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.

A Fundraiser for the Windsor Hockey Heritage Society

~December 28, 2012

Let’s save the Hockey Heritage Museum in Windsor Nova Scotia!

I love to garden, but when I get the winter off, I love hockey just as much as gardening.

The Windsor Hockey Heritage Society in partnership with the Town of Windsor, King’s Edgehill School, Windsor Home Hardware and Howard Dill Enterprises (Long Pond) are working together to create an exciting fundraiser for the Windsor Hockey Heritage Society.

The event will be called the Birthplace of Hockey, Long Pond Heritage Classic. The event will be the ultimate hockey experience for the true hockey fan. The day will include a private viewing of the hockey museum, the chance to follow the historic footsteps of those youngsters at Edgehill School in 1800, by playing in a game on Long Pond, an after game meal, and an evening of hockey with like minded individuals. The players will keep their own unique jerseys, custom made hockey stick, as well as receive a tax receipt for $250. Organizers are expecting 72 players at $500 each. I recommend that you sign up soon. I have 8 guys planning to fly out there from the Toronto area. It will be a hoot for anyone that loves hockey!!

This event will take place on February 11, 2012.

For more information; watch the video ( and visit

The Perfect Hostess Gift

~ December 21, 2011

I get a greater response from this idea as a hostess/house warming gift of all.

During this busy time of year it's very important to say 'thank you' to those who go out of their way to entertain or those who you simply want to acknowledge as being special!
Why not leave them with a gift which will bring colour and beauty to their home in the New Year.
The Mark's Choice Amaryllis Kit comes complete with a decorative ceramic planter. My amaryllis are guaranteed to bloom. The bulbs are 'super-sized' and 22% bigger than most of the amaryllis sold in Canada. This means bigger flowers and more of them. Available exclusively at participating Home Hardware stores across Canada. (item# 5029-303, red and # 5029-304, striped). Be sure to pick up an extra kit for yourself.

Amaryllis: What to do After Blooming

Once your Amaryllis has finished blooming it requires some attention. Cut the flower stalk back to about 2" in height. Allow the leaves to continue to grow and water when the soil feels dry. This will allow the leaves to produce energy which the bulb will store for future blooms.
In the spring plant your Amaryllis (and the pot) in your garden. Find a location with partial shade and water during periods of drought. Fertilize regularly with a high phosphate liquid plant fertilizer.
In late September bring the pot indoors and cut back the foliage. Dry the bulb for 2 weeks at 65 degrees F and then store for about 10 weeks in a cool, dry, dark place. At the end of this storage period you will need to repot your Amaryllis bulb in fresh potting mix and start the cycle again.

Whether your host chooses to re-bloom their amaryllis or not, they will enjoy it and think of you often.

Let It Snow

~ December 14, 2011

Looking for the best insulater in the business for plants – one that is free? I have it for you – Snow. It acts as an insulator and protects your garden from the cold and frost. It is important to remember that a heavy snowfall can also cause branches to break and damage delicate plants. A few simple steps will help protect your yard against snow damage.

* Shake excess snow from the branches of trees, shrubs and hedges. This will ensure that your plants keep their desired shape.
Wrap conifers with string to support branches. Once a branch has been stretched out of shape it will not return to its original form.

* Avoid walking on your lawn when it is snow-covered. This can damage the grass and leave marks on the lawn which become visible in the spring. Driving across the lawn or walking on it during the winter can also encourage fungal growth leading to disease problems.
Be careful when clearing the snow from driveways and walkways. If you pile snow against your trees, shrubs or hedges it can cause further damage. The weight of the snow leaning against your plants can break branches or bend them out of shape.

Clearing snow and ice from your driveway and walkways can be a lot of work. Many municipalities have by-laws which state snow must be cleared within 24 hours following a snowfall. Consider these suggestions the next time you are faced with the daunting task of snow removal around your home. Avoid shoveling heavy snow by clearing the snow early and often.

If you are home during a snow storm it is a good idea to begin shoveling when a light covering of snow is on the ground. This will help you avoid moving heavy, packed snow.Warm up before you start snow removal to help reduce muscle strain or injury.Invest in a great snow shovel which is designed for 'pushing' snow rather than 'lifting'. Pushing the snow puts less stress on your body. If you must lift heavy snow make sure you use your legs. Lifting with your legs will keep the stress off your back muscles. Lift small amounts and through straight forward. Do not throw the snow over your shoulder or sideways. Twisting motions will also stress your back muscles.

* Use Alaskan ice melter to clear ice and prevent ‘salt’ damage to your precious garden plants.
Salt can be a gardener's nightmare. It can cause winter injury and dieback. Salt spray can desiccate foliage and runoff can injure roots. Salt runoff can also be absorbed by the plant and cause further damage to the foliage. Burlap barriers provide some protection against salt spray damage. Alaskan® Ice Melter is safe for use near vegetation when used as directed. It contains an environmentally inert TrueBlue marker that marks where the ice melter has been applied. The blue colour marker protects against over-application and allows you to see where you have placed the product to avoid contact with your plants.

Winterize Garden Tools and Last Minute Garden Prep

~ December 7, 2011

You have a substantial investment in garden tools and equipment, therefore I recommend that you spend some time with them before putting them to bed for the winter.

I recommend taking the time for preventative maintenance. This will extend the life of tools and equipment and make them work more easily and efficiently.
Remove dirt from all tools using a wire brush or water. Oil all pivot points and springs. Sharpen the cutting edges of shovels, hoes, spades, loppers and pruners. Replace or repair any broken or bent parts. As a final step, treat all bare metal parts and cutting edges with KL73 to prevent rust. This is a long lasting rust inhibitor which lubricates, penetrates and displaces moisture. KL73 is available exclusively at Home Hardware.

Store all tools indoors in a dry location. If you haven't checked out the full line of Mark's Choice cuttings tools, this is the perfect time. It is time to throw away or recycle your old broken tools and invest in the latest Canadian-made cutting tools. Available exclusively at Home Hardware, I chose these cutting tools for the Mark's Choice product line because of their exceptional quality and durability.

Before storing hoses away for the winter, drain all the water from them and store in a dry location. This significantly reduces the chance of hoses springing a leak. If your garden hoses are cracked and/or leaking, replace them with the Mark's Choice non-kinking, continuous flow hose. It is designed and made in Canada and features anti-kink technology. The fittings are the very best quality brass and I am proud to have this hose in the Mark's Choice line of gardening accessories available exclusively at Home Hardware.

While we are talking about ‘winterizing’ let us not forget to prepare evergreens for the winter ahead.
Sunny and windy winter days can dry out the needles of evergreens. Snow and ice can also accumulate on branches causing them to break. Use a double layer of burlap to protect evergreens during the winter. You can either loosely wrap the fabric around the plant, or build a screen. When you wrap evergreens with burlap, be sure to leave the top and bottom open about 1 foot to allow for air circulation. Another option, used for recently transplanted evergreens, is to insert 4 stakes in the ground around the plant and wrap the burlap around the stakes. Lightly fill the space between the burlap and the foliage with dry leaves. Bind upright evergreens, like cedars and junipers, with strong cord or Vexar Mesh to prevent the branches from being pulled out of shape by snow and ice.
Broad-leaved evergreens, such as rhododendrons and hollies, can suffer from desiccation and sun-scald during the winter. They should be shielded from the wind and partially shaded with burlap screens as soon as evening temperatures have fallen below freezing for a couple of weeks and sprayed with Wilt-Pruf, an anti-desiccant. Young evergreens should have the ground around them soaked thoroughly with water before the first big frost. This will help prevent desiccation or drying out.

