Gardening Blog

My sand cherry's a sucker

Ok, I lied. My sand cherry has suckers. Let me explain. I have a sand cherry tree in my front garden. It's very lovely–especially in the springtime, but lately, there is new growth coming up in the form of tiny little trees all around the base. These little guys are very hard to pull out–probably because they're attached to the roots of the existing tree. I turned to Anne Marie to find out how to get rid of my baby trees without harming their mama.

The new growths from the base of your sand cherry are suckers and they are still attached to the roots of the tree. Most sand cherries are shallow rooted and are prone to producing suckers since they naturally have a tendency to grow in dense thickets. They will also sucker, especially if the roots have been damaged from digging around the shrub or tree.

If you want your sand cherry to be a single trunk and not have the suckers, they can be dug up, severed from the mother plant if they have plenty of roots and given away to friends. Or, dig down to where they are attached to the root, grab hold of the sucker, twist and pull. Cutting them off at the soil level or below will not stop them from returning. Like rose suckers, the growing bud must be removed totally by twisting and pulling it out.

While I was on the subject of sand cherries, I thought I'd ask Anne Marie a question a reader had.

“Hello, I planted a sand cherry tree this spring and it's not looking good and has lots of chew holes. What should I do?”

According to Anne Marie, the sand cherry is going through a little transplanting stress and is feeling the effects of either a fungus disease called shot hole or an insect attack by any number of pests; from caterpillars like sawflies to Japanese beetles. Take a look at the leaves and if you don't see any pests on them, this is a good sign and they may have moved on. Also you don't see numerous brown spots on the leaves (the beginning of shot hole disease), Anne Marie recommends focusing on keeping the plant healthy and not worry about what caused the chew holes.

Don't fertilize the tree until it gets a little more settled, but do make sure it has enough water and that drainage is good. Also it should be planted at the same depth as it was growing in the pot, with just a small increase (2.5 cm) for mulch over the root area.

The Word on the Street

Last weekend saw me abandoning my garden once again and heading for the West Coast, partly to visit friends and partly to represent Canadian Gardening at Word on the Street, Vancouver. Word on the Street is a free annual event that celebrates reading and promotes literacy in Canada–in fact, it’s North America’s largest literary festival. This year, the celebrations were held on September 28 in Halifax, Kitchener, Toronto and Vancouver.

However, I wasn’t invited to read or even to speak; I’d been asked to demonstrate how to put together a fuss-free container in the Magazines Tent. So not only was I in beautiful Vancouver in perfect, sunny weather, I also had the pleasure of going plant shopping at Art Knapp’s lovely store, which luckily was located just a block away from my hotel. As far as I’m concerned, few things are more fun than buying lovely plants and a nice container with somebody else’s money!

What constitutes a fuss-free container to me? The plantings should require minimal maintenance, look good together and happily co-exist. That means avoiding thugs and wimps in equal measure. I think fuss-free also means something that has a fairly monochromatic colour scheme. Even if you’re no genius with colour combinations, choosing toning shades and pleasing textures and leaf shapes will result in a good-looking design. Think of these as your background pots; foils for the showier prima donnas that might require more cosseting and primping.

When planning your fuss-free container, In terms of shape and structure, it’s helpful to remember the phrase “thrillers, fillers and spillers.” To condense container design into a nutshell, what that means is choose a focal point plant or even some branches (in the case of my Vancouver demo, it was an ornamental millet in lovely shades of copper, burgundy and wheat), then opt for a variety of plants in colours that echo and complement those of your thriller plant–these are the fillers. Finally, the spillers–plants that trail over the edge of your container to soften it and add a lush fulness to the arrangement.

Once your plants are snuggled into the soil, give them a really good long drink of lukewarm water, then top things off with some mulch to help retain moisture. I find moss works well and gives the soil a finished look; sometimes I add a few small stones for more texture.

Consider, too, that perennials and small shrubs are often a great choice for fuss-free containers, and then instead of being tossed into the compost, can be planted into the garden before freeze-up to be enjoyed for years to come. In my garden at home this year, I’m experimenting with a purpleleaf sand cherry in a pot–this ubiquitous, inexpensive plant looks great in a container because it has a graceful form, showy leaves and pretty pink flowers in spring, yet is not too bushy so you’re able to pack in plenty of things around it. My container is quite large, and I’m leaving the sand cherry in it over winter to see if it will survive–it’s a Zone 3 plant and I garden in Zone 6, so with a big of mulch and a sheltered spot, fingers crossed it should do just fine. I also have four evergreens–two cedars and two junipers–on the third-floor deck off my bedroom. These were bought cheap and are planted in ridiculously small, square plastic planters, not double-walled. Believe it or not, they’re going into their fourth winter with no problem. My secret? I water like mad right to freeze-up, and mulch. That’s it, that’s all.

