A Few of My Favourite Native Plants

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

I’ve been gardening for more than 25 years and, like many of you, thrill at the opportunity to discover new plants for my gardens. Over the past few years these have been mostly native plants, as I learn about all the benefits that they bring – here’s just a few examples of why native wildflowers, grasses, shrubs and trees do so much more than just add beauty to the landscape:

  • They support birds, pollinators and wildlife – native gardens attract birds and butterflies and provide habitat and food for native pollinators
  • They increase biodiversity – native plants increase garden health and resilience, and help contribute to a broader effect to nurture and sustain living landscapes
  • They’re tough and low maintenance – because they’re adapted to grow in their native range, locally native plants tend to thrive with little to no care and conserve one of our most precious resources – water
  • They help you save money AND create a healthier environment for people – native plants don’t require expensive fertilizers and chemicals, or toxic pesticides and herbicides
  • They help with climate change – no lawn mower costs or exhaust! and long lived native trees help store carbon dioxide
  • They make gardening easier – if you select the right native plants for your garden, you don’t have to modify or amend your soil

I’m just going to share three favourite native plants in my garden, with hopes that you may consider them for yours.

Culver’s Root (Veronicastrum Virginicum)

Culver’s Root offers a strong upright, architectural accent to any perennial garden that attracts attention from both people and pollinators!! It can reach heights of 5 feet if it’s happy (although mine hasn’t achieved that yet) and the spikes of white flowers open from the bottom up in mid-summer. It has finely toothed leaves that are lanceolate and occur in a whorl of 3 to 8 leaflets. The inflorescence has several wand-like flowering spikes that resemble an elegant candelabra.

Culver’s Root grows in zones 3-8, in full sun to part shade but it does like moist, well-drained soil. The seeds are so tiny that they should be directly sown on the soil surface in fall or in the spring – I’ve tried winter sowing some this year so we’ll see how that goes.

The plant really has no other synonyms; apparently the name was derived from a Dr. Coulvert, a late 17th to early 18th century pioneer physician who found laxative properties in the plant. More information here.

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)

Who doesn’t love bright red flowers in the garden? For those who say native plants can’t be showy I give you this amazing example to disprove that theory. Named for its scarlet red flowers, its tubular flowers are a magnet and important nectar source for hummingbirds and swallowtail butterflies.

Like Culver’s Root the flowering spikes open from the bottom to top and bloom for several weeks. They grow best in moist, rich soils in full sun to partial shade.

I’ve only had my plants for two seasons but I understand that the parent plants will not persist after a few years, so it’s important to either let it go to seed (so it reseeds naturally) or collect seed – this is another plant where I am trying out winter sowing (native plants are a great choice for this propagation method). While many sites will tell you it needs a really moist site mine have done fine, although I do keep the plants well watered in drier times. More information here.

Green Headed Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata)

Also commonly called Cut Leaved (or Cut Leaf) Coneflower, this is the straight species, not to be confused with the double cultivar many of us have in our rural gardens (often called the Outhouse Plant – or Rudbeckia laciniata “Golden Glow”).

Not a small plant (it grows 4 to 5 feet tall in my garden), it clumps and spread by rhizomes so only one to consider if you have the space! Its bright yellow, daisy-like drooping flowers with green centre disks (which can be about 3 inches across) bloom later in the summer season. It prefers moist soil, but grows well in average, medium, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. In nature it is often found in woods, meadows, streambanks, and roadside ditches.

The Cherokee natives call this plant Sochan and the spring basal leaves are a traditional Cherokee food. Butterflies are attracted to nectar from the blooms and songbirds, especially American Goldfinches, eat the seed in the fall. It is moderately deer resistant. More information here.

So I hope you’ll take the opportunity to seek out native plants to add to your garden, finding ones that are native to your region and appropriate to your conditions. Happy Gardening!!

Rhubarb

By Lois Scott, Master Gardener

It is early May and my husband has been watching the rhubarb emerging with great anticipation.  I like rhubarb, he loves rhubarb and it will soon be time to start harvesting the stalks (petioles)!

Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum), native to central Asia,is an easy, hardy, and edible perennial.  Technically a vegetable but treated as a fruit, it is long-lived, easy to care for and bothered by few pests and diseases. 

Rhubarb is sold by ‘crowns’ or perhaps you can get a division of a plant from another gardener.  Spring and early fall are the best times to plant it.  Rhubarb likes a well-drained site with full sun (6-8 hours minimum).  Give your plant plenty of space to grow, about 3m2.  Rhubarb is a heavy feeder so mulch around your new or established plant with compost or well-rotted manure.  I generally give mine a spring dressing of compost as it starts to emerge in the spring.  Rhubarb should be watered deeply during times of drought.

A new rhubarb plant will need a couple of years to get established before you start harvesting it.  Don’t harvest any stalks the first year and then very little the second year.  The plant needs those large leaves to develop to provide energy for the roots and crown to grow.  Over the growing season, flower stalks will start appearing and these should be cut off at the base to reserve energy for the plant.

Rhubarb is ready to harvest when the stalks are 25 – 40 cm long.  Grab the stalk part way down and pull or twist to the side.  When I pull rhubarb, I come prepared with a paring knife and cut off the leaves after pulling the stalks and leave them as mulch.  Rhubarb leaves are toxic as they have high levels of oxalic acid, however they can be safely composted. 

Rhubarb is a cool weather plant so as the season warms up growth may slow down.  Let your plant rest so the crown can recover.  If you have an established plant that doesn’t seem to be as vigorous as it was, it may need division which should be done in early spring.  Dig up the whole plant if possible.  Rhubarb has a very deep tap root but if you capture enough, you can divide the plant making sure each division as at least one or two buds.  Plant your divisions with the buds 4 – 5cm deep, gently firming the soil.

The only other job to do is weed through all the tempting rhubarb recipes.  Enjoy!

https://extension.psu.edu/rhubarb-be-patient-and-you-will-be-rewarded

Gardening Tools with Distinction

By Marilyn Homewood, Master Gardener

I appreciate a well made garden tool; the way it feels in your hand and the way it works.  Over the years, I have acquired many tools but not all are winners.  As time has passed and my needs have changed, some of my favorites have been displaced by newcomers.  With the coming season, I thought I would share some of my favourites.

The tool that is by my side constantly is my hori-hori knife, a one handed multipurpose tool, used for digging and cutting. It has a long steel blade that is smooth on one side and serrated on the other. The serrated edge is handy for cutting through roots and difficult weeds and the smooth side is more appropriate to delicate cutting tasks. The tool originates from Japan, where it has been used for centuries to remove vegetables and Sanasi plants from the mountains. The word ‘hori’ literally means ‘to dig’ in Japanese.

The point of the blade enables you to dig rows for seeds, seedlings, and holes for larger plants. There is a built-in ruler, which consists of notches on the blade. When not in use, the knife hangs in its scabbard on a hook in the mudroom where it is readily accessed before going outside.

Spring cleanup highlights the need for pruning shears or secateurs; a type of scissors for use on plants. I prefer bypass pruners as they make an accurate and clean cut.  I have used Felco pruners for many years and found them to be sturdy, they have replaceable parts (including the blade) and are available in many styles.  I use the Felco 12 and Felco 6 which are suitable for people with smaller hands. For woody plants that are too thick for pruners, I switch to loppers which are long handled two handed pruners. My flower shears are small needle-nosed pruners that can get into tight places while delivering a clean cut to the stem.

The spade that gets the most use is my rabbiting spade which was originally designed for digging out rabbit burrows. The blade is very long, curved and tapers towards the end. It is ideal when working in confined spaces or for transplanting plants and shrubs. It has a short handle and a classic YD handle.

For working on woody plants with a diameter larger than 2 inches, I turn to my Japanese pruning saw. Light weight with an ergonomic handle that helps to prevent wrist fatigue, its tooth size and geometry are chosen for cutting green and wet wood, ie, live wood. These saws cut on the pull stroke, which keeps the blade straight which I find makes it easier to use. It makes fast work of any task leaving a very clean cut.  The saws are available in a number of sizes and types.  I prefer to buy brands where the blade can be replaced when needed.  I use mine for everything from foraging for evergreens at Christmas to dealing with invasive trees and shrubs on the farm.

