Truth or Fiction? Are Black Walnuts Toxic in my Garden?

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

As a Master Gardener, one of the most common questions I get asked is about the toxicity of walnut trees (Juglans nigra).

“Well I heard that the juglone stuff in the roots kills everything and that I can’t plant anything under or anywhere near a walnut tree.”

Well yes Virginia, you can plant a garden under a walnut tree, and have it thrive. Let’s look at Exhibit 1 below – a thriving perennial bed under a walnut tree. It’s at our house, so I guarantee it’s real, and it’s been there since late 2007.

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Lots of lovely perennials here – hostas (Hosta spp.), daylilies (Hemerocallis), bearded iris (Iris germanica), summer phlox (Phlox paniculata), wild ginger (Asarum canadense), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), ditch lilies (Hemerocallis fulva), although those last ones are doing just a little too well LOL. Don’t believe it’s a walnut tree? Here’s a photo from a bit further back on the street.

BP1

Yes, she’s a big old lady – we think she was planted around the same time the house was built, making her about 140 years old. I think she’s getting a bit tired out – most years she doesn’t produce too many walnuts. Her slightly younger cousin is to the left of the barn in the background – LOTS of walnuts off her (and yes a garden under that one too).

So where does this fallacy come from that ‘nothing grows under a walnut’? Well certainly all parts of the walnut tree contain a chemical called juglone (heck it’s even in the Latin name!). Juglone is a chemical that affects other plants growing nearby (a phenomenon called allelopathy). Simply put, allelopathy involves “living or dead plant parts that release chemicals into the soil which have an effect on other plants—positive or negative.” For walnuts it seems like an attempt at self preservation, with juglone acting like a natural herbicide on other plants.

As Professor Linda Chalker-Scott explains in her recent (2019) peer-reviewed Washington State University Extension paper, damage to tomatoes and other crops near walnut trees in the 1920s caused people to believe that toxic chemicals were involved, and this perception persisted and became widespread despite there being no evidence (and this was before social media existed!). The US Department of Agriculture did field testing – no problems. When applied in a laboratory setting to seeds and seedlings it did cause stunting, wilting, and necrosis, but the specific way it did this was unclear. The most recent science suggests that juglone disrupts photosynthetic and respiratory pathways and interferes with water uptake in plants.

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So! It does affect plants – the laboratory says so. Well yes, and no. Field tests do not support the laboratory work, which doesn’t accurately mimic real life conditions in your average residential garden (again, for more detail read the excellent paper referenced above). Two very old University Extension papers (1973 and 1993) continue to be used to state which plants are ‘sensitive’ and which are ‘tolerant’. However these were simply observational papers—meaning that they correlate the presence of walnut trees with damage to other species but do not confirm a causative relationship. Neither should be considered good scientific evidence.

Gardening With Walnut Trees – My Story

I am sure the scientists, arboretums, farmers, and garden writers will continue to debate this topic for a while. Meanwhile, here’s our story. In 2007 I wanted a garden bed under our black walnut in my front yard. At the time I had heard the walnut horror stories, so I thought – well, how about I just don’t disturb the roots of the tree? (not a good thing to do when establishing any garden beds under a tree). I put good topsoil and compost down, making sure to minimize tearing up of the soil and roots, and planted, and watered, and waited. Things grew. Winter happened. Next spring plants came up. For the most part I just moved perennials that were already on site, although some hostas were new. Here’s the garden in 2008 in the fall.

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Fall asters (Astereae spp.), sedums (Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ in this case), hostas (Hosta spp.), wild ginger (Asarum canadense), fall rudbeckias (Rudbeckia fulgida and triloba), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius), iris (Iris spp.), astilbe (Astilbe spp.), sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum), Ozark sundrops (Oenothera macrocarpa), coral bells (Heuchera spp.), cranesbill (Geranium spp.). All doing just fine.

And 2009 below, in the spring. Irises (Iris spp.) lemon lilies (Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus), lungwort (Pulmonaria spp.), poppies (Papaver rhoeas), ditch lilies (Hemerocallis fulva), variegated solomon’s seal (Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’), bracken (Pteridium aquilinum), bleeding hearts (Dicentra spectabilis), daylilies (Hemerocallis spp.).

