Tag Archives: Ben Cullen

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What of your Canada Day? Dedicate the long weekend to a meaningful outdoor project

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What of your Canada Day? Dedicate the long weekend to a meaningful outdoor project

The long Canada Day weekend is coming up, and no doubt you are looking forward to hanging out with family, friends or neighbours at the lake, or maybe you will enjoy some fireworks at the end of your street. That is fine for one day, but what will you do with the rest of your long weekend?

In recent years, we have made a habit of creating something permanent during the Canada Day weekend. Several years ago, we mixed some concrete in a wheelbarrow and erected a flagpole. Naturally, there is a Canadian flag on the top of it. The following year, we made a tepee-shaped pergola for the middle of the veggie garden. Today, it supports a fruit-producing grapevine and a honeysuckle that attracts hummingbirds.

Last year was the pièce de resistance. We took a full day to haul some hand-cut fieldstone into the garden and slowly moved them around until we created the perfect place to sit and observe the progress of the food garden.

We urge you to think about how to celebrate Canada’s birthday. You don’t have to lay a new interlocking patio or rebuild the deck. While these are ambitious projects, we suggest something that will make a difference to someone or something that is important to you.

Build a Bluebird nesting box

The magic of a bluebird box that attracts bluebirds is simple.

  • Use rough lumber in the interior of the box
  • Drill a one-and-half-inch hole (without a perch, so that predators will not get in)
  • Drill some ventilation holes on the sides of the box
  • Build at least two boxes: one for a house sparrow and another for a bluebird.

Bluebirds are not very aggressive, even a bossy house sparrow will out-muscle a bluebird for squatting rights.

Mount each box about five feet or 1.8 metres off the ground, facing east or south and preferably surrounded by woods or other large plants for protection.

Support a vine

There is a blank wall somewhere on your property or condo balcony, or perhaps a fence begging to support something that produces flowers. Now is the time of year to go for it. Consider a flowering clematis for a show of colour that is well worth the wait. Choose from many wonderful varieties that are still available at garden retailers.

If you are looking for some cover from the summer sun, consider a vine. A vine will cool a patio down nicely, not just by providing shade but, through the natural absorption of heat and expiration of moisture through its leaves. For a great long-term investment in vines, consider clematis, honeysuckle or climbing hydrangea. For an evergreen vine, look for green euonymus for shade and variegated varieties for sun (hardy to zone 5).

Start a water pond

Naturally, everyone would like to have a small lake in the backyard filled with turtles, colourful koi carp and overflowing with flowering water plants. However, the reality is that urban and suburban gardeners do not generally have the luxury of space.

A fun and useful addition to a deck, balcony or poolside is a watertight container that is filled with bog or water plants and a few gold fish. Make sure that you use oxygenating plants like floating water lettuce or water hyacinths to help to keep the water clean. Be prepared to dump the water out from time to time and add new from your rain barrel.

Speaking of water, be sure to dump water out of bird baths weekly to avoid mosquito breeding; clean your hummingbird feeder weekly and refill, take the time to keep bird feeders full, put out an orange sliced in half for orioles, and some grape jelly and sliced banana for the butterflies.

And remember to take some ‘hammock’ time for yourself. A worn-out gardener isn’t much use to any one.

Do something lasting and handy. Enjoy your Canada Day weekend and happy birthday Canada!

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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A burst of colour, April shows bring May flowers

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A burst of colour, April shows bring May flowers

During the month of May, local garden centres are receiving their stock of trees, flowering shrubs, evergreens, roses and perennials – often the best selection you’ll find throughout the entire year. In spring, we want magnolias, Japanese maples, flowering cherries and other ornamental trees and shrubs that offer exquisite blooms. The best quality plants are sold first, so if you’re a late spring shopper, you’ll never know the difference between the ‘best’ and the ‘next best’. In this case, the early bird catches the worm of the highest value.

