Posted in gardens, gardens4u.ca, loreeebee.ca

Essential Garden Tools

Everyone has their own list of what they consider to be essential garden tools. As the owner of a gardening business, I am no exception. These are my essentials, although you don’t have to use specific brands:

Diggers

A shovel and a spade (shovel with a sharp, flat cutting edge) will cover all your digging needs. Choose a light weight, but good quality version of both so they are easy to use and will last forever. I have several sizes of shovels too, sometimes you need a small one to get into tight spaces.

Rakes

I have a few different styles and sizes of rakes. The fan shaped ones are good for gathering leaves and debris. I have a tiny (child sized) version that is great for getting in and around plants in your garden. The larger ones work better on lawns. I prefer the plastic ones as they are nice and light, but my husband prefers a metal one. Go with whatever you will use. Rakes with straight heads and tines are best for removing thatch from lawns in the spring.

Secateurs or Pruners

This is the one area I advise splurging on because of the working mechanisms. In this case especially, you get what you guy. If you buy inexpensive secateurs or pruners, they will not work well for long. I have a few different ones that I keep around my yard, in sheltered locations to prevent rusting.

Edging Tool

I consider an edging tool essential since I love the look of natural edging, rather than rocks or rubber edging. Of course, a shovel would work too, but an edging tool, whose head is a half circle, works wonders to create smooth edges in your gardens.

Loppers or Branch Cutters

Once again, pay a bit more to get a good quality pair of loppers. You won’t regret it. Buy some that are heavy (strong) enough, but not too heavy that you cannot handle them efficiently. They come in varying mouth widths too, so choose one that will cut branches up to at last one inch thick. Of course, you can have several (I do) for different chores.

Shears

Shears are like large scissors, great for cutting large sections of plant material at once. For example, I use them for cutting back my large ornamental grasses. I have also seen people using shears to trim small chunks of grass after mowing their lawns, around obstacles in the lawn such as trees. They are not however any good for cutting branches or even twigs.

Nice to Have, but not Essentials

There are many other garden tools I have that the average person would not consider essential. I have a compartmentalized tool bag that contains a roll of string, stakes, a box cutter, a hammer, a tape measure, vine clips etc, in addition to my small hand tools.

I also have several sizes of rubber baskets that are essential to my gardens. They are great for toting garden debris, new plants, weeds, cut flowers, even water in a pinch.

Conclusion

What you consider essential will be different than what I consider essential, based on your needs, physical ability and even your budget. The one thing we should have in common though is keeping our tools clean and sharp. Tools should be cleaned off after each use and sharpened at least once per season. At the end of my gardening season, I spray my tools with a disinfectant, wash them well, then rub blades with a bit of oil to keep them all in tip top shape.

Posted in gardens, loreeebee.ca

Houseplant Obsession

This past month I have been obsessed with houseplants. I’m not sure if it is because we have been under lockdown for so long, due to my love of anything green or my love of nature and gardens. Probably a combination of all three, much to the chagrin of my husband who keeps reminding me “the gardens are outside.” Hmmmmm, I can fix that, I do love a challenge…

Indoor Potting Station

Typically I take stock of my houseplants in winter, when my gardening business is snowed in, but this year I think I have taken this obsession to a whole new level. Recently, a large box of soil bags, plastic saucers that go under plants to protect floors, and pots has taken up space in my front hallway. The floor there is easier to clean up after spills, so this spot has become my potting station.

Research Your Options

The internet is a great resource for which houseplants to buy (or trade with like-minded friends for), what window to place them in and how and when to repot and take cuttings. I love this site in particular; it provides lots of “how to” videos for all sorts of plantings.

I have also joined a Facebook group of other individuals in Ottawa that are as houseplant obsessed as I am.

Propagation Techniques

My granddaughters and I have started seeds, with some progress. Currently we have success with zinnias, strawberries, lemons, and lots of hibiscus. We will have to restart some in a warmer spot in the house; my basement kitchenette appears to be too chilly.

