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Caring for Poinsettias – #2 Hold the Water!

Once your poinsettia is home and unpacked, the next big thing is to not over-water it. Over-watering is a very clear and present danger to poinsettias at this time. Being from the tropics where the soil base is very thin, they are actually a plant that is used to being kept on the drier side.

Wait to water until the soil is dry and the pot weight is light, which should happen about every 4-7 days.

When that happens, water it thoroughly with clear water (fertilizer is unnecessary at this time) so that it drains out from the bottom of the pot.  You can do this in either of 2 ways:

  • Water at the top of the pot, do not water the leaves

OR

  • Take the foil cover off of the pot and place the pot in a bowl of about 3” of water to take up moisture from the bottom.

Let it drain thoroughly and check it daily by lifting it up to see how heavy it is.

More poinsettias have died from over-watering than under-watering.

When poinsettias are over watered they look wilted and the temptation is to water them more but then the cycle of over-watering starts. So, whenever your poinsettia looks slightly wilted (we call that flagging), lift the pot to assess its weight and that will give you a clue as to whether it’s over or under in the watering category.

Caring for Poinsettias – #1 Keep It Warm!

Few things ring in Christmas like a beautiful poinsettia!  But how to keep it that way?  This is the first in a 3 part miniseries on keeping your poinsettia looking great.

Actually, the key to keeping poinsettias looking beautiful is to understand their tropical heritage.  Poinsettias originate from the tropics and they thrive in temperatures of the mid to high 20s Celsius.  With that in mind, our winter cold can paralyze, if not kill them.  If a poinsettia gets chilled, it will look wilted like it needs water.  Wilting is actually a poinsettia’s universal way of saying it’s unhappy.  Too hot – wilted.  Too cold – wilted.  To dry – wilted.  Too wet – wilted.  Get the idea?

Well.

How are we going to get this plant home toasty warm and happy?

First of all, make picking up your poinsettia the last thing on your errand list, so your vehicle is warm and it won’t have to wait anywhere in the cold while other errands are being run and then take it out of your vehicle first when you arrive to your destination.

In transport, make sure that your poinsettia is bundled up!  Poinsettias should be wrapped up in layers, just like we dress in layers to stay warm.

The first layer should be a paper sleeve.  This sleeve will give it the initial layer to protect it from damage and the cold.

And second, a plastic gusset bag should be placed over that to give an additional layer of insulation.  No more of that walking through a parking lot with just an open cellophane sleeve!  There’s nothing to insulate or protect your poinsettia when it just has cellophane around it.

When you have your poinsettia inside; to unwrap it, don’t bother with trying to wiggle it out of the top of the paper sleeve, just tear the sleeve off – it will, again, result in less damage.

Once home safe & warm, you’re up to 90% in poinsettia care success.

 Contact us today for more information about caring for your poinsettia!

3 Main Reasons Why Perennials Die Over the Winter

It’s frustrating. Perennials die over the winter and they’re really not supposed to, right? Perennials are a group of flowers that typically come back year after year. Perennials have a large range of life expectancies – not all perennials live forever. Some are very short lived, more properly call biennials, others are short lived, around 4 – 8 years, and others do live almost forever. There are some perennials, like Gas Plants (Dictamnus) and Peonies that last for 70 years.

So, let’s say your perennial was only a couple of years old; or maybe you just planted it the previous spring. Then why would it not come back after the winter snows have melted? We run into this question a LOT.

Here are three major reasons why perennials kick the bucket:

