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.

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.

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