There are several other ways to propagate all plants, including houseplants. I am currently attempting a few methods to increase my own houseplant population.

Leaf Cuttings

Taking leaf cuttings and putting them in water (changing it often) until roots develop is just one way, but by far the simplest. This method works best on plants with hardy stems such as African violets.

Adding rooting hormone to leaf cuttings and inserting the stem into perlite (lightweight, volcanic glass pieces used to hold air in soil) or potting soil also works well. Sanseveria work well with this method; several sections can be cut from one leaf, just be sure to keep track as you cut them into sections so they are planted right side up. It does make a difference; if you plant the sections upside down (easy to do when removed from the plant), they will rot.

Air Layering

Air layering is another propagation method, but a bit more complicated. Make a slit on a stem (2/3 of the way through the stem) between two leaves, cover the wound with damp sphagnum moss and wrap the area in plastic wrap to create a humid environment. When new roots form, cut the new plant off and pot it up.

houseplant obsession
photo credit

Simple layering

Simple layering involves pinning runners or long stems into soil while still attached to the parent plant to form new root systems. When the new roots and new shoots form, sever the connecting stem between the parent plant and the new roots/shoots and pot your new baby up. Pothos, ivy and spider plants propagate well with this method.

Houseplant Obsession
photo from Pinterest

Division

Sometimes when repotting your plants the roots just naturally fall apart (divide) into separate clumps, creating another easy way to propagate and grow your collection or to share with others. Sanseveria (snake plants) and ferns lend well to this division method.

My perennial gardens outside are very familiar with the division method, with spring being the perfect time to do so.

I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of spring, but until then I will remain houseplant obsessed.

Posted in gardens, loreeebee.ca

Houseplants Deserve Some TLC Too

Houseplants deserve TLC too, this time of year is as good as any to give them the attention they need. As we are still in lockdown here in the Ottawa area, with strict “stay home” orders, my green thumb is coming out this week.

Over time, the soil in houseplants gets depleted of nutrients and compacted, similar to the soil in your gardens and containers outdoors. As I cannot get out into my gardens yet, my front hall way is currently lined with bags of soil, pots and plants. All of my houseplants will be getting fresh soil and bigger pots to spread their roots and strut their stuff with a chaser of diluted fertilizer to encourage root growth. If you are really ambitious, or you discover any rotting or dead roots, you can rinse your plants off before repotting them. A set tub works well for this job, although I prefer to do it in the summer, outside.

For an introduction to a few new houseplants (one can never have too many) and some soil I shopped online at the House of Plants, a small business here in Ottawa. Currently offering curbside pickup or local delivery with nationwide delivery resuming in the spring, House of Plants has not missed a beat during the pandemic. They offer a wide selection of houseplants, suitable for many different light conditions.

A while back I wrote about the role houseplants play in removing toxins from the air in our homes. With windows and doors closed tightly against the cold air and our furnaces running constantly, this air cleansing is more important than ever during the winter months.

Last summer gardening was a new found hobby for many, during the winter months houseplants are now on trend. Whether you want to add to your existing houseplant collection or start one, contact House of Plants for all your needs and support their new business.

Posted in gardens, loreeebee.ca, weather

Cold Weather Good for Gardens

As we are in the grips of a cold snap, I feel the need to remind you that cold weather is good for your gardens. The survival of your plants and the bugs that try their darndest to destroy them depends on just how low the mercury drops and for how long it stays low. Snow levels also come into consideration for both plant and insect survival.

Insects are amazingly resilient, doing whatever they have to to survive. Based on how well they can tolerate cold temperatures, there are two types of insects. Freeze avoidance insects are those that seek a warm spot in which to hibernate, but can only handle a small amount of cold before their bodily fluids freeze, killing them:

Japanese Beetles

Those annoying Japanese beetles that can strip plants bare in one day do not like cold weather. Extensive stretches of cold below -15C not only kills them off, but also destroys the eggs they lay in the soil of your gardens and containers. Reasearch will show you that any season where Japanese beetles were particularly destructive can be blamed on a preceding warm winter.

