It’s not too late …

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

As I type this, we in central Ontario are in the midst of a burst of spring-like weather, and it’s supposed to continue for a few days yet. It gives us all a second chance to finish fall chores not completed when the snowfall and killing frosts hit in the last few weeks.

Author’s recently received Breck’s bulb order, still in the box!

If, like me, you failed to get all of your tulips and daffodils planted, do not worry. As long as you can get a shovel in the ground it’s OK to plant spring flowering bulbs. Some pros suggest they actually do better if planted when the ground harbors a bit of frost, so take advantage of those late season sales and plant away. Also, by planting later, you may experience fewer issues with squirrels stealing your bulbs. The arrival of snow doesn’t mean you’ve missed your chance, either. If the ground hasn’t completely frozen yet, you’re in luck, even if you have to break through the frozen crust first.

If you regularly find that squirrels munch on your buffet of bulbs, you may wish to purchase some “chicken wire” at your local co-op store. Cut a small round circle about the same size as the hole you’re going to dig. Plant the bulbs at the recommended depth, and then cover with some soil up to about 2″ from the surface. At that height, plant the chicken wire, and cover over with a bit more soil and mulch. The added benefit of the chicken wire is that should you forget where you planted tulips next summer after their foliage has died back, the chicken wire will be a good reminder when you hit it with your shovel. The bulbs will happily grow through the 1″ holes in the wire next spring.

An amazing purchase of mine a few weeks ago is a small cordless drill auger attachment. It works wonders to create just the right size of hole for my bulbs, with very little effort. Mine is only about 6″ tall and makes about a 2″ hole. I move it around a bit to make the hole just big enough for 5-6 bulbs. Worth the $10 investment, for sure.

Remember: Bulbs are not seeds. They are alive and need to be planted in the fall. They will not last in storage — or that sack on a shelf in the garage. They require somewhere between 13-14 weeks of sub-zero temperatures before they’ll bloom next spring.

So what do you do if you find a bag of bulbs in January? There is a method of bulb planting that can work even during the coldest winter. It’s called the “no-dig” method. Simply move the snow away from your chosen location and place your bulbs on the frozen ground. Cover them with a bag or two of garden soil to a depth of three times the height of the bulb, and that’s it! The bonus of this method is that the soil above the bulbs will likely freeze quickly, and squirrels won’t harvest half of your crop. This method also works in areas where there are so many roots that digging a hole for bulbs is challenging. Try it!

Resources:

HGTV: When is it Too Late to Plant Bulbs?

Country Living: It’s Not Too Late to Plant your Spring Bulbs

Meditation in Motion – Gardening as Therapy

By Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

“Caring for your garden can be a great form of mindfulness meditation. By connecting with the earth and with the practice of gardening, you can cultivate a healthy mind and feel calm and connected. Simply planting a seed with intention, or touching soil, can be transformative. Go ahead and get a little dirty.” — Suze Yalof Schwartz, founder of Unplug Meditation and author of “Unplug: A Simple Guide to Meditation for Busy Skeptics and Modern Soul Seekers.”

As I watched the first snowflakes fall on my gardens the other day, I reflected on this growing season and how much my gardens (and gardening) have supported my physical, mental, and emotional health, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic where so many other activities have not been possible.

Gardening is just so therapeutic on many levels. What I love best from year to year is the transformation from an area of soil with some structure (shrubs etc.) to a lush environment buzzing with pollinators and birds and chipmunks just a few months later. A garden is so satisfying because it builds over time – plants, shrubs, and trees get larger and healthier with each passing year, and your garden becomes more beautiful over time.

Medical studies have shown that gardeners live longer because they are active, have better body circulation, lower blood pressure, less stress, the list goes on….

Horticultural therapy is now widely practiced, where participants become “plant caretakers”, supporting their recovery and improving their moods, resulting in shorter stays in medical facilities. Some of my fellow Peterborough Master Gardeners do wonderful work at our local retirement and nursing homes with their gardening activities.

Basically, our gardens are a more intimate form of enjoying and appreciating nature, helping us understand how everything is interrelated in nature, and how we can contribute to the cycle of life by planting a seed and nurturing our flowers, shrubs, and trees. It’s a powerful connection that gives us a sense of optimism and purpose. As Audrey Hepburn said..

