Tag Archives: Perennial

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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Perennial Tough Guys

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Perennial Tough Guys

The never-say-die plants that your garden needs right now

Got a slope in the sun? Plant sedums or sempervivums.

Got a hot spot where nothing seems to grow? Plant sedums or sempervivums.

Looking for the ultimate low-maintenance plant in a sunny spot so you can enjoy lengthy times away each summer? Plant sedums or sempervivums.

Do you have plant-and-forget insect and disease problems? You’ve got it – plant sedums or sempervivums.

If there is a difficult job to do in the sunny garden, you can count on one family of plants to pull through. Do you remember the ‘hens and chicks’ that your grandmother had in her rock garden? Those were sempervivums (closely related to sedum) and chances are, if the garden still exists, so do the hens and chicks.

The secret to their long-term survival rate is their ability to store water in their leaves for long periods of time. They are the camels and dromedaries of the plant world and they make fabulous garden plants.

The meaning of ‘sempervivum’ is ‘always living’ but unlike many other plants that you can say this about, such as common mint for example, these plants seldom make a nuisance of themselves by spreading where they are not wanted. And if they do, it does not take much effort with a sharp hoe to flip them out of the soil and into the compost.

The same shallow roots that make them easy to move around the yard also make them easy to propagate and adaptable to poor (gravelly or sandy) soil conditions. That is why they have been popular for use in rock gardens for generations. For that matter, few plants do as well in the shallow recesses of rockery stone as these succulents.

For Slopes

The most aggressive sedums are the ‘spurium’ types, such as Dragon’s Blood and TriColor. They spread quickly once established and flower beautifully early to mid-summer. Dragon’s Blood produces a stunning red carpet of flowers that turns heads, while TriColor is best known for the three colours of its leaves. Spurium sedums only grow to 10 cm high at maturity, so they lend themselves well to a steep slope where erosion control is desired.

For a fast groundcover, space each plant about 20 to 25 cm apart, depending on the size of the plants that you are starting with. They spread horizontally quickly, knitting into a consistent carpet after one or two seasons.

For Perennial Gardens

The standard ‘Stonecrop’ that most of us think of is actually ‘spectabile.’ It grows about 45 to 60 cm tall and even if you ignore it for a whole summer, it will reward you with flowers in September through October in the red/pink/rose end of the spectrum. Butterflies and honeybees frequent sedum spectabile.

Leave large flowering sedum standing over the winter to allow songbirds to feed on the seeds of the finished flowers.

Dig And Divide

This is the perfect time of year to dig and divide established sedums and the smaller, lower growing sempervivums. Use a sharp spade or shovel to gently remove the mother plant from the soil and then cut it into halves and quarters using the same spade, shovel or a kitchen knife. Replant these smaller divisions around your yard or give them to your neighbours if you run out of room.

Green Roofs

If you have a hard time finding a broad selection of sedums and sempervivums at your local garden retailer, perhaps one of the reasons is that they have become the number one choice for people wanting to plant up a green roof. They require little attention once established, and that is reason enough to seek out a variety of colourful, winter-hardy succulents to plant on the roof of your house, your doghouse or your tool shed. We think it’s a great idea for esthetic appeal and for environmental reasons. You will cool your home (or the dog’s house), slow storm water run-off, filter rainwater and produce oxygen rather than a heat sink, as we do when we use asphalt shingles on a sloped roof or tar and gravel on a flat roof.

The Enemy: Too Much Water

If there are a couple things that hardy succulents do not like (besides shade), it is too much water and heavy, clay soil. After planting, you will have to water them, but as time passes, you will learn to ignore your sedums and sempervivums. Remind yourself why you planted them in the first place: to reduce the maintenance around your garden. If your soil is heavy with clay, deposit generous quantities of sharp sand to open it up and allow for good drainage.

There are lots of benefits to growing the humble sedum and sempervivums. If you are blessed with some sunny, hot spots in your garden, you won’t go wrong by planting a few.

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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