Fleas

Fleas are not much of a concern in gardens, but they are for your fur babies. Fleas are even more sensitive to cold than Japanese beetles, as their larvae, pupae and eggs can not tolerate temperatures below freezing. For a stretch of below zero temperatures that is, at least ten days worth. The longer the stretch of cold weather lasts, the less fleas can effectively reproduce.

Mosquitoes

Mosquitoes try to find a spot to overwinter, but many are killed off with cold weather too. Unfortunately though, many of their eggs are winter-hardy to some degree, just waiting to hatch when temperatures warm up.

Ticks

Unfortunately, many tick species are able to bury deep into piles of leaves and debris, keeping themselves warm enough to survive winters. A winter with lots of snow only adds to their survival as the snow acts as insulation.

The colder the weather, the less chance of tick survival. Extremely cold weather has been known to eradicate some mosquito species, such as the asian tiger mosquito that carries the Zika virus.

Ash Borers

Ash borers are also termed freeze avoidants meaning they seek warmth, but will not die unless their bodily fluids freeze. Research has shown that ash borers can tolerate temperatures down to minus 30C degrees.

Freeze Tolerants

Some insects, such as cockroaches and wooly caterpillars are completely unperturbed by cold weather. These are called freeze tolerants, withstanding even the coldest temperatures around the world.

Fungal Pathogens

Lack of moisture kills off this annoying garden problem. So cold, snowless winters are their biggest destroyers. Unfortunately, severe cold and lack of snow is one of the best ways to kill off perennial plants too. Plants need snow to protect them from the cold too.

Conclusions

A long deep freeze in winter will most likely reduce the destructive bug population in your gardens. Even more damaging to insects is a deep freeze after soil temperatures have started to warm up in spring. At this stage in their reproductive cycle, insects and their eggs will be even more susceptible to a cold snap.

Another reason insects do not tolerate extended winters (late arrival of spring) is because as they “hibernate” they survive on their supply of stored fat and sugar. If these stores are depleted before spring arrives, the insects cannot survive.

Unfortunately, many plants do not handle drastic thaw/freeze/thaw cycles well either, so be careful what you wish for!

photo credit

Posted in gardens, grandkids, health & wellness, loreeebee.ca

The Simple Things in Life

We have all heard the saying “it’s the simple things in life that are important.” Do you believe it? Has your opinion changed as the pandemic continues to rule our lives? Does the Christmas season impact your feelings on this?

Several events have conspired to make the simple things most important to me. All year round, pre-pandemic, but especially during the pandemic. I realize I have already posted on this subject, but the fact that I recognize the repetition makes it alright, right? That was in the summer also, so the simple things I appreciated then are different than the simple things I am enjoying these days.

Career Choices

It is coming up on nine years since I retired from work in a local hospital as a medical laboratory technologist. I loved my career in healthcare, but it was becoming increasingly stressful. My advancing age, increased workload with less staff due to budget constraints, and several health issues were stacked against me.

I gave up hospital work with mixed emotions; I met lots of wonderful people and have lots of great memories from my thirty years there. Of course a healthy pension and a severance package made the decision easier. These financial aids also made it possible and relatively simple to switch gears into a new career. The day after I left the hospital, Gardens4u, my gardening business, was born.

As you can probably imagine, working in gardens all day, as my own boss, at my own pace, is stress-free and so much healthier. Appreciating the beauty of nature, exposure to fresh air and sunshine, as well as increased physical activity (exercise) built in to my work day are the simple things I chose.

The Joy of Grandkids

It is no secret that I am the proud Grandma to five beautiful, very active, adorable grandchildren. Ranging in age (currently) from (almost) eight months to seven years old, these sweethearts have simply stolen my heart.

