is also not a good strategy to rely on one species for pollination in case something happens to that species (p. 33).
  12. Raise awareness and share your knowledge with family and friends. You can convince others that insects need our help if they realize they themselves will be personally impacted by their decline (p. 216).

Selected Resources

Holm, Heather. Pollinators of Native Plants: Attract, Observe and Identify Pollinators and Beneficial Insects with Native Plants (Pollination Press, 2014).

Tallamy, Doug. Bringing Nature Home: How you can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants (Timber Press, 2009).

Tallamy, Doug. Leaf Litter: Love it and Leave it. April 2021. Online: https://tinyurl.com/4jphhnbc

Walliser, Jessica. Attracting Beneficial Bugs to your Garden: a Natural Approach to Pest Control (Timber Press, 2013).

Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. Visit https://xerces.org/publications to view and download a wide range of factsheets and other guidance documents concerning beneficial insects, native plant lists, pesticides, habitat construction, and more.

Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar (Danaus plexippus) on Swamp Milkweed (Syriaca incarnata)

Hosting butterflies

By Lois Scott, Master Gardener

Life has been busy in my garden lately, and I don’t necessarily mean me! My husband Ray and I have been enjoying the array of pollinators that are busy in the garden. What has us particularly excited is seeing species of butterflies that we have not noticed in the garden before. For example, Ray identified a Large Wood Nymph butterfly (Cercyonis pegala) that I noticed feeding on heliotrope. Although it spent a lot of time feeding on the heliotrope this is not a host plant for this particular butterfly. According to The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies host plants for the Large Wood Nymph are native grasses such as Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium).

Large Wood Nymph butterfly

So, what exactly is a host plant and why is it important? Host plants are plants that an organism, (larva) lives on and lives off of. A well-known example is the Monarch butterfly. It will feed on a number of nectar plants including milkweed but Monarch larvae only feed on milkweed (Asclepias) species. Milkweeds are the Monarch’s only host plant. Important pollinators like butterflies and moths need host plants on which to lay their eggs and enable the subsequent larvae to have a food source. The photo below shows Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) in the foreground is a host plant while the Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) behind it is a nectar plant.

Little Bluestem grass and Mexican Sunflower provide host and nectar sources (respectively).

According to the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club (OFNC) butterflies need plants that are good sources of nectar, sun, shelter from the wind, and host plants on which to lay their eggs.  Yes, larvae eat the leaves on the host plant but typically do not cause serious damage.  Along with providing a list of plants for nectar sources this site gives a list of host plants for larvae for specific butterflies.  Many of the host plants are trees including birches, willows, dogwoods, oaks, hops, cherries and hackberries to name just a few.  Other host plants include native wildflowers and grasses.

The OFNC site provides more details on providing the most desirable conditions for butterflies and makes the point that to restore butterfly populations we need to recreate suitable habitats for them. This is another list of valuable host plants.

If you are interested in attracting more butterflies consider adding some of these valuable host plants to your garden. Many of these plants can be sourced at Peterborough’s Ecology Park where you can also get expert advice on suitable plants for your garden conditions.

Casting pods to Podcasts

By Anica James, Master Gardener in Training

One of my favourite things to do when I am gardening, especially at other peoples’ properties, is to listen to podcasts while I am working. Normally I would prefer to listen to the sound of nature, but that’s not always possible when you are weeding in congested neighbourhoods or planting next to the street, or heaven forbid, have to drown out the irritating noise of someone else’s noisy lawnmower (yuck). So in urban settings, I like to set up a playlist on my phone of a few different episodes from different presenters and allow their voices to guide me through whatever gardening task is at hand that day.

Collecting seeds in the author’s garden

I don’t know about you, but I take every waking moment I can to learn something new. I am constantly on the search for more local-based podcasts that are focused on gardening but I have yet to come across many (if any) Ontario-based independent podcasts associated with gardening (wink-wink nudge-nudge to those reading who have a knack for radio: get on this please!) Sure there is CBC and the ever-familiar voice of Ed Lawrence during his half-hour call-in Q&A segments, or Mark Cullen’s informative, albeit short, bits of advice (last updated in 2017), but that’s not the same as listening to an hour long interview solely dedicated to one topic.

Just for fun, I am going to list and associate some of my favourite podcasts with some of my favourite symbolic plants that produce interesting seed pods, especially those in which you can collect and cast around your garden, scattering and planting seeds like tidbits of knowledge one has learned from the voices heard through the headphones. Being a seed saver and sower is just as important as educating oneself about the future we have at stake, so grab your phone and earbuds and check out one (or all) of the following podcasts next time you are puttering about in the garden.  

Sea Holly, Eryngium spp.