BP6_plants_2009

Certainly, planting in general under walnuts is challenging – they cast dense shade and have extensive, water hungry root systems. Watering after establishment and for the first season is critical. We also had our walnut tree pruned professionally (it needed it) so it actually gets decent sunlight in the latter part of the afternoon. Like any fruit or nut tree they are messy, from their spring pollen to their leaves and nuts…oh those nuts.. 2017 was a crazy year – buckets of walnuts (I even had to engage my neighbours’ lovely children from across the street to help collect them) to 2018, with almost no walnuts. My trees are old too – although well pruned, their leaves drop at that first hard frost. 1

 

In Defence of Walnut Trees

Black walnuts are not all bad, and I will continue to treasure them in my yard. They are an amazing shade tree, are highly valued for their fine grained dark wood (for furniture), a great food source for wildlife and birds, and my white breasted nuthatches’ favourite spot to hide their seeds.

We have definitely had our challenges with our walnut trees, and I’ve learned a great deal over the past 20 years. But one thing I know – I can garden with them around. You can too.

Note: Black walnuts are not the only tree that produce juglone – other members of the Juglandaceae also produce it as well as hickory trees. Butternut, English walnut, bitternut hickory, pignut hickory, pecan, shagbark hickory, mockernut hickory are in the same family.

Book Review: 50 Beautiful Deer-Resistant Plants

By Christine Freeburn, Master Gardener

50 Beautiful Deer-Resistant Plants – The Prettiest Annuals, Perennials, Bulbs, and Shrubs that Deer Don’t Eat

by Ruth Rogers Clausen, Published by Thomas Allen 2011, ISBN 9781604691955

Although this is an American publication, the author lives in New York state which is a similar zone to our own. A short introduction explains how to read the Quick Look charts which list zone hardiness (remember these are American zones), height and spread of plant, and deer-resistant rating for each of the 50 plants included. There are suggestions for commonly used controls such as barriers, repellants and home remedies. The author also gives some advice on planning a deer-resistant garden. wildlife-1367217_960_720

Chapters are divided by annuals, perennials, shrubs, ferns, bulbs, herbs and grasses with lovely photographs, growing tips and design ideas. Latin names are included to ensure you get the proper species and variety. An index, glossary and list of other books to ready are listed at the back of the book.

If you have deer who visit your garden and destroy your plants, you will want to read this book to give you some ideas and encouragement to have that beautiful garden. The book may be available in your local library or you can find it online at Indigo.ca.

Attracting Birds 1

By Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

The end of February, I saw a Cardinal at the bird feeder the first time this winter. They are such a beautiful bird, and one doesn’t see them that frequently. If it weren’t for our bird feeders, I don’t think I’d ever see one.

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Birds are a very important part of our garden environment. They eat seeds, berries and most importantly for the Gardener, they eat insects. One of the most common birds to visit my feeders are chickadees. They enjoy both sunflower seeds and peanuts. In the summer they eat more insects including aphids, whitefly, scale,  caterpillars, ants and earwigs. Other insect eating birds that visit my feeders are cardinals, nuthatches and grosbeaks. Although they eat very few insects, if any, finches are are welcome visitors to our feeders just for the pleasure they give us. I do all that I can to encourage the  visits of all birds.

Although it may not seem like it at times,  bird feeders aren’t the primary food source for birds, foraging is. Birds rely more on the nutrition provided by seeds in bird feeders in the winter  as  the supply in their environment dwindles and they need to go further afield to find other sources of food. To keep the birds coming to my garden, I keep my bird feeders out all year. It is such a pleasure to have their visits.

In subsequent posts, I will talk more about bird feeders, bird food, and providing an environment to attract birds to your garden.

Links:
Attracting Bug Eating Birds
How to Attract Bug Eating Birds to your Garden

Plants of the Year

By Lee Edwards, Master Gardener

In a few months, gardeners will happily be heading back into the garden.  Along with planting native plants friendly to pollinators, this year, gardeners may also want to include one or all the National Garden Bureau’s plants of 2019; the perennial salvia (Salvia nemorosa), the annual snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus), Dahlia bulbs, and or the edible Pumpkin.  There’s also the perennial plant of the year, the betony (Stachys moneri ‘Hummelo’) chosen by the Perennial Plant Association.  Each one of these plants represent different classes of plants that are fairly easy to grow and are also relatively low maintenance.wild-sage-141575_640

