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Garden with a Winner!™

February 4, 2018- To Prune or Not To Prune

It’s a good thing that the month of February is a short one! We gardeners are often just “itching” to do something outside on those bright, sunny days. The amount of snowfall and the region of the country that you garden in will dictate just how much activity will be possible. Milder and more temperate climes may have very little snow cover, if any, and as such can spend more time outdoors in the landscape. February is a good month to consider pruning both ornamentals and fruit bearing trees and shrubs. Apple trees including Crab Apple are best pruned when they are dormant and well before the spring sap starts to run.

The generally accepted guidelines to pruning apple trees in late January and early February are not that complicated. Overall, pruning is intended to open the tree’s shape up so that light can penetrate the entire plant. Keep in mind that when reducing branch length, the cut should be made so that there is a bud that will have a growth pattern outward, not towards the centre of the plant. With younger plants, new growth will be rampant the season following pruning. This growth is often referred to as “water growth” and should be reduced by about half, keeping the centre of the tree open of course. The following year, reduce this watery growth again, this time by about one quarter. Eventually the new apple tree will have a shape that will carry it well into maturity. New shoots from this point on should be reduced to only six buds, which appears to be rather severe. The thicker, stubby growths are the fruiting spurs and should be left to produce the crop. However, if the tree is heavily laden with fruiting spurs, some gardeners remove a few, very judiciously, to keep the tree youthful.

Weigelia is prone in many gardens, to be overgrown and lacking in a brilliant show of blossoms. February, provided the weather cooperates, is a good time to re-work this shrub. Similar to many sprawling shrubs of this nature, Weigelia is best re-worked over a period of three years. Preferably start pruning from the inside of the shrub, removing the oldest, thickest wood first up to approximately 1/3 of the total being removed. The following spring, the plant will force new, lush growth that will mature and bloom the next season. Year two, remove the largest and oldest wood once again, forcing fresh new growth the spring thereafter. Repeat this process and the plant will be completely rejuvenated and push forth a tremendous flush of flowers. Some gardeners also prune lilacs in February in an attempt to keep the plant under control and increase the bloom for the spring season. A similar approach should be taken over a period of time in order to maximize the blossoming of the lilac. Pruning out too much will cause watery, whip growth and very few blooms as Lilacs blossom on older wood rather than new.

The fact remains that even though the garden appears to be sleeping and you may consider all the chores completed, there is always something to do in the garden, no matter the season.

January 28, 2018- Local Wildlife

Perennials, trees and shrubs that you have allowed to set fruit or seed is a tremendous benefit for urban, suburban and rural wildlife. Rose hips, Mountain Ash berries and even crabapples left on the plants provide much needed nutrition for foraging animals and winter birds. Many perennials offer large seeds, typically rich in oils so desperately needed for winter wildlife. Remember to leave your plants as they were in the autumn until spring cleanup, your local wildlife will appreciate it for certain.


January 18, 2018- Shrub Rose


There really aren’t many flowering plants that can eclipse the rose. Having been grown for centuries, these floral favourites have graced the gardens of kings and queens. Noble houses had roses fashioned into coats of arms, heraldic paraphernalia and yes even customized perfumes and cosmetics. Since the early days of rose culture there have been a great many additions to this formidable family however, the genetics of the past remain. The Bonica™ shrub rose(s) belong to the category of floribunda roses; simply translated means “abundance of flowers”. In that roses are generally grown for their floral display, a floribunda variety will supply oodles of blossoms reliably. This delicate, profuse bloomer was introduced to the world by the famous rose breeding Meilland family in France in the 80’s. Since then, Bonica™ has won many awards and has a very distinguished position in the Modern Rose Hall of Fame. Bonica™ is still considered today as one of the world’s favourite roses.