Has your garden had a makeover?

Today we launched an exciting new contest at CanadianGardening.com. If you did a little landscaping magic to your yard this summer or transformed a boring patch of dirt into brilliant blooms, then you can enter your before and after photos to win! And if you focused a little more on the inside, no problem! We'd love to see your renovation pictures, too! First and second prize include a fabulous laundry pair from Maytag.

The entries with the most votes win, so encourage your family, friends and co-workers to vote for your photos.

I look forward to seeing all the inspiring pics from our readers!

When should I divide my perennials?

Yesterday was a gorgeous September day and I found myself out in the garden admiring my perennials–my mums have all of a sudden exploded with colour! Some of my plants, however, have gotten quite dense over the summer. A couple of my hostas are so huge a neighbourhood cat was sleeping under one the other day and I didn't even notice until it crawled out and gave me a sleepy “meow.”

What to do with my crowded beds? I haven't really had to divide anything until now (except my irises), so I wasn't sure when the best time of year is to do it.

I consulted Anne as I think I'd probably better get a move on if I'm going to divide anything before the first frost. Here is her advice:

  • The best time to divide most perennials is in early spring. This will give the plant time to get settled before the summer weather challenges arrive.
  • The second best time to divide most perennials is in early fall, when the soil is still warm and plants can get settled before winter arrives. Divide perennials about 6 weeks before the first frost.
  • Some considerations to think about; often the soil is too wet to dig in the spring when it is the ideal time to divide. Some experts also suggest that spring and summer blooming perennials should be divided in the fall, and fall blooming perennials divided in the spring. This means you are dividing non-blooming plants, which will have a better chance of survival.
  • Exceptions to this rule include bearded iris (August only), columbine (fall only), oriental poppy (early summer after flowering), bleeding heart (early summer after flowering) and peony (late summer).
  • Divide plants on a cloudy day. Water them well the day before the move. And water them well after the move.
  • Cover them if necessary to reduce wilting.
  • Take as much soil as you can lift from around the roots and replant immediately.
  • Use a garden fork or garden spade to loosen the soil and dig out the clump. An old, large kitchen knife, sharp garden spade or two garden forks are handy to divide the clump. Save the most vigorous sections of your clump from the outer edges to replant.

This information will find a place in my gardening journal. I also found this article written by Anne on dividing perennials, which I am going to print, along with the information above, for handy reference.

My first tomatillos = salsa verde

A week or so ago we had a big storm in the night that basically snapped major branches off my poor tomatoes and my tomatillo plant. I went into emergency gathering mode as I picked the tomatillos off the sorry-looking branch that I could not save.

I had quite a few tomatillos that seemed a fairly good size, but they hadn't quite filled out their pod. The good news is that they were bright green, which according to my research is when they're at their best. Anyhow, I had to use them, so I immediately did a search for salsa verde or green salsa so I could use them up right away. One of my favourite dishes at Mexican restaurants is green enchiladas. Until I planted my tomatillo, I was quite ignorant to the fact that the tangy, flavourful salsa smothering my meal was made from tomatillos.

I found a few recipes online, all of them pretty similar. I used this recipe from CanadianLiving.com and instead of the canned variety, I roasted my tomatillos under the broiler for about five minutes per side, let them cool and then squished them up in the blender. I then mixed the remaining ingredients and the result was absolutely delicious on my beef burritos!

Hats off

A helpful friend just reminded me that fall is officially here. Go tell that to my summer containers, which are still blooming their hearts out. No need to go rushing out to pick up pots of mums or asters for the front steps, when my tuberous begonias continue to put on such a glorious show (they’re a lot more sturdy than people give them credit for, by the way).

With the advent of fall, some things do need to be changed, I guess. Take the straw hats on my hallstand, which scream of summer garden parties and a minty, fruit-and-cucumber-filled glass of Pimm’s. Two of them are vintage–my favourite one has strawberries both on and underneath the brim; very Carmen Miranda. Another is covered with pansies and black tulle–definitely not a mucking about in the garden kind of hat but just right for an outdoor soiree.

Underneath the hall stand is a basket filled with the more prosaic fabric hats and gloves I wear in the garden when I’m out there working. (With my fair skin, I’m vigilant about sunscreen and covering up in the sun–the doctor has already sliced a pre-cancerous chunk out of my chin, and it doesn’t look like a cleft).

I suspect, however, that just like my sandals, which also have yet to put away, I’ll drag my feet on stashing the hats. For once they go, it means I need to pull out and display the winter ones, which of course also means acknowledging the beginning of six months of largely grey and often dreary days, few of them spent in the garden.

