Finally that refreshing
time of year again. Geese are returning, days are lengthening, sap is flowing, buds are poised to open, the sun is more intense,
and the air smells of spring- earthy, wet and warm.
Cleaning up your garden in the spring requires a little more caution than at other
times of the year. Try to tread as carefully as possible-you may compact the soil if it is too wet and many plants can be
set back significantly if their growth is interrupted so early in the season. Plants may be slow to emerge, especially if
they are in the shade. Watch for the pointed furls of hosta leaves poking through the soil, mulch, or dense leaf litter. These
furls of tightly wrapped leaves may not extend to their full dimension for many weeks. If your hosta needs dividing this would
be a good time.
Research Before You Buy
You may be tempted to buy the first appealing plants you see at the nursery or garden
centre. Instead, record their names and do some research. Check the plants out with friends or neighbours, in resource books
or on the Internet. It can be very disappointing to have your heart set on a plant only to find that it won’t survive
the winter or in the location you imagined would be perfect for it. The plant may not be winter-hardy, needs moist shade and
your garden is in hot sun, grows to 5 feet (1.5 metres)-too tall for your garden, or maybe it grows too well and in 2 years
you will be yanking it out from where it stealthily invaded your entire garden. Another consideration is what the plant looks
like when it is not flowering. A closeup of the flower on a plant label is seductive but may not be a good representation
of the plant’s appearance without flowers. On the Internet you will usually be able to find images of the
entire plant and more details such as its hardiness zone. In our area, plants that survive the winter (or overwinter successfully)
are hardy to zone 4 and lower, while zone 5 is a bit uncertain. Hardiness zones for the United States (US) are about 1 zone
less than Canadian zones. Therefore, zone 5 in Canada is approximately equal to Zone 4 in the US.
Last Frost Date
Our last frost date, usually late in May or very early June, is about the earliest
that most plants can be safely planted outdoors. Though, cold-hardy species, such as pansies and some vegetables, can be planted
before this time.
After their flowers have faded, bulbs replenish
themselves through the continued growth of their leaves for a few weeks after flowering. Leaving the leaves intact until they
turn yellow or brown will help maintain the bulb’s longterm health.
Annuals as Space Fillers, or for Consistent Colour and Reliable Flowering in the Shade
Using annuals to fill spaces in or around the
edge of your gardens, until your perennials mature, is a good strategy. You may also use them in containers. Perennials typically
flower for a short time, perhaps 1 to 4 weeks, while annuals can be relied upon for consistent, reliable colour throughout
the season. Impatiens and Begonia flowers are favourites for reliable
growth and abundant flowers in shaded areas where few perennials will flower.
For vegetables that do better in cool weather, their seeds can be planted outside at the end of April, as
soon as the soil is workable, well before the last frost date. These cool weather vegetables include lettuce, spinach, other
salad greens, cabbages, broccoli, collards, and peas. For all other vegetables, seed packages will describe ideal planting
conditions as “plant when all danger of frost has passed, or when the soil has warmed up” to a certain temperature,
e.g. to 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit (18-24 degrees Celsius). Tomatoes are particularly sensitive to frost. Even a few degrees
above freezing will kill them. Warm-soil germinators, or plant seeds that require warm soil to germinate, include
carrots, squashes, herbs and beans.
Lettuce and Other Salad Greens
Once the hot weather arrives later in June, the lettuce and salad greens will slow down or stop producing
new leaves. Instead, they will send up tall, flower stalks and eventually seeds- this is called bolting. Some plants are described
as bolt-resistant, slow to bolt, or slow bolting. To avoid bolting, if you do not have one of the
few, bolt-resistant varieties, ensure that your salad greens are planted where they will receive some shade during the warmest
part of the summer. You can also stagger your planting by seeding rows or patches 2 weeks apart, with a
break in July, and continuing again in mid.-August when the days begin to cool. This staggered seeding means that the leaves
will mature at different times providing a continuous harvest for a good part of the summer. If you find it difficult to leave
dedicated space for seeds not yet ready for planting, you can cover those areas with layers of newspaper weighted down with
either rocks, a light sprinkling of soil, or straw. This will prevent weeds from taking hold and serve as a reminder that
the area will be planted later. A red leaf variety of lettuce, Red Vulcan,
(Canadian sources: West Coast Seeds –BC: https://www.westcoastseeds.ca, or Veseys Seeds –PEI: http://www.veseys.com) is one of the most bolt-resistant varieties I have grown.
