Thursday, June 15, 2017

Mild Winter = Bugs Every Where! Look Closely!

With this past mild winter, our wet early spring and now the heat and humidity; bugs are reproducing rapidly.

So far, I've seen aphid clusters by the thousands:

 Mealy Bugs:

Viburnum Beetles:

 Hydrangea Leaftier Moth Larvae:

Rose Plume Moth Larvae:

A positive note: whenever there are years of plague like proportions, remember there are natural controls, like this Lady Bug larvae feeding on aphids below. Please look carefully. Beneficial insects are in full force - fighting the good fight. Instead of using chemical sprays, use high pressure water controls, pruning techniques and boosting the health of the plant. Save beneficial insects like Lady Bugs and their larvae, as well as parasitic wasps, lacewings and the birds. We NEED them! Chemicals are not the answer.

We may complain about our harsh winters here in Ontario, but I welcome them. The severe cold kills many overwintering insect adults and eggs. And that, we need!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Pet Peeve - Mulched Trees (aka the Coned Volcano)

So many new trees are going to be planted in the next few weeks.  I wonder how many will be mulched like this disaster:

This may be a harsh opinion, but it's warranted. Not only has the tree been planted too "proud" (meaning not level to the soil), but not only do we have the "cone" flared up mound, but we have red dyed mulch. Notice something else?  The plastic tree guard at the base of the tree is also nearly buried.

What happens to the tree trunk when mulch covers the bark?  Think about this comparison. What happens to your finger when you wear a bandaid wrapped around?  Your skin becomes soft, wrinkled and sometimes when you wear it a long time, the skin peels - right?  Well, the same thing happens to bark. Moisture, insects and possible mould will perpetually be in contact with the young bark tissue and possible suckers may develop.  Not what you need to establish a young tree.

Years later, the tree will continue to need mulch to cover this mound, like in the photos below.

To me the roots and the base of the tree would better be suited at grade - so that water can pool and collect during the heat of the odd summer shower. Snow melts quicker on these cone mounds.  Also the suns rays will bake the soil beneath quicker. Needless stresses; if only a proper planting and placement of mulch was achieved from the onset.

Below are better samples of tree plantings.

Here's why:

  • Using natural shredded bark mulch knits together. It suppresses weeds and keeps the roots cool - protecting them from the elements
  • Creating a crater in the middle ensures mulch doesn't touch the bark of the young tree

The mulch is spread to the width of the canopy of the newly planted tree. Granted, the tree will grow wider and thus the high edges (surplus) can be raked further out when the tree starts to branch out further. This is called the drip-line.

  • The crater not only helps keep the mulch away from the trunk, but when you fill a water bladder (the green bag) it helps to stabilize it. This is fantastic. If you are watering a tree on your own property, you can localize the water in the crater without it running off.
  • A lawn mower or string trimmer is unlikely to cause tree trunk damage when the tree is mulched well.

Here is a diagram resource as to how we are to mulch trees:
Diagram by: Arbor Day Foundation
Another resource:

Diagram by: Harvest Power
With all the info available, I still can't understand why mulching is still done in the volcano-cone style.

Please be aware,

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Toronto's High Park - Native Plant Sale: May 7th, 2017

If you live in the Toronto area and would like to know more about and to buy native plants  - please visit High Park's Native Plant Sale. Sunday May 7th, 2017

Here's their info and website:

High Park Stewards Native Plant Sale

Sale Location: In front of the High Park Greenhouses. (Plants for sale are subject to availability.) For more information go to or

"The plants in this sale are grown in the High Park greenhouses by volunteers as part of the High Park Stewards program. They are sold to encourage the use of native plants in home gardens and are perennial, except where noted. You can learn about the plants in the rare black oak ecosystem in High Park, and help restore its ecosystem by joining High Park Stewards events. This list is subject to plant availability."
What's available:

Plants for sun, shade, wet name it!
Link --->


Some restrictions: " For fairness, the maximum number of plants available per person before 1:00 pm is restricted to small orders. After 1:00 pm, larger orders can be filled, depending on the number of plants available. " 

Sign up to volunteer!

Help our gardens and pollinators flourish! Please go!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Heidi, What's Wrong with my Hinoki Cypress? It's going brown!

Growing Hinoki Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa nana) in Southern Ontario can be a challenge at times, considering we get whopper winters occasionally. So when I was asked this question - I was hesitant to think winter damage.

From far, yeah, the cypress was quite brown. Don't jump to conclusions, but rather take a closer look.

No browning was coming from the inside of the plant, but instead on its tips.

These are in fact pollen cones.

Conifers fall under a classification known as Gymnosperms. They don't have flowers like other classifications (Angiosperms). They instead bear cones within their scale leaves which later develop seed for reproduction.

What you are seeing, are swelling cones borne at the tips of the scale foliage of the cypress. They will age brown but for now are almost reddish pink.

I will update in a week or so, when the pollen is ready to be released.

Not to worry, this plant is happy and ready to reproduce - bearing seed cones later in the summer.

It's a good time to mulch beneath the plant and water if rains are infrequent. Overall - a happy plant. Nothing wrong. Just the plant doing its thing...

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Rose Mildew - Podosphaera pannosa (on Rosa glauca)

I'm sure I'm not the only one who is concerned about Southern Ontario winters and spring thaws.  We never seem to get a slow warm up in spring anymore. Instead, there's constant fluctuations; +10˚C one day, -8˚C the next.

One of the results of these fluctuations, is mould and fungus development on many plants.

I just walked through the gate and noticed something on our hardiest of roses. 

Do you notice it?

Rosa glauca is one of the main pollinator plants we use to attract insects and birds to the garden. 

Rosa glauca's simple, single flowers attract so many pollinators. It's so lovely to watch and the flowers say nothing but hello and bring vibrance to a dark corner.