One of my first purchases was my Haws 9 litre watering can.  First designed in 1884 and virtually unchanged to this day, it is made from painted galvanized steel that is meant to last lifetime. It has an extra long spout and comes with a removable oval brass rose. The Haws is well balanced, making it easy to carry and tip.  When I do need to water plants, I do it by hand using the Haws and water at the base of the plant directly from the spout. It is quite accurate due to its balance.

From the oldest to the newest, meet my new broadfork, a tool that allows you to aerate your soil while preserving soil structure and microbial populations. Broadforks have two pole handles connected to a row of steel tines along a crossbar, which permits you to use your body weight to drive the tines into the ground while holding the grips. The tines loosen the soil to a significant depth.  Pulling the handles allows you to crack to soil slightly creating passages that allow air, water, and nutrients to reach deep into the ground and create a better growing environment. All this with no bending!!

“Tools of many kinds and well chosen, are one of the joys of a garden” ~ Liberty Hyde Bailey

Year of the Garden 2022

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

Canadians love to garden!  2022 is the Canadian ornamental sector’s centennial and has been declared by the Canadian Garden Council as the Year of the Garden.  For more information, check Year of the Garden.

Our gardens became even more important to us over the last couple of years while we were sheltering at home due to the covid pandemic.   2022 is a year for us to share our gardening passion and knowledge.  It is the mission of the Peterborough and Area Master Gardeners to inform, educate and inspire the residents of Peterborough and area to create healthy and vibrant gardens, landscapes and communities through the use of safe, effective, proven and sustainable horticultural practices.  Peterborough has even declared itself as a garden-friendly city as part of the Year of the Garden festivities!

So, think how you can “live the garden life” … maybe consider gardening indoors with house plants, or in containers on your balcony or create a new garden in your yard.  You could join your local Horticultural Society to learn more about plants and then perhaps become more involved in the community.  Your next step might be to become a Master Gardener!

The Peterborough and Area Master Gardeners will celebrate the Year of the Garden by partnering with the Peterborough Public Library to renovate the gardens around their Aylmer Street building.  The gardens had originally been planted with invasive plants.  We will remove the invasives and replace them with native plants from Grow Wild, Native Plant Nursery.  The Peterborough Kawartha Association of Realtors (PKAR) are providing some much needed sponsorship funding for the project.  We are planning to involve the younger crowd in some of the planting along with our great group of adult volunteers.  We hope that, with some growing time, the gardens will become a haven with native plants and local pollinators and a beautiful spot for human visitors to rest. 

June 18/2022 has been designated as the Year of the Garden day in Peterborough.  The opening of the newly planted gardens at the Peterborough Public Library will be on that date from 10 until 2 pm.  There will also be a story walk for children, a Master Gardener advice table and more.   Another great event happening that day is the Peterborough Horticultural Society’s garden tour.  Tickets will be on sale soon for the tour.  Follow the Peterborough Master Gardeners and the Peterborough Horticultural Association on social media for more information.

Winter Browning of Conifers

By Laura Gardner, Master Gardener in Training

This spring as I walk around my neighbourhood, I have noticed quite a few evergreen conifers with brown needles. The species that are commonly affected are mainly the dwarf and ornamental varieties such as Picea glauca ‘Conica’ (Dwarf Alberta Spruce), Thuja occidentalis ‘Smargd’ (Emerald Cedar), and Taxus spp. (Yew). Some of the more robust and resistant conifers are the parent species such as Thuja occidentalis (Eastern White Cedar).

Some Causes[i]

  1. Inadequate moisture
  2. Inadequate protection from sun and wind
  3. Rapid freezing/thawing
  4. Salt spray damage
  5. Root damage at transplant
  6. Late season pruning and fertilization
  7. Late fall transplant
  8. Genetic maladaptation

Cultural Practices for Recovery and Future Maintenance

Depending on the extent of the damage, these shrubs may recover and produce new growth. This process can be encouraged by additional watering and the addition of mulch. Shrubs should be well-hydrated up until freezing in the fall to prepare them for moisture loss in the following winter. Mulching helps protect shallow roots from drying out, can help limit frost-heaving, and moderates the temperature of the soil.

