By G. Bosley  a.k.a “groundhog”

The Gardening Page is made up of articles I wrote for The Orillia Packet & Times from 2000 – 2007,  and some of the presentations I gave to local organizations.  I hope you enjoy reading them and find at least a little tid-bit of information to add to your personal “Gardening Encyclopedia”.

I welcome your comments.

You can contact me at www.rootsandshootsdesign.ca

A NATURAL LAWN

Is your lawn causing stress in your life?  Does it seem like no matter how much money and time you devote to trying to create that lush green carpet, there are always areas that just don’t respond?

Like all other plants, grass does need proper maintenance and growing conditions in order to thrive.  Has your lawn been maintained naturally or with chemicals?

A natural lawn has higher biological soil activity, chemicals destroy the biological activity in the soil.  Earthworms are very important to the life of your soil, they aerate and improve air circulation, breaking down organic matter and lightening the soil.  Are there many earthworms in your soil?  These tiny creatures and many other living organisms in the soil are very sensitive to chemicals and easily destroyed.

Most problems that develop in a natural lawn can be easily controlled with good cultural methods such as proper fertilizing, watering and mowing. When chemicals are used to try to correct the problems, the lawn becomes dependant on the chemicals and the problems just keep reoccuring.  Have you had your lawn chemically treated for grubs or chinch bugs every year and they just never go away?  A natural lawn can withstand a higher population of insects with less damage because it has a strong root system and a healthy soil environment.

Weeds are controlled in a natural lawn because the turf is maintained thick and long, and out competes the weed growth.  A thick turf prevents weed seeds from germinating.  Some weeds can be beneficial to the soil and growth of the turf plant.  A Dandelion actually draws nutrients from deep in the soil with their long roots and feeds the turf.  Clover increases the nitrogen in the soil.

A natural lawn has a very strong and extensive root system which enables it to resist drought.  The healthy active soil life of a natural lawn helps to control thatch build up.  Chemical fertilizers increase the susceptibility to drought and thatch because a short root system develops and life in the soil becomes less active.  Chemical fertilizers are high in Nitrogen, which produces that instant lush green growth.  The sacrifice for this quick, lush growth is that the plant puts it’s energy into green vegetative growth and not the development of  strong roots.

With a natural lawn the soil and plant health improves continually.  Chemically treated lawns become dependant on the drugs and requires continued use, or does poorly if discontinued until the soil life has a chance to recover from the addiction.  When you take your lawn off drugs don’t be easily disappointed.  It takes time for the chemicals to get out of the system and the natural practices to become effective.  Many times I learn of homeowners who have stopped using chemicals on their lawn, however, they make the big mistake of not continuing with a fertilizing program to feed the plant and then quickly discover that the lawn does not look very good.  Like your garden plants, the lawn needs food as well.

There are several Natural fertilizers on the market today.  Be sure when purchasing a natural fertilizer that the packaging states “100% Organic”.  Many so called organic fertilizers are “Organic Based”; this simply means that they contain some organic matter.  Organic fertilizers are slow-release and provide nutrients to the turf for a longer period of time.  The numerical N-P-K of an organic fertilizer is very low compared to chemical fertilizers.  The N or nitrogen ratio is rarely higher than 5 in a natural fertilizer, compared to chemical fertilizers which range from 10 into the 20’s for the N ratio.

Natural fertilizers encourage the development of healthy roots, will not burn plants, will not leach away into the watershed, improves the soil structure, adds humus to the soil, helps control plant and soil disease, and is gentle on soil organisms.  Does your chemical fertilizer do all this?

The first spring application of a natural fertilizer should not be until late April or May, after the grass has greened-up and almost ready for the first cut.  This allows the roots to develop first.  Early spring fertilizing encourages early top vegetative growth at the expense of developing  strong roots.

Try a natural approach to caring for your lawn and gardens.  It may take a couple of years for the full benefits to be realized, but it does work.  You will discover that nature can survive on it’s own without the use of chemicals.  It did 100 years ago, so why not today?

 

 

CONTROLLING GARDEN PESTS

There are many natural factors which keep pests controlled in the garden, and maintaning a balanced ecosystem is key.  Starting with healthy soil and healthy plants, the next step is to keep the garden properly maintained and clean.

