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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. 

  • August 06, 2021 9:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    You know those crawly critters with the pinchers on their tail end. Named because they do like to hide in dark, narrow places in the garden, Earwigs are a common garden inhabitant and it seems like everything in the garden may have a few hiding in it or under the leaves. Especially vegetables.

    As seen in the photo below, the male earwig has curved pinchers while the female’s pinchers are straighter. Males tend to use theirs to challenge other males during the mating season according to a recent speaker I heard. Female earwigs are very maternal and will protect their young for about a month! Who would have guessed? So, earwigs do have some good qualities!

    How do you know if it is earwigs that are causing issues in your garden?Earwigs don’t leave tell-tale droppings such as those left by scavenging caterpillars. Slugs leave a slime trail as they move over your plants. Earwigs eat holes in your plants and plant leaves.  On the plus side, earwigs can be beneficial in the garden as they are known to eat aphids and insect larvae although they feed mostly on decaying plant matter.  But holes in the leaves of your flowers and vegetables can be annoying so let’s find out how to get earwigs out of your garden.

    After much research, it turns out the best trap is one that contains any fishy-smelling oil - tuna, salmon, or sardines. Some people use a vegetable oil but add a small amount of Soya sauce to it. I'd think some Chinese Fish sauce would be a better addition than Soya sauce.  Either way the "smelly" oil attracts the bugs in what is commonly called an “oil trap”.  

    For a container, I’ve used a more rigid tin one that came with Italian take-out.  But really any aluminum tray that isn’t very tall is good. You might one you get  from take-out food or a dollar store. If the tray is about 2” tall, it should work well. Perhaps a used plastic margarine container could be used given they are very easy to find.

    I have read that some people bait the trap with canola oil and others add bacon grease or hamburger fat as the smell of grease and oil attract the earwigs. But I’d fear that smell of food would attract raccoons and other animals that you don’t want to invite to your backyard.

    A recent “Gardening Know How” article suggested testing the usage of a lid with entry holes over the container. The idea was that it allowed the container to be emptied of bugs and refilled with fish oils periodically allowing you to catch earwigs over an extended period of time or if your move the trap, it could be used in several different spots within your garden.

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

  • July 30, 2021 9:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Are squirrels eating all the food you place in your birdfeeder?  My late husband would put out birdfeed and had many a squirrel as well as raccoons emptying the feeder regularly.  But he continued to fill the feeder given the joy he got from watching both the wide variety of birds in our backyard and from feeding several “friendly” squirrels by hand at the back porch.  We both enjoyed watching the variety of finches, woodpeckers, bluebirds, and cardinals.  I still hang suet in the trees in winter so I can enjoy the birds.

    If your bird feeders hang from tall poles, this gardening tip will certainly be of interest to you. It is very simple to implement. Simply hook one end of a metal or heavy plastic slinky to the top of your pole.  Let the slinky elongate itself down the pole; don’t try to stretch it further. When a squirrel comes to eat, they tend to climb the pole. Once they hook a claw or paw in any part of the slinky, it will further extend down the pole which is frightening for the squirrel.  And thus they don’t tend to come back and try again!  Of course, if your feeders are simply hung from a bracket under the eaves of your house, you could cut short sections of the slinky and coil them on the access arms of the feeder to provide a (small) degree of squirrel defence. 

    This idea was recently circulating and shared many times on Facebook having come from Debby Keller.  You can watch the video at this link. See the July 6th entry.  I’ve captured the publicly shared images of the pole with slinky for all of you to enjoy.

    BTW: This series will publish most weeks for a few months but will miss a few. So watch for it in the OnRichmondHill.com newsletter. And if you don’t subscribe, do so now using this link. It always has great articles on events and news in Richmond Hill. If you have interest in a specific topic for this series of “Gardening Tips”, please send your request using this email.

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

  • July 23, 2021 9:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Many people believe that organic gardening is simply growing food and flower gardens without taking measures to promote the growth of your plants or prevent pests and diseases. Organic gardeners will definitely beg to differ with this view!

    Gardening in a way that nourishes the soil without synthetic fertilizers while rejecting the use of toxic chemicals to control pests and diseases of crops is possible. This can be cost-effective while protecting the environment, improving soil fertility and plant health. Impressive yields are achieved of chemical-free food by nourishing your soil while avoiding nourishing the wide range of critters that will be eager to enjoy the fruits of your labour!

