Categories > Gardening tips

Garden Maintenance:  Why Deadhead?


Sam Llewelyn said “In gardens, beauty is a by-product. The main business is sex and death.”


…And there couldn’t be a truer statement. When flowers bloom, a complex series of events has started to perpetuate their species.  We gardeners get to enjoy the beautiful color displays and heady scents, which flowers are really sporting to attract pollinators. And what a joy it is to appreciate the blossoms!


Pollinators assist the flowers to produce seeds. Spent, old, and ugly blossoms are a step in the development of seeds.  It’s at this point where gardeners interfere with this whole process by taking off the old bloom and frustrating the plant in its ultimate goal. They then must continue to bloom.


You can deadhead with your fingers and pinch off the old blossoms, or you can use scissors or small shears.  Different flowers require different deadheading techniques, but to simplify things – cut the flower back to its nearest node – the spot down the stem where the next branch emerges.  Make sure you remove the seed pod(s) associated with the flower.  


If you would like to have seed production, just let the plants go.


Below is a list of annual flowers that do and do not require deadheading.



Growing a Pollinator Garden

Growing a Pollinator Garden


Much has been in the news about creating garden environments that provide pollinators, especially bees, with plant accessibility.  Pollinators are not just bees and wasps, but include flies, moths, bats, hummingbirds, butterflies, and beetles. Their role in horticulture is critical for many reasons.  Why not plant your own pollinator garden?


Here are some things about pollinators:


  • Color preferences: Pollinators prefer bright colors: purples, yellows, whites
  • Pollinators love fragrant, single blooms
  • Gardens with varying blooming times give extended opportunities for pollinators to stick around. Perennials are a great way to make this happen because most of them have a season of bloom: spring, summer, and fall.
  • Be sure that your garden is pesticide free – pesticides kill pollinators, plain and simple. The internet is full of ideas that use home remedies to help with warding off garden pests that don’t interfere with pollinators.
  • Including a water feature in your garden creates an inviting environment for pollinators.
  • Deadhead old blooms so there are always fresh flowers available.


The chart below lists favorite annuals and perennials for pollinators.


Pollinator Chart




Spring Bloomers:


Summer Bloomers:


Fall Bloomers:


Fragrant Herbs:  Basil, Catnip, Marjoram,  Mint, Oregano, Lavender, Rosemary, Thyme Allium

Anemone (Pasque Flower)

Coreopsis (Tickseed)


Echinacea (Cone Flower)



Phlox subulata


Creeping Thyme

Agastache (Giant Hyssop)

Asclepias (Butterfly Weed)

Alcea (Hollyhock)

Eupatorium (Joe Pye Weed)


Globe Thistle


Heliopsis (False Sunflower)

Heuchera (Coral Bells)

Leucanthemum (Shasta Daisy)


Monarda (Bee Balm)




Liatris (Purple Gay Feather)

Tall Fall Blooming Sedum

Solidago (Goldenrod)










Alyssum                 Asters

Calendula             Cleome


Evening Scented Stocks

Geranium            Gladiola

Lantana             Marigolds

Mirabilis (4 O’Clocks)

Nasturtium          Nemesia

Phlox               Rudbeckia

Stocks              Sunflower

Verbena                  Zinnia


Cucumber, Pumpkin, Tomatoes



Unwinding the Fertilizer Numbers

Fertilizer can be confusing.  The sheer quantity of brands and mathematical combinations can be dizzying.  Let’s spend some time unwinding fertilizer and hopefully, the numbers will begin to make sense.


Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and K – Potassium (aka Potash) are the 3 major nutrients or macronutrients contained in fertilizer required for plant growth.  They are the 3 numbers you see on fertilizer labels.  These numbers represent the percentage of each macronutrient in the specific fertilizer. So if you see a label saying 20-20-20, it contains approximately 20% nitrogen, 20% phosphorus, and 20% potassium.  The numbers aren’t adding up?  The remaining percentage is made up of a smaller amount of nutrients known as micronutrients and fillers.  The fillers help you the fertilizer spread evenly.


Joe Lamp’l of Growing a Greener World has come up with a great way to describe the functions of N, P, & K – just remember:  Up, Down, & All Around.


N nitrogenUP – think ‘up’ or top growth

  • nitrogen promotes green leafy growth
  • healthy leaves mean a better-equipped system to provide food for the plant
  • If you see a fertilizer with numbers like 30-0-3 – that would be great for a lawn because this fertilizer is all about green top growth.


