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.

Things To Do...

~ March 30, 2011

With the forecast for much of the country being ‘excellent’ over the next few days it seemed only fitting that I help you get a leg up in the garden before you find yourself thinking that spring has passed you by and you missed out on all of the fun.

All kidding aside, I can help you save time and money – by being pro-active on a number of fronts.

1. Kill over wintering insects and diseases. Use all natural ‘Dormant Spray’ to bring under control many of the diseases and insects that wreak havoc over the balance of the gardening season. Dormant spray is not to be feared, unless you are a tent caterpillar or the spore of ‘maple blotch’ and chances are good that you are neither of these. Just because it is a ‘spray’ is no reason to think the worst.

Truth is, an application of Green Earth Dormant spray this time of year will save you a ton of trouble later by eliminating insect and disease problems that manifest in warm late spring weather.

When to apply? When evening temperatures are reliably above 0 Celsius (freezing) and stay there all night AND before the buds on the plants that you are applying it to have broken open in to leaf or flower.

What do I apply it to? Lilac, mock orange and most other deciduous flowering shrubs, all roses, berry plants like raspberries, most deciduous trees and of course all fruit trees.

2. Fertilize your lawn. Apply a good quality, slow release lawn food now (Golfgreen is the best, in my opinion. It is all that I use on my lawn). The difference that this will make in your lawn over the long haul is remarkable. Your grass plants will be thicker, greener and healthier. They will compete with weeds before they become established and your lawn, duly strengthened, will resist the damage of the common gray and white grub, among other ‘nasties’.

3. Over seed your lawn with fresh grass seed. If feeding your lawn sounds like a panacea, I apologize. The job is not complete until you have tackled the bare or weak spots in your lawn with a bag of triple mix, spread about 2 to 3 centimeters thick, raked smooth and a thin layer of grass seed applied. Rake that smooth, step on it with flat soled shoes to get it in firm contact with the soil and water well. This will thicken those thin spots like nothing else…. Apply the fertilizer before or after the seed. No matter.

4. Cut back perennials that remain standing from over the winter – right to the ground. Dig and divide the old ones that are too big for their space or are just not performing as they once did. Divide them and replant around your garden or give away to friends. This works really well with monarda, hosta, day lilies and the like. Leave the division of your peonies until mid September.

5. Rake, using a fan rake: your lawn and garden. Pick up loose debris that has arrived over the winter and compost the soft, brown stuff like last years leaves and perennial leaves etc.

If you are blessed with sunshine this weekend – enjoy it and remember why you started to garden in the very first place – it was going to be fun!

Keep your knees dirty,


Nature's Miracle - Spring Bulbs!

~March 23, 2011

Chances are, you have noticed the selection of tulips, daffodils and crocus flowers expanding at retailers across Canada over the last few weeks. Truth is, most of these are not only grown in Canada in commercial greenhouses but we actually grow so many of them that they are deemed an ‘export’ crop. Go figure. And you thought we only sold wheat abroad.

Now is the time to bring these treasures home. There is more than meets the eye or even the nose with spring flowering bulbs: let me explain.

Spring flowering bulbs bloom for a long time. The secret is to keep them in a bright room but not in direct sunlight. The more sunlight that they receive the faster that they finish blooming.
They do not need fertilizer. Not while they are in bloom anyway: that is the ‘miracle’ part of the thing. All of the nutrients are built right into the bulb.
Spring flowering bulbs will last for years. How is that, you say? Well, after they have finished flowering THEN place them in bright sunshine where the leaves will absorb the energy of the sun, convert it into plant sugars and push those natural energy boosters down to the root zone where they store the energy ‘til next season.
After the leaves have turned yellow, plant them in the garden, in a sunny position. Because they are very winter-hardy this works in most any part of the country. Next year they will bloom at their natural time of year.

Is now a good time to plant bulbs in the garden?

Yes and no.
Yes, you can sink a pot full of forced bulbs into the garden, being careful not to do it so early that a really deep frost kills them off. On the other hand, they have ‘built in anti-freeze’ and as such are resistant to frost down to about minus 8 for the most part.
If you plant pre-started flowering bulbs in the garden you will get a record early show of colour and likely fool a lot of your neighbours into thinking that you are some kind of miracle/green thumb.