    Crop row covers are an excellent method of protecting against both flying and crawling insect pests. If carefully installed, they are efficient at thwarting rabbits and other rodents too. They are also an effective deterrent to slugs and snails.

    Row cover fabric can be purchased at hardware and gardening stores or ordered online. It is a lightweight, white synthetic material, although heavier fabrics are sometimes used where protection against cold temperatures, wind, harsh sunlight is desired. In all cases, the fabric allows light, air and water to enter. 

     

    A floating row cover, which is extremely lightweight (fragile) can be placed directly over a plant without the need for further support. It then should be weighted down with soil, stones or wood. A supporting framework is needed for other plants. This makes it easier to recycle the row covers in subsequent years as the more robust fabric is less likely to become ripped with use.

    More delicate plants, benefit from a framework of support. This could be a framework already being used like tomato cages, stakes or trellises. Again, to exclude pests, this needs to be buried at or below ground level. Hoops are generally used commercially; you can purchase these or make your own from materials you have on hand. Hoops must be higher than the mature crop or the fabric must be removed once the plants are bigger and more resistant to pests.

    The row covers are generally able to be removed before harvest, but where pests continue to be problematic, they can remain in place throughout the season. With careful use and storage, row covers and supporting materials can be reused many times as a further benefit to the environment!

    Article and photos submitted by Dinah Gibbs, a member of the Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society

  • July 16, 2021 9:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Last year one of our monthly speakers was a teenager, Emma Biggs, well known for growing tomatoes in downtown Toronto.  She spoke of how to grow them, get the best yield even in a small garden, and how to harvest the seeds to start the next season.  Although it wasn’t a part of her talk, one of her photos showed plants growing from within a bale of straw. This got my interest being raised in the tomato capital of Canada!  And thus, I began my quest for finding out if using straw was common.

    Many gardeners, especially vegetable gardeners are using straw as mulch. The benefits are many:

    • It covers the ground to effectively stop weeds from growing. The reasoning is that the straw blocks out the sun, preventing most weeds from germinating and growing. BTW: That also means do not put straw on top of newly plants seeds until the plants have grown to a fair size and then keep it about 2” from the stocks with only a light amount around the plants.
    • Straw composts slowly enriching the soil. For tomatoes, when soil moisture stays even calcium can be transferred from the soil to tomatoes more easily, preventing disease.
    • It keeps the soil moist so plants don’t dry out as quickly and thus need less watering. This also keeps the soil moist and workable.
    • It releases its nutrients including nitrogen so they can be easily absorbed into your plants and the soil beneath the straw. Thus. less fertilizer is needed.
    • Additionally, it can serve as the growing media keeping fruit and vegetables off the ground to avoid root rot. This works well for strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, and squash.
    • And I’m sure you can see that these benefits will also save you time.

    What exactly is straw and could you use hay instead?
    Straw
     is an agricultural by-product consisting of the dry stalks of cereal plants after the grain and chaff have been removed. Straw is dried and baled when harvested and therefore less likely to mold or attract moisture. Straw is less expensive. Farmers might use it in nesting material for hens, or ground cover in chicken coops. Hay is grass, legumes, or other herbaceous plants that have been cut and dried to be stored for use as animal fodder (food). That may mean that hay also has been sprayed with herbicides or pesticides. Another thing to note about hay is that it typically contains seeds, often weeds.  The last thing you want to do is add a source of weeds to your garden.  So please use straw.

    Straw around plants. My son made a vegetable garden in my backyard last summer. It grew a lot of good vegetables but also grew weeds. This year I suggested laying straw around the base of the plants and in the rows between plants once the seedlings were a reasonable size.  No weeds!  And they need less watering. We did NOT put straw in my radish, carrot, nor green onion beds as they are grown from seed and shouldn’t be covered.

    Spots to encourage grass seed to grow.  We thought about repairing a few bald spots in the lawn left when two trees died. We prepped the soil, added seeds and some topsoil then a very light covering of straw to keep the ground moist in the hot days we had this past spring.  A few weeks later the new grass had taken hold and was growing well. We then removed the straw so as not to choke out the new grass.  Straw goes a long way; we still have half a bale in the garage! It was purchased at a local nursery for $12. When I googled to find some, several big box stores and nurseries were selling it.

