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Yes, You Can Garden Now

Yes, You Can Garden Now

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Yes, You Can Garden Now

There is an opportunity to squeeze much more gardening from the month of April than you likely realize. By “squeeze” we mean enjoy, well before what has traditionally been the start of the gardening season in May.

Sow and Grow

Start vegetable and flowers seeds indoors now. Many garden seeds can be sown now indoors. Frost tender flowers like marigolds, alyssum, zinnias, cosmos and a host more should be started in the next couple of weeks either under grow lights or in a sunny window. Same with tubers of dahlias and tuberous begonias.

There are many opportunities to sow crops directly in your garden. Onions by seed and bulb, carrots, beets, kale, radishes, Swiss chard and peas can be sown now. Prepare the soil by turning it with a garden fork or spade once, bang the clumps out of it and add lots of compost. For root crops, add generous quantities of sharp (sand box) sand at least 30 cm deep to open the soil up and improve drainage.

Wait a few more weeks for flowers that are cold hardy, as we do expect frost for the next 6 weeks in the GTA (zone 6 and north of Highway 7, zone 5). Sow calendula (pot marigold), dusty miller and alyssum outdoors any time from April 15 onwards.

Plant

All woody, winter hardy plants are good to go for April planting.

If the plant is dormant and leafless when you buy it you know that it is in its natural state, versus forced in a greenhouse. It is important to know the difference. A plant that is in full leaf is soft and susceptible to frost damage. A dormant tree, shrub or rose plant is naturally protected from temperatures below 0 Celsius. It might not be as attractive but it will transplant more easily.

Perennial divisions

Perennial divisions from your own garden or that of a friend or neighbour, can be planted now. Again, if you are shopping for perennials and they have soft green foliage or flowers, it is best not to plant them yet as the new growth is frost tender. But a dormant hosta or rhubarb root is safe to dig and transplant now. This is the perfect time of year to move most herbaceous perennials around your yard or divide the mature ones and give away the divisions.

Prune fruit trees

Apples, peaches, plums, cherries: most fruit trees respond best to an early spring pruning. As a rule of thumb, we remove up to one third of the growth, concentrating on the upright growing water sprouts and the criss-crossing branches in the interior of the tree.

Perennial food plants

Asparagus, grapes, raspberries, strawberries, and the like, are best planted in April, while they are dormant. Buy strawberry plants as one year old roots and plant in compost-rich soil about 30 cm apart.

Raspberries are usually sold as rooted cuttings, about 30 cm high. Plant them out about 50 cm apart. Don’t wait for May, get out in the garden now.

Mark Cullen
Mark Cullen
Ben Cullen
Ben Cullen

Mark and Ben Cullen, professional gardeners, are broadcasters, writers, and public speakers.

Check out their latest podcast.


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Garden Expert: Get Planting

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Garden Expert: Get Planting

The importance of planting the right tree in the right place

A new gardening season is ahead of us: a fresh chapter in the book of life with nature. I recommend that we make the best of it and plant some trees. It is important to plant the right tree in the right place. Here are some considerations when planting trees and my top recommendations:

1 SMALL TREES THAT FLOWER AND FRUIT

Small lots and densely populated urban areas are no longer suitable places for large-growing shade trees. Here are my favourite trees that will grow no higher than seven metres and will flower and/or fruit:

DWARF APPLE TREES There are dozens of varieties of dwarf apple trees available. My favourite apple for vigour and strength is Cortland. The tree grows relatively quickly and produces lots of great mid-season eating apples.

PEARS The lowest-maintenance fruit tree out there. No need to look for ‘dwarf’ pears as a standard pear generally grows to about six or seven metres, given enough time.

CHERRIES Sour or sweet, cherries grow reliably in Toronto (zone 6). ‘Stella’ is a great choice for a sweet cherry as no partner is required to cross-pollinate, otherwise you will need two. Sour cherries are self-fruitful.

CRAB APPLE An unfortunate name for a versatile and winterhardy tree. ‘Dolgo’ produces red fruit in the fall that is suitable for canning. Otherwise, plant crab apples for their spring colour and small- to medium-stature.

2 SHADE: WHAT KIND?

For filtered shade, which will provide the cooling effect of a deciduous tree (one that drops its leaves each fall) without cutting out all of the sunshine, look for these winners:

LOCUST ‘Shademaster’ is hardy to zone 4 (Ottawa). This variety features horizontal branching, while ‘Skyline’ Honey locust produces a more upright, vase-shaped structure. Both are disease- and insectresistant and grow to a medium height of about 12 to 15 metres.

BIRCH A long-time favourite. They produce filtered shade and the lovely white bark stands out in the winter garden. Look for native birch, like Paper Birch [Betula papyrifera], as they are resistant to the dreaded bronze birch borer, which has wreaked havoc with the European birch species in recent years.