Mulching and Edging
I like to consider mulch as the matte of a framed picture and the
garden edge as the border or frame. Both mulch and edging can provide a complimentary backdrop for your plants and garden.
But, be cautious again about applying mulch to established gardens early in the spring. Too early and you may smother any
newly emerging plants. Leaves that fell on your gardens in the fall can remain there as a natural mulch to
nourish the soil, discourage weeds, and conserve moisture.
spring and summer set aside some time to take photographs of your gardens and plants, and record what works and what doesn’t.
Often perennial plants take a few years to get established. For additional inspiration this year there
is a group of new Hostas called the Tini Series. If you haven’t used hostas
in containers before this might be the year, especially if the containers are in shade or partial shade. The Tini Series,
about 15 cm tall, include ‘Appletini’, ‘Saketini’, ‘Limetini’, ‘Azuretini’,
and ‘Lemontini’. In the fall the Hostas can be removed from their containers and buried in a garden for the winter. Happy gardening.
Sept. 16, 2010 -59-
Now that the summer heat has eased and lawns don’t need much mowing, there
are many things you can do in your vegetable and flower gardens this fall to give them a head start next spring. During the
summer, you might have even been wondering if you shouldn’t move some of your perennials around, maybe a sun-loving
Echinacea (coneflower) is getting too much shade or a clump of reed grass is looking sorrowful without more sun. Or maybe
a maturing tree is now shading what used to be a full-sun flower bed. You may even have some annuals that can be brought indoors
for the winter, and planted out again in the spring.
Bulbs in, bulbs out
Fall is also the time to
plant those spring flowering bulbs, including tulips, daffodils, crocuses, hyacinth, blue bells, and muscari. Other bulbs
already in your garden that will not survive a winter in Eastern Ontario include gladiolus, begonia, and dahlia. These flower
bulbs need to be dug up when they have finished flowering, dried, and stored indoors.
This is the best time of year to plant or transplant perennial flowers, shrubs or trees or divide perennials that
are outgrowing their space. Not only is this cooler and less sun-intense weather good for the plants, it is also more comfortable
for you. There is little risk of overheating and few, if any, black flies and mosquitoes. While the weather, in general, is
already favourable for planting or transplanting plants, the best days will be overcast or with a light drizzle of rain, or
even a day with rain forecasted in the following days. When plants are dug out there is a risk of their soil drying. You will
be trying to minimize stress on the plants.
The other advantages of fall
planting is that the garden centres usually mark down their prices at this time of year and without the swarms of customers
in the spring and early summer, staff will have more time to provide helpful information and suggestions, or answer your questions.
of fall gardening
plants are less expensive
fewer mosquitoes and blackflies
plants will bounce back faster in the spring
cooler temperatures and lower humidity
head start (you and the plants) on the next growing season
plants have time to establish and recover from transplant or planting shock
Begin with a plan
a good look at your gardens. Was there anything that did not perform as it should have, maybe fewer flowers, flopping flower
stalks, a reduced tomato crop? Or, maybe your plants were doing too well, they might have been thriving, shoving up against
other plants or overpowering them. You will probably want to divide or cut these plants back by removing some of the roots
or tubers. If you plant the surplus in pots, you can offer them to friends for their gardens, or use them to expand your own
Or did you find you had a lapse in flowering
at some time during the spring, summer, or fall, or did one flower colour dominate? Check out other gardens- did their hosta
cope with full sun, were there flowers that did really well in the spring and then disappear during the summer? Or, the plant
that was supposed to have a yellow flower turned out to be white instead. There always seem to be disappointments along with
the pleasant surprises and successes.
