To make sure your gardens their best this summer, here are some last minute tips. Consider keeping a garden notebook to make your yearly maintenance much easier by recording the following:

– Make a map of your plants
– Note any problems such as disease/pests
– Record any changes you should make (divide or transplant)
– Take pictures throughout the seasons

When tidying your garden beds, clear away any diseased or dead matter (including plants left for winter interest), and of course, newly growing weeds. There is no need to till your soil. That will ruin the soil ecosystem and may turn up weed seeds. Instead, just top dress with a good compost (plant or mixed). This will:

– Keep the soil micro-organisms and ecosystem happy and healthy
– Increase water holding capacity
– Add a range of nutrients and maintain good pH
– Improve drainage

This is a good time to divide plants that were too big last year, or that need revitalizing. Divide with a sharp knife or a double pitch fork. Add water to the hole and also wet the roots. Protect the soil with 2-3” of mulch and don’t pile against plant stems. Either wood chips (organic) or stone aggregate (inorganic) will work, but organic is better.

Organic mulch, such as woodchips, are a must-have for any garden. They prevent water loss, protect roots and keeps weeds at bay.

Organic mulch, such as woodchips, are a must-have for any garden. They prevent water loss, protect roots and keeps weeds at bay.

Keep your beds edged with a “Dutch Edge” to keep grass out.

Keeping your garden beds edged at a 30 -45 degree angel will help deter grass roots from wandering in.

Keeping your garden beds edged at a 30 -45 degree angle will help deter grass roots from wandering in.

When it comes to garden pests and diseases, practice prevention for long term success. Keep your garden soil healthy, make sure there is good air flow through the plants and attract the help of beneficial insects and birds. There are options natural remedies for control, but these are only band aid solutions for the short term, prevention is the best long term solution. It is important that you understand how these work so that you use them right and not kill those beneficial insects. Make sure to properly identify which bug is doing damage before setting out to destroy it.

Properly ID which bugs are doing damage. This is the Red Lily Beetle, which cause problems for the Asiatic Lily. Not a beneficial bug for your garden.

Properly ID which bugs are doing damage. This is the Red Lily Beetle, which cause problems for the Asiatic Lily. Not a beneficial bug for your garden.

Preparation and maintenance is the way to keep your gardens blooming beautifully. If you have a lawn, see our blog on how to maintain it so it too is ready for the season.

Happy Gardening!

Like any good relationship, these two bring out the best in each other. Flowers will come and go but foliage colour lasts all season, and both of these deliver. Planted together they make a charming combination in the spring when the Ninebark has its pinkish-white cluster flower tufts. As the season wears on, this turns into an eye-stopping bold partnership as the blue-gray of the Blue Fescue grass (Festuca glauca) brings out the bold red wine coloured leaves of the Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius).

A great combination with three season colour!

A great combination with three season colour!

These plants are both low maintenance. Blue fescue grass is a well behaved, clump-forming, drought tolerant ornamental grass. They have the best affect in the garden when planted in 3’s (or larger odd numbers), either together or echoed throughout your garden. Ninebarks, also drought tolerant, come several leaf colours and are now available in a dwarf version. Depending on your preference, you can allow this shrub to grow freely, or prune after flowering to maintain a more managed shape.

ninebark blue fescue 2

The Specs:

Blooms:
Ninebark: Flowers in spring
Blue Fescue: No flower

Exposure:
Ninebark: Full sun to part shade
Blue Fescue: Full sun

Water: Both of these plants need very little water, if any, once it is planted. Water only after two weeks without rain. If you are planting in sand, the blue fescue may need watering in the heat after 4-5 days.

Shopping: These are both very common plant that are easily found at garden centres.

Happy gardening!!!

Here is Sabrina’s presentation of “Landscaping with Flair, Form and Function”

Landscapes with Flair Form Function

Click here for the link: RMSi Prescription Landscaping

Happy Gardening!

Aileen

Safe Vegetable Growing

July 15, 2012

I love the trend to grow your own vegetables at home, it is better for the environment, gets you outdoors and active, and can be very rewarding. However, there are some risks to growing your own vegetables, mainly growing them in soil that has been contaminated with lead or other heavy metals.

Are your jalepenos packing more than a spicy kick?

Homes built during the era of lead-based paint are most at risk. Paint chips, dust and run-off from the house or other outside buildings can contaminate the soil and potentially your vegetables. Areas of existing or former industrial uses may also be a risky place to grow your veggies. I found this article from the University of California, which explains a lot about the risk of lead contamination in urban soils and vegetable gardens: http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu/pdf/8424.pdf

Testing your soil for lead is worth it to make sure you have the healthiest, home-grown produce.

