Tag Archives: Ben Cullen

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Why the end of summer is the perfect time to plant

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Why the end of summer is the perfect time to plant

It’s autumn and this is no time to panic – there’s lots of time for that. But there are a few jobs around the garden that could use your attention. While there is some strength in the sun and being out of doors still feels comfortable, we have a few suggestions.

Our garden priorities for mid-Fall

1 Leave the leaves. Let us start with what not to do. Do not blow your leaves, with a leaf blower no less, into a pile, shove them into a paper bag and drag them down to the street for the city to pick up. Instead, rake them onto your garden. That’s it. Just let them sit there all winter until the earthworms pull them down, drowning them in the existing soil and digesting them into nitrogen rich earth worm poop. In other words, let the worms do the work. Your garden will look much better for their efforts. And this takes a lot less effort than the alternative. If you have too many leaves, run your power mower over them before you rake them onto the garden.

2 Plant Holland bulbs. This is a job for planners. You plant dormant, rather unattractive tulip, daffodil and hyacinth bulbs this time of year and wait until spring for something to happen. We are here to assure you that your investment is not wasted. Come spring, you will feel great joy when your crocus emerges from the depths of the recently frozen earth. They arrive, like trumpets, blowing colour into an otherwise brown, dreary landscape. “Spring is here!” they announce. And so, life and hope and joy abound. But only if you plant the bulbs now.

Bulbs should always be planted in quality, well-drained soil, about three times as deep as the bulb is thick, measured from top to bottom.

3 Fertilize your lawn. Your application of lawn fertilizer this time of year is the most important of the year. The fall formula of lawn fertilizer should be 12-0-18, with less nitrogen (the first number) and more potassium (the third number) than the fertilizer you applied earlier in the season. The potassium provides nutrients to the roots of your grass plants, beefing them up for the long winter ahead. The result is a stronger lawn that recovers from winter-related stress much better than unfertilized lawns. Apply just before the snow flies.

4 Dig and divide. Many of the perennial plants that have established over the years in your garden are ripe for dividing and moving around your garden. Hostas and daylilies are perfect examples of plants that divide very well this time of year. Dig out the whole plant, cut it in half with a sharp shovel or spade. If it is big enough, say, the size of a large pie plate, divide it again, into quarters. You may think that you will get wedge-shaped plants next spring but not so. Through some miracle, they appear in late April looking healthy and just like any plant that you might have purchased in a round pot. Be sure to plant in quality soil.

Water them thoroughly after planting.

5 Prune trees and shrubs. This is the perfect time of year to prune a cedar hedge, large spruce or pine, deciduous trees including maples and birch (which bleed come spring if you leave this job much later). Flowering shrubs that have finished blooming late this season should be pruned now. Rose of Sharon bloom better next year when pruned now. We do not prune ornamental grasses or hydrangeas until spring. And we postpone apple pruning until late winter.

Remember to sit and absorb the remaining weeks in your garden before the snow flies. Allow the effects of nature to seep into your bones and be absorbed by your hard drive. Come winter, you will want to retrieve these images.

Mark Cullen is a Member of the Order of Canada, and provides gardening advice to more than two million Canadians each week. Ben Cullen’s specialty is food gardening. markcullen.com; Facebook @MarkCullenGardening and Pinterest @MarkCullenGardening

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4 tips to create a water garden that is beautiful and functional

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4 tips to create a water garden that is beautiful and functional

Are you a modern gardener? One who plants and nurtures your own garden space with an eye to enhancing the biodiversity in your community? It has taken a few generations, but now we are at a point where we have torn up our property deed, figuratively, and replaced it with a consciousness of the impact our outdoor activity has on nature, up and down the street.

If one of your garden goals is to maximize the attraction of beneficial insects, songbirds, butterflies and hummingbirds: Welcome.

The most impactful addition you can make to your garden is to add still water. A half barrel, a pond or any small container filled with water and “managed” will attract amphibians, dragonflies and many more helpful critters in the local environment. Here are some top tips for still water features in the garden:

1 | Amphibians.