P phosphorus – DOWNthink ‘down’ or root development

  • phosphorous promotes root development and flowering
  • flowering means the amount of flowers and size of blossoms
  • For ‘root boosting’ fertilizer, it is common to see combinations like these: 10-52-10 or  5-15-5
  • A common ‘flowering’ fertilizer combination is 13-30-15


Kpotassium – ALL AROUND think good health in general

  • potassium promotes overall health: guards against disease, aids in drought and cold tolerance, cell wall strength & maintenance
  • Potassium also enhances fruit & vegetable flavor & development
  • Vegetable fertilizers are rather conservative in and look like this:  7-4-5, 2-7-4


Our favorite fertilizer and the one that we use is called “Nature’s Best”.  It’s a natural fertilizer and we find it easy to use, gentle on plants with no burning leaf tips, and we think it makes flowers brighter.  ‘Miracle Grow’ is another good choice and other balanced fertilizers like 20-20-20 work well.
Hope that helps!

Planning a Veggie Garden – A Timing Chart

Growing veggies does take some enthusiasm and elbow grease, but it is well worth the effort.


Our region here in Edmonton boasts an average of 115-125 frost free days and below is a list of recommended dates for various vegetable crops that we have used over the years when the Wallishes were market gardeners.  Please remember that these are guidelines and not guarantees because there is little about our weather that is predictable.


We hope this helps a bit!

veggie chart

Call us if you need more information on vegetable gardening in Alberta.

Seeding At Home – Video

To pull all of our blogs on seeding together, we put decided to make this quick 5 minute video tutorial on seeding for the home gardener who enjoys starting their seeds at home!  We used everyday items that are easily accessible at home or in the marketplace and keep seed starting from getting too complicated – after all, the basics of seeding and germination hasn’t changed much over the years.  The only things that have changed are the different hybrid choices and the use of machinery in a larger greenhouse setting.

We hope you enjoy this video and that it helps make gardening fun, simple and wildly successful for you!

Have seeding or gardening questions? Call us today: 780-467-3091.


Seeding:  Seed Depths and Seed Coverage

When it comes to the actual nitty gritty of getting the seeds in – the depth at which they are seeded and whether they are covered or not can make it or break it for success with germination. Here are a few notes from our experience:


THING #1 before you even start this procedure:


Make SURE your seeding trays have water drainage holes!!


  • The rule of thumb for seeding is: sow the seed twice the depth as the seed width.
  • Sow seeds in rows so the seedlings are organized once they germinate.
  • Avoid seeding thickly, sow moderately so the seedlings have adequate space to grow
  • Rule of thumb for covering is: any seed the size of a Salvia or a Pansy seed and larger should be lightly covered with vermiculite (our choice) or the same fine seeding soil to keep them moist. We actually keep a salvia seed taped on our seeder as a visual guideline for covering seed.
  • A Salvia seed and a Pansy seed are pictured in the accompanying photo – Pansies are the smaller seed & require less covering, so cover lightly; and as seeds get larger, they need more covering material.
  • Keep everything moderately moist – too wet or too dry both affect germination. If they are too wet, they will rot – that’s why it is so important that your seed tray has drainage holes and if they are too dry, they dry out and cannot germinate.

Seeding: Soil & Fertilizer

Seeds have a few unique requirements from mature plants. They need a special soil blend and have different fertilizer requirements.



  • Use a soil specific for seeding.  Seeds require a fine soil and it is usually made mostly of a peat moss base.  It has a fine texture so that the microscopic root hairs have no
  • trouble growing and reaching out into the soil as it grows – a coarse soil is difficult for the root hairs to expand into and will consequently slow their development.
  • Seeds don’t need a lot of soil to germinate in – less is more, like 1-1½ inches max– it keeps the seeds from getting too wet – keep the soil moderately moist.
  • A plastic cover could be loosely placed over the seed in a slightly angled manner – you never want that seed flat sealed – so that air can circulate BUT check that it doesn’t get too hot – most annuals germinate in 18C–21C (65-72F)


  • Do not use soil that has a fertilizer infusion. Fertilizer will burn the microscopic root hairs.
  • Use only clear water at the germination stage.  Fertilizer should not be introduced until the first true leaf has emerged – remember that the first 2 leaves are cotyledons, they are not true leaves.  Wait until the third leaf, which is the true leaf, emerges.
  • When the true leaves emerge, use ¼ strength 20-20-20 – avoid root boosting fertilizers that look like 10-52-10, with a high middle number, it’s just too strong and burns the root hairs.
  • In general, seedlings do not need much fertilizer, and if the leaves are a healthy green, probably apply a fertilizer to seedlings every 2 weeks or less often.



Seeding: Getting the Timing Right

Probably the greatest temptation at this time of year as winter wanes on and we begin to itch for spring, is to get some plants started at home.  Before you do, take some time to do  a little research into what the optimum timing is for your plants.  These are the things that you should consider when looking for the best date:


  1. When is the best time for planting outdoors? In our central Edmonton climate, we at Wallish Greenhouses target our plants to be ready for the middle of May.  The risk of frost decreases for each day we get further into May.  Check out this link to Growing Indoors at Home – Pitfalls to Avoid.