To prevent rodent or deer damage apply Bobbex. In my experience it is the best repellent on the market. Note that it is the taste and smell of the stuff that keeps rabbits, mice and deer away. No harm to the animal. Go to for more info.

Spring-Flowering Bulbs in Containers

~ November 30, 2011

It never fails. Every year at this time I receive an email from a gardener who has forgotten to plant their tulip bulbs. My advice to them: Why not create a containerized display to impress the neighbours next spring?

This recipe also works with the bulbs you buy at the ‘end of season’ clearance sales.
Choose a large decorative planter with good drainage. Start with a layer of gravel on the base of the pot. This will keep the drainage holes clear of debris. Use a container soil mix which has peat, vermiculite and compost (Mark’s Choice Container Mix is excellent).

In order to maintain a succession of flowers, several types of bulbs can be planted in the same pot, providing it is deep enough. Be sure to plant the largest flowering bulbs on the bottom, smallest on top.

To make this simple, I created a variety of spring bulb collections that work well when creating a great show of several bulb varieties in one container. Look for the Mark’s Choice bulb collections at Home Hardware.

Add a layer of container mix, and place the biggest bulbs on this, such as Narcissi. Then add a further layer of container mix to about 2.5 inches and place the next layer, in this case, Tulips. Add a further layer of container mix and plant your final bulbs, such as crocus, and top the container off, finishing the soil an inch below the top of the pot to allow for watering. The result will be a beautiful display of colour which flowers in successive stages.

Bulbs in containers do not usually survive harsh winter temperatures. Make sure the container is free-draining and bury the whole thing in the garden for the winter. Another option is to keep the container in an unheated garage against the wall shared with the home. A cold cellar is the ideal place to over winter the container.
Remove it from cold storage or from the garden in spring when frost is out of the ground and place in the desired location.

Colourful Poinsettias

~November 23, 2011

If there is one thing that gets me into the Christmas spirit, it is the arrival of poinsettias at Garden centres. Right now they are full of ‘painted’ Poinsettias in all colours of the rainbow. Along with the traditional varieties, these holiday favourites make wonderful gifts for your family and friends.

Taking Care of your Poinsettia
With proper care your poinsettia will last through the holiday season and well into the New Year.
Place in a room where there is sufficient light and warmth, not where the sun will shine directly on the plant.
Avoid hot or cold drafts or excess heat from appliances, baseboard heaters or heat ducts.
Place the plant high enough to be away from traffic and unmonitored children and animals.
Set the plant in or on a waterproof container to protect your furnishings.
Water the plant thoroughly when the soil is dry to the touch. Remember to discard excess water for them saucer.
To prolong the bright colour of the bracts, temperatures should not exceed 72F during the day or 60F at night.

How to Re-flower a Poinsettia
It is not easy to maintain a healthy Poinsettia and have it flower again next year for the holidays. However, if you follow these directions carefully it is possible.
· December: Plant is in full bloom. Water as needed.
· February: Colour will fade. Keep Poinsettia near a sunny window and fertilize when new growth appears. Cut back to about 8”.
· June 1: Repot if necessary and fertilize. Continue to water when dry to the touch. Move outside it temperatures do not fall below 50F. Place in shade.
· Late August: Move plant inside. Cut stems back leaving 3 to 4 leaves per shoot. Place plant in a sunny window. Water and fertilize as needed.
· September 20 – December 1: Keep in light only from 8am to 5pm. Plant must be kept in complete darkness from 5pm to 8am.

While many Poinsettias will join the compost bin soon after the holiday season it is possible to keep these plants through the entire year.

For the Love of Trees

~November 16, 2011

Much has been said about the benefits of trees in our neighbourhoods – especially urban communities.

- Trees sequester carbon and produce prodigious amounts of oxygen.
- Trees filter pollutants from the air.
- Trees filter toxins from water and slow the ‘run off’ in extreme weather.
- Trees shade us and our living environment to the extent that they can save us hundreds of dollars a year on air conditioning costs and (placed properly) an evergreen tree can shelter a home from the cold blast of winter winds, thereby saving us heating costs.
- Trees are essentially noiseless (unless you count the sound of the wind passing through them), they don’t bark, require oil changes, diaper changes, fluid top ups, cleaning or feeding. Watering, yes.

Imagine a machine that could deliver so many benefits. What would you pay for it?
For some reason we seem stuck on the practical benefits of the trees that we live with. How much money they save us, how much comfort they give us. But has anyone actually sat down to quantify the unquantifiable? The ‘cheer’ that trees give us as urban dwellers?
In a recent issue of Canadian Business magazine, author David Owens’ new book Green Metropolis was reviewed. In his book Mr. Owen kicks holes in many of the traditional feel-good urban eco-projects, except for one: planting trees.

A quote from his book: “Planting trees along city streets, always a popular initiative, has high environmental utility, but not for the reasons that people usually assume: trees are ecologically important in dense urban areas not because they provide temporary repositories for atmospheric carbon — the usual argument for planting more of them — but because their presence along sidewalks makes city dwellers more cheerful about dwelling in cities. Unfortunately, much conventional environmental activism has the opposite effect, since it reinforces the view that urban life is artificial and depraved, and makes city residents feel guilty about living where and how they do.”

Now I don’t know David Owen and I have not read his book, but I think that it is great that he recognizes that trees are more than just natures clean air machines. They are just great to be in the company of.

Trees are fun.
We climb them, picnic under them, swing from them and cool our heels under them.

The Miracle of Compost

~ November 9, 2011

I believe this is the most wonderful time of the year. Not only are the Holidays fast approaching, it is also time to experience the miracle of composting season.

It is fitting that you do two things this time of year to celebrate the great composting season:
#1 empty your composter if you have not done it since last fall
#2 fill it again.
Empty it.
When you remove the composted material from your composting unit (or pile….) be sure NOT to spread it like salt and pepper all over your yard. Compost is not a condiment. It is the meat in the sandwich. It provides the lifeblood for all plant life in your garden by feeding the micro organisms that support the perennials, annuals, vegetables etc. that you plant out there.

I spread finished compost 3 to 5 cm thick (1 to 2 inches) all over my garden this time of year. In most cases this means that the contents of your composting unit will not go very far. That is o.k. as you can buy more or spread next years’ compost supply over another part of your yard next fall.

Fill it.
1. Put a shovel full of finished compost in the bottom of the composter. This will help to ‘get the party started’ - in other words, the beneficial bacteria in the compost will initiate the decomposition process.
2. ‘Layer’ your compost beginning with a thick layer (10 to 15 cm, scrunched down) of ‘brown stuff’ – fallen leaves is the #1 brown stuff of choice. You can use shredded newspaper if they are scarce in your area.
3. Next layer is ½ as thick of ‘green stuff’. Finished tomato plants, annuals, grass clippings or kitchen scraps will do the trick.
4. Continue to alternate a thick layer of ‘brown’ with a ½ layer of ‘green’, pushing the contents into the composting unit as you go to maximize the volume in it.
5. Add water as you go….. it only in the presence of moisture that decomposition takes place. Pity the poor people in the desert that try this….
6. Add Green Earth Compost Accelerator every 2 to 3 layers to speed up the decomposition process.