Belonging to the mint family, Salvia nemorosa is a striking, hardy, ornamental variety of sage.  A full-sun, compost loving, easy to grow, drought-tolerant plant, it prefers moist, well-drained soil to produce tall, multi-branched, spectacular spikes of blue-violet flowers starting in the summer.  Once the blooms fade and the stems brown, cut back the plants size by two-thirds to encourage more blooms throughout the season.

snapdragon-20809_640Snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus) are making a comeback with their fragrant, large, tubular, dragon-shaped flowers in a multitude of colors and heights.  Considered an annual in cold temperature countries, these early spring blooming plants can interestingly withstand cold weather and slow down flowering during overly warm temperature.  Great in containers, snapdragons require constant deadheading to encourage more blooms and often need staking.

Beautiful, tuberous, tender perennials, Dahlias thrive in full sun, well-drained, warm, dahlia-3964712_640slightly acidic, and moist soil blooming from mid-summer to late fall.  Outstandingly showy and dramatic, dahlias need to be fed often with organic matter once the plants begin to grow and deadheading is needed to promote blooms.  Flowers can grow from two inches to 15 inches depending on the plant variety.

pumpkins-457716_640Pumpkins are healthy edibles high in fiber and vitamins to name just a few health benefits.  Related to melons, squash, and cucumbers, plant pumpkin seeds indoors to start, then directly in the ground once the soil has thoroughly warmed up.  Pumpkins require constant watering, pollination by bees to fruit and take from three to four months to mature.  Like many other edibles, they must be replanted every year.

Betony (Stachys moneri ‘Hummelo’) is a herbaceous perennial that blooms in late spring to early summer, showing off its bee attracting, upright, purple flower spikes atop mounding, dense, clump-forming, dark green leaves.  Stachys moneri ‘Hummelo’ likes a sunny location with a little afternoon shade and evenly moist soil.  It makes a striking display when mass planted.

Reference:  National Garden Bureau (“Year of The,”  2019). Retrieved February 18, 2019, from https://ngb.org/year-of-2019/.

Have Fun Gardening!

 

And the winner is…

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener

medal-1622523_640Did you watch the Oscars last night? It is one of many award shows and it fuels a fascination in us to know what has been voted the best movie, best song, what book won the Giller Prize or the Canada Reads Competition? We browse through newspaper articles, blogs or Facebook posts to find out who were the most influential people, or learn new trends in food and decorating. The Plant world is no exception. There are several plant competitions and our own Peterborough Horticultural Society has Flower, Photography and Preserves Shows where the members exhibit the ‘best’ from their gardens.

I have listed below just a few plant winners, one from a very prestigious show and a few chosen winners by plant corporations. You may not agree with the choices, but there is a curiosity in many of us to know what has made the list. It can also fuel discussion amongst friends and through all this, we learn, discuss and share a passion called Gardening!

Perennial Plant Association

Each year the Perennial Plant Association selects one plant that they find to have low maintenance, are pest and disease resistant, have multiple season interest and are suitable for a wide range of climatic conditions.

This year’s perennial, Stachys monieri ‘Hummelo’ is a cousin to the familiar Lamb’s Ears, but it is a clump-forming perennial which forms a low mound of crisp green foliage. It flowers in early summer with beautiful upright spikes of bright purple flowers that are attractive to bees. It works well in containers and can be easily divided in spring. Stachys prefers a sunny location and is hardy to zone 4.

Chelsea Flower Show, London, England

At the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in London, England, the new Hydrangea Runaway Bride ‘Snow White’ was named ‘Plant of the Year 2018’. Hydranges are known and loved for their colourful lacecap flowers, but this winning plant, produces white flowers with a tinge of pink that appear from terminal and lateral buds in late spring into autumn. It is perfect for hanging baskets, patio containers and mixed borders. They have a graceful weeping habit. It is neat, compact and very hardy. Having been produced for the show by Ushio Sakazaki, this plant will not be readily available for a few years.

Proven Winners

Proven Winners searches the world for vibrant flowering annuals, perennials and shrubs that deliver excellent garden performance. They look for easy to grow, good flowering, health and vigor, length of blooming and they are all trialed and tested.

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Photo courtesy of Proven Winners – http://www.provenwinners.com

Their choice for the 2019 Annual of the Year is Sedum mexicanum ‘lemon coral’. It grows in part to full sun, has a beautiful lime green foliage, is compact in size and is very drought tolerant. It works well in hanging baskets or containers. It is very heat tolerant and doesn’t require deadheading.