Prior to winter, consider adding some protection such as a burlap screen with stakes for plantings on the south and/or west side where it is sunny or windy or near driveways and walkways that are salted. Burlap can be wrapped around shrubs but should be kept loose so that moisture is not trapped. The advantage to a screen is that the area remains open to air and light. Salt, sun, and wind can draw out moisture from the needles and because the ground is frozen, the roots are unable to draw in replacement moisture. Planting these types of shrubs on the north and east sides, in less open areas, and away from driveways can minimize damage.

Shrubs that have been dug from the nursery field and then have been repotted for sale may be subject to some root damage/loss. This can be more problematic when transplanting late in the fall as there is limited time for root re-development. In addition, the ability of the roots to draw in moisture before freeze-up can be compromised. Refrain from pruning and fertilizing late in the summer as this can encourage a flush of late new growth—tender growth that is more susceptible to winter damage.

Conifers that are exhibiting winter browning:

Is Supportive Care Enough?

Perhaps—it is required in the first few years after transplant and probably they will continue to require extra support. However, some dwarf and ornamental conifer cultivars are simply not genetically adapted to thrive in this region. This is because they have originated from areas of more moderate climate and hardiness zones. When considering trees and shrubs, while some species are more adaptable than others, it is preferable that stock be grown locally and be from local cuttings and seed. Forest Gene Conservation Association notes that “bringing material in from dissimilar areas often results in low survival from heat stress or winterkill, frost damage, reduced growth rates, and increased insect and disease problems.”[ii] While climate change is indeed allowing us to push the envelope a little and plant some species from the next hardiness zone, and there are assisted migration[iii] programs for species, there can be a risk in transplanting certain plants from further afield. Plants are genetically adapted to follow a particular timed growth cycle. For example, a study of Quercus rubra (Red Oak) found that a specimen grown in Algonquin Park that was transplanted in the Niagara region stopped growing before the end of the growing season. It was genetically adapted to a growing season of 185 days but the growing season in Niagara is around 230 days. Another specimen grown in Niagara that was transplanted in Algonquin Park was genetically adapted to continue growing past the end of the growing season there and as a result suffered frost damage and browning. It would be weakened and be more prone to damage from disease and insects.[iv]

Another study of Picea glauca (White Spruce) in Alberta found that cold hardiness was determined to be the trait with the strongest genetic variation. Seed from plants originating from Ontario had high growth but a poor survival rate. Because they were accustomed to longer growth periods, there were more vulnerable to early damaging frosts. The plants with the highest survival and growth rates were grown from local stock.[v]

Before purchasing, determine your garden’s site conditions: soil, moisture, drainage, sunlight, wind, climate, and whether the trees or shrubs you are considering can adapt readily to the conditions. Climate change also needs to be considered as we experience increased drought and higher temperatures. Determine their origin. Ask the vendor where they were grown. If they originated from an area with very different conditions, consider giving them a pass. Realize that “if a tree is not genetically adapted to your site conditions, no amount of care will help it grow as vigorously as one from the appropriate source.”[vi]

Keep in mind the gardening adage, “the right plant for the right space.”


[i] Winter Burn. University of Wisconsin Garden Fact Sheets. Online: https://hort.extension.wisc.edu/files/2015/01/Winter-Burn.pdf

[ii] Seed Source Matters. Forest Gene Conservation Association. Online: https://fgca.net/2016/12/seed-source-matters/

[iii] Assisted Migration. Forest Gene Conservation Association. Online: https://fgca.net/climate-change/assisted-migration/

[iv] How Far Should the Seed Fall from the Tree? It’s a Question of Respecting Diversity: Genetic and Environmental. Online: https://ontariosnaturalselections.org

[v] Sebastian-Azcona, Jaime, et al. Adaptations of White Spruce to Climate: Strong Intraspecific Differences in Cold Hardiness Linked to Survival. Ecology and Evolution, vol. 8, no. 3, 2018. Online: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ece3.3796.