Plants differ in size, colour and texture. However marginal those differences are to the untrained eye, there can be a marked difference, especially where ‘woody’ plants are concerned. Trees, shrubs, fruit trees and evergreens can vary greatly in their appearance at the time of sale. Any retail garden sales consultant will tell you that they spend a lot of time pulling out products, usually from the back of a row, in order to find the perfect specimen.

Early perennials

Barronwort (Epimedium) | They tolerate dry conditions and almost full shade, they flower for several weeks beginning in May, and they make a great ground cover under a dense tree canopy.

Pansies | We’ve planted pansies as early as the 15th of April. They will take some frost and flower best in cool temperatures (under 25°C). They love the sun (east exposure) and are available in an array of vibrant colours.

Violas | These are more frost- and heattolerant than their larger cousins – the pansy. Neither are reliable perennials, so you may want to treat them as annuals. However, they have been known to overwinter after their first year in the garden. Violas often selfseed with aggression.

Peonies | They’re not early bloomers, but they are among our favourite flowers. It’s well worth the wait (late May or early June) for them to produce an abundance of mop head, roselike flowers. They are reliable, winterhardy perennials that come back year after year. In fact, there are peonies that were planted around pioneer cabins more than a century ago that still live on. The peony is more than a perennial – it’s an heirloom.

Don’t plant peonies too deep. Prepare a hole with generous quantities of compost and 30 per cent sharp sand for drainage. Do not place soil more than 10 centimetres over the top of the highest crown bud on a bare-root plant. Divide in September.

Bleeding Heart (Dicentra) | Plant this old fashioned favourite in a sunny or semi-shaded garden. The hanging pink, or white, flowers of the original varieties are beautiful, but only bloom for a few short days. The newer ‘Luxuriant’ variety blooms for weeks on end, beginning in mid- June, throughout the summer and into early autumn.

Other early blooming perennials include trilliums (nursery grown, never taken from the wild), primula, tiarella, geranium and brunnera. Plan, peruse and then plant in well prepared soil.

Mark Cullen is a Member of the Order of Canada, and provides gardening advice to more than 2,000,000 Canadians each week. Ben Cullen’s specialty is food gardening. markcullen.com; Facebook @MarkCullenGardening; Pinterest @MarkCullenGardening.

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The living carpet Ontario is home to great turf

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The living carpet Ontario is home to great turf

In mid-April, there is little that satisfies the homeowner more than spending time outdoors improving his or her surroundings. After a long Canadian winter, even hosing down the driveway feels like a trip to Florida but we don’t recommend it as it wastes water. There are more worthwhile ventures in the yard like spending some time on your lawn.

Canadian gardeners are learning to value the lawn for what it is: the most sophisticated living ground cover known to humankind. What ‘plant’ – other than a grass plant – will take the abuses of foot traffic, dog traffic, the occasional driving over by a car, 18 or so mowings a year, will tolerate drought and stormy weather, minus 40°C weather, snow and its slow spring melt, a heat wave, and you can throw your own abuse on this list.

You can be sure that if there were a plant that could ‘take it,’ the golf course industry would be all over it. Ontario is a natural place for growing great turf. There is more sod grown per capita in

Ontario than any place on earth. Why? Because it loves to grow here. You can enjoy all of the benefits of having a great-looking lawn – including the environmental benefits – without causing harm to the environment. Most of what we have to suggest to achieve great, chemical-free results is just common sense – like watering less often, cutting your lawn at least 6 cm (2 ½ inches) high and using a low emissions, mulching mower.

HOW DO I CONTROL WEEDS IN MY LAWN?

A weed is a competitor first and foremost. Not the nice kind either, unless you like to walk barefoot on thistles. And being able to walk comfortably barefoot is one litmus test for a great lawn.

If a weed is a fierce competitor, then your job is to out-compete it.

Do that by thickening your lawn with fresh, top-quality grass seed right now.

Rake the area to be seeded gently with a fan rake, removing debris and loose, dead grass.