One of Proven Winners 2019 recommended shrubs is Berberis thunbergii Sunjoy Mini Maroon. It is a sterile barberry, and therefore, not invasive. It has deep purple-red foliage on a dense, nicely shaped mound. It needs no pruning and is highly resistant to damage from rabbits and deer. It grows to a height of 2 to 3 ft. and is hardy to Zone 4.

Pantone Colour of the Yearcolour of the year

For 20 years, Pantone’s Color of the Year has influenced product development and purchasing decisions in multiple industries. Colour experts comb the world looking for new colour influences. This year’s colour is PANTONE 16-1546 Living Coral. PANTONE Living Coral is evocative of how coral reefs provide shelter to a diverse kaleidoscope of color. We can expect to see this energizing hue of coral and golden undertones popping up in our gardens. Some suggestions are: Calibrachoa Superbells ‘Coralina’, Canna Toucan ‘Coral’, Dianthus Fruit Punch ‘Classic Coral’, Rose Oso Easy ‘Mano Salsa’, and Verbena Superbena Royale ‘Peachy Keen’.

Facebook Groups for the Green Community

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

Two weeks ago, I wrote about iPhone and Android apps that can help you to identify plants & trees, know where/when/how/what to plant and also help you to connect with like-minded people for discussion.  Facebook groups serve similar purposes.  At this time of year, these groups are eye-candy for the green community as they often remind us how few days are left until spring, where to attend local (indoor) green/gardening events, and how to care for those houseplants that need a fb groups bloglittle TLC.  During the gardening season, these groups magically transform to become a forum for a little bragging for those inclined to share pictures of the results of their hard work, and also a forum for those needing a little help.  I’ve posted a plant picture to one of them, and had a definitive answer to an identification question in literally less than ONE MINUTE (Thanks, Jeff Mason!).

Here’s a list of some of the (mostly local) groups that I’m a member of.  There certainly are a lot more!  Most are public, but don’t let the ‘closed group’ label scare you.  If anything, closed groups are completely welcoming to gardeners!  They just may ask you to answer a few simple gardening questions to make sure that the group doesn’t get infected by spammers.

Over the Fence with Peterborough Master Gardeners (530 members)

A local group specializing in plant identification, local events, and gardening questions answered by knowledgeable Master Gardeners. Novice, expert and professional gardeners are encouraged to join and post freely.

Ontario Gardeners (3, 571 members)

This group is for us Ontarian’s to post, chat or ask about plants we have in the yard, pond or house. Check out our files section newly created Oct.2016 and will be added to over time. Happy Gardening!!!

Canadian Gardeners (10,443 members)

This group is for anyone that wants to discuss flower gardens & vegetable gardens that live in Canada. Help others with tips, share your gardening secrets and stories and maybe learn a thing or two yourself! Lots of gardening links, self help and diy posts. Share your favorite gardening books, tools, websites and photographs with your fellow Canadian Gardeners! Add your zone to aid in advise, tips and to give your fellow Canadian Gardeners the idea of conditions you garden in 😊

GardenOntario (2,026 members)

To reach, connect and help educate all members through gardening related articles, videos, live broadcasts, activities and events happening with our societies across Ontario. Affiliated with the Ontario Horticultural Association.

Canadian Succulent & Cactus Hoarders (2,166 members, closed group)

A community place for Canadians who are addicted to collecting succulents and cacti. Ask questions and show off your collection! For now buy/sell/trade posts will be allowed until the group grows big enough that it warrants a separate group.

Plants for Peterborough Canada (657 members, closed group)

Peterborough Ontario Canada – A place to share plants for free. Upload pictures, share tips, get help thinning your gardens, get advice, play the *What on earth is growing in my garden game* offer plants, get plants, swap plants, its allllllllllll about plants! We encourage FREE share. Please save the selling of plants for kijiji. We also encourage you to share photos of your gardens, and upcycling ideas to beautify them!

Garden Deals for Peterborough, Canada (208 members, closed group)

If you know of a good deal on plants or gardening material in the Peterborough, Ontario, area – please post it here. Also – please share if you find unique plants that people may be interested in!!

Beware the Vigorous Plant!