My experience with gardeners is that they are lifelong learners, much of that from trial and error. In general we are a patient lot, planning each year and persevering through the seasons. We can also be stubborn and focused, to be found in the garden from early morning through sunset, having totally forgotten about time.

Gardening as Active Meditation

Active meditation or “meditation in motion” is an activity that requires full attention and concentration without needing much deep intellectual thought. Trail running, mountain biking, hiking, and riding a horse are all examples of active meditation, where you must focus on what’s right in front of you.

Trying to figure out the emerging weeds from the young seedlings, setting up your pots and planting your seeds, determining the best tool for an activity – all these things demand your full attention and presence. At the same time, you are allowing your mind to relax and stop worrying about all of life’s daily concerns. Of course, all is this is premised on your attitude. If you look forward to spending time in your garden, viewing it as a pleasure instead of as a “chore” or something that must get done, then you will experience all the positive benefits of gardening.

Certainly no one is saying gardening is not hard work, but on a sunny spring day I can lose hours working in the garden, totally absorbed in the physicality of the activities. Especially after a long winter I appreciate the texture and smell of the soil, the breeze, the birds, the flowers, the trees, and the clouds and sky.

So as the season of outside gardening winds down (yes I actually got all my bulbs in the ground already), my thoughts turn to all that my garden gave me this past year, and I start on my plans for next year. Ever the optimist..

Whether you call it meditation, mindfulness, or ecotherapy, gardeners are blessed to have a steady place of solace in these trying times. Here’s to great memories and planning for next spring.

Some further reading if you are interested

How a Garden Grows You

Why are Gardens so Good for the Soul?

Why COVID gardening is about more than just food

How the Coronavirus Changed Gardening

Gardening is fundamentally an act of enormous hope because everything you do in the garden is for the future.
Barbara Frum, Canadian Broadcast Journalist

Chrysanthemums: perennials?

By Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

One of the early signs that summer is coming to a close is the proliferation of potted mums. These beautiful fall flowers come in a range of colours from white to yellow to burgundy and almost everything in between. They disappear when flowering is done, only for new ones  to appear next year all potted up and blooming profusely again. Although they are perennial (zone 5-9), one doesn’t usually find them in the flower bed, but instead they are displayed in wonderful potted arrangements. 

At the end of the season, rather than putting them in the compost, why not try planting them?

There are a few things one can do to try to help your mums survive the winter in the ground:

  • Choose plants whose buds haven’t started to open. Plant them in a larger pot with fresh potting soil for display purposes, then, at the end of the season plant them directly in the ground. 
  • Mums need full sun 5-6 hours daily.
  • Mums need rich well drained soil, so add compost to the soil when planting.
  • After blooming is finished cut the plant back to about 10cm from the ground. (Or wait and do this in the spring )
  • Mums have shallow roots, so it’s important to mulch them well with several inches of mulch to keep the roots from heaving through the freeze thaw cycles of winter. If you see that they have heaved, just push them back into the ground.
  • They also need lots of water, so keep them well watered in the pots as well when you put them in the ground

If you’ve been successful and the mums survive the winter, the operative word here is “if” as they have been forced into the wonderful growth we see. So, if they survive:

  1. As they are susceptible to mildew, they need plenty of air circulation, and morning sun to dry the dew from the leaves. Don’t plant them where they will be boxed in.
  2. Once they have reached a height of 15cm pinch the new growth back to encourage side shoots and more fall flowering. This can be done a few times until mid to late June.
  3. Keep the plants well-watered and fertilized with a 5-10-10 fertilizer.
  4. Enjoy another burst of colour from these amazing plants the next fall.

You may also want to keep an eye out at the garden centres in the spring for perennial Chrysanthemums that you can grow in your garden. There are many beautiful cultivars in a wide range of colours and sizes that will keep your fall flower bed looking spectacular.

