Sunday, December 04, 2016

Creating Christmas Outdoor Designs from Plants in Your Garden

Decided this year I'd make a set of outdoor Christmas planters from evergreen plants we have in the garden. Having made so many designs over the years, it's time to reuse  the accents and items I have saved and come up with a way to make inexpensive, lovely planters for this holiday season.

If you're like me, you probably have a box just like this....stashed away in the garage.

Given I live in Ontario, we don't have the same plants like the imported boughs (oregonea, princess pine, douglas fir or western cedar) and floral grade materials (eucalyptus, salal, magnolia). But there are so many other choices we can use to have a similar effect.

In this sample, I reused all our accents from the past 3 years. I added cuttings from plants such as:

1:  Boxwood

2: Yews

3: Junipers

4: Ivy

5: Euonymus

6: Birch (also reused from past years)

7: Dogwood

Other selections you can use too:

  • Holly
  • Ilex
  • Spruce
  • Sumac
  • Hydrangea
  • Alder
  • Cedar
  • Rose-hips
  • Pussywillow

I pruned all the cuttings in ways to promote a balanced habit. Do not butcher the best parts of the plant in order to fill your planter. Think of thinning and adjusting shape. Just layer and remember your accents can hide blunt ends.

Don't forget:  the bottom branches off your live Christmas tree work great too!

Follow the directions on how to layer and place within your planter on one of my previous blog DIY posts and here...have fun designing.

Reuse and add anything that you have saved.

Use what works for you and you'll be able to make beautiful arrangements that are welcoming for this Christmas season!

Here I just added some artificial dyed magnolia stems for a punch of red!
Apart from buying these 3 red accents, designing these 3 outdoor creations didn't cost me one penny. All reused materials from years past and a few cuttings from the garden, these planters still look great!

Enjoy this Christmas season and perhaps plan for 2017's garden, by adding some plants which can carry you through designing Christmas planters for next season.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Plant Profile: Gladiolus callianthus - Abyssinian Sword Lily, Peacock Orchid

One of the reasons I love walking is seeing other gardens along the journey.

I happened along these flowers last week and unlike the common gladiola, these peaked my interest.

The gentleman raking the leaves allowed me to photograph the flowers after I stood there and examined them for a while. He mentioned they were fragrant. And quite so! I wanted to ask him more questions, but he went out back and with my phone I snapped the following.

Gladiolus callianthus (murielae). Zone hardy to 7b.

It's a member of the gladioli family, originating from East Africa. Their bulbs (corms) are to be planted in spring. Not winter hardy in Ontario, you must remove them before the onset of heavy frosts.

Given this is the warmest November I can recall, they continue to bloom and give interest to the garden, when most everything is slowly retiring for the winter.

Great choice for the sunny spot in the garden. Not many fragrant flowers are around this time of year. A real treat for walk-by enjoyment.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Rust on Roses - Phragmidium tuberculatum

Now that it's November, leaves are dropping everywhere.  Yet, this David Austin Rose  doesn't seem to want to let them go!

Notice anything wrong with the leaves?

Those brown/reddish speckles are not normal.

Turning this set of leaves around, do you see the little orange bumps?

This is called Rose Rust (caused by a parasitic fungus called: Phragmidium tuberculatum). Very common, among numerous rose cultivars, especially older hybrids. Some roses are far more susceptible to it than others.

Given the rose will eventually drop its leaves anyway - I removed every one from the rose and they will go in the garbage. This form of rust persists until the leaves drop and if I don't remove them from the site, the probability is higher for the rust to return next year. The best is to destroy or toss in the bin.

I've seen rust so bad on roses, that large lesions can be seen on the stems as well. Thankfully, in this circumstance, I didn't notice any.

Usually I give the roses a hard cut back in the spring, but in this case, I hit it back hard to promote air circulation over winter and come spring. Poor air circulation is one of the main causes of rust developing.

Rust can weaken the plant, diminishing flower bud development. What's a rose without its bloom?

There are fungicides on the market, but I rather use this preventative method, in hopes it will not return next year.

The black pimples, or pustules are the ones that over winter for next year.  The photo above shows how the orange bumps begin to darken to black. This is why you must remove the leaves.

Leaf removal can be done in the summer too, as many roses will respond by re-foliating.

Well worth the effort.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Evergreen Hedges - Gone Wrong

Manicured, healthy hedges that are done right, add valuable structure to the garden. They help lead you along the garden path, or keep you out - depending on their purpose.

I want this post to be about what could of been done to achieve the desired look intended.

I witnessed the installation of this hedge - this past July. Everything in me wanted to go out and speak to the workers and owners of the home, but it wasn't my place and now I feel bad.