    Growing potatoes in straw. A friend who uses it for growing potatoes told me she uses a foot or two of straw atop the potato bed to grow clean potatoes that can be easily harvested.  Because potato roots are shallow, tubers form in the straw and she reports that her crops are always bigger when she uses straw as both mulch and soil media. Maybe I’ll try that next year. Another simply puts straw on the ground under her pepper and tomato plants so that the ripened fruits and vegetables won’t get blemished. The same works for zucchini, squash, melons, and pumpkins.

    So back to the beginning. Why did Emma Biggs have some of her plants growing in bales of straw?  Remember this was not a part of her presentation but something that caught my eye. I believe they were used as ready-made planters. Simply place them on the ground (you could even put some cardboard under them to stop weeds from coming from the ground below) then add good-sized seedlings. No need for soil. A wise use of space and time. Nutrients come as the bales compost. Moisture is retained for less watering. Few weeds can germinate and grow. And the straw will decompose!  

    Planting directly in a straw bale. Plant seedlings by creating a hole in the bale deep and wide enough to accommodate the roots, and insert the root ball directly into the cavity. add a little soilless mix to protect them if needed. If you are sowing small seeds, you can plant them into a bale by laying down a thin layer of sterile soilless mix over the top of the bale and covering the seeds with a light dusting of the mix. Larger seeds (peas, beans, and squash) can be inserted directly into the bale to a depth of around the second knuckle on your finger.

    Turns out that straw is the new vegetable grower’s mulch!

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

  • July 09, 2021 9:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Writing about the invasive Garlic Mustard was to be a simple, therapeutic way to share my daunting experience of discovering and attempting to eradicate this aggressive plant. I had noticed it with increasing frequency on my mother’s country property a few years ago, and now in my small urban garden, which backs onto woodland. Beware, my friends, it likely lurks in your favourite green spaces as well.

    As I undertook further research on this green beast, I recognized that writing about it was not to be simple at all. Its threat to our biodiversity is astounding, and its management quite complex. There is much that I discovered about the invasive Garlic Mustard. I will offer some notables, as well as some suggested links for additional information.

    Garlic Mustard is a biennial (2-year life cycle) herbaceous plant in the mustard family, native to Europe. It was apparently introduced to North America as a food source and used as herbal medicine by settlers in the late 1800s. It, unfortunately, escaped cultivation to become a serious invader in Ontario.

    Make the time to recognize this plant. It will look different in each of year one and year two.  For more details, Ontario’s Invading Species Awareness Program1 offers excellent resources, including photographs, a fact sheet, and management practices.

    First-year plants are low-growing rosettes with rounded, kidney-shaped leaves, scalloped on the edges. On mature plants, the upper leaves are more triangular, becoming smaller toward the top of the plant. The leaves have noticeable veins and deeply toothed edges. At the top of the plant will be one stem that flowers with a cluster of small white flowers, when blooming in the spring. Depending on when you find the garlic mustard, it may also have lots of thin seedpods. The giveaway for Garlic Mustard is the smell. The stems, leaves, and flowers smell like garlic, especially when crushed. The flowers attract pollinators, which is why, sadly, some have suggested introducing this plant to your garden…. oh oh, and oh no!

    First-year plants are low-growing rosettes with rounded, kidney-shaped leaves, scalloped on the edges. On mature plants, the upper leaves are more triangular, becoming smaller toward the top of the plant. The leaves have noticeable veins and deeply toothed edges. At the top of the plant will be one stem that flowers with a cluster of small white flowers, when blooming in the spring. Depending on when you find the garlic mustard, it may also have lots of thin seedpods. The giveaway for Garlic Mustard is the smell. The stems, leaves, and flowers smell like garlic, especially when crushed. The flowers attract pollinators, which is why, sadly, some have suggested introducing this plant to your garden…. oh oh, and oh no!

    Garlic Mustard is hugely damaging to our environment:

    • It commonly grows in urban gardens and woodlands and carries diseases like mosaic viruses which may affect other garden plants
    • It is a nuisance for dairy farmers because when eaten by livestock, the garlic flavour can be tasted in the milk, making it unusable.
    • It releases chemicals that change soil chemistry and prevent the growth of other plants.
    • It can establish itself and become the dominant plant in a forest understory within 5-7 years. It displaces native woodland plants and wildflowers, many of which are now listed as species at risk, through competition and/or through changes to the soil and leaf litter.

    How do we control this green beast?  I felt quite proud that I must have eradicated at least 3000 of these plants over the last few weeks.  However, work is still ahead for me. These plants are so adaptable, they anticipate how we want to deal with them!