[vi] When Planting Trees. Forest Gene Conservation Association. Online: https://fgca.net/forest-gene-convservation/when-planting-trees/

Glorious Lilies

by Christine Freeburn, Master Gardener

One of the most spectacular blooming flowers in the garden are from the genus Lilium. The large 6-petalled trumpet flowers stand on upright herbaceous stems. The fragrance emitted from some can perfume the entire neighbourhood. Lilies form from bulbs that have scaly layers and depending on the variety can bloom in your garden for a short period from June or into the summer months.

There are hundreds of species and varieties, and more being hybridized each year. There are basically 9 different types described by the North American Lily Society. They include hybrids like Asiatic, Oriental, Longiflorum, Trumpet, Martagon, Candidum, American and Interdivisional as well as Species. Most are perennial in our zone, some are fragrant.

Lilies prefer full sun and need well drained soil to grow well. Lilies are toxic to cats. Many lilies from the Asiatic, Oriental, Trumpet and Martagon families are susceptible to attack from Asian Lily Beetle.

For more information about lilies you might want to add to your garden Ontario Regional Lily Society and North American Lily Society

Check out a previous article written by PMG Mary Jane Parker on Falling In Love With Lilies

Easter Lily

Easter Lily (Lilium longiflorum)

• Forced in greenhouses for bloom at Easter
• 2 to 3 feet tall with a slight fragrance
• Will take full sun or part shade in your garden
• If planted in your garden, should overwinter and bloom the next summer, but be patient as it has had stress put on it from being forced

Asiatic Lily

Asiatic Lilies (Lilium auratum)

• Look like small artichokes as they emerge in spring
• Long slender glossy leaves
• Varieties may grow from 1 to 6 feet tall
• Many colours available, no fragrance
• Easy to grow, bulbs multiply quickly, very popular

Oriental Lily – Stargazer

Oriental Lilies (Lilium orientalis)

• Pointy tips emerge from ground in spring
• Leaves are broader, slightly heart shaped and farther apart on stem
• Usually bloom in June with very fragrant flowers
• Slower to multiply than Asiatic
• Most popular of all lilies
• Popular varieties include “Stargazer” and “Casablanca”

Trumpet Lilies (Lilium aurelian)

• Tend to bloom earlier than Oriental and after Asiatic
• Fragrant multiple blooms on each stem
• Some varieties can grow up to 8′ tall
• Popular varieties include “African Queen”

Martagon Lilies (Lilium martagon)

• Known as Turk’s Cap
• Has blooms which tend to face downward
• Likes moist, well drained soil in sun to part shade

American Hybrid

• Native to North America and blooming mid to late summer
• Downward facing yellow flowers
• Sun to part shade and moist soil
L. canadense and L. michiganense are two varieties grown in Ontario

Interdivisional Hybrids

• Also know as “Orienpet”
• Cross between Oriental and Trumpet
• Lots of hybridized types available
• Easier to grow varieties

Madonna Lilies (Candidum)

• Similar to Easter lily, but susceptible to viral disease
• Bulb is planted near surface, not like other lily bulbs
• Difficult to find to purchase

There are many plants with “lily” in the common name that are not related to those mentioned above. Always look at the Latin name to determine what family plants belong to.

Daylilies (Hemerocallis) are a beautiful low maintenance perennial which grow in clumps.
Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis) is an invasive perennial! Do not plant, grow or share!
Toad Lily (Tricyrtis hirta) is perennial , 2′-3′ tall, likes partial to full shade and moist loamy soil.
Trout Lily (Eryyhronium americanum) is a yellow wildflower with mottled purple lance shaped leaves found in forests
Canna Lilies (Canna) are a tender perennial with rhizomes that need to be lifted in fall and stored over winter
And there are the houseplants Calla Lily (Zantedeshia) which likes moist soil and grows from rhizomes and the Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum) which is related to but not the same as calla lily.

Soil Maintenance

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener

Dry soil with little nutrient value; amended soil with many nutrients

As we approach the reawakening of our spring gardens, I thought it would be a good idea to review the importance of soil maintenance.