  1. They aren’t the Right Horticultural Zone
    • The zone for our Edmonton area is zone 3 – 4a and we can get away with quite a few zone 4 perennials. For most people who live in rural areas, zone 3 is the highest they can go. Because of the warming influence of cities, zone 4 perennials tend to better in town. Sometimes perennials surprise us when we try to stretch the zone, but other times they don’t. You can look at it as better to have loved & lost than to have never loved at all.
    • Remember to read labels so you have the right zone and always ask questions if you are unsure of the cold tolerance of perennials you would like to purchase.
  2. They got Too Dry
    • Perennials often die because they have gotten stressed from being too dry in the fall. When this happens, they go into winter compromised and under the additional stress of winter, they die. During the summer we take excellent care of our gardens but in the autumn we tend to get a little lax. We don’t always think to water our perennials in the fall because it is cooler and we think that they don’t need much water. In reality, they don’t need as much as in the summer but they definitely need to be watered regularly in autumn. In the fall, plants are in the a storage phase and are building up their resources for the winter months, so augment them up by watering them well – like every week or so until it gets really cold. You don’t want them too wet or too dry – kinda just like Goldilocks & her porridge – just evenly moist. No need to fertilize, perennials are not heavy feeders and the extra fertilizer is unnecessary.
  3. They got Too cold
    • There are a couple of things that typically wear down perennials during the winter months. Getting too cold is one of them. If there is not enough snow coverage when it is extremely cold (-10 and colder), the roots can get colder than they can tolerate, despite their zone rating. This is why snow cover is essential. Snow, with its plentiful air spaces serves as a great insulator for perennials. Any time that you are shovelling a side walk or clearing snow, be sure to throw extra snow over your plants. Check out our blog on Why Snow is Good
    • Another thing that kills perennials is the freeze thaw cycle that often happens sometime in January or February in our area. The rising and falling temperatures do a number on perennials because they can’t decide to grow or not. If the snow begins to melt off of your perennials, throw some snow on them from another part of your garden or yard. This will keep your perennial in its winter sleeping mode longer.
    • For either of the above, applying a layer of protective mulch of 4-6” will go a long way to shield it from the cold or the freeze-thaw yoyo cycle and improve its chances of survival. Apply mulch in the late fall as temperatures regularly fall below freezing and it looks like the snow will begin to fly. Any kind of organic mulch will do here – try cedar mulch, leaf mulch, or mixed mulches. All of these have a good insulation factor. See The Magic of Mulch

If you have any questions about mulch, snow cover, hardy perennials, or overwintering techniques, please feel free to send us a quick email or give us a call at the greenhouse at 780-467-3091 – we would be happy to discuss any of the above with you.

“In Flanders Fields the Poppies Blow” – Who is this Poppy?

IN FLANDERS FIELDS POEM
The World’s Most Famous WAR MEMORIAL POEM
By Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead: Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved: and now we lie
In Flanders fields!

Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields

Composed at the battlefront on May 3, 1915
during the second battle of Ypres, Belgium

The timing of Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae’s poem the day after he buried his good friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer on May 2, 1915 gives us a clue that the red poppies he saw blooming in the agricultural region of Flanders Field in Belgium were spring bloomers. Have you ever wondered what kind of poppy it is that is he referenced? And why was it that the fields had so many in colour?

The poppies that John saw are called Papaver rhoeas. These poppies are an annual plant that can be found over much of Europe. In Europe they are known as the ‘common poppy’, ‘field poppy’, or ‘corn poppy’. They earned the name ‘corn poppy’ because their seeds would get mixed in amongst the corn seeds and grew alongside the corn as it matured.

The reason the fields of this battleground were so full of colour is because the soil had been disturbed in this area of Belguim with the building of the trenches in World War I, as well as with the digging of so many soldier graves. The seeds of this particular poppy could lay dormant for up to 80 years and would blossom when the soil was disturbed. The shifting of soil in combination with a great deal of rain that particular spring encouraged the growth of these poppies. In this area of Europe, Papaver rhoeas typically blooms in late spring and early summer.

The Papaver rhoeas grows best in full sun and to a height of 12-24” tall. It’s an easy to grow, zone 4-8 plant plant that prefers well drained soil. They resow freely, are very prolific reproducers that work well in borders and cottage garden beds. The seeds are said to have a nutty flavour and are used in poppy seed cake. The flowers have been used in the past to make dye. The good news is that deer don’t like them due to their terrible flavour.

These seeds can be found easily on line and would probably be fun to grow.

A huge thank you goes to the many people that gave their lives and to those who have grieved the loss of members of their family for the privileges we share as citizens of this good country we call Canada. And we are grateful to those who continue to faithfully serve our nation now.

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Why do Leaves Change Color?

Our landscape is bursting with color right now. It’s full of yellows, oranges, reds, purples, and browns of deciduous trees – just check out Instagram or Facebook and your eyes will feast on the beauty of the changing leaves caught by so many of us on our cameras. The river valley, especially, gets a lot of coverage at this time of year.

So why DO deciduous leaves turn color?

Let’s take a quick look at photosynthesis and the role of chlorophyll first as a background to this question. Leaves provide essential nutrients for trees via photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the process by which sunlight energy is converted into food (sugar) energy. Chlorophyll is a green substance that is essential for photosynthesis to occur. When chlorophyll is active, it gives the dominant green color to leaves all summer and spring.