Links:

https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/gardening/a20705668/growing-mums/

https://www.gardendesign.com/flowers/mums.html

Trees for the Understory

by Lois Scott, Master Gardener

This year the overstory (forest canopy) was clearly a showstopper. The beautiful fall colour can certainly outshine the understory that grows beneath, however the understory has its own beauty and this is where the greatest diversity is found. The understory is comprised of the vegetation that grows beneath the canopy including “seedlings and saplings of canopy trees together with specialist understory trees, shrubs and herbs”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Understory

In our urban landscape a natural understory can be largely missing, particularly in our urban gardens. In my own garden, along with an increasing number of native herbs and shrubs I have included a few native, “specialist” understory trees to increase diversity. They grow well in the shade of neighbouring canopy trees, will all tolerate urban conditions and are worthy substitutes to many for the non-native horticultural varieties.

Blue BeechCarpinus caroliniana  aka American Hornbeam, Ironwood, Musclewood

This tree has a blue tinged bark that is hard and smooth with a sinewy appearance.  It grows up to 8 metres high with a low and spreading habit.  It prefers deep, rich moist soils and will tolerate some flooding.  Although is prefers shade it will tolerate full sun with enough moisture.  Squirrels and birds will eat the seeds and flowers.  The leaves turn a beautiful reddish copper colour in the fall.  Mammals avoid browsing twigs and branches due to their unpalatable taste.

Blue Beech

IronwoodOstrya virginiana aka Hop-Hornbeam

Although the Ironwood tree shares a similar common name to the Blue Beech these are two distinct trees.  The Ironwood grows up to 12 metres with a wide spreading crown and long slender branches.  It is very adaptable and will grow in full sun to full shade.  It prefers well drained to slightly dry soils and is an excellent tree for an urban area.

Ironwood

Pagoda DogwoodCornus alternifolia

The Pagoda Dogwood is a small graceful tree with a flat, layered appearance growing up to 10 metres.  It prefers moist, well drained soil.  It has beautiful white fluffy spring flowers that mature into blue, berry like fruits that are attractive to a wide variety of birds.  It is also a butterfly larval host.

Canadian ServiceberryAmelanchier canadensis 

The Canadian Serviceberry grows up to 8 metres. It bears elongated clusters of white showy flowers in spring followed by red berries that birds devour. It is drought tolerant and will grow in both shade and sun.

https://www.greenup.on.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/2019May15_EcologyParkCatalogueMasterDraft.pdf

https://www.yourleaf.org/blog/jen-vander-vecht/jul-15-2015/seeing-understory-through-trees

Spring bulbs, plant them now!

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

Nothing compares to walking through a garden in spring with the heady scent of hyacinths wafting through the air!  Hyacinths not only have an incredible fragrance but they also have beautiful blooms and glossy green strap-like leaves. Their wonderfully scented flowers provide early nectar for pollinators.  They bloom in spring (mid-March – early May) and their flowers come in a rainbow of colours. Another great thing about hyacinths, they are deer and rabbit resistant.  For more, check here Hyacinth.

We are all familiar with tulips but did you know that there are now so many varieties that you may plant a tulip garden that begins blooming in early spring and may continue into June depending on the planting location and variety.  Tulips too come in a multitude of colours and shapes … some are also fragrant.  Unfortunately, squirrels and chipmunks appear to love the taste of tulip bulbs so try covering them with chicken wire, or try sprinkling the planting site with bone meal or chicken manure, to keep the little critters away.  For more, check here Tulips.

Daffodils, also known by the fancier name narcissus, are long lived often continuing to appear each spring at old homesteads well after the original inhabitants have moved on.  They too come in many varieties with different flower shapes and colours including yellow, white, red, orange, green or pink.  Daffodils will grow in sun or shade and naturalize amazingly well.  Also good to know that daffodils are not of interest to squirrels or chipmunks and, when planted interspersed among other more susceptible bulbs, may help to keep rodents away.  For more, check here Daffodils.

The diminutive Muscari, or grape hyacinth, are not a variety of hyacinth although they are in the same family.  Muscari also readily naturalize. Because of their small size, plant lots for the best spring show.  For more, check here Muscari.

Snowdrops are another diminutive plant that will be the first bulb to bloom in your garden perhaps even through the snow as their name suggests.  For more, check here Snowdrops.

Alliums bloom late spring to early summer so a bit later than many of the bulbs already discussed.  Their unusual flowers can be quite striking as their globe shapes nod in the breeze.  Don’t be surprised if you purchase an allium to find that they are usually sold singly and may be more expensive than many other bulbs.  For more, check here Alliums.