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

Being the fairly recent owner of a small city garden, I find I no longer have the space for plants that either do not behave, need too much deadheading or pruning, spread too quickly becoming invasive, need to be staked or I’ve simply grown tired of. At least 90% of my garden is full of either fruit trees, shrubs, fruit bushes, perennials or raised vegetable beds. The remaining 10 or so percent contains a patio and a very, very small lawn that my husband tells me has to stay! So needless to say if I buy any new plants I have to give an existing plant or two away (thank heavens for plant sales).

I have a few plants in mind that I am considering replacing this spring so I have spent the last week or so looking through bulb and plant catalogues to see what is new this year. Catalogues are a great place to see what is new and exciting and also to fill the gardening void that generally happens this time of the year. However, I have heard both good and bad stories regarding plants purchased from these catalogues, so it is very much a personal choice. What I did notice though were the many different terms given to what I would describe as an invasive or ‘buyer beware’ plant, especially if, like me, you do not have a large garden.

allium

Allium were described as ‘carefree’. However, if you have ever tried removing hundreds of allium bulbs from a perennial bed that have self-seeded over many years ‘carefree’ is not a term I would immediately think of.

‘Vigorous’ is a term often used in these catalogues, which could mean either that the plant is strong, robust and grows well (which we would all like) or more likely that the plant grows very quickly and will take over your entire garden in a very short time. Examples of ‘vigorous’ plants include false sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides), knotweeds (Persicaria) and orange trumpet vine (Campsis radicans).

Baby’s breath (Gypsophila) is listed with the description that it ‘readily fills gaps’, whereas bee balm (Monarda) is described as ‘multiplying quickly’.

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Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis), need I say more! I actually inherited this plant in my shade garden and I think I could be digging it out for a good few years. I really do love this plant, but it has to be in the right location and in a bed all by itself. Lily of the valley is described in one catalogue as ‘creating a carpet of flowers’ and in another catalogue as ‘growing fearlessly among tree roots’.

But I think the term most often used to describe a plant that might become invasive in these catalogues is ‘naturalizing’. When I think of naturalizing I think of beds or daffodils or bluebells, but then I am English so that might explain why. Plants included in this category are masterworts (Astrantia), mountain fleece (Persicaria amplexicaulis), false sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides) and meadow rue (Thalictrum flavum).

Being an avid gardener, some may even say obsessive, there are not many plants that I do not like and all of the plants listed above I have at one time or another grown, and still do. But gardening with only a limited amount of space has changed the way I look at and select plants.

Garden Tech for the Green-Finger Inclined

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

Gardening is supposed to be natural, right? Many who enjoy the outdoors and gardening downplay screens and technology and also tend to encourage others to put down the devices and experience what’s in front of them. But what if you don’t know anything about what IS in front of you? Your smart phone or tablet can be quite the gardening companion.

Here’s a selection of apps that can be found in the App Store that will help you know when/where/what to plant, and sometimes more importantly, how to find out what’s already growing in your yard or someone else’s that you admire.

LeafSnap: An Electronic Field Guide — Free (iPhone only)

How many times have you been in a public park or garden and fell in love with the trees, but with no one to ask what they are?  Using visual recognition software, Leafsnap can identify trees from a photo of their leaves alone. I can’t tell you how many times I could have used this!

myGardenAnswers Plant Identifier — Free (iPhone/Android)

With Garden Answers Plant Identifier, you can take a picture of a plant that you want to identify and presto — you’ll get its name and all of the information about it. It’s like having an encyclopedia in your pocket. This is easily one of the best free gardening apps in existence, namely because it can automatically recognize more than 20,000 plants. This app also identifies pests and has a robust Q&A section that covers more than 200,000 of the most common gardening queries.

GrowIt!: Garden Socially — Free (iPhone/Android)

GrowIt allows you to join an enthusiastic community of gardeners, helping you to find inspiration, gather information, and share your own gardens with the world. This app is good if you want to find out what plants will grow well in your local area.  As you find plants you love in their extensive database, you can organize them into projects to help you design your own green masterpiece.

BeeSmart Pollinator Gardener — Free (iPhone/Android)

Want to grow a beautiful garden that also helps the environment? BeeSmart is an app created by Pollinator Partners that helps you choose the best plants for bees that can thrive in your specific location. Win-win.

