Here is the condensed version of Sabrina’s “Tending to Your Trees” presentation. Thanks Sabrina for sharing!

Tending Your Trees Sabrina Selvaggi Blog

Trees are very important! Plant one today...

Trees are very important! Plant one today…



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….


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…


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….


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!

The Cosmetic Pesticide Ban Act (2009) and the changing weather patterns have made lawn care a bit more challenging, but not impossible. A few steps will help you to grow a healthy, hardy, lawn that can compete with weeds and better resist pest and disease. 

Don't put up with a bad lawn just because you can no longer apply pesticides. it is possible to have a great lawn, its just takes a little work.

Don’t put up with a bad lawn just because you can no longer apply pesticides. it is possible to have a great lawn, it just takes a little work.

To do this you need to:

  •   Feed the soil
  •   Choose the right grass type
  •   Practice preventative management
  •   Monitor for pest or disease

Soil is the foundation to healthy plants. It is important to top dress with well-screened, weed-seed free compost. Compost:

  • Provides a whole range of nutrients; it is like a healthy meal versus just vitamins  (fertlizer).
  • Feeds those soil micro-organisms that keep the soil functioning.
  • Increases the water holding capacity of the soil. 

Just like humans, sometimes we may need to supplement our meals with vitamins, research is showing that some fertilizer may be warranted – BUT, applied properly:

  • Only 2x a season is needed, spring and fall.
  • Use a slow release in the fall (no later than Sept 15).
  • Choose one that has a good balance of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K).
  • Do not apply it before an expected rain event.

 A mix of grass species is best, look for a grass seed blend that suits your sun exposure and the amount of wear and tear your lawn receives. Include turf-type ryes and fescues which have longer roots and offer increased pest resistance. Keep an eye out for some very promising new grass species like RTF and RPR which may be listed as “self-repairing”.

For annual lawn maintenance:

  • Aerate, especially for heavily compacted (clay) soil.
  • Top dress your lawn with 1/3 inch of good screened compost
  • Overseed with a mix of grass seeds.
  • Mow properly; with sharp blades, do not cut your grass any lower than 2.5 – 3 inches
  • Leave clippings on your lawn so the water and nitrogen they contain goes right back to the soil.
  • Monitor and properly identify pests so that you know what, how and when to use a control method.

 If you water your lawn, water properly with a maximum of one inch of water a week, including rain. Avoid ‘sprinkling’ watering which promotes a weak shallow root system. If you don’t water your lawn, don’t start once the lawn has gone dormant, it will stress the lawn.


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!

Here is my presentation “Garden Maintenance Shortcuts”. Not too much text or a lot of explainations, but let me know if you have any questions, I’d be more than happy to answer! Don’t be a slave to your garden.

Garden Maintenance Shortcuts RMSi 2012

If you want a great lawn this summer, you will have to do some work.  The first three tasks should be done at least once a year, twice if you have bad soil, heavy compaction or a thin lawn.

There are 5 recommended tasks for building and maintaining a great lawn:

1. Aerate  – this will reduce compaction and get rid of thatch. No need to if you are on sand

2. Topdress  – this will feed your lawn and improve soil

3. Overseed  – this will thicken your lawn and fill any spaces so weeds won’t establish

4. Mow high  – at least 2 1/2 inches, but in the hotter months 3 inches

5. Don’t over water  – 1 inch, once per week, at most, including rain, or let your lawn go dormant in the summer, it is a natural adaptation.

Time to get to work if you want a great lawn this summer!

Aerate once the lawn has dried up and is no longer damp. After aerating, add a well screened layer of compost to a depth of ¼ to ½ an inch. Adding compost to your lawn is the equivalent to feeding it fruits and vegetables. Compost will add the main nutrients (N, P, K) as well as the micro nutrients needed.

Choose a mixture of grass seed that has several species of grass in it. Remember, with grass seed, you get what you pay for, so a few extra bucks will go a long way with the quality of seed. Spread the seed over the compost and lightly rake it in. Keep the seed moist (not soaking wet) for a period of 8-10 days.

There are many options for grass seed. Buy the best quality for the best results.

They are predicting a bad year for bugs, so applying beneficial nematodes will help prevent damage by pests such as grubs. The key to using these is to follow the directions EXACTLY! Nematodes are now available for purchase at most garden centres and large box stores such as Home Depot or Canadian Tire. They will likely be stored in a fridge, if not; you may want to look for them elsewhere. They need to be kept cold so the nematodes stay in a dormant state before application. I won’t go into specific detail on how the nematodes work, but if you are keen, google it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

If your lawn is covered with more than 50% of weeds, and you don’t want the weeds, you should resod, or consider an alternative to your lawn.

In my next post I will tackle weeds…


With the unseasonably warm weather we’ve been having lately, it’s hard to resist the urge to go play in the gardens. Some tasks can be detrimental if done too early. To appease your urges; here are some outdoor garden tasks to keep you busy…

This would be a large lawn to rake!

1. Resist the urge to rake your lawn. The ground is still wet and if you have clay soil, walking on it will compact the soil. Compacted soil is bad for turf, but good for weeds. Also raking your lawn too early can easily damage any new grass shoots.

