‘Weeding’ Through Gardening Websites

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

Gardening resources on the internet are plentiful but can quickly become overwhelming for both novice and experienced gardeners. Over the past year I have noticed certain websites that continually show up at the top of my search results; these sites are “gardening content farms”, a term I learned from fellow Master Gardener Cathy Kavassalis (@CathyKavassalis). A content farm (or content mill) is a website that provides limited pay to large numbers of writers to generate a wide range of (user-generated) content which is often specifically designed to maximize page views in order to generate advertising revenue.

Examples include gardeningknowhow.com, gardendesign.com, thespruce.com, theflowerexpert.com. Many have names that entice you into their site (like a fly to a spider’s web). The websites may contain lots of information about gardening, but it appears to be mostly collected from other sites or produced by writers with minimal gardening knowledge. As Cathy puts it “The quality is variable but the sites are created to ensure they show up early in Internet searches to generate ad revenue.”

For a while I actually didn’t notice the content farm sites because I have an adblocker program (so I didn’t get the ads). Once Cathy mentioned the sites in response to a question on our Master Gardeners of Ontario Facebook site, I consciously looked and was shocked by the number of ads that had been blocked when I clicked on the links – 6, 9, even 15 or more.peonies

So I purposefully put “types of peonies” in the subject line in a Google search, keeping the topic very general. First link up is from gardendesign.com. Some good information there, but 8 ads blocked. And of course first of all I get a pop-up wanting me to sign up for their newsletter (to sell me more stuff).GardenDesign.pngThis is where you have to be an engaged researcher. Often the author may own a business (for example, one that sells expensive peonies); this doesn’t mean the information isn’t good, but their primary motivation in writing the article is to drive you to their website, or for you to share their article with others to increase their profile. Other sites engage writing generalists to search the internet for information on a topic and repost it on the site, which could mislead you into thinking they wrote the article (usually there is an attribution to the source at the bottom of the page in small lettering).

The content provided on these sites are not a bad place to begin your searches, but the quality varies significantly, as these are not generally writers with gardening knowledge. Also if they are reworking other (maybe erroneous) information, they are simply continuing to spread misinformation.

I offer three suggestions to help you find gardening information on the web:

If you are doing a Google search focus your search with as many key terms as you can so you get what you need, often bypassing the gardening content farms. For example, typing in “ontario gladiolus bulbs overwintering” brings up good local answers from sites such as TorontoGardens (with Helen and Sara Battersby), Landscape Ontario, an Agriculture Canada publication on gladiolus, and Toronto Master Gardeners. Then the aggregate (garden farm) sites follow, as they have more general information.

Rather than Googling for information, use some of the great resources available on Facebook and Twitter. Master Gardeners of Ontario, Ontario Horticultural Association (OHA) (through GardenOntario), and many regional Master Gardener and OHA groups are on Facebook and Twitter – it really is a terrific way to learn (and make new gardening friends). Also there are many good gardening websites to be found (really another entire post) – look for information with that provided by a government agency (e.g. OMAFRA, USDA, etc.), respected horticulturalists, a botanic garden and/or arboretum, a university, a Cooperative Extension services associated with a university (USA), or a wildflower or native gardening society.

Subscribe (or follow) excellent gardening blogs – find those that match your interests and where the writers are passionate gardeners who want to share their knowledge. You are on one now 9a2684c4213171476e13732af3b26537 so sign up to get notifications of new posts (every week). Other blogs I like are The Impatient Gardener, Savvy Gardening, and  Three Dogs in a Garden. Ask friends for recommendations. You can also reach out to me on Twitter.

Filtering through all the information is challenging, but hopefully this blog gives you some tools to separate the wheat from the chaff. Happy Gardening!PMG

 

Tamarack or Larch?

By Christine Freeburn, Master Gardener

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Western Larch L.occidentalis grows in western Canada.

Watch for these bright pops of colour this fall.

Bulbs for All Seasons

In the next few weeks, autumn will arrive and garden centres will fill their shelves with mums, ornamental cabbages and other fall flowers. And spring flowering bulbs will be available too! Spring bulbs like tulips and daffodils are planted in our gardens in the fall and appear the next spring.

There is an upcoming opportunity to learn more about flowering bulbs when Dugald Cameron, former owner of GardenImport, speaks at ‘BULBS FOR ALL SEASONS’ presented by the Peterborough Master Gardeners. Victoria Whitney of Griffins Greenhouses will also speak on spring bulbs. This event happens on Saturday, September 28th at Westdale United Church on Sherbrooke St. It runs from 9 am to 3:30 pm and includes lunch. There will be bulbs for sale as well as a demonstration.

