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.

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.