If your composter has a lid, put it on the unit but only if you have pre-moistened the contents! Remember, dry stuff just sits there! If you composter does not have a lid, no worries. I don’t really get the point of the lid anyway, except that it ‘neatens’ up the look of the unit.

Siting your compost.
Position your compost in as much sun as possible and as close to the kitchen door, for convenience. You can add compost all winter long, regardless of where you live in Canada. While it will freeze solid in most regions, it will also thaw in time and when it does, the greatest decomposition occurs. The frost ‘rips and tears’ the cell structure of the organics that you place there: the warmth of spring will activate the ‘good guys’ that do the breaking down of the works.

What to put in:

Anything organic, providing that it is NOT any of the following:
- meat or meat byproducts
- cat and dog droppings (or any meat eater, for that matter)
- dairy products
- wood, bark, metal or plastic
- weeds that have gone to seed (though, I break this rule all of the time)

Back to the beginning: when you spread finished compost over the surface of your garden you encourage earth worms to come up and pull the compost down into the soil. They eat this stuff; convert it into organic, nitrogen rich earth worm castings that feed the soil. Earth worms also open up the soil, allowing oxygen to flow to the root zone of your plants. (Note: all plants need oxygen at their roots.)
And finally, there is the wonder and awe of watching what WAS something recognizable, like leaves, banana peels and grass clippings, convert into the useful soil additive ever created. Your plants thrive: they grow faster, resist insects and disease and they produce flowers and fruit like never before. They are happy.
And all you did was organize ‘waste material’ into a pile or composting unit and wait.

THAT is the miracle of compost.

Gentle Reminders as Winter Approaches

~November 2, 2011

Now is the ideal time of year to protect your young fruit trees from rodent damage with one metre long plastic spirals and Bobbex deer repellent. The enemy in this case consists of mice, rabbits and rats that will find a meal of tree bark on an apple, pear, peach or you name it, including many ornamental trees like crabapples quite tasty come mid winter. These critters will get so desperate for sustenance that the bark of a tree that is 5 years or younger is mighty tempting indeed. Put your spirals on and spray with Bobbex before the snow seriously gets going in your area.

Upright evergreens need protection from wind and sun. Wrap up in two layers of burlap or look for a Canadian-made product called ‘Better than Burlap’ (that is its’ name). It insulates very well and has a gloss to its finish on one side of the material that encourages snow and ice to slide off. Cool.

I offer another reminder that rhododendrons and yews need to be protected from wind and sun too. The burlap treatment is useful, plus I recommend that you spray them with an anti-desiccant called ‘Wilt-Pruf’ (Home Hardware item# 5097-815).

Also, this is a good time to feed the birds, if you are not already doing so. Who, after all, does not have an unused bird feeder in the garage or basement? Get to it now, while you still have a chance to influence the choice of feeding stations that your neighbourhood song birds will frequent come mid winter. Yes, our fine feathered friends are creatures of habit, much like ourselves. You won’t regret your decision when the snow is lying hip-deep.

Have you winterized your roses yet? A reminder (yes, I mentioned this 2 weeks ago) to get to it before the Grey Cup game, if only to reward yourself by settling down into the couch with a beverage of choice while watching whoever smash up someone else whose name you do not know, unless of course you were watching the CFL before the final game of the season. The point is that wasting some time in front of the tube is your reward for doing something useful in the garden when it is generally not very tempting to be out there doing physical work.

The Trouble with Impatiens

~ October 26, 2011

Did you plant impatiens this year? Did they dieback mid-season leaving you disappointed? Well, you are not alone. I have heard from many gardeners who experienced the same puzzling results.

According to Horticulture Review, there is no clear explanation for this problem. One contributor blamed the large amount of rain early in the season, which caused fungus in the soil. This was followed by extreme heat and dry conditions.

Horticulture Review contacted scientists for answers:
Shannon Shan at the University of Guelph’s Pest Diagnostic Clinic received a few samples with a couple of root and crown rot pathogens showing up after culturing them. Shan’s thoughts are that perhaps the cool wet spring provided the perfect growing conditions for Rhizoctonia, a crown rot, and that gardeners should be using crop rotation with ornamentals – just like we do with vegetable crops.

OMAFRA specialist Wayne Brown looked at photos of dead impatiens. He said, “It is very difficult from the photos to say with any degree of certainty the cause of the defoliation. In the one instance, it looks like it might have been caused by Rhizoctonia, because the basal stems looked blackened, but Rhizoctonia does not typically cause defoliation. The defoliation is more consistent with either Alternaria Leaf Spot or downy mildew, but I can’t confirm based on the photos which of the two disease pathogens it might be.

Brown added that watering the plants during the night, or very early morning would promote development of either disease, and also recommended planting something other than impatiens next year to allow over-wintering inoculum to diminish.

Michael Celetti, a plant pathologist with OMAFRA, thought the problem might be Pythium, a water mold, causing root rot. Celetti notes that Pythium can be managed in the greenhouse, but once the plants are installed in the landscape it is difficult to control as it is spread by water. To help control Pythium, it is better to water lightly and frequently – which goes against the usual recommended practice of irrigating infrequently and deeply.

While there is no clear answer at this point, it is comforting to know I was not the only gardener whose impatiens packed it in early this year. I plan to rotate my annual plants to new locations next year and hope for better results.

(Source: Horticulture Review – October, 2011)

Your Fall To-Do List (Part 2)

~ October 19, 2011

The deadline that we have before us today is winter. We can go south to escape the cold and wind but your garden does not have that option.

It is with this in mind that I continue my comprehensive to-do list from last week’s blog.


• Pull up your remaining tomato plants and hang them in the cellar or the garage while the green fruit ripens. They do not need light to do this.
• Harvest leaf lettuce, mesclun and the like.
• Remove the spent bean and tomato plants, etc. and put in your compost.

Compost and Leaves

• Put spent annual plants in your composter or compost pile in layers with fallen leaves (shredded with your lawn mower). Alternate 1 part green stuff with 3 parts leaves.

• Steal leaves from your neighbours who have put their leaves out for recycling pick up, neatly pressed into paper bags for you to take home and compost. Free fertilizer.


I think I mentioned this last week but it is definitely worth repeating.

• Fertilize your lawn – this is the most important application of the year. The nutrition that your lawn receives this time of year will not produce a great looking lawn this fall, but it will strengthen the grass roots and prepare the plants for a fast green up come spring. The results are less snow mould and a stronger, green lawn after the spring melt. Look for a slow release nitrogen product, like Golfgreen fall formula, for best results.

Plant Colour!

Remember that there are plants that will survive and even thrive in cold weather. Belgium Mums, New England Asters, Sedum Spectabile and ornamental grasses all look great this time of year. Don’t forget flowering cabbage and kale: they improve their looks with frost!

Pumpkins, ornamental grasses, corn stalks, hay bales and goose necked squash can all play a part in an entrance display at the front of your home. Be creative and have fun.

A Short List of things to do in the Garden

October 12, 2011

• Fertilize your lawn – this is the most important application of the year. Use a slow release nitrogen product for best results. I use CIL Golfgreen Fall Lawn Fertilizer.