Spread good-quality triple mix (1/3 top soil, 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 compost) or a ‘lawn-seeding soil’ over the area about 3 to 5 cm thick, being sure to fill in depressions in your lawn and even out the peaks.

Broadcast fresh, quality grass seed over the new soil at the rate of 1/2 kg per 40 m² (one pound per 400 ft²). Use a hand-held spreader or, for smaller areas, just let the seed drop from between your thumb and index finger while moving your arm back and forth in a swaying motion. Now rake it smooth with a fan rake.

Step on the seed/soil mix to bring them into firm contact, otherwise the seed risks floating down into small streams and rivulets. For a large area you will 1/3 fill a lawn roller and roll the works in two opposing directions.

Water gently. Keep watering daily until germination takes place, then every two days until you can see the seed is germinated, and then only as the surface of the soil dries. After six to eight weeks, you will only water your new lawn when you water your established lawn.

SECRETS TO SUCCESS

Buy the best quality grass seed that you can afford. There are times when it pays to buy cheap stuff; this is not one of them. I use CIL as it is 99.9 per cent weed-free and produced in Canada: above all, it is important to remember that the pedigree of your lawn is in the bag.

Water diligently for the first few weeks. If Mother Nature rains on your parade, give thanks — this is your day off. Otherwise, be sure not to let the seed/soil mix dry out completely until the new lawn is established.

Do it now. As the spring season progresses towards summer and day temperatures rise, so does the difficulty of starting a new lawn from seed or the thickening of an established one. After Father’s Day we suggest that it is best to leave lawn seed sowing until mid-August, if you can.

If you follow our advice here, we can guarantee you a great-looking lawn. And one that the kids can run and roll on without you having to worry.

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 and Instagram

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Which type of beetles are good for your garden

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Which type of beetles are good for your garden

Know which variety of these beetles are good for your garden, and the ones that aren’t

Have you ever noticed that we tend not to think of the nuisances in life until they crop up? When we are feeling good, we forget what it feels like to be sick. When we are cold, we cannot imagine how it feels in a summer heat wave.

Same with insects. During the summer months we are plagued with mosquitoes, ants, deer flies and the like. Come winter and we have all but forgotten what it was like to have to protect ourselves from insects in summer. As we approach the end of winter, we remind you that bug season is just around the corner.

BUDDING BUG SEASON

It is likely that your first reminder that insect season is about to pounce will be the arrival of Lady Bugs indoors. Come March, we will be overwhelmed with questions about these colourful little creatures. It was not always so.

As a kid, we were told not to harm Lady Bugs as they did a lot of good in the garden. All of that changed about 10 years ago with the arrival of the Asian Lady Beetle. Imported by well-intentioned people, the Asian Lady Beetle was ‘brought in’ in an attempt to use integrated pest management on a rather persistent aphid problem in soybean crops. These bugs have a voracious appetite for aphids, consuming up to 270 of them in one day.

We are sure that it seemed like a good idea at the time. However, no one thought to check these beetles out to see if they hibernate indoors over winter, multiply in biblical proportions or if they bite. All of which, they do.

WARM HOUSE MEANS AWAKENING BUGS

As the temperatures in your home rise and as days grow longer, the lady beetles that have hibernated in your home since last fall will awaken and begin to make ‘whoopee’ in the dark corners of your house. During the day, they will move towards the sunshine, that is why you find many of them on windowsills this time of year.

Controlling the Asian Lady Beetle is not difficult for the most part. When you see large congregations of them, vacuum them up and be sure to clean out your vacuum the same day or they will just crawl out and go back to being a nuisance. Sometimes they smell odd when you vacuum them. This is their natural reaction to being disturbed and the smell will go away.

We do not recommend that you step on them or otherwise squish them as they ooze yellow stuff that smells even worse. Besides, you could end up with a yellow smear on the wall or floor that is not easy to clean up.

