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

Invite Spring Indoors

By Marilyn Homewood, Master Gardener

As winter seems to drag on, why not have spring start inside by forcing blooms from some of your favorite woody plants?

Many ornamental trees and shrubs set their flower buds during the previous growing season. These buds must experience a period of dormancy (usually 6 weeks of cold weather) before they will open.  As a rule, the buds will usually come out of dormancy within two to three weeks of exposure to warmth and moisture.

Coincidentally, late winter can be a good time to “clean up” deciduous trees and shrubs.  Prune plants lightly by removing crossed branches and old or diseased wood keeping in mind to leave some buds to bloom in the garden. From the cuttings, select out branches of less than ½ inch diameter for forcing and trim them to a manageable length.

Pruning is best done on a mild winter day when the temperatures are above freezing. The branches and buds are softer and more pliable and transition from cold outdoor temperatures to the indoor temperatures more readily. Try to select branches that seem to have a lot of plump flower buds.  In general, flower buds are round and fat, whereas leaf buds are smaller and pointed.

Once inside, recut the branches to open up the vascular system of the branch and encourage water uptake.  Woody branches do not take up water as easily as green flower stems so they should be cut at the end of the stem for roughly an inch or so with sharp pruners. 

Larger diameter branches can be cut twice at right angles. Place the branches into a bucket of warm water to rehydrate. Keep the bucket in a cool, dark place overnight to allow branches to rest (this also helps them to transition from the outdoors).

After resting, prepare a vase of fresh water for your branches and recut the stems again before placing in vase. Adding a few drops of bleach to the water will help keep bacteria from multiplying in the water and plugging up the vascular system. Place your branches in a bright, cool place away from direct sunlight.  

Changing the water every few days is recommended.  The time taken to bloom depends on when the branches were harvested. Branches harvested in mid-winter can take 2 to 3 weeks for flowers to open. Branches harvested in late winter will bloom in 7 to 10 days.

After blooming, keep the branches away from direct sunlight and away from any direct heat source, which will dry out the buds and branches and reduce overall bloom color and quality. Ideally, try to duplicate the cool, moist environment of the spring.  Once in flower, branches should last in the vase for 10 days. Changing the water frequently and adding flower food will also help to extend their life.

Some of the species that force well are forsythia, fothergilla, witch hazel, ornamental pear, cherry, birch (for catkins), eastern redbud, lilac, magnolia, serviceberry and willow (for catkins).  Or try experimenting.  I have some Red Osier Dogwood in a vase at the moment. The red stems are attractive and although I expect to get foliage perhaps a few tiny flowers may appear.

Resources

Forcing Branches for Winter Colour

Forcing Spring Flowering Branches

Forcing Flowering Branches

Am I a Problem?

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

Well, yes … I am, but I have a plan.  February 28-March 4/22 is National Invasive Species Awareness Week.   This is an international event whose purpose is to raise the awareness of invasive species.  “Invasive terrestrial plants in a forest ecosystem can be trees, shrubs, or herbaceous plants that have been moved from their native habitat to an introduced area where they are able to reproduce quickly and crowd out native species. These plants are introduced and spread by infested packaging material, seed dispersal by both environmental and human sources, or by escaping from gardens.”  Also look at Ontario’s Invading Species Awareness Program  for more information.

Biodiversity is essential to the continued healthy life of an ecosystem.  Invasive plants can quickly destroy it and humans require the natural resources found in a healthy ecosystem.  We need food and we need water to survive.  We are a part of the ecosystem too.  Doug Tallamy says it best in his book, “Bringing Nature Home” where he writes “…ecosystems with more species function with more efficiency, are better able to withstand disturbances, are more productive, and can repel alien invasions better than ecosystems with fewer species.”

I became aware of invasive species about 15 years ago when on my walk to work, I noticed some English ivy (Hedera helix) growing in a small wooded area.  Then, I realized that English ivy had totally carpeted that area.  There were no other plants!  A couple of years later, I saw the same thing but this time, it was a larger forested area and the culprit was goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria).  Since then I have read more about invasive plants and, sadly, now often see problem areas. 

