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.

Bed Bugs

~ February 29, 2012

In last week’s blog I talked about ladybugs and Asian Lady Beetles. Bed bugs are another insect that will become more active as temperatures rise and days lengthen.

Adult bed bugs have received a lot of attention in recent months as reports of their appearance have spiked. The adult bed bug is about ¼ of an inch long (1/2 cm) and they are flat as paper. They have oval shaped bodies with no wings. They bite. In addition to feeding on human blood they will bite mammals and birds. They attack at night and survive for up to 6 months.
No wonder no one wants them inside their home.

Bed bugs get into your home through clothing, luggage (never put travel bags on your bed) and furniture. Once they are in your house they make themselves at home in mattress seams, creases, and folds. They will hide in cracks in the head board and bed frame. In short they are quite at home wherever it is dark during the day and where they can hide. When your body is as thin as a piece of paper, you can hide most any where!

Getting rid of bed bugs is a process.

Inspect your mattress and bed frame, particularly the folds and other places that they like to hide.
Wash all linens in the hottest water possible and place them in a hot dryer for 20 minutes.
Remove all unnecessary clutter (great excuse to purge your kid’s room!)
Seal cracks and crevices between baseboards, on wood bed frames, floors and walls with caulking.
Monitor daily by setting out glue boards or a trap/monitor. Place the monitor/trap on the bed frame near the mattress. Green Earth makes one called Crawling Insect Trap and Monitor.

Spray using an environmentally responsible insect killer that contains pyrethrins. Green Earth makes one called Biomist Insect Killer that can be diluted for application and that will do the job.

Naturally, if either bed bugs or lady beetles get out of hand I would encourage you to call a local pest control company.
If you have been bitten by bed bugs see your doctor. While most bed bug bites go away by themselves some people do get allergic reactions to them. Scratching the bites can lead to trouble in the form of infection, too.

There is more information on bed bugs at and

One last word on the new bug season that is ahead of us: the vast majority of bugs in your garden are beneficial. They play a vitally important role in the decomposition of raw, organic material and the general renewal of your garden each spring. For the most part, I welcome them into my garden each spring. The aforementioned bugs excepted.

First Sign of Bug Season

~February 22, 2012

Come early March I will be overwhelmed with questions on my website about ladybugs. It was not always so.

As a kid we were told not to harm ladybugs as they did a lot of good in the garden. All of that changed about 10 years ago with the arrival of the Asian Lady Beetle. Imported by well intentioned people, the Asian Lady Beetle was ‘brought in’ in an attempt to use integrated pest management on a rather persistent aphid problem in soy bean crops. These bugs have a voracious appetite for aphids, consuming up to 270 of them in one day.

I am sure that it seemed like a good idea at the time. However, no one thought to check these beetles out to see if they hibernate indoors over winter, multiply in biblical proportions or if they bite. All of which they do.

Warm House = awakening Bugs.

As the temperatures in your home rise and as days grow longer the lady beetles that have hibernated in your home since last fall will awaken. During the day they will move towards the sunshine, that is why you find many of them on window sills this time of year.

Controlling the Asian Lady Beetle is not difficult for the most part. When you see large congregations of them vacuum them up and be sure to clean out your vacuum the same day or they will just crawl out and go back to being a nuisance. Sometimes they smell odd when you vacuum them. This is their natural reaction to being disturbed and the smell will go away.

I do not recommend that you step on them or otherwise squish them as they ooze yellow stuff that smells even worse. Besides, you could end up with a yellow smear on the wall or floor that is not easy to clean up.

Control for lady beetles may be achieved with the use of white powdered silicon dioxide. Green Earth makes a product called Slug and Bug Killer Dust that can be used around pets and children to control many household pests. Apply it on the sills of windows, along the exit through sliding doors and anywhere that they tend to congregate.

One last thing on lady bugs. The Asian variety (Harmonia axyridis) should not be confused with the 3 ‘good guys’ that are native to our land. The 7 Spotted Lady Beetle, Oval Lady Beetles and the Pink Spotted Lady Bug (or C Mac for short) are great friends to the gardener and farmer.

They too will consume nasty bugs like aphids, scale and other sucking insects that otherwise can do a lot of damage.

Soil is a Living Thing

~ February 15, 2012

As a gardener I am acutely aware of the impact that my activity has on the soil in my garden. If I plant tomatoes in the same soil two seasons in a row I invite a host of unwanted disease and pests. If I don’t add compost and sharp sand to the perennial beds every second year the productive cycle of flowering and seed production drops noticeably. I have learned that if I do not ‘feed the soil’ the plants that grow in it will draw nutrients from it to the detriment of the soil itself.

Soil – or ‘dirt’ – is a colony of living things that are interwoven in their dependence on one another for survival. Leaves and trees fall to the forest floor to provide rich fodder of raw organic material that, as it rots, feeds the bacteria and insect life that converts it into something that plant life can use. Mycorhizae and a host of insects finish the job.

And so the cycle continues.
Our gardens do not generally benefit from rotting tree limbs or the fallen leaves unless we leave them there intentionally. All too often we blow our leaves into a pile with a power assisted leaf blaster and bag them up for the municipality to haul away. Does that make sense? No, I didn’t think so.

