Mulch–Do you love it or hate it?

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

Mulch may be used as a noun or as a verb.  I make a list to pick up some “mulch” (noun) at the garden centre so that I can come home and “mulch” (verb) my flower garden.

I mulch my gardens including my vegetable garden, my flower gardens and my container gardens. Mulch is amazing and is even used by mother nature without any human intervention. If you walk through a pine forest, you will notice that the pine needles are in a thick layer on the forest floor. Mother nature does this for a reason!

Benefits of Mulch

Mulch helps to:

  • moderate soil temperature – it keeps soil cooler in summer and warmer in winter.
  • reduce weed growth – covers the soil to reduce sunlight for weed seed germination and weakens growth of sprouted weeds.
  • retain moisture – it provides protection from drought.
  • build good soil structure and improve soil texture as it decomposes.
  • protect the soil – reduce erosion by water and wind.
  • protect plant foliage from soil splash which can transfer fungus to the leaves of plants.

There are so many types of mulch to choose from that there is sure to be something to suit every gardener.

Organic Mulch

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Pine needle mulch – waiting for plants. South Carolina garden. 
  • Adds nutrients to the soil as it decomposes, living mulches may be fragrant and attract pollinators.
  • Grass clippings, dried shredded fall leaves, leaf mould, conifer needles, clean straw or hay, wood chips or sawdust, shredded newspapers, shredded bark, coconut/nut husks, finished compost, cover crops, creeping groundcover perennials (eg. Thyme – covers the ground well and it flowers) or even closely planted gardens.

Inorganic Mulch

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Stone mulch, author’s garden
  • Permanent, does not break down easily and does not add nutrients to the soil.
  • Geotextiles (landscape fabric), plastic and stone.

 

Mulch Application

Yes, mulching your gardens is work but the benefits are definitely worth it.

Apply mulch to damp soil, 5-10 cm (2-4 inches) deep using a shovel, a garden fork or a bucket. It really depends on the type of mulch which tool will work the best for you.

Do not cover the crown (centre of plant where the stems originate) or mulch right up to the trunk of your trees. You may smother your plant if you cover it with mulch or attract insects to your tree’s trunk if you mulch too close. You will need to re-apply organic mulch every couple of years as it breaks down and becomes part of the garden soil.

Purchasing Mulch

Mulch may be purchased in bulk or in bags. Be sure to ask questions about the product. You want mulch that is free of weed seeds and disease. If you prefer dyed mulch, you will want mulch where the dye used is not poisonous to you or the other critters in your garden.

Oh, I forgot one of the most important benefits of mulch … your soil and your plants are healthy and happy, so enjoy those beautiful gardens!

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Author’s garden

Comfrey Tea

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

I have just finished making a couple of batches of comfrey tea which I will use as a liquid fertilizer on all my pots, vegetables and anything that looks like it needs a pick-me-up. Comfrey is by far my favourite plant to have in a garden, although I should just add that in my garden, my comfrey plant is relegated to an area at the very back behind the leaf composter, as you can see in the following picture:

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Comfrey is a plant that should be in every garden. In my garden I use it strictly for either mulch or as a fertilizer, which is why the location of the plant is not as important. However comfrey has many more uses; it is an amazing multi-functional plant meaning that it can take on many different roles in a garden. It attracts both bees and other beneficial insects with its pink and purple flowers. Traditionally comfrey (once called knitbone) was used for wound healing, with poultices made of mashed leaves being used to heal cuts and scrapes. The long, large tap root can be used to break up hardpan and heavy clay soils. In addition the tap root is very efficient at ‘mining’ the soil for minerals and nutrients, which is then stores in its leaves–this is known as a dynamic accumulator plant. The leaves can be cut and simply laid on the ground as a mulch wherever they are needed or even added to the composter, or they can be used in a tea form.

By cutting down the plant to about 12 inches, this will trigger the plant to regrow. I typically cut mine back 2-3 times per year. In my last garden, I used comfrey in the orchard where I would plant 3-4 plants around each fruit tree. The comfrey attracted pollinators and other insects to the orchard and I cut the comfrey down using the leaves as a mulch around the trees.

