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Gardening Tips

Gardening Tips began in September 2020 as a weekly collaboration with OnRichmondHill.com. Email recommendations for future gardening tips to GardeningTipsRHGHS@gmail.com. 

Society members may click Add Comment following any article, and post comments such as adding more retrospective, agreeing with the contributor, or even suggesting a correction. 

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  • August 05, 2022 9:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Making your own insecticide is less expensive and you can be sure you are not adding harmful chemicals to the environment.

    Insecticidal Soap. Easy and inexpensive to make.  Use ordinary all-soap dishwashing liquid.  Ivory is a good choice and many prefer Dawn.  Do not use detergents.  Check the label as many dish soaps now contain a lot of additives including Oxi-clean which is great on stains but not needed for an insecticide.

    Add 1 tablespoon  (15 ml) or soap to 1 gallon (4 litres) of water and spray everything.  It won’t hurt the lawns, the foliage, nor the flowers.  And it works.  I’ve used it to wipe out all sorts of bothersome pests.  This actually helps clean up your garden in more than one way.  The spray upsets the innards of the local insect population but it also cleans off pollutants from the surfaces of the plants.

    Other Insecticides

    • Used cooking water from asparagus kills bad nematodes and protects the roots and leaves of tomatoes. 
      Notes: Bad nematodes can cause issues with your vegetables and fruit trees. These include: Root knot nematode, Root lesion nematodes, Dagger nematodes, and Ring and spiral nematodes.  There are also beneficial nematodes which you should mix with water and spray into your lawn to kill off grubs! 
    • Antifungal garlic/onion spray will help control disease and insect pests. Try the following:  Add either 2 handfuls of chopped green onions or 4 cloves or garlics – smashed up a bit - to boiling water.  Do not put a lid on the water. Boil for 5 minutes the add ½ cup (125ml) of this onion/gardlic water to 5 gallons (*20litres) of a good fertilizer to make a “fertilizer tea” which can be sprayed on your plants.
    • Attract Beneficial Insects. Some insects are beneficial to the health of your plants. Examples include ladybugs, parasitic wasps, and lacewing flies.  You want to attract these insects to your garden so they can help control insects for you. They will be attracted to your garden if you spray your plants with the following. Mix 2 Tablespoons of brewer’s yeast, ¼ cup of sugar, 1 tsp of honey, and 1/3 cup of warm water. Mix the ingredients together.  To use, take 1 tablespoon of your mixture add it to 2 cups of water and use that to spray the plants in spring and early autumn to attract the beneficial bugs. 
    • Slugs. To kill slugs, you can also use the “attracting” spray mixture just mentioned. Set it out in small containers on the ground to attract slugs which will drink it then die.  
    Article by Doreen Coyne, a member of the Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society.
  • July 29, 2022 9:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Perhaps you'll find this brief list of gardening "To Do's" for August of interest. It may help you get some tasks accomplished before the larger tasks for fall!

    Protect Tomatoes: As evenings become cooler, tender plants like tomatoes may need protective covers to buy them more time to mature.

    Water according to need.  It’s common for August to be a dry month. Be sure to keep an eye on your plants. When you don’t get enough rain, be sure to supplement by watering your plants deeply once per week.

    Strawberries
    Step 1 - Thin Out Strawberries: Strawberries will reproduce quickly. Sometimes the beds of berries can become overcrowded. If your berries have stopped producing, then it is time to prune the runners. Pruning will help them to look better and stay healthy. This will thin out the strawberries; but, you may also wish to remove certain plants and toss them into the compost, or transplant the overcrowded strawberries into a second bed or give the plants to a friend or neighbour so that they too can have fresh berries next year.  BTW: The removal of old canes is something you should also do with raspberries as the weather cools.
    Step 2 - Weed and Mulch:  It is also time to take care of your strawberry beds. Be sure to remove any weeds which may have moved into the beds. Once all the weeds have been removed, cover the strawberry plants with a thick layer of mulch. Mulch will insulate the plants and protect the soil during the winter.

