{ Archive for the ‘maintenance and techniques’ Category }

Spring fling

Spring is bustin’ out all over” …to mangle the Rodgers and Hammerstein song title ever so slightly. And after about a week of “normal” temperatures, everything seems to be popping out of the ground at the same time.

As if to prove it, a clump of our gorgeous native pasque flower (Pulsatilla patens, Zone 3)—native from Ontario to Yukon—is blooming at the same time as some neighbouring (squirrel-planted) broad-leaved grape hyacinths (Muscari latifolium, Zone 4) which are usually busy producing seed by the time the pasque flowers bloom.


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The first perennials to flower in spring

It’s always a neck-and-neck contest to see whether it will be the small spring bulbs (snowdrops, snow crocuses and winter aconites) or hellebores (Helleborus spp. and cvs.) that win the race to produce the first flowers of the new gardening season once the witchhazels have finished.

In my garden, the snowdrops won the cup this year, but when the white stuff finally melted, it revealed hellebore blossoms that had already partially opened under a thin, insulating layer of snow.

We often get mail at this time of year asking whether gardeners should remove the leathery overwintering leaves of hellebores, or leave them in place to die down naturally (as with daffodils and tulips). The answer is that it’s really a matter of personal taste. Some gardeners feel that the old foliage offers protection against spring frosts, while others say that the previous season’s leaves detract from the plant’s overall appearance.

You be the judge, here’s the “before snipping” picture of two separate clumps:

And here’s the hellebore on the right, several days later:


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Early spring blooms

Early spring is my favourite time of year. Gardeners across Canada are so starved for petals, that it’s always a thrill to see the first flowers emerging in our gardens. Most of us had to wait three or four weeks longer than usual this year, but the insulating snow cover protected our most precocious bloomers, who cheerfully thrust their flowers up through the cold soil the moment the snow had melted.

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2-second garden tip: Tucking in dahlia tubers

Today’s tip comes via garden writer Veronica Sliva. Veronica and I have known each other for a few years as members of the Garden Writers Association. In fact, Veronica was the regional director when we first met. We usually see each other throughout the spring and summer months at various gardening events, from Canada Blooms to the Toronto Botanical Garden’s annual Through the Garden Gate tour. That is, if Veronica is not off leading tours around the world for GardeningTours.com.

A prolific garden writer, Veronica creates columns and articles for both print and web (including CanadianGardening.com), as well as for her own website, A Gardener’s World.

Here is Veronica’s autumn-based 2-second tip:

2-second garden tip: Add a peony hoop now

The second 2-second garden tip in our new Pinterest series comes from Amy Andrychowicz who writes the Get Busy Gardening blog. Amy and I met and hung out at the annual Garden Writers Association Symposium this past summer in Quebec City. What really impressed me about Amy is that for her day job she is a software developer, yet she has devoted what I’m guessing is a lot of spare time (and passion) to create gorgeous gardens around her Minneapolis, Minnesota home (USDA zone 4b!). She also finds the time to regularly update her blog with lots of great gardening tips. Now that winter is coming, Amy will be turning her attention to her indoor garden. Apparently she has a big collection of houseplants, succulents and tropical plants.

I have to admit, I first saw this tip on the Get Busy Gardening Facebook fan page. I asked Amy if she would mind if I turned it into a 2-second garden tip, which she happily agreed to. Voilà!

Tree stumps and saltpeter

One of the great advantages of gardening out in the country is being able to do large scale projects.

One of the great drawbacks of gardening out in the country is finding professionals willing to travel to your residence to help you with large scale projects.

After having the power company remove three poplars from the front yard (due to their proximity to a power line), I spent some time trying to get a hold of an arbourist to come and grind the leftover stumps. No dice.

As much as my kids wouldn’t care if the stumps stayed (play value=very high), they’re a nuisance to mow and trim around and they’re constantly sprouting scraggly growth. And they’re just kind of ugly.

They are rotting away a bit, but not fast enough for me. I’ve decided it’s time to give up on the professionals and help Mother Nature along myself. I bought some stump remover and applied it several weeks ago.

Step 1: Using a wood boring bit, drill one inch holes in several places around the stump (the deeper the better). Drill similar holes at an angle into the side of the stump, creating vents for the main holes.

Step 2: Pour some of the stump remover into each hole (read the label for amounts). Pour hot water into the holes to dissolve the crystals.

It’s a pretty simple process. The stump remover basically just speeds up decomposition. You can help it by keeping the stump damp, even going so far as to cover it with plastic to hold in moisture. The label advises allowing at least 4-6 weeks for the process to work. This is what one of my stumps looked like after five weeks of intermittent rain and my total neglect.

Rotting nicely. When I pulled the grass away from the base of the stump I could see the wood crumbling quite a bit.

While doing some research on this whole process, I stumbled across an interesting fact: potassium nitrate, the active ingredient in this stump remover product, is also sometimes called saltpeter. If that word conjures visions of pirates and cannonballs, there’s a reason. It’s one of the main elements in gunpowder. That’s right, gunpowder. Which made the final step in the stump removal process seem suddenly much more exciting.

You can just let everything rot and then hack out the debris, but the manufacturer recommends starting a fire on the stump to burn out the remaining wood.

That’s right, fill your stump with saltpeter, then light it on fire.

Am I a pyromaniac, or does that not just sound fun?

