Gardening Blog

Sustainable horticulture

In today’s fast paced society, do we ever stop to smell the roses anymore? We’re so busy working, shopping, driving – most of us have very muddy carbon footprints. Sustainable living is a phrase that’s been used a lot lately. Basically, it refers to a lifestyle choice that encourages people to live in harmony with nature.

A new initiative to promote sustainable living at the Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) in Burlington, Ontario is the Canadian Institute for Sustainable Biodiversity (CISB).

The RBG recently announced a multidisciplinary symposium scheduled for February 2010 on sustainability and horticulture, entitled ‘Living Plants, Liveable Communities: Exploring Sustainable Horticulture for the 21st Century.’ This symposium is being designed to teach Canadians how to live with the environment in a sustainable way.

Here are a sustainable living tips that you can use at home in your garden:

  • check your outdoor taps for leaks
  • recycle your garden pots
  • mulch your garden beds to help reduce the amount you need to water
  • if you have to water your lawn, give it a deep soak to allow the roots to absorb the water
  • grow a veggie garden and enjoy home grown produce
  • compost all your organic kitchen waste
  • try xeriscaping in your garden with drought-tolerant plants

Deadheading for more blooms

The first summer I lived in my house, my neighbour came over for a chat and said something along the lines of “your flowers need deadheading.” I think I politely muttered “oh yes, it’s on my to-do list” and later looked up what she meant on Google. Deadheading is a way to keep your flowers blooming longer by removing the old buds. It’s also nicer aesthetically and helps keep your garden looking well-groomed. While I had my yard bags out yesterday (I was pulling monster weeds that sprouted up after all the rain we’ve had), I deadheaded some daisies and my yellow flowers (not sure of their proper name, but they’re also daisy-ish), which will hopefully encourage some late-summer blooms. I do this to my black-eyed susans, as well, and they usually bloom until late fall.

For tips and techniques, check out Lorraine Flanigan’s helpful article about how to deadhead.

Tip to help tomato flowers turn into tomatoes

I was reading advice in our forums the other day and one of the posts piqued my interest. A reader was having trouble with her tomato flowers dying before they turned into little tomatoes. “Beeman” came to the rescue and recommended vibrating the flower stem or spritzing the open flowers with a small hand sprayer filled with warm water to encourage pollination. Ten days later, “Crazy4Columbine” reported that the spraying worked! I thought I’d pass along this helpful tip and I might see if it works on my zucchini plant. Some of the flowers have been dying before I get a mini zucchini!

Good riddance to a soggy July

For those of you gardening in British Columbia−congratulations! You`ve been enjoying a lovely warm summer, but the rest of Canada, well, we're still waiting for summer to arrive. So far, Ontario's summer has been cool and wet. I recently read an article in the Globe and Mail, and it said that this has been the coldest July in 17 years in southern Ontario. The average temperature has been three degrees below normal and the average rainfall; well let's just say my gardens are still soaked! The only good thing about this rainy July is that my grass is lush and green. Of course, I have to mow it every week, but normally at this time of year it's already become a crunchy brown carpet.

Because of the rain, some of the plants in my garden are suffering from a serious case of powdery mildew. Powdery mildew is caused by Sphaerotheca fuliginea. The leaves on my phlox, roses, cucumbers and even the Manitoba maple tree are covered with grayish-white, powdery spots. Although powdery mildew isn't pretty, it is rarely fatal, so I'm not that concerned. To combat this pesky fungicide, I prune the infected plant parts and get rid of them. This helps improve the air circulation around the plant. Since powdery mildew likes a moist, humid environment, this helps combat the infection. You could apply fungicide, but there is also a home remedy using baking soda, which helps reduces the plants risk of becoming infected in the first place.

Homemade Powdery Mildew Fungicide

  • 3 ½ litters of water
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoons liquid soap

A few days prior to applying the mixture, water your plants well. Avoid treating the plant in direct sunlight. Apply the homemade fungicide with a spray bottle, ensuring you get full coverage.

I've also heard spraying a concoction of milk (1 part milk to 9 parts water) that helps reduce a powdery mildew infection, but I've never tried this remedy myself.

My neverending squirrel dilemma

I've had a terrible problem with squirrels this past season. They carried off several of my veggie plants, and a few summer bulbs, and dug up some of my seeds. A lady up the street feeds them peanuts, so I find peanut shells all over my yard as well as random holes from their relentless digging.

harvestmoongardenEarlier this season I would sprinkle cayenne pepper all over my gardens and chase squirrels out of my garden like a crazy person. A few folks here at the office were horrified about the cayenne as they had heard that if the squirrels get the spice on their paws, they'll rub it in their eyes and scratch at their eyeballs. A Canadian Gardening colleague did a little digging and found some information from the Humane Society, which recommends cayenne pepper in the garden and I found a page online that I figure makes it OK if it’s coming from a society that protects animals. The only problem with cayenne is you have to constantly reapply after giving your garden a good soak or after it rains.