Get your early bird ticket this week by contacting Margaret at 705-876-1771 or mahiggins@sympatico.ca.  [ PMG Bulbs for all Seasons Registration Form .pdf]

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What I Found at the Landfill…

By Mary-Jane Parker, Master Gardener

The other day I took four garbage pails of green waste to the local landfill composting facility. As I was emptying my pails, I looked down and discovered a huge pile of cactus that someone had discarded. I carefully (because they are covered in spines!) put one in a pail, took it home and planted it in a hot , dry and sandy area around the pumping chamber, hoping it would root.

Opuntia are native to the Americas and hardy even in southern Canada. After flowering, they produce fruit which I have seen in grocery stores – albeit bigger varieties of the plant.

Three days later, this is what happened! The little pear shaped protrusions above the pad started blooming one by one. Awesome!

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Lawn Care

by Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener in Training

One thing that characterizes our gardens and landscapes from those in other parts of the world is our obsession with the lawn. The desire to have a smooth, green, flawless carpet has created an industry worth billions of dollars. I find that most serious gardeners have no time for the care and maintenance that a lawn requires. Like myself, they would rather be planting a new annual, perennial, or shrub.

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Whether you are a big fan of lawns or not, it is important for us to understand how to best maintain a healthy lawn. Learning to do so in a sustainable way is critical as we move forward in our partnership with the environment.

What good is a lawn? Well, like all plants, turfgrass provides oxygen, helps filter pollutants from the air, and cools us in the summer through transpiration. It also provides a place for people to play a number of different sports, a place to walk, and creates a beautiful setting around a cemetery.

When thinking of your lawn, choose a seed that is appropriate for your region and your soil conditions. A good quality grass seed usually has a mixture of Kentucky Bluegrass, Fescue and Perennial Ryegrass. If you can get over the need for a grass only lawn, consider mixing your seed choice with some Dutch white clover. Clover provides nitrogen, stays green, and is drought tolerant.

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It is possible to seed in the spring, but usually the best time is in late summer (around August 15 to September 15) as bluegrass and fescue are cool season species. Also, fewer weeds germinate during this period of time. When over-seeding, be sure to water daily until the seedlings are at least 2 inches tall, then switch to deep watering once a week.

Fescues are more shade tolerant than bluegrass or ryegrass and germinate well in clay soils. Fescue is also more drought tolerant and are often vigorous growers. Ryegrass will act as a nurse grass for the slower germinating bluegrass. Its’ rapid germination will help to establish the lawn quickly and it produces little or no thatch.

Kentucky Bluegrass will give you that nice smooth texture with a dark green colour. Unfortunately, it doesn’t perform as well in heavy shade, has slower germination and prefers well drained alkaline soil. Therefore, with clay soil, it is best to have a higher percentage of fescue varieties and perennial ryegrass as part of the mixture.

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Once established, your lawn will require a good management plan. To support the rapid growth in the growing season, your lawn will require a continuous supply of nutrition. Most lawn fertilizers are made up of nitrogen (N), phosphate (P) and potassium (K). Generally, nitrogen makes the lawn green, phosphorus produces healthy roots, and potassium builds hardiness (for more info check this link out).

In an ideal world, we would hope that the seed would benefit from an active population of earthworms, fungi, bacteria and a healthy supply of microorganisms. If you prefer to use organic lawn care, fertilize with 1 to 2 cm of compost each spring. This will help to feed the lawn naturally and supply the appropriate nutrients to the clay soil. A yearly practice of topdressing with compost will also help to increase the topsoil depth, especially if you live in a newer subdivision. The topsoil should be at a depth of at least 6 to 8 inches. This is often not the case when they build new homes.

During drought situations, let your lawn go dormant as it will grow and become green again once rain returns.

Always mow with your blades set high (2 ½ inches). This will help to crowd out the weeds and protect the grass roots from drying out. Be sure to maintain your mower blades to keep them sharp so they do not tear the grass blades. Mow only as often as needed to remove 1/3 of the grass blade at one time. Using a mulching mower and leaving the grass clippings on the lawn will help to return nitrogen to the soil.

It is important with clay soil to aerate and dethatch. Clay soils are often compacted and will benefit from removing soil cores and raking out thatch in the early spring to allow water drainage, increase air movement and supply nutrients.