Cultural care involves proper sanitation, pruning, watering and fertilizing.  A clean garden and clean garden tools will prevent many disease and insect problems from developing  or spreading.  Unhealthy plants are an attractant for many pests and disease.  Removing dead plants or affected foliage, fruit or flowers will reduce the impact and spread of the pest. Proper pruning and deadheading will keep the plants growth vigorous and thus the plant will be strong enough to withstand many pest problems.  Proper watering is critical.  Too little or too much water can cause stress on the plant and a stressed plant is more prone to insects and disease problems.

Proper fertilizing produces a healthy plant.  Too little can mean a weak plant and too much can cause excessively lush growth and invasion by pests such as apids, which love to dine on new tender shoots.

Attracting birds into the garden will reduce many pest populations as they forage from plant to plant in search of insects to feed on.  Provide birdhouses and nesting sights.  Plan your garden planting so it will provide shelter and berries or seeds for the birds.  Birdbaths and small ponds will provide water.  Feed the birds in the winter as well, many birds will forage in the trees during the winter seeking out dormant insects and eggs to feed on.

Mice, bats, moles, toads, snakes, squirrels and chipmunks will feed on many insects.  Sometimes these mammals may be considered a pest, but they can be very beneficial.  Bats feed on a large amount of flying insects at dusk and dawn.  Moles will feed on grubs in the soil. 

There are many insects which are beneficial to the garden for controlling pests.  Ladybugs, praying mantis, lacewings, spiders and groundbeetles are just a few.  It is just as important, if not more so, to be able to identify the good bugs in your garden as well as the bad bugs.  You can attract many of these beneficial bugs to your yard by growing native plants, wildflowers and ornamental grasses, which provide them with pollen and nectar.  Many beneficial bugs will feed on dill, yarrow, golden rod, mint, lavender, asters and cosmos.  If an insect becomes a problem, beneficial bugs can be purchased and introduced into the garden.  Introduction must be done carefully, make sure there is a desired environment or they may leave your yard or die before being effective.

Many pests can be controlled by physically removing them from the plant and destroying them.  A strong spray of water from the garden hose will disturb many clusters of pests.  It is very effective with spider mites as they are dislodged and the plant moistened.  Spider mites prefer dry areas.

There are many traps available commercially or you can make your own.  To be effective the traps must be used at the appropriate time in the lifecycle of the pest.  Pheromones are chemicals produced by the female insect to attract males.  These are used in combination with special traps to lure the male.  They are also useful in monitoring pest populations.

Companion planting is another way to control both insect and disease problems.  Many plants produce chemicals which act as a repellent or an attractant.  Pests may be attracted to a particular,  you can  mask the plant by using another  powerful smelling plant nearby such as garlic, onion, mint or basil.  If you don’t have room to grow the plant, then scatter some clippings in the garden.

Some companion plants can be used to lure pests away from your favorite plants.  Nasturtiums are a favorite for aphids, so plant a nice grouping away from your plants, perhaps a large container. Plants used to lure pests make pest control easy because the pests are concentrated on a few plants and are easily trapped and killed.

Companion planting can also improve the health of your plant by using a plant with a different need.  Some plants are deep rooted while others have shallow roots, these make good companions.  Heavy feeding plants combined with light feeding plants benefit each other.  As well, some plants can be grown to provide necessary shade to another lower growing plant.

Companion planting success depends on how much planning and effort you put into it.  You need to plan and experiment.  Enjoy your successes and learn from your failures.  Keep an open mind.

Does there seems to be a problem that you can’t control and feel a natural spray is necessary?  Proceed with caution.  No matter what kind of spray you use it must be used with care.  Many sprays will harm beneficial insects.  Sprays should not be used unless absolutely necessary, and applied at the correct time.  Even if you use a spray, you must assess why there was a problem in the first place and try to correct the situation or the problem will return.

Regular monitoring of the garden will enable you to spot problems as they begin to develop.  It is very important to properly identify all insects before killing them.  You may know what the Ladybug looks like as an adult, but do you know what the larva or eggs look like? 

 

 

 

A JUMP START ON SPRING

Many gardeners begin to garden in the middle of winter.  It brings a lift to the spirits on those cold  -30 days when the wind howls and the snow drifts in the front door.

Many plants grown in the garden have to be started from seed months before the last expected frost in order to produce beautiful flowers or fruit. These are usually grown in large greenhouses.  There are, however, just as many plants that only require a short growing period before planting in the garden, and it is some of these which you can start now and enjoy later.

Growing plants from seed may seem a little intimidating if you have never done it before, but it’s not that difficult.  If the seeds don’t grow, then you can always go to the local garden centre in May and buy the plant.