The factors that influence the color leaves turn are the following:

  • Day & Night Length
    • In response to a shortened amount of sunlight – the longer nights and shorter days of autumn signals chlorophyll to begin to breakdown and disappear from the leaves. At the same time, trees produce a protective seal at the point where the leaf meets the stem or branch. This seal reduces the amount of water and other substances available for photosynthesis causing shift in its focus from production to storage.
    • Cooler and longer nights increase the intensity of leaf colors.
  • Color Pigments
    • Yellow & orange pigments are actually a natural part of the leaves but chlorophll masks those colors
    • There are basically 3 color pigments for leaves:
      • Chlorophyll = is green in color, it gives the dominant green hue during the active growth phase.
      • Carotenoids = give the deeper yellows, oranges, browns – you don’t see these colors until autumn
      • Anthocyanins = give shades of red & purples and all the colors in between – these pigments are not present until the autumn, they are produced by chemical changes that happen as sugars get trapped & stimulate this production of these chemicals. The red color of maple leaves is caused from trapped glucose in the leaves

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The Big Chill: Frost Damage & Why it Doesn’t Affect Fall Blooming Perennials

As you walk through your garden after that first hard frost you see some plants with leaves hanging limp like wet laundry on a clothesline or like lettuce that had been sitting out of the fridge for way too long. Other plants look completely normal, unaffected by the escapades of Jack Frost the night before. As you survey this, have you ever wondered why this happens? Why are the dahlias flagging? And why are the sedums acting like nothing’s happened?

Let’s take a look at frost, freezing injury, and why this occurs –

What does frost damage look like?

  • It feels like we’re at risk here in our Edmonton area ANYTIME of the year….which is probably pretty close to true. Our climate here boasts an average of 110-115 frost free days. The risk of frost is pretty much gone by June 9 – but not guaranteed, and we can see frost toward the end of August on any given year.
  • Frost is funny – because air is always moving, ambient temperature is never completely homogeneous. One area of the garden could catch a patch of freezing air where another area is unscathed. One plant could get a nip of frost bite when the next plant is untouched.
  • Frost damage looks like darker patches on leaves, limp and wilty looking leaves, and sometimes leaves have light or white patches on them.
  • The amount of frost damage depends on the severity and length of time the sub-zero temperature lasts — a heavy frost (below -3C) for 1 hour could cause less damage than a light frost (down to -2C) for 6 hours.

What does frost do to plant structure?

  • When temperatures dip below freezing, ice forms on top of the leaves and within the leaves. Ice crystals that form inside the leaves are sharp and they damage cell walls. Once the cell wall has been breached by an ice shard, the contents leak out. The cell dies, the leaf loses it turgor and it hangs limp.
  • Cell injury like this is related to how quickly the cooling happened. If it was very fast, you will see more damage than if there is a slow winding down of temperatures over a longer period of time,

Why do some plants tolerate frost and others not?

  • Genetics play a large role here – tropical plants are meant for tropical climates and they are engineered for that life, just as plants that live in mid-North America versus the Arctic.
  • The plants that tolerate frost have a structures and abilities in place that make frost tolerance possible. As temperatures begin to cool over a period of time when autumn approaches, they begin to shift fluid out of their cell structures into extracellular tissues. This increases cellular solute concentration which in turn lowers the temperature at which the cells will freeze.
  • Cell wall polysaccharides are at a higher concentration and antifreeze proteins contribute to a elevate tolerance to low temperatures.
  • Bulky organs (aka thick leaves) are another way plants are protected from the cold. Plants like sedums and tulips have thick leaves. The thicker the leaf, the more insulated they are from frost.
  • Plants that tolerate dry conditions tend to have less fluid in their cellular structure and they handle sub zero dips better.

So that’s the abbreviated version of the frosting story and we no longer have to stay up at night wondering why our garden plants behave the way they do when autumn marches in.

As always, we invite you to call us at 780-467-3091 or to send us an email via our website and we would be happy to engage your gardening questions. Stay warm!

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Fall Cleanup 

Autumn is a good time to enjoy the cooler days, to reflect on your garden’s successes, and to begin getting ready for winter.  Good fall prep gives a jump start to the next spring.

Here is a checklist of things to do:

  • Take Notes:
  • What worked well?
  • What things worked poorly?
  • Cull out the underperforming plants, some are old and some may just not be working.
  • What are your dreams for new plants?
  • Garden Tasks
    • Trim back the plants you’d like cleaned up, leave others tall for winter interest like Ornamental Grasses, Sedums, and Rubeckia.
    • This is a good time to make new flower beds.
    • Put finishing touches on mulching – maintain mulch at 2-4 inches.
    • Water well – give perennials a generous watering once a week.
    • Start thinking about which plants need winter protection.
    • Clean tools in warm soapy water.
    • Rinse & roll up hoses.
    • Sharpen tools.
    • Clean up power equipment.
  • Plant fall bulbs for a wonderful early spring display check out this link to last week’s blog on Planting Fall Bulbs Aug 29, 2017