The Simple Things in Life

The more time I spend with them, (I have been fortunate to be able to spend time with them during the pandemic) experiencing life through their eyes, the more I realize how important and basic the simple things in life are. Christmas time only heightens that awareness as many experiences are “firsts” for them, or at least that they remember. After all, last Christmas was a long time ago, relatively speaking.

I have always been the primary decorator in our home, but over the years as my sons have grown up and moved out, decorating had become less of an adventure and more of a chore. Grandchildren change that. This year my three oldest have brought the magic back as they helped me decorate.

Enjoying the decorations through their eyes, brings back memories of when their dads were young. Most of our decorations are (still) inexpensive, handmade treasures. We never did graduate to purchasing expensive, more intricate decorations, preferring to stick with the simple, cherished ones affiliated with the memories of yesteryear.

These hard plastic stars are a favourite with the kids, hung over individual bulbs on the tree, they reflect the light, creating sparkles. They also make a great tool for teaching counting, sorting and colour matching, although the kids don’t have to know that.

the simple things in life

Exercise

Exercise has always been simple to me, if I make it too difficult I don’t do it. Whether bending, squatting, digging or raking in my gardens, walking around our neighbourhood with hubby, swimming or just puttering at the cottage, or cavorting with the grandkids, simple forms of exercise work best. When I can’t do any of the above, planks are still a favourite.

On a recent trip to a local park, on a rainy day, my almost three year old granddaughter found the last patch of quickly-melting snow in the park and decided to create a slide. A simple find that created lots of fun. And a muddy jacket and rain suit, but nothing a quick wash couldn’t fix.

Another park visit, on a much colder day, had this granddaughter and her almost four year old cousin “racing” Grandma across the fields. Her baby brother watched from the sidelines with his momma. Delicious, candy cane flavoured hot chocolate and timbits from Tim Hortons warmed our cold hands and tummies between the racing and the play structure fun.

Nature

I have always been a nature lover, just one of the simple things in life I appreciate. My backyard is an oasis of sorts to wildlife. Squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, a variety of bird species, and racoons frequent my gardens, trees and pond. Recently we added another bird feeder, filled with spicy seed to deter the squirrels from raiding it. It is entertaining to watch the squirrels try to outsmart the feeder though.

A pair of cardinals visits our yard often. The male is vibrant red while the female is browner with a red beak. Their red colouring really shows up well in the bleak dormant trees, and especially well in snowy weather. The puffed up male looks really cold! The large cardinal, bottom right, is a whimsical decoration I leave on my deck all year round. The real cardinals seem to like him!

As the pandemic continues to restrict our actions and interactions, I hope you are taking the time (who doesn’t have time these days?) to enjoy some simple things in life too, especially during the Christmas season. You don’t have to look very hard to find them.

Posted in DIY, gardens, grandkids, loreeebee.ca

Propagation Project, Seeds and Cuttings

Recently I told you about a project my seven-year-old granddaughter and I started in between her online classes. We gathered seeds from my gardens as well as the kitchen, then tried to sprout them in a mini greenhouse. A month later and we have success. Well, some success.

Successes

Our melons were the quickest out of the gate, and are looking the best so far…

Cantaloupe

Others, like hibiscus, red peppers and lemons are a bit slower, just starting to show signs of growth…

Roots from cuttings

For another project we tried placing leaf cuttings in water so they would form roots. I had read that coleus are particularly fond of this treatment, so I took several cuttings of the numerous coleus I planted in gardens this past summer. They were so gorgeous I just had to give propagating them a try. We are also trying to root some begonias that looked spectacular next to the coleus in containers I planted at our local hospice…

Bingo, the coleus rooted up well, in less than one week! The thicker, fleshier begonia stems are still a work in progress. Eight rooted coleus stems have now been promoted to pots with soil:

Rooted coleus

Potted coleus

Lessons Learned

When many of our seeds showed no growth at all, I investigated further. Rural Sprout for told me some seeds just don’t germinate well straight from the garden or kitchen. We will keep trying though.