• Cut your lawn (maybe for the last time!) about 2 ½ inches or 6 cm high.

• Dig your carrots, leeks, left over potatoes etc. and store in bushel baskets ½ full of pure, dry sand. Put in your basement or fruit cellar.

• Yank out your annuals and finished veggie plants. Put them in your composter or compost pile.

• Plant Holland tulips, daffodils, crocus and the like.

• Begin thinking about winterizing your roses that are not of the ‘shrub’ type. Hybrid Teas, Grandifloras, Floribundas etc. will need about 50 cm (1 ½ feet) of fresh triple mix piled up from the bottom. If you live on the Prairies, now is a good time to do this. In central Canada and the Maritimes the best time is just before the Grey Cup game – the game is your reward for doing the job!

• Clean and sharpen your lawn mower before you put it away.

• Wrap spiral plastic collars on young fruit trees to protect them from rodent damage.

• Spray broad-leafed evergreens with Wiltpruf (an anti-desiccant) to prevent the drying effects of winter wind.

• Wiping down all of your digging and cutting tools with an oily cloth.

• Rake fallen leaves off of your lawn and on to your flower beds where the earth worms will pull them down into the soil. Good insulation for your perennials this winter.

• Empty your compost bin of last years’ material and fill it with new.

Enjoy these last few days in the garden before the hard frost of late fall. The air is clear and hopefully you will receive some sunshine for your fall work days!!

Digging and Storing Dahlia Tubers

~October 5, 2011

This is the time of year to harvest dahlia tubers, before or after the first hard frost. If your plan is to dig the tubers early you need to cut the stalks down to 8-10” above the ground. This prompts the formation of nodes on the tubers. If you allow your dahlias to experience a hard frost the stalks will dieback naturally.

Use a garden fork to loosen the soil around the tuber. Carefully lift the tuber out of the soil and wash gently to remove remaining dirt. Allow the tuber to dry for 24 hours in a cool, dry location.

This is a good time to divide large dahlia tubers into smaller sections. Each new division must have an eye (bud) to produce a new plant. Use a sharp, clean knife to divide tubers into sections.

Place tubers in a cardboard box with sawdust, dry peat moss or vermiculite. Label the storage container to help you identify the tubers next year. Be sure to dust the tubers with Green Earth garden sulphur powder to prevent rot and disease while in storage (it is harmless to pets and children).

Choose a storage location in a dry area where the temperature will remain near 10 degrees C or 48 F. Check on the tubers periodically during the winter. Look for signs of shriveling. If the tubers are beginning to shrivel I recommend that you moisten the storage medium to ‘beef’ them up again. But be sure to check weekly for mildew or rot.

Grub Control for Your Lawn

~ September 28, 2011

One of the most frequently asked questions that I get each fall involves controlling grubs in the lawn. Grubs feed on grass roots causing the lawn to die. Patches of dead grass will lift up easily if pulled by hand. Skunks, raccoons and moles will also dig in the lawn to feed on grubs. The fall is the best time to control grub populations. Larvae hatch in the fall and can be killed quickly due to their small size.
I recommend applying beneficial nematodes. These are microscopic worms that infest the grub larvae in the soil. Applying beneficial nematodes in the fall is a proactive approach to controlling lawn damage next spring. Visit for more information on Grub Busters Nematodes.

One of the secrets to getting the nematodes to work for you is to water heavily after application – apply 3 cm (about 4 to 5 hours with most lawn sprinklers).
A healthy lawn will often hide the symptoms of grub damage. A thick lawn which is watered and fed properly will grow new roots quickly. This helps repair grub damage and keeps brown patches to a minimum.

Late Season Lawn Care

~ September 21, 2011

Now that the intense summer heat is behind us for the year it is a good time to focus on the lawn. This time of year is perfect for lawn maintenance, repairs and laying sod. The weather and soil are still warm and more importantly fall rains have returned. This means that grass seed will germinate with ease and new sod will put down roots.

To repair any bare spots that occurred over the summer rake away any debris. Spread an even layer of lawn soil 2-4cm (1 to 2”) thick over the patch. Sow quality grass seed. I use CIL Golfgreen All Purpose Grass Seed (Home Hardware #: 5065-644). Spread this over the soil and gently rake it in. Lightly firm the soil to put the grass seed into good contact with the soil and water well. Keep the soil moist but not wet to encourage faster germination.

Also apply CIL Golfgreen Starter fertilizer (Home Hardware #: 5024-617) to help get it off to a good start and put down a good root system before cold weather sets in.

In one to two weeks the grass seed will germinate and begin to fill in the area

This is a great time of year to over seed your entire lawn to thicken it up around this time as well. The process is much the same as above except over the entire lawn. When doing this, concentrate on filling in the depressions with the triple mix or Mark’s Choice lawn soil to create a level lawn surface.

In a few weeks (mid to late October is optimal) you will give your lawn the most important feeding of the year with a fall fertilizer application. This application will help encourage good root growth and get the lawn off to a running start come next spring.

Your lawn will thank you.

Fall Planting

~ September 14, 2011

With fall just around the corner now is the time to squeeze in some late season gardening and plant any new additions you had your eye on. Take a trip to your local garden center and you will be surprised at what you can still find and at amazing sale prices. Planting at this time of year requires a couple of extra steps to ensure your plant survives the winter.
When planting, dig the hole to twice the diameter of the pot and to the same depth. Backfill with a mix of half the original soil that was dug out and half triple mix. Triple mix is an equal blend of peat, compost and sand and is an ideal soil mix for plants. After backfilling lightly compact the soil around the new plant to remove any air pockets.

Do not compact the soil too firmly as new roots will not be able to grow well.

Water the plant deeply at least two to three times a week. This is important as it will settle the soil and help reduce transplant shock. I recommend using CIL Plant Starter as it contains a special acid that will help the new plants put down roots quickly.

Do not be tempted to use a high nitrogen fertilizer on your plants as this will cause them to produce new top growth which will not be able to harden off before cold weather arrives.

As the soil is already warm your new plants should take quite well and be off to a great start next spring.

Although spring is the traditional planting season early fall works equally well. Get out to your local garden center, see what they have and start planting.

Dividing Peonies

~ September 7, 2011

Peonies are a classic summer-flowering perennial found in many gardens across Canada. Very old peonies need to be divided when they stop blooming at the centre of the plant. This is the time of year to divide them. You will need a good garden fork, a sharp knife and some muscle power.

The first step is to dig out your existing plant. Dig a circle around the crown of the plant with the garden fork and pull the plant up with the tines. Peonies have thick strong roots so you do not have to worry about seriously damaging them. Once you have exposed the crown wash the soil away with a gentle stream of water. This will allow you to fully see the crown and the “eyes” or buds which are next year’s shoots.

The number of divisions you can make depends on the size of the peony. Generally each division should contain at least three eyes for good flowering.

To make the divisions take a sharp knife and cut through the crown and root system. Leave as many good roots intact as possible while making sure each division has at least three eyes.

Now that you have the divisions, dig a hole that is double the size of the crown and root system. Plant each division so that the buds are no more than 1-2 inches below the soil surface. Amend the hole with plenty of well rotted compost and Green Earth Bonemeal. As peonies are long-lived and very heavy feeders this will help them get off to a good start.