Take notes and record ideas
of what might be better in another location, what could be added, and what might need cutting back, or removed altogether.
I find that this method works best if I take some preliminary notes and then reconsider my ideas over a few days or weeks.
This gives me time to research and explore other options. The plant I had in deep shade that isn’t doing so well, might
really need partial shade. Height, form, and colour are other issues. I mistakenly planted some Rudbeckia flowers
at the front of one of my gardens. At four feet tall, they have been a conspicuous reminder all summer of my mistake. Easier
to reach the flowers for cutting, but this doesn’t help the lavender struggling behind it.
Reduce plant stress
Since you don’t want plants that you have removed from the garden to dry out or become overly stressed from
being transplanted, try to complete one garden renovation in a single day. Depending on what you plan to do, you may need
to set aside a few hours. You may also find that your plans change once you start digging. What might have looked good on
paper just doesn’t have the same effect in the garden.
Mulch and fertilize
time of year is also best for adding mulch to your flower beds. In the spring it is easy to accidentally bury the late-emerging
spikes of hosta with mulch.
Bonemeal is a granular fertilizer that promotes root growth- just what you want for your
plants as they settle into the slow-growth and dormant phases of the fall and winter. Sprinkle some bonemeal in the hole around
the plant before you top-up the final soil. How much? As a rough guide I add about 1 tablespoon for a small plant, 2 tablespoons
for a large plant, and 4 tablespoons or ¼ cup for a tree.
Tips for Success
◊ have a plan
focus on one
garden bed at a time
choose an overcast/cloudy/light rain day
water frequently if rain is scarce over the following weeks
have extra pails or large pots for temporarily holding plants that are being moved
lift and transplant/plant the same day to minimize drying and stress on the plant
keep lifted plants in the shade if you cannot plant them immediately, maybe with a moist blanket or towel surrounding the
sprinkle bonemeal around the plant/tree when the hole is almost full
Your vegetable garden can continue to produce even after a few frosts have flattened the tomato plants. Some vegetables
are just beginning to sweeten up in the fall: greens like Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, swiss chard, and collards; and
root crops like parsnip and horseradish. Kale can sometimes even survive the winter if the plants are left in the ground.
Brussels sprouts sweetened by frost taste so much better than the ones usually available in the grocery stores. If you swore
off these tasty min-cabbages when you were young, you may be pleasantly surprised what they taste like from your own garden.
Potatoes and carrots can be harvested after frost as well.
few years ago I read that sowing fall rye or winter wheat in the vegetable garden can enrich the soil and discourage weeds.
Typically weeds start inundating the garden early in the spring, before it is warm enough to plant any vegetables. A green
manure crop in the winter will slow the weeds down. Providing nourishment to the soil using green manure serves a similar
function to adding sheep, horse or cattle manure to the soil at spring planting time. Fall rye or winter wheat seeds are two
winter crops that have worked well for me, and they may also be the easiest seeds to plant- just throw them on top of the
soil. The seeds can be left like this or raked, rototilled, or turned into the soil by hand.
As soon as the snow is
gone in the spring, lush green growth will appear. Seeds sown in the fall may germinate before the snow arrives or after the
snow has melted. If you forget or don’t have time in the fall, the spring can work well too, just as long as you sow
the seeds late in the winter, or very early in the spring, even before the last of the snow has gone.
At spring planting
time, the green manure can turned into the soil with a rototiller, or by hand with a shovel or pitchfork. Fall rye or winter
wheat seeds can be purchased in bulk at your local farmers’ co-operative.
Rewards of fall gardening
Your planning and garden work in the fall will be rewarded with a garden that perks up quickly in the spring,
and takes full advantage of our short growing season. You will get more from your garden and spend less money in the process.
Much like the end-of-season clothing sales- the plant nurseries might not have all the selection that was available at the
start of the season, but discounted prices may make up for this.
Sit back and relax
the spring, when your neighbours are loading up on new plants, frenetically tidying their gardens, and trying to remember
what did/didn’t do well last year, you will be relaxing and spending more time enjoying your garden.