When you are successful in attracting frogs, toads and salamanders to your water garden, you have achieved a very special level of success. These creatures breathe through their skin and as such are very sensitive to environmental changes and pollution. Nurture them by not disturbing your water garden too severely each spring. Provide habitat by placing water plants in it.

Locate your water feature in part sun. Ideally, about 60 per cent of the surface of the water should be shaded. You can provide shade using a nearby tree, water plants that float and by planting broad leaved water lilies that produce leaves up to the surface of the water.

2 | Avoid raccoons and mosquitoes.

The two objections that we hear most, where water features are concerned, are “I don’t want raccoons” and “I don’t want to encourage mosquitoes.” To avoid raccoon problems, design your pond with sides that slope steeply downwards, about 50 cm deep. Raccoons can’t (or won’t) swim and are unable to swipe the fish out of your pond if it is steep enough.

Mosquitoes are easy to manage. Just put some goldfish or koi carp in your pond. Mark has a 10-by-10-metre pond and he has about 30 small fish that do the job very nicely. You can have too many fish, though, as they create a carbon-rich environment that encourages algae growth.

3 | Butterflies and dragonflies love ponds.

Especially where water lilies and other broad-leaved plants sit on the surface of the water. These flying insects do not use bird baths to either drink from or bathe. They are both “top heavy” and prefer to drink from water droplets on the surface of water plants or in mud, which can occur at the margin of your pond. Note that dragonfly nymphs live in still water for up to four years before they mature into flying adults – another good reason not to clean your pond too thoroughly each spring.

4 | Marginals.

The plants you establish around your pond are as important as the ones that you place in it. They provide cover for egg laying and drying post for emerging dragon flies. Consider native marsh marigolds, water iris, tall water forget-me-nots, hibiscus and Joe Pye Weed (a butterfly magnet).

When you build a garden pond, we recommend using a butyl pond liner as it will not break down as PVC will over time. The pond cavity should be lined with sand and a layer of polyester fibre that acts as a buffer against the existing soil.

Once you learn these basics and design your water garden, you’ll see it can literally become a living, breathing yard feature you can be proud of and enjoy for years to come.

Mark Cullen is a Member of the Order of Canada, and provides gardening advice to more than two million Canadians each week. Ben Cullen’s specialty is food gardening. markcullen.com; Facebook @MarkCullenGardening and Pinterest @MarkCullenGardening.

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Fowl play

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Fowl play

Expert tips on how to attract some feathered friends to your home

Our involvement with Birds Canada began more than eight years ago when they invited Mark to join one of their bird-a-thons. This experience was very impactful indeed and as a result, we have learned so much about backyard birding. Although, we now know people like Jody Allair, director of Citizen Science and Community Engagement at Birds Canada, who has forgotten more than we will ever learn about wild birds. We are honoured to include a contribution from Jody in our monthly e-newsletter (available at markcullen.com for free).

Here are some highlights of what we have learned:

1. Birds do not need us to feed them. Many well-intentioned feeders of birds (vs. ‘bird feeders’) believe that wild birds become dependent on us for food. Other than, perhaps, the coldest days of the year and the ones with the deepest snow fall, birds are very capable of finding food from natural sources. They are much like us in that they will take the easiest path to a meal and if it happens to be at your feeder, that is where they congregate.

2. Use the appropriate seed. Birds are foragers: they find food in some of the most unlikely places, like the seed heads of ornamental grasses in your yard. Consider what kinds of birds you wish to attract to your yard and put out the appropriate seed in your feeders. Here is a short list from Birds Canada:

A. Black oil sunflower/premium mixed seed attracts Cardinal, Blue Jays, black-capped Chickadee, Mourning Dove, Dark-eyed Junco, song sparrow and common Grackle.

B. Suet and bird peanuts (vs. peanuts for human consumption, which is a no-no as birds should not have salt – something else that we learned) attract Blue Jay, red-breasted nuthatch, Downy Woodpecker, Whitebreasted Nuthatch, Hairy Woodpecker (all woodpeckers).