Out in Halifax, they have put together a great guide on the subject: http://www.ecologyaction.ca/files/images/file/Food/urbansoilguide.pdf

A bit more locally, the Niagara Region has issued a fact sheet: http://www.wdghu.org/tytler/docs/Gardening%20in%20Pb%20Contaminated%20Soil.pdf

They suggest planting your vegetables gardens:

  • 5 metres from older buildings with lead paint (lead paint was banned in Canada in 1976)
  • 30 metres from major roadways or parking areas that are older than 30 years.
  • 2 kilometres from former or existing industries identified as a source of lead contamination (metal mining, smelting, refining operations, and other heavy industries)

(They recommend adding compost (high in phosphorous) to lower contamination risks – once again compost is proving itself as the best soil to use in your gardens!)

To get your soil tested, you can send a sample to one of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affair’s accredited laboratories (although most test for soil fertility for agricultural use, some will test soil for lead): http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/resource/soillabs.htm

The costs for soil testing are in the range of $40 – $100. If you think your soil may be at risk for lead contamination, it is worth the money.

Happy (and safe) gardening!

Aileen

How can you keep your lawn healthy when it’s hot and dry? If you want a green lawn when the weather is hot and dry, it is going be tough, as you are fighting Mother Nature. You see, in northern climates, including Southern Ontario, turf is composed of cool season grasses such as Kentucky Blue Grass, Fescues and Perennial Ryes. Their most active growing periods are in the spring and fall when temperatures are moderate and precipitation events are more frequent. These species have their dormancy period during the hot and dry summer months and over the winter.

Lawns in northern climates naturally go dormant when the weather gets hot.

So, our turf is smart; it knows when the best times of the year are to grow and which ones are not. When it gets hot and dry, the grass begins to go dormant to protect itself from stress, damage and possible death. According to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, healthy cool season turf grass can survive up to six weeks without rain during the summer.

If your grass goes into dormancy (turns yellow), and then you decide to water it, you can cause a lot of stress. Consider being woken from a sleep with a bucket of cold water, it would be a bit of shock. However, grass can get up and run after the culprit…

Keeping your grass green and lush during a hot dry summer will take work and a LOT of water. You will have to continue to water your lawn throughout the summer to prevent the grass from ever going into dormancy. It may mean a fabulous looking green lawn, but you are breaking the turf’s natural tendency to go into dormancy. You will also be wasting drinking water, water that has to be pumped, purified and delivered to your tap by your local municipality. That takes a lot of energy, energy that causes carbon emissions, contributing to smog and poor air quality. And then you get your water bill… Although we don’t pay a lot for water in Canada, it still adds up.

Basically you have three options for your lawn;

Option 1: Let it go into dormancy. Stay off it at this time and monitor for chinch bugs, which may take advantage of your sleeping lawn. (see http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/facts/08-019.htm  for details)

The benefits:

  • You won’t have to mow your lawn so often.
  • Less money spent on your water bill.
  • More time to spend doing fun things with your friend and family, instead of worrying about your lawn.
  • You be reducing the demand on municipal water systems and air quality.
  • No more wrestling with the hose.
  • You are helping the environment by doing absolutely nothing.

Option 2: Be that guy and spend your free time, energy and money fighting Mother Nature to keep your lawn from going dormant. You may have the best looking green lawn on the block, but you may end up being the oddball on the block.  Across Canada, almost half of the population no longer waters their lawns, less than 20% water their lawns on a regular basis.

A green lawn that will need a LOT of water!

The benefits:

  • A green lawn that stands out. Neighbours will walk by and comment on how your lawn is one of the few on the block with a green lawn.
  • The time spent watering and mowing your lawn means you will have less time to spend with your in-laws.
  • Who know what fabulous ideas you will come up with while you spend hours mindlessly watering and mowing the lawn?

Option 3: Consider alternatives to turf. Typically you see suggestions to get rid of your lawn and plant a garden. Healthy turf can go six weeks without water. If you are replacing your lawn with a garden, make sure the garden won’t need more water and maintenance than the lawn would have. Consider sedums, succulents, decorative stonework, mulched areas, larger deck and outdoor living areas or more tree and shrubs (with mulch, good soil and the right species, an established shrub bed can last weeks in a dry spell). You could also try a clover lawn, which stays green in the summer and fixes its own nitorgen, eliminating the need for fertlizer!

The benefits:

  • A trendy, easy to care for alternative to the suburban lawn.
  • Better looking landscape in a drought.
  • NO MORE MOWING.
  • More livable space to spend all the extra time you will have with your loved ones.
  • Better curb appeal for your home.

