Tag Archives: Mark Cullen

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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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The Highway of Heroes Tree Campaign

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The Highway of Heroes Tree Campaign

The Highway of Heroes Tree Campaign honouring the 117,000 fallen Canadian Soldiers and their families.

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Video: Wrapping Evergreens

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Video: Wrapping Evergreens

Wrapping Evergreens Everything You Need to Know with Mark and Ben

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Garden Expert: Tree Of Life

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Garden Expert: Tree Of Life

Highway of Heroes Living Tribute

During the war in Afghanistan, Canada lost 159 men and women in the conflict. Once repatriated at CFB Trenton, their bodies were driven to the coroner’s office in Toronto.

A very Canadian thing happened during those years: hundreds of people turned out to stand on bridges at points along Highway 401 to quietly reflect on the meaning of this sacrifice, hold flags and salute the fallen heroes passing by in hearses. This was a very personal experience for all. Since then, the 170-km route has been known as the Highway of Heroes.

As the volunteer Chair of the Highway of Heroes Living Tribute, I am passionate about a living tribute to our fallen, and those who volunteered to serve during times of war.

A TRIBUTE TO CANADIAN COURAGE

We are planting 2,000,000 trees between Trenton and Toronto, one tree for every Canadian that has served during times of conflict since Confederation and including the war of 1812. 117,000 of the most prominent trees will be planted along and near the stretch of the 401 known as the Highway of Heroes, one tree for every life lost while serving in the Canadian Armed Forces and protecting our country.

This tribute offers an opportunity to tell the story of those that have served in the Armed Forces, and remind travellers along the highway of the great debt we owe these courageous Canadians. It will also provide a myriad of environmental benefits for generations to come. Here at the Highway of Heroes Tree Campaign, we are grateful for every Canadian who has supported our efforts to plant a tree for each of Canada’s war dead.

PROGRESS REPORT

In the spring of 2018, we completed the first planting season of the year and we are happy to report that we planted over 3,000 trees on the Highway of Heroes, bringing us that much closer to our goal. We now have over 17,000 in the ground on the highway and over 100,000 planted just off the highway. We are currently preparing and planting at sites that will ultimately be home for up to another 15,000 trees this autumn.

And these are still the “early days” with many more tree-plantings to come beyond this year.

ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFITS

Volunteer-planting events near the highway educate Canadians about the benefits of reforestation, the importance of native trees, and why, as a nation, we need to embrace measures that protect our environment from the impacts of climate change.

As Canadians, we’re proud of our values that guide us to respect green spaces and wilderness, yet too few of us realize we have the highest carbon footprint per capita in the world. We can and will do better. Those who serve in our military protect our land and our freedom. I feel that we have a responsibility to protect the land that many Canadians have defended over generations.

FUNDRAISING GOALS

The goal of the Highway of Heroes Tree Campaign is to raise $10 million by 2020. To date, nearly one-third of that has been raised or about $3.2 million. Hitting this goal will ensure that our final trees are planted by 2022.

As we approach Remembrance Day and the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War, let us ensure that we never forget the many courageous Canadians who enlisted to serve during this time. During the First World War, over 600,000 Canadians would join the battle overseas and over 66,000 paid the ultimate sacrifice. For a young nation of just under eight million people, this contribution is nothing short of remarkable.

Please consider making a donation to ensure that a living tribute can be built to honour these brave Canadians who helped pave the way for us to live in this great country we share today.

Details and free monthly newsletter at hohtribute.ca

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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Video: Ornamental grasses in the fall garden

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Video: Ornamental grasses in the fall garden

What not to do in the fall garden. Don’t cut down your ornamental grasses.

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In The Garden: National Tree Day

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In The Garden: National Tree Day

Plant a tree on September 26th

After much debate, a bill was passed in the House of Commons in 2011 to create a National Tree Day each year, which falls on the last Wednesday in the month of September. This year, that day is September 26th. Tree advocates everywhere can now breathe a breath of fresh air.

