{ Author Archive - Tara Nolan }

Can you use sawdust as mulch?

While looking through reader comments in articles recently, I saw that someone had commented on Lorraine Flanigan’s article Blanket your garden with a cosy winter mulch. The question was whether or not you can use sawdust to cover your bulb beds. I wasn’t sure how to answer this question, so I consulted Anne Marie. Here is what she had to say:

The sawdust will add another layer of insulation in addition to the soil and protect the bulbs during winter. However it should be removed or amended in the spring. Sawdust is a high carbon source (almost 40%) and when it decomposes in the garden it can divert microorganisms from helping plants obtain valuable nitrogen fertilizer. It can easily cause a nitrogen deficiency when it is breaking down as a result. This can be compensated for by adding additional nitrogen from fertilizer (for the plants) while the sawdust decomposes. The estimated carbon:nitrogen (C:N) ratio for sawdust and wood chips is 500:1 while composted manures are usually in the 17-50:1 range. A C:N ratio of 30:1 is considered ideal. Sawdust can be used in the garden, but after it has been composted. Use it in a compost pile with lots of “greens” to provide the offsetting nitrogen source. The nitrogen sources can be lawn clippings, vegetable kitchen waste, garden refuse but not leaves which are another carbon source. Some gardeners just pile the sawdust in the back corner of their yard and let it sit for a year and then it should be safe to use. So, remove it before it robs too much more nitrogen from the soil, put it in a pile in an out of the way place and add a high nitrogen fertilizer throughout to help with the decomposition process.

Eco-friendly resolutions

Happy New Year!

Besides giving my thirsty indoor plants lots to drink in this cold, dry weather, I haven't done much thinking personally about my own garden — that will change in the coming weeks as I'm really excited for spring.
However I have been busy editing and uploading content to go with the new special issue that is being mailed to subscribers probably as I write this! The theme is “Fantastic eco-wise Gardens.” With municipalities banning the use of pesticides and enviro-minded garden gurus reminding gardeners everywhere about the benefits of “green” gardening, this will be a fantastic resource to get you in the eco-friendly spirit for spring.
We also have lots of great eco-friendly content online…
For the new year, Jennifer Murray, my fabulous web producer, put together a helpful list of realistic eco-gardening resolutions.
If you're looking to add some earth-friendly titles to your gardening library this year, consulting editor Lorraine Flanigan has compiled an extensive list of resources.
Plus, you can determine how green you are with Stephen Westcott-Gratton's “Determining your green thumbprint” quiz. It might inspire you to adopt at least one of the eco-gardening resolutions — even small steps can make a great difference.
My eco resolutions include:

  1. Setting up my composter to actually produce compost! Currently it is just full of grass clippings. All the good stuff goes out in my green bin each week.
  2. Trying to find an effective, “green” way to get rid of the army of ants who call my property home.
  3. Plant a couple of trees in my yard. This will be win win as my neighbours behind me plan to build a second story on their bungalow – I’ll need privacy! Plus it will be good for the environment.

What are your eco-gardening resolutions?

Cheerful, solar-powered holiday lights

I don't usually hang any Christmas lights outside. I save the magic for inside where it's warm and cosy and I don't need to worry about a really long extension cord wrapping around my house and turning anything off and on in the cold.

However I recently got these great NOMA Outdoor Solar-Powered Decorative Landscape Lights to try out from Canadian Tire. They're like those gazing balls that you see in people's gardens, only these ones are holiday red, green, blue and amber. A simple switch on the little solar panel can leave them on autopilot for the season and the sun will do its magic during the day.

The frozen ground proved to be a challenge, but after pouring a bit of boiling water in my garden (in a bulb-less and plant-less area), I easily inserted the little stakes into the ground, stuck the lights on top and that very night had a lovely little glow lining the garden in front of my house. They're like cheerful lollipops in the snow.

These are a great last-minute gift idea for the gardener on your list–or if you get a gift certificate for Christmas and don't know how to spend it!

Eau de Christmas tree

One of my favourite parts about Christmas is finding my tree. Its scent evokes so many warm memories of my childhood, so I look forward to choosing that perfect pine (or fir or spruce) every year. When we were little, we used to go to a cut-your-own farm. This often resulted in my father having to cut off the top–or string it somehow to the ceiling–so it would fit in the house and stand up on its own.

Now that I'm in the city, my trees are a little more modest in size, but I still love walking in the door after a long day at work, breathing in the heady scent and gazing at the lights over a hot cup of tea.

If you still need to grab a tree before the big day, check out Shelagh McNally's guide to choosing the perfect tree.

A perfect gardening gift for me–and gift ideas for gardeners

My web producer, Jen Murray, just posted this great article she wrote on gifts to give to the gardener on your list. From the necessary (like secateurs) to pampering presents to the whimsical, you’re sure to find something for the green thumb on your list.