Mulch with two to three inches of straw or bark mulch and water thoroughly. Peonies do not like to dry out so keep the soil moist. This will help the new plant put down a good root system before the first frost of the season.

Generally it takes two years for the plant to fully recover from this process so you will have to be patient. Do not expect a show of blooms the first year after division.

Give it a try! If you have a large Peony and want some more colour around the garden or house, do not hesitate and start dividing these great plants.

Dividing and Planting Hostas

~ August 31, 2011

This is a great time to work in the garden. The weather is warm but not overly hot and there is a lot less humidity in the air. One of the best things to do in early September is to divide and plant new perennials. One of the most common perennials to divide now is hostas.

Hostas are shade loving perennials and can often outgrow their space in a few years. When this happens they must be divided. The best time to divide a hosta is when they are about 3-4 years old. Start by digging a circle six inches away from the crown with a good garden fork like one of the Mark’s Choice garden forks available at Home Hardware. Next, pop the plant out and gently wash the soil away with water to expose the clumps. This will loosen up the crowns and allow you to see the root structure.

Separate the hosta by wiggling the crown apart. This may be difficult and you may end up having to cut it. When cutting the crown in half start in the middle of the plant and avoid damaging the leaves. This process can be done repeatedly until you have four or five plants in total.

Once separated, you need to keep the roots wet at all times and plant the new divisions as soon as possible. Dig a wide hole approximately 1.5 inches deep and set the crown in the hole evenly spacing out the roots. Cover the hole and water deeply but do not tamp down the soil as this will compact it.

Hostas will root out nicely in the fall because the weather and soil are warm. They will also perform much better in the spring if most of the original root structure is left intact.

The key to success when dividing hostas is to water frequently and deeply thereby minimizing transplant shock and encouraging new root growth.

With a little bit of effort, some patience and care, dividing hostas can be no problem at all. It is a great way to expand your shade garden. All you need is some time and the right tools. Give it a try this September.

Rose of Sharon

~ August 24, 2011

Gardeners of every age will appreciate the beauty of the Rose of Sharon shrub. This plant makes a brilliant addition to any garden. I have planted a few of these in my own garden. These deciduous shrubs have a distinctive three-lobed leaf which is late to emerge in the spring. They are also available in a standard tree form or can be trained for espalier.

Rose of Sharon is a late bloomer. It starts in August and goes right through to the end of September or the first hard frost depending on where you live. They are available with bi-colour blooms such as red and white or purple and blue. They are also available in solid white, pink or blue. Some varieties are double flowering.

Rose of Sharon is hardy to zone 5 and prefers rich well drained soil in sunny locations. They can tolerate a range of soil acidity. These shrubs can grow to 4 meters high and 2 meters wide. However, with diligent pruning, they can easily be kept to 1.5 meters high and wide. Prune Rose of Sharon in the fall after it is done flowering as it blooms on new wood only. Pruning during the summer will limit the flowers that are produced but make any remaining ones larger.

This fall plant a Rose of Sharon in your garden. They are attractive to pollinators like honey bees and butterflies love them.

Espalier Apples

~ August 17, 2011

The first time I ever saw an espalier apple fence was at Monet’s garden during my visit to France. The term Espalier refers to growing and training plants, in this case fruit trees, along a structure like a sunny wall or fence to create a living object. Monet was a pioneer in this growing technique and in the 1920’s planted his espalier apple fence. Since my visit there, I planted my own apple fence on the farm and quite enjoy it.

The best fruit trees to grow in this manner are pears and apples as they lend themselves well to vigorous pruning and are available in smaller varieties. There are also a couple advantages with this method. Espalier is a very good space saving option because the trees are kept small and well pruned. The second advantage is that it will save your back. By growing the trees at arm level pruning and harvesting is really easy and does not require you to bend down or stretch on a ladder.

Making your own espalier fence is actually not that difficult. If you want to grow your trees on a sunny wall simply run heavy gauge stainless steel guide wires from end to end on anchors drilled into the wall. Leave at least 15cm of room between the end of the anchor and wall to allow for good air circulation. If you want to grow the tress along a fence the process is the same. Run the heavy gauge wire taught between wooden posts spaced approximately 8’ (2 1/2 m) apart with I-hooks screwed into them. Make sure there are at least two tiers of wire to train the branches on. You can also use an existing chain-link fence if you do not wish to construct your own and use the top rail as the top tier.

Choose dwarf varieties of apples and smaller varieties of pear as they lend themselves better to being trained. Also, buy whips (small single stemmed bare root plants) or smaller container grown nursery stock as this will make training and growing a lot easier. Site the plants 15 cm away from the fence or wall, ideally where the posts are located and plant like you would normally. Water well, especially, in the first couple of years as the root system is still small. When the plant produces horizontal branches tie them in multiple spots with twine or plastic growers tape to the support wire.

Now just sit back and enjoy your work. In a couple of years the plants will mature enough to fruiting size and you will be able to harvest your first crop.

Ornamental Grasses

~ August 10, 2011

Ornamental grasses are great additions to any garden especially for those gardeners looking for some four-season appeal and winter privacy. These grasses are nothing like what’s on your front lawn. There are many types of ornamental grasses to choose from and they all come in a variety of textures and colours. Three of my favourite ornamental grasses are Purple Majesty Ornamental Millet, Bluestem and Karl Foerster Feather Reed Grass.

Purple Majesty Ornamental Millet is a great choice for gardeners who want a different look. Unlike normal grasses, its foliage and bloom are a bold purple-black colour. This plant is best grown in full sun in wetter areas as it does not like to dry out between waterings and it can grow from 90-120cm high. Hardy to zone 5, this borderline perennial makes great cut flowers and attracts many butterflies. This plant looks best when grown among very colourful flowers as it provides a nice contrast.

Bluestem grass is another great option. It is a prairie native hardy to zone 3 and comes in two varieties, ‘Big Bluestem’ and ‘Little Bluestem’. Big bluestem can adapt to many different growing conditions and can grow from 1-3m high depending on the site. It prefers full sun but can handle light shade and likes moist fertile soil. As it grows it takes on more of a blue colour in its stems and makes a great four season privacy screen when planted on mass.

Little Bluestem is very similar to big bluestem except it only grows one meter tall. Its foliage starts gray-green, develops a light blue tint in the summer and turns reddish-purple in the fall after frost.

Both of these grasses are drought tolerant making them great selections for any location.

My final favourite ornamental grass is Karl Foerster Feather Reed Grass. It prefers a sunnier location with moist to wet fertile soil but can grow equally well in dry sandy soil or clay. Hardy to zone 3 it grows between 1.5 to 2 meters tall. When planted on mass, in a bunch or in a row they make a great privacy screen. On a windy day they also look very appealing as the attractive green foliage sways in the wind. This grass flowers in June through July.

Give one or more of these plants a try in your yard. Make sure to plant on mass so they stand out and you will not be disappointed! Once established they require very little care besides cutting back in the spring. They are a great choice for any gardener.

Product Feedback

~ August 3, 2011

This week I want to hear from you. Have you ever purchased a Mark’s Choice item? Did it meet your expectations?

You can send your feedback this week (through this link) or anytime you have a comment (through the button on my homepage). I want to hear what you think of the Mark’s Choice products you have purchased over the years as I am always trying to improve the line. Be honest, I want to hear the good, bad or ugly and if you have any suggestions for improvements to individual products please let me know. It will only take a couple minutes and your comments are greatly appreciated. I look forward to hearing from you.

