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.

Looking Out for the Bad Guys

My 19 year old daughter calls men who make not-so-subtle sexual remarks ‘creepers’.
I use the same expression for the green worms on my roses.

The English language is interesting, no?

She could care less about the creepers on my roses and I care very much about the creepers that she calls creepers. We live with our priorities. Someday she may be a parent and understand.

Speaking of green worms on roses, there is a generous quantity of creepers on a lot of the plants in my garden right now. Judging by the questions that are left on my website, there are a lot of garden creepers out there.

Not just bugs but diseases too.

Good Bugs.

My response to this, first off, is to remind you that 99% of the bugs in your garden are ‘good’ bugs. They are performing a function that is essential to the long term health of all that is going on both in the soil and on your plants. Many bugs are eating the bad bugs (e.g. lady bugs eating aphids) and many others are assisting in the complicated business of breaking down organic matter in your soil into humus – the foundation of all good soil (e.g. earth worms, sow bugs, centipedes etc.)

Now, when you find ‘bad bugs’ that exist in numbers too great for the good bugs to control, then you may have to call in the infantry. This can take a number of forms. On my potatoes, I hand pick the Colorado potato beetles for a while (how did they ever get to my garden anyway, over 4,000 kilometers from their home?). But let’s face it, there is a limit to that. For one, you may not have the stomach for squishing the larvae in your fingers –even with gloves on. Also the potato bug can grow in numbers very quickly and literally get out of control.

Potato Beetles.

As an organic gardener my ‘infantry’ for the potato beetle is ‘Dio’ or diatomaceous earth. Harmless to the earth, kids, pets and you. It is sold everywhere as a powder. You just puff it on from the squeeze container and make sure that you get it under the leaves of the plants where the bugs ‘harbor’ (which means “mate” and “eat”) and do most damage. The goal is to make contact with the potato bugs. They walk on it and their under bellies dry up and they die of thirst. (Would you rather squish them with your fingers? O.k., so it pays not to think too much about the details.) Reapply when it rains, if the problem persists.

For the green worms on my roses I use Green Earth insecticidal soap. This is not to be confused with Palmolive or whatever – it is a scientifically selected fatty acid with insecticidal properties. It does most of the work for you where insects are concerned and is considered safe for use around pets and kids.

Spider Mites

One ‘hard to kill’ insect is the dreaded ‘spider mite’. Common to Dwarf Alberta Spruce and many garden variety flowering plants, this one hates water. To find spider mite on your plants, hold a piece of white paper under the plant while shaking it. If tiny coarse ‘grains of sand’ drop down onto the paper – especially grains of sand that move, you do not have sand but mites.

I discourage mites by using a strong blast of water from the end of the hose – the pistol grip hose attachment works well. Or just hold your thumb over the end of the hose for a coarse spray. I find that this works until my thumb goes numb from the cold and the pressure. Spray the infected foliage with water every day for a week, every second day for another week. Keep your eye on this one.

I continue to cut down young weeds with a sharp hoe. Use a ‘bastard’ file to sharpen your hoe every time that you use it. This makes the difference between hard work and a barrel of fun. O.k., not a barrel, but a bucket. A small bucket.

I am busy deadheading roses and peonies and staking my helianthus and delphiniums. Anything that has grown tall enough in your garden to risk being blown over by high winds should be staked. I like the new heavy wire ‘link stakes’ that you can purchase from Home Hardware.

I think that the garden is about 2 to 3 weeks away from its peek in colour production. If your garden is dominated with annual flowering geraniums, petunias, impatiens, etc. then yours will ‘peek’ later than mine, which is mostly flowering perennials and roses.
Keep all of this in mind with your camera not too far away. A visual record of your garden in progress will be an inspiration come winter and will spur you on with all kinds of ideas for change come next spring.

Which is one of the great beauties of gardening as a hobby. Every year provides additional opportunities to change and improve on the previous years’ garden. Winter is our time to dream. Spring our time to plant and sow. Summer is our time to wallow in the fruits of our labour – both the edible kind and the eye candy. And to keep an eye out for the bad guys.

Enjoy! And keep your knees dirty.