The Right Time

September is the best time of year to plant. You may choose to do so on National Tree Day, or any other day in the near future. However, I urge you to plant – more than one tree – and soon. The cool evening temperatures slow the growth on the top of the trees, while the warmth of summer still radiates in the soil and encourages young feeding roots to develop. The development of autumn-planted trees usually outgrow those that are planted in the spring. Come spring, your results will be nothing short of spectacular.

In addition, most retailers are clearing out their inventory at this time of year, so there’s an extra incentive to select the trees that you really want at a fraction of the cost – fruit trees, shade trees, ornamental flowering trees, native trees and shrubs.

Plant Native

Whenever, and wherever, you can plant native trees – it just makes sense. For the most part, native trees adapt well to our urban environment, they self propagate, and are disease and insect resistant. In addition, they attract nesting song birds. LEAF (Local Enhancement & Appreciation of Forests) is a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection, and enhancement, of the urban forest. Visit yourleaf.org for programs and advice on making the right choice for your environment.

I recommend starting with a nursery-grown native plant. They are properly cared for while developing – after all, they are called nurseries. A field-grown tree will be root pruned before being lifted out of the ground. A container-grown tree will have all of its roots intact at the time of planting. As a result, you’ll be pleased with your investment, because it should be a seamless transition between the nursery and its new home.

Deciduous Dedications

A country-wide tree day could not exist without official tree plantings. Visit treecanada.ca for listings and events going on in your area. Or, better yet, create your own event and register it on the site.

On September 26th do something for yourself, for your grandchildren, for your community and for the environment. Plant a tree on National Tree Day, and celebrate the great work that they do – without complaints or many demands. And, celebrate the fact that we live in a country where we can.

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 Facebook and on
Twitter @MarkCullen4. MarkCullen.com

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Video: Mark Cullen – How to Plant in Containers

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Video: Mark Cullen – How to Plant in Containers

Tips for container gardening

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Garden Expert: Gardening Does A 180

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Garden Expert: Gardening Does A 180

Current trends embrace nature for a more eco-conscious world

Not long ago, the typical image of a Canadian garden consisted of a broad sweep of impatiens across the front of the house, a solid mass of unbroken colour that knocked your eyes out. This, framing a manicured, weed-free lawn, trimmed neat and clean.

Back in the day, as recently as 20 years ago, there was a lot of ‘snipping’ going on. And control. Mother Nature was to be tamed, not partnered with. My father was a leader of this pack. Why else, at the age of 14, did he send me out to prune a juniper into the shape of a chicken?

Dad was having fun, of course, and I do not mean to make fun of him.

Things have changed significantly in the Canadian garden in recent years and it is worth noting some of these changes.

Here’s how:

1 BRING ON THE INSECTS. Take tent caterpillars for instance. My Dad would cut a larvae-laden limb out of a crab-apple tree and burn the colony to get rid of it. I am sure this gave him much satisfaction.

A few years ago, I decided to just leave the tent caterpillars alone in my row of 25 crabapples. I observed that many of the trees in the native forest along Hwy 400, between Toronto and North Bay, provide habitat to caterpillars and no one takes them out or burns them. And now I realize that they serve a useful purpose in the natural scheme of things. They are food for many foraging birds including insectivores, many of which are in decline. They need all of the help we can give them, so why not ignore the tent caterpillars and let nature take its course? I decided to do this and it took two years for the birds to discover that I was no longer removing them from tree limbs before they did the job for me. Voilà! Less work for me, better for the birds.

We do not kill insects to the same extent that we once did. Native insects (vs. imported, invasive ones like the Emerald Ash Borer) are part of the natural web. Apart from our general distaste for wasps in our soft drinks and ants in our patio, we are gradually learning to live and let live.

2 KILLING WEEDS. Just a few years ago we pulled milkweed from our gardens. It is a ‘weed,’ after all it is in the name, right? Now we pay good money for milkweed seeds to provide habitat and food for migratory monarch butterflies.