There are some people who argue that the most valuable natural resource in Canada is not oil or natural gas or even our fresh water. It is our soil. I agree with this group. Through reading and experience I have learned that our willingness to add to and enhance the quality of our soil, to ‘invest’ in it in every way possible, not only makes eminent sense but is a necessity if we plan on farming and gardening sustainably.

Perhaps you will think that there is very little that a gardener can do on a small residential lot or condo balcony to enhance and protect the soil that feeds us. Maybe so, maybe not. Truth is our attitude towards soil and the enduring qualities that it possesses when treated with due respect is an attitude that is rooted firmly at home. That should be good enough reason to soil-save if you ask me.

Plan a Trip

~February 8, 2012

Mid winter is a good time to plan a trip for this spring or summer: you will likely save some money and once you have committed the time in your schedule it is hard to back out. You get what you plan for.

Travel opens our minds to broader horizons. We gain a deeper understanding of how gardens are created and an appreciation for the value of time. A garden that is several generations or centuries old feels different than the one in your back yard. These gardens help us understand that a garden is created not for the gardener but people who are not born yet.

Here are my top 3 gardens in North America:

Minter Gardens, B. C.
In 1980 a young entrepreneur by the name of Brian Minter was hiking through a mountain path not far from his Chilliwack home when it occurred to him that the real estate would make a spectacular garden. He was right. He bought the mountain, so to speak, built the garden and earned an Order of Canada in the process.

Today Minter Gardens is one of the great Canadian secrets of public gardens. Truth is most people travelling the Trans Canada highway through Mission B.C. will drive right past the door of the place and not even know that they are missing a tremendous horticultural gem. Many will be on their way to Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island, which is also worth the visit. But it is not Minter; quiet, contemplative, wildly innovative (check out the new children’s garden) and one of the hot spots for weddings in the Fraser Valley.
Go to

Montreal Botanical Gardens.
What the Montreal Canadiens are to hockey, the MBG is to North American gardens. You will find culture, a storied past: an icon of the city that for some reason is a big secret to many of us here in Ontario. This is hardly fair.

Recently a friend, who I would not judge to be a very passionate gardener, ‘discovered’ the Montreal Botanical Garden and came home raving about this ‘find’ where an authentic Japanese Garden, an extensive collection of trees and rare plants, wildlife and meandering paths provide an extraordinary experience within easy reach on public transit. You can discover it for the mere admission price of $16.50. Check it out on line and you will find that there is one botanical garden that rivals our own Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington: the MBG.
Go to

Longwood Gardens.
Pierre S. du Pont was an industrialist and a gardener. He also had a lot of money. Longwood is the only garden, to my knowledge, that is maintained by an endowment left by the founder. A recent six million dollar capital project was financed from the interest earned by this incredibly generous foundation. And that is in addition to financing the operating costs of the place. When you pay $18 to get in to Longwood you are merely topping up the income required to maintain this extraordinary treasure.

Longwood is a full day visit. It is impossible to do this expansive property justice in any less time. The vegetable gardens showcase traditional gardening methods and heritage varieties as well as the current hybrids. Fountains of water can be heard from hundreds of meters away due to the shear volume of them. The greenhouses always feature a seasonal display that will knock your gardening socks off and there is a great restaurant, snack bar, gift shop and …. Well, let’s just say that the entire experience is top drawer. It is worth the drive to Philadelphia (1/2 hour north). Get the details at

Bulbs Help Beat the Blues

~ February 1, 2012

Forced bulbs in the home are a wonderful sight and a great pick-me-up after a long Canadian winter. What better way to celebrate spring is finally on the way than with a fresh show of colour and fragrance, and the promise of a new gardening season just around the corner?

You may have experimented by forcing your own bulbs this year, but if you ran out of time, forgot to buy extra bulbs, or simply thought you’d delay the experience until next year, this is the answer. The only effort involved is a trip to browse around the garden centre, and what could be a better way to get a horticultural ‘fix’ at this time of the year!

The bulbs you will be seeking will be green, plump with buds, and almost ready to burst into bloom. They will most likely include the proverbial herald of spring; the daffodil, together with splendid Darwin tulips and fragrant hyacinths, all displaying the latest colour shades available for 2012. If you look carefully you will also find containers of mixed bulbs combining both fragrance and colour. What could be more exhilarating when snow still covers the ground, blotting out all signs of the earth and new growth, than cheery spring bulbs?

If you bring potted flowering bulbs into your home, I suggest that you will get the best and longest blooms from bulbs when you ensure they are not in a direct line with the warm, drying air from the heat vents. It is enormously beneficial to put them in a cool spot overnight, such as a cold room to prolong the blossoming period by several days or a week.

Once the blooms have finished don’t neglect these enthusiastic performers. They will perform an encore for you next year if you plant them in your garden. Keep them watered sufficiently to maintain healthy foliage to nurture the bulbs until you can plant them directly into the ground when the soil thaws. Next spring they will bring your garden to life when Mother Nature dictates.