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Garden & Horticultural SocietyBeautifying Richmond Hill since 1914

Gardening Tips

Gardening Tips began in September 2020 as a weekly collaboration with Email recommendations for future gardening tips to 

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. 

  • May 30, 2021 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    This article, the last of three parts, helps answer the question of how to deter garden insects and pests.

    Birds are a great help in the garden because they consume lots of insects and are a joy to watch. Whether you are a gardener or not, you may find enjoyment from watching birds visiting your yard. You can put up a feeder and keep it full to attract a wide variety of birds. Keep it filled with seeds in late autumn through early spring. This way, the garden will be their existing haven, and when summer rolls around, they will feed on the insects at hand. You could also place a birdbath near the garden so that the birds don’t pick at tomatoes for the juice. But ensure the birdbath either has flowing water or that you clean and refill it with fresh water frequently. According to an episode of the TV show “Homestead Rescue”, the Raneys showed how painting smaller stones red and placing them on the ground around your strawberries kept birds from pecking at the real strawberries.

    Other interesting things to help deter pests:

    • Squirrels:  Stop squirrels from digging up planted corn with a mixture of 2 tablespoons liquid fish fertilizer to a gallon of water sprayed on rows. Where to get that fertilizer?, big box stores, and nurseries.
    • Cats and Dogs: There is a great plant that deters cats and dogs due to the smell of the plant. Commonly called the “Piss-off Plant’, you can get it at a local nursery such as Richters Herbs.
    • Cats, Dogs, Squirrels:  Discourage slightly bigger pests from entering flower or garden beds by sticking lots of chopsticks or plastic forks in the ground (points and prongs upwards) where you’ve just planted seeds. Also use them to surround young, tender plants as they grow. This leaves no room for animals to dig or disturb the plants, helping the plants get a good start.
    • Raccoons, Skunks, Squirrels, Snakes, and even Japanese Beetles: Keep these critters out of the garden by applying a wide stripe of garden lime around the garden perimeter. When an unwanted critter licks off the lime it will experience an unpleasant burning sensation, and hopefully, leave the garden plants alone.
    • Deer:  Scatter dried blood meal (available at any home and garden center) on the ground between rows of vegetables in the garden every week to 10 days to deter deer. This works for rabbits and groundhogs, too. However, blood meal tends to attract dogs so sprinkle garden lime on top of the blood meal to repel the dogs.
    • Moose: Bright orange tape wrapped around stakes surrounding your garden plot has been known to help keep moose away. Of course, living in Richmond Hill has proven to be an effective way to avoid moose eating my garden plants. :)
    Hope you’ve enjoyed this series on keeping insects and pests from your plants!

    By Doreen Coyne, a member of the Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Societywith additional information picked up from talking to several other members.

  • May 23, 2021 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    This article, part two of three, attempts to help answer the question of how to deter garden insects and pests from your gardens.

    Certain plants tend to repel insects and small critters from disturbing both vegetables and flowers.  There was a good article from The Farmers’ Almanac on the topic this past February, titled “Ten Plant That are Known to Keep The Bugs Away” by Amber Kanuckel. In her article, she lists the benefits of Lavender, Basil, Alliums, Thyme, Mint, Lemongrass, Chrysanthemums, Petunia, and (my favourite) Marigolds. Another great article is from Gardening Know How titled “Using Marigolds Around Plants – Do Marigolds Keep Bugs Away” by Mary H. Dyer.

    Marigolds: I love the look and colour variations of Marigolds. I first planted them 3 years ago and a wonderful side effect was a reduction in the number of insects in my front garden where they were planted. The back gardens, without Marigolds, still had lots of insects. It turns out that the marigold is one of the most well-known insect-repelling plants and the French Marigold variety is apparently best although my marigolds were not of that variety. The scent from a marigold will keep pests like mosquitoes, various worms (ex. hornworms, cabbage worms), squash bugs, whiteflies, and other pests away.  Personally, I found that they helped eliminate a variety of small beetles that tended to irritate me and my plants. When planting marigolds place plants around and amongst vegetables and ornamental plants. It is best to put them in groupings or rows around the edge of your garden or in between your vegetables.  I planted mine around the border of my garden and added extra marigolds near the plants that I saw got more insects the prior year than other plants, such as tomatoes, hostas, and roses. And yes, I do put cherry tomatoes in my front garden. Marigolds are reportedly helpful around potatoes and strawberries as well. Additionally, Marigolds attract beneficial insects, like ladybugs, that attack and kill aphids. At season’s end, harvest the seeds for next year and “plow” the rest of the plant into the soil to provide even more control of nematodes in the soil. Below are pictures are Marigolds.