Before starting you need to find a location to set up your grow centre.  A south-facing window is ideal.  Seedlings need lots of light and warm temperatures.  If you don’t have a south-facing window, there are alternatives.  You can buy “grow lights” which provide the right spectrum of light for plant growth.  These can range from 4′ flourescents to 18″ flourescents or as a single grow bulb.  An important issue with using grow lights is that they have to be set up so that the height from the plant can be adjusted.  If the light is to far away from the new seedlings they will stretch for the light and become tall, leggy and weak.

Set up a temporary table to hold the plant trays and be sure to protect the floor in case of water spillage. Portable miniature greenhouses and grow stands for indoor use are available and come in a variety of sizes.

Most seeds require an even temperature day and night of 21c – 24c for germination.  If your room is normally cooler, a small portable heater can help raise the temperature in your growing area.  If you are starting just a few seeds, the plant tray could be set on top of the refrigerator until the seeds germinate, but then must be moved to a better lit location once they sprout.

Aside from light and warmth, seedlings require proper soil and moisture.  The soil must be a loose mix and disease free.  You can buy special seed starting soil.  Do not use garden soil or potting soil, they are too heavy.

Seeds require constant moisture, but not saturation.  A small mister spray bottle, or I use a 5 gallon garden sprayer(which I use for nothing else), can be used to water the soil thoroughly, but gently, without washing out the seeds. The soil should be mixed with warm water until slightly moist before placing it in the seeding tray.

After sowing the seeds, gently mist to completely moisten soil and seeds.  Cover the seed tray with clear plastic to help retain the moisture and provide a warm, humid environment for the seedlings.  You can purchase special plastic dome covers for  seed trays or use saran wrap or clear plastic bags.  Check the soil daily to be sure it remains moist.  Always use warm water of about 75F – 80F.  One day of dry soil can be detrimental to seedlings.  During the day you should raise the plastic cover to allow some of the heat to escape.

Once the seeds sprout remove the plastic cover and continue to keep the soil moist.  Seedlings do not require fertilizing until they begin to develop the first set of true leaves.  As the seedling develop, keep a constant check on the soil moisture.

Read the seed package, most include growing details such as;  days for germination, weeks until transplanting outside, light or no light required for germination, planting depth for seed and preferred growing temperatures.

Seedlings that require only 4 – 6 weeks growth before transplanting outside: Marigolds, Coleus, Cosmos, Cleome, Nicotiana, Portulaca, Sweet Peas, Zinnia, Nasturtium, Ageratum, Dahlia and Morning Glory.

In the greenhouse in early May

GARDEN FUN FOR CHILDREN

Wouldn’t it be great if your child enjoyed gardening as much as you did?  Were they just thrilled last season when you asked them to pick a basket of green beans, it took them a lot longer than they cared to be in that patch, and then they had to stare at them on the dinner plate!  Teach children to have fun in the garden, their attention span isn’t long enough for the boring weeding or stick picking jobs.  Don’t make it seem like a job.

Show children some of the simple, interesting things in the garden.  Moss growing on the north side of the tree.  How many spots on a ladybug?  Children have a natural love of nurturing living things, show them the living garden and how it grows.

Take a nature hike paying special attention to the trees, shrubs and wildflowers.  Talk about the plants, it’s life cycle, does it loose leaves in the winter or produce seed pods or cones, its rarity or commonness.  These plants and the animals you see on the nature walk, are they found in the gardens or only in the wild?

Attract wildlife into the garden.  Set up bird feeders and birdbaths together with your child.  Plant flowers, berries or shrubs that will attract birds.  Set out nesting material for the birds.  Kids will be thrilled to see the red yarn in a tree where the bird has made a nest.

Make garden related crafts with children using flowers, grasses or sticks and seedpods.  Press autumn leaves or flowers.  Pick some flowers or herbs for drying.  Place some earthworms in a jar of dirt and cover with black paper.  Remove the paper after a few days and see all the tunnels made by the earthworms.  Buy a houseplant and let your child care for it.

Let your child’s imagination go wild in the garden.  Tell fanciful stories about plants and animals.  Help the child create imaginary tunnels, teepees, secret paths and hidden spots within the garden.  Encourage make-believe games with imaginary playmates and animals in the garden.  Bite your tongue and let the children touch, smell, rip, tromp and explore the garden.

