Gardening? Today? Who would have thunk it!

This might not seem too outrageous in your part of the world, but in mine gardening today is definitely pushing the season. After all, we still have lots of snow and today is the first day our temperature has risen above the freezing mark.

So, for those of you also lamenting the late arrival of spring here in Ontario, I will give you the exciting details of what gardening chores I was actually able to accomplish today. The rest of you can yawn in boredom as you mutter “been there, done that already.”

Every time I pull in my driveway these days, I am reminded of how sick I am of seeing the brown and crispy fall/winter arrangements that looked so green and lush last fall and for most of the winter…

Today the sun is shining and the temperature above freezing so I pulled out my garden gloves and secateurs…

gardening today
gardening essentials

First I tackled the evergreen arrangements that are an eyesore, at least I attempted to. Even though the temperature is warm today, the soil these branches are sitting in is still frozen in one of the containers. (One gets full sun all day, the other only a portion of the day) What is left of the one is just the blue spruce branches that are still a beautiful bluey green color. I know, they look kind of lonely without anything else to complement them, so I will have to find something to add, even if the plants are fake. The other container will have to wait until the soil thaws sufficiently enough to remove the branches and ornaments.

By the way, the ornaments (red dogwood branches, pinecones on spikes, etc) spend the summer in my gardening tool organizer, AKA a plastic shoe storage unit, that hangs on a wall in my garage…

gardening today
gardening tool AKA shoe storage

Another thing I tackled in my brief gardening stint today is the ornamental grasses I could reach. I like to leave them over the winter so the fronds can blow in the wind, but by this time of the year they are either broken (from the weight of the snow) or the seed heads have blown off. Before they send up new growth, and as soon as you can access them, cut them back to a few inches from the ground.

I have several in my back yard, but they are still buried under at least two feet of snow, so will have to wait for their trim. I do however, have one large clump beside my lamp post in my front garden that is accessible and several as experiments in pots on my front veranda.

As this veranda is always bathed in full sun and protected from the wind, I can get away with less hardy plants there. This year I tried leaving the ornamental grasses I planted in pots last summer on the veranda over the winter. Each time it snowed, (quite often this winter) I covered them with snow for some moisture.

The general rule of thumb for perennials in containers is that you have to (should) use plants that are hardy to two zones below your gardening zone. It appears I was successful in my experiment though as I see some green inside the trimmed shoots. That’s a sign they did not die, exciting news to me.

Earlier this week I helped a friend stage her house. She wanted fresh, live pussy willows and spring blossoms for her front porch, but as the temperature was still close to -20C overnight, we settled for plastic. Plastic flowers have come a long way; not the plastic flowers your grandma used to have!

gardening today
spring blooms

Perhaps I will go back to the dollar store and pick out some plastic flowers for my front containers.

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Propagation attempts of succulents

If you follow my blog and gardening website, you will know I love succulents of all shapes and sizes. So much so that I included one tiny succulent in each of the party favours I presented to each guest at my daughter-in-law’s baby shower last winter. Tell me you noticed the succulents as the header of this blog’s landing page.

Succulents are my favourite perennials as they tolerate hot sun and require little to no maintenance. Hen and chicks (sempervivum) are especially easy to propagate, simply by removing the ‘chicks’ from their ‘mother’ and inserting them into soil in a new location right in the garden.

This off-season of my gardening business, I decided to try my hand at propagating some succulents inside the house. So far, so good. All I did to encourage propagation was tuck a few leaves from various types of succulents into houseplants around the house. Especially the ones in a sunny location. I also tried placing a few leaves in a small, shallow, clear container into which I added a tiny bit of water. (second picture) The container sits on a north facing window sill.

The leaves withered up, but tiny new plants emerged at the base of the leaf in each propagation attempt. Just be sure to keep the soil moist around the leaves inserted in soil as well as a tiny bit (just enough to keep emerging roots wet) of water in the bottom of the container.

Overwintering frost tender tropical plants

After procrastinating about it for years, last fall I chanced across the opportunity for overwintering some tropical (frost tender) plants. I have always put off doing this because I could never bring myself to purchase plants for my garden, deck or porch that would require more than minimal work.

Bringing plants inside for the winter seemed like too much work. I know, that sounds lazy, but my style of gardening favors perennials that can withstand our cold winters with minimal maintenance. That’s what my clients are looking for too, in fact low maintenance is their number one request.