In the recent issue of Toronto Life, I read Brent Preston's memoir about becoming a farmer. Brent's battle was with groundhogs and insects. To control the destructive flea beetle from ravaging his crops, he covered his plants with row cover, a finely woven fabric that allows sun and water to pass through but keeps insects out. I'm wondering if this would help deter the squirrels from my plants and seeds–at least until they're strong and sturdy. I think I saw an example of row cover last week when I was in the Bruce Peninsula. We came across Harvest Moon Organic Bakery and Sculpture Gardens while looking for a mountain biking trail. At the end of a long driveway we came across this lovely little bakery with the most delicious treats. Part of their vegetable garden was covered in a light cloth, which appears to be row cover. I think I might try it next year.

How do you deter squirrels in your garden?

Bat house for rent

I've become a frustrated bat house landlord. I feel like I need to put up a flashing sign saying `Vacancies` or maybe put an ad in the local newspaper.anjablog2-400

Bat House for Rent
Located in a great neighborhood, this ready-to-move-in bat house is mounted on the side of a two-story home–providing excellent home-protection against hungry predators. The interior of the home has been furnished with unfinished wood, perfect for gripping and hanging around. Painted a stylish shade of black, the house receives ten hours of direct sunlight a day–you'll never have to pay another heating bill. Local gardens provide a smorgasbord of night-flying insects such as moths, beetles and mosquitoes and the backyard swimming pool is a popular destination for late night drinks.anjablog1-400

It's almost been a year and we still have no bat tenants. My husband, Christopher built the bat house after we kept seeing bats flying around our yard at dusk, so obviously they're in the neighborhood. Christopher spent an evening researching how to build a bat house, so we know it meets their requirements. Maybe we need to lower the rent?

If you're interested in learning more on attracting your own bats, check out `Give bats a home in your backyard` on CanadianGardening.com.

A case of veggie garden envy

I was so excited about my veggie garden this year. We carved out a whole new area in the backyard and I was so optimistic about reaping a bountiful harvest. Sadly, I had a real problem with squirrels… they carried away all but one of my eight cucumber plants, all but two of my eggplants and dug up half my seeds. On the bright side, my two plants that I got at the President’s Choice Lawn & Garden event–a zucchini and a sweet pepper–are doing amazing and I have some hot peppers, onions, tomatillos, beets and bush beans that will hopefully yield at least a couple of vegetables.

But then I went to my sister’s place the other night and her balcony garden is doing amazing! She has green tomatoes already and her plants are all big and bushy. My garden is quite stunted by comparison. I’m thinking maybe I need more nutrients in the soil. Needless to say, I was a little envious of her success. But I still hold out hope that my plants, however stunted, will give me a late harvest. Last year I was still picking tomatillos and tomatoes in November! Fingers are crossed.

Gardening in a thong?

What do you wear when you garden? Well a gardener in Collingwood, ON was recently given some fashion advice from the OPP after they received reports of a man wearing an ill-fitting thong while gardening. Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t imagine gardening in a thong would be very comfortable. But then again, if you’re having fun in your garden and you’re not offending your neighbors, does it really matter what you're wearing? Maybe the thong-wearing gardener should invest in a privacy fence around his backyard–he could even claim the expense under the Home Renovation Tax Credit!

Gotta love the city’s street tree planting program

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Of the 36 trees to choose from, I picked a Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) to be planted in my front yard by the City of Hamilton's Street Tree Planting Program.

Shortly after moving into my house, I called an arborist for a quote on having an old maple tree removed from the corner of my property. It had been dead for sometime and was leaning precariously towards my driveway. The arborist came to look at it and told me it would cost $350 to remove it, but then he mentioned that since the tree was on city property, I should call them to see if they would remove it free of charge. I certainly appreciated his honesty and willingness to save me some money, even if it cost him the job.

After calling the city to enquire about removing the tree, they came out to verify it was on city property and it was! They came back a few weeks later, removed the tree and left behind some brochures on the city's tree planting program. Not only did they remove the tree and stump free of charge, they also offered to plant a new one. I was surprised I had never heard about the tree planting program. Occasionally the city will canvas neighborhoods to plant trees in suitable locations, but otherwise, it seems the program is one of the best-kept secrets in the country.

anjablog3-400

The gingko, also known as a Maidenhair tree, has an angular crown and erratic branching pattern. The fan shaped leaves are truly unique.

Whether you live in Kelowna, Simcoe, Kingston, or Charlottetown, most Canadian cities offer a tree planting program. These programs were created to plant trees on city owned street allowances fronting residential properties for free. Homeowner are able to choose from a variety of trees native to North America, imported from Europe and Asia and hybrid varieties. Some cities have taken the program a step further by offering residents subsidized backyard tree planting. LEAF (Local Enhancement and Appreciation of Forests) is a non-profit group dedicated to improving Toronto's urban forest.

An ingenious example of guerrilla gardening

guerrillagardening2If you can find them among the ever-growing piles of garbage in Toronto, abandoned newspaper boxes can be an unsightly blight on our street corners. Karina at Canadian Gardening magazine forwarded me a link yesterday afternoon to a local blogger’s attempt to beautify our city. ‘Blade Diary’ actually built wooden flower boxes this past spring that fit perfectly inside some of these abandoned, tagged garbage targets. I guess once some of the owners found out they gave the flower boxes the boot and starting using them again. Too bad…I like the petunias better.

You can find more photos of Blade’s gardening project here. He even shows sketches of his project plans!

Did anyone see these boxes in their urban habitat before they were taken away? Have you seen other great examples of guerrilla gardening where you live?

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