    Save Seeds: A lot of your veggies are ready to harvest this month. So it is time to begin collecting tomato, pepper, and zucchini seeds for next year’s planting. By saving seeds, you not only get the desired varieties and plants you want, but you also save money. Simple remove the seeds when you harvest these plants and place them on paper towel to dry out.  Once dry, put each variety and type of seed into small plastic or paper bags labelled with plant type, variety, colour or fruit/veggie, and date harvested. 

    Remove Dead Crops: As the seasons prepare to change, the summer garden will inevitably end. The plants will begin to die off and stop yielding any produce.  Now is the time to pull up the dead annual plants and plant a cover crop such as oats, barley, wheat, and rye. The cover crop will help protect your soil from the harsh elements of winter.  In the spring you will have to rototill those cover crops into the ground to add their nutrients to the soil. Alternatively, you may wish to cover your beds with straw for the winter.  For perennial flowers, you should consider waiting another month before cutting off the dead foliage.

    Bonus – Plant Some More Vegetables in August: Leafy greens such as lettuce, spinach, collards, kale, mustard, as well as radishes, turnips, beets, and carrots can all be started from seeds in August and still be harvested this year.  Indeed, some of these will still thrive through the first frost or light snow!

    Article by Doreen Coyne, a member of the Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society.

  • July 22, 2022 9:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    When I wander around in the nurseries, I see so many creative garden ideas and such wonderful looking pots and planters. Some years ago, my older son, 16 at that time, thought it would be better to have a sidewalk go from the side of the house to the patio then out to the pool. So, we built one! Turns out making a cement flower planter is a very similar process and it is a lot easier!  Yet it is something you can do on a weekend with your family.

    The materials needed are easy to get and the cost is minimal. You can even use old items from your house or garage. And the results can be as varied as your imagination. Best thing – if it turns out a little wonky, turn the bad side away so most won’t even know it is there.

    Concrete works well even in a natural garden. We have stepping stones and a sidewalk in, or near, our flower gardens. So why not a cement flower planter?  They also add interest. Cement is fairly easy to work with; but be sure to wear plastic gloves to save your nails. And take off rings, watches, and Fitbits. You can make your planters almost any size. 

    Materials

    • Two (2) bowls, planters, or hanging baskets. One must be slightly larger than the other.
    • Quick setting concrete (it dries faster). Quikrete is the one I’ve used.
    • Optionally, Quikrete Liquid Cement Colour, if you wish to colour your cement.
    • A bucket and long handled trowel or shovel.
    • Water.
    • Spatula or long piece of dowel of ¼” to ½” diameter.
    • A hand saw to cut short pieces of dowel if you choose to make drainage holes with them. Otherwise, you will need a drill and a cement bit to allow you to successfully drill into cement to make the drainage holes.
    • Some cooking oil and Pam cooking spray.
    • Optionally cement seal.

    Directions:

    What to make a form from. Let’s consider making a medium sized planter as our first one.  First, you need a form.  A form is something to pour the cement into to keep the shape you want. You may think “how is the cement going to stay on the sides of the eventual bowl?”  Good question – the answer is using a second smaller form of the same or similar shape. You are going to “squeeze” the cement between them leaving what will become the thickness of your bowl.

    For your first attempt, plastic containers of the same shape make a perfect start. Two hanging planters of different sizes will make a great shape as well.  Let’s say you decide to use 2 mixing bowls.  Mine came as a set of 3.  I’ll choose the largest one and the smallest one to get the thickness I want for the bottom and sides of the planter.  You could also use any Tupperware, empty food containers. As long as you have 2 of them, 1 slightly smaller than the other.  Lengths of plywood that are screwed together to make forms allow for larger, more interesting shapes such as squares, rectangular, octagons, etc. If you wood is taller, then you could also make taller planters in these shapes. Bottom line: It’s your planter and your decision.

    Prepare your forms.  It is important to prepare your forms so you can separate the concrete from the forms easily. Coat each form with cooking oil. Completely cover the inside of the larger form and the outside of the smaller one. The cement will be between them. You may also choose to line them with aluminum foil and spray them with “Pam” or something similar. Taking time to do this thoroughly will ensure you can get your planter out of its form with ease.