Gardenate — $1.39 (iPhone/Android)

If you’re looking for a simple calendar for planting garden vegetables that comes with an assortment of useful hints and tips, then you should take a look at this app. Gardenate will be your best companion when it comes to keeping your garden in the best condition. There is information about over 90 plants and herbs, and a calendar to know when it’s the best time for these plants to grow.

garden tech apps

Winter in Ontario – A Gardener’s Survival Guide

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

If you’re a passionate gardener like me, right now you are buried in the snow and cold of winter and suffering from the January blues. You dream of your garden every night, envisioning the bright colours and textures and green of your summer paradise. You consider heading south for a vacation, not just for the warmth and sun but just to see some incredible tropical plants and green things. You start thinking about moving to some place where you can garden year round…

But I digress. Don’t get me wrong. I like the winter season. My body needs a rest from the garden, I need time to plan for next year’s garden, it’s time to order seeds and attend garden workshops, and there are so many good gardening books and blogs to read.

I thought I would share my Top 5 Ways for Gardeners to Survive Winter. I have more ways, but that’s another story..

1. Review your Garden Photos

I love to spend particularly dull winter days reviewing photos of my garden from last year or previous years. Digital cameras and our smart phones make it so much easier these days to capture our gardens in all their glory, so take the time to enjoy the beauty you created when you need a pick up. I’ve sprinkled a few of mine throughout this blog (you’re welcome!).

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(created by Joe and Hazel Cook at Blossom Hill Nursery)

2. Join a Local Garden Club, Horticultural Society, or Master Gardener Group

Nothing feels better than sharing your gardening love with others who share your affection for all things growing. Find your local Ontario Horticultural Society, or think about becoming a Master Gardener. In my area we have many wonderful horticultural societies including Lakefield, Peterborough, NorwoodOmemee, Ennismore, Bobcaygeon, and Fenelon Falls. I meet interesting people, chat about gardening issues or successes, and get to hear from terrific presenters. Great value for money. I also love being a Peterborough Master Gardener, sharing my love and knowledge of gardening with others.

3. Seed Catalogues!

I am relatively new to growing my own plants from seed, as my garden is mostly full of perennials and shrubs. However, after a Master Gardener field trip to William Dam Seeds a few years ago, a new interest in growing dahlias (after being inspired by a vendor at the Peterborough Garden Show) and a new vegetable garden in our back yard (courtesy of my husband – the veggie gardener), I have entered this world, and there is no turning back. Reading through hardcover or online seed catalogues (even if you don’t buy anything!) is guaranteed to put a smile on any gardener’s face. Google Canadian seed companies and many should pop up.

hyacinth

4. Find a Great Garden Blog or Website

There are so many amazing gardening blogs and website out there. I tend to follow those who have similar growing conditions to me (Zone 4b, harsh winters, Central Ontario) but I do have several (including a few in the UK like The Frustrated Gardener and the Anxious Gardener) which I like to just view and enjoy. Some of my favourites below.

The Laid Back Gardener (Quebec)

The Impatient Gardener (southeast Wisconsin)

The Gang at Savvy Gardening (Pittsburgh, Halifax, Dundas)

The Gardening Girl (just north of Toronto, Ontario)

sunflower

5. Buy a new Houseplant (or 2, or 10)

Confession – I am a much better gardener outside than inside. While I love seeing the greenery all winter, our harsh interior conditions (furnace heat and no humidity) are not ideal for houseplants. However, the arrival of two rambunctious kittens into our home in October sparked a review of my houseplants. So many plants are problematic for felines that many got rehoused with friends or just thrown out. A week ago I had a craving for some greenery, so I ventured out to a local nursery with great houseplants (Burley’s Gardens) to find some ‘safe’ plants. I came home with some Peperomias, a prayer plant (Maranta leuconeura), African violets, a money tree (Pachira aquatica), and a Phalaenopsis orchid. It appears all of these are relatively safe for cats. There is a good list here of plants that are toxic (or non-toxic) for cats. However, it’s just a general list – it depends on how much is ingested, what plant part, age of cat etc. etc. Do your research.

I hope these ideas help get your through these cold winter days and nights. And just remember, all that snow provides a lovely warm blanket for your plants, so thank Mother Nature for that and dream of spring!

Can’t wait for Kermit to reappear at my pond.

kermit

 

Caring for Your Houseplants in Winter

By Chris Freeburn, Master Gardener

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

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

Water

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

Temperature

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

Light

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

Humidity

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

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

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

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