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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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How to take care of your tropical plant babies

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How to take care of your tropical plant babies

 

Light requirements

Observing the growth and changes in your tropical plants allows you to determine if they are receiving enough light. Plants that don’t get enough light will usually look pale, have longer than normal stems, and smaller than normal leaves. Sometimes, a plant will look as if it is reaching for light: A sure sign that it needs to either be placed in a sunnier window or the natural light augmented with artificial light. Plants with colourful foliage will often lose colour when they do not get enough light and revert to green leaves.

Plants that are receiving too much light often develop burn spots on the leaves. In some cases, the leaves will turn pale and watery before wilting and drying up. These symptoms can have other causes, but if a plant is sitting in the hot sun on a south-facing windowsill when these symptoms occur, it is a good bet that too much light is the problem. Move it away from the window at least during mid-day, and give it a couple of weeks to determine if that makes a difference. Note that a south-facing window will produce less than 200-foot candles of light in winter and more than 2,000-foot candles in early summer. A plant that is happy in a sunny window this time year may not be so happy come summer.

Fertilizer

Fertilizing indoor plants in winter is necessary only when you see new growth developing, or the plant is in bloom. Otherwise, your tropical plants are “resting” this time of year and will not benefit from a fertilizer application. It is best to err on the side of caution and give plants a little less than the amount the instructions call for.

There are several forms of fertilizer available: Granular, slow-release granules and spikes, and water-soluble. In our opinion, the best choice for houseplants is a water-soluble formula. The elements in it are readily available for the plant’s use and you will be able to see the effect right away. Choose from synthetic plant food such as 20-20-20 or an organic such as Pro Mix Liquid plant food.

The final step in choosing your houseplant fertilizer is determined by the plants you have. Some, such as African violets and geraniums, have fertilizers formulated specifically for them. African violet fertilizer, for instance, often is a 10-30-30 with traces of boron, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum and zinc.

Do not fertilize plants when they are wilted, dry or dormant – in other words, not growing.

Maintenance

At this time of year, the air in most Canadian homes is very dry and conditions are perfect for insects to thrive. To raise the humidity around your plants, place a tray filled with pebbles and water under your plants. The water should not touch the bottom of the pots. The pebble/tray will create a humid atmosphere due to evaporation.

Keep the leaves free from dust accumulation by washing them with a soft cloth that has been sprayed with insecticidal soap. African violets and other “hairy” leafed plants should not be misted or washed with a cloth. They should be washed in lukewarm, soapy water. Just hold the soil in place with your fingers while inverting the plant, swish the plant in the soapy water and rinse twice in clear water.

Here in Canada, we endure a long, cold winter that encourages us to reach for tropical plants for good reason. There is literally no better way to introduce humidity and oxygen into the indoor environment. With the right care and located in the right place, your indoor plants will live a good long life and you will reap many benefits from them.

Mark Cullen is a Member of the Order of Canada. He reaches more than two million Canadians with his gardening/environment messages every week. 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). Receive their free monthly newsletter at markcullen.com.

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Caladium care

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Caladium care

If you’re an avid shade gardener or just love colourful foliage like we do, give caladiums a try. Pot up a tuber or acquire a plant from a retailer. Either way, you can’t go wrong – and learn how to take care of them all year with our tips.

Caladiums

Mid-October, we dug up our dahlias, tuberous begonias and caladiums. As responsible gardeners who don’t like to see good tubers go to waste, we dig up the bunch and set them in a cool, dry place for the winter.

We are happy to report that our caladium collection is 99 per cent healthy. Despite our best efforts, we had to remove one soft tuber that had begun to rot. Checking on the collection every few weeks ensures any rotting tuber does not spread bacteria to the surrounding bulbs.

We absolutely love caladiums in the garden; they provide colour in the shade where few other plants do, but they do require a bit of extra work. Is it worth it? We have to say yes.

Spring care

In the spring, about six weeks before the last-frost date, pot up the healthy caladium roots to give them an early start. Keeping the knobby (rounded) side up, place them in a two- to five cm pot in a damp mixture of peat and container soil. It is imperative that the soil stay moist, dark and warm (23 to 26 C) until new growth begins. Provide indirect light as soon as you see a shoot, and move outdoors when the danger of frost has passed in May.

As you may have guessed, caladiums prefer a warm, moist environment. They are very winterhardy, depending on the variety, but most prefer shade. Caladiums are not known for their blooms but rather their colourful foliage. Healthy caladiums may produce a bloom which is best removed to keep energy directed towards the tuber. Water frequently to ensure the soil doesn’t dry out below two centimetres deep. Fertilize once a month with diluted 20-20-20. Most caladium varieties will grow 30 to 50 cm tall.