    My first thought was to take the weed wacker to them! Oh oh! This is called basal cutting. Basal cutting involves cutting 2nd-year plants at the base of the stem. The best time to do basal cutting is just after the plant's flower, and before they produce seeds. Garlic Mustard plants can flower at different times but typically from March to May, so it will need to be repeated more than once in a season. Plants that have been mowed can still send up flowering stalks, but continuous mowing throughout the growing season can prevent seed production. Basal cutting is preferable to hand pulling because it reduces soil disturbance.

    Hand pulling is a practical strategy for small populations. However, pulling Garlic Mustard by hand creates soil disturbance, which stimulates the germination of seeds. Seeds can stay dormant over winter and remain viable in the soil for up to five years!  If you elect to pull, do so from the base, to remove the entire root.  If Garlic Mustard roots are damaged but not removed, small buds on the roots will sprout additional stems. They are then able to produce replacement flowers, as late as July and August. Once they go to seed, plants can produce up to 150 seed pods, with up to 22 seeds per pod! Oh oh! Hand pulling must be repeated more than once. So, here I go again…

    Control measures must be continued for at least 5 years to ensure that the seed bank is depleted. It is important to remove both stages, 1st and 2nd-year plants, as removal of only the tall flowering plants may reduce competition to the basal rosettes, increasing their chances of survival and flowering in the next year. It ain’t over until it’s over! If an area is cleared of Garlic Mustard plants, it should be re-planted immediately with other plants or covered with leaves or mulch at least 5cm thick to reduce its seed germination success.

    Back to the initial food source reference, many rave about garlic mustard pesto. I make the traditional basil pesto but have never tried to make the garlic mustard pesto which is likely because my feelings about this green plant aren’t so flavourful. There are many recipes out there.

    Garlic Mustard is invasive and hard to get rid of once it enters your garden. That makes it something to be concerned about.  Whether you choose to chop it, clip it, pull it or puree it, we all appreciate your vigilance in controlling this green beast and protecting our environment.

    References:

    1. Ontario’s Invading Species Awareness Program
    2. Ontario Invasive Plant Council 
    3. King County. Garlic mustard identification and control. Alliaria Petiolata
    4. Morning GA Clips. Managing Garlic Mustard 
    5. Friends of the Mississippi River (Twitter). How to Identify Garlic Mustard  
    Submitted by Monica Ahrens, a member of the Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society
  • July 02, 2021 9:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    ISSUE:  Help! I repotted two tropicals with some potting soil that appears to be saturated with little fruit fly-looking beasties! I added a sticky fly tape and it is covered with them. I’ve sprayed both plants with soapy water to no effect! Any ideas on how to stop this would be appreciated. I’m finding them everywhere.

    SOLUTION: The good news is that fungus gnats are relatively benign. Adults do not bite and do not harm plants. However, the larvae can do root damage in that volume. Typically, larvae feed on algae, fungi and decaying plant material in soil, but can also feed on root hairs.

    So, what to do? First you need to change your cultural practices. You need to let your soil/media dry out. This will kill off the larvae and reduce their food source. Sticky tapes as you are doing can be used to collect the adults so they don’t continue to breed and spread.

    Generally, pesticides are not recommended. Mostly because they are not particularly effective at dealing with the larvae. Anything from soaps to pyrethrins (pesticides found naturally in some chrysanthemum flowers) can kill off adults, but these give temporary results as they do not persist long. There are more long lasting synthetic pyrethroids products like Schultz fungus gnat spray (containing Resmethrin) that require less repetition; but honestly, I think you will be able to manage it with cultural changes.

    Researchers have found that Bounce® fabric softener dryer sheets (Outdoor Fresh Scent) repel fungus gnat adults and greenhouse producers insert dryer sheets into growing medium. There are ongoing experiments with things like lavender (Lavandula angustifolia Mill.), marjoram (Origanum vulgare L.), and basil (Ocimum basilicum L.) which contain linalool (3,7-dimethyl-1,6-octadien-3-ol) to see it they have the same effect. You might try sprinkling some oregano on the soil surface as an experiment. Sliced potatoes pressed on the surface of the soil are great for drawing the larvae to the surface. They are good for monitoring levels and the surfacing larvae can be discarded to remove some of the problem.