C. Nyjer/Black oil sunflower seed attracts house finch, American Goldfinch, Purple Finch, Common Redpoll, Pine Siskin. Use a nyjer feeder and watch the bird population scrap over who gets the spoils first.

D. Fruit attracts the American Robin. Note that much of the fruit on your crabapples and Mountain ash trees will be foraged by robins who decide that it is a good idea to stay here over winter. They usually strip a fruit-bearing tree clean after the first heavy snow fall.

3. Plants. There are so many plants that birds love that we can’t list them all here. Truth is, the seeds of their favourite plants are what they are really interested in. Broadly speaking, the following plants are bell ringers for attracting birds: ornamental grasses, Joe Pye weed, Echinacea, cedars and rudbeckia. And when you are shopping at your favourite garden retailer, be sure to look for plant labels that state ‘Attracts birds.’

4. Water. This is the single most impactful feature that you can add to your yard in your effort to attract birds (apart from a full bird feeder). Birds need water to drink and bathe. Simple as that. Once again, they have a few things in common with people. A half barrel or a full-blown pond and stream works wonders. Mark has five bird ‘baths’ in his yard at last count. They use them all.

5. Shelter. Birds need shelter to breed and for protection from cold, wind, snow and their enemies like hawks, falcons and neighbourhood cats. Especially cats. The best protection that you can provide wild birds is evergreens that grow tall and thick. Cedars, spruce, fir, along with others, work like a charm. Keep in mind that bird feeders should be located within a metre of a window or more than 10 metres from a window. Within a metre, birds cannot build up enough speed to hurt themselves too seriously if they hit the window and more than 10 metres away provides them an opportunity to veer away from the window when they realize that it is not a thoroughfare to another part of your garden.

Birds Canada is the largest and most sophisticated organization of its kind. There are over 20 full-time employees, including several well-educated and enthusiastic ornithologists who study birds very carefully. Each year these specialists depend on the public – people like you and me – to help them determine the migration patterns of all wild bird species and population growth and decline.

You can become a ‘citizen scientist’ by taking part in Project Nest Watch and Project Feeder Watch. Visit birdscanada.org to learn more and register. It is fun, educational and who knows, you could become hooked and skip the trip south next winter in favour of birdwatching.

Mark Cullen is a Member of the Order of Canada. He reaches over 2 million Canadians with his gardening/environment messages every week. Receive his free monthly newsletter at www.markcullen.com

Ben Cullen is a professional gardener with a keen interest in food gardening and the environment. You can follow both Mark and Ben on Twitter (@MarkCullen4), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/MarkCullenGardening/) and Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/markcullengardening/).

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What is a weed?

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What is a weed?

May is planting month – and the beginning of weeding season. Gardeners take the good with the bad. Off we go digging, planting and weeding.

We enjoy weeding, for the first couple of weeks of spring. But their persistence gets to us after a while and we begin looking for short cuts. How can we control weeds with as little commitment to time and effort as possible?

Fortunately, our years of gardening experience have taught me a few things about this.

Here are our top weeding tips:

BE AN EARLY BIRD. The early bird does, indeed, get the weed. Knock a weed down while it is a baby and you have removed future work 10-fold. How is that? The root of a weed gives the top half of the weed life, vigor and speed. Cut a weed off with a sharpened hoe and you remove the ability of the plant to photosynthesize. This either starves the poor darling to death or, at the very least; it pushes the ability of the weed to re-grow backwards for a spell. The secret: Sharpen your hoe with a file each time that you use it. Spray it with a little oil to help it move effortlessly through the soil. And do it early in the season before the root gets too deep. Like now. Tip: for the most effortless weeding use a Mark’s Choice Back Hoe. Home Hardware.