Winter care

Dig up caladium tubers in late autumn for storage, before killing frost penetrates the soil. Brush off soil and allow to dry in a warm environment with good air circulation for a week or two. Cut back foliage after it dies naturally. Store between 10 and 15 degrees Celsius in loosely packed peat moss, keeping several centimetres of space between them.

Recommended varieties

(available at garden retailers midwinter)

CHERRY TART: Suited for pots and baskets; performs well in sunny and shady landscapes.

CRANBERRY STAR: Ideal for pots and as accent or border; best suited to shady areas.

FIRECRACKER RED: Excellent landscape performance; very tall, better suited to the landscape than the container.

GARDEN WHITE: Ideal for use in sunny landscapes or large containers; grows tall, resistant to sunburn.

CALADIUM UF340: Outstanding performance in landscape and container settings; does well in sunny or shady locations; also known as Angel Wing Dwarf White. Some varieties are more tolerant of the sun than others, including: Candidium, F. M. Joyner, Pink Beauty, Postman Joyner, Red Flash, Rose Bud, Sea Gull, Scarlet Beauty and White Queen.

Potential problems

TUBER ROT: Causes tuber to become soft. Select varieties least susceptible to the problem and store tubers properly. Do not store tubers in the refrigerator. A cool, dark area in your basement or cold cellar is best.

LEAF SPOT: Causes leaves to develop brown spots. Remove and destroy affected leaves.

LEAF BURN: Causes brown spots and leaf die-back. Don’t expose leaves to liquid fertilizer, keep plant well-hydrated and from receiving too direct, mid-day sun.

Mark Cullen is a Member of the Order of Canada. He reaches more than two million Canadians with his gardening/environment messages every week. 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). Receive their free monthly newsletter at markcullen.com.

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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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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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Begonias and Dahlias

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Begonias and Dahlias

Start planting these bulbs indoors now for a summer spectacle in your garden

At this time of year, gardeners are anxious to start their spring planting. We encourage you to pot up some summer flowering bulbs, indoors. Not to be confused with ‘spring’ flowering bulbs, like tulips and daffodils, which you plant in the fall. Summer flowering bulbs are planted now through spring, for the most part. Two of our favourites for early spring ‘potting up’ are tuberous begonias and dahlias.

Tuberous Begonias

We absolutely love tuberous begonias. If you have partly shaded areas in your garden (they prefer eastern exposure), give them a try. They perform best in ‘dappled’ shade. Avoid total or dense shade. We guarantee they’ll impress you with their blooms.

Tuberous begonias provide a wide range of flower and leaf colour in low-light areas of your garden ALL summer long. They aren’t difficult to care for, and if you pay a little attention to them, you’ll be rewarded with luxuriant plant growth. With large double blossoms, we consider them the ‘roses’ of the shade garden.

Begonia

The time to start tuberous begonias indoors is in the month of March. They should have two to three months head start before setting them outside at the end of May.

Make sure the tubers are in good shape when you purchase them. Pick up some peat moss and a shallow growing tray if you don’t have them at home. You’ll also need clay pots that are four inches in diameter (one for each tuber), some quality potting soil and a good water-soluble fertilizer for flowering plants.

How to start

Spread a layer of peat moss in the bottom of your shallow growing tray, then place the begonia tubers hollow (concave) side up in the peat moss. Sprinkle enough peat moss in another layer to just cover the bulbs. Keep the peat moss lightly moist until the tubers (or bulbs) have developed substantial roots (about an inch long). Place the tray in a warm spot while the roots are forming. The top of the refrigerator works well. Once white roots have reached two or three centimetres long, pot each tuber up in a four-inch clay pot with good drainage and sterilized potting soil. Place the pots in a sunny window until top growth starts and then pull them back from the light if it’s too bright.

Fertilize your new begonia plants every three weeks with Pro-Mix Multi-Purpose 20-8-8 and keep them well watered but not soggy.

At the end of May, plant the begonias in shaded, protected areas of your garden or in pots and keep them reasonably watered all summer long.

Tuberous begonias are wonderful in hanging baskets. Pot some up now and we know you’ll be pleased.

Dahlias

Unlike shade-loving begonias, dahlias love the heat and sunshine. To get the best show out of dahlias, you should
really start them in March in large, gallon sized pots. Use quality potting soil, like Pro-Mix premium potting mix, and place them in a sunny window to put down roots and begin to sprout.

