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.

Low maintenance gardening = mulch, mulch, mulch

Golfers and sailors, listen up! June and July are ‘Mulch Months’.

I know that this may come as a surprise to some of you, especially as I announced that June was mulch month in my newsletter ( however, June mulching was such a success that I decided to hold it over for one more month.

What is mulch and why is it important to virtually every Canadian gardener?

Glad you asked, as there is really no other activity in the garden that will both benefit your plants and free up your time for other things like golfing and sailing quite like it.

By definition, mulch is “A protective covering placed on the earth around growing plants esp. to prevent moisture evaporation, protect roots from freezing and to retard the growth of weeds.” (Websters II)

You spread mulch to reduce weeding by about 90% the first year, reduce watering by up to 70% and provide an insulated area in the root zone of your trees, shrubs, evergreens, roses, perennials and veggies that encourages the very best in garden performance.

Other than that, there is little need for it.

I love to mulch. I love it so much that I would classify spreading my favourite mulch as one of my top 3 garden activities. Why, its’ right up there with planting and composting!!

Now – anytime in the early summer – is the perfect time to add mulch because the hot, dry weather is just ahead of us. And the weeding season is upon us.

My favourite mulch is finely ground up cedar or pine bark... emphasis on the ‘finely ground up’ part. You buy this stuff by the bag, cubic yard, truck load or, if you are lucky enough to live near a lumber mill, you don’t buy it at all. You cart it away and the mill operators thank you for taking care of a waste headache. This is your compensation for living near a lumber mill.

I spread bark mulch over most of my garden 5 cm thick. This seems to be the magic amount as less than this will allow weeds to push through quickly and more can smother otherwise healthy growth on your favourite plants.

I use other forms of mulch, especially in the veggie garden. I use 2 or 3 ‘wafers’ of clean straw (about 1/10 of a standard bale). At $4 bale, this works out to less than $.50 per tomato and man... does it save me a lot of time! And happy tomatoes? You have not seen such happiness since the ducks discovered your swimming pool in April.

Just spread the straw under the plants and over the soil loosely. Rain will settle it down onto the soil, providing the same kind of insulation value that the bark mulch provides to your ornament plants.

Right now is a good time to fertilize too. I know that I have said this in recent weeks, but this is about the last week that you would apply a ‘once a season’ fertilizer like ‘Feed and Forget’ ‘Once and Done’ will do the trick. After this week you would be best to use the more traditional once-a-month granular products... or, if you are an organic gardener, use compost tea.

Make compost tea by stealing an old pillow case from the bottom of the linen closet. She won’t miss it, besides; it likely has a picture of snoopy on it, which is why it was at the bottom of the pile. ½ fill it with finished compost or composted cattle/steer manure. Hang it on a string into your rain barrel or a big container of water for 48 hours to one week. No longer or it will begin to smell very bad.

Apply this compost tea to everything that you grow every time you water. You can’t go wrong.

Also, remember to stake tall growing plants. Delphiniums are coming into their best across much of the country. Think of this – you have waited all year for these perennials to finally bloom – don’t let a strong wind or a heavy rain fall mess them up after all of this!

Speaking of heavy rain, I have counted 5 thunder storms in the last week. Our 10 acre garden, located one hour north of Toronto, is well watered. And if there is any truth to the rumour that lightening super-charges the earth with nitrogen, then I can count on my tree collection providing us with record growth.

Only problem is that one of these electrical storms entailed a deluge of small hale…. Creating a blanket about 2 cm thick before it was through. Every one of my 100+ hostas has holes in the leaves about the size of a quarter.

The solution for hale damage on hostas?
A change of attitude is the only reasonable answer.

It is kind of like ‘how do I control deer in my garden?’ or ‘how do I get my husband to garden?’ – Questions to which there is no definitive answer. Except the ‘husband’ question. I find beer is a great enticer, especially early to mid afternoon.

The lightening does seem to have scared the ‘begeebers’ out of our 26 chickens. They have never laid so many eggs!

On that subject, I have the solution to ‘what to do with all of those broken clay pots’. I put them in a heavy plastic bag and bang them with a sledge hammer. Then I include the pieces in the chicken grit.

Time to get back to the mulch pile… ohhh, heaven, I am here!

Keep your knees dirty.