Jen couldn’t have found a more perfect present for me. As per Anne Marie’s recommendation, I asked for a protective glove to deal with my roses in the spring. And Jen found me this pair from West Country Gloves and get this… they’re pink! My fave colour.

Mom, if you’re reading this…

Repotting my amaryllis

I'm going to re-pot my amaryllis bulb (which has been in a dark room in a basement since last winter). I took a look at an article from the archive, and then asked Anne Marie if she has any recommendations for repotting. Here is what she had to say:

  • Repotting is fine in the late fall. The bulbs should have been dormant long enough by now so that the flower buds have formed.
  • Use a good sterilized houseplant soil and just move the bulb into a pot that is slightly larger. Amaryllis like to be in a small pot for their size (and often are top heavy because of this).
  • Clean off the old soil from the bulb roots and replant it so that ½ to ¼ of the bulb is showing above the soil. Firm the soil and water well.
  • Once a flower bud or leaves start to show, give it a diluted half-strength fertilizer application every week.
  • For reblooming bulbs, many times the leaves will grow first instead of the flower stalk. Move the bulb to a warm, bright location and enjoy.

Last year my sister’s amaryllis had three huge blooms while my bulb grew a sorry-looking little shoot. My hope is that mine measures up this year.

Help for my money tree

I have a money tree and lately I've noticed on the underside of the leaves these little tiny dots that look like water droplets and the odd little web around the leaves. Now some of the leaves are turning brown. I asked Anne Marie, if there is a way to make it healthy again. Here's what she had to say:

The money tree (or good luck plant) is botanically called Pachira glabra and is often grown in a small container with up to eight thick braided trunks. The leaves are palmate (hand-shaped). It is a tropical tree from central and South America. Even though they are native to a humid, moist tropical location, in our homes they should be kept somewhat dry and have good drainage. Make sure the plant is dry between watering–water it thoroughly then let it dry out again. The thickened stem does hold some reserves of water for dry spells. The money tree seems to grow best in containers that are undersized for their height, too. Misting the leaves will help during the winter months. Place the plant in a bright window that doesn't get direct sunlight.

The tiny dots under the leaves could be the plant's emergency moisture-release system kicking in. Called “guttation” in botanical language, these drops of sap are the result of the roots continuing to take up water, which accumulates in the plant and can't transpire enough (particularly at night). The plant releases this under pressure water through special structures in the leaf, where they form drops. High soil moisture levels at night encourage guttation. Reduce the soil moisture and this will stop. High soil moisture might be the cause of the browning leaves, too.

The odd fine webbing could be from a spider, but watch to see if the webs become numerous and small black dots appear on the underside of the leaf–if so, spider mites might be the culprit.

I'll see what I can do with Anne Marie's advice and report back. What I want to know is if I kill my money tree am I destined for a life of debt?

Using my holly for holiday decorating

As the holidays are approaching, I thought I'd use some of the branches on my holly berry bush in some festive displays. I asked Anne Marie if it would harm the plant if I snip off a few branches here and there. “No, go right ahead and enjoy the holly for the holidays,” she says. “Keep it cool and away from direct sun while indoors. The berries and leaves will eventually dry out and fall. To prolong their beauty, keep the branches in the refrigerator and bring them out for special gatherings.”

The last of my tasks

The weather has just not cooperated this fall. Granted my schedule can be a bit hectic, so I can't just expect Mother Nature to conform to MY timetable, but seriously, does it have to rain every time I have a free moment? It poured this past weekend, so I didn't get the opportunity to do any raking, but I managed to sneak out today for an hour before work and get some of those leaves up in my backyard before the snow flies.

The one thing I've neglected to do is trim back some of the lily and iris foliage around my yard.

I asked Anne Marie if I can cut it back before winter and here is what she had to say:

  • If your iris and lily foliage is ready to be removed (i.e easily pulled out) go right ahead.
  • Lilies: After the foliage has naturally died down, remove all but 4 cm of the stem so you know where the plant is next spring.
  • Bearded iris: Do not mulch, cut foliage down to 15 cm.

And alas, as I'm about to post this, it's starting to snow.

The #1 fall task gardeners should do

As the weather has not been particularly cooperative on the days I'm available to clean up my yard, I asked Anne Marie what the one thing is that all gardeners should do. Last year it snowed before we go all our leaves up!

Here is what she recommended:

  • Water your evergreens well
  • Prune your hybrid tea roses to knee height and mound with soil for protection
  • Tie cedars and junipers that might be damaged by ice and heavy snow loads

Ok, that's three things, but all very helpful if they apply to your yard. Oh and she recommended that I empty my rain barrel because the water will expand when frozen and could damage it. That's one thing I have managed to do.

So my mint is nestled against the house, all my pots and garden knick knackey things have been put away along with the patio furniture and the barbecue, the birdfeeder is out…

And this past weekend it rained–again–meaning my backyard is still an ocean of leaves. If I can just get home before dark one night I'll grab my rake!

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