3 EARLY SHADE/DENSE SHADE

Not all deciduous trees leaf out at the same time. Birch, willow and maples are among the earliest (early May), and Catalpa and Rose of Sharon are among the latest (mid-June). For early leaf cover that lasts late into the season, consider:

MAPLE [ACER] Native sugar maples leaf out in early May and drop leaves in mid-to late October. Norway Maple, while deemed an invasive species, does leaf out marginally earlier and drops in early November. Both produce bright yellow colour come fall.

CHESTNUT [AESCULUS] A member of the orchid family. Have a close look at the flowers come early June and note that the upright panicle or ‘candelabra’ features dozens of gorgeous orchid-like flowerets. I love Chestnut trees but they are susceptible to blight, which may not kill them but creates brown-hued leaves that are not very attractive come late summer.

4 MY FAVOURITE ALL-ROUND TREES

There are some trees that do not fit neatly into a single classification but are amazing for their own reasons. Here are my favourites:

LINDEN [TILIA CORDATA] related to native Basswood. Provide lovely, cool, dense shade. Produce fragrant (green) flowers that attract pollinators (and make great tea). Lindens are winter hardy and disease-resistant. They feature a formal ace-shaped structure that fits neatly into relatively tight spaces. There is a promenade of Lindens on the east side of the Royal Conservatory, and west side of the Art Gallery of Ontario, that will sell you on this species, if nothing else will.

JAPANESE TREE LILAC ‘IVORY SILK’ [SYRINGA RETICULATA ‘IVORY SILK’] Ivory Silk is an oval- shaped, compact tree (great for smaller lots and spaces) that blooms reliably each Father’s Day in mid-June. ‘Ivory Silk’ is winter hardy and resistant to disease and insect problems.

OAK Any oak is a great oak, but I like native Red Oak [Quercus rubra] and Pin Oak [Quercus palustris] best. Red Oak (so named as the wood is red) grows into a large 18-metre giant. There are heritage Red Oaks in High Park that are amazing. Pin Oak is narrower and more suitable for the tight spaces of urban life.

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, member of the Order of Canada, author and broadcaster. Get his free monthly newsletter at markcullen.com. Look for his new best seller, The New Canadian Garden published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and Facebook. markcullen.com

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In The Garden: Get Your Fruit On

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In The Garden: Get Your Fruit On

Growing fruit trees has experienced a ground swell of interest over the past few years. There’s no better time of the year than right now to make your purchases at your local garden retailer, as the selection doesn’t get any better as the season wears on.

In southern Ontario, the apple is the number one fruit tree of choice. The McIntosh apple was developed here. A lonely apple tree, without a mate, might yield some fruit, but it’s advisable to have two apple trees. If there’s an apple tree nearby in full flower at the same time as said tree, both will produce many more apples.

Insects and disease are an ongoing concern, and many people want to know if they should spray. The answer is yes. I have 40 apple trees in my 10-acre garden and I spray them all with dormant spray in April before the blossoms break open, and again after the blossoms drop (around the beginning of June). I apply a combination of End All insecticide, along with garden sulphur or the lime sulphur that comes in the dormant spray kit. These products are safe to use and environmentally responsible.

The cross-pollination category that requires mates to maximize their fruiting also include pear, cherry and plum trees. However, sour cherries, like Montmorency, are self-fruitful (pollinated by pollen from another flower on the same fruit tree). A Canadian introduction called Stella, which is classified as a sweet cherry, does not need a mate.

Self-fruitful fruit trees include peach, apricot and nectarine, and they all need a good pruning after the winter. Each spring I assess the winter damage on my trees and prune out any dead wood. Then I open the tree up to the sun and wind by pruning out the heaviest wood right down into the heart of the tree. This makes for odd looking trees, but great fruit.

Pears are the easiest fruit to grow. They generally do not like to be pruned, and they are the least susceptible to insect and disease problems. For the most part, your tree will be overloaded with fruit every second year.

Canadian-grown fruit trees provide some assurance that the tree is hardy to your area, and suitable for growing in our weather and soil conditions.

Plant all fruit trees in open, nutrient rich soil. Peaches really enjoy a soil mix that is 50 per cent sand. Never plant a fruit tree in a depression where water accumulates, as none of them enjoy wet feet. Plant high, dig a wide hole about a metre in diameter, and use three or four bags of quality planting soil mix. Stake your trees for the first three or four years, and in the fall put a spiral plastic rodent protector on the trunk to prevent rabbit damage.

In her book, Growing Urban Orchards, Susan Poizner explores the ups and downs, as well as the how-to’s, of caring for fruit trees in the city. OrchardPeople.com

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author and broadcaster. Check out his new book The New Canadian Garden published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and on Facebook. Sign up for his free monthly newsletter at MarkCullen.com

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