Ways this went wrong:

1)  Planting time: wrong month and what was the driest summer the GTA has seen in a long time. Hedges like this should be planted in late May and or mid-late September. Spring and early fall planting gives the plants a chance to acclimate to their new situation; when cooler temperatures allow developing roots to grow. Strong root development would give the evergreens more stamina in the heat of the summer.

2) Distance from the sidewalk: this is where most folks go wrong. I get you want to have a perimeter border to your property, but two major factors need to be considered first:
  • Municipal sidewalks are not your own: City of Toronto maintains them and provides winter maintenance and the occasional removal and repair of concrete. Since these yews were still young in stature, their mature size would eventually hug the sidewalk edge and you can't prevent outsiders from damaging the evergreens when they perform maintenance. Salt damage, the occasional "whoopsie" - you know, when the slice of a plough blade scrapes into your turf.  Not to mention any infrastructure they need to access below can easily cause hedges to be damaged. You need to think long term when designing a hedge location.
  • Foot traffic and dog urine. Enough said.
3) Not considering mature sizing when selecting their location. Depending on the evergreens chosen, certain cultivars require more pruning then others. To have nice thick hedges in the GTA, I'd recommend you allow at least 18-20" breadth of growth to help sustain its health. The aim is trimming the hedge nicely into shape as it fills in. These yews, I'm afraid, are too close to the walkway and will require more heavy shearing to maintain shape. You need to keep the foliage and branches away from foot traffic.

4) Position relative to sun/wind exposure.  This house faces North, placing the sidewalk on the north/west facing exposure. Sun refracts heat off of the concrete, not to mention the roadway, which has no boulevard grass to buffer the sun's rays or salt spray from salter trucks.

5)  Soil prep is key before planting. A trench should be dug twice as wide as the container and the soil should be thoroughly amended with amazing soil, mixed with existing soil prior to installation. A great top dressing of composted mulch would be a total bonus. 

Here is an example of how a hedge along a walkway can be done successfully...

Photo courtesy of Dirt Simple: 

Great hedging lines are enhanced with a buffer zone of mulched earth and a 2 foot turf boarder in front of the Yews. This will help keep foot traffic and municipal "paws-off", and prevent any possible removal or damage by others.

Well done, Dirt Simple!

Friday, October 07, 2016

Red Banded Leaf Hopper - Graphocephala coccinea

It's the beginning of October and as we start to prep for autumn clean up, I noticed our David Austin Rose has set a bunch of new buds and on closer inspection, I noticed these beauties.

Wow. I've seen dozens of leaf hoppers before, but this Red Banded Leaf Hopper (Graphocephala coccinea) is beautiful! I tried taking several cell phone photos, but at this size I couldn't capture their intense colour properly.

Leaf hoppers are sap sucking insects, and as they feed you'll see honeydew droplets excrete from their rear ends. If numbers were greater than the 5-6 that I saw on the rose, I would relocate them. Too many and they would suppress the sap from reaching the buds.

Completely yellow beneath, they can hop quite a distance from plant to plant anyways. I let them drink and do their thing. Incredible colour display, eh?

Nature is so beautiful.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Boxelder Beetle (Bug) - Boisea trivittata

You would think we have an epidemic on our hands with the way the media and public are going on about these tiny creatures.

Relax people, they are just Box Elder Beetles - Bugs, to be more specific. I've been gardening now for nearly 20 years and I see them EVERY autumn; gathering in large numbers and not once have I worried or fussed over their life cycle and purpose.

Boxelder Beetles basically eat what they are named after: Boxelder Maples, AKA Manitoba Maples (Acer negundo). Although they are also known to feed off of some fruit trees and other maples. They basically sap suck and any damage isn't noticeable on the foliage.

Acer negundo (Boxelder/Manitoba Maple)

These next photos I took, were a "sample" that was brought to me and the catalyst for me to make this post. Nearly each bug was dead. Brought in this container - having sat on the dash of a car, it's sad they clearly were dying from being taken away. I was further disappointed when I heard: "How can I get rid of them?"

Here is an up close pic:

I tried my best to be civil but I needed to emphatically educate them. On how important these critters are.

If you know anything about our natural environment around the GTA, you will have come across an Acer negundo (Manitoba Maples - Boxelder Trees) - I guarantee it.  They are everywhere. So this makes sense, no?  Logic dictates: great amounts of food source = more fauna and insects benefit from this food.

Pest Control Canada Photo of Boxelder Swarm

I am sure entomologists who study them will know more as to why numbers are higher some years than others. This is a phenomenon I have also been curious about.

The good news is - don't worry about them.  Actually, be grateful. If they are feeding on Acer negundo trees (which are becoming invasive and outgrowing other native shrubs and trees), don't you think this is a good thing? If they help suppress a bigger issue, then let's leave them be.