Some ideas:

A lawn alternative idea for a sunny spot. From www.gardensnob.com

Lawn alternative for shade. From www.richlanddesign.com

A little bit of grass in this one… but you get the idea. From http://www.alonsolandscapeservice.com

Here is a link to another blog with some nice ideas for lawn alternatives: http://jocelynsgarden.blogspot.com/2011/08/garden-designers-roundtable-lawn.html (it is from down south, but use the concepts, they still work up north).

It’s your choice folks.

Happy gardening….

Aileen

The qualities of Lavender seem endless; it is used for aromatherapy, antibacterial properties, cooking, insect resistance and many other uses. My preferred use is in my garden as one of my favorite focal points. It’s long lasting blooms and tough “I don’t need no water” attitude make it a perfect resident for a full sun, well drained, drought tolerant garden.

The perfect plant for a hot, sunny location

In the spring, it may look a little ragged. Feel free to cut it back a bit, or do as I do, just ignore it and wait for the new growth to cover up any ugly old growth. When it flowers you can cut off a few of the flowers spikes, tie them together and let them dry for an all-natural air freshener.

When out and about in your garden, try rubbing a few of the leaves into your hands for a nice aromatic scent while you weed, read or enjoy some wine. Lavender is reported to help you relax, so with some wine, you will no doubt feel great in your garden.

Even the butterflies love Lavender…

The technical info:

Blooms: From June through to end of summer/early fall

Exposure: Full sunColour: Lavender (yes, I get the irony)

Water: Lavender likes it hot and dry, the conditions it adapted to in its native climate of the Mediterranean and Africa.

Combination ideas: The greyish coloured leaves and light purple flowers go great with white, pink or dark purple colours. Avoid combining with plants with reddish or brown undertones. Try it with Salvia, Blazing star, Little Blue Stem, Catmint, or Shasta Daisies. Another option is to use lavender as a small hedge or border.

Shopping:  A very common plant, easily found in most garden centres. Make sure you get the English Lavender, which is hardy to zone 5.

Portulaca (Moss Rose) Portulaca Grandifolia

Annuals are a popular choice for gardens because they provide colour, all summer long.  There is a cost for all those colourful flowers; when a plant produces a flower, it’s like growing lots of little babies; it takes extra nutrients, water and sunshine to fuel the production of the flowers. The longer they are in bloom, the more resources they need. This means you will likely have to spend more time fertilizing and watering annuals to keep them going through the summer. There a few annuals that are a bit more efficient with their resources, saving you time. My favourite is the Portulaca.

These easy annuals come in a variety of colours.

I grew up with a front garden full of Portulaca’s that my Dad planted for my Mum, they were one of her favorites. I had no idea about plant biology, water conservation or gardening back then, but I loved the playing with their paper-like flowers and seed pods. Perhaps my love of gardening is “rooted” in my days playing with Portulaca’s in the sun?

Portulaca’s are a fleshy, succulent annual that love sunny, dry areas. Their multi-coloured blooms come out in the sunshine and then close up when the sun sets. They are great for containers, sunny rock gardens or hanging baskets.

Using these on your containers means a lot less watering needed.

The technical info:

Blooms: Daytime in the sun. Blooms from after the last spring frost through to the first fall frost.

Exposure: Full sun

Colour: White, Pink, Orange, Yellow, Coral

Water: How you use them will dictate how often you need to water. When planted in your garden, they may go all summer with no water. In a container, I have seen them last two weeks without water. In a hanging basket, they will survive a day or two without water once the soil has gone dry.

Combination ideas: I use these as a filler plant for my water efficient containers. They are also great as a border or in a rock garden to full any spaces between your perennials. They will go with many types of plants, but keep in mind that they often bloom in multiple colours, so adding them to an arrangement with a lot of different colours, may look a little busy. You can find them in single colour cell-packs, allowing you to work with a single colour.

Using Portulaca as a filler in your water efficient containers. (with Sedum “Angelina”, Coral Bells, Blazing Star, Creeping Jenny and Common Thrift)

Shopping: You may have to look a little harder for them at the garden centre as they are not as popular as the other annuals such as petunias or marigolds. They may not look like much in the cell pack, but they will grow and flower quickly once planted. Bradford Greenhouses had a four pack on sale for $0.79 last week!

 

Note: If you spend most of your time in the garden in the evenings, this may not be the plant for you, as you will miss the bright coloured blooms that only come out in the sunshine.