    Citronella Geranium: Other HORT members, tell me that Citronella Geranium, aka the Mosquito Plant, is a great natural insect repellent. It helps to keep pesky bloodsucking mosquitos away because this specific variety of geranium has the citronella gene embedded in it to give us that lovely smell while also repelling several insects! It’s a good idea to plant some around the outside area of your gardens or patio. Others report that you need the oil from the plant to spread around the patio or garden as a repellent. Give it a try to see if it works for you.

    This is the traditional weekend for planting gardens. Enjoy the outdoors, the warmth of the sun, and your time with nature as you plant your selected flowers and vegetables!

    Submitted by Doreen Coyne, a member of the Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society with additional information picked up from talking to several other members.

  • May 16, 2021 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    When doing a presentation earlier this year, the question of what to do about garden insects and pests was raised. This article, part one of three, attempts to help answer that question.

    For squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, a fence is probably your best defense!  To keep these hungry balls of fur from eating all your vegetables, you might try the following home-made low-cost garden fence. My son put in a new garden last year and the fence he put in kept the critters from the vegetables. It wasn’t too tall but tall enough to keep the little animals that come around our residential neighbourhood away from the veggies. 

    To build the fence, he first purchased the following supplies:
    - Stakes: He decided on a small diameter dowel (2-3”) that we could easily cut at home to the desired lengths of 3-4 feet.
    - Netting: Not sure if this was a forever solution although this is its second year now and it is holding its own. He bought garden netting – about 2+ foot wide and made of a plastic-like material. He found it online at Canadian Tire and I’m sure other big box stores and garden outlets would have it. The holes in the net are small and thus the animals can’t get in and haven’t tried to gnaw it apart either.
    - Staples/Clips:  Given he used small stakes, the netting could be attached to the garden dowel with our construction stapler. My son also decided to go to the local dollar store and came back with several large potato chip bag clips for $2. Their “heads” were wide enough to go around the dowel. If you don’t have a stapler, you could use clips for the entire fence. Be sure to get the ones with the widest head openings.  A short piece of wire (or a twist tie) could be used for this purpose as well but the top should be stapled to avoid the wire from sliding down the shaft of the dowel.

    Now starts the process of assembling the fence.  The stakes were driven in easily and deeply with a mallet leaving 2 feet above the ground. It has to be tall enough so that rabbits won’t hop over it. Then put the netting up around the stakes going in front of one then behind the next one, etc. The netting should go to the ground – indeed make a little trench and bury a few inches in the trench. At each stake, you can more securely fasten the netting using a staple at the top and another about 8” off the ground so as not to interfere with the lawnmower. That advice really should be taken if using clips rather than stapling! To make getting into the garden easier for yourself, we cut a piece of netting to make the “entrance”. We stapled the netting to the stakes on one side and clipped it to the stack on the other side such that removing the clips allowed an easy doorway for weeding and harvesting. 

    Your fence should now be done and you are ready to grow your vegetables and other plants!

    Submitted by Doreen Coyne, a member of the Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society with additional information picked up from talking to several other members.

  • May 09, 2021 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    My garden make over has been a work in progress with many challenges.  I have only been the new owners of this property for the last three years and during the first two, I have managed to revitalize an overgrown tired garden, into a space that consists of year-round perennials and blooming annuals for colour, which I love. 

     After taking what it seems to be never-ending removal of weeds, and over 100 garden waste bags later, cutting overgrown bushes and trimming trees, I was able to slowly sort through what made sense in the space that I had.  I tried to take inventory on what plants I was familiar with and researched ones I was not.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help from people who stop to look at your garden.  I even offered many plants to other people when I was culling through the space.  I loved doing that.  I started by creating a rock garden in the front of the property using Chilean black stones and colourful larger rocks as the center stone, you can be very creative with rocks, I also used coco bean shells as mulch which is unique and colourful; you can find these at Angelo’s Garden center.

    I planted three (designers like to accent in threes, you can also use this principle in gardens) dwarf lilac trees, with burning bushes in between, the great colour in the fall offsets all the greenery.  There was an overgrowth of ground cover, tangled English ivy and many other varieties that I am not sure of their names, but it was overtaking the entire garden.  I had many seedlings, and wild weeds and plants that you would commonly find in the forest’s trails in the neighbourhood.  It took some time to sort through these and then give-away, discard, or relocate plants to open the space. With the space now opened up, I used colourful hanging baskets until I could figure out what else I wanted to plant.