Dahlia

If you have dahlia tubers stored in the basement from last year’s crop, it’s time to bring them upstairs. Separate the viable/healthy tubers and get potting. What you cannot accommodate in your house you can give to willing recipients in the family or neighbours on the street.

Not all summer flowering bulbs require an early start. Gladiolas will perform much better planted directly in the ground come late April. Space the plantings apart by about two weeks over a couple of months to create a succession of bloom.

Dahlia

Give summer flowering bulbs a try this spring for a great show all summer.

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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3 Exterior Home Renovations to Tackle in Spring

3 exterior home renovations to tackle in spring

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3 exterior home renovations to tackle in spring

With spring just around the corner, it’s only natural to start taking a look at the exterior of your home, investigating how everything held up over the winter months so you can formulate a plan for any renovations you may want to do come spring. Whether your renovations are to improve curb appeal, to modernise the look of your home, or as part of a repair, before you know it the “to do” list can spiral out of control. So, before you start feeling too overwhelmed, here are three exterior home renovations that could be well worth tackling this spring.

Replace the eavestroughs

One item that homeowners don’t often pay much mind to is their eavestroughs. They tend to blend in with the home and get forgotten about, that is until there is an issue with them. Blockages, clogs, and damage can occur over time which then affects water drainage from your roof and away from your foundation. The last thing you want to do is be dealing with water damage inside the home, so ensuring drainage is performing as intended is always top of the list.

Replacing or repairing your eavestroughs means that you can be guaranteed you have no leaks, it will look modern and fresh, and you can even opt for the seam-free models for a sleeker look. Eavestroughing @ Big 5 Exteriors has taken this no-seam approach, which is something that many homeowners seem to be showing an interest in.

If you’re unsure of whether or not your eavestroughs needs repairs or replacing, it’s always best to call a professional and have them climb up to take a look.

Give your garden some TLC

Another renovation worth tackling in the spring is your current garden design. Whether you would consider yours to be sparse or it’s a more mature garden, there is always work to be done. That’s the thing about gardens, there is no such thing as a complete garden. Each year things will grow and change, which means tweaking on your end.

A great place to start is with some basic grooming, which can include trimming back overgrown hedges, bushes, and trees; topping off gardens with fresh soil and mulch so they will be healthy; pruning perennials so they grow to the shape and size you desire; splitting up perennials that have become overgrown for their space (you can then plant that split off segment elsewhere); creating an all-new garden; and of course, adding to your current garden with new annuals and perennials.

Just be sure when shopping for items to plant you are conscious of your soil and light conditions.

Give your front door a pop of interest

For those people who don’t want to take on a massive project but are still looking for impact, a quick and relatively simple plan is to give your front door a fresh coat of paint. This is your chance to change up the colour and give it that pop it had been missing. Your front door colour is actually a great way to set your home apart from the others.

No matter which of these projects you add to your “to-do” list, you can expect some fabulous results.


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Garden foot soldiers

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Garden foot soldiers

The unsung heroes that will bring rewards to your garden next spring.

We often stated that it is a very good idea to rake the leaves off of your lawn and onto your garden. The leaves will mat down with rain and weight of snow and begin to break down into a quality layer of organic matter. Come spring, when temperatures reach 10 C, the earthworms move up to the surface of the soil and, upon discovering a fine harvest of leaves, munch on them until they disappear.

Take a trip out to your garden on the Canada Day holiday and we guarantee that evidence of your leaves will be gone.

So, what happens to them? Glad you asked. This is December, the month to celebrate all of the good things in life and without a doubt, earthworms are one of them.

A gift to gardeners

Earthworms are part of a biotic community. They, along with centipedes, sow bugs and a variety of other useful earth-bound critters, provide an invaluable service. When earthworms arrive at the surface of the soil, they consume the carbon-rich fallen leaves (and leaf mould). These are mineralized by microorganisms inside of the earthworm’s gut. As the leaves pass through the sophisticated digestive system of the worm, they are converted into nitrogen-rich earthworm ‘castings.’ As the worms move through the soil, sometimes as deep as a metre, they constantly leave these castings behind. They are a gift to the gardener.

Nature’s aerator

The castings quickly stabilize and become resistant to chemical and physical degradation. They enhance the quality of your soil by stabilizing and storing nitrogen and carbon until the microbes in the soil break them down. As the worms move through your soil, they open it up, essentially aerating it, making oxygen available to the roots of your plants. Every plant on earth benefits from oxygen at its root zone.

With healthier roots your plants will perform better, the need to fertilize is minimized (or it disappears) and water moves through the soil more efficiently. Plants more easily channel their roots through the tunnels created by the earthworms.