We learned to water the seeds from below (inside the tray the pots sit on) instead of from above. This prevents the formation of mold on the soil surface. It also prevents the stems from rotting once they start emerging from the soil.

With the cuttings, we learned to remove all but one leaf from the stem and keep that leaf out of the water. You learn this from the foul smell that the water quickly emits if any leaves touch (rot in) the water. I knew this from fresh cut flowers in vases, just forgot to apply the knowledge to this project. To prevent the leaves from touching the water you can use plastic wrap over the jar of water with holes poked in for the stems.

I have a perfect solution in a glass vase spacer, basically a glass disc with holes in it that fits on the top of a vase. In this case, it sits on a cup full of water…

Glass disc with holes is perfect for tiny stems

I have a kitchenette in my basement with lots of counter space, a sink, and a nearby window to provide natural light, providing a perfect setup for these botany projects.

Come spring we should have lots of plants for our gardens and containers. Any ideas of other seeds we can try? We’ve got lots of time!

Posted in gardens, gardens4u.ca, loreeebee.ca

Last Garden Project of the Season for Gardens4u

I finished my last garden project of my Gardens4u season recently. The beautiful weather we have experienced lately has certainly helped in that I was able to extend the season a bit.

This latest garden project was for a neighbour. I had already designed a garden in her front yard a few years ago…

…but the condition of her lawn after the drought conditions of this past summer convinced her to extend the garden right to the road.

So, she dug up what little lawn was left, giving me a blank slate….my favourite design opportunity! I amended the existing soil with composted manure, then added stepping stones to divide the yard visually….and to provide access for maintenance as well as amusement for her grandchildren…

 Instead of one large garden, I treated the sections as individual gardens with taller plants in the center and lower ones around the perimeters. I think this will create added visual appeal. (this may be difficult to see now, but will be obvious when the plants mature) Several existing plants were moved to achieve this effect; those that were previously at the edges of the garden were moved to the fronts of each new bed, with taller ones planted behind them. A row of drought-tolerant, succulent groundcover now edges the curb where the lawn refused to thrive.

 After the plants settled into their new homes, mulch was added to finish off the project and protect the new plants over the winter. 

The neighbouring yard/garden visible in my pictures is the mature version of one of my very first Gardens4u projects, way back in 2012.

The challenge now is waiting until spring to see this latest design come alive!

Posted in gardens, grandkids, loreeebee.ca

Amaryllis bulbs, plant them now!

Plant your amaryllis bulbs indoors this week for Christmas-time blooms. They take six or seven weeks to grow into gorgeous flowers. I have seen them in red, red and white, white and pale pink; all are beautiful!

Most grocery and department stores or nurseries carry them in kits with everything you need included. Each box contains a bulb, soil and a pot with instructions on how to grow your amaryllis. Once potted up, leave it in a (indirect) sunny spot and watch it grow. Turn the pot regularly to keep the stem growing straight.

I purchased such a kit at a local grocery store recently for my granddaughter to plant between her online school sessions and one for her younger cousin to plant on her next visit here. Both granddaughters are turning into garden and plant enthusiasts.

In recent years I have planted lots of variations. One thing I have learned is that they are extremely top-heavy when full grown. For that reason, be sure to add a stick to support them in their pot, attaching the growing stem to the stick with a loose tie.

Take your pick, but do it soon if you want them to bloom in time for Christmas.

Posted in gardens, gardens4u.ca, loreeebee.ca

Dahlias, dinnerplates or smaller

Do you plant dahlias in your garden? Are they hardy to your garden zone? They are not hardy in my zone 4/5 gardens, so I would have to remove the bulbs each fall to keep them alive, something I cannot seem to commit to.