    Now you need to make the cement.  Of course, quick setting concrete will get your project finished more quickly but you can also use standard cement. I’d suggest a bucket or wheelbarrow in which to mix the cement powder, as well as a ready water source. Now would be the time to colour your cement if that interests you. You can add a bit of acrylic or latex paint to the cement or try QUIKRETE Liquid Cement Colour. Simply drop some into the cement you are making.  Now mix the concrete well until creamy and thick and the colour, if used, is evenly distributed.

    Put the cement into the form.  For concrete flowerpots, add a generous amount of concrete to the larger form until filled about halfway up. Then construct your drainage holes by coating short dowels (the height of the thickness of cement that will be between your form pieces) with petroleum jelly and pushing them into the cement in the bottom of the larger bowl before you put the smaller bowl into the cement that’s in your larger bowl. If you prefer, you can forget the holes at this point. But this means you will need to drill them through your new planter once it has cured. Now place the smaller form into the concrete of the larger one, which will push the excess cement up the sides between your forms. Some may overflow. Use that excess to fill between the 2 forms ensuring there are no gaps and that the top lip of the bowl is smooth.  You can use a wooden stick (or handle of a long spatula or length of dowel) to push out air bubbles as you push the small bowl into the bigger one.

    Curing your planter.  At this point you need to let your cement planter cure. This is the time to clean your tools! Wash your bucket or wheelbarrow, your spatula, shovel and your gloves. Wash down everything that has wet cement on it – except your planter of course although you may choose to wipe off the inside of the smaller bowl and the outside of the bigger bowl.  If your tools dry with cement on them, they are unlikely to be usable for your next project.

    In about 18 hours, you can remove the inner form and the dowels if used. Wait 24 more hours before removing the outer form. To keep the colouring of your cement planter natural you may choose to coat your new planter with masonry seal. This is optional.

    After a few of these, you will be ready to move on to larger cement planters, various planter shapes, and colours!  And remember your “form” materials can all be reused.

    Enjoy while adding interest to your gardens!

    Submitted by Doreen Coyne, a member of the Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society

  • July 15, 2022 9:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Health Canada has information, regulations, and guidelines for pesticide use. They also have helpful information on the risks of using Herbicides. This list regarding pesticides was compiled by Sally Hossain, a Master Gardener in our Society, of Canadian sites that discuss alternatives to the chemicals our parents had access to when we were kids.  Those product brands are still available but without the “harsher” chemicals that did the job. But of course, those chemicals caused environment issues and the newer formulas do not.

    Below is a list of links and topics to effectively handle pests and weeds without creating more environmental concerns.

    • Pesticides and food safety. Information that ensures you are safe if you grow or buy foods treated with pesticides!  Use this link 
    • The Health Canada Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) is responsible for pesticide regulation in Canada. Created in 1995, this branch of Health Canada consolidates the resources and responsibilities for pest management regulation. Read what your government is doing for you. Link.  
    Our Ontario Horticultural Association (OHA) governs all Garden and Horticultural Societies in Canada.  At the bottom of their Resources page (https://gardenontario.org/resources/) there are links to many interesting sites.  Here are a few but you may want to check out the Invasive Plant information as well:

    ·        Canada’s Plant Hardiness Site  This site explores the relationship between plants and climate across Canada. One portion of the site is dedicated to zone maps showing plant hardiness.
    ·        Environment Canada  This site is a comprehensive source of information related to the environment and the weather.
    ·        Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) 
    This government ministry is responsible for the food, agriculture, and rural sectors of Ontario.  Within the OMAFRA site, there is also some good information.

    • Type “Weed Killers” in the search window of the OMAFRA site and you’ll find some interesting articles on weeds including their ability to be resistant to herbicides as well as help to identify the type of weed you have.
    • The Online Gardener's Handbook 2010, Chapter 2: Integrated Pest Management. Pesticides in an Integrated Pest Management Approach.  BTW: Chapter 7 talks about lawns. Link here.
    Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) is responsible for administering the Pest Control Products Act on behalf of the Minister of Health. The Pest Control Products Act regulates the products used for the control of pests.  Link here.  You may want to read about the sections on Pesticides for Lawn Care and Minimizing Your Risks:  Use this link to then go to the sections of interest to you.   