As a child gets older the attention span increases and they are willing to do more tasks in the garden.  Include their friends in planting or maintenance projects, harvesting or garden parties.  If the child is artist encourage drawing or painting flowers.  If the child has an interest in science, provide a seed starting kit or a microscope.  Give children a garden of their own.  Don’t lecture if it goes to weeds.  Let them use tropical plants if they want.

Interest children by picking plants for the garden that have special features.  A Venus’s-Fly-Trap is way more cool than Radish!  Choose plants with sweet scents or foul odours.  Show children the different textures of plants, are they fuzzy, prickly, fluffy, waxy or sticky?  Pick plants that do tricks; the bloom of an Obedient plant stays put when you move it, grow Giant Sunflowers, funky Gourds, Indian Corn or Blue Potatoes.  Tell fascinating stories about the plant; that old Oak tree was growing there before Gramma was born.  Read books about plant folklore and turn the garden into something magical.  Plant Green Beans on poles tied into a teepee shape large enough for the child to sit under.

Create interesting areas in the garden.  Winding paths and stepping-stones create mazes, interesting patterns and puzzles.  Have an area with plants that are edible so an active child can stop for a quick nibble.

Let your children learn to enjoy the garden before they learn how to garden.

 

 

 

FALL GARDEN CHORES

 As an experienced gardener you have probably learned over the years that fall is a good time to do a lot of work in the garden.  The weather is cool and comfortable for working, and there is no rush as long as you finish before the snow arrives.  Some gardeners prefer to do nothing in the garden in the fall, and leave all the tasks until next spring.

As a new gardener you are probably in a panic wondering what you should be doing at this time of year.  There are many fall chores to do in the garden, some may be considered a high priority, while others are optional.  The chores you don’t do in the fall can be accomplished in the spring, however, this can leave you with a lot of work to do next spring.

Most fall chores simply have to wait until late fall, especially cutting back the tops of plants.  These plants need to go into dormancy on their own natural schedule.  If you cut the plants back too early, they may produce a sudden flush of  tender new growth which will become damaged as the colder weather arrives.  Late October or early November is a good time to complete this chore in Zone 5.

Early fall is a good time to edge your gardens, create new beds, or move and divide plants.  A good rule-of-thumb for moving and dividing: * if it blooms between early spring and late June, divide and move in early fall  *if it blooms after late June, move and divide in the spring.

Clean up the garden by removing any weeds while they are still actively growing, you won’t be able to find them in the spring and then they will be around to haunt you all next season.  Continue to deadhead your perennials, this will encourage many plants to continue blooming until late fall.

Early fall is a good time to reevaluate your garden.  Take pictures, make notes.  What would you like to change next year, new plants you may like to add, what were the successes and failures in your garden this year?  Mark plants you want to move next spring.  If you don’t make these notes, by next spring you will likely forget.  If you have plants which you don’t like, remove them now.  If a plant has become invasive remove the excess growth and try to control the clump by adding an edging material around it.

Be careful if a friend has a plant they are thinning out of their garden and offers you some free.  They may be invasive and in a few years you will be digging, removing and giving away the same plant.

Fall is a good time for bargain hunters.  Many garden centers begin to clear their stock and you can buy plants, mulch and soil at reduced prices.

Fall is an ideal time to plant.  The weather is cooler and generally moist, allowing the plants to become well established before winter arrives.  If you want to add some spring blooming bulbs such as tulips, daffodils, allium or crocus, fall is the only time to plant these bulbs.  If squirrels are a problem in your garden digging up plants, add some daffodil bulbs near the plants.  Squirrels hate the smell of daffodils and will go elsewhere to dig.

Once the colder weather arrives, and there have been a few good hard frosts, it is time to begin the last chore of the season.  This is the time to clean up the garden by removing dead foliage and debris which may provide a nice winter home for insects, disease and small rodents.  If your garden is new, it may be advisable to leave cutting back the perennials until the spring, this way you will be able to identify the plants in the spring and you will also be adding some winter interest to the garden as the snow mounds on top of the plants.  Ornamental grasses add great winter interest to the garden with their tall golden foliage swaying above the snow cover.

Tender plants benefit from not being cut back in the fall.  The foliage traps the snow and provides an extra layer of insulation.  Perovskia, Buddleia and Roses should not be cut back in the fall.  Wait until spring and then remove the dead stocks after the new spring growth begins.

Once your gardens have been put to bed for the season you can find a warm and comfortable spot to put your feet up and relax for a few months.

 

 

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