This, however, is going to change. Call it an early New Year’s resolution if you must, but I plan to order some of these beauties to plant this coming (2021) spring. Maybe because I have become more patient or appreciative or perhaps because I admire all the gorgeous dahlias in everyone else’s gardens. These dahlias bloom from summer until a hard frost kills them off, at least they do here. They may perform in your gardens even longer!

With my recent order of tulip, allium and lily bulbs from Vesey’s, I received a spring catalogue chock full of dahlias in every colour of the rainbow. They got me! Every year, usually around February and not November, I peruse the flower catalogs for spring ideas. As you may know, I have a gardening business, so like to stay on top of new offerings in the flower department.

I love ordering from Vesey’s. Not quite local geographically, (they are located on the east coast in PEI, while I am a few provinces away in Ontario) but a Canadian company, so local in a patriotic sense. If this pandemic has taught us anything, the need to support local businesses should be at the top of the list. Darn, here I thought I could post about something other than the dreaded pandemic. Funny (not funny) how it seeps into our conversations like that.

Check out Vesey’s website to discover all of the dahlia options. You can order individual varieties or mixtures of many colours and shapes. On the website you can request a catalogue of your own to view at your leisure. Orders can be placed online or by mail in an envelope included with your catalog. Shipping is available within Canada and the USA.

I decided (finally) on a combination package of the dinnerplate variety as well as a single beautiful blue version…

The dinnerplate dahlias do live up to their name; I have seen many planted in gardens, just not my own. Yet. The deadline for ordering is not until January, so I may change my mind and order more!

Posted in gardens, loreeebee.ca, nature

Fall is the Best Time to Improve your Lawn

With cooler nights as well as more and longer lasting dew on the ground each morning, fall is the best time to improve the quality of your lawn. If your lawn looks terrible due to the long drought we endured this summer, this post is for you!

Recovering from Summer

My lawn held up amazingly well (some weeds moved in along the curb, but the grass recovered) in the drought this summer, much better than many others in my neighbourhood, and also much better than it ever has other summers. I suspect the TLC I showed it last fall is the reason for that.

Fall lawn repair
front lawn

Fall Lawn Regime

That sign of success means I will be following a similar protocol this season:

  • aerating
  • adding composted manure and seed
  • applying a fall fertilizer six weeks after seeding
  • cutting the lawn shorter than usual before the first snowfall

Aerating

When you aerate, ensure you use a proper aerator (hire someone to do it for you) that digs out plugs of soil. The inexpensive, so-called aerating tools that you step on do more damage to your lawn as they compact the soil instead of aerating it.

Fall lawn repair
aerated lawn

Composted Manure vs Garden Soil for Lawns

I choose composted manure, either sheep or cattle/steer, because I have yet to find a bad bag of it. By bad I mean no weeds or junk in it. In the past I have purchased bags and loads of soil, from garden soil to black earth, that were loaded with weeds seeds, garbage and even cigarette butts. Never again! You can purchase composted manure at Home Depot, Lowes or locally at Ritchies Nurseries. I would not however, recommend the brand that Canadian Tire sells.

Fertilize

If you plan to fertilize your lawn, pay attention to the three numbers on the bags. In order, they represent the nutrient levels of Nitrogen, Phosphate and Potash/Potassium in the fertilizer. In September, as lawns recover from the summer weather, choose a fertilizer highest in Nitrogen for a slow growth.

Later in the fall, choose one with a higher middle number to stimulate root growth and protection over the winter.

Reseed

If you plan to reseed because your lawn has bare spots and lots of weeds, you should wait six weeks after seeding to apply fertilizer. Be sure too to invest in grass seed specific for your location and sun exposure. If you are one of the lucky ones and do not plan/need to reseed, you can fertilize twice as indicated, once now (September) and again in November.

I promise, it’s not nearly as complicated as it sounds! Next summer your lawn will be grateful for the extra TLC you provide this fall.