It had to be done. The Weigela branch with all its beautiful pink flowers had to be cut; it was broken. It was a painful thing to have to do, but I became brazen as I pruned out another branch that was shading a part of my window basket, impacting the plants in the basket’s growth.

This is what pruning is really all about – a sometimes painful process where you are cutting away all that growth which represents energy and time, time that you spent patiently waiting for the plant to come to its glory ….then you ruthlessly cut it away. But, done correctly, this effort means better health for the plant as well as its neighbours, amounting to a great garden.

The process is prune, patience, and then pleasure. But I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t part with the perfectly laid out branch of pink blooms that I had waited so long for. So I decided to add another step to the process, which I call “prolong their presence”.  As I held this branch, I couldn’t help but think that it still had much to give, as did a few other plants in my garden.

I decided to throw these together into a vase and wow, was I ever rewarded! The new arrangement on my counter was absolutely stunning. I no longer had to peak out the window to enjoy these plants in bloom, I could just wander into my kitchen.

Soon after, I noticed my Euonymus had a growth spurt. It was now shading a good portion of my white columnar cedar. If I left those branches, they would shade my cedar causing a bald spot, so I did some more pruning. Next, I turned to my Saliva (nemorosa) and pruned a few of its flower heads that were nearing their end. Cedar saved, Euonymus shaped, more salvia blooms in the future and another great looking arrangement on my outdoor table.

The byproduct of Sabrina’s pruning…

Make the most of all your pruning. Remember to prune properly and at the right time in order to keep your plants and their companion’s healthy and happy.  We are already coming to a time where some early flowering shrubs and plants need to be pruned now before the season moves along. Here are some general pruning rules (and I do emphasize ‘general’).

1)    Prune right after flowering. Many flowering shrubs that have their blooms on now, and nearing their end will then take the rest of the season to grow more branches etc. On this new growth is where next season’s blooms will flourish. If you prune out these branches too late (i.e. in the fall or early next spring), you will prune the blooms ready for next spring.

2)    Do not prune out more than 1/3 of the total plant in one pruning; this may stress the plant.

3)    At any time, prune out anything that is dead or dying. You do not want the plant expending energy to this ‘injured’ part, nor do you want to leave this wound and invite further problems to the plant.

4)    Make clean cuts, preferable at the joint or intersection of two branches, so you are not left with half a branch oddly sticking out. The branch will usually start dying from the tip down, inviting pest or disease

Pruning need not be painful, do it correctly and at the right time and find pleasure in every stage of your plant’s lives.

Happy Gardening!

(This blog has been contributed by Sabrina who is  Program Manager with RMSi )

Sabrina

My sister recently told me that her lettuce wasn’t doing very well because she hadn’t had time to water it. I told her that shouldn’t matter, and she argued with me, telling me that lettuce needs lots of water. I like to test these “rules” in my own garden, which often makes for some interesting arrangements and results.

On May 5th I bought a mix of lettuce and planted it. I watered it on the day of planting and once after. As you probably recall, we had very little rain in Southern Ontario in the month of May, so my watering was the most the lettuce got.

I was pleasantly surprised how much my lettuce grew in that time.  I had my first salad from my garden this past Monday, and it’s still growing strong, ready for another harvest today. (I know we had a fair amount of rain this past weekend, but I my lettuce was growing very well before that).

My low water lettuce, with one harvest already done.

 

A little about the conditions of my garden; I have a raised garden/retaining wall, which is south facing and has a sandy loam soil mix (thanks to the previous owner). The retaining wall is crumbling, adding to the “well-drained” conditions of the raised garden. I have wood mulch throughout, and lots of it (the other day I was planting some Kale and realized there was over 6 inches of mulch in once area of the garden).

I grow a mix of perennials, annuals and vegetables in my garden, most planted somewhat haphazardly as I use my garden to test and experiment, rather than as a visual masterpiece. Sometimes this works in my favor and a neat little colour combination of plants will reveal itself…

Using lettuce to create foliage interest in your garden.

For the first time ever, my other half actually commented on how great the garden looked, and how beautiful the colours looked (he prefers grass to EVERYTHING).

Dianthus with some chartreuse lettuce for an unexpected colour combo. Both get very little water…

Am I telling you to push your plants into a perpetual state of thirst? Not at all. But stop over-pampering your plants, they are living things and they will adapt to the conditions to survive. They have root systems which will quickly grow or move to find moisture, and at the same time, they will shrink and limit growth if there is too much water. Play with the “rules” of gardening a bit and see what great results you may end up with. Less water will typically amount in better results than too much.

Happy Gardening!

Aileen