    Article by Sally Hossain, Master Gardener with copy editing by Doreen Coyne. Both are members of the Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society.

  • July 08, 2022 9:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    I have three areas around my house that just don’t get a lot of sun. You’ve read last week’s Gardening Tip on Perennials for Semi-Shaded areas which work well in my front semi-shaded garden.  Now we’ll look to help out the two areas that are in all but complete shade.

    My North-West facing side garden.  You’d think this area should get a lot of sun from the west; but, the shape of the house prevents that and leaves this little garden in the shade all of the time.  A few years ago I found that hostas do quite well in semi-shaded areas so I added a couple of hosta here as well. I put one beside the walkway to my backyard which is in this shaded areas and surrounded by 6 foot high fences. The hosta is now something to behold spreading its medium-green leaves out so that the plant’s diameter is some four feet across.  I tried some coleus; they work well but are annuals and I do prefer perennials.

    My South facing side yard. That area is my biggest problem. I haven’t had a solution to date so it is filled with black mulch which looks great and many visitors don’t even know the area exists. Why?  Because it is bordered on the south by a 6 foot tall fence with my neighbours’ tree branches overhead. And another 6 foot fence divides the yard into two sections with one half in the front yard and the other in the backyard. Needless to say, the area is almost 100% shaded by the neighbour’s house, the fences, and the overhanging tree branches. My interim solution of covering the soil with black mulch works and minimizes weeds.  But I wouldn’t mind a few actual plants in those 2 areas.

    My gardens each need plants that like “the dark”; so, I’ve been reading a lot to find some more plants – especially perennials – that would love a home in a garden that may never have full sun.  I found a few to consider – here’s what I’ve learned to date.

    • Astilbe flowers can be recognized by their tall, fluffy plumes that tower above frilly, fern-like foliage in the shade garden. Although the plants grow in shade, their flowers are more productive in an area where gentle morning or dappled sun can reach them for about an hour or two. So at the east and south most ends of that area may be ok for these as the ends do get a couple of hours of sunlight each.
    • Bee balm plants prefer moist, rich soil, and a sunny location but can tolerate shade, particularly in hot-summer areas. Plant it in any protected spot where colour is a bonus. These may not work for me, but perhaps you have an area with moist, rich soil and a bit more sun.
    • Bleeding Heart plants like to be planted in organic soil in shady or partially shaded areas. You need to work compost into the area before planting the bleeding heart plant in the fall or spring. An herbaceous perennial, the bleeding heart plant dies back to the ground as the heat of summer arrives. As the plant begins to yellow and wither away, foliage may be cut back to the ground as a part of care for a Bleeding Heart. Do not remove the foliage before it turns yellow or brown; this is the time when your bleeding heart plant is storing food reserves for next year’s growing bleeding hearts. I didn’t know that so when mine “died” last year, I threw it out. It had been a test plant so I know it did fine until August.  This year, I’ll remember it is a perennial and not remove it when it dies back.
    • Bellflowers are said to be shade plants but it seems there are so many varieties, that one needs to determine the best type for their garden as the bellflower is quite diverse. Some cultivars (a specific cultivation of a variety) will bloom all summer long, some will make excellent cutting flowers, and others can get invasive and take over the garden.  A trip to the nursery should help me select one variety that may serve my south and north-west gardens.
    • Begonias love shade or morning light with afternoon shade.  I’ll add some to my hanging baskets at the front of the house that is in a shaded area. Begonias add a wonderful splash of colour to the greenery. 
    • To those baskets above, I’ve also added coleus. Ones with darker leaves are great in hanging flower baskets in shaded areas as well. 
    • Delphiniums like a gentle morning sun with afternoon shade. They don’t tolerate extreme differences in temperatures. Last fall I purchased 3 of these and planted each one if a different spot that I thought would provide them with the sunlight they preferred. It was September when I planted them and they continued to grow and bloom. So that was a good sign.  This spring only two of them grew again and they look good.  The one I put in the front yard has wonderful light purple flowers and the one in the back has blue and white flowers. Each has needed “something to lean on” to keep them tall and elegant which is expected with Delphiniums.  But they are more of a semi-shaded area plant and luckily they are getting enough sun in the areas I  planted them in! But note, they are not full shade plants!
    • Ferns are woodland plants that loves to grow under the trees in shade.  I’ve started to use baskets of these on my front porch as 2 of 4 shaded hanging flower baskets this year. They are doing very well.
    • Foxglove flowers grow on stems which may reach 6 feet (2 m.) in height, depending on the variety. Foxglove flowers are clusters of tubular-shaped blooms in colours of white, lavender, yellow, pink, red, and purple. Growing foxgloves thrive in full sun to partial shade to full shade, depending on the summer heat. I don’t have these this year but will try them next year.
    • Hellebores can bloom in late winter to early spring, sometimes while the ground is still covered with snow. Different varieties come in a range of flower colours, from white to black. Note, all parts of the hellebore plant are poisonous, so take care to keep children and pets away; but, they do prefer to grow in filtered sun or a shady location.
    • The Forget-Me-Not flower grows on tall, hairy stems which sometimes reach 2 feet (61 cm.) in height. The flowers have 5 petals and typically blue blooms with a yellow centre.  They bloom from May to October which to me means it is a keeper. They like moisture and are self-seeding. That translates to ensuring you remove them from areas where do not want them each year. But they do grow well in a damp, shady area. I’m going to try these in my south side garden next summer. But just not sure they can be in complete shade.  So I’ll try one in my shaded areas and one in my semi-shaded areas.
    • I wrote about Jacob’s Ladder in last week’s article.  They don’t mind a fully shady area. I will be looking for some of these to plant in the south side gardens to see how well they do in complete shade.