  1. Determine the number of weeks needed to maturity (which means the same as days to blossom) – the web has a lot of information on this – ie. Google ‘pansy days to maturity’. For most annuals, it’s around 6 weeks. But, you may not want them to be blooming when you plant them outside – that’s a personal choice – so decide how many weeks you would like to use.


  1. Remember that plants tend to grow faster and stretch in homes when they are grown on a window ledge – the environment is warmer, less ventilated, and generally the lighting is lower. For that reason, you may want to decrease the number of weeks before planting.


  1. Back track on the calendar and that should give you a pretty close estimate. Here are some scenarios:
  • Example 1: Pansies are quite cold hardy, tolerating up to about -4 or -5C, so they can be put outdoors by the second week of May (as long as there is no snow).  Pansies take a bit longer to mature and need about 6-8 weeks.  Backing that out, seed pansies no sooner than the middle of March.
  • Example 2: If Marigolds need 4-6 weeks before planting outdoors and if you would like to plant them out on May 21 (Marigolds are pretty hardy and can take a little cold), your target date for seeding would be around April 9.
  • Example 3: Cold sensitive cucumbers and squash should be left to plant outdoors later,  like the first week of June because of the risk of frost. If you plant them outside earlier than that, you need to be ready to cover them to protect them from the cold.  They are rapid growers, so seeding them 3 weeks in advance would probably work out best unless you are ok with dealing with huge transplants.  For those, a seed date of the 2nd week of May would work.


Stay patient, earlier doesn’t always result in a better plant.

Seed Storage Tips  


How seeds are treated and stored has an impact on their viability and how well they will germinate.  As a general rule, seeds will last 1 year without a much special treatment but to extend that, you need to look at 2 major factors:  moisture and temperature.  If stored properly, seed viability can be increased significantly – it decreases by ½ for every 1% increase in moisture, and for every 5 degrees C increase in temperature – so the drier the better, the cooler the better – think dry, cool, and dark.


Keeping it dry:

  • use moisture-proof containers – that means you can submerge the container in water without water leaking in
  • decrease moisture by using sealed containers such as:
    • plastic bottles, Ziplocs, aluminum pouches
  • NEVER use a microwave oven to dry seed, use a conventional oven at low temperature – max 100F (37C) x 6 hours


Keeping it cool:

  • bear in mind that germination can actually begin from 7 – 15C (45-60F)
  • in general, store seeds in temperatures less than 10C(or 50F) – we use 3-5C (38 F)
  • perennial seed can be kept in the freezer to give them some vernalization time


Keeping it dark:

  • light exposure is less important to than the above 2 factors, but UV is thought to have a negative effect on seeds, so store them in a dark place. If you have your seeds in a Ziploc or other clear or light container, place them in a dark container to protect them from UV light.
  • If you keep your seeds in the refrigerator, that will keep them dark as well.


One other thing, physical damage also affects how seeds germinate, so handle them gently.




Sustainable Gardening Part 3: Garden Design & Growing Food

Sustainable gardening not only has an impact on the future, but it also impacts our present because generally these gardening techniques make your life easier and decreases the amount of your own personal work. Let’s look at Garden Design and Food Cultivation ideas.

Garden Design:

The internet is ripe with ideas and designs for beautiful, efficient, and effective gardening to conserve water and energy, and to decrease runoff. There are many actual design blueprints that you could customize for your own yard.
All of the following could be their own separate blog topics and warrant more elaboration but this is a good launching pad:
• Raised bed gardening
• Square foot intensive gardening
• Container gardening
• Designs that encourage water to flow into flower beds
• Companion planting establishing symbiotic relationships
• Including perennials that attract pollinators
• Using recycled materials for your hard-scaping
• Using a brick or pea gravel pathways instead of a concrete footpath encourages water retention
• Use of trees and shrubs to decrease water evaporation
Check out this link for some amazing sustainable landscapes compiled by the American Society of Landscape Architects:

Food Cultivation:

Not only does growing your own food promote health, but it is also a way of keeping us active. Raised bed gardening and intensive square foot gardening are impressively productive and adaptable methods for the home gardener. When we grown our own food we can control how it is produced, reduce environmental impact regarding transportation. It reconnects us to the ebb & flow of weather patterns, and unites us as families & communities as we work together and help one another.
A few ideas to get started on growing your own food include:
• Growing a kitchen garden of herbs and / or veggies
• Exploring the use of edible flowers
• Companion planting – more productivity & benefits soil health
• Establishing perennial fruits and vegetables – for our area – things like: asparagus, chives, raspberries, strawberries
• Establish fruit trees and shrubs – apples, cherries, plums, haskaps, saskatoons
• No space? Get involved with a community garden

Part 4 of this discussion will take a look at Using Climate Compatible Plants and Reducing Energy Use.


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