    This used to be a four-foot fence between me and my neighbours’ home.  I extended the boards a few extra feet with small pieces of fencing boards, and the vines already in place continued to grow to the new height.  The privacy of the space is quite amazing, it was so simple to do.

    I also created a side garden for all my fresh herbs and vegetables.

     It has been labour intensive to say the least, but a real pleasure to see the end results.  My end goal is to have a colourful garden that is less work to maintain.  I have enjoyed the process and will continue to change things up as the seasons go.  I hope you enjoy your garden as much as I do mine.

    Article & Photos by Samantha Butler, a member of the Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society

  • May 02, 2021 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    While you may think that stepping stones in the garden bed make a nice decorative touch, there is a much more important reason to include stepping stones among your plants and bushes. 

    Photo by Lyne WebbWe all need to get into the garden beds to plant, weed and harvest.  Walking on the soil causes it to compact, especially if the soil is composed of any amount of clay.  When compacted like this, essential oxygen and moisture are prevented from reaching and nourishing the plant roots.  The stepping stones need to be large enough for both your feet, as you will likely want to crouch down while standing on them.  They also should be set into the soil so that they lie level, providing for firm footing.  You may also need to use stepping stones as a path between a sidewalk and the lawn to avoid people trampling the garden accidentally.

    Stepping stones can be fancy, but that is not necessary.  Often, after the garden grows, the stepping stones will end up covered by foliage; but you, the gardener, will know where to find them when you need a firm footing.  Of course, you can buy these at the box stores such as Lowes, but you can also find them at nurseries.  For a less expensive solution, I have used bricks, as well as broken pieces of patio stones. I’ve also made concrete stepping stones in a mold.  Other members have made paths using unused, or discarded, hardwood flooring.

    Be creative. Use materials you like. Lay a path that provides you with a sure footing while weeding in the middle of your garden!

    Photo by Lyne Webb  Photo by Lyne Webb

    Photos by Lyne Webb with the exception of the wood slat walkway which was sourced from Ingrid Sunar.

    Submitted by Lyne Webb, a member of the Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society

  • April 25, 2021 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Seedlings and young plants have only known the comfort of your home or a greenhouse. If you place them outside too early, they will not thrive and may not survive. They need to be “Hardened” to the outdoor weather.

    Here’s how to prepare them to do well outside.

    Harden them off gradually, so they become accustomed to strong sunlight, cool nights, and less frequent watering. This should be done over a period of 5 to 8 days. Protect them from strong sun, wind, hard rain, and cool temperatures. 

    Here’s the recommended process:

    1. On a mild day in mid-May, put them in a sheltered shady location and bring them back indoors at night. 
    2. On following days put plants in partial sunlight gradually increasing to full exposure. If temperatures below 10°C are forecast, bring the plants indoors. Warm-season crops such as eggplants, tomatoes, zucchinis, and cucumbers, prefer warm nights, at least 15°C. Water all plants only as needed. 
    3. Transplant to the garden in the late afternoon/early evening to allow a cooler settling in, after the last frost-free date, usually the Victoria Day weekend. Water.

    When is the last frost-free date?  According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, it should be May 9th this year and our first fall frost will be Oct. 1st.  Of course, these are not firm dates. Frost dates are an estimate based on historical climate data with the of a frost occurring after the spring frost date or before the fall frost date is 30%.  So, there is still a chance of frost occurring before or after the given dates!  More generally, frost is predicted when air temperatures reach 32°F (0°C), but because it is colder closer to the ground, a frost may occur even when air temperatures are just above freezing. Always keep an eye on your local weather forecast and plan to protect tender plants accordingly. 

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

  • April 18, 2021 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Four summers ago, when we moved into our house, we found that the walkway and front patio made of random paving stones were filled with weeds. There were very small, tiny weeds in between the stones. Since we did not want to use chemicals on them, we spent considerable time on our hands and knees weeding them. It was a brutal process—one we did not want to repeat!

    Two years ago in April, it occurred to me to cover the spots with thick, black garbage bags. We used stones and heavy items to hold the garbage bags in place for about six weeks. By the end of May, when the bags were removed there were no weeds. We repeated the process this past spring with success—without chemicals and no backache! You may want to give this a try yourself next year on walkways, driveways, or around your pool.