Bulb Care

Most spring flowering bulbs are planted in the fall (September or October) before the ground freezes. 

Purchase the largest, best quality bulbs that you can find.  Large bulbs have lots of food energy for the emerging plant which will result in strong stems and large flowers.  Avoid bulbs that appear to be soft, damaged or discoloured.  Check on the product package to make sure that you have chosen bulbs  that will grow in your zone.  If you don’t know your gardening zone, find it here Canadian Gardening Zones

Plant bulbs in full sun (6-8 hours/day) to produce the largest blooms and strong straight stems.  However, many will flower in light shade … blooms may not be as large and stems may not be as strong.

Follow the package directions for planting your bulbs.

Bulbs need time after blooming to store energy for the next year. To remove the dead leaves, either snip them off at the base, or twist the leaves while pulling gently.

Some bulbs will not flower as robustly the second year eg. hyacinths.  Some gardeners treat these as annuals, removing the bulbs after flowering and planting fresh bulbs each fall.  Note that many bulbs are toxic so store them appropriately so that your pets or little people are not able to access them.

Plant them now!  A spring garden with a mixture of different bulbs looks lovely!  Plant bulbs along a path or close to your home’s entrance to be able to enjoy their dramatic scent.  They will also add a burst of colour to your perennial garden before other early flowers are up. A mass planting of spring flowering bulbs will make a bold statement in your garden!

Planting garlic (Allium sativum)

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener

Happy Thanksgiving! While we navigate through this pandemic, we hope that you will be able to enjoy some happy moments in a safe and healthy environment. The colours have been beautiful this year and I have marveled at the many different shades of red, orange, yellow and green that still exist in my small urban backyard.

Photo credit: Sharleen Pratt

Thanksgiving reminds me that it is time to plant garlic for next years’ harvest. Here is a ‘Fact Sheet’ that I have put together for those who might be interested in planting this very easy to grow root vegetable.

PLANT DESCRIPTION:

Garlic is part of the Onion Family (Alliaceae) and although there are hundreds of varieties, they all fall under two main categories; Hardneck and Softneck.

Hardneck have a long flowering stem called a scape which eventually develops tiny bulbils at its top end. They usually have a single row of cloves and tend to do best in colder climates. They peel easier than softneck but do not store as long. They last approximately 4 to 6 months.

Softnecks are best for warmer climates, will last 9 to 12 months and have more than one row of cloves in each head. They do not develop a flowering stalk or scape. Softneck garlic are the type that are used to make garlic braids.

Elephant Garlic (Allium ampeloprasum) is a type of leek that is grown like garlic, but is 6 to 7 times bigger and has a milder flavour.

PLANTING NEEDS:

Full sun and well-drained soil with infrequent watering.

WHEN TO PLANT:

In the Peterborough area, October is the best month to plant your garlic. It can be done in early spring but you will produce a larger harvest if done in the previous Fall. Do not use garlic from your local grocery store as it may not be the best variety for your region and it’s often treated with an anti-sprouting chemical to inhibit growth. I purchase my garlic from my local nursery or Farmer’s Market and I also use my own garlic that was harvested in early August.

Photo credit: Sharleen Pratt

HOW TO PLANT:

Separate the inner cloves but do not remove the papery covering. Plant the largest cloves with the pointy end up. Space cloves five to six inches apart and two to three inches deep. You can mulch with straw, but I always mulch the garlic bed with shredded leaves which will be plentiful in the next couple of weeks.

CHALLENGES:

I have never had any garlic concerns; however, my daughter did deal with the leek moth this year. Adult moths lay their eggs and the hatched larvae tunnel into the leaves. She was able to keep it under control by going out each morning and removing the leaves that were encasing the larvae. If you have the space, it is always best to rotate your garlic each year.

HARVESTING SCAPES:

Garlic produces a garlic scape which appear on hardneck varieties, usually in June. They look a little like green onions that spiral and have a small bulbil at the end (which looks like a small hat). They should be cut once you see the spiral or they will become tougher the longer you leave them. Cut it at the base where it comes out of the stalk. Chop them up and fry with a little olive oil or they can be made into garlic scape pesto. It is wise to remove the scapes even if you don’t plan on eating them. This allows the energy to go back into growing the underground bulb.