They gather on warm, sunny brick sides of houses during the autumn. I would too, if I had to find shelter during the colder nights of October. They are gathering and looking to overwinter in leafy matter, in wood piles, between patio furniture piled close to the house. So do yourself a favour: either clean up any mess around your house or just live with these insects. They do NO harm.

More great info on their life cycles and why:  Plant Natural: Boxelder Bugs

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Duckweed is a great Mulch!

Duckweed is a floating aquatic plant that just showed up one day in this pond. The plant probably hitched a ride on some water fowl which frequented the pond in early spring. Since then, Duckweed - a species of Lemna, has been gift: a floating food source for our Koi. We're thankful and allow it to do it's other thing: shade the pond - to help control algae. And it is a great means of camouflage for our frog, Kermi - who patiently waits for his next meal.

It has many aquatic benefits, but when the summer heat of August peaked 35ºC for several days and the humidity stuck around, the duckweed numbers exploded.

Too much and the pond would be overly shaded and the water lilies would suffer from lack of light. Even the Koi couldn't keep their numbers down! Gathering enough weekly, so that 1/3 of the pond was open for sunlight, I would usually skim it off the pond into a bucket and off to the compost heap.

However, I lazily tossed several screens full around some perennials and let them sit there a few weeks ago.

Going away for a few days, we realized how beneficial the dried out Duckweed became. It acted as a mulch. Retaining moisture levels and kept that section of the perennial border hydrated.


Now, Heidi gladly places it under Hostas, Ligularia, Peonies, Clematis....well you get the idea.

An inch or so of Duckweed knits together like a blanket of sorts, when dry. It's been ideal.

Kermi - our frog enjoys the pond as much as we do! He comes for a dinner call every time. 

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Biodiversity Booklets From Toronto's Public Library - Trees, Shrubs and Vines of Toronto

I'm beginning to realize so many folks don't know about the City Of Toronto's great resource booklets that have been published since 2009.

I've been collecting them ever since they were first released. They are free and the recent publications are available at any Toronto Public Library.

Great collections of photographs, drawings and specific ecological info relating to Toronto's biodiversity.

More info:  Biodiversity Booklets from Toronto's Public Library

Just recently, they released "Trees, Shrubs and Vines of Toronto".

What a great little booklet. I won't give away any spoilers, so - go out and get your own!

Soon to be available:

  • Mushrooms of Toronto
  • Bees of Toronto
Can't wait! 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Plant Profile: Rudbeckia triloba

Move over Rudbeckia fulgida! If you want abundant flowers, with a taller habit, well you've got to get some Rudbeckia triloba.

There is a love/hate relationship with this plant, but I am not sure why. It's done nothing but perform for me.

Rudbeckia triloba is a native plant to North America. Seen in a lot of fields or even roadsides in Central/Eastern United States. For me it's a welcomed performer in the perennial border - specifically in the tough areas where you need height and long blooming periods.

In this photo below, R. triloba is grown in the back. Nearly a foot taller than its relative: R. fulgida.

Rudbeckia triloba has smaller flowers than other Rudbeckias.  I have a real fondness for their delicate petals. They are wonderful to dry - great for craft making.

Be aware: it is an herbaceous biennial, acting somewhat like a perennial. I've had limited success in keeping the same plant growing for about a year or two, then having to be reliant on seedlings for the following year. I've seen it reach about 5 feet in height, but here: it's around 3 1/2 feet tall.

Alos known as "Brown Eyed Susan", its flowers can nearly bloom for 3 months!

In my experience, it has better drought tolerance than R. fulgida, R. hirta and a little less tolerant than R. laciniata. Very few pests are attracted to R. triloba. Just some spider mites when it gets really hot in the summer and some leaf minor.

Here are the differences:

Distinct tri-leaves - 3 lobed shaped leaves which give it its name. They develop by May and you'll see the growth rate is much faster than the other Rudbeckias.

Rudbeckia triloba is a fabulous pollinator plant. Providing pollen and seeds for nature. Not to mention winter interest with their brown centres.

If you are growing R. triloba in a lot of shade, it stretches thus requiring some sort of support. An odd twig or peony ring would suffice.

Here is a sample of a small R. triloba seedling: easy to transplant in early spring to relocate. Similar looking to the fulgida baby plants, but less pubescent (less hairy).

A good helping of leaf mould or compost around the root level in spring-time, and it'll perform beautifully.

If you have concerns of it spreading uncontrollably, then remove the spent flowers (if left will naturalize the garden).

Note, when handling:  wear long sleeve shirts when the plant is gaining height. I find I get an itchy arm (similar to Juniper itch) if I weed around the base. Thankfully, it grows quickly and once it reaches 2 feet in height, the growth will choke out any room for germinating weeds!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...