Eryngium spp. (Sea holly): In Defense of Plants

Matt Candeias is hands down one of my favourite podcast hosts. The guy is a natural-born interviewer and just knows how to ask the right questions to his guests, whether they are scientists, activists, or the average plant obsessed person like you and I. Similar to the loyal and well-structured Sea Holly plant that symbolizes admiration, each episode of Candeias’ show can be something to admire because he makes sure to cover a new topic every week, discussing everything from carnivorous plants to paleobotany to ecological restoration.

https://www.indefenseofplants.com/podcast

Alcea rosea (Hollyhock): Cultivating Place

Jennifer Jewell’s weekly show focuses on the “conversations on natural history and the human impulse to gardening”. She takes the listener around the globe as she interviews various academics and gardeners about the impacts plants have had on humanity, and how they shape our collective global identity. Just like the hollyhock plant, every Cultivating Place episode is ambitious and to the point, acting as little capsules into different topics and periods of time.

https://www.cultivatingplace.com/

Papaver spp. (Poppy): Gardens, Weeds and Words

Let’s face it: the Brits not only know how to garden, but they know how to make the best gardening-related podcasts. Maybe it’s his calming accent, or maybe it’s his fantastic interviewing skills, but host Andrew Timothy O’Brien really does have a knack for creating a fantastic episode to listen to, even if they only come out once a month. Like the well-structured seedpods of the whimsical poppy plants, every episode brings me a feeling of peace, remembrance and pleasure, while also introducing me to a new guest that I can relate to in some way.

http://www.gardensweedsandwords.com/podcast

Asclepias incarnata (Swamp milkweed): The Native Plant Podcast

An informative American-based podcast that has that traditional talk radio sound and feel to it with a Virginian twang. Like the dignified milkweed plant, the majority of the episodes interview people about native plants found in North America, as well as insects (friend and foe), green infrastructure, dendrology, and wild edibles. As much as I have enjoyed the information I have learned from various episodes, I have to admit that the format is kind of dry. 

https://www.nativeplantpodcast.com/

Antirrhinum spp. (Snapdragon): The Organic Gardening Podcast

Another great UK-based podcast, hosts Chris Collins and Sarah Brown educate listeners every week about the most organic and sustainable gardening practices there are, from weed management, to mulches, to seed collecting, to rewilding. Just like the skull-looking seedpods of the beloved annual snapdragons, this podcast really hits the head on topics

Some other gardening-related podcasts that I recommend include:

-Talking Heads https://www.talkingheadspodcast.co.uk/ (UK)
-Down The Garden Path https://downthegardenpath.libsyn.com/ (Can)
-The Maritime Gardening Podcast https://maritimegardening.com/ (Can)
-The Daily Gardener https://thedailygardener.org/ (USA)
-The Grow Guide https://thegrowguide.libsyn.com/ (Can)
-Roots and All https://rootsandall.co.uk/thepodcast/ (UK)
-Urban Forestry Radio https://orchardpeople.com/podcasts/ (Can)

Which podcasts are your favourite? Or which seedpods are your favourite to collect (great list of images)? Are there any others you can suggest to fellow readers? Please leave a comment if you have something to share.

Casting Pods to Podcasts, Anica James.

What You Cannot Live Without In Your Garden

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

I realized after downsizing my garden a few years ago, that there are certain features in a garden that I cannot live without, no matter the size of the garden. I’m not talking about plants, as that is another blog, but rather structures, elements or features, something that for me makes gardening less work and more rewarding.

The first structure would be my own shed. I did try to share my husband’s workshop for a year, but I find that I like order. Organizing my gardening tools on a peg board, brings me calm, and knowing I can go into my workshop blindfold and find the tool I want brings me a sense of peace.

Photo of the interior of owner’s shed

I don’t necessarily need a big shed, but if I have to spend a long time trying to find a tool, I end up forgetting why I needed the tool in the first place, a sure sign I am getting older. Now as you can see my husband has painted the handles of a few of my tools red, in the hope that it will help me find them when I lose them (I say when and not if). For me that doesn’t work as I tend to lay them down flat when I’m finished as opposed to sticking them in the ground handle up. I think I am now on my fourth or fifth hori hori knife and who knows how many pruners!Rain barrels, the more the better. We currently only have 4 hooked up, but are planning on installing another 4, next to these. They are located close to the vegetable garden, to make it more efficient when I water the vegetables. However, I also need a couple closer to the house for the pots and baskets on the patios, here’s hoping my husband will read this blog.

Rain water is better for the plants, not only is it warmer and softer than tap water, but it is does not contain chlorine, and for me living in Lindsay where I pay for my water usage, it saves me money. Me and my husband had a long discussion when we set these up, as he was looking at hooking them all up together and just having one tap, whilst I preferred them all to have their owns taps, so I can just put 4 watering cans, 1 under each barrel and turn them all on, saving me more time. He has attached a piece of hose to each tap, so that they reach into my watering cans.