2. Don’t roll your lawn, again, with clay soils, this will compact it.

3. Now is a great time to apply corn gluten to your lawn. This is a natural pre-emergent weed preventative that coats weed seeds and prevents germination of the root from the seed.  Wait 4 – 6 weeks before overseeding as corn gluten will also prevent grass seed from germinating. Corn Gluten will also serve as a fertilizer for your lawn.  Corn Gluten will not kill exisitng weeds. For more details on applicaiton of corn gluten, visit:

4. Wait to clean up the dead plant materials from your gardens. Once the soil warms up the decomposers will become more active and will start decomposing old plant material. This will add natural organic matter into your soil, which will help to feed this year’s plants.

5. Rather than using a hose to clean off your driveway, use a broom. It is good exercise for you and you won’t be wasting high quality drinking water.

Thanks for the spring "presents"

6. Now that the snow has melted, for those of you with dogs, your lawn will be covered with months of dog droppings that need to be picked up. This is one of those spring clean-up tasks that I do not enjoy. Maybe this year I’ll hire a company to clean these up?

Enjoy your gardens folks, that’s why we have them!

Daffodils, or as my niece used to call them “Dapp-o-diwls”, are my favorite bulb for many reasons. Yes, the tulip comes in a variety of colours, but Daffodils are perfect for my easy-peasy gardening regime.

Little drops of sunshine

Some of the reasons I love daffodils and why I am encouraging you to plant some now, before it gets too cold:

  • They are one of the first flowers to show up in the spring. I equate them to little drops of sunshine after a long, dreary winter.
  • Unlike tasty, nutritious tulips, squirrels do not like daffodils, so they do not get eaten or moved by our furry little friends.
  • They are done their blooming by the time your other perennials start to shine. I always hated waiting for my tulips to go brown before  cutting  them back; I always saw the post-bloom tulips as messy, brown, ugly spots on my fresh, green spring garden. Daffodils are great for stepping out of the way early so the rest of the garden can take front stage. How kind of them!
  • They are the favourite flower of one of my best friends, Jen. She doesn’t really like gardening, but loves these beauties.
  • They are water efficient. They do not need any other water other than what Mother Nature provides. They look after themselves.
  • Daffodils are a symbol for the Canadian Cancer Society. Buy your daffodils in the spring to support the fight against cancer.
  • They are great for your garden budget. The bulbs are fairly inexpensive, and they come back year after year.
  • You can “layer” the bulbs with later blooming plants in your garden. Because they are a small bulb, they will not take up much space in your garden. Daffodils can be planted very close to each other, and close to perennials and small shrubs, without having to worry about overcrowding.

So get out there and plant your daffodils, now, before the cold weather arrives. You will thank me next spring.  Alliums also meet many of the criteria above, and the bulbs can only be planted in the fall, why not pick up a few of those too…

Allium, another great bulb to plant this fall

Adding Curb Appeal

October 24, 2011

Selling your house? Remember your curb appeal!

I spent the majority of the weekend at house showings and open houses. The homes were located in a newer subdivision with wonderfully designed homes, both the exterior and the interior. One thing that disappointed me over and over was the poorly maintained landscapes. You always hear about how important “curb appeal” is, but I didn’t see much of this at any of the homes we visited. Gardening is not rocket science and if done right it does not have to be time consuming.

The landscape is the first thing perspective buyers see when they arrive.

If you spend all that time to stage the inside of your home, why not put a little effort into your landscape as well? This is the first thing potential buyers will see when they pull up to your house.

Here are some simple tips to prepare your landscape for house showings and/or open houses:


This seems like an obvious task when preparing for an open house or a showing, yet many of the gardens I saw were full of weeds. These were not hard to pull weeds, they were big, obvious weeds that are easily pulled by hand. Weeding is best done after rain when the ground is soft, but anytime works. It doesn’t take much to go through a 10ft by 10ft garden to pull weeds. To keep things weed free during the time your home is on the market, apply  mulch. Adding 3 inches of natural mulch (wood chips, cocoa mulch etc.) to your garden can cut weeding by up to 90%! (It also reduces moisture water loss in the soil by up to 70% meaning you have to water less.)

When you add mulch, remember to add enough, at least 2 inches, preferably 3 inches. A small scattering of mulch looks worse than the weeds and does not work .


Add some colour, but be smart about it – If you don’t have an established perennial garden with wonderfully coloured foliage and well-timed flowering times, then some small punches of colour can easily jazz up a garden, even in just one strategically placed pot or urn. Choose a colour palette in your garden as you would in your house.  If you have a shrub with purple tinted leaves, then use this as your wall colour. Choose your flower colours to compliment the tree or shrub foliage colour as you would choose your pillows to compliment your wall colour. Remember, foliage colour counts.

Another option is to go with a monochromatic colo ur scheme with your flowers i.e. all white, all red or even all green (green IS a colour). Too many colours sprinkled about looks messy and amateurish whereas one colour  that compliments the colour of your home’s exterior repeated in large patches looks calmer and has an inviting visual impact even from afar.

