Meet Mark Cullen

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

The 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