    Can’t try Rahe’s solution this summer? Try one of these weed control methods. They are good for hard surfaces such as walkways, sidewalks, and driveways.

    1. Spray a home-made solution. Mix the following together in your sprayer: 1 gallon of vinegar, 2 cups Epson Salts, and 1/4 Dawn Dish Soap (the blue one). Spray this solution on the weeds after the morning dew is gone and the weeds will be dead by dinner time!
    2. Use a Weed Torch. These are long-handled tools ending with a flame source near the ground and a small propane tank near the cane-like handle. And yes, it burns the weeds for instant results. But be careful. Wear hard shoes! And remember that fire can travel underground via roots to your yard so have a hose near you. Do not use this tool in your garden or lawn!


    Above left, you can see the areas we covered
    garbage bags to eliminate the 
    large amount of weeds that had grown each year.  To the right: The amazing result.  Weed free for the rest of the summer!

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

  • April 11, 2021 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Starting a new garden can be hard work when one must get rid of the lawn on the spot needed for the soil. To avoid the backache of clearing out the lawn you can simply do the following:

    • Mow lawn extremely low
    • Cover area with carboard or 3 or more sheets of newspaper
    • Top that with dried leaves if available. (optional)
      BTW: It’s always a good idea to recycle dead leaves from your trees in the fall by spreading them over your gardens to compost during the winter. Some folks make a huge pile of them next to a side fence or the side of the house. These will compost to add to flower and vegetable beds as well! If you have too many, then set the extra out for the garbage pickup.
    • Put a good layer over that of topsoil, manure, and/or compost
    • Water down and continue to ensure the area is moist for about four weeks
    • At that point, the area is ready for planting

    A nice border, or edging, can be made around the edges if you wish by putting in old bricks, cement blocks, unused planting pots, or 2x4s or 4x4s, etc. Whimsy and creativity will add visual appeal to your garden!

    Start now to ensure you are ready for planting by the end of MAY.


    By Rahe Richards, a member of the Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society
    Photo credit of new bed on top of grass by member Jelenko Skakavac.  Other photos are from Pinterest.

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

    This is a great time of year to start planning how to make our gardens more appealing for the coming summer.  There are a lot of books and magazine articles out there that you can browse but I thought you might be interested to know more about the criteria used to judge the front gardens for the annual Richmond Hill Blooms event.  The event is run by the City with the assistance of several members of our Society who judge the short-listed gardens in each ward. The first time I helped with the judging, I was given the criteria used for judging. Seeing and using those helped me judge the gardens more effectively but also gave me a new perspective when I looked at my garden as well as great insights into what changes I could make so that my gardens more appealing and “all-seasonal”. I hope you too find that these judging criteria provide a solid base for objectively looking at your gardens with a different view in mind than you might normally have.

    As it turns out there are 6 sections, or groupings of criteria, for judging each of which has 2 to 7 criteria to be judged. Our Society uses these criteria when we are asked to judge the short-listed gardens in each of the 6 Richmond Hill wards.  The scores, when averaged by our 3 judges per ward, give a solid basis to decide which are the top 3 gardens per ward. I helped judge the gardens for the first time 2 summers ago. With each garden, I began to see ways of improving my garden. 

    • The first section of criteria is Design which looks at colour and texture and how it looks in comparison to your home as well as the balance, rhythm, contrast and dominance of plant material and its scale in proportion to the building. It also looks at elements of design such as space, lines, form, colour, textures, and patterns within each garden and of the garden itself. I’m starting to think about adding a small Japanese maple next spring and perhaps a taller, shaped evergreen to provide balance to the left of my house. And more varieties of plants to add colour and varying plant textures.
      First tulip blooms. Photo by D. Coyne
      Another aspect of Design is the year-round appeal of the garden. I have a great spring tulip display in spring sporting over 200 tulips when all are in bloom and a reasonable summer showing of perennials; but I have nothing for fall nor winter. To make my garden more colourful and cheerful year-round, I’ve started to add fall plantings (ex. Mums) and winter shrubs which provide year-round greenery. I’m also looking at flowers that have a longer blooming season. Nasturtiums were a good find as were Marigolds which also repel insects and small animals. And each of those plants can self-seed for the next season.