    More Reading:

    •  Colorado State University Extension. Fungus Gnats as Houseplant and Indoor Pests #5.584
    • University of California Agricultural & Natural Resources. Integrated Pest Management Program Fungus Gnats Management Guidelines
    ResearchGate.net Journal of Agricultural and Urban Entomology Jan. 2003, Effect of monitoring technique in determining the presence of fungus gnat Authors: Ana R. Cabrera, Raymond A Cloyd, and Edmond R Zaborski

    Article by Cathy Kavassalis, Halton Master Gardener. Used with the author’s written permission.

  • June 25, 2021 9:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Rose flowers are incredibly beautiful to look at and those with fragrances are a bonus to smell. It is why roses are called the queen of flowers.

    There are three major growing habits of roses - the early (spring) blooming ones, the summer-blooming ones, and of course ones that rebloom.

    To have continuous blooms throughout the season, one must ensure that you are planting varieties that rebloom. It is best to position them in your garden with this recommended layout placing the spring roses at the back and the others in the front for greater effect and visual impact.

    I find that roses are easy to care for if one follows these steps:

    • Cover the roots with well-rotted compost in the fall or early spring.
    • Put collars around the Hybrid Tea Roses for winter protection. I use one- or two-gallon plant pots that I cut to fit over the plant.
    • In early March or April, treat the roses with dormant spray to eliminate overwintering bugs. Prune dead branches to open plants for better air circulation.
    • As soon as the leaves start to bud, use “Rose Food fertilizer” or sprinkle ¼ to ½ cup of Epsom salts around the roots and water well.  Around mid-June do another application of the fertilizer or Epsom sales. Stop fertilizing at the end of July so that plants can preserve energy for winter.
    • Meanwhile, continue to deadhead the spent blooms to prevent bugs and to allow plants to use their energy to produce more blossoms rather than seeds.
    • Treat with insecticidal soap if aphids are found.
    • At the end of the season, trim down very tall plants except climbers to avoid winter damage. Those with hips are good for the birds or you can make tea with them.  I use some of the branches with hips in planter urns for my fall outdoor displays.

    Note: A rose hip (aka rosehip) is the round portion of the rose flower just below the petals. Rose hip contains the seeds of the rose plant.  Rosehip is also called rose haw and rose hep. It is considered the fruit of the rose plant. It is typically red to orange but depending on the variety of the rose, it can also be dark purple to black.  Rose hips begin to form after successful pollination of flowers in spring or early summer and ripen in late summer through autumn. Rose hips are used as herbal medicines and foods as well as for ornamental purposes. Source for note's information and photo of Rose Hips: Wikipedia

    Article & rose bush photos by Rahe Richards, a member of the Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society

  • June 18, 2021 9:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Recently the Old Farmer’s Almanac had an interesting article on thinning vegetable seedlings and getting rid of cutworms. It also had good before and after pictures which helped with showing how this was done. If you’d like to read the entire article, please use this link1.

    The bottom line on thinning seedlings was that all plants need adequate space to grow and flourish.  When growing from seeds, we tend to sow lots of seeds given not all are likely to grow.  As the seeds grow into seedlings, it is important to pull out some of them to ensure the remaining ones have space and nutrition to grow and develop roots.  However, last week, I watched my son thinning his seedlings and I noted that he didn’t throw any away; he simply separated the earth they were in then repotted the seedlings farther apart.  When he goes to plant them in the soil this weekend, they should all be much bigger and can be planted outdoors with appropriate spacing. His was an interesting solution; but, if you seed directly into the ground, it is more successful to pull out and discard the smaller seedlings to allow adequate spacing.

    The article then went on to state that cutworms can often be seen in the ground as you work and plant the seedlings. This larva will eat through the base of your plants leaving roots without a source of chlorophyll and severed stems with leaves without roots lying on the ground.  The author had an easy fix for cutworms by spreading some Diatomaceous earth3 covered with dried and crushed eggshells over the ground around the plant. 

    I hadn’t heard of cutworms nor Diatomaceous earth so that caused me to do some research. Here’s what I found it.

    Cutworms: According to Wikipedia2, Cutworms are moth larvae that hide under litter or soil during the day and feed on the stems of plants, especially on seedlings, during the night. Various species are of similar size and shape but vary in colour. A biologist would call them caterpillars.