HARVESTING GARLIC:

You will know your plant is ready to harvest when two to three sets of the bottom leaves have died or turned yellow. Do not leave them too long as the bulb will begin to split. Gently pull out the bulbs with a garden fork.

CURING GARLIC:

Garlic needs to be dried. Gently remove the dirt and trim the dangling white roots to approximately 1 cm. I tie my garlic together in bunches and hang it in my shed to dry for two weeks. Keep it out of direct sunlight and ensure it doesn’t get wet.

STORAGE:

Once dried, clean gently. Trim the long stalk off and store in a cool dry area. Garlic does not like to be refrigerated. You could also store them in empty egg cartons.

If you would like to learn more about growing garlic, read this extensive article from the Ontario Ministry.

Beware the caterpillar

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

Fall is my favourite time of the year to bicycle; not too hot and the scenery on trails in the Kawartha Lakes is beautiful. Asters and golden rod are in full bloom; the sumacs and Virginia creeper are just turning red, whilst the maple trees are slowly turning various shades of orange, yellow, red and brown. My only problem is trying to miss all the caterpillars, grasshoppers, and chipmunks, not to mention the odd rabbit or snake that crosses my path. I can’t count the number of times I have almost ended up in a ditch.  Everything mostly jumps or slithers out of my way, though, with the exception of the woolly bear caterpillars.

Photo taken by author whilst out riding

You would think that these caterpillars would be fairly easy to spot, but at this time of year, and probably at my age too, I tend to have problems distinguishing them from leaves, especially from a distance. The caterpillars normally emerge around this time of year, slowly inching their way across the paths.

Picture of woolly bear caterpillar (taken by author)

The woolly bear caterpillar will emerge from its larva in the fall, and overwinter in its caterpillar form. It does this by finding a safe spot to hibernate under leaves or bark or inside rocks or logs and then freezing solid. It is able to survive being frozen by producing a cryoprotectant, which is a substance that protects its tissue from freezing. The search for a safe hibernation spot is why you see so many of these caterpillars crossing roads and paths.

In the spring the caterpillar will wake up hungry, eat for a few days and then spin a cocoon emerging after a couple of weeks into an Isabella Gypsy Moth.

There are many old wives tales that specify that the size of the brown bands in the middle of the caterpillar or the number of brown bands will determine how hard a winter we will have. This was investigated in 1948 by Dr. C. H Curran who was the Curator of insects at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. To read more about this, please refer to the following article: https://www.almanac.com/content/woolly-bear-caterpillars-and-weather-prediction

Whilst I eagerly await the time when all the caterpillars have finished crossing roads and paths and begun their hibernation, I will continue my daily bike rides looking down at the paths whilst attempting to ensure that I do not cycle into any more ditches.

For additional information, the following is an interesting article: https://blogs.massaudubon.org/yourgreatoutdoors/why-did-the-woolly-bear-cross-the-road/

A new kind of lawn?

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

If you scroll through some of the gardening groups on Facebook these days, you’ll often see people asking “How do I get rid of the clover in my lawn?” Shortly thereafter, you’ll see a lot of people respond with “Love my clover”, “Leave it”, “Food for pollinators”, etc., all of which is true. This post follows fellow MG Emma Murphy’s post from last week quite well, I think!

As a contract gardener/landscaper, if I had a loonie for every person who asked me what to do about their weed-ridden lawns post-herbicides, I’d be a rich person.

Clover may be just the ticket, as it requires less water, fertilizer and weeding than lawns without clover. It stays green all summer. It requires little or no mowing as it only grows 10-20cm (4 -8″) high. It out-competes other weeds, as it has a dense root structure. It grows well in poor soil. It feels great on bare feet. The seed is inexpensive (see below for a tip on where to buy it!)

White clover (Trifolium repens) or Dutch white clover can be established in an existing lawn by overseeding whatever is currently there or by planting a mixture of clover and basic grass seed in a new lawn. From my reading, I’ve found that people have had disappointing results when trying to establish a pure clover lawn. You really need both clover AND grass as they are complementary to each other and one supports the other. Clover does best in full sun, but can do OK in partial shade. It doesn’t grow well in full shade. When mixed with grass, it does well in high traffic areas as well.