So, back to my plan.  I was aware of some of the invasive herbaceous perennials so had steered away from them.  See terrestrial plants and  aquatic plants for more information.  However, my husband and I are tree lovers and have a rural property so we frequently indulge in purchasing new trees to add to our collection.  Unfortunately, we ended up with two Norway maple (Acer platanoides) trees, two burning bush (Euonymus alatus) and a barberry (Berberis thunbergii) shrub.  This year, I plan to convince my husband that they must go.  I would like to replace the trees with two red maple (Acer rubrum) or perhaps a couple of sugar maple ((Acer saccharum).  The burning bush will be replaced by a couple of native viburnum maybe nannyberry (Viburnum lentago) and the barberry, well, it will be replaced by a native bush honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera).  See Southern Ontario Grow me Instead Beautiful Non-invasive Plants for Your Garden. This is a great resource.  It includes some native and some non-native plants to include in your garden plans.

I am inspired to be a better gardener every time I write a blog for the Peterborough & Area Master Gardeners.  I hope that you will have a look at some of the links above and below and be inspired too.  Please only use non-invasives in your gardening plans this year. 

I also recommend reading, or re-reading, a blog by Laura Gardner, Master Gardener in Training posted on February 2/2022: Expanding Your Native Garden Palette.  For more information on what to do if you have a problem, see Best Management Practices Data Base

A new group on Facebook is the Canadian Coalition for Invasive Plant Regulations. The group is very concerned about the spread of invasive plants in Canada and would like to do something about it.

Expanding Your Native Plant Palette

By Laura Gardner, Master Gardener in Training

Last year I posted about Doug Tallamy’s most recent book and talked about how Quercus (Oaks) are the number one “keystone plant species.” A keystone plant is one that supports the entire life cycle of many different wildlife species—all critical to the food web. The list of keystone plants is actually quite short as only 14% of native plants support 90% of butterfly and moth species.[i] Some of these, like Danaus plexipplus (Monarch Butterfly), are specialists in that they require host plants from the genus Asclepias (Milkweed) to complete their lifecycles. Recently I learned that while most native bees are generalists and they seek out a range of plants for pollen, there are certain specialist native bees that are restricted to either a single plant genus or to a few genera. Horticulturist Jarrod Fowler determined that of native bees in the Northeastern United States, only 15% restricted pollen foraging to 33 plant genera and only 201 native host plants.[ii]

As examples of specialist bees, authors Lorraine Johnson and Lorraine Johnston mention in their book A Flower Patch for the Rusty-Patched Bumblebee: Creating Habitat Gardens for Native Pollinators in the Greater Toronto Area, two whose sole pollen source plants include Oenothera (Evening Primrose) and Monarda (Bee Balm): Lasioglossum oenotherae (Evening Primrose Sweat Bee) and Dufourea monardae (Bee Balm Sweat Bee). The former is considered vulnerable and the latter is imperiled in Ontario. A recent online presentation by biologist Heather Holm indicated that there are also specific plants that are the sole providers of pollen to Bombus (Bumblebees). For example, Monarda (Bee Balm) provide nectar to them but they do not provide pollen. Pollen is a necessary protein source as is also nectar as a carbohydrate source. Other plants are required for their pollen sources. This list can help as a guide to some of these.

When I first started gardening, I planted different Milkweed and it was all for the endangered Monarch Butterfly. I think I was influenced more by aesthetics and an influential marketing campaign than anything else. While I will continue to have these plants in my garden and continue to support Monarchs, I have become more thoughtful in my choices—especially since the percentage of native plants that are supportive is so small. What can we do to improve our native garden palettes? A good approach is to choose a wide range of geographically appropriate native plants from the top keystone genera that have flowers of different shapes, colours, season-wide blooming periods, and provide nectar and pollen. Plants that historically or genetically evolved in our region will be the most supportive of the native wildlife in our region. Consider also adding some individual species that support specific specialists. As with all plants, you still need to consider whether your planting site is suitable [e.g., light level, soil type (loam, clay, sandy), pH (acidic, alkaline), moisture, drainage, etc.].

To help, here are two lists provided by the National Wildlife Federation that can apply to gardeners of the Peterborough area—one for northern gardens in the Northern Forests ecoregion and one for southern gardens in the Eastern Temperate Forests ecoregion. There are also two other related lists for Eastern Temperate Forests and Northern Forests—these also provide examples of ferns, vines, and grasses that are host plants and/or provide nectar and pollen. Heather Holm has also put together a wonderful list of native trees and shrubs for pollinators with their flowering periods. There are a few plants on a couple of the lists that are not found in nature in Peterborough County, however, the majority are.