Control for lady beetles may be achieved with the use of white-powdered silicon dioxide. Green Earth makes a product called Slug and Bug Killer Dust that can be used around pets and children to control many household pests. Apply it on the sills of windows, along the exit through sliding doors and anywhere that they tend to congregate.

One last thing on Lady Bugs. The Asian variety (Harmonia axyridis) should not be confused with the three ‘good guys’ that are native to our land. The 7 Spotted Lady Beetle, Oval Lady Beetle and the Pink Spotted Lady Bug are great friends to the gardener and farmer. They too will consume nasty bugs like aphids, scale and other sucking insects that otherwise can do a lot of damage.

One last word on the new bug season that is ahead of us: the vast majority of bugs in your garden are beneficial. They play a vitally important role in the decomposition of raw, organic material and the general renewal of your garden each spring. For the most part, we welcome them into the garden each spring. The aforementioned bugs excepted.

Mark Cullen is a Member of the Order of Canada. He reaches more than two million Canadians with his gardening/environment messages every week. Receive his free monthly newsletter at 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 (facebook.com/MarkCullenGardening/) and Instagram (instagram.com/markcullengardening/).

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Protecting insects the next big thing in gardening

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Protecting insects the next big thing in gardening

In Mark’s most recent book, The New Canadian Garden, he made the rather bold prediction that backyard hotels for insects and native bee habitats will be as common in Canada in 20 years as bird feeders are now. Say, what?

The idea of attracting ‘beneficials’ to your yard and garden is an idea that caught on in Great Britain a generation ago. Here, we are only beginning to wake up to the merit of it. Truth is, this can be a lot of fun, and kids love it too.

Take this novel idea for a Christmas present, as an example.

Last year, Mark made eight insect hotels for friends and family. Some seemed genuinely pleased to contribute towards a healthier level of biodiversity in their community, while others gave a look of utter astonishment, as to say, “Okay, now what do I do with THIS?”

What is it?

There are no rules for building insect hotels. Here are some general guidelines that will help get you on your way:

ROT AND DECAY ARE YOUR FRIENDS

Forget everything that you ever learned about hygiene and cleanliness…you are striving to create the perfect environment for overwintering insects through complete imperfection. This requires some grubbing around in your yard. Rotten wood (but not too rotten), pine cones, shredded newspaper, straw and the mature seed heads of most any perennial work just fine.

DUFF MATERIAL

Under evergreens you will find small branches, decay and needles. Grab a few handfuls of this stuff as it has value to insects looking for a winter home. Come spring, some insects make love in your hotel and next thing you know there are little bugs running around your yard looking for a meal. This is a cyclical thing and it is all good.

CHICKEN WIRE OR HARDWARE CLOTH

Every hotel requires security measures. The big risk for insects that sequester in your new insect hotel are foraging birds. As much as we love songbirds, they are not at the bottom of the food chain. Rather, they are aggressive foragers and many of them love munching on insects. By sealing the duff material behind a layer of chicken wire or hardware cloth, you are providing security for the little creatures, where they can live and breed without something with a beak sticking it where it does not belong.

DRAINAGE

You need to provide protection for the material that you put in your insect hotel. A roof overhead is a good idea and some drainage holes drilled in the base of the unit.

MASON BEES

Always provide some tubes for mason bees to lay their eggs. They will do this a couple of times during the gardening season and often late in fall, where they overwinter until spring when they hatch and produce flying progenies. You can use bamboo for this purpose, but make sure to smooth out the edges of the material at the entrance to the shoot. Or buy pre-made cardboard mason-bee tubes that are the precise length, calliper and smoothness for the bees to lay their eggs.

Watch the video

We will make you a bet: that you are the first person on your block to build an insect hotel in your yard. Neighbours and friends will think that you are nuts. And in a generation, you will be hailed as a visionary.

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 (facebook.com/MarkCullenGardening/) and instagram (instagram.com/markcullengardening/).

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