      Nssturtiums. Photo by D. Coyne
    • The second grouping of criteria looks at the use of plant material. Do you have native plants and no invasive plants? Do you have both perennials and annuals in your garden? Are the plants suitable for your location? (Consider the amount of sunlight, shade, and hardiness on our Zone.) I have mostly perennials and no native plants so last summer I purchased several native plants from the City’s Healthy Yards online plant sale. I also added some annuals and now can enjoy picking out annuals of varying colours and sizes each year to see what I like best!

    • Another section considers “Hard Landscaping”
      with the use of stone, statuary, chairs, etc.  Thinking of my garden, my statuary was minimal in the backyard and non-existent in the front yard.  I quickly found an adorable cat to grace one section at the front yard, 2 interesting stones that I can grow succulents on, and a wonderful angel giving peace to the garden. I have a nice set of chairs on the porch now so I can sit and overlook the garden. I feel that these small additions make the garden more interesting - inviting you to sit, relax, and look at its variety. 

    • Yet another examines the condition and maintenance of your yard and gardens.  Looking at things such as overall cleanliness of property, driveways, weeds, garbage, etc. These criteria also consider the pruning of hedges, borders being edged, weeds under control, no diseased plants. For lawns & groundcovers, they look to see if there is good, dense growth that is well-maintained. This seemed harder for me to implement at home.  I found I had spots of browning grass on my lawn and realized in conversation with fellow gardeners that I had grubs.  Strangely, my weed control company that I paid for years said they took care of this but the grubs weren’t listening.  Now I buy live nematodes (the best thing to eat grubs) from a local Ontario company, called Natural Insect Control, and spray it on myself at a substantially lower cost.  The grub problem is gone but I know one has to respray if and when they return.  For weeds, I’ve found 3 very good techniques which you can read about in a prior Gardening Tip. Of those, one is particularly useful for driveways and interlocking stone patios.

    • Environmental Practices was the second last section.  It was looking for evidence of the usage of rain barrels, mulches, compost but also that no pesticides were being used. This was harder to judge as most people have their rain barrels in the back yard behind a fence and we only judged the front yard of each home. But none-the-less these were useful to consider for my home. I already use mulch and compost and am considering a rain barrel this year. One should be aware that there is a growing trend towards using less mulch. Certain bees that we want to visit our gardens live in the ground and too thick a layer of mulch is a deterrent to those bees.

    • The last section looks at how your yard/garden contributes to the neighbourhood. i.e.) does your garden contribute to the beauty of the area? Does it entice others to make their gardens better? What is its overall impact and appeal?  This might involve things like colours used in the gardens, and curb appeal. I’ve discovered much of my garden is lacking flowers throughout the summer and I still need more early spring flowers. I tried hyacinths last year which were gorgeous as they first bloomed, but each bloom lasted for only a few days and the total display was done in less than two weeks. For my space, I want to find longer-lasting early and summer flowers. I’ve decided for more curb appeal I may want to extend my front flower beds by making them a bit wider.

    With the judging criteria in mind, I found several ways to make even my humble garden more appealing. My garden may not win an award, but it brings me happiness. I’ll continue with my winter and spring planning efforts each year to try out different plants and colours to see what I like the best.

    Give it a try and start planning more appeal for your garden one step at a time!

    Article and Photos by Doreen Coyne, a member of Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society

  • March 28, 2021 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Crop Rotation is the practice of planting different crops sequentially on the same plot of land to improve soil health, optimize nutrients in the soil, and combat pest and weed pressure.

    It is a good practice to do crop rotation in the vegetable garden every year to avoid crop diseases and/or pests from previous years coming back the next year.  Many crops produce a byproduct that can help other plants. For example, legumes produce nitrogen that they release into the soil from which other crops can benefit.  By growing a different vegetable in the spot where you grew legumes last year benefits plants needing more nitrogen and growing the legumes in an area that is low in nitrogen this year, will benefit the crops you grow there in the next year.

    Knowing what your crops leave or take away from the soil helps you know how to rotate crops each year so all of the crops will benefit from each other. Vegetables not only produce good food but also enhance the soil!

    In a small urban garden, the gardener typically has limited space for crop rotation for planting their favourite crops. The solution is to physically transfer most of the old soils each fall/spring from the vegetable garden to the perennial garden. And then add new soil and compost to the former vegetable bed in the spring.  This labour of love results in better vegetables and perennials each year!

    Photo of Bean seedlings from Harvest to Table

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

Member of the Ontario Horticultural Association

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