MULCH. The miracle of bark mulch is that it is non-chemical, easy, fun to spread (it smells nice!) and it can eliminate up to 90 per cent of weeds before they become established. The secret is to use at least six cm of shredded cedar or pine bark mulch to prevent most annual weeds from popping through the soil in the first place. The sooner you do this, the better.

BLACK PLASTIC. Place thick (at least six mil) black plastic over your lawn or garden and anchor it with something heavy. Wait for a minimum of six to eight weeks and you will kill just about everything under the plastic membrane. Other than some stubborn hard-to-kill weeds like horse tail or Phragmites (the new imported curse) you are good to go once you have cooked the weeds beneath the plastic. While the process takes time, it is thorough, and no chemicals are involved. This process works best in bright sun.

Weed control does not have to be onerous. In fact, we find some recreation in the activity of hoeing weeds down in the garden and pulling them from the lawn.

Lawn Weeds

The most frequently asked question we hear is, “How do I kill lawn weeds?” And the answer is simple: Compete them out of existence. Here is our fourstep recipe for a thicker, greener and (for the most part) weed-free lawn.

  • Rake the area of thin or tired grass gently using a leaf rake, removing all loose debris and getting grass blades to stand up on end.
  • Spread lawn soil (or triple mix) about three to five cm thick and rake this smooth.
  • Hand-broadcast quality grass seed on the area.
  • Rake this smooth, step on it to bring the seed in firm contact with the soil and water until germination occurs. Keep it damp during hot, dry spells and fertilize with quality, iron-based lawn fertilizer containing slow release nitrogen.

Mark Cullen is a Member of the Order of Canada, and provides gardening advice to more than two million Canadians each week. Ben Cullen’s specialty is food gardening. markcullen.com; Facebook @MarkCullenGardening and Pinterest @MarkCullenGardening.

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Composting compost, the magic elixir for your garden

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Composting compost, the magic elixir for your garden

We waste up to 50 per cent of our compostable materials. According to Susan Antler, executive director of the Composting Council of Canada, we’re not very good at composting the organics from inside, and outside, of where we live. “Whether it’s the backyard composter at home, or through green bin composting programs, those banana peels (no stickers please), apple cores, fallen leaves and garden trimmings can be recycled,” says Antler.

Even though approximately 61 per cent of Canadians have access to some form of composting, many of us do not take full advantage of it.

We can do better

This year, Compost Awareness Week takes place from May 3rd to the 9th, 2020. It’s the perfect time to reignite your commitment to save the planet. Convert the raw, organic material from your kitchen and garden into a magic elixir. All plant life relies on it for sustenance.

It’s reported that 45 per cent of households compost their kitchen waste, and 68 per cent of Canadians recycle their garden waste. One of the biggest challenges is to come up with a broad-based program for condos and apartments.

Don’t slip

When you put a banana peel, or other organic waste, in the garbage, it produces gases, which is composed primarily of methane – a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. The decomposition of methane is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of its global warming potential.

Brown stuff/green stuff

When composting in your yard, the green organic material that you add to your compost pile is nitrogen rich. The brown stuff, including fallen leaves and shredded newspaper, is carbon rich. Ideally, you should include one part green stuff in your compost for every five to 10 parts of brown stuff. This will also help to prevent your compost from smelling bad.

Oxygen is your friend. Keep turning it. Similar to starting a fire by blowing on it, you will ignite the decomposition process in your bin or compost pile when you turn it over with a garden fork every few weeks. It’s okay if you don’t turn it, but you will wait much longer for results.

Soil health

The success that you achieve in your garden is the direct result of proper soil enhancement and natural fertility. Soils are living ecosystems. Susan Antler reminds us that a handful of healthy soil contains more living organisms than there are people on the planet. When we add finished compost to our soil, we enhance the life-giving bacteria, fungi, protozoa and nematodes, as well as other more visible creatures such as earthworms. It’s the perfect time of year to add a two- to three centimetre layer of compost over your garden soil.

