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

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.

 

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

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

Growing Vegetables

April 26, 2012

More and more people are growing vegetables in their gardens, which is a great idea! I often hear from people “I rarely water my garden, well, except my vegetables, I water those every day”. Why are those the exception? You can have a water-efficient vegetable garden without constant watering.

Here are some tips to create a water effiicent vegetable garden:

  • Use a rain gauge to keep track of how much rain has fallen during the week. Only add water if there hasn’t been sufficient rainfall (one inch per week)
  • Water more deeply but less frequently to encourage deeper, more vigorous root growth.
  • Time your watering to when the plants need it most in their life cycle.  For soft fruits such as tomatoes, this is as their fruit is setting, for leafy vegetables, as their hearts develop; for peas and beans, when they are flowering, and for potatoes, when the tubers begin to form.
  • Group vegetables and herbs according to moisture needs (hydrozone).   Herbs such as rosemary, sage, oregano, winter savory and thyme have better flavour when grown in hot, dry conditions.
  • Perennial vegetables such as asparagus and rhubarb do not need frequent watering, if at all.
  • Whatever your soil type, make sure to add lots of organic matter, preferably good compost, to increase the water holding capacity of the soil to reduce the amount of supplemental watering.
  • Prepare a flat soil surface.  Raised areas such as hills dry out more quickly, and water runs away from the root zone and is wasted.
  • Use mulch, it retains moisture in the soil, controls weeds, stabilizes the soil temperature, and insulates roots, providing protection from heat stress. (Using straw allows more water loss to evaporation than woodchips. I have been growing vegetables in 2-3 inches of woodchip mulch and have had good success, with virtually no water).
  • Water based on soil moisture, not plant tag recommendations. Soil should be dry to a depth of around two inches before adding any supplemental water.

When was the last time you saw a farmer watering his pumpkin patch?

If you are growing vegetables this season, why not grow an extra row and share it with a local shelter? The Compost Council of Canada has a great program called “Plant a Row, Grow a Row”, check it out at: http://www.growarow.org/

Happy Gardening!

Aileen

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!