Transported from warmer climes

While we could assume that earthworms do their work as part of some big, master plan on the part of Mother Nature, it is worthwhile noting that there are no native earthworms in Canada. If they existed at one time, as fossils suggest they did, they were wiped out by the last Ice Age. Your friendly neighbourhood earthworms are immigrants. Either they moved up here from the deep south, where the glaciers never existed, or people brought them over here from Europe during the great plant importing schemes of the 1700s through to 1940.

To nurture the worm population in your yard, it is useful to know:

  • Worms prefer loose, open soil. Turning your soil each spring helps to encourage them.
  • They are moisture-sensitive. During drought they move deep into the soil and enter a resting phase. In heavy rain, they move to the surface of the soil to escape the lack of air in their tunnels.
  • One active worm will process up to one fifth of a kilogram of organic matter per year.
  • An earthworm can live between three and 10 years, depending on species and soil conditions.

The toad touch

Another hero of the garden is the common toad.

They feed on a wide variety of insects and have quite an appetite. The insects that they eat are often a nuisance in the garden, so you want to encourage toads as much as possible. Slugs and mosquitoes are just two of their preferred prey.

They overwinter deep in the soil and will travel up to half a kilometre to reach a breeding ground come spring. Males often get a free ride on the back of a female. Perhaps we should make up a new expression “couch toad” to describe certain males of the human species.

It takes about two years for a toad to mature to full size, but they live for up to 10 years.

To encourage a population of toads in your yard, we suggest that you leave some leaves on the soil (another reason to do this!), do not ‘sanitize’ your garden by removing all of the perennials and mulch that is there this time of year. Give them shelter and they will reward you next season.

Toads and earthworms are just two of the unsung heroes of the garden. Together they are essential weapons in our war against poor quality soil.

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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Practical tips for remodelling your home and garden

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Practical tips for remodelling your home and garden

Remodeling your property allows you to gain greater equity and resale value. It’s also a good way to enjoy the comforts and pleasures of your home and garden even more.

Here are some ideas on how to improve your home and garden.

Start with the garden

Before you start the heavy work of remodeling your home, see if your garden has any issues that you should take care of sooner rather than later. If you don’t start with the garden, you’re likely to be too exhausted after the construction work in your home to consider working on the garden at all.

One common problem many homeowners with large gardens overlook is soil erosion. Mulch and blankets are effective ways to prevent this issue from getting out of control and you can find out more about them on this erosion control website: graniteseed.com/erosion-control/

5 tips for remodelling your home

Your remodeling project will go smoothly if you plan a realistic budget, find a reputable general contractor, get all necessary building permits, and find a good home insurance policy. It’s also important to address any problems with your garden. Soil erosion, for example, is a common problem.

Tip #1: Create a detailed plan

It may surprise you how many new ideas you’ll come up with on how to improve your home when you brainstorm. Your plan should include the prep work that you will need to do before starting your remodeling project, a schedule on what areas to gut or deconstruct, and a long list of remodeling steps to take, such as rebuilding, painting, and deep cleaning. The more meticulous your planning, the happier you will be with the new look and feel of your home after the dust has settled.

Tip #2: Design a realistic budget

If you’re not shopping with a clear budget in mind, you’ll be tempted to spend much more than you planned because when you shop for equipment, tools, and building materials, you’ll be thrilled by the number of innovative products and attractive designs available in stores.

Incidentally, your budget should also include a financial cushion to pay for anything that goes wrong during the remodeling. For instance, if someone drops drywall panels while on a ladder, this loss of material will be an unexpected cost.

Tip #3: Hire a reputable general contractor

The plethora of information available on how to start your own do-it-yourself (DIY) remodeling projects may tempt you to do all the work on your own.

However, unless you’re working on a small project like tiling the bathrooms, you probably won’t save as much as you imagine. You are more likely to waste money on buying the wrong tools or materials or making expensive construction mistakes.

It’s always better to hire a general contractor for big projects, like breaking down or building a wall. Ask people you know who have remodeled their homes for referrals on whom you should hire.

Tip #4: Find the best home insurance

Homeowner’s insurance will protect your home during renovations. Many unexpected things could occur, such as spills, tears, breaks, or material thefts. Take the time to shop for the best policy for your needs.

Tip #5: Get all the necessary building permits

Find out about all the necessary building permits that you need. They’re issued to ensure safety during construction work because renovating a home can be hazardous to both you and your neighbors.

In conclusion, although you may have a clear idea about exactly what you need to do because you’ve been thinking about renovations for a long time, following these six remodeling tips will increase your chances of getting your home just the way you want it.

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