    A lot of us have areas of shade, some semi-shaded/partial-sun areas, and some full sun areas.  When you are searching for plants for a specific garden area, take note of its sun conditions. Then test that against what you see on websites. Many list lots of plants as shade-loving plants but in researching each one, many of them need at least partial sun to survive. So not for you if you have full sun or full shade garden spot.

    Bottom line, be sure you know how much sun each area of your garden gets so you can select the right plants for it.

    Submitted by Doreen Coyne, a member of the Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society

  • July 01, 2022 9:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    There’s still some time to plant and I have an area at the front of my house that just don’t get a lot of sun. Some years ago, I started to plant various things to see what could survive.  Now I need to really learn which “Shade” or “Semi-Shade” plants are actually going to work in each of the “trouble” spots. Today’s article focuses on semi-shaded areas.

    Closest to the front of the house, the plants in this area only get the sun from dawn to about 11am. Most of the day they are in the shade caused by the shadow of the house. Thus, I need plants there that can handle semi-shaded sun.

    Hostas make a great plant for semi-shaded areas. I have planted hosta in this area and they have done very well. Some were started with just 3 to 5 pieces from someone else’s garden. Hostas with lighter-coloured leaves do appreciate more sun, so some of those are now planted under the trees near the pool where it is lightly shaded for part of the day but still sunny.

    To the left Solomon's Seal with a host in front of it. To the right, a variegated Solomon's Seal. 
    Solomon’s Seal is another perennial that I have in my front yard and it is doing very well in the semi-shaded areas.  These actually look like a giant Lily of the Valley.  I have one that has deep green leaves, another with lighter green leaves and another with variegated leaves.  Each started as a group of 5 stems.  Now they are each groups of 40+ stems.  So, you can dig some out and disperse them to your friends every year if your available space is tight.

    I’ve been growing Lily of the Valley in this area now for about 6 years. The plants are fragrant blooming in the spring and early summer in our area.  I have several in my front garden. The stems are covered with tiny white, nodding bell-shaped flowers. The leaves are a medium-bright green.  They form attractive red seed pods after flowering; but, know that they do spread. They prefer partial shade and moist soil but can (apparently, but I haven’t tried it) adapt to full sun or full shade, depending on the amount of moisture the receive.  I quite like mine and may add some to the side gardens.