In short, composting and adding quality compost to your garden is the ultimate carbon trading scheme, as plants use photosynthesis to fix carbon in an organic form from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Healthy soil enhances soil aggregation and porosity, sequesters nitrogen and other nutrients, and reduces nutrient loss to pollution. It also out-competes disease and pest organisms, enhancing crop yields – and blooms.

Mark Cullen is a Member of the Order of Canada, and provides gardening advice to more than two million Canadians each week. Ben Cullen’s specialty is food gardening. markcullen.com; Facebook @MarkCullenGardening and Pinterest @MarkCullenGardening.

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Mid-winter research; heritage, hybrids and natural mutations

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Mid-winter research; heritage, hybrids and natural mutations

As your gardening anticipation grows, it’s the perfect time of year to pour through seed catalogues and make plans. We all want to grow the very best quality plants, otherwise what’s the point of growing your own?

When we grow our own produce, we have control over the process. We grow it because it tastes better – think of the vine-ripened tomato, or the sweetness of a carrot just pulled from the ground and wiped on your pant leg. Children enjoy the experience as well.

Hybrid rose, Bonica

Hybrid pros and cons

A hybrid is the result of crossing two closely related species in a controlled environment. Professionals, like those at the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre in Ontario are coming up with new varieties every day.

Many hybrids that make it to market are more disease-resistant than their parents, they bloom longer, and they produce hardier fruit, which is great for shipping long distances. While flavour is often compromised, they generally possess a couple of qualities that make the plant, or its fruit, appealing to buyers.

The Sweet One Million cherry tomato is a hybrid, and it’s the most prolific producer and, by far, the sweetest in its category. My favourite rose, the Bonica, is another hybrid. If you see ‘F1’ after the name of a plant, this means that it’s a hybrid that was created by crossing two pure parents. It takes growers many years to achieve a pure line before they can continue with their goal to produce an F1 hybrid. These varieties generally have outstanding characteristics, but cost more because they are expensive to produce.

Open-pollinated re-selections

Strange things can happen in the garden. A cucumber can cross with its close cousin, the pumpkin, and create a cuckin. The melon family are famous for family in-breeding. The reason is that they are open pollinated. This can happen if a bee or a hummingbird visits a flower on one plant, gathers its pollen or nectar, and then moves on to another.

Heritage varieties

Purists often go out of their way to find those varieties that have been around for more than 100 years. If you grow heritage varieties, be sure to keep a keen eye out for powdery mildew, and the like, as many can be susceptible to disease. Give your heritage plants lots of space in the sunniest positions in your garden to increase air flow and to help burn off disease spores in hot, dry weather.

Natural mutations

Plants will produce unpredictable changes as they evolve from one generation to another. It has been reported that Purina was growing a large field of sweet potatoes for use in their dog food products when one of the plants produced brilliant lime green leaves. A smart-thinking plant breeder isolated the plant, produced seeds from it that were true to their parent, and created a whole new ornamental plant category – the sweet potato vine has become a staple in floral containers with its vibrant, trailing leaves.

Mark Cullen is a Member of the Order of Canada, and provides gardening advice to more than two million Canadians each week. Ben Cullen’s specialty is food gardening. markcullen.com; Facebook @MarkCullenGardening and Pinterest @MarkCullenGardening.

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Once upon a seed

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Once upon a seed

We love to sow and grow our own annual flowering plants. There is a measure of satisfaction from the activity that is greater than any that we grow from store-bought transplants.

Growing annuals in the flower border helps to provide colour from spring to fall, bridging the gaps between perennials. By growing your annuals from seed, you get a head start and save some money – and you’ll also get a lot of pleasure from it.

You can start many seeds now through early May, indoors in flats or cell packs and many other seeds lend themselves to sowing direct into the garden soil as early as the second week of April.

Seed packets

Always check the date on the package before you buy. The sell-by date printed on the packet is equally important for seeds as the fresh produce that you purchase from your grocery store and guarantees freshness and successful germination. On the reverse side of each package, you will find complete growing advice, including the number of days you can expect to maturity and whether to plant in sun or shade (essential information!).