Mark's Choice items are available exclusively at Home Hardware. You can view the full line of products on and

Wasp and Hornet Control

~ July 27, 2011

Anyone who has ever had a picnic outdoors knows how troublesome wasps and hornets can be. Social wasps are the most common stinging menace across many Canadian cities. They are attracted to sweet foods and are usually found scavenging garbage cans for their meals. These insects live in nests made out of paper. The nest can take on many shapes and sizes but the two most common are enclosed with an opening near the base or a broad open structure. Sometimes these nests are hidden in a corner or are in plain view hanging on a tree branch.
The best way to prevent wasps from making a home on your property is to inspect your yard and home early in the summer for any wasp or hornet activity. It is easier to discourage a single queen wasp from establishing too close to your home than to handle a full-size nest later in the season.

The next best way is to try to limit their food sources. Do not leave pet food or picnic leftovers out in the open and try to keep food and drinks covered while eating. Place a secure tight lid on garbage containers so the wasps cannot scavenge in it. Also, when spending time outdoors avoid wearing scented products like perfume or hair spray as wasps are attracted to the scent.

Wasp traps, like the Green Earth Wasp Trap, are another great way to lure these insects away from your living area. Make sure to place them away from patios and children play areas as wasp activity is increased around these traps.

If you discover a nest, treat it with Wilson One Shot Wasp and Hornet Spray to effectively trap and kill the wasps inside. Spray the nest after dusk when there is less activity and wear protective clothing to prevent getting stung. Do not shine a light directly on the nest as this will alert the wasps. Instead, put a red filter over it so you can see the nest without alerting the wasps.

If the location of the nest does not present a health hazard, you can leave the nest until November or December. Once it has been abandoned, you can remove the nest and dispose of it with less risk in these colder months.

Plant a Row Grow a Row

~ July 20, 2011

Have you ever found yourself in the vegetable garden and not knowing what to do with the extra produce? Well the answer is simple. Give it away to people who want it, can use it and will benefit measurably from its consumption.

In 1988 a couple in Winnipeg by the name of O’Donnagh found themselves long on pears from their backyard pear tree. They looked at each other and said, “why not” and took the extra lot to the local food bank on the off chance that they would pass them on to people in need of pears. The plan worked – the O’Donnaghs were greeted with open bushel baskets, which were soon loaded with the pears.

Days later the two of them got the same idea: if giving fresh produce to the local food bank provides a worthwhile service in the community, then why not spread the word and get our neighbours to donate their excess produce too?

And so it began.

More than two decades later this idea of donating your extra produce to the food bank has become what is known as Plant a Row Grow a Row for the hungry. Food banks are always looking to receive fresh local garden produce and donating your extras helps those in need.

Last year alone Canadians donated hundreds of tonnes of fresh produce.

It is easy to get started and there is nothing to fill out. All you need to do is pick your extras and bring them to the food bank; they will take care of the rest. Go to for all the details.

I urge you to do this! Taking part in this program is a great way to get out and help your local community. It is something small that you can do and means a lot to someone in need.

Deadheading - Removing Spent Flowers

~ July 13, 2011

One of the many summer time chores, especially on my farm, is deadheading (removing spent blooms). Deadheading is great for plants as it prevents them from going to seed. This allows plants to conserve energy and focus on root development and overall plant growth. In fact, some perennials and shrubs like, Delphiniums, Veronica and Weigela can even bloom a second time later on in the season if deadheaded right after the first bloom is finished.

Deadheading is simple and straight forward. Once the bloom is finished use a good sharp pair of pruners like the, Mark’s Choice Forged Bypass Pruner (Home Hardware Item # 5067-130) and make a cut right below the spent bloom at the closest leaf terminal. If you want to prune back your plant at the same time make this cut lower on the branch but always at the terminal.

In a couple of weeks you will see new growth from the place where you made the cut. These new branches will contain the second flower buds so do not be tempted to remove them. Once these blooms are spent also cut them back.

Not all flowering shrubs will bloom a second time but all will benefit from deadheading. If you have roses in your garden it is extremely important to deadhead them as it will prolong the blooming season but also strengthen the plant to help it endure the winter.

Therefore, this month when you are out in the garden do a little deadheading. It does not take a lot of time and will certainly pay off as you can enjoy the colours of your garden for a second time and make the plants “last” a lot longer.

Balcony Gardening - The Essentials

~ July 6, 2011

If you love gardening but do not have the space, balcony gardening is a great option. It is simple, relatively low maintenance and does not require a lot of material to get started.

When selecting plants make sure that they are suitable for the amount of sun you receive. If you have a sunny location plants like: Impatiens, Nasturtium, Nicotiana, Pansies or vegetables and herbs are great choices. However, if you have a north or east exposure, with primarily shade, plants like: Wax Begonia, Sweet Alyssum, Coleus, Impatiens and Petunias will work well.

Once you have selected the plants, use clay pots that are deeper than they are wide for any vegetables and window or railing boxes made from wood or plastic for the herbs and flowers. These materials are light and inexpensive which make them ideal for balcony gardening.

When planting, place a Mark’s Choice Water Wick under the plants to conserve moisture and reduce watering. Use good quality potting soil like, Mark’s Choice Premium Container Soil (Home Hardware # 5053-500) for optimal results. Water frequently, especially in hot dry weather, as the containers will dry out quickly.

If you are planting vegetables, add roughly 30% well rotted compost or manure to the potting mix as they are heavy feeders.

You can also maximize your vertical growing space by using hanging baskets for flowers or strawberries or even an upside down tomato planter.

Give it a try! Even if you already have a garden, balcony gardening is fun, simple, convenient and a great way to get the family involved.

P.S.: The Mark’s Choice Hang N Grow Tomato planter is a great choice and comes with a water reservoir which reduces the need to water.

It is not too late to plant

~ June 29, 2011

Although it may be the end of June, it is not too late to plant in the garden. You can still plant last minute annuals for colour, perennials, roses (I just planted 4 last night!), shrubs and trees. Unfortunately, it is too late to plant a vegetable garden as most varieties will not mature before cooler fall weather sets in. However there is a chance to sow some lettuce and other greens later in August for ‘fall greens’.

Plant early in the morning or late afternoon to avoid the hottest part of the day. Also, keep plants in the shade until you are ready to use them.

This time of year is much warmer and drier than the typical planting months of April and May. New additions to the garden will require special attention. The most important of which is to water frequently. New plants have limited root systems and they will need constant watering until they get established, as often as twice a day during hot and dry weather.

Use quality soil, like Mark’s Choice flower and veggie soil (Home Hardware item# 5053-695) for best results.

Water in the morning to reduce the amount of moisture lost to evaporation. Water deeply to encourage deeper roots.

Along with watering frequently, add at least four inches (10cm) of mulch around new plantings to insulate the soil and conserve moisture. If planting trees, use a thicker layer of mulch around the base while keeping it away from the trunk.

The use of Plant Prod Ultimate Plant Starter 10-52-10 will help plants get established faster by stimulating rapid root growth. Do not be afraid to plant now as there is still a lot of time left in the growing season. Plus, as an added bonus, one benefit of planting late is that you can get most everything on sale at your local garden retailer which saves you money.