How you prepare your soil will have huge implications on the health and survival of all your plants. Two years ago, my husband dug a deep hole in preparation for building a small pond.  All the clay, rocky soil was removed.  In the end, we decided on a smaller water feature, so I filled the hole with what was left in my two compost bins and backfilled with some of the clay that had been dug up.  I hadn’t tested the soil, but through the use of good quality compost, I ended up creating a garden bed that was rich in nutrients and a soil that had good water-holding capabilities.  The following spring, I decided to plant annuals in my ‘new’ garden bed.  They were fantastic!  All plants in this particular area of the garden flourish!  The old saying, “Tend the soil, not the plants” is right on the mark!

My late summer garden with zinnias & cosmos

A well-fed soil will produce healthy and beautiful plants. It provides a physical anchorage, water, and nutrients and allows the exchange of gasses between plant roots and the atmosphere.  The ideal soil is made up of 50% solids (mineral and organic materials) and 50% pore spaces (air and water). Water is best at 20-30%, air at 20-30%, mineral at 45%, and organic at 5%.  These proportions can and do change dramatically in response to climate and rainfall.

There are 3 types of soil that most of us are familiar with; clay, silt and sand.

Clay is tiny particles about the same size as bacteria.  Silt’s particles are 10 times larger than clay.  Sand particles are 10 times larger than silt.  The larger the particles, the easier it is for water to penetrate.  I have lived with both sand and clay soils, and each have their own challenges.

Soil is full of living things like decaying organic matter, microbes, bacteria, fungi and microorganisms.  It is very much alive!  The world is depleting its soil at a much faster rate than the soil is able to replenish itself.  One inch of topsoil that is lost due to erosion, wind or farming takes many, many years to replace.

There are more organisms living in one teaspoon of soil than there are people on this earth.  Think about that!  Soil is so very important and many of us are not aware of the benefits of keeping our soils healthy!

Here are a few ideas.

MULCHING

Mulching can greatly benefit the health of your plants.  Some of those benefits include:

  1. Improving the nutrient content over time of the soil (depending on the type of mulch used)
  2. Reduces weeding as it often smothers them
  3. Reduces water evaporation, therefore less watering is required
  4. Protects the soil from temperature fluctuations, therefore avoiding the freeze/thaw cycle
  5. Prevents soil compaction and reduces soil erosion

There are many materials available to be used as mulches in the spring.  Refrain from using black or red coloured mulch.  I prefer a natural cedar mulch.

DIVERSIFY AND PLANT MORE NATIVES

We are stewards of our land, no matter how small of an area we own.  Native plants have evolved over thousands of years and because they have adapted to their environment, they are easy to grow, provide habitat and food to a variety of insects and wildlife, are remarkably resistant to disease and are generally tolerant of many soil conditions.  The majority of native plants have very long root systems which work to improve the structure of the soil.

Doug Tallamy, author of Nature’s Best Hope, speaks about the decline in wildlife populations because of the disappearance of the many native plants they depend upon. He would like us to turn all our yards into what he calls our own Home Grown National Park. This would create corridors of conservation for all the wildlife, insects and birds.  Take some of the grassy area you have and create a new pollinator garden with some local native plants.  You will be amazed at the wildlife you will see!

BUILD UP YOUR SOIL WITH LOTS OF ORGANIC MATTER

Soil improvement can be a long process.  It is recommended that you add a yearly application of organic matter, preferably in early spring.  Do not be tempted to dig it in.  Weed seeds can lay dormant for many years and as soon as they are disturbed and see the light, they will begin to grow.  Lay the organic matter on top of your beds and the worms will do the work.

  1. Use your own homemade compost.  Check out this blog by a fellow Master Gardener Fellow Master Gardener – All About Compost
  2. Use shredded leaves in the fall.  I shred my leaves, rake them on my garden beds and leave them over the winter. Come the spring, the worms will do the job of taking them down into the soil.
  3. Manure, Triple Mix or Compost from a reputable Landscape Supply Store

CONSIDER LASAGNA GARDENING

Consider creating new garden beds without removing turf by first covering it with newspaper or cardboard and then layers of soil and compost.  If you do this in the fall, you will have a brand ‘new’ garden bed that you can plant in come the following spring!

My new garden bed; compost/leaves on top of cardboard and left to decompose over the winter!