Sowing seeds can be as simple or sophisticated as you choose. A sunny window can provide sufficient light, or you may opt for supplemental grow lights. Plasticdomed mini-greenhouses with cell-pack inserts are an excellent alternative to a full-sized greenhouse. The humidity dome helps to seal in moisture and encourages germination. Indoor lighting systems, heating coils and self-watering equipment are available if you are looking for a more advanced approach.

Be sure to use a professional lightweight potting mix, like ProMix Seed Starting Mix, to promote optimum growth. Seed-starting mixes contain sphagnum peat moss and perlite or vermiculite. They have great water retention and drain well.

Peat pellets are another option. They are made from compressed sphagnum peat moss and have a mesh cover. Add water to these pellets and they expand. You can use peat pellets to sow seeds or to root cuttings.

What else will you need?

We recommend that you purchase a small desk fan while shopping for your seeds and supplies. This will help protect against damping off; a fungal disease, which infects young seedlings when there is a lack of air circulation and excessive watering. Place the fan in the same room as your seeding trays to improve air circulation.

ProMix root booster helps all plants develop a strong root system. It has a high concentration of phosphorous, 5-15-5, for strong and rapid root growth in seedlings. Begin feeding seedlings with starter fertilizer once they have their first set of true leaves.

Some plants require up to four months of growth before being planted in the garden. Geraniums are slow-growing and require at least this long to prepare for the outdoors. However, the majority of seeds are ready to be transplanted outdoors in six to 12 weeks from the date they are sown. Seed packets will usually recommend when to start seeds indoors.

Have fun and remember that odds are a packet of seeds is your best bet, if you are betting on anything!

Mark Cullen is a Member of the Order of Canada. He reaches over 2 million Canadians with his gardening/environment messages every week. Receive his free monthly newsletter at www.markcullen.com

Ben Cullen is a professional gardener with a keen interest in food gardening and the environment. You can follow both Mark and Ben on Twitter (@MarkCullen4), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/MarkCullenGardening/) and Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/markcullengardening/).

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Plant Hypochondria, Maladies without long-term consequences

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Plant Hypochondria, Maladies without long-term consequences

You may think that you have an incurable disease in your well-tended garden, but don’t become preoccupied, as most are not life-limiting. We often assume the worst, and wonder if browning leaves are a sign of a permanent problem.

When it comes to our own health, we tend to manufacture all sorts of ailments when we can’t explain a particular symptom, until a doctor puts our mind at rest. There are many conditions that a plant may get, but it might just be a cosmetic concern.

As we hunker down for a four month break from outdoor gardening, otherwise known as winter, we can rest assured that nature has a way of taking care of itself.

Maple blotch

In recent years, an alarming number of gardeners have noticed black ink stains on the leaves of their maples. Chances are they’re varieties that have originated from Norway. As unattractive as it is, this malady is harmless. The spores of maple blotch are airborne, so whether you compost your leaves, or not, it doesn’t make a difference. To avoid the problem, we recommend that you plant Sugar Maples. These are native trees that, like the Paper Birch, are not susceptible.

The mighty Oak

If there is a giant survivor of the native forest, it would surely be the oak. The white, pin, red and burr oak trees are incredibly strong and live for a very long time. They are a source of pride to many a homeowner, and a source of frustration to many perfectionists. Oak trees attract all kinds of insects, and more-than-afew diseases. Aphids, mites, miners, mould, mildew and cankers – you name it, and chances are the oak will attract it. However, oaks generally pull through, quite nicely, no matter the contagious pathogen that they are exposed to.

Apple scab

There are certain apple trees (including crab apple) that attract black spot and apple scab on their leaves like it’s nobody’s business. Gardening professionals (like us) will tell you to spray them in the spring with the all-natural Green Earth dormant spray, in order to help minimize this problem. The truth is, some varieties of apples, and crab apples, are naturally susceptible to these common diseases. And, if the weather conditions in late spring and early summer are just right (cool and wet), there isn’t a darn thing that you can do to prevent the problem.