    This past winter, I read that Primrose, which are perennials, should be planted in lightly shaded areas.  That should mean they can be planted in some sections of this shaded area. And the article stated that the soil should be well-drained and amended with organic matter. It told me to place primrose plants about 6 to 12 inches apart and 4 to 6 inches deep. That should help me determine how many plants to buy.  I’m to water them thoroughly after planting and add a layer of mulch around the plants to help retain moisture. I’ll be starting that planting soon.

    Jacob’s Ladder is a woodland perennial that prefers a shady to semi-shady spot for growing. Its leaves tend to scorch with too much heat or sun. The plant forms a clump of densely packed leaf stems each bearing tiny leaflets, almost fern-like in appearance, that rise along the stem like the ladder of the Biblical dream of Jacob. This ladder formation is known as a pinnate. Each plant grows from 1 to 3 feet high with a spread of 1.5 to 2 feet wide. Loose clusters of flowers hang like bells from the long stems and come in white, pink, blue or yellow depending on the cultivar.  I don’t have any of these yet so they may be added.

    Tiger Lilies are also doing well in the garden. I love their blooms but their blooms are short lasting. I’ll  keep them though as I have  several different colours of them and when in bloom they are very nice.  They  tend to do better with some sun. Indeed, many nurseries list them as requiring full sun. But I’ve found they tolerate partial shade and can actually benefit when shaded from the hot afternoon sun. They must be tougher than they look. 


    Bottom line: The best perennials plants for these spaces for me have been Hostas, Lily of the valley, Tiger Lilies, and Solomon’s Seal.  And now I have a few more to try out. 

    But I do like my marigolds, and coleus so more on those in a future edition!

    A Reminder: When shopping, make sure you know how much sun each area of your garden gets so you can select the right plants for it. You can go out from sunrise to sunset every hour or two and note the level of sunshine in order to purchase just the right kind of plant that needs the level of shade or sun that your garden requires. 

    Submitted by Doreen Coyne, a member of the Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society

  • June 24, 2022 9:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Thinking of throwing a party on the long weekend this summer?  Maybe you’d like to dress up the deck or patio for this event. Had you thought to do that without growing plants?

    During the last Convention of the Ontario Horticultural Association, six bus tours and 13 garden tours were provided to all the Horticultural Society members who attended. All of these tours were done virtually by professional photographers and videographers. Of interest, were a few gardens that had included non-living flowers and floral arrangements in their gardens and patios. If they had not been pointed out, you would not have known they were not live plants.  One item, in particular, was eye-catching. The owner had not only made paper flowers and greenery for her daughter’s wedding bouquet but then she coated the arrangements and mounted them on a partition specifically built and placed in her garden for such memories. It made a gorgeous wall that looked like it was vertically planted and it added good memories to her beloved garden.

    It brought to mind that one of our members, Judy, decided to do this for her backyard garden and patio. And not only does it allow you to personalize your area, and add memories, but for many of us, it decreases the amount of garden care and weeding required which is helpful given that work can get harder to do as we age or due to illness or surgery. 

    Perhaps this is something you’d want to start now for the upcoming outdoor seasons!

    Judy’s project included planting, painting old planters and furniture, and decorating the backyard deck that had been resurfaced the summer before. The result – a maintenance-free area.  She kept a few live trees, roses, herbs, and planters, and hanging baskets that were of sentimental value. Balance is everything!  The goal: No weeding, no deadheading and no watering. Just take them inside in the Fall and bring them outside again in the next Spring. 

    She chose a nice bright colour palette - turquoise, lime green and pink. She spray-painted most of her old planters and furniture in turquoise and lime green, giving them new life.   A number of the pots already had old, nutrition-lacking dirt in them, perfect for the conversion. Some of the ones that didn’t have dirt got partially filled by placing an old plastic hanging pot in each tipped upside down (with thanks to gardening friends for their donations) and for some pots, she used floral foam to help fill them. She then topped them up with garden soil for the weight and natural look. 

    It took a lot of preparation work but she is quite pleased with it all. And that work is only done once typically although there may be a desire to change colours of the planters and pots every few years! She enjoyed sitting outside having a cup of tea in quiet solitude or a glass of wine in the early evening last year catching up with her daughter.  The latest addition was a birdbath given to her as a birthday present.