A seed gathering I will go

Last weekend I signed up for a two-hour seminar on collecting and storing seeds at the Evergreen Brickworks Farmer's Market. Our teacher was Maria Kasstan, who was there on behalf of Seeds of Diversity Canada, “a charitable organization working to save Canada's endangered horticultural and agricultural heritage.”

What piqued my interest when I saw the class advertised on the website was the idea that I can harvest seeds from my flowers and share them with friends. I've had neighbours walk by commenting on my garden–and some have even had the nerve to ask if they can pick off a dried bud from this or that plant, which I've happily agreed to. But I never really understood how to go about preserving them until next year.

Maria was a fountain of knowledge as she explained the important process of pollination and some of the plants that can lure bees into the yard. She then went on to describe the importance of preserving heritage seeds–and how to do it. That was another reason I had attended–even though my crop of tomatoes just wasn't meant to be this year, I was hoping I could save some seeds for next year.

I learned what I need to do is take a very ripe tomato and let it rot for three to four days. This helps to eliminate that gel that's around a tomato seed–a germination inhibitor. After that, you can pick out the seeds (I think I'll leave that job for my boyfriend), dry them and store them in the refrigerator or freezer until spring. Be sure to use a jar or paper to store, never plastic!

Armed with our new knowledge–and some little envelopes, our morning ended out in the wildflower garden gathering wildflower seeds to entice pollinators to our yards next spring.

Click here for more tips on storing and preserving your seeds.

Will my herbs survive the winter?

For my last post, I found out that my herbs are basically done for the season. But I wanted to know what I can do with them over the winter. The mint is in a big pot, but the other two are in the ground.

Sadly, my cilantro and basil will not overwinter, so I am going to try to collect the seeds in case I want to try starting them myself next spring.

However, Anne Marie says the mint is hardy and can be planted in the garden. Since it is very invasive, I must keep it in the pot and just lower the whole thing into the ground. Keeping it in the pot will keep it contained for a while so it won't spread everywhere too fast.

Or, I can bring the pot into a garage or shed for the winter or tuck it up against the house and pack leaves around it.

Stan’s Jade Plant

Some 20 years ago, my friend Penny’s mother, Jean, gave me her late husband’s jade plant for safe keeping. She was moving from her bright apartment into another with less natural light, and had no room for it. I’m not sure how long Stanley had been growing it, but it was quite a size when it came to me and it’s gotten bigger ever since.

Anyone who has grown a jade knows their branches are very fragile and break off with the slightest nudge. So this one has never been repotted, and lives in a surprisingly small plastic container with little soil (jades like to be potbound). This pot rests in a large terracotta one to give the plant stability. I water it when I remember and feed it very seldom.

The plant has become a behemoth–its wingspan is about four feet, and its height a good three. I used to be better about pinching it back and moving the pot around so it grew evenly, but I’ve become less attentive so its a bit misshapen. It’s too heavy and cumbersome to move outdoors anymore, so it lives, summer and winter, on my sun porch, where it gets plenty of light and copes with extremes of heat and cold. It’s never flowered–my porch faces west, and maybe the sun just isn’t intense enough through those windows.

The other day, Penny was over for a visit.

“Hey, is that my dad’s old jade plant?” she asked.

“Yes, it is,” I replied, thinking she might ask to keep it.

“Kinda ugly, isn’t it?” she remarked.

Uh huh. And I guess it’s mine until further notice.

What happened to my poor herbs?

This past spring, I planted three herbsbasil, cilantro and mint–imagining the fresh flavours in my meals all season long. However, in the last few weeks, they've all grown flowers on top. My poor cilantro completely fell over from the weight and my basil just doesn't seem as bushy or yummy-looking. Sigh. My herb-infused culinary creations will have to wait until I figure out if they're still edible. Furthermore, can I cut back the flowers without damaging the plants?

Here's what Anne Marie had to say about the fate of the most fragrant end of my garden.

Some herbs are still quite useable even after they start to flower but others get too strong or woodier once this takes place. For most, frequent harvesting make the plants bushier and produce more harvestable stems.

Mint is usable before and after it flowers. In fact, mint can be collected and dried as the flowers begin to open. Young, tender stems before flowering are better than the older, woodier, bitter stems. Use the leaves dried or fresh.

Basil should be used when young before it goes to flower. You can stall the flowering by pinching out the flower buds whenever you see them. This will help create a bushier plant and promote more side growth. Basil stops producing nice leafy growth when it flowers. It is best to use fresh basil or cut it for drying up until just before the flowers open.

Cilantro should be harvested before the plant goes into flower. I don't know of any way to delay this from happening. It usually starts flowering once the weather gets hot. Or let it flower and harvest the seeds as coriander in late summer.

Ok, better luck next year with my basil and maybe I'll whip outside tomorrow and see about collecting my own coriander. That sounds promising.

But will my edible plants make it through the winter? Stay tuned!

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