20 Easy Plants

June 4, 2014

Here is the updated presentation on 20 Easy Plants from last night’s seminar:

RMSi 20 Easy Plants 2014

Happy Gardening!
Aileen

I moved into a new house in August and couldn’t stand the front yard. I got to work right away at adding some curb appeal. It wasn’t hard at all! The photo below was 7-8 hours work and $200 (being the end of the season, I got some great deals!)

At the beginning….

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The Steps:

  1. Choose your Space – Consider location, snow piles, dog’s peeing, ease of mowing, postman paths and kid routes.
  2. Plan and Design – Iscape and other apps, use other gardens for inspiration, be realistic about the size and maintenance
  3. Utilities Check – Ontario One Call!
  4. Get Rid of the Grass – Dig it out, solarize or sheet mulching. Make sure you get rid of ALL the grass and roots
  5. Amend  the Soil – Compost made from yard waste/ vegetative matter is the best!
  6. Choose your Plants  – Consider hydrozones, choose non-invasive (watching out for “spreads easily” on the plant tag), use some native plants, shrubs are a must have and VERY low maintenance, look for drought tolerant, hardy perennials.
  7. Mulch –  natural products are the best (wood chips, cedar, pine bark), 2-3 inches
  8. Efficient Irrigation – water only when necessary – use your finger to see if the soil is dry down 2-3 inches before adding any water), check the forecast!

Digging the edge…

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The Plants I used (although the weren’t planted in the “after” photo below”:

Daffodils – Narcissus

Purple Coneflower – Echinacea Purpea

Sedum Autumn Joy “Purple Emperor”

Dwarf Goatsbeard – Aruncus aethusfolius

Coral Bells – Heuchera “Peach Flambe”

The Shrubs:

Tiger Eye Sumac – Rhus Typhina “Tiger Bailtiger”

Ninebark – Physcocarpus opulifolius “Diablo”

Emerald Cedar – Thuja occidentalis “Smaragd”

Golden Globe Cedar – Thuja occidentalis”Golden Globe”

 Almost done….

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What I wanted to Plant if I had more sun….

Lavender – Lavandula angustifolia

Allium – Allium Spp – they are all great but have to be planted in the fall

Butterfly Weed – Asclepias tuberosa

Variegated Iris – Iris Pallida “variegata”

 Time and Water: Precious resources wasted on the pursuit of a green lawn!

How to save money on your new garden?

  • ˜Fall Discounts – up to 50%, but no warranty…
  • ˜Donations from friends– but be CAREFUL!
  • ˜Buy bulk mulch and compost
  • ˜Investment plants; shrubs and perennials – no annuals
  • ˜Less watering needed when planted in the fall – and choosing drought tolerant plants and shrubs means less/no watering next year!
  • ˜Reuse the existing plants until fall sales start (if you are impatient like me…)
Its not that hard, let me know if you have any questions!
Happy Gardening!
Aileen

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!!!

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.

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

Creeping Phlox

May 23, 2012

Creeping Phlox

This perennial is a classic for any garden, especially rock gardens.  The early spring bloomer comes in many colours including pink, white, purple, red, mauve and even candy striped. It is very easy to care for, if you want to deadhead after it blooms, a simple chop with your garden shears and you are done. Keep in mind that the creeping phlox blooms early, but it’s tidy, mounded shape and thin green leaves make it a good border plant for taller perennials that flower later on in the season.

Creeeping Phlox in shade

I find Phlox very well behaved and will not wander too far from where you plant it or show up in an another area of your garden where you didn’t plant it.

Hot Pink Phlox in shade

The technical info:

Bloom: April to May

Exposure: Full sun to part shade (full shade under deciduous trees)

Water: Because this plant blooms early, has a mounded shape and thin needlelike leaves, this plant needs very little water, if any, once it is planted.

Combination ideas: Its low growing behaviour will frame medium sized plants such as Echinacea, Little Blue Stem, Coral Bells or Hostas. Add it to the base of a few smaller shrubs with purple leaves such as Japanese Barberry for a sharp colour combination of easy, low maintenance plants.

Creeping Phlox with iris

Shopping: This is very common plant that is easily found at garden centres. The only hunting you might have to do is if you are looking for a particular colour.

Happy gardening!!!

Variegated Sweet Iris – Iris pallida ‘Variegata’

This is my favourite perennial (although I say that about a lot of plants). This one is so easy to look after and does not become the clumping mess that some of the bearded irises often grow into. Its leaves are variegated which brings colour to your garden from April right through to snow fall. The sharp contrasting spikes add a great aesthetic value to any garden.

The best part about this iris is the flowers. They are lavender in colour, not such a big deal, but they smell INCREDIBLE! I tell people to plant these close to decks or other sitting areas so when they do bloom, you can pick up the scent while you relax in your garden. What kind of scent does this flower have? I think it is best described as grape candy.  When this one is in bloom, I spend more time than is considered normal with my nose stuck into them while inhaling deeply in a state of scenty bliss.

The technical info:

Exposure: This plant likes full sun (I have some in part shade, it doesn’t do as well, but it survives and flowers)

Water: I can’t recall ever adding water to this iris, expect the day I planted it. If it does need water, the leaves will show a slight droop. With good soil (compost) and mulch, I can’t imagine this would need water except in the case of a severe drought (four or more weeks with no rain or supplemental watering and very hot weather)

Notes: When it’s planted, make sure that the tuber base is not covered in mulch or soil, the tuber needs to get some sunshine.

I haven’t yet to have to divide these, and it’s been over five years since I have planted them.

I pull the dead flowers off after they are done (if I get around to it) and that is the only real maintenance I have ever had to do with this perennial.

Note: I have always looked for the one with the yellow variegations, not the white. I find them more attractive. They can be hard to find, but if you find them, buy them! You will thank me for it.

Combination ideas: Plant this with other plants with dark green foliage with yellow flowers (i.e. Coreopsis). Make sure to place near perennials with rounded leaves to capitalize on the two variations of leaf shape. Plant these in a groups of three at minimum, or in larger groups for larger spaces.

Happy gardening!!!