Water barrels in author’s garden

A nursery bed. I did not realize quite how much I needed this until the second year in my current garden, when I dug up seedlings as I always do and had nowhere to put them. In my last house I had a nursery bed situated close to the vegetable garden, in my current garden it is located behind the shed, with a shade structure over the top, keeping it partly shaded. I love growing plants from seeds, finding it very fulfilling, and let most of my plants self-seed. When the seedlings come up or I see something I don’t recognize, I tend to move them to the nursery. There is nothing so rewarding when you have a space in your garden to be able to take a plant from your nursery bed, saves me money and makes me happy.

I currently have delphiniums that I was able to grow from seed, verbascum and quite a few gas plant and coneflowers. I tend to always put the coneflower seedlings in this bed (with the exception of the purple or white varieties, which normally come true from seed) as I am never sure what colour they will turn out.

Nursery bed in author’s garden

And finally an area for a leaf composter. Within 2 months of moving into my garden we had setup a leaf composter just in time for fall. The one below is about 4’ by 8’, which seems to work well in this garden. I fill with leaves in the fall, and then add green waste during the spring and summer, turning regularly. The compost is then ready to use in later summer, before I fill it up with leaves again and start over.

The most important structure in author’s garden

After moving to a new garden, you may know immediately what features and structures you need, or it may take some time to realize how important that ‘nursery bed’ was in your last garden. If you take a few minutes to think about your garden what are the most important features that make gardening more enjoyable for you?

beware! Think twice about these plants for your garden

by Rachel Burrows, Master Gardener

Plants are unable to hide or run away when faced with danger such as being eaten by a hungry rabbit. However some plants are toxic and can cause anything from mild discomfort to fatal consequences. Many of them are lovely to look at but it is wise to know which are poisonous especially if you have young children or pets.

Castor bean plant

Castor Bean Plant (Ricinus communis)

A friend phoned me and said that she had a fabulous plant with very unusual seed heads and would I like to take a look at it as she didn’t know what it was. Castor bean plants contain ricin, one of the most toxic substances known. The ricin is in the seeds which are covered with a prickly coating and are pretty shade of dark red. If the seed is swallowed whole without damaging the seed coat it will likely pass through the digestive system harmlessly. However, if it is chewed and swallowed the ricin will be absorbed within minutes and is usually fatal. One seed is enough for a deadly dose for a child and about four for an adult. My friend was very surprised and agreed to dig the plant put of her garden and dispose of it safely. These plants are often grown for their ornamental properties as they are tall and a lovely colour.

Yew

Yews (Taxus)

Again, another popular plant for hedges and often seen in gardens. The entire shrub is poisonous except for the red flesh of the berries. The oval, black seeds within the berries are highly toxic and can be fatal within a few hours of eating as few as 3 seeds. The toxin in yews is taxine which is a cardiac suppressant. I grew up on a farm and we all knew not to have yews in fields with livestock.

Rhododendron

Rhododendron

Not so hardy and a little harder to grow in this area but very common further south and in parts of England. All parts of the rhododendron are poisonous, even honey produced form the shrubs is poisonous.

Mountain laurel flower

Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia)

This shrub is a close relative to Mountain Laurel and all the green parts, twigs, blooms and pollen are toxic. It’s blooms are gorgeous but beware!

Lily of the Valley

Lily of the Valley (Convalliaria majalis)

Lily of the Valley is valued for its lovely perfume and as a ground cover, although some people see it as a menace as it does spread quickly. The entire plant is poisonous and causes the heart’s contractions to intensify.

Monkshood

Monkshood (Aconitum)

This is a stunning, tall perennial which blooms late in the season with striking purple flowers. All parts of the plant especially the roots and seeds are extremely poisonous. Eating as little as 1 gram may cause death. Even the sap can cause fingers to become numb.

Delphinium

Delphinium

Another lovely and showy perennial, but all parts of the plant are poisonous, especially the seeds. Death can be caused in as little as 6 hours.

Foxglove

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)

Another commonly grown plant that produces the well known heart medication. However, the whole plant is poisonous and the toxin is deadly in high doses.

There are several other poisonous plants that you might want to think twice about before bringing them into your garden. Be aware of their deadly potential especially if you have young children or pets. By all means grow them if you love them, just be careful.

Did you know? There’s a garden in England dedicated to poisonous plants? Take a tour – virtually..

For further information and pictures of other poisonous garden, wild and house plants check out these websites

Ontario Poison Centre – Plants

Good Housekeeping List of Poisonous Plants Around the Home

Landscape Ontario – List of Poisonous Plants