December 21st is our winter solstice

Today, December 21st, is our winter solstice here in Canada and the rest of the northern hemisphere.  That means it’s the shortest day of the year.  It also means the days will now start to get longer.  Yaaaaaay.  Technically, winter solstice,  also referred to as mid-winter, is an astronomical event that happens as the earth travels on its orbit around the sun.

winter solstice

 

This date reminds me of my father as he, like me, much preferred summer and spring.  He always commented on the winter solstice, getting great satisfaction in the fact that the long winter was getting shorter.  On the flip side, on June 21st, our summer solstice, he would grumble and complain that the days were getting shorter.

 

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Purple jacaranda trees

These jacaranda trees, currently in bloom in southern Australia, are beautiful!  These pictures show how these spectacular trees line the streets in Adelaide…

 

The pictures remind me of our crab apple trees in the spring and our maple trees in the fall here in Canada.  The striking purple color of the jacaranda trees grabbed my attention of course because GRAY IS NOT MY COLOR;  I am a blatant  PURPLEHOLIC.

 

Never have I ever

Never have I ever seen lavender or clematis blooming in late October!  At least not in our zone 4 to 5 gardens here in Ottawa.   I have cut back June lavender blossoms before resulting in late August, even early September reblooming, and have seen spring blooming clematis rebloom in August, but never late October…

 

 

Ornamental grasses are at their peak, waving in the breeze.  Other perennials still in bloom or reblooming include clematis, lots of roses,  phlox, butterfly bush, Russian sage, periwinkle and more.

 

 

I am supposed to be doing fall cleanups on my GARDENS4U clients’ gardens this week, but their gardens are still so nice I hesitate to cut anything down.  I did get covered in burs and seed heads removing some weeds though; a peril of the job…

never
seed heads and weeds

 

Even the butterflies and bees are loving this warm fall weather; this butterfly bush was covered with both…

 

I am in no hurry for frost to send these beautiful perennials into dormancy.

Cottage wildflower garden

A large space on our cottage property currently acts as a buffer between the road and the cottage.  Since the road is a major highway in these parts, a buffer is necessary.  A wildflower garden for a buffer is in the making.

A 2-foot strip of vegetation along the road is cut by the township each year.   Adjacent to that there is a flat strip, then the land begins to slope downward before it levels off.   The slope is approximately 10 feet wide.  A row of cedar hedges was planted approximately 40 feet from the road many years ago, but the area between the bottom of the slope and the cedars is left to grow wild.

Last season we planted several evergreen trees (pine and spruce) at the bottom of the slope.  This season we planted more, spaced throughout the flat area to create (eventually) a forest of evergreen trees as a visual and noise barrier between the road and the cottage.

I have always felt this whole area was wasted space,  What does a gardener do with wasted space? She turns it into a garden of course, in this case, a wildflower garden.  This season I whipper snipped the flat area around the evergreens.  I had to be careful to avoid all of the frogs as there were lots. I then sprinkled the seeds randomly along the slope and flat strip close to the road. Pink and white coneflowers, Queen Anne’s lace, black-eyed Susans, pink and red beebalm to name a few. These plants are not exactly wildflowers but hardy and tall perennials instead.  I mixed all the seeds in one large bag as I was collecting them to achieve the random look of a wildflower garden.

I can’t wait to see what it looks like next season!

 

Blue, pink and purple hydrangeas

Some of my GARDENS4U  gardens have blue hydrangeas and some have pink hydrangeas.  A garden I was at recently had both.

 

 

We all know that blue and pink together make purple, so I was not surprised to see a few pale purple blossoms…

 

hydrangeas
purple hydrangea

 

So, how do you know if your soil is acidic or alkaline?  Try this simple soil pH test using ingredients from your kitchen:

  • Collect soil from different parts of your garden.  If you have a large garden, you may want to label your containers.  Styrofoam cups work well.
  • put 2 spoonfuls of soil into each of several containers.  (Two containers for each location)
  • Add 1/2 cup of vinegar to the soil in one container.  If it fizzes, you have alkaline soil, with a pH between 7 and 8.
  • If it doesn’t fizz after doing the vinegar test, then add distilled water to the other container taken from the same location until the 2 teaspoons of soil are muddy. Add 1/2 cup baking soda. If it fizzes you have acidic soil, with a pH between 5 and 6.
  • If your soil doesn’t react at all it is neutral with a pH of close to 7.

 

pH-scale-courtesy-of-chesapeakquarterly.net_

 

 

If you prefer your hydrangeas to be pink, make your soil alkaline (pH of 6.0-6.2)  You can do this by adding garden lime to your soil.

If you would rather your hydrangeas to be a blue color lower your soil’s pH to the acidic side (between 5.2 and 5.5).  Acidic soil can be achieved by adding 1/2 cup wettable sulfur powder or other commercial soil acidifiers each spring.  Pine needles or pine bark applied as a mulch also creates acidic soil conducive to blue hydrangeas.  So does compost or composted manure.  Some gardeners have had success using coffee grounds to provide acidic soil around their hydrangeas.

Once you get your soil’s pH figured out, try adding the appropriate soil amendments to just one side of a hydrangea bush to see if you can get both pink and blue blooms on one plant; perhaps you will end up with purple!