3 ROT AND DECAY ARE OUR FRIENDS. Remember when we blew our fallen leaves into piles and stuffed them into brown paper bags, dragged them to the curb for the municipality to haul them away? In the spring, we drove to a depot to pick up ‘free’ compost or worse, some municipalities offered the compost for sale back to the taxpayers who gave them the raw material in the first place. Back in the day we really weren’t too smart. Now we rake (not blow) the leaves off the lawn and on to the garden.

Over the spring months, those leaves disappear as foraging worms pull them into the soil to convert them into nitrogen-rich earthworm castings. Better for your garden, less work, saves the municipality money. Oh, some of us still do it the old-fashioned way. Okay, this one is a work in progress.

4 WILDLIFE HABITAT. With over 800 species of native Canadian bees, we are indeed blessed with a host of natural pollinators, many of which are in decline. Many are more effective at pollination than honeybees, which are a European import.

Now we provide habitat for our dear wildlife: mason bee houses, insect hotels, toad homes, water features that breed frogs, toads, salamanders, dragon flies and newts.

We are getting much better at this but have a way to go. I predict that we will have as many insect-enhancing devices in our backyards in 20 years as we have bird feeders now. Stay tuned.

I recently asked a friend, who is a father to a 15-year-old boy, what he thought the world will look like a generation from now. He looked at me with a worried frown, “I hate to think.”

And yet, all of the aforementioned changes in our thinking with respect to the Canadian garden are a result of young people speaking up in defence of a new, greener, cleaner world.

And sometimes they don’t speak up.

They just do it.

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: Head For Cover

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In The Garden: Head For Cover

While we were worshiping to the sun gods back in February, some of us may now be getting fed up with the heat. With high temperatures come increased UV rays, so it makes sense to seek out shady spots that provide some reprieve.

It’s under the shade of a leafy tree where we’ll experience temperatures that are five to 12 degrees cooler. The moisture it evaporates provides a cooling effect, so it’s no wonder we naturally migrate to these prime locations to have a picnic, read a book or take a nap.

A Shady Deal | It’s a good time to consider options for a shade garden, especially for under those trees on the north side of your house. I have a short list of favourites that are ideal for dappled shade – plants that prefer a sun/shade mix, but don’t like the hot/dry sun of mid afternoon.

Astilbe

Astilbe | Also known as False Spirea and Feather Flower, this plant injects a burst of colour for a prolonged stretch of time – from late spring and throughout the summer. The brightly coloured blossoms are electrifying in intensity, and grow from 30 to 80 centimetres high. They prefer an open, peaty soil, but once they dry out, it’s difficult to rehydrate them. To prevent them from doing so, be sure to mulch with five centimetres of shredded cedar bark.

Rhododendron

Rhododendrons | ‘Rhodies’, as they are affectionately known in the business, hold a special place in the shade garden – but there are some secrets. For one, they love an acid soil, which is opposite to the alkaline stuff most of us put up with in the GTA. Always plant your rhododendrons in an open, sandy soil, mixed with finely ground pine bark – about 30 per cent by volume. Add about four tablespoons of garden sulphur (to help to acidify the soil) about every six weeks throughout the summer and into the early fall. Keep in mind that you’re not fertilizing them, per se, you’re changing the pH of the soil. For a foolproof garden performance, I recommend the winter tough ‘PJM’ varieties – purple flowers, with early spring blooms that are hardy to zone 4 (Ottawa).

Boxwood | Buxus is a broad-leafed evergreen that performs very well in all areas, up to zone 4. Boxwood is an evergreen, so treat it with a humusbased soil of peat or compost, and fertilize every few weeks with an evergreen food, like 30-10-10, until the middle of the summer. There have been many amazing boxwood hybrids that have been introduced over the years, which provide a deeper colour and a more finely textured foliage, versus the original version of Korean Boxwood.

Oregon Grape Mahonia Aquifolium

Oregon Grape | Native to British Columbia, the Mahonia Aquifolium grows quite well in zone 5 and 6 gardens (including Barrie). This plant features holly-like leaves that remain on the plant throughout the winter, and are then replaced as new growth occurs each spring. They have a delightful yellow flower in the spring, and a dense, shrubby growth habit. Oregon Grape matures to about one metre high, and equally as wide. I like it best when planted on the fringe of a hardwood bush, or under the shade of shrubs or a tall deciduous tree.