With such a pedigree one might think that this plant is difficult to grow or maintain, not the case. One of the most resilient and pest resistant roses ever, Bonica™ will supply a delightful array of delicate double pink flowers from spring until autumn. The term shrub rose indicates that the plants grow in a bush form as opposed to their elegant cousins the Hybrid Tea roses. This spreading habit of up to 1.2 meters (four feet) makes Bonica™ an ideal candidate for mass plantings or placed towards the rear of a garden as she grows about the same height. There is a climbing form that is very popular as well of course requiring appropriate support unlike the shrub form. Delicately scented, this rose will attract butterflies, bees and even hummingbirds to the garden.

The cultural requirements are very easy to attain. As with all roses, sun is preferred, however Bonica™ can tolerate a little shade. Roses growing in lower light conditions will not provide the floral display that those grown in sunny conditions will. The soil should be a rich, organically enhanced soil. I apply an annual application of compost or composted manure to my roses. Many gardeners will add coffee grounds, cold tea and even Epson salts to their roses with hope of enhancing colour and abundance of flowers.  In the late autumn, Bonica™ boasts beautiful red hips, or seed pods if you do not dead head or remove spent flowers. Many urban critters and birds will enjoy the late season snack of rose hips. Alternatively, if you prefer to deadhead the bloom count will increase as well as the length of season, the choice is yours.


January 14, 2018- Use The Snow

Snow cover can vary from week to week as well as city to city. In the event that your snow cover is scant so that you can see the crowns of your perennials, it’s time to act. When I find myself in this situation I shovel what snow I can find onto the crowns of my plants. The extra snow acts as an insulator as well a reservoir of water for the early spring. Just ensure that you are not shoveling snow that has been treated with salt or the neighborhood pets’ deposits. In milder regions of the country this extra blanket is generally not required.


January 8, 2018- Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, may the season ahead be one of the very best for you. One way that I enjoy these shorter days, almost as a ritual for the first few days off my new year, is to ponder and plan for the spring season. Albeit it may be a bit gloomy looking at the garden through frosted windows, but it really is an excellent time to study the bones of the landscape, as I have referenced previously. The depth of snow in my region of Canada dictates how vivid my imagination must be, perhaps the same for you. Take a good long look, settle back in a comfy chair with your laptop or tablet and start to plan. The online catalogues are delightful and in many cases just a bit sinful, as there are so many choices. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to exercise a little control when it comes to selection… We’ll see about that! In that the perennial selection in my rear garden is not as rich as I would like, I plan to concentrate on one section that gets fair to moderate sunlight. Taking into account that the bordering trees are leafless, and my neighbours had their trees pruned, the light may well be improved this spring. Actually, it’s not a silly as it may sound, many folks don’t realize or rather overlook the fact that deciduous trees have leaves in the summer and their underlying gardens in the early spring are actually sunny rather than the shade of the growing season. This may well be the best location to plant Heuchera, one of my all time favourite perennials. There are literally hundreds of varieties of choose from in a myriad of colours, textures and venation. Relative to their rather spectacular foliage, the Heucheras have much less to offer in the floral department. The flowers are typically tall, thin and loaded with tiny bell-shaped flowers ranging from white through stages of pink to red. I must admit that I usually snip the bloom stalks as soon as I see them emerge allowing any energy to be directed to the mounding habit of the foliage. Given the range of colours, I am planning to mix and match predominantly on what I term, Autumn colours, deep reds and burgundy with vibrant yellow and even one with chartruese foliage variety for spark. A good tip if you are just starting to garden is to plan to install the brighter colours further back in the garden rather than up front, this delivers depth for the viewer. The varieties that made this years list are: Companions that do exceptionally well with Heuchera are their first cousins the Tiarella. These adaptable workhorses of the garden take very similar soil and light conditions and are very resilient if you are a novice gardener. The mounding habit as well as textured foliage and skimpy blossoms places them as a doppelgänger for Heuchera often times. I have grown them in containers with no problem, so if you are a balcony garden or are simply out of room, an excellent choice. Happy planning and remember to make good decisions.