Composting 2: What to put in and how to keep it going

~ June 22, 2011

If you are composting already or just starting to experiment with it you might ask yourself, “Now that I have set everything up, what do I put in it and how do I keep it going?” The answer is straight forward. As mentioned last week you can compost anything organic except: bones, fish, meat etc.

When adding material to the pile keep in mind the golden ratio of 30:1. That is, 30 parts carbon (the dead ‘brown’ stuff) to 1 part nitrogen, the green stuff. This ratio is ideal for the functioning of the organisms inside the pile. Add the material in alternating thin layers to help speed up decomposition.

Also, as a rule of thumb, try to keep the moisture similar to that of a squeezed out sponge.

When first adding material, the composting rate will be very slow. To help give it a kick start, mix in some Green Earth Compost Accelerator and some fresh manure if available. The manure provides a great infusion of organisms and the accelerator provides key enzymes and nutrients for the organisms to get established.

In the fall add more compost accelerator to keep the process active over the winter.

Your compost will be ready in 3 to 6 months. When it is ready the compost will have a dark brown/black color, crumble easily and smell like earth. Great compost is the consistency of chocolate cake. It will make a dramatic difference to all that you grow.

Try composting: it can save you money, it is good for the environment and it is a lot of fun. Get your kids involved.

p.s. check out my tumbling composter for extra fast results at

Composting - Getting Started

~ June 15, 2011

What is composting? Composting is nature’s way of recycling nutrients and organic matter back into the soil for use by new and growing plants. It has been around for centuries and is a great way of returning fertility to and improving your soil quality. To get started all you need is a composting bin, which you can buy or make, compostable material and some patience of course.

There are many options when it comes to choosing an appropriate composting unit. There are composters made from plastic, wood or even wire mesh, however, which one you choose is really dependent on your own personal needs.
If you have a lot of compostable material than building a composting bin is probably the best choice. If you only have food scraps and some garden waste than purchasing one is not a bad choice at all. The Mark’s Choice Compost Tumbler, available at Home Hardware, is an excellent option. The tumbler works aerobically (using oxygen to break down organic matter) but saves you a lot of effort as you do not have to manually turn the pile just simply spin the composter on its stand. My compost tumbler works much faster than a free standing composting unit also.

As a good rule of thumb you can compost pretty much anything that once lived. For example; food scraps, leaves, grass clippings etc. However, there are a few things you should leave out in order to avoid any problems in the future. Do not to compost bones, dairy, fatty/oily foods, fish, meat, or weeds. These materials can produce foul odours and attract unwanted wildlife to the compost heap.

When setting up a composter select a sunny location in your yard that is not too far from your kitchen. This will make adding food scraps convenient, especially in the winter.

For more information about composting go to


~ June 8, 2011

Peonies are one of the most easily grown and one of the most outstanding looking early summer flowers ranging in colour from coral to red to white and yellow. They add a massive infusion of colour into the garden and are fairly maintenance-free besides fall clean up. Moreover, they prefer cooler climates with harsher winters and full sun making them ideal for zone 4, 5 and 6.

There are two Peony classes, the Regular Garden type, Chinese, (die down to the ground in the winter)and the Tree type, Japanese, (remain above the ground over the winter).

Chinese peonies are herbaceous, relatively easy to grow and can live for quite a long time in the garden. Amend the planting hole with plenty of rich organic matter. They prefer soil that drains well. Planted with the 'eyes' no more than one inch below the soil. This will help to promote the plant to grow quickly but more importantly, reach flowering size quicker and produce more blooms. They do not require much pruning - mainly only for shape/clean up and once estalibshed do not need watering except in very dry weather.

Japanese Tree type peonies are much the same as above, however, differ in a couple of ways. They prefer slightly more alkaline soil and can tolerate light shade during the hottest part of the day. Unlike their cousins, the graft of Tree peonies should be buried approximately four inches deep to protect it from cold winters.

Both types of Peonies are fairly resistant to disease, however, they can be affected by Grey Mould Blight which attacks and ruins the flower buds. To prevent this ensure plenty of sun and good air circulation and if persistent, Green Earth Lime Sulpur can be used as a fungicide.

This weekend is the annual Peony Festival at the Oshawa Valley Botanical Gardens. The event runs June 11 and 12 from 10am to 4pm. For more information, visit

Check out my facebook page next Monday for photos from the Peony Festival.

The Secrets to a Successful Strawberry Patch

~ June 1, 2011

Growing strawberries is a delicious past time of many adults and children across Canada. Below are some tips and secrets to growing a successful strawberry patch.

Tip #1: Select an area with full sun and southern exposure. This is important as full sun will yield more and better quality fruit. If planting multiples, space plants 60cm apart in rows and 120cm between rows. Strawberries can be space hogs because of their runners.

Secret #1: Prepare the soil in the fall with plenty of organic matter like manure or well rotted compost and remove any weeds. Mound the soil into rows about 6 inches high and plant directly into the rows. This will help improve drainage and air circulation. Mounding the soil will also help the soil warm up quickly in the spring which is very important for good strawberry production. Apply a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer in the early spring.

Tip #2: Select a plant that is disease resistant especially to powdery mildew, this will save you a lot of time and aggravation in the future. Two good varieties are "Lateglow" and "Tristar". Plant as soon as the ground can be worked.

Secret #2: In the first year remove all the flowers in the spring. Sacrificing the crop in the first year will make the plant larger and stronger and thus create a larger crop next year.

Tip #3: Once planted, apply about 1 inch of straw mulch over the planting area in order to keep the developing berries off the soil. Netting helps deter birds and animals from feeding on the berries while they are developing.

Secret #3: After berry production the plant will produce runners, also known as daughter plants. They can quickly overrun the patch if left unattended. Prune out some of the runners as they appear. Keep 3 or 4 of the daughter plants making sure they are evenly spaced around the mother plant.

Tip #4: After the first hard frost remove all leaves and destroy them. Apply 5 to 6 inches of straw mulch over the patch for winter protection.

Container Gardening with Specialty Plants

~ May 25, 2011

Weather conditions, or more accurately, the growing zone dictates what gardeners can and cannot grow. Canada covers a wide range of growing zones. Gardening in a colder zone does not mean you cannot enjoy the pleasure of tropical plants. This is where container gardening really becomes unique.

Consider the mature size of the plant. Most exotic plants can be kept to a manageable size (8 feet high, approximately 30 inches wide) with vigorous pruning and some tying with string. However, there are some tropicals that cannot be maintained at a manageable size. Do your research and verify the mature size listed on the plant tag.

Select a container that is large enough to support the plant you want to grow. Keep in mind that you will need to carry the plant indoors come fall. As the plant grows you will transplant into a larger pot in early spring.

Choose a container that is lightweight and durable. The plant will be moved around a lot and will get heavier. A ceramic pot would not be wise because it is simply too heavy and fragile. Plastic pots are perfect for this type of application and are relatively inexpensive. In addition, a pot with handles or wheels is very helpful when moving. Make sure the pot has adequate drainage holes to drain excess water.

Select or create a soil that drains quickly but retains enough moisture to keep the roots moist. Use a slow release fertilizer, like Smartcote, when planting and water according to the plant specifications.