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You may be surprised to see Solidago spp. (Goldenrod) listed as the top flowering keystone plant genus. There are 25 species native to Ontario and some of them are easily managed and do not spread like the ubiquitous S. canadensis (Canada Goldenrod) that you tend to see along roadsides and in fields. Last year I added S. caesia (Blue-Stem Goldenrod) to my garden and this year I am looking forward to adding S. rigida (Stiff Leaf Goldenrod) and S. flexacaulis (Zig-Zag Goldenrod). What will you be planting this year?

For Expanded Learning

Johnson, Lorraine and Ryan Godfrey. Get to Know Goldenrod. Online: https://www.toronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/97fc-DS-21-0224-GoldenRodFactsheetDigital.pdf

Holm, Heather. Pollinators of Native Plants: Attract, Observe and Identify Pollinators and Beneficial Insects with Native Plants (Pollination Press, 2014).

Ohio State University’s online learning program: Tending Nature: Native Plants and Every Gardener’s Role in Fostering Biodiversity

Pollinator Partnership Canada. Selecting Plants for Pollinators: a Guide for Gardeners, Farmers, and Land Managers in the Manitoulin-Lake Simcoe Ecoregion. Online: https://pollinatorpartnership.ca/assets/generalFiles/Manitoulin.LakeSimcoe.2017.pdf


[i] Narango, D.L., Tallamy, D.W. & Shropshire, K.J. Few keystone plant genera support the majority of Lepidoptera species. Nat Commun 11, 5751 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-19565-4

[ii] Fowler, Jarrod. “Specialist Bees of the Northeast: Host Plants and Habitat Conservation.” Northeastern Naturalist 23, no. 2 (2016): 305–20. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26453772.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

By Chris Freeburn, Master Gardener

Many will be receiving a beautiful bouquet of flowers today in celebration of Valentine’s Day. If you are one of the lucky ones who has a sweetheart who will bring you flowers,here are some tips to help you keep your Valentine flowers fresher longer.

Cut flowers need food in the form of carbohydrates or sugar to last for one to two weeks in your home. They also need citric acid to get the pH level correct allowing the stems to draw up water. It has been scientifically proven that water travels faster through the xylem (tissues that carry water through the plant) when the pH is around 3.5. Flowers also need to keep their stems clear of bacteria that can clog and prevent the uptake of water. This can be addressed with bleach. When you add  the small package of floral preservative you receive with your bouquet you are giving your flowers the food, pH level and  bacterial killing agent they need to stay fresh longer.  You don’t necessarily have to use the entire package. Save some to add when you need to refresh your arrangement. You can also buy floral preservative if you bring in flowers from your own garden. Home remedies using vodka, aspirin, pennies or bleach may work, but the little package you get with your bouquet is effective and easy.  One good home remedy is 1 tsp. of bleach and 1 tsp. of sugar in 1 litre of water.

  • When you get your flowers, unwrap them as soon as possible and get them into water.
  • Use a clean vase filled with warm or room temperature water. If you have hard water, let it sit for 24 hours before using. Add your preservative and mix until dissolved.
  • Using a sharp knife or pair of scissors or pruners, cut stems under warm running water and place immediately into the vase. Cutting stems on an angle will give more surface for stems to draw water and the stems won’t lay flat on the bottom of the vase cutting off that ability.
  • Remove any leaves that will go below the water line. These will rot and can cause bacterial problems.
  • Keep your flowers out of direct sunlight and in a cooler rather than warmer room.
  • Keep the water topped up daily. Your flowers will drink if they are happy.

You may find that flowers wilt or droop. If this happens, re-cut the stems at least half an inch and move to another clean prepared vase. I suggest that you remember this when you do your first cut on your flowers and keep the stems longer, so you are able to re-cut and move your bouquet to smaller and shorter vases a few times before they are totally spent.

Some types of flowers will last longer than others, so if you have a mixed bouquet, you will probably lose some blooms before others. Zinnia, carnations, larkspur and glads all should last longer than two weeks.

One of our Peterborough Master Gardeners wrote a great article last summer on growing and harvesting flowers for cutting.  For that article go to Reaping the Flower Harvest.

The reason we love fresh flowers is they are with us for only a short time. Accept that fact and enjoy your bouquet!

Resources

https://ag.umass.edu/greenhouse

https://www.mydomaine.com/how-to-make-cut-flowers-last-longer

https://www.bbg.org/gardening/article/cut-flower_care

https://www.kenoraminerandnews.com/opinion/columnists/display-your-floral-bounty-with-cut-flowers/wcm/0fb663f4-493d-480c-89ed-08fdef396834/amp/

Peterborough, ON, Canada