The following picture shows my comfrey plant just after I cut it back:

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Making compost tea is easy, however I should add that it does smell really bad, so you just need to be aware of this when choosing a place to let it sit for the 2 weeks or so it requires. All you need to do is cut the plant down and add the leaves and stems to a bucket of water. I put mesh over the top of the bucket to keep away the mosquitoes, and leave it in an area of the garden where it will not be disturbed for approximately 10 days to 2 weeks. After that time, strain all the decomposing material off straight to the composter and you have your undiluted liquid. I use this at about 1 part manure tea to 10 parts water, and mix straight into to a watering can.

The following photo shows the comfrey tea after I have strained out all the leaves:

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There are many videos you can find online showing different ways to make the tea. Here is one that is easy to follow:

I have been using comfrey tea as a fertilizer for roughly 10 years, if not more, and have never had any plants that have had an adverse reaction to it. It is not a miracle grow; it will not double the size of your plants, but it is free, you know exactly what is in it, you have the knowledge that you’ve made it yourself, it is all natural and organic, and for plants in pots, raised beds, or greenhouses you are feeding those plants with nutrients that would normally be present in the soil found in your garden.

Daylilies: The Perfect Perennial

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

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

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Witch Stitchery

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

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Chicago Heather Marsh

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

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Homeward Pilgrim

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

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

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Rocket Booster

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

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

For more information:

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

My Favourite Garden Tools

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

By day I am a writer and editor, using words, graphics, and design to communicate with my audiences. However, once that working day is over, I have an entirely different set of tools that I use in my garden landscape. What are those “tools of the trade”? Here are my favourites – what are yours?


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A Giant Wheelbarrow 

A good wheelbarrow is worth its weight in gold to a gardener. An essential tool, I use it to transport tools, dirt, mulch, rocks, and garden cuttings from one place to another. For me the most important features are the volume and the wheels. While I have another ‘regular’ one wheel wheelbarrow, this yellow two-wheeled monster is my best friend. I love the stability of the two wheels in my ‘not-flat’ garden. I have had it for so long the bottom plastic has finally cracked from all the big boulders I have dumped into it, but the yellow barrow bottom is now covered with a sheet of metal so it’s still functional. I’ve replaced the original pneumatic (air filled) tires with airless tires. Now I just need to find a new barrow that doesn’t cost more than replacing the entire wheelbarrow! (Special mention to my second favourite wheeled vehicle – an old Radio Flyer red wagon. Acquired from a cousin, this metal workhorse is great for moving plants around, especially in tight spots)

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My Felco #7 Secateurs and Leather Holder

Pruners or secateurs (from the British – a pair of pruning clippers for use with one hand) are indispensable to the serious gardener. There are many brands on the market, but there are two primary types, so it’s important to get the ones that match your needs. Anvil pruners have a blade that pushes the plant material onto a cutting board, whereas bypass pruners have two blades that pass by each other to create a cut. Anvil pruners tend to crush soft plant tissue but, used properly, bypass pruners minimize plant damage. You can read more in Robert Pavlis’ blog on the subject here.

I only use bypass pruners; my Felco #7s are comfortable, light, efficient, and ergonomic. Why Felco? Because they are excellent quality and last forever. There are many models; many friends like the Felco #2s, but there are some designed for left handed people (Felco #9), people with small hands, or people like me that want to minimize hand strain, which is the focus of Felco #7. It provides me with hand and wrist protection, and optimizes the force exerted by the revolving handle. I should probably buy shares in this company. 9a2684c4213171476e13732af3b26537


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A Drain Spade

There are lots of different spades out there, so take the time to find one that works for you. Your height, the weight of the tool, what you need to use it for, and ergonomic considerations should all be taken into account. I have both shovels and spades – shovels tend to have longer handles and a more curved blade than spades – but once I used my drain spade I realized it was going to be my favourite. It’s heavy but I love the long blade for getting deep into the earth, and the narrowness for getting into tight spots. I have actually managed to dig the full taproot of a mature lupin and transplant it (and have it survive) using this spade, and that is an accomplishment in itself.