The Peterborough Master Gardeners recently visited the Guelph Turfgrass Institute, established in 1987. It is part of the University of Guelph and they are dedicated to conducting quality research and providing accurate and timely information and education services in turfgrass science with a special emphasis on environmental sustainability and enhancement. The website has many good articles on lawn care, pest management, and irrigation.

Guelph

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Daylilies: The Perfect Perennial

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

Daylilies are popular perennial flowering garden plants. They bloom in our area in July and are often called the ‘perfect perennial’ because of its amazing qualities: showy flowers, wide array of vibrant colors, drought tolerance, ability to grow in most hardiness zones and low care requirements. Daylilies are a remarkable and stunning addition to any garden.

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Witch Stitchery

Daylilies are not true lilies even though their trumpet-like flowers resemble lily flowers. True lilies of the genus Lillium grow from onion-like bulbs, while daylilies grow from a mass of fleshy roots that hold moisture and nutrients. Unlike true lilies, daylily flowers are edible and can be consumed raw or cooked.

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Chicago Heather Marsh

Daylily blooms grow at the end of tall stalks called scapes that can range from 6 to 36 inches long. The genus name, Hemerocallis, is derived from Greek words for beauty and day, referring to the fact that each pretty bloom lasts only one day. Don’t be discouraged though; each daylily flower stalk produces many buds so flowers are produced over a bloom period of several weeks. Many cultivars are reblooming which means that the bloom period for those varieties are extended. There are 20 native species of daylilies and more than 80,000 hybrids.

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Homeward Pilgrim

Because they grow wild in so many places, many people think daylilies are a native North American plant, but they are not. They were introduced to North America by Europeans during the colonial period. Their roots can survive out of the ground for weeks which allowed them to arrive here with the colonists’ ships and spread across the Americas in pioneer wagon trains.

They grow best in zones 4 through 9.  They suffer few pest and disease problems and have a long blooming season. They can be a great solution for areas that are steep or otherwise hard to mow. Their dense root system reduces soil erosion and can choke out most weeds.

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Rocket Booster

In the wild, daylilies occur only in orange or yellow. But since the 1930s, breeders have developed hybrid varieties with flower colors ranging from cream through varied shades of yellow, orange, red, crimson, pink and purple. There are hybrids that have petal edge bands or petal tips or throats of a contrasting color, or with ruffled or scalloped petal edges.

Daylilies will grow for many years without any attention, but the plants will produce more flowers if they are divided about every 5 years or so. This is a job for late summer, after the plants have finished blooming. Dig up the entire plant and place it on a tarp. Cut or pull the clump apart into manageable clumps. Before replanting, use scissors to trim the foliage back to a height of 5 or 6″. When re-planting, daylilies must go into the ground at least 6 weeks before the ground freezes and should be in a location where they get at least six hours of sun daily.

For more information:

Everything You Should Know about Daylilies
All about Daylilies
How to Grow Daylilies

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

 

 

The Light in Your Garden

by Chris Freeburn, Master Gardener

Growing any plant successfully in your garden depends on many factors and an important one is the amount of light you get throughout the day. Growing Hosta out in the blazing sunshine is fine when they first emerge in springtime, but most Hosta will fry with the hot summer sun all day long. A peony without enough sun will have lovely green leaves, but will probably not give you any flowers.

Take a day or two to notice when your flower beds are in sun and for how long. Full sun means at least 6 hours of sun a day. Full shade means no direct sun. Part sun should only be about 3 hours. Morning sun is the best as it is not harsh and hot like late afternoon sun, so if you have gardens facing east, you have the best light for most plants.

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Knowing which direction your home sits is important too. Get your orientation fixed in your mind. Remember that trees and buildings will shade the gardens as the sun moves throughout the day. As the seasons change, the sun will move slightly in its orientation and where the sunlight comes from will change. Be prepared when you go plant shopping, read plant tags and talk to experts to be sure you are putting the right plant in the right place for the right light requirements.

Like growing just outside your garden growing zones, gardeners can also grow outside sun requirements. Hybridizing has enabled us to have plants that will grow outside their normal light needs. For instance, there are now Hosta that will take a lot of sun. Try to stretch the limits if you want that certain plant in that certain place, but remember to monitor it to be sure it is not being stressed and is performing at its best.

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Lighting may change in your garden. If a big tree is removed, a full shade garden can become a full sun garden. As a tree grows in your or your neighbour’s yard, or if a new building goes up, it will become more shaded. You may find that you will have to relocate plants when this happens.

Spend more time in your garden, just watching. It is good for your education and good for your soul.

Peterborough, ON, Canada