No – you plant the bulb itself in the autumn.

How do I keep squirrels out of my bulbs?

Short answer is not to plant tulips – they are edible to both humans and rodents.
Narcissus and daffodils are not the least bit interesting to squirrels and are considered mildly toxic.
The other answer is to plant your tulips with chicken wire placed over the top of them to deter the little pests.

How long will flowering bulbs last in my garden?
Depends on the species and variety.
As a rule tulips will last up to 4 years, daffodils 5 or 6 years and hyacinths 3 or 4 years.
However, when you shop for bulbs this fall look for the words ‘suitable for naturalizing’ and plant these. They will grow and improve year after year forever.

Another note:

With night time temperatures flirting above freezing in many parts of the country these days, it is time to think about applying Green Earth Dormant Spray. It is a natural combination of mineral oil and lime sulphur. Both are harmless to plants and people but when sprayed in combination they will kill and otherwise control overwintering insects and diseases.
This is a ‘must do’ for fruit trees, roses, berries, flowering shrubs and any deciduous plant material that gives you problems in this department during the gardening season.
I highly recommend that you apply this before the flower or leaf buds break open.

Keep your knees dirty,


Greatest Show on Earth.

~March 14th, 2011

The back of winter may not be broken where you live, but the strength of the sun continues to increase and we just received a one hour raise this past weekend (except in Saskatchewan where they did not turn their clocks back). So days are longer and the sun higher and the first day of spring is this Sunday.

Things could be worse for Canadian gardeners.

Before I launch into a series of blogs that will feed you timely information that you can take into the garden and use, let’s talk about where to find inspiration for this years’ garden.

This week, beginning on Wednesday, I am speaking at Canada’s largest flower and garden festival, Canada Blooms. I look forward to this festival every year as it provides a great opportunity for me to meet a great number of Canadian gardeners under one roof AND to get inspired myself by the feature gardens that have been installed there.

At the time of this writing the construction phase of Canada Blooms is almost over and I am once again impressed by the sophisticated level of design and the professionalism of the landscape installations. Over $9 million worth of plants, materials, labour and design expertise go into this event and is paid for by the industry professionals of Landscape Ontario, our industry trade association.

In addition to the ‘feature gardens, the ‘Floral Hall’ features the works of international floral designers from New Zealand, Europe, Africa and points beyond. It is the only juried flower show of its kind in the country. The Garden Club of Toronto puts on an outstanding display of flower arrangements that includes numerous categories. If you enjoy flower arranging you won’t want to miss it.

I am looking forward to the ‘Marketplace’: this is where you can buy stuff for your garden. Plants, seeds, bulbs and cut flowers are available in abundance. Pick Ontario is there with bouquets of flowers that will knock your gardening socks off. There are clothes for gardeners, hats, garden d├ęcor items, outdoor furniture, garden tools and you name it. Quite possibly this is the largest assemblage of garden ‘stuff’ any where in Canada at any one time.

Over 200 hours of education.

There are 3 permanent ‘stages’ from which speakers provide almost a constant flow of information: learn how to garden, cook, build a deck or don’t learn a thing, if you want. Just sit and enjoy a break in your busy day at Blooms.

How do you get there?

Exhibition Place, Direct Energy Centre. Go to for all of the info.

If you are driving, it is easy.
If you are flying, Air Canada and Westjet both have some great last minute deals – I recommend that you check them out. Last year I flew Porter, from the Toronto Island Airport for the first time and was thrilled… check them out too, if you live near Ottawa, Montreal or Halifax.

And go to VIA for rail travel info – and note that VIA is sponsoring the VIA Garden Route contest at Canada Blooms… check it out and get on board!

Is it worth the trip?

You could spend 3 days at the festival and still not see it all.

What should I bring?

- camera
- flat soled shoes
- money (‘cause you will want to buy stuff and feed yourself)
- a laid back attitude that allows you to drink in an early, most inspiring spring.

See you at Blooms this week!!


Grow Your Own

~ March 9, 2011

March is the month to get sowing. Seed orders are arriving in the mail and the seed racks at the garden centres are filled with a great selection. Don't forget about the seeds you collected from your garden last year. Growing plants from seed is both rewarding and economical.