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Great Gloves

Gloves are a very personal item of clothing for gardeners, but since this is my blog I’ll let you know my favourites are the West County gloves I can get from Lee Valley (the orange ones above) and the Noble Outfitter gloves I just picked up at the TSC Store (the only ones that fit me as I am wearing a finger splint at the moment – that’s a whole other story). Many people like the nitrile and latex gloves, especially for fine gardening work like pruning, but they are too hot for my hands. I am pretty tough on my gloves, so it’s normal for me to go through a few pairs each season.


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My Garden Bandits

What the heck is a Garden Bandit™? Nope, it’s not a robber, just a very handy tool for weeding and clearing areas with minimal hand strain. Its innovative shape, designed after a garden tool used by early settlers, allows you to remove weeds but cutting them off at their roots. It also lets you safely work soil close to existing plants without damaging foliage or tender feeder roots. I got mine from Brenda at the Avant Garden Shop in Peterborough. Made in Canada, the bandit is not sold in big box stores, so contact your local birding/gardening store or nursery to see if they stock them. Check them out here.
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Collapsible Garden Bags

A variation on traditional English ‘tip bags’ and often called kangaroo bags, these lightweight, collapsible bags are great for collecting weeds and waste (and leaves when that time comes). They can be collapsed and stored away easily when not being used, and who doesn’t like space-saving things! I have had several of these bags, but I am not sure where I got these particular ones. They do have them at Lee Valley (or give Google a try). I like them better than the plastic tubs because (well, plastic!), they are lightweight, and I can maneuver them into tight spaces.


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Hori Hori Knife

I was introduced to this tool by my fellow Master Gardeners, and now I understand why it’s a favourite (as you can see I have two of them!). Made in Japan, the hori hori knife is a cross between a knife and a trowel, and can serve multiple functions, including dividing perennials or planting. Traditionally used in Japan to collect specimens for bonsai (hori means “digging”), the knife has a rust-resistant steel blade with a serrated edge on one side and a sharpened edge on the other. About 12 inches overall, it has a hardwood handle and comes with a belt sheath. I have only ever seen these at Lee Valley.


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A Wide Brimmed Hat, Bandanna, Sunscreen, Bug Spray, and Towel

Last but not least the essentials for all gardeners – a nice wide brimmed hat and sunscreen to protect you from the sun’s rays, bug spray (I feel like I am wearing this 24/7 this year!), and a towel to wipe off all that sweat – gardening can be a great workout.

One final hint – you may notice that most of my tools are bright colours. If you – like me – tend to ‘lose’ tools in the garden, or the compost, or the leaf pile, or under a plant, you’ll want to look for tools in nice bright colours so that when your husband turns out the compost in the spring he can say ‘hey honey I found your garden bandit’. That reminds me – I need to put some paint on my hori hori knives!

Happy Gardening! 

Please note: I do not receive any compensation for mentioning where you can get these items

 

 

The Light in Your Garden

by Chris Freeburn, Master Gardener

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dog Strangling Vine

by Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

While taking a walk along one day along one of the lane ways along Crowe Lake, I spotted Dog Strangling Vine. It was because of the flowers that I recognized it.  They are very small, 5 to 9 mm long, star shaped and pink to dark purple in colour. The vines grow 1 to 2 metres long and will twine around structures, other plants or each other. The leaves are oval with a pointed tip, 5 to 9 cm long and grow on opposite sides of the stem. The flowers develop into a bean shaped pod filled with feathery seeds that are dispersed in late summer (similar to the milkweed pod, but much narrower).

DSV

The problem with dog strangling vine is that it can form dense stands that can overcome and force out other plants. Its leaves and roots are toxic to animals. It threatens the Monarch  Butterfly which will lay its eggs on the plant, but the larva cannot develop. (It’s related to milkweed, a plant necessary for the Monarch Butterfly.)

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I contacted the municipality and they have no program for its control, so it’s up to the individual property owner to be aware of it and to control its spread.