We have approximately 15 crab apple trees that line our property along the road. Most years, they are leafless by late July. And, just as reliably, we can expect to see a profusion of blossoms each spring, followed by shiny new leaves. It’s a cycle that thrills, and depresses, us each year.

Other plants that suffer from assorted maladies, which don’t have continual effects, include mildew on roses, rust on hollyhocks, slugs on hostas and, for that matter, clover in the lawn. Some people remove clover from their lawn, and others sow it so that they don’t have to cut it so often. The hope is that these two people don’t move in next door to each other.

If you have disease-ridden varieties in your garden, chances are that they’re otherwise healthy – just not healthy looking. When planting, consult with your local retailer or garden designer, and try to choose disease-resistant varieties.

Mark Cullen is a Member of the Order of Canada, and provides gardening advice to more than two million Canadians each week. Ben Cullen’s specialty is food gardening. markcullen.com; Facebook @MarkCullenGardening and Pinterest @MarkCullenGardening.

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Rewards of the Fall Harvest

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Rewards of the Fall Harvest

Sip, slurp and savour

A European folk story called Stone Soup goes something like this: travellers come to a village with nothing but an empty pot. They fill it with water, place it on a fire and a stone is dropped into it. The villagers become curious about this stone soup, and offer up other ingredients to add to it, including potatoes, carrots and herbs. By sharing a small amount of their own food, the villagers, and travellers, were able to share a meal.

Each small offering contributed to the greater good of the village, and it’s this philosophy that inspired Susan Antler to start Soupalicious. In celebration of the harvest, Soupalicious is a manifestation of what people can do when they come together for a common cause.

More than soup

Seven Canadian towns and cities host Soupalicious events. Monetary donations are directed to other important programs in the communities in which they were raised.

In Toronto, this year’s event takes place on November 3rd at the community hall of St. Archangel Michael Orthodox Church at 212 Delaware Avenue. While sipping your soup, gather information at a selection of culinary and gardening presentations, in addition to visiting the farmers’ market.

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit soupalicious.ca

Fall garden checklist

It’s that time of year when you reap the fruits of your labour. However, it’s also the time of year to prepare for the next growing season.

  • Harvest fruits and vegetables that are ready. For obvious reasons, leaving them to rot on the plant is not a good idea.
  • Remove the finished compost from your existing bin or pile. Spread it over your garden and allow the earth worms to pull it down into the soil.
  • Fill, and layer, your compost bin with three parts fallen leaves and/or shredded newspaper, to one part green material, which could include grass clippings, as well as spent annual and vegetable plants.
  • Plant spring flowering bulbs like tulips, daffodils and crocus. Garden retailers still offer up a good selection of bulbs, but don’t wait too long to acquire yours.
  • The autumn application of fertilizer is the most important one of the year. Use a CIL Iron Plus fall formula.
  • Clean your lawn mower and change the oil.
  • Trim cedar hedges and other evergreens in need of a haircut.
  • Plant trees, shrubs, evergreens and perennials. Take advantage of the great deals at this time of year.
  • Rake leaves off of your grass and onto your garden, where earth worms will make a meal of them.
  • Consider contacting a garden designer to have a look at your yard and, perhaps, design a plan. You’ll receive unhurried attention at this time of year, versus the busy spring season.
  • Feed the birds and do not ignore the hummingbirds. They are beefing up their internal fat stores in preparation for the long flight south.

Mark Cullen is a Member of the Order of Canada, and provides gardening advice to more than two million Canadians each week. Ben Cullen’s specialty is food gardening. markcullen.com; Facebook @MarkCullenGardening and Pinterest @MarkCullenGardening.

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Look up, Look Waaaay Up

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Look up, Look Waaaay Up

Tight urban spaces make room for flora with vertical gardening

There is one thing that sets new homes apart from houses built over a decade ago: outdoor space. I am sure you have noticed that houses are built much closer to the lot line than they were in the past. It doesn’t really matter whether we are talking about fully detached, semis, or townhouses, the current trend demands that we must be more creative than ever in terms of how we use that limited amount of yard space.