PLANT COVER CROPS

Bare soils encourage erosion, loss of nitrogen, growth of weeds, water accumulation and spring runoff.  Cover crops create a universe of microbes, mycorrhizae, fungi, and bacteria.  By planting a cover crop in your vegetable garden in the fall, you will receive many benefits such as reducing water run-off, restoring carbon to the soil, erosion prevention and pest and disease resistance.  Some of the more common cover crops that are used are legumes such as clover, beans and peas and grasses such as ryegrass or oats.  Plants in the legume family take nitrogen gas from the air and convert it to a form that plants can use.  In the spring, turn the dead material into the soil.

RESOURCES

Fellow Master Gardener Blog on Regenerative Agriculture

Soil Health in Ontario

Five Ways to Improve Soil – Oregon State University

Why is my Thanksgiving Cactus Blooming in March?

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

Sometimes we get questions that sound more complicated than they really are. After observing an odd occurence in my own home, I’ve been contemplating this one: “Why is my Thanksgiving Cactus blooming in March?”  Sometimes, it’s a very simple answer:  Because it’s not a Thanksgiving Cactus – it’s an Easter Cactus.

However, that’s not the case for MY cactus. Using the image below, I’ve correctly identified my plant as a Thanksgiving Cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) based on its leaf structure. It also bloomed profusely last fall. So what gives?

A couple of weeks ago, while watering, I noticed that some buds were forming on the window side of the plant, but not on the other side facing me. I turned the plant around. A few weeks later, it’s “bloom city” on that side, but the other side has exactly zero blooms.

I did some investigation, and it turns out that blooms require two things: cooler temperatures and long nights. These cacti are short-day plants, which means that blooms are triggered by long dark cool nights. They need for between 14-16 hours of uninterrupted darkness and 8 hours of daylight for between 3 – 6 weeks to set flower buds. Our winter seems to fit that bill — flowering that shows at Thanksgiving will often be followed by a second rush just before, at, or maybe after Easter because of the light and temperature.

Once you notice that your cactus is budding or re-budding, it’s a really good idea to leave it in exactly the same place, and to not move it. Moving the plant may result in bud drop. Also, while in flower, allow the soil to dry down somewhat between waterings.

Resources

Do Christmas Cactus (Thanksgiving, Holiday) Flower More Than Once A Year? Oh Yes!

How to Make Christmas Cactus Bloom Several Times Per Year

Why Do We Garden?

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” Audrey Hepburn

If you’re like me, you love to garden. Time in my garden provides me with joy on so many levels — emotional, physical, social, creative — and connects me with the outdoors and the environment. And while the COVID-19 pandemic has turned our lives upside down, one of the silver linings is that we’ve seen a renewed interest in gardening and its benefits, whether you’re working in a large garden or a few containers on your balcony. So I thought I would explore some of the top reasons I think we garden.

Physical and Emotional Health

Gardening is physical. As a low to medium impact exercise that requires both strength and stretching, you’ll see increased muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness over time, as well as improved sleep and diet (if you grow your own produce). On the emotional side, gardening reduces stress, anxiety, and depression and improves self esteem.

It’s good for the mind — gardening calms me down and helps me be more patient with myself and those I interact with on a daily basis. It gives me time to contemplate as I go about my tasks, up to my elbows in soil. Even weeding is cathartic, pulling out those little terrors by the root!

Just visiting gardens helps to calm the mind, bringing a sense of contentment and tranquility from looking at beautiful landscapes, flowers, or just colour and texture.

Building Relationships

While gardening can be a solo activity (some of my favourite moments are just by myself in my green oasis), it’s also a fabulous way to connect with people, whether they be family or strangers!

Teaching people how to nurture a living thing and to be responsible for a little bit of the environment is a lesson and gift we can share with others. Gardening knowledge is shared through generations — I love hearing about plants handed down from grandparents, or children working with their parents to grow seeds for the first time. It’s a great way to pass on critical life lessons — about patience as plants and vegetables grow, responsibility as they look after their care, and loss when flowers die at the end of a season.