Always check the date on the package before you buy. The sell-by date is equally important for seeds as the items you purchase from your grocery store, and guarantees freshness and successful germination. On the reverse side of each package you will find complete growing advice, including the number of days you can expect to maturity and whether to plant in sun or shade.

Sowing seeds can be as simple or sophisticated as you choose. A sunny window can provide sufficient light or you may opt for supplemental grow lights. Plastic-domed mini greenhouses with cell pack inserts are available at most garden centres. The humidity dome helps to seal in moisture and encourages germination. Indoor lighting systems, heating coils and self-watering equipment are available for those looking for a more advanced approach.
Light weight potting mixes, like Green Earth Seed Starting Mix, promote optimum growth.
Seed starting mixes contain sphagnum peat moss and perlite or vermiculite. They have great water retention and drain well.

Peat pellets are another option. They are made from compressed sphagnum peat moss and have a mesh cover. Add water to these pellets and they expand. You can use peat pellets to sow seeds or to root cuttings.
Plant starter fertilizer from Plant-Prod helps all plants develop a strong root system. It has a high concentration of phosphorous, 10-52-10, for strong and rapid root growth in seedlings.

Next Week: Canada Blooms
Celebrating 15 great years
At the Direct Energy Centre
Preview Party March 15
Festival March 16-20

The Countdown to Spring. Starting Seeds, Bulbs and Forcing Flowering Shrubs.

~ March 2, 2011

For many gardeners, March is the start of the growing season. While you are waiting for the temperature to warm up and spring to officially arrive you can keep busy with a number of activities. Starting seeds indoors, potting up tuberous begonias and forcing blooms on cut branches are just a few ideas to get you thinking about spring.

Starting Seeds Indoors:
Always check the date on seed packets before you make your purchase. The sell-by date ensures that the seeds are fresh and will germinate successfully. It is important to read seed package instructions carefully as each variety of plant will have its own specific needs. Different plants and vegetables have different maturity requirements and this information will be listed on the seed packet. Seeds which should be started in March include Asters, Carnation, Dianthus, Dusty Miller, Nicotiana, Pansy, Phlox, Portulaca, Salvia, Snapdragon, Celery, Eggplant, and Peppers. You can wait until early April before starting Castor Bean, Celosia, Dahlia, Marigold, Cauliflower, Cabbage, Cucumber, tomatoes, watermelon and Onion.

Tuberous Begonias:

If you are searching for an impressive plant for a shaded area in your garden, tuberous begonias are a winner. They can provide a wide range of flower and leaf colour in areas of the garden which do not receive a lot of light. This is the time of year to start tuberous begonias, early March. They will need 2 to 3 months before you set them outside at the end of May. Tubers should be started in a shallow tray with a layer of peat moss on the bottom. Place the tubers hollow side up in the moss and add enough peat moss to just cover the tuber. Keep the peat moss slightly moist until the tubers have developed roots. The tray should be kept in a warm spot while the roots form. You will need to transfer your tuberous begonias to a 4" clay pot once they have developed roots. Make sure the pot has good drainage and use fresh potting soil. Leave the pots in a sunny window until top growth starts. Tuberous begonias can be moved outdoors at the end of May once the danger of frost has passed.

Forcing Blooms on Cut Branches:
Branches of spring flowering trees and shrubs can be cut and forced into bloom indoors. Wait for the flower buds to begin swelling and then harvest the branches with a pair of sharp pruners. Choose branches at random from all parts of the plant to maintain the natural shape. As soon as the branches are cut they should be placed in water. Treat branches like any cut flower and keep the vase full of clean water. Keep branches away from hot air vents and heat sources to prolong the life of the blooms. A short list of branches which are easy to force indoors includes: Forsythia, Camellia, Redbud, Dogwood, Flowering Cherry, Crabapple, Witch Hazel and Pussy Willow. Once a pussy willow branch has produced its catkins (fuzzy flowers) you have two options. If you remove the branch from water it will dry and can be used in everlasting arrangements. The second option is to leave the branch in water and allow the catkins to mature and fall off. You will see new leaves emerge and the branches will take root. Plant your new pussy willow outdoors once the danger of frost has passed.

A Reminder that Canada Blooms comes to Toronto, Direct Energy Centre March 16 to 20th. Get your discounted tickets on line at