The Ontario Invading Species Program has information of how to control its spread.

If you already have some on your property, check out Best Management Practices. This also is from the Ontario Government.

 

Spuria Iris

by Mary Jane Parker, Master Gardener

I have always binged on plants. I discover a new plant and then I proceed to find and purchase as many as I can of that plant until I have exhausted myself, and then I move on to something else. Lots and lots of plants.

When iris was my current love, I discovered Spuria Iris.

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Iris spuria “Cinnabar Red”

Spuria iris extend the season of iris well into the summer, blooming here in July. Much used in the cut flower trade for flower arranging, when I first fell in love with them they were difficult to find anywhere in Canada. Originally I ordered from the Midwest U.S. and then Chuck Chapman Iris of Ontario had some available.

Some spurias have flourished for me and some have languished and died. They require full sun, good soil, and warmth. The best patch I have is in a south/east rock garden bed. What really makes the effort worthwhile are the spectacular colours. These hues are not available in any other iris: garnet and gold, vibrant yellows and very different shades of purple and blue. You have to love that!

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Iris spuria “My Gold”

Please note – Because I could not find a good picture of spuria in my garden photos, Chuck Chapman graciously allowed me to use two photos from his website. Thank you Chuck!

For more information and photos of spurias check out some of the links below.

Chapman Iris

Spuria Iris Society

Gardenia on Spuria Irises

Commanche Acres Iris (Missouri)

All about Irises at the RBG

Canadian Iris Society

 

Attracting Birds Part 3

By Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

I hope you’ve enjoyed my first two blogs about attracting birds. In this one I’ll talk about your garden.

To keep the birds coming year round, they need to be provided with an environment that accommodates their changing requirements. Native trees, shrubs and flowers that grow naturally in the forests around you will attract the birds to your garden; hedges with dense cover provide nesting places, bushes and trees  that produce berries provide additional food for them.animal-3434123_640

Keep cats away. Make sure your feeders are not close to where cats can lay in prey. Old rose canes cut into 5cm pieces can be scattered around where cats like to hide to discourage them.

Keep dead trees. The insects in them are food for many birds and the hollow trunks are nesting places.

These are just a few suggestions for attracting Birds. The first three of following websites will give you information about how to attract birds, including native trees, shrubs and perennials that attract birds. The last three are for garden centres in our area that feature native plants. In addition to the ones listed, I am sure you can find many others.

Attracting Birds
Plants that Attract Birds in All Seasons
Audubon: 10 Plants for a Bird-Friendly Yard

Local Native Plant Garden Centres near Peterborough
Native Plants in Claremont, ON
Natural Themes Farm
Ecology Park, Peterborough

 

Moisture Tolerant Perennials

by Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

So far, spring 2019 has been one of almost continuous rainfall in southern Ontario. The following plants do not demand boggy soil and are hardy in the regular garden. However, they are all moisture tolerant and are a good choice for poolside or boggy plantings.

Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla mollis) – I love this plant! It looks especially pretty when planted with hostas and bleeding heart…almost a woodland garden without the trees! Lady’s mantle can take sun, sun/part shade and light shade. They can handle dry or very moist soil. They produce frothy, green flowers that look good in fresh, or dried bouquets. Lady’s mantle is one of those plants that acts as a ground cover with its “mantle” of leaves that grow 30-45 cm. (12-15 in.) high. After a rain, the water droplets will bead and sparkle on the fuzzy leaf surfaces.

Bleeding Heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis formerly Dicentra spectabilis) – Bleeding heart is one of those old-fashioned flowers that was probably in your grandmother’s garden. It grows to about 30-120 cm. (12-47 in.) high. It will keep flowering from spring and into the summer in moist soil. However, it may go dormant, and disappear, if the soil stays dry but will then re-grow again the following spring. Flowers are an unusual shape and may be pink and white or just plain white.

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Lady’s mantle foreground, Bleeding heart background. From the author’s garden.

Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum formerly Eupatorium purpureum) – According to one folklore source, this native plant gets it’s name from a colonial-era, indigenous healer named Joe Pye who used the weed to cure fever. This plant grows tall, 100-200 cm (39-78 in) high. With its whorled, lance-shaped leaves and purple flowers, it can be quite an exclamation point in a moist garden.

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Joy Pye weed with visitor.

Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia) – Creeping jenny is one of those plants that you may grow to hate if it gets loose in an area that provides its ideal growing conditions. I like this plant because it is a great ground cover in the moist garden or as a “spiller” in a patio pot of mixed plants. Its brightly coloured chartreuse leaves will draw your attention to a sun/part shade area of the garden. Creeping jenny spreads by rhizomes and grows very low to the ground at just 5-10 cm. (2-4 In.).

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Creeping jenny in the author’s garden.

Queen-of-the-Prairie (Filipendula rubra) – I only recently discovered this plant when a friend gave me a seedling from her garden. I have it planted along side our pond where it should do well in the moist to wet soil. This plant can be quite spectacular as it may grow to be as much as 245 cm. (8 ft.) high. I am expecting it to have a pale pink, fragrant flower. I can hardly wait!

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photo courtesy of Sugar Creek Gardens 

So, don’t fight mother nature, use plants that can survive and thrive in the moist garden!

For more information Landscape Ontario has a great resource here.

Native Plants that Bring Me Joy in the Spring

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener in Training

One of the joys of living in Canada is that we get to witness the rebirth of spring. I love to watch the plants emerge from the ground after a long hard winter and peruse my garden to see what has survived and sometimes shed a tear over the ones that haven’t.

Native plants have evolved over time. It can be confusing and we must remember that not all plants that grow in the wild are native. For instance, dandelions arrived in North America with the European settlers. Generally, native plants are those that grew in a region long before European settlement. They are easy to grow and will almost always survive.

Here are four native plants in my garden that return each spring and bring me great joy!

WILD GINGER, Asarum canadenseWildGinger

This plant is a lovely groundcover that likes full to partial shade. It has lovely heart-shaped leaves and if you look closely in the early spring, you will find a maroon coloured flower hidden under the foliage. It grows well under my birch tree and I find it is well behaved and spreads slowly. It does require moisture and will wilt quickly during the long hot summer.

WOOD POPPY, Stylophorum diphyllum

WoodPoppyA few years back on a gardening bus trip, we were gifted with a small wood poppy from a fellow Master Gardener. It is a lovely plant with irregular lobed leaves that range in colour from light to dark green. This poppy requires shade and prefers moist conditions or the leaves may wither. You will be thrilled with the lovely yellow blooms that appear in late spring. It grows to about 1 ½ feet tall into a small, bushy plant. They readily self-sow in ideal conditions such as moist woodlands, but in my garden I have never found more than a few babies.

BLOODROOT, Sanguinaria canadensis

BloodrootYou know that spring has arrived when you are thrilled with the appearance of bloodroot’s cheerful white flowers that open during the day and close at night. The leaves are clasped to the stem and slowly unfurl to reveal large, saucer-shaped but deeply scalloped foliage. It is very effective as a groundcover and prefers rich, moist woodland soil. It will tend to go dormant in the hot summer months. You will notice the roots’ red juice, hence the name. The sap was used by Native Americans for dyes. We are lucky in Peterborough to have a beautiful mural of Bloodroot under the Hunter Street bridge that was painted by Jill Stanton.

PASQUE FLOWER, Anemone patens

PasqueThis is a very interesting plant due to its large bloom in relation to the overall size of the plant. The Pasque flower has a silky, hairy, fern-like foliage and erect open bell-shaped lavender flowers. The foliage is deeply divided. It is not that fussy about soil conditions. It generally requires full sun but mine does well in sun with partial shade. It grows to about 12 inches and is well behaved. It is a beautiful spring addition to the garden, but like the bloodroot, it may go dormant in the hot summer months. Pasque comes from Old French for Easter in reference to the spring bloom time. All Anemone plants come from the Latin meaning sway as the flowers sway in the wind

Peterborough, ON, Canada