Sources:  http://pss.uvm.edu/ppp/articles/perfall.html, http://extension.illinois.edu/gardenerscorner/issue_02/fall_07_05.cfm

Planting Tulip Bulbs

Let’s start this blog off with a question. Where are tulips from originally? Nope, not Holland. They are actually from the mountains of Central Asia (the ‘stans’ – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan), growing wild in Asia Minor (Turkey), and on through Siberia to China where the springs are cool and the summers are hot & dry. It’s only under these conditions that they grow and thrive and reproduce. They’re picky about that and that’s why they behave more like an annual than a perennial and why they need to be planted each fall. So…if you want to tip toe through the tulips next spring, you gotta plant them now.

For horticultural zones 1-4, tulips need to be planted in mid- late September and October. If they are planted earlier than that, you could wind up with a tulip show or part of a tulip show sooner than you had expected. Tulips need to be planted in the fall because they need a vernalization period – a chilling period – of at least 12-16 weeks in temperatures of at least 5-10ºC – well people, we have THAT one covered here in the Edmonton area!

Here are some planting tips:

  • Plant high quality bulbs (usually found at garden centers) in a full sun location, in well drained soil. Tulips bulbs, and all bulbs in general, hate wet soil – they will just rot.
  • The bulbs kind of look like an onion, remember to plant them with the pointy side up – they will have difficulty growing upside down.
  • Plant them around 6 inches deep – 3 times as deep as they are tall – this protects the bulbs from freezing.
  • Plant tulips in clumps of 6-8 all together in a hole, a few inches apart – for the best color display. This way you have a clump of color, rather than having single blossoms of color here and there in your garden.
  • To accomplish this clump planting, dig a hole 7-8 inches deep and wide. Press each of the bulbs firmly into the ground. At this point, you can add some good quality bulb fertilizer if you wish. Now water them generously…like fill the hole ½ way up. Let the water soak in, cover them with soil to fill the hole, and then add a couple of inches of mulch on top of that.
  • Remember to label them, so you know their names when they pop up in the spring.

In spring:

  • After their long winter nap in our town, as spring comes, you will start to see the tulips by the beginning to the middle of May. As they are coming up, water them. Don’t water them so often that they stay soaked, but water them so they are moderately moist. This keeps the tulips on their growth trajectory. If it’s rainy, hold the water, Mother Nature is taking care of them for you.

Flowering:

  • As tulips get ready to bloom, you have 2 options – enjoy the blossom in the garden or cut them.
  • For cutting:
    • Harvest the tulips as the buds are just beginning to show color.
    • Since the likelihood of them being productive next spring is pretty minimal, just pull up the bulb, so you can get the longest stems possible. Commercial flower growers do this and keep them stored in coolers for up to a month. They last this long because the cut flowers still have their food source with the bulb attached. When the tulips head to the flower market, the bulbs are cut off.
    • The vase life for a tulip is about 10 days. Remember that they naturally close up at night, so don’t panic when you see this happen. Some people say that putting a penny in the vase makes them last longer.

If you would like to try getting tulips to last more than a year in your garden, cut off the bloom when it is spent, leave the bulb in the ground and leave 2 sets of leaves on the tulip plant to replenish the bulb. Let the leaves die back naturally. As we said before, tulips aren’t that great of a perennial performer, but they are spectacular in the early spring to jump start colour the garden. The best varieties to perennial over are called Darwin Hybrids, Fosterianas, species, and wild tulips. But again, they may turn out to have a less than stellar show the next spring.

There is a tremendous amount of diversity within the tulip family – there is great variety in the structure of their flowers – there are singles, doubles, fringed, peony, and parrot. And the color selection is wide. Tulips can be single colored, 2 toned, and multicolored. Give tulips a try in your garden this autumn – they are worth the labour and worth the wait. This is the time of year when bulbs are easy to find almost anywhere.

Should you be curious about other fall bulb planting ideas, check out this link to our website for our blog called Planting Fall Bulbs which discusses other flower varieties like daffodils and crocuses and others.

If you have anything you’d like to discuss about gardening, please feel free to contact us via this link or give us a call at 780-467-3091.

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Fall Asters

As August winds to a close, many gardeners feel a glum that the days of our growing season are numbered. But gardeners are a mixed camp…others are all over the fact that the gardening chores are lightening up, and others may have already stopped gardening – they are just over it and moving on to Halloween. For those of us who hate to let our gardens go, there are fall blooming perennials to extend our gardening timeline. Fall blooming sedums and asters would be in their prime right now – let’s chat a bit about Fall Blooming Asters.

