8th Apr, 2012

GARDEN ADVICE FOR SPRING PERENNIALS

2012 April 8  verticalThis week in the garden the perennials emerge looking like silky scrims back lit by the sun. Every layer has its own special glory.  I love all seasons in my garden but this one is making my heart sing it’s so gorgeous. Be still and enjoy it.

Here’s is a version of the piece I had in the Globe and Mail recently:

Halt or, at least, slow down.  Spring may be here but it’s not going anywhere so caution in the garden is a must. It’s been a weird winter all across the country and in some places we’ve had spring for weeks now and produced a crop of confused buds and blooms.  There’s not a thing we can do about it, especially when there are huge dips in temperatures.  But we can help this strange turn of events by remaining calm and observant.

Do not get out the leaf blower and blast away at all those leaves on the ground. This is a terrible thing to do to a natural phenomenon (fallen leaves). First of all it raises dust and pollutants and if you are subject to allergies this action will move every bit of pollen straight up your nose. We won’t even go into the noise level which is appalling.  If you have a gardener or landscaper don’t let them use them, hire new gardeners if they refuse.

If you start skinning the life off your beds, you’ll also be topping emerging bulbs which may end up damaging them. You might think you are doing a good thing raking up leaves and putting them in the compost but just stick to those on lawns and paths.  Tidying should be limited to paths and lawns.

Leaves can be easily removed from grassy swards with a big ergonomic rake.  I like a twig broom or besom myself but they are hard to find.  The rest of the leaves around trees and on flower beds should be left to break down quickly over the next few weeks. Worms will be pulling them inwards and they will feed the soil which is what nature intended.

If you have an atavistic need to remove leaves, have a look at plants such as hellebores. A few species have crappy looking foliage at this time of year, so clip them off and toss them in the compost. If anything looks good, leave it alone.

The major mucky-looking plants right now are ornamental grasses.  This is a reason to have them carefully placed and not become a major visual offense of the season.  Cut them ALL back right now. And toss the detritus (or use the long stems in dry foliage designs).  You’ll see the tiny little heads of the new stems and be careful you don’t nip off the tops.

We have no idea how far the evidence of climate change—anomolous weather patterns—will go on but we do know for sure that it’s affected the ground water supply in many parts of the country.  I live on a flood plain, and so far this year it’s dead dry and we had no snow during the winter.  This is something we can do something about.

Paul Zammit, Toronto Botanical Garden’s horticulturist, says:  “Plan for plants  which can tolerate some drought.  With the low levels of water in the soil, we will all need to capture extra moisture through water-wise gardening.”  That means having rain butts to catch rain water and re-directing roof runoff  into the garden.  Go to their web site and have a look at the other methods of saving rain.  (www.torontobotanicalgarden.ca).

The other scary thing that’s going to happen with all this lovely weather:  insects and fungal diseases, normally killed off by freezing weather, have emerged already. It’s going to be a bonanza year for both. The first line of defense is to get to know what these things look like and to keep your hands off any toxic chemicals. Casual spraying can blast the good insects intended to devour the bad. If things look terrible down the road, use a soap and water concoction and do your best to keep on top of things.

We know already that the lily beetle is leaping to a lot of other plants besides lilies, and they are propagating like mad right now. Once plants have started growing, try the formula  suggested by lily specialists, S-W  Gardens in Thamesville,  Ont.:

Mix 1tsp/5ml of Neem Oil (you’ll find it under plant polish and look for Pure Neem Oil) with 1 tsp/5ml of Diatomaceous Earth  along with a 2-3 drops of dish soap in ¾ L of warm water. Keep shaking so the material stays in suspension. Spray both sides of the leaf and do it every 2 to 3 weeks.

David Philips of Environment Canada says that a warm spring doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll have a desperately hot sun.  It would seem climate change is about change.  Worry about what you can:  make sure you water deeply as the weather warms up; don’t remove last year’s mulch too early; and look to mulching plants carefully at the end of May. The plants that will survive in our gardens are the ones we care for properly.

Responses

Hi Marjorie: Love your blog and also listening to you on the CBC. I know the audio for today’s show (Sat./May 19th) will be on the Fresh Air website on Tuesday but was wondering if you could send me the name of the ground cover you mentioned on the show? Sounded like “mianium cordatoc” or something like that………… couldn’t catch it on the radio.

Thanks
Sherrie

It’s called Meehania cordata and I like the bright blue flowers, and the fact that it’s evergreen.

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hi again. I want to thank you for coming over to tour our gardens. You are truly a delight- I felt comfortable with you right away, and Jeb was in love too! I feel very fortunate, and truly appreciate all the sage advice you had to offer. I hope you will be able to return in the spring, which I think is my favourite time of the gardening season, partly because I adore tulips. I hope you enjoyed the remainder of your visit with Mary, who is a new friend of mine. I am discovering we are kindred spirits. Donnie will be sending you some photos. Take care, and good bye for now, Margie.

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