    In her own words, Judy says: “My backyard deck garden has blossomed into a very uplifting, calming and happy oasis where my daughter and I can spend a lot of relaxing time isolating during the pandemic. I can’t wait to be able to share it with family and friends!”

    Judy has brought all her pots and hangers out of storage and has placed them on her deck again for another season of relaxing usage.

    Article and photos by Judy Simon. Intro by Doreen Coyne. Both are members of the Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society.


  • June 17, 2022 9:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    July is but two weeks away and although I’ve always felt July is “weed month”, the number and growth of weeds seems to have started earlier this year.  From now and throughout July is the time (in my mind at least) that weeds grow the most.  I’ve thought of weeds as a nuisance or our garden’s enemy - something we have to go out to attack, pull, dig out, spray, and kill!  Others would agree I’m sure.  But maybe we need to open our minds and consider that they aren't always a problem. 

    They can perform valuable functions in nature acting as soil aerators and providing nutrients and trace minerals to the soil. This is because their roots often go deep breaking up the soil – even clay and releasing their nutrients and minerals into that newly aerated soil.  They also protect the soil. They’ll grow on any open area for survival; and in doing so, they protect the exposed topsoil. Without them, many open spaces would be robbed of topsoil by sun, rain, and wind. In south-western Ontario, you’ll see many farmers planting rye in the fall on their acreage to help keep their topsoil in place. Rye grows quickly and thickly, holding the soil in place. I’ve used it many times to help start a new lawn.

    When you need to rid your garden or lawn of weeds try following these guidelines:

    • Cultivate weeds as soon as they appear.  Don't wait until they are firmly rooted. What does it mean to “cultivate a weed”? Cultivating is a combination of two things, removing weeds from the garden and loosening the soil to improve the retention and penetration of air, water, and nutrients. Both are accomplished at the same time.
    • It's best to weed after a good rain when the soil is softer and the roots are less likely to resist your pulling. One of the gardeners I hired a few years ago while my knee replacement was healing, watered all the weeded areas for 30 minutes before she worked that area given it made the soil easier to work.
    • Note that tugging out weeds by the roots is thought to excite their roots into additional growth.
    • Weeds with a long taproot such as Queen Anne's lace or dandelions go deep down into the soil and bring up minerals into the soil.  Once the plant is cut off or turned under, these minerals feed the soil near the surface.  Note the mention of “cut off” (at ground level) not “pulled out”.
    • Take care to cut off weeds for mulch before they go to seed. Putting weed seeds into your compost will only multiply the number of weeds in your garden after using that compost.
    • Cut off the tops of weeds and let them lay fallow in rows. This should help them break down more quickly so you can put them into your compost or simply leave them where they are to provide compost to the surrounding plants. Weeds without seeds benefit your compost heap as they are full of nutrients including valuable trace minerals.
    • Weeds act as conditioners to your soil. Their roots make channels through your soil. Earthworms can travel through those channels aerating the soil as they go.
    • For your lawn, I’m told by friends that throwing down extra grass seed will help smother the weeds as more, thicker grass grows. A good method is to rake some compost into the lawn and then sprinkle grass seed on top of it just before it rains. The growing grass can help choke out weeds!
    • To avoid weeds, perhaps this friend’s antidote will help.  She decided to grow edible weeds given she already had lots growing in her garden that she had been weeding out. Having decided to make them a main in her menus, she tended them, cared for them, and harvested them.  But once she started harvesting them to eat, she soon discovered they were no longer growing at all. No problem. No weeds. And then she went back to planting regular vegetables and herbs!

    So try not to frown when you look out in July and see the weeds coming.  Take a proactive approach which means less work each time. And cut them off as opposed to pulling them out. And if you use a Dutch hoe for that purpose, there is much less, if any, bending and thus less back pain!

    Submitted by Doreen Coyne, a member of Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society

  • June 10, 2022 9:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Last spring my husband excitedly told me that our cottage neighbour, an eighty-year-old Korean man, gave him some pig potatoes to plant.  Hmmm.  I had never heard of pig potatoes. I googled “pig potatoes” and I couldn’t find anything.  It took a lot of coaxing for me to plant these things for several reasons. I didn’t have a lot of room in my cottage garden.  The garden needs to be fenced to keep the deer out. And I don’t eat potatoes.