Beyond family, gardening helps us connect with the broader community. Whether you plant too many tomatoes or zucchinis and end up giving them away to neighbours, or participate in a community garden plot, gardening can be a very social activity and a chance to learn from, and share your bounty, with others.

Learning Life Values

Gardening teaches you important life values like patience, determination, caring, and hard work. It also makes you very humble as you realize that there is always something new to learn. You need to observe the seasons and the weather, and this puts you in contact with the natural world. I love that I can get dirty and do this very physical activity, working with seeds and plants and seeing growth in all I do.

Growing Your Own Food

Gardening provides benefits for your wallet, your nutrition, and reduces your environmental footprint. By growing your own food (either from seeds or small plants), your food is automatically more sustainable simply because you are doing it onsite or in a community garden. If you control the ‘inputs’ and do it well, you can save a lot of money.

But ultimately there is nothing more rewarding than planting and maintaining your own vegetable garden and harvesting (and sharing) your results. And we all know how much better homegrown produce tastes versus conventional produce at the grocery store. If you have too much produce, then you can just share the love with others!

Connecting With Nature

I think this is one of the best reasons why people have a garden — the sunshine on your face, hands in the dirt, and feeling connected to nature. The garden is so much more than just plants and flowers — it’s the birds, the bugs, the bees, the spiders, the snakes and all the small mammals. I feel like I am establishing a little ecosystem in my own garden and that I am trying to give back for all the benefits that I receive.

Working in the garden also gives you that sense of wonder, accomplishment, and reward. To grow plants is to give life. It keeps you busy but reminds you to be one with the earth. To see the results of something growing from seed to six feet tall is just incredible.

Exploring Creativity

I find gardening to be an incredibly creative activity. Finding the right plant for the right spot, mixing colours, and making sure there is interest for every season — these are real challenges. I’ve spent much of the past few years learning about new plants to consider in my garden, especially natives.

Helping The Environment

Finally, gardening is so important for our planet. Even though we create our gardens (so they are human made) they do represent natural environments, with trees and shrubs and plants that are all taking in carbon and releasing oxygen. The plant roots stabilize the soil and filter water, and the plants themselves support our pollinators.

We live in a symbiotic relationship with our gardens. We give back by planting and maintaining them, but we receive so much more from them than we give.

Why do you garden?

Multiplying Streptocarpus

By Lois Scott, Master Gardener

Don’t worry if math isn’t your thing.  Multiplying, or more correctly, propagating Streptocarpus (Cape Primrose), a beautiful flowering house plant, is not complicated at all. 

If you have a streptocarpus, an efficient way to propagate to get more plants is to take a leaf cutting.  The way you prepare a leaf cutting varies somewhat depending on the plant. Check this link for different propagation methods for other plants.     

Many plants will root well in water but some, like Streptocarpus, will form stringy, fibrous roots that may have difficulty becoming established when planted in soil.  That is why a leaf cutting is advised.  It is quite an amazing process as both leaves and roots are formed and the leaf cutting does not become part of the new plant.

You should have all your equipment clean and ready. Take a healthy leaf from a well hydrated plant and either cut out the midrib of the leaf, creating two leaf pieces or cut the leaf into 5cm sections from top to bottom.  Have a clean pot already prepared with moistened soilless potting mix or half and half potting mix and perlite (medium).  Your moistened medium should still be crumbly, not forming clumps, as that may mean it is too wet and may cause your leaf cutting to rot.  Take your leaf cuttings and place them in the soil.  Placing them about 2.5cm deep is advised but my leaf cutting wasn’t that big.  As you can see parts of the leaf curled up but I still managed to get results.  Five plantlets so far!

After your cuttings are in the soil, place your pot in a plastic bag to keep the humidity high.  Leaf cuttings have no roots to support them so they need the high humidity.  Place your bagged pot in a warm, bright spot but not in direct sun.  It is advised to open the bag every week to release excess humidity and to water as needed.  You may find you never need to water while the pot is bagged. 

In about 6-12 weeks you will hopefully have little plantlets forming.  Wait until they have developed enough leaf and root tissue and then pot on to 3-4” pots and enjoy your new plants.

See also this link: https://www.rhs.org.uk/plants/streptocarpus/growing-guide

Peterborough, ON, Canada