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 Facebook and on Twitter @MarkCullen4. MarkCullen.com

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Garden Expert: Bye-Bye Butterfly

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Garden Expert: Bye-Bye Butterfly

The monarch butterfly is in decline. It has been for some time and Canadian Wildlife magazine reports that it still is. So what? Let’s just say that the monarch is to the world of nature, what an economic indicator is to our economy. When inflation goes through the roof, or interest rates take off, or the Canadian dollar drops like a stone, people take notice.

We notice things that impact our pocketbook.

So, we should also take notice when a plant pollinator like the monarch butterfly population is in steep decline. About one-third of our food is pollinated by insects, including the monarch. If one-third of our food stream were to disappear, all of us would notice.

What you can do to nurture nature’s miracle

THE MIRACLE

There is another reason why we should pay attention to the monarch. Without a healthy population of monarchs, the story of their annual migration would be relegated to children’s books and history. It is a story about a miracle.

The Canadian Wildlife organization tells it this way, “For any given year, these butterflies represent the final cohort in a four- or five-generation annual cycle of monarch reproduction and migration.” Say what? Four or five generations of butterflies are produced in one trip from Mexico to Canada each spring?

Late in the winter, the overwintering population in Mexico flies to Texas, and other southern climes, where they lay eggs on milkweed plants before the adult monarch dies. Then they begin their migration north. “The caterpillar offspring, which feed exclusively on milkweed, spend several weeks growing before they pupate, become adult monarchs and continue the migration farther north before reproducing in kind.”

The process repeats until late summer and early fall, often here in Canada, when the monarchs that are alive at that time fly back to the Mexican pine and oyamel forests. The journey to Canada is like a relay of eggs, pupae, caterpillar and butterfly, times four or five.

Think about this for a moment. Four or five generations of monarch butterflies are produced while the whole flock (do butterflies flock?) moves north between 3,000 and 5,000 kilometres, over the span of several months from early spring until early fall.

How does each new generation know which direction to fly? And how does the last annual generation know when to stop, turn around and head south again? Not to mention the knowledge they must possess that tells them to stop making babies for a spell.

This is the miracle.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

While there are a myriad of organizations like Canadian Wildlife, government agencies and concerned individuals giving this issue attention, there is a lot that you can do. Even if your only outdoor access is a condo or apartment balcony, you can nurture flowering plants that attract and feed monarchs.

It is not too late in the season to pick up milkweed seeds and sow them directly in your garden. This is a perennial plant that will grow this summer and flower next. Native milkweed is the exclusive food and habitat of monarch butterfly larvae.

Other nectar-rich plants include Butterfly Weed [asclepias], Catmint [nepeta], Bugleweed [ajuga], Coneflower [Echinacea], Cranesbill [geranium], some Coreopsis, False Sunflower [heliopsis], False Indigo [baptista], Yarrow, Sedum, Hollyhock, Lavender and my favourite Joe Pye Weed [eupatorium, which is related to milkweed]. These plants are available at garden retailers this time of year and are ready to plant.

WATER

All wildlife needs water to survive and butterflies are no different. But they are not like birds that dip into the bird bath for a drink. Butterflies have very short legs and are top-heavy with wings. They prefer lily pads and mud to access water. That is why you often find butterflies hanging out at the beach (go to Sandbanks Provincial park for a good show).

RUSTY PATCHED BUMBLEBEE

The monarch is not the only primary pollinator that is at risk. The Rusty Patched Bumblebee was Ontario’s fourth most common species as recently as the 1980s. Today, it is only found in abundance in Pinery Provincial Park. There is much speculation of why this species has all but disappeared: loss of habitat, neonic-based pesticides and genetically engineered farm crops are highly suspect.

But, once again, you can help by providing habitat, food and shelter for all native bees by growing many of the same plants that I have listed for butterflies. There are over 700 native bee species in Canada, and all of them deserve our attention and thanks for their hard work.

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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