Author’s back lawn showing already successfully combined grass and white clover

For us, it started with the white grubs. Whole sections of grass in the front yard are gone. Just gone. Turns out that grubs also do not like clover. Bonus.

Be sure to use Dutch white clover and not the larger red clover. The best time to plant clover is in the early spring before the grass starts growing quickly because the other broadleaf plants are not in competition with it. Early seed sown will germinate when the soil starts to warm up in late April. Clover seed can be purchased at your neighbourhood garden centre or hardware store, but I’ve found it to be much cheaper (less than half price) at my local co-op as it is also a farm product. Clover seed to cover my large front lawn (150ft x 150ft) cost about $10 at the Co-op. About 2 ounces of clover is needed for every 1,000 sq ft of lawn, so my front yard required about 3 pounds or 1.4kg of clover, mixed with about $30 worth of grass seed.

Late summer/early fall is an alternative time to plant. The grass should be cut short and raked first to remove any existing thatch. Clover seed can be spread onto the soil along with grass seed on a 10:1 or 15:1 grass/clover ratio. I’d suggest top-dressing with some triple mix for best results so that the seeds are covered well. Most seed will germinate in less than a week if the temperature is above 15C and if it’s well watered.

It may be necessary to overseed with clover every 2-3 years for the first few years until the mixture gets established.

One caution: If you or any of your loved ones are allergic to bee stings, clover may not be right for you. The clover will flower, and bees will be attracted to the flowers! You can, however, minimize this risk by mowing regularly from June through August during flowering time.

Author’s front lawn showing recent overseeded and top-dressed grass/clover mix.

Resources:

How to Overseed Clover Into a Lawn
Establishing White Clover in Lawns:
Advantages and Disadvantages of Clover Lawns

Is it time to rethink our lawns?

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

Full disclosure – I have never been a fan of lawns. I’ve had a 20 year plan to convert my large property to perennial gardens and paths, and I’m getting there, slowly but surely. 

However, I am fascinated with how (and why) people are so attached to their square green spaces of grass. 

A little history first..

Lawns became popular with the aristocracy in northern Europe from the Middle Ages onward, evolving as a sign of wealth.  Originally they were mostly used as pasture – lawns like we have today first appeared in France and England in the 1700s when André Le Nôtre designed the gardens of Versailles that included a small area of grass called the tapis vert, or “green carpet”.

versailles-4074418_1920

Immigrants to North America brought these traditions with them as they settled the land. Particularly after the Second World War, the creation of the middle class and suburbia and the advent of chemical fertilizers led to a North American culture of ‘the lawn is king’, with the requirement that it was every homeowner’s responsibility to keep it watered, mowed, repaired, and cultivated, just like their neighbours. One article I read even went so far as to blame the rise of lawns on the Scots, who brought their love of lawn bowling and golf to this continent (and therefore the need for flat green areas).

lawn-mower-2127637_1920

Lawn is a cognate of llan which is derived from the Common Brittonic word landa (Old French: launde) that originally means heath, barren land, or clearing.

Lawns are expensive to create and maintain, so why do we still have them? Simply put, the belief is that lawns are indicative of success – if you have a well maintained lawn you have the time and money to create and maintain it, and you care about belonging to your neighbourhood.

Fast forward to current times, where we now see articles in the Globe and Mail asking whether “it’s time to decolonize your lawn” and efforts are underway in many areas to convert lawn areas into more ecologically responsible landscapes to support our pollinators, birds, and wildlife. Whether you simply overseed with some white clover, and reduce or eliminate fertilizers, or convert your entire lawn into a wildflower meadow, there is a full range of options to consider.

Such changes have not been without their challenges. A recent newspaper article shows the conflict between those who want a new attitude towards our properties. Nina-Marie Lister, a Ryerson University urban planner and ecologist removed all her lawn, replacing it with “a lush and layered landscape” filled with “milkweed, boneset and black-eyed Susans, among other plants largely native to the region.” Her neighbours complained and she was visited by a Toronto city bylaw officer – under Toronto’s municipal code, residents need to “cut the grass and weeds on their land” whenever they grow past 20 centimetres.