The science behind it is the absorbed saltpeter allows the fire to burn right through to the roots of the stump, whereas a normal fire would burn only until it ran out of oxygen–pretty fast when you’re underground.

How can I not try this?

I got it started with a few leaves and some dry sawdust; some recommend a few charcoal briquettes or some kerosene (NOT gasoline). Be prepared though: it's a slow burn that must be watched for several hours or even a few days.

Attention poinsettia keepers

I am embarking on a test of concentration and dedication.

I have kept my poinsettia going from last Christmas, and it is now time to help it “flower” again. This requires keeping it in the absolute, uninterrupted dark 14 hours a day, and bright sunlight at least six hours a day. As suspiciously as this sounds like a schedule, I, the queen of distraction and misplaced to-do lists, am going to attempt it.

I first learned the ins and outs of poinsettia keeping from a column Karen York did in the 2013 Annual edition of Canadian Gardening. It’s true, I may have neglected a few of her well-explained steps (such as monthly fertilizing and cutting it back in early spring), and I never did take it outside for the summer. But it’s stayed a happy houseplant in spite of me, and I figure it’s worth a shot to get those red bracts back.

Karen’s tips specify starting this controlled light regimen October 1, so I’m right on time! Yay me! I’ve put an alarm on my iPad for every morning so I’ll remember to get it out from under its cardboard box in the closet. I think I’ll remember to put it away at night if it’s smack in the middle of the kitchen counter…

On second thought, I’ll set an alarm for evenings too.

Propagating rosemary… and Christmas cheer

I love rosemary. It’s an easy plant to love: fragrant, edible, medicinal, good looking. It is not, however, easy to keep alive in our neck of the woods. While it might be evergreen at a lower latitude, mine has to come inside and struggle through the winter as a houseplant–often unsuccessfully. It gets woody and lethargic and I often end up buying a new pot from the greenhouse in the spring.

I tried growing it from seed once; I got tired of waiting for it to sprout and gave up thinking I’d done something wrong. Then, a passing comment from a friend several weeks ago turned a light on in my head: why was I not propagating rosemary by cuttings?

I started to do a little research, and guess what that little packet of rosemary seed forgot to mention? It can take up to three months to germinate! Also, the best way to propagate rosemary is from cuttings.

When all else fails, April, read the instructions.

Anyhow, I’ve rooted lots of things in water (and you can root rosemary in water too), but I bought myself a little bottle of rooting hormone to try putting the cuttings right into the soil.

Start with a 3-4 inch length of stem. Use a sharp blade -not scissors- to avoid crushing the stem, and make an angled cut. Take the soft bits at the tips rather than the older, woodier stems; they will root much more easily.

Strip the leaves off the stem. The little nodules where they grew are the primary rooting points, so make sure there are lots. You only need a few leaves left on top. Quick, go take something out of the freezer that you can use all those stripped leaves with for dinner.

Dip the stem in the rooting powder and shake off any excess. I've heard you can use honey, but I've never tried it. You can skip this step, but rooting will take longer.

Poke a hole in your potting soil, place the stem in it, and firm the soil gently. Ta da! Now, keep it moist and be patient.

As I was gathering my supplies to do this, I remembered seeing a little rosemary topiary of a Christmas tree once. Then it hit me: why not do lots of cuttings (especially if my current plants are destined for their end pretty soon anyway) and give away tiny rosemary ‘trees’ to neighbours and friends this Christmas? Way better than circulating more sugar.

Maybe I’ll do some lavender as well.

I can’t believe I thought of this soon enough to actually (possibly) pull it off! I should get a prize…

My baby rosemary forest!

 

 

 

A rose of Sharon cautionary tale

I inherited four rose of Sharon trees with my current house. They had all been meticulously pruned by the previous owner, when we moved in a couple of years ago, so I really didn’t need to do anything to them for awhile—or so I thought.

The first fall, I’m guessing the owner snipped all the seed pods before we moved in in mid October. But last fall, these lovely little pods appeared. With the branches still looking all neat and compact, I figured no pruning required and forgot about them altogether. Big mistake. This past spring, hundreds of mini rose of Sharons sprouted up around each tree like eager little weeds. If I had a greenhouse, I could start a rose of Sharon nursery and make money. Instead, I’ve tried to painstakingly pull each one out. But I’ve got a long way to go until they’re gone completely.

So, this fall, any seed pod that I happen to see will immediately be snipped into a yard bag and disposed of.

They're quite pretty and innocent-looking when they're in bloom...

...but watch out! If you don't nip those seed pods in the bud, this will happen!

Quick seed-saving tip

I’m really, really trying to get into saving my own seeds but with all there is to do in the garden (let alone life!) my timing is sometimes off. Either I’m over eager and lop off the seed heads before they have fully matured, or find them too late, after their seeds have already dropped.

I don’t remember who taught me this little trick to avoid disappointment, but it’s a good one.

Get your hands on a bunch of little mesh gift or favour bags. Dollar stores are a good bet, or attend a lot of fancy weddings and beg them from everyone who has finished their candy. When you notice the seeds forming on plants, pop a bag over the head and tighten the ties snuggly around the stem. The bag will keep the seeds contained until you get around to harvesting them, and allow air and light to circulate in the meantime. They also dry very quickly if they get wet.

I got my parsley all bundled up. Works great for many types of flowers and vegetables.

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