    But in late May I planted them. They started to grow.  Nineteen of them!  And they grew and grew. I had to tie them to the deck railing. They didn’t look like potatoes.  A friend visited the cottage with his father and an older Chinese man who loved to garden.  He was excited to see them. He knew what they were.  But there was not a good English translation.  Something like ‘chokes’!!??

    I thought I recognized the plant.  Sunflowers?  My google search this time came up with Jerusalem Artichokes, which are a type of sunflower! H
    elianthus tuberosus.

    So, how did it get called a Jerusalem artichoke? Well, the Italian gardeners who first settle here called it a sunflower or girasole.  If you slur your speech, “Girasole” ended up sounding like “Jerusalem”.  The artichoke part of its name comes from the taste! 

    In the first week of November, I harvested them.

    Newly harvested pig potatoes

    I was pleased that they washed up well and would not require peeling.  They are to be stored in a cool dry place.  

    What am I to do with this harvest! Back to Google. I have added it to soups. And I will try roasting some.

    I left a few in the ground for next year.  My Korean neighbour has warned me that they will spread and I may want to put a below-ground barrier between them and the rest of the garden.

    This plant has an interesting history.  It had been taken to Europe and cultivated there. It gradually fell into obscurity in North America. It is regarded as a nuisance for cash crops. Indigenous chefs have been including them in their cuisine, referring to them as sunchokes.  They are also called sunroot, wild sunflower, topinambur, or earth apple.

    So why would my cottage neighbour refer to them as pig potatoes?  These tubers do not contain starch, as do the typical potato.  Starch cannot easily be digested by pigs. These tubers contain inulin (not insulin) not starch and hence can be eaten by pigs! Thus – potato-like food for pigs!

    Oh, if you eat a lot of them the inulin may cause gas, hence another nickname – “fartachokes”.  If you see these anywhere to buy, you may you want to plant them now.  Just don’t eat a lot at a time.

    Other interesting articles on Jerusalem Artichokes:

    Submitted by Marj Andre, a member of the Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society

  • June 03, 2022 9:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Are you fed up with floppy flowers?  Are you disappointed when your delphiniums fall sideways?  Perhaps it is time to think about plant supports rather than waiting until the peonies are dashed to the ground in a sudden heavy downpour.

    Place the peony rings around the plant when the first deep-red shoots emerge from the ground in spring.  For finer foliaged plants there are metal rings with a grid across and with three or four legs. These give good support as the plant grows.

    Homemade half domes of chicken wire serve to gather in the floppy growth of some shorter favourites such as perennial geraniums and should be in place over the emerging plant early in spring.

    Buy a large bundle of the longest bamboo stakes you can find (they can always be cut to size) preferably stained dark green or black so that they will disappear among the foliage and along with the stakes get a good big ball of garden twine. Don’t buy the straw-coloured ones; again, try to find a dull green colour.  If you are looking for a present for a gardener in early spring there could be nothing more likely to bring a smile to their face than these two items.

    Use several stakes around and even in among the plant, so that the twine may be woven through and not merely “cinched around the waist” of the plant, a very unnatural and rather amateurish look.  Support your plant as naturally as possible.

    When staking delphiniums, be sure to use stakes long enough to support not only the flowering stem but also to extend alongside the flower itself; it is sad to be left with tall standing stalks topped with broken-off flowers.  

    When you are pruning branching shrubs keep the twiggy bits – which some call “pea sticks”.  They are great poked in amongst lax growing plants which will grow to cover them from view.  Should you have thrown out your twigs, keep an eye on what the neighbours might put out on your garden refuse day!

    Certain tall later flowering plants will benefit from the “Chelsea chop” - the removal of about a third of their height. This is done before the bud set, around the time of that British flower show, at the end of May or the very beginning of June.  Growth will be sturdier (less staking) and flowering somewhat delayed.  The cut may be of the whole plant or sections so that the blooms will be staggered.  Summer phlox, yarrows and asters are good candidates.

    Submitted by Jennifer Wingate, a member of Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society


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