Fall Asters sport blossoms that are clusters of little daisies – they tend to run in the pink spectrum. They are available all shade of pink and purple. They work well as cut flowers, too. Fall Asters are easy to care for; they are very hardy and are bothered by few pests and diseases.>p?

Preferred Sun Exposure: part sun – full sun they need a minimum of 4 hours and are happy with all day long sunshine

Height Range: 18 – 30”, best planted 24” apart

Watering: Fall Asters are ok with being on the drier side but they don’t like to be parched – nobody likes to be parched. To tolerate dry conditions, they must be a mature and established clump– which is generally 3 years old. Think of perennial maturity this way: The 1st year they sleep, the 2nd year they creep, and the 3rd year they leap. So treat them well in those first few years.

Moving them: If you would like to relocate your Asters, keep their bloom time in mind. Since they bloom in the autumn, it is best to move them early in spring so the bloom time is disrupted the least. They will have time to establish and get the fall blossom in time.

If you are looking for a little zip for your fall garden, consider Fall Asters – some great varieties for our Edmonton area are: Purple Dome, Alert, Wood’s Purple, Wood’s Pink, Winston Churchill, and Professor Klippenburg.

One last benefit of these flowers is that they attract bees and butterflies – they will keep your garden lively. They are rated at a zone 4, so be sure to mulch them before winter.

We have a couple more blogs on Fall Blooming Perennials – check out these links to: It Doesn’t have to be Over! Late Blooming Perennials & It’s Not Over Yet – The Glory of all Blooming Perennials

Feel free to contact us if you have any questions – follow this link to our contact form and send us a quick email. We are happy to talk to you on the phone, too at 780-467-3091.

Fairy Rings

Few things drive a person crazier than a fairy ring making its mark in the middle of a beautiful green lawn. You’ll know you have one when a lush green ring appears and is followed by a dead brown ring. Sometimes just a brown ring appears.  Both rings birth mushrooms and the mushrooms come & go. Fairy rings can be stubborn and difficult to eradicate. Let’s take a look at how fairy rings work and at some strategies to deal with them.

What causes fairy rings?

  • Fairy rings are caused by fungi – fungi feed on dead & composting material in the thatch layer of the lawn.
  • Some varieties emit nitrogen – at first the lawn looks healthier and that’s what causes the dark green ring.
  • Some varieties are hydrophobic – they hate water so then they create a very dense mat of mycelium fibres – causing the grass to turn brown from being starved of water.
  • Other varieties may deplete the soil nutrients and others produce toxic levels of hydrogen cyanide – with the same net effect as the hydrophobes, causing the grass to die.

How does one tackle fairy rings?

  • Eliminating fairy rings can be a challenging task but if you keep at it and are diligent, the odds improve at ridding yourself of them.
  • Fungicides are generally ineffective, producing inconsistent results at best because the mycelium fibers stay in the lawn; so save your money.
  • Listed below are some strategies for fairy rings:
  1. Prevention
    • Remove anything that may decay in your lawn before you put it your lawn in.
    • Level with clean, fresh top soil before you lay out your sod or sow grass seed.
    • Keep your lawn healthy with regular mowing and fertilizing.
    • Dethatch and aerate your lawn regularly, about every 2 years.
  2. Fertilize
    • Fertilizer can mask the symptoms of the fairy ring.
    • Do a deep root fertilizer to get under the mycelium fibres, described in more detail below.
    • Wondering what the best fertilizer for your lawn is?  Check out this link to our blog on fertilizer Unwinding The Fertilizer Numbers or Unravelling Fertilizer Numbers .
  3. Get through the Thick Tangled Fibers
    • Aerate dead & dying rings by poking holes in the ring with a garden fork or crow bar.  It is recommended that you get anywhere from 10” deep to 24” deep.  Aerate to 6” on either side of the ring.
    • The rationale for this technique is to get through the thick mycelium mat and kill the fungi by watering the area heavily. This type of fungi doesn’t like wet soil, they’re hydrophobic, so they will die in wet conditions.   
    • Water the ring every 2 days or every day for at least a month – if you can add a little bit of a mild dish soap to the water to reduce the surface tension of the water, do it.  Surfactants like soap will make the water more absorbable.
    • Fertilize deeply with a water soluble fertilizer every 4-6 weeks.
    • Rake or pick mushrooms as they appear.
  4. Complete Removal of the Ring
    • This is the go-to when all else has failed – take out the infected turf and 1 -1.5 feet around either side of the ring.
    • Roto-till, reseed or put in new sod.

Got questions?  Give us a call at 780-467-3091 or send us an email.  We are happy to dialog with you about your garden.  We wish you all the best with this challenge!

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