Many people choose bright red mulch in attempt to add colour to their gardens. The red coloured mulch is a very hard colour to match or accent. Try matching the colour of mulch to your home’s brick or accent colours, or better yet, choose mulch without dye in earth tones,
for a natural look.

If you are planning on selling in the winter, then leave some of the plants intact for winter interest.  Some of the best ones for winter interest include ‘Karl Foerster’ Feather Reed grass, Autumn Joy Sedum, Purple coneflowers, and of course evergreen shrubs.  The best part is that all of these plants are VERY low maintenance, year round!


I rarely see proper pruning techniques in gardens.  Having poorly pruned shrubs is
like having a bad haircut.  You wouldn’t dream of putting a bowl on your head and snipping around the outside, so don’t do this with your shrubs.  With a few simple pointers you can cut back your shrubs in a way to add to your curb appeal and save your shrubs from the dreaded bowl cut!

When choosing what branches to prune, start with any dead or dying branches. Next, thin out the older growth (identified by the more woody stems) especially crossed/funny angled branches. Then start to shape the leftovers, but don’t just chop the shape, give it a proper hair style!

Always cut the branch to the nearest bud, leaf or where it joins with another branch or the stem.  This helps the tree better mend itself and prevents from having half dead sticks on the outer edges of your shrubs.  Remember to never take more than one third of the shrub when you prune, or you will risk killing the shrub.

For more details on pruning, check out:


I was surprised at how many homes were being shown with messy, unmown front lawns. A quick cut will make a big difference in your curb appeal.  For best grass health mow your grass at a height of 2 ½ – 3 inches. A short mown lawn will yellow very quickly, look sparse and attract more weeds. This can distract from even the best house on the block.

With a few easy tips, you can make your landscape look as fabulous as the interior.
Small things, at  little cost, can make a big difference when it comes to curb appeal!

For more information on making a great showcase landscape, contact us

I recently visited a garden planted with plants native to Ontario. The plants were covered in mildew and fungus, so I asked how often they were watering.  The manager told me that they had to water their newly planted native plant garden every day, ALL SUMMER because they were on clay soil and were having a hard time keeping them alive, even after adding lots of compost to the soil.

You should never have to water perennial plants every day in Ontario (unless they are planted in a major heat wave, which is never advised). The plants I saw in the garden were not only water-efficient plants, but they were plants that grow fine in clay; most of them actually prefer clay soils.

I tried to explain this to her, but to no avail. She insisted that the plants would have only survived if watered daily and that even then, they lost of a lot of the plants over the summer.

I see this time and time again, a there is a HUGE misunderstanding about how much water plants need. Watering a plant is not the way to keep them alive.  Plants need air and nutrients from the soil. If the soil is saturated with water, they plants have difficulty accessing the much needed air and nutrients in the soil, so they literally suffocate and then die.

When a plant is overwatered, the symptoms can look like what people assume is “thirsty” plant.  If your plant’s leaves turn yellow or brown, then that is usually a sign of too much water.  When a plant does not have enough water, the obvious symptom is wilt, not yellowing or browning leaves.

When is it time to water?

It is important to note that plants will show some wilting during a hot, dry and sunny day. Plants are not Einstein’s, but they do know enough to protect themselves during stressful periods such as hot, dry weather. They will pull the water from the leaves, into the roots, to prevent water loss through ‘transpiration’ (water loss due to plant “sweating”). They will then return the water to the leaves when the weather conditions improve.

So, if your plant shows some signs of wilt in the mid-afternoon sun on a hot summer day, then that is likely ok. Check back later on in the evening when it’s cooler. If your plant is wilted in the evening, morning or on a cool, overcast day, then this is a sign that they are stressed due to lack of water. This is when it’s time to get the watering can out.

All of this may seem too complicated or time consuming. We all have better things to do than to stand in the garden questioning the level and timing of a wilting leaf. My solution to you… the Finger Test!

How the finger test works (Yes friends, it’s time to get dirty):

Step #1 – Take your longest finger.

All you need is your finger!

Step #2 – Stick it into the ground up to your knuckle.

Step #3 – Do you feel moisture in the soil surrounding your finger?

→Yes – Then there is enough moisture in the soil, skip to step #7

→ No, the soil is dry – Go to step #4

Step #4 – Check the weather forecast, is rain forecasted in the next 24  hours?

→Yes = Skip to step #6

→ No = Go to step #5

→ I don’t trust the weatherman = Go to step #5

Step #5 – Turn your soaker hose on or use a watering can with water from your rain barrel and water the soil (not the plants) until the finger test shows good soil moisture. (Note: If you  don’t already have mulch on your gardens, add some, this will seriously extend the time between watering and leave you more time doing Step #7)

Step #6 – Let Mother Nature water for you and proceed to step #7

Step #7 – Sit back and enjoy a glass of wine in your water efficient garden!

Although we have an abundance of water in Ontario and in Canada, we shouldn’t be wasting it, especially in our gardens, to the detriment of our lovely plants!