Meet Mark Cullen

Canada's best known gardening personality, Mark Cullen believes that Canadians of all ages need to play more - preferably in the dirt. A best-selling author with over 400,000 books in print, Mark reaches over one million Canadians every week through various media outlets. He is Home Hardware's horticultural spokesperson and regularly contributes to various magazines, gardening shows and newsletters. With a familiar style that people can relate to, he delivers a message that is compelling, fun, informative and inspirational - all based on his organic approach to gardening. In his spare time Mark enjoys driving his Ford Model A - and of course he loves to garden.

The Biggest Planting weekend of the year...

The biggest planting weekend of the year is finally upon us. This is THE time that all Canadian gardeners wait all year long for (with more apologies to my friends in Newfoundland who may choose to wait until the full moon of June, which occurs in the 3rd week this year).

If you are heading out to your favourite garden retailer this weekend, here are a few things that you should keep in mind:

What to do before you buy:

- Be sure to have prepped your soil before you plant. It is wise to do this before you buy your plants as the soil will be ready for you just as soon as you get home with your new plants.
- When buying bedding plants (e.g. geraniums, petunias, impatiens, etc.) look for strong, stocky plants with deep green leaves. Yellowing leaves are an indication that the plants are hungry and ‘malnourished’.
- Avoid plants that are lanky, overgrown and/or with roots growing out of the bottom of the cell pack/pot. Why? Because they will not put roots down into your soil as readily or as quickly as a plant that has young ‘white’ roots that are aggressively looking for a new home.
- Notice that I have not suggested that your new plants should be in bloom. Why? Glad you asked this one too… the only good reason to look for a plant in full bloom is to confirm that it is the colour that you are looking for. Even the best of growers/retailers get their plant markers mixed up. However, generally speaking the more the bloom, the slower the plant will take producing new roots. Be patient and the blooms will come.

When new plants are home.

When you get your new plants home store them on the shady side of the house or garage until you are ready to plant. It is cooler there and the sun is your enemy. If you allow young transplants to dry out they will ‘harden off’ and take much longer to set down new roots (notice a ‘new roots’ theme developing here?).

Be sure to water your newly acquired plants while still in their containers using either compost tea (which you make by steeping a pillow case ½ full of compost in your rain barrel or a large bucket overnight) or a mild dilution of 20-20-20 fertilizer. This will help to establish the plants quickly once you get them into their new soil.

Be sure to:
- Plant your new plants quickly. You can hold them for up to 7 days without harm.
- Prepare the planting soil before you get home with your new plants with generous quantities of compost
- Have your tools ready before planting: clean and sharpen your digging tools, re-connect your garden hose and get ready to plant!

What to do when planting:

- Dig the hole wider and deeper than the root mass of the new plant.
- Drop the plant into the hole and push the soil around it using some ‘umph’ – a grunt is appropriate here. And the main reason why I prefer to plant by myself. There is a lot of grunting.
- In most cases new roots will develop around the main stem of the plant below the surface of the soil. This is especially true for tomatoes which always perform better when planted deep.
- If you are planting on a sunny day and in dry soil it is important to get your new plants watered within a few minutes of planting. If you see your plants wilting in the sunshine – before or after you plant them in the ground – be sure to water immediately.

Now here is the tricky part: most newly planted transplants do poorly due to overwatering. An experienced gardener just simply knows when to water and when to back off. For the first time gardener my best advice is that you push your finger into the soil about 2 cm or an inch deep. When the soil is dry to 2 cm then you can water.

The Magic of the Rain Barrel.

While I am on the topic of water, here is a priceless tip: use water from your rain barrel whenever you can.
Sure it may be more convenient to apply water to your newly planted garden from the end of a hose, but keep this in mind:
- As rain falls from the sky it becomes ‘oxygen charged’ and ALL plants love oxygen.
- It is warm. The thermal nature of water (a great insulator) means that the water being stored in your rain barrel is much warmer than that which blasts from the end of your hose. Your new plants will not like a cold shower any more than you do.
- It is free, convenient and soft.

If you don’t have a rain barrel or two, I would strongly recommend that you get them.

The selection of plants at retail garden centres and specialty hardware/building centres is at its’ very peak this week. I urge you to take a drive over and see what is in stock: but be sure not to buy more than you can reasonably plant over the next week.

Keep your knees dirty, like that is going to be a problem!