The list of what you can grow in containers is virtually endless. Some examples are: figs, citrus, cactus and palm. I grow a Banaana tree which is 8 feet high and produces a small crop each year. Select a quick maturing variety if you want any chance of a harvest.

Winter Storage.

When the plant goes dormant in the fall, move it into a cold cellar. Storage temperatures should not dip below 0C or above 7C in the winter.

When spring arrives move the plant out of storage and gradually harden it off to the outdoor conditions, keeping it protected from spring frosts.

Spring Showers will bring May Flowers

~ May 18, 2011

This spring has been one of the coldest and rainiest in memory. I encourage you to take advantage of this unusual weather and visit your local garden centre.

"A rainy day is a great time to visit a garden centre -- not only does it give you a head start on your neighbours, it can also be a rewarding shopping experience. Shorter line-ups at the cash register, parking spaces close to the entrance and a full inventory of plants will make life less hectic. Easier access to knowledgeable staff, just waiting to offer local gardening advice will ensure your garden gets off to a fantastic start this year," says my buddy Denis Flanagan, public relations manager, Landscape Ontario.

The late spring has another bonus for shoppers -- garden centre staff are spending more time caring for plants which are bigger and healthier than ever. And a rainy day is automatically a great day for planting!

Get out in the garden now to ensure you won’t be playing catch-up when the weather finally does warm up. Here are a few activities to get you through this cold and wet spring:

· Plant woody plants and hardy perennials now! Ontario garden centre inventories have never been as healthy or looked as good. The late spring has provided great growing conditions and extra time for plants to mature.
· Think ahead. Landscape projects that you would like to tackle this summer take planning, conceptualization and design. Avoid disappointment by calling contractors now. If waiting until late May they may already be booked.

Your best source to find local garden centres, contractors and other specialties is at “Find a Company” by searching a city, postal code, or specialty, etc.

Get the Most from Your Soil

~ May 11, 2011

Perhaps you have heard me say this before but these are words to live by: 90% of the success that you achieve in your garden is the direct result of proper soil preparation.

So what does that mean to you? ….. glad you asked!

First, figure out what type of soil you have.

The simplest and most accurate way is to figure out your ‘soil type’ is the jar test. Simply take a shovel full of your soil, mix it together and then take one cup of soil from that and half fill a 1L mason jar with the soil. Top up the jar with tap water and shake it for 5 minutes or so. Then let it sit for 24-48hrs while everything settles.

What you should see is three layers or ‘strata’ of soil on the bottom half and somewhat murky water on the top half with floating organic matter. The bottom layer will likely be separated into 3 layers: sand on the botttom, the middle silt and the top clay.

Looking at the jar carefully you can estimate the proportion of each layer according to the soil triangle.Ideal soil is a sandy/medium loam which is approximately 40 percent sand, 40 percent silt and 20 percent clay. This is a great all purpose soil for any garden bed no matter what you want to plant. It allows plants to root easily, holds onto water but also drains excess water easily.

In reality most garden soils do not have this composition and need some amendments.


The easiest way to deal with a primarily clay soil is either to dig it out and remove it to a depth of 40 cm and then fill in the void with good quality triple-mix and as weed free as possible. Triple-mix is an equal mix of peat, compost and sand. Add about 10 cm more triple mix than soil that you removed. The new soil should be well above grade for it to provide a good home for your new garden. It will settle over time and you will add more each year to keep it topped up.

If you do not want to dig, remove and backfill with the ‘good stuff’ (and if you have a lot of patience!) add sharp (coarse) sand and well rotted compost which will help loosen up the soil, improve drainage, air circulation and organic nutrients. Turn it into the existing soil the best that you can using a shovel, spade or rototiller.


Dealing with a primarily sandy soil is much easier; to do this till in peat moss and well rotted compost or manure which will improve the soils ability to hold water but will also add missing nutrients.

Next week: knowing the acidity (or pH) of your soil – why it is important, how to do it and what to do with the information.

The Dirt on Spring Planting

~ Blog May 5th 2011

A question: would you build a house without a foundation?
Of course not.

It is, indeed, planting time: with many Canadians finally getting the good spring weather that we have been waiting for – and with Mother’s Day here (a cue to many Canadians to get planting in their gardens).

This is your very best opportunity to build a foundation for your garden this year that will support plant life and grow –in reality – the garden that you have imagined all winter long. My advice is that you begin your spring planting by not planting at all, but rather, get into your garden with a sharp shovel or spade in hand and dig some holes.

You are not digging just for the fun of it – you are going to examine your soil to determine what needs to be added to it in order to grow a great garden this year.

Some helpful tips:
* Take a handful of soil and squeeze it in the palm of your hand, then bounce it around a few times.
- If the soil breaks up in your hand, you have a pretty good start. Add lots of organic material in the form of finished compost from your composter or purchased from a reliable local source. If you are buying your compost by the bag, look for a good quality national brand like C.I.L., Green Earth or Hillview.
- If you are purchasing compost by the cubic yard (i.e. truckload) make sure that you are buying from a supplier that has a solid reputation for quality. There is no sense going to all of the expense and effort to have it delivered (the easy part) and spread over your garden (the hard part) if it is second rate material.
- If your soil samples do not break up in your hand, but stay in the shape of the soil that you squeezed, it is time to assess more closely: is it clay? If so, add generous quantities of sharp sand, otherwise known as play sand (but NOT beach sand!). This will open up the clay particles, which are so small that they bind together to form an impenetrable mass. Also add the compost – as described above.
- If you are unsure of the quality of your soil (after all, you likely have a day job and chances are good that soil analysis is not a big part of it) then I recommend that you take it to a local hardware store or garden centre and talk to a trained professional. Someone who deals with soil issues often can tell you a lot about the quality of your existing soil and how to improve it.
- If you have solid clay (e.g. you could make bricks or cereal bowls out of it) I recommend that you seriously consider removing it to 40 cm (15 inches) deep and backfilling it with 50 cm of triple mix (18 inches).

What is triple mix, you ask?
An equal portion of quality top soil, peat moss and finished compost (vs. ‘unfinished’ or ‘green’ compost).

I have pretty good quality soil in my garden, but you know what, I add 2 cm or one inch of mushroom compost (the ‘high octane’ stuff) over the entire garden every spring. I just let the earth worms pull it down and convert it into nitrogen rich earth worm castings. This takes about 6 to 8 weeks, depending on rainfall.

If you are in a hurry or just enjoy the experience of digging, turn it under with a garden fork or small rototiller.

How important is it to prepare your garden this way?
Well, about as important as building a foundation under a house or garage. Try building one without it and you will soon understand the wisdom of building one in the first place.

If I prepare the soil well, will I still need to use ‘fertilizer’ on my garden plants?

This depends on the plants. Roses, clematis, most annual flowers and tomatoes are heavy feeders, so yes, you would be wise to add some fertilizer – synthetic or organic – to the soil at the time of planting and every 4 to 6 weeks until the middle of the summer. Organic gardeners should look for Green Earth products: otherwise, there are many quality synthetic products like So Green, Vigoro, and C.I.L. that will do the job for you nicely.

If you are looking for a really easy way to feed your plants over the summer try the super slow release fertilizers that are sold under the ‘Once and Done’ or ‘Smart Cote’ labels.

After you have your soil prep done, it is time to go shopping – almost.

Have a great week and remember to keep your knees dirty!