Great silver/blue foliage allow the orange-red hips to jump out in contrast. Birds love these hips.

Incredibly tough and hardy, there aren't too many disease issues with this rose at all.

I've never dealt with mildew on this rose before, but as I bent down the stems to see the powdery white mass that I spotted way above my head, it revealed more on the other side.

In fact, I found about 6 younger stems with this white furry coating.

I pruned it back to about 12" below the coated area to avoid any mildew from coming in contact with other stems or the stem it was cut from.  Be thorough with removal and try not to dislodge any mildew or let it come in contact with any remaining stems.

Do not compost these stems. Burn or put them out for yard waste pick up. This stem (above) was sitting in our yard-waste pile a day after pruning and you'll see the mildew age to a light brown/mocha colour.  I tucked it down into the bin, so that no spores would become air-born and invade other plants near by.

As I examined the stems closely, the mildew spores invade the breathing holes called lenticels of the stem. Eventually spreading into a cottony mass. If left, the mildew would reach the buds and cause the leaves to be coated as well as the flower buds. Eventually stunting the plant, making it lose vigour and possible flowering ability.

Once leaves start to emerge, I will examine the rose more thoroughly to see any overlapping branches or growth that requires thinning out - which helps to promote more air circulation and a better tidied appearance. This is rose we generally allow to ramble and become large. I rather hate pruning it needlessly.

Heavy sigh...

At least finding it now has been one great preventative - so that we can enjoy a healthy plant this upcoming summer.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Overwintering Kale

Kale.....yummmm....kale. We bought this variety last summer called: Russian Red.

The great aspect of harvesting kale as it grows, it gets taller and taller, which helps deter it from too much slug damage and makes it easy to pick leaves.

Last year we grew it in pots; we grew it in perennial beds and we grew it in our herb garden.

Our herb garden is slightly shaded on one side and protected from serious winds. Sparing it from the compost, I left it with overwintering hopes. Lo' and behold, it did survive. Thankfully our winter was milder than expected.

I had spring hopes for this particular plant. We heaped leaves and debris over the base of the roots to help insulate it. Even though we enjoyed as many leaves from it as possible, I made sure to spare the top bunch of leaves to keep the plant alive. The flavour of kale is enhanced due to the cold weather, so the others we grew in our other locations were completely harvested. They were so tasty.

Now as you look closely, the buds along the main stem are starting to open.  This was my hope for the spring. Yay!

We will harvest small plant-lets as they unfurl and put them in salads or stir fries. Will let you know if they are bitter or whatever taste emerges. As it keeps growing, we hope it bolts and provides us with seeds for this coming summer to keep the cycle of plants going.


So happy to see other plants peaking through as well:

Raddichio is a hit and miss, so we are happy to see some return for our salads this spring.

Parsley too.

Makes us happy to have a few plants we can harvest from this spring. Helps take the edge off waiting to see our tiny seedlings give us hope for summer harvests.

Hope you've had some luck overwintering tender plants in southern Ontario too.  So glad spring is here!


Update on Kale:

It's now, May 7th and the Kale has grown over a foot taller with more "florets" and leaves for us to enjoy. I will use as much as we can before it bolts and sets seed. I thoroughly am enjoying this extended season of harvest. We've eaten the florets from the stem in salads and stir fries. So yum!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Indoor Asparagus Fern Plant - Asparagus densiflorus "Sprengeri"

This drooping form of Asparagus fern (Emerald Feather), needs a haircut each spring. It's beginning to thin at the top and get rather bushy at the base. This is a great plant for a hanging basket or in a raised planter.

I see so many different treatments of pruning for this plant, so I thought I would show you how I manage to keep its natural pendulous form.

This room gets moderate light and because it lives happily on a raised plant stand, we still enjoy the long stems to nearly reach the floor.

Wear GLOVES, please!
Before beginning any pruning, please be aware: Asparagus fern plants have spiny thorn like barbs - especially on older woody growth. WEAR GLOVES when handling this plant. Or ouch!

Can you see them? Tiny. Be careful!

First, get a good look from all angles. Get your gloves on and peak beneath those long trusses of growth.

With your gloves, pull back to reveal dead wood, browning stems and leaves that are dry and falling off. Comb with your gloves downwards to get rid of the dead bits. Be thorough. And don't worry, breaking a few stems in the process isn't going to hurt the plant. Prune out any yellowing stems or stems that are weak and not robust.

You want to avoid cutting younger growth. One trick to recognize them from the old is their lack of thorny barbs. See, no gloves to prove a point.

Another way is to see the colour variation.

The older stems are thicker and darker green.

I recommend cutting a third of the old stems back right from the base of the soil.

Go back to the top of the pot. You'll see brown, woody stems that emerge from tuber nodules (lumpy bumps) at the soil level. Don't damage those bumps by pruning the woody stems.  Just cut above.

From the base, gently tease the stems you cut out from the mass of growth and doing this will help generate younger growth to emerge from the top.

Next, figure how long you want to reduce its length.

Grab all the stems and gather them into a pony tail. Cut right above your grasp.

Don't stop there...

The healthy stems remaining need a trim as well. First look for bud axils along each stem. Find really healthy robust joints and start to thin out. Select 1 in about 10 stems like this and give them a cut back.

To show you better contrast, I've laid the cut stem on my jeans so you can see where to cut. Those buds just nestled in the joint of stems and leaves will become new stems.  Cutting some of this lengthy growth in half will bulk up the centre of the plant, as well as force new growth to emerge from the soil. This is key, or you will always have a bulky base and thin top to your hanging plant.

There, a little more even. No more puddling of stems on the floor. No more dead wood or browning leaves. Healthier all around.

Try it yourself!

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