Thunderstorm season

The weather here in Ottawa has only seen a few hot sunny days typical of our usual summer season.  Thunderstorm season would be a much more accurate description of what we have seen.

 

Once again I was chased from a client’s garden due to a thunderstorm today.  I am averaging at least one thunderstorm per week this summer.  There has been a lot more than that, but I am only counting the ones during the day when I am out and about visiting gardens.

I do not mind working in the rain, in fact, rain helps keep me cool and keeps the mosquitoes away from me.  Wet gardens are also easier to remove weeds from.  If it rains too hard, I seek shelter under an overhang until the rain subsides enough to work in…

 

Thunderstorms, however, make me nervous when I get caught outside in one.   I am always worried that if I get struck by lightning, no one would notice or find me since I usually work in gardens where no one is home.

I do love to watch and listen to thunderstorms, but from the safety of my home though!

Row housing for the birds

Our new deck at the cottage currently has row housing (for birds) along the beam under the overhang…

row housing for the birds
row housing for the birds
row housing for the birds
row housing for the birds
row housing for the birds
row housing for the birds
row housing for the birds
row housing for the birds

 

Eleven nests all in a row, protected (somewhat) from the rain by the overhang, in varying degrees of completion.  We have yet to see a bird using any of the nests, so not sure if they were all constructed by one slightly confused bird (all the locations do look similar) or a group of birds.

It does look like a new suburban housing development, many very similar houses all in a row!

Are grubs destroying your lawn?

Many people are discovering that grubs, the larvae of some beetles, can destroy your lawn if not detected early and treated.

Although the most common destructive grub in Canada was originally from the native June bug, recent introductions of the Japanese beetle and the European chafer within the Niagara region have resulted in their migration further east and north in Ontario, causing havoc to lawns in eastern Ontario.

Adult June bugs are a shiny red-brown color, reaching up to 1 inch in length.  The Japanese beetle is much smaller, less than 1/2 inch long, with a metallic bronze and green color.  An adult European chafer is similar in size to the Japanese beetle, but tan or light brown in color.

All of these grubs have c-shaped bodies and six legs, however, the June bug larvae are white, while the larvae of the Japanese beetle and European chafer are a beige color. Upon hatching the grubs are tiny but reach a mature size of up to 1.5 inches.

 

 

 

Another major difference between the types of grubs is that the June bugs take 3 years to mature while the Japanese beetle and European chafer only take one year.  As a result, infestations of white grubs (June bugs larvae) happen every third year, while infestations of the other two types can happen annually.

 

grubs
chafer life cycle

 

Although grubs prefer the fibrous roots of your lawn the best, they do feed on other plants, especially carrots and potatoes.  Ryegrasses and fescues tend to be more resistant to grubs in your lawn, while geraniums and larkspur are immune to grubs in your gardens.

So, how do you know if your lawn is being attacked from below by grubs?  These are a few signs:

  • patches of lawn turn brown and can easily be lifted in chunks
  • skunks and birds, mainly starlings and blackbirds, will tear up chunks of lawn to get to the grubs
  • patches of affected lawn often feel spongy and soft to walk on

 

The best ways to prevent grubs are:

  • keep your lawn healthy as adult beetles prefer weak, stressed lawns for laying their eggs
  • aerate and remove excessive thatch annually to break up compacted soil and ensure good drainage
  • do not cut your lawn too short as adult beetles prefer short, dry lawns to lay their eggs
  • leave lawn clippings on the lawn and use fertilizers with high potassium and nitrogen
  • water your lawn deeply but infrequently to encourage deep roots and promote drought tolerant lawns
  • hand pick adult beetles putting them in soapy water to kill them
  • attract natural predators like blackbirds and starlings with birdhouses
  • use a mixture of ryegrass and fescues lawn seeds

 

To treat grub infestations:

  • apply nematodes (microscopic, parasitic organisms) to attack the grubs. Be sure to read package instructions on when and how to apply them
  • water your lawn heavily to bring them to the surface so birds can eat them
  • apply composted manure and grass seed to replace the destroyed lawn patches

 

Hopefully, you will not experience the damage these grubs can do!  If you do, I hope these tips help get rid of them quickly.

Long sleeves and gloves essentials for garden work

In addition to gloves, I like to wear long sleeves to work in my gardens.  A good pair of garden gloves protects the skin and nails on your hands and fingers.  Otherwise, bacteria in the soil and garden material can cause health problems if allowed to penetrate your skin.  This happens faster and more often than you imagine.

Most garden gloves, however, do not protect much past the wrist area.  Without long sleeves to protect my arms, I end up with scratches, scrapes and contact dermatitis…

 

My skin is extra sensitive, so I have kept some of the long-sleeved, lightweight T-shirts and sweaters that my sons have outgrown for this purpose:

long sleeves

 

 

Now I just have to remember to quit pushing up the sleeves when I get warm!  That’s the problem I have when the weather warms up too quick in spring.  That seems to happen often here in Ottawa, Ontario.  I don’t get a chance to finish the spring cleanups in long sleeve weather.  It’s a tough problem to have, I know, but I do love the cooler weather for garden work.