Back to last fall. One of my gardening clients has a neighbour that is moving to a smaller home. My client suggested I look over the plants he was looking to donate to a good home. I assumed she meant the low maintenance perennials I referred to above, but instead found several bougainvillea and other tropical plants that he could not remember the name of. (Part of the reason he is moving is because he had a stroke and struggles to remember words)

As most were not blooming, I could not tell what they were. He did tell me he always moves them indoors for the winter. From that I was able to determine they are tropical or frost tender. I did recognize a few bougainvillea plants by the withered, hot pink blossoms that had fallen into their pots. If you are not familiar with bougainvillea, look at any touristy picture of Greece. It is the gorgeous pink flowered vine climbing the walls of many of their homes.

overwintering
bougainvillea

So, I loaded all of his offerings into the back of my van and brought them home. Some, including one bougainvillea and one mystery vine-like plant, are spending the winter in the sunny corners of my bedroom. All others are in my basement, near a window.

A word of warning if you try this. Shortly after you bring them inside their leaves dry up and fall off. No amount of watering can prevent this from happening. In fact, while overwintering these plants, watering should be minimal until all the old leaves have fallen off and new growth appears. This will prevent mold from forming on the soil and soil gnats from thriving in the pots. To deter both of these possibilities, I spray the soil of these plants as well as all of my house plants with a mixture of lemon and thyme regularly. You can help the overwintering process by gently removing any dead (brittle) leaves and stems, although this makes a bit of a mess…

overwintering
messy project

After that step, be patient and wait for new leaves to appear. They will come back! In the meantime, tie up any vines so they have support to climb on. I like using plant ties made of Velcro. Pictured below, they are gentle on plants, reusable, and easy to remove from the convenient roll they come on. Simply cut or rip off the size you need. These ties are also green, so camouflaged to blend into your stems and leaves. Nothing ruins the look of a beautiful plant than an unsightly support system.

This is the bougainvillea that currently has a prime spot in my bedroom, it is well on its way to recovery. I have watered this one more frequently than the rest of the plants I am overwintering because of its sunny location. No blossoms yet, but new leaves are sprouting daily…

overwintering
overwintered bougainvillea

My only dilemma now is waiting for spring. In our gardening zone I will not be able to move these plants outdoors until mid May. I am very anxious to see what these plants will look like on my sunny front veranda and back deck. I think the vivid pink blossoms of the bougainvillea will be spectacular against the white railings on the veranda. It should thrive in the hot, full sun conditions there too.

As soon as I figure out what the mystery plants are they will find a new home for the summer too, depending on their sun requirements.

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s garden is NOT a commandment…

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s garden is not one of the ten commandments.  In fact your neighbour would probably be tickled pink if you admired their garden and asked them for advice.  Better yet, use other people’s gardens as your inspiration for your own dream garden…

Fall is the perfect time to plan and start or restore a garden.  If you do not yet have a garden or would like to modify the one you have, follow this back-ache free method.  I have not yet tried this method, but it appears reasonably easy and scientifically sound.  I would be willing to help anyone wishing to give it a try…

First, decide the shape you want: do you like straight edges or do you prefer rounded, curved edges?  An easy way to visualize the shape is to lay a garden hose on the grass where you want your garden to be, adjusting the hose around the perimeter until you arrive with a shape you like.  A general rule of thumb is to have the garden’s width a minimum of one third its length.  In other words, a foot wide garden around the perimeter of your yard will not be as visually appealing as a wider one.  Remember though, it is your garden, use your artistic genius and go with the shape YOU like!

When the shape has been determined, cut the grass short within the designated area.  You are going to be smothering this grass, so short is best.  Next, lay non-glossy newspaper over the area, wetting each layer, until you have a 3 cm thick soggy mess!  Sprinkle the newspaper layer with a dusting of blood meal for nitrogen.  Then add a 4 cm layer of garden soil that has compost added. (not potting soil or top soil)  Your final layer should be 6 cm of organic, hardwood mulch to hold the other layers in place and to keep weeds from germinating.  It must be organic to decompose and enrich the soil.   Continue to water well between layers and after the mulch for the next few months; do not let your creation dry out!

In the spring, when the soil has warmed up, your garden will be ready to plant.  You do not have to disturb your layers, simply dig out a “plug” of mulch a bit bigger than the size of your plant, add the plant, and replace the mulch.  Remember, to prevent your plants from rotting,  keep the mulch away from the crown of perennials as well as the stems or trunks of shrubs and trees…

Remember, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s garden is not a commandment, so feel free to do so!