    Diatomaceous Earth (aka DE):  Diatomaceous earth is made from the fossilized remains of tiny, aquatic organisms called diatoms. Their skeletons are made of silica, a natural substance, and although used as a pesticide and insecticide, a food-grade version is used by many people as a dietary and health supplement. For purposes of killing cutworms, note that DE can kill many types of larvae and insects; thus, many online resources suggest you not sprinkle it all around the soil of the affected plant. Rather, using a spoon place a line of it around the severed plant plus lines around the nearby plants that you’d suspect the larvae to attack next. The larvae do not tend to cross the lines of DE that you place on the ground and thus you can target the placement of this insecticide.

    Happy gardening this summer!

    References:

    1. “Thinning & Cutworms. How to thin vegetable crops with before and after photos.” By Celeste Longacre, June 3, 2021, Old Farmer’s Almanac. Website link.
    2. “Cutworms” Source: Wikipedia. Website link.
    3. “Diatomaceous Earth. General Fact Sheet.”  Source: National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC). Website link.  NPIC is a cooperative agreement between Oregon State University and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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

  • June 11, 2021 9:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Some perennials start to bloom earlier than they are supposed to either due to early summer weather or great soil where they are planted.

    Perennials like Sedum, Chrysanthemums (mum), and Asters are meant to flower in the fall, but they start to bloom in the summer. To discourage that early bloom, between mid-June to end of June, give them a haircut by “shaving off” the set buds. This means that if your plants, or even just some stems, start to grow buds too early, you should trim off the buds which will delay flowering by 2-3 weeks. Not only will they bloom later in the fall, but they will also branch out and make heavier, more compact plants.

    Photo Credit: plantcaretoday.comYou can also pinch back the stems of such plants slightly below where the buds had been and above the next set of healthy leaves. Do this once or twice in the early summer to promote bushier growth and more blooms. You should cut plants like asters back in the winter after the foliage has died, or you may choose to leave them through the winter to add some off-season interest to your garden.

    Other flowers like perennial geraniums, Shasta daisy, campanula, columbine, and coreopsis can give you a second set of blooms. After the bloom, cut the whole plant down to about six inches from the ground.  This will allow them to grow again and prolong the season for flowering.

    Pruning a rose bush can also provide more stems to grow and each new stem will have more flowering heads. This is something one does in the spring.

    An easy method to get more flowers for a longer summer set of blooms is to deadhead all your plants.  This can be done to annual geraniums, roses, gerbera, lantana, and other flowering plants regularly throughout the summer.  Deadheading a plant, simply means removing the dead flowers from the plants rather than waiting for them to fall off. You’ll be guaranteed to see more blooms.

    Here’s to more flower blossoms!

    Submitted by Rahe Richards, a member of the Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society

  • June 04, 2021 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    As a toddler, the firstborn to my parents, I enjoyed time spent in the garden playing in my sandbox. A companion, who invariably joined me in my play, was a magnificent toad. I named my new friend "Toady."  Hardly original, I know.  I was glad of the companionship; however, I had no idea how fortunate we were to have toads residing in the garden. 

    Toads eat insects which damage flowers and vegetables. Their very presence indicates a healthy environment as they are very sensitive to toxins. I just thought toads were fascinating creatures who trusted a solitary little child. Toady hopped around, gazing at me with the most beautiful golden eyes.

    Last year, while planting potatoes, I spied a toad in my vegetable plot. I wanted to encourage that toad and all others to stick around. I sunk a terracotta plant pot sideways half into the ground. I placed a plastic container close by, constantly supplied with clean water for my "bug crew" to drink. I covered my Toad Motel with sticks and leaves for shelter, until the potatoes grew up to provide leaves.

    I was rewarded by few insect pests all season long. Working in the garden all summer, my eyes often detected movement as the, perfectly camouflaged, amphibians hopped to safety. The day I finally finished cleaning up the last of my crop and prepared the soil for winter, I saw at least seven toads!

    Unsure whether my Toad Motel was suitably winterized, I none the less piled soil, straw and leaves on it, leaving a small entrance. I also put dry straw and leaves into the terracotta pot as added insulation. As the leaves fell, the migratory birds departed and days shortened, I didn't see Toady again. I did refill the water before it freezes, just in case. Sleep tight, Toady, see you in the spring!

    And yes, he and his friends are here again this spring. So, if you see a toad, you have a healthy environment for your garden and a little toad shelter will help keep them close by to eat the bad insects!

    Article and Photos by Dinah Gibbs, a member of the Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society

Member of the Ontario Horticultural Association

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