The comments community lit up, and well known gardener Lorraine Johnson even penned an editorial in the Toronto Star about it.

houseonriver 044 (2)

Naturalized gardens are becoming a widespread phenomenon, and municipal bylaws will continue to be challenged by those that advocate for increasing biodiversity by creating landscapes that support an abundance of species of flora and fauna. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see someone complain to bylaw about a green lawn destroying biodiversity, filling the landscape with chemicals, wasting water by watering, and creating air and noise pollution through mowing? You see, it’s all a matter of perspective.

The debate is far from over, but gardeners should enter the discussion and think about whether there is a way for their green spaces to be just a bit more ecologically friendly.

Whatever your opinion, I encourage you to read these articles and think about the issues surrounding our garden spaces. I know I will never convert the staunch, lawnmower riding king to create a wildflower meadow, but if I just get a few people to think about how they can make a small difference in their own backyards I will be happy. I don’t have all the answers – I just want to stimulate the discussion.

FUN FACT – clover was an accepted part of lawns until the early 1950s, only becoming a ‘weed’ because the earliest 2,4-D herbicides killed it off along with the dandelions.

For those interested the Canadian Society for Organic Urban Land Care is hosting an online discussion and learning series on the role of land care, horticulture and landscaping in cultivating social and land equity. One of the topics is “Cultural values and how they frame horticultural norms” where the colonization and control of our natural landscapes will be the topic.

For more information:

The American Obsession with Lawns

The History of Lawns

Decolonizing Horticulture by Sundaura Alford-Purvis

Starting from scratch — 2 months later

By Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

As mentioned in the my previous blog, creating healthy soil is to be the topic of this article.

Healthy soil is made up of the following components:

Sand, silt and clay – in any soil they are the bones, the structure that is the foundation on which the rest is built. About 48% of the soil.

Air spaces – are the lungs of the soil. They allow for movement of oxygen, water, and nutrients. About 25% of the soil

Organic material – is the food which nourishes the soil to make it a living microcosm for plants to grow in. The microorganisms in the soil process the organic material into a form that plants can use when they need it. The larger organisms in the soil help to maintain its structure. The organic material in the soil is also like a sponge which will hold many times its weight in water. This represents ideally about 4% of the soil.

Water – is like blood. It carries the nutrients from the soil to the roots of plants in a form the plants can use.

In the housing development where I live, we have been provided with good bones. Some of the soils may have more or less of one component than another, but for the most part the bones are good.

From my perspective, the biggest issues are:

  1. compaction from all of the heavy construction equipment that has been driven over and over the sites. Even when the topsoil was put down, dump trucks and bulldozers were used. The soil and sub soil are deeply compacted.
  2. lack of organic material in the soil.
  3. the inability of the soil to retain water.

To overcome these problems the soil needs to be aerated, whether by mechanical means with a core aerator or by hand with a shovel. The plugs of soil, although unsightly, can be left on top of the soil to dry out and then run over with a lawn mower to break them up and spread them over the ground or lawn. Then organic material needs to be added to the soil. For the grass, I would add compost which you can purchase in bulk from garden centres. Spread 1-2 cm (1/2”) over the lawn and rake it in. You may want to add a little grass seed where there are bare spots. With the compost, you won’t have to add any other fertilizer and you won’t have to water very much. For my flower and vegetable beds I add a more generous amount of compost or manure, working the manure into the soil so it doesn’t smell.

It takes 2.5cm (1”) of water to penetrate 15cm (6”) into the soil. With air spaces and multiple surfaces for the water to adhere to and with organic material to act as a sponge and hold the water, the water will stay In the soil better and not run off. For growing vegetables 2.5cm per week is a good rule of thumb. Add more if it’s very hot or windy. With healthy soil, watering the lawn and garden is less of an issue.

The most common grass used for sodding is Kentucky Blue Grass. It is natural for this grass to go dormant in the hot summer months. With good healthy soil to support it, the grass will be able to overcome the drought and revive as the weather gets cooler.

You know you have healthy soil when it has a nice crumbly texture, the surface of the soil doesn’t crack from the heat and when the soil absorbs water instead if having the water sit in pools or run off into ditches. I’ve added a couple of web sites with further information about healthy soils and adding compost to lawns.

Resources

Healthy Soils, UMass Extension
Compost for Summer Lawns, Planet Natural Research Center

Peterborough, ON, Canada