This brings us nicely to the issue of growing vertical gardens. As a homeowner, you own the vertical space, as well as the square metres inside your lot lines. To make the very best use of this area, it is wise to consider what vines and green screens can do for you.

Think about the benefits of adding colour, fragrance, and pollinators by way of flowers, food in the form of fruiting plants, and, of course, the cooling effects of a living green screen against a hot, south- or west-facing wall or fence. Get a snapshot in your mind of the garden that you could enjoy by making use of your vertical space

VINES

The obvious place to start, when considering the maximum use of your vertical space, is with vines. There are many to choose from in our growing zones; here are a few of our favourites:

WISTERIA

Fast-growing, twining vine that will get out of hand if you let it. It loves the sun and will only bloom where it receives at least six hours of it, but it will grow in part shade, minus the flowers. The huge, hanging panicles of purple or blue flowers of wisteria are legendary.

HARDY KIWI [Actinidia chinensis]

Not to be confused with the tender kiwi that fruits in California. This is another aggressive twining climber [vs. a ‘self clinger’ which sticks itself to the wall or fence]. Mark has a hardy kiwi that grows about four metres each growing season. He makes a habit of cutting it back once a month in the summer. The fruit, however, is a rather disappointing, large grape-sized thing that only grows on the female plants.

CLIMBING HYDRANGEA [Hydrangea anomala petiolaris]

This is a winner if you are looking for a permanent wall-clinger. It flowers beautifully in late spring/ early summer with a broad, creamy white flower not unlike its shrubby cousins. While slow to get started, it is well worth the wait. Tolerant of partial shade and full sun, it enjoys a slightly acidic soil.

EUONYMUS SARCOXIE or BIG LEAFED WINTERCREEPER

This is an amazing plant in our growing zone [up to zone 5] as it provides reliable year round interest. The shiny, broad leaves of either variety are attractive right through the winter. A flower that is rather non-descript in the spring produces attractive clusters of orange-red berries later in the season, which many birds enjoy. Big Leafed Wintercreeper is the fastest grower of the two and has the biggest leaves. Sarcoxie is less aggressive and requires moderately less pruning.

CLEMATIS

It is common to hear them referred to as “The Queen of Vines.” They do suit royalty, especially when they are combined with climbing roses. Putting them together not only creates a gorgeous display, but it helps to overcome the shortcomings of both. When the clematis vine is planted on its own, it does not make a very effective screen, but together with a strong rose like Blaze, you could win an award.

SCREENS

If your idea is to screen out an unsightly view or just give yourself a little privacy, you can use plants to achieve this without using vines. A narrow hedge can do the trick when delineating space in your yard. Certain plants lend themselves to the aggressive pruning that can be required to prevent your ‘living wall’ from taking over the entire yard. White cedar, the most popular evergreen hedging material, is widely used for good reason. Prune it any time of year. There is no need for it to grow more than 80 cm wide with a twice-yearly haircut. Emerald cedar has become popular in recent years; it produces a very attractive hedge over time, but it does not lend itself to pruning as well as the native white cedar does.

Green or Copper Beech can make a great, permanent hedge with leaves that virtually stay in place the whole year. While they turn colour come fall, the plant retains them until spring when the new growth pushes them off. As with cedar, an annual pruning is necessary.

This is a great time of year to plant all of the above. A wide selection of quality plant material is available at full-service garden retailers and, chances are, you will get better service this time of year than you may have in the peak of the spring season.

Mark Cullen is a Member of the Order of Canada. He reaches over 2 million Canadians with his gardening/environment messages every week. Receive his free monthly newsletter at www.markcullen.com Ben Cullen is a professional gardener with a keen interest in food gardening and the environment. You can follow both Mark and Ben on Twitter (@MarkCullen4), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/MarkCullenGardening/) and Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/markcullengardening/).

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