Posted in gardens,, 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 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 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.


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.


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 current events, gardening,,, weather

May Flowers, not Snow!

April showers are supposed to bring May flowers, not snow!

Last week our Ontario premier Doug Ford promised to lift social distancing restrictions. Landscapers like myself across the province cheered as we were included in the first group allowed back to work. As a result of this announcement, I have been a busy beaver this week with spring cleanup of my clientsgardens.

Not today! I woke up this morning to a blanket of white, fluffy snow. How can something so annoying be so pretty?…

Perhaps Mother Nature heard me groaning about my sore (overworked) muscles and decided to give me a day off…

Posted in gardens,, Ottawa, weather

What a Difference a Day Makes

Don’t you just love spring?  It seems every day something new is popping up in my garden.  Saturday we had a beautiful spring-like day and by the end of it my daffodils were blooming…..

Monday evening my magnolia was looking promising under the low light at dusk…

By noon Tuesday, a few magnolias were in full bloom, with bees buzzing happily from blossom to blossom…

Wednesday brought more blossoms with cloudy skies and wind, lots of wind…

Today the magnolia blossoms are soggy in the rain….

Posted in, weather

Pussy Willows and Double Digits: Signs of Spring

Yesterday (Monday) the temperature rose into the double digits here in Ottawa. That’s incredible (although not unheard of) for early March. Although, as forecast, this spring-like weather is already less exciting today…

While the sunshine and warm temperature teased us of things to come, I changed up the décor in my urns flanking my garage and the milk can (from my grandparents’ farm) on my front porch. The evergreen boughs that looked so nice late last fall, have looked a little sad lately, not the lush green their name implies…

not so evergreen boughs

I also removed the Christmas/winter decorations (shiny bulbs, pinecones and a very cute owl), but saved them in my seasonal stash for next winter, leaving the (still attractive) red dogwood twigs in place. I found a few (artificial) sprigs of forsythia in said stash and tucked them into the dogwood twigs, then promptly texted my neighbour to brag that my forsythia is blooming before hers…

At my local grocery store I was delighted to discover bunches of pussy willows in the floral department. I can never avoid perusing any floral department, in any store, especially in spring. The pussy willows were calling my name, or maybe my spring fever was running rampant. Whatever, they created an awesome addition to my spring displays at home…

The rain in the forecast should help melt the still-existent snowbanks away. Every (rain) cloud has its silver lining I say. With colder weather (back) in the forecast later this week, I may have to bring some of these floral harbingers of spring indoors for some temporary respite.

I’m sure later this week I will be reminiscing the too fleeting sneak peak at spring.

Posted in climate change, current events,, social media, weather

Australian bushfires: extreme weather, climate change or both?

In the debate about climate change, a common misconception is that weather and climate are the same thing. They are not the same, but they are definitely linked together. Evidence is growing to support the belief that extreme weather events are increasing due to human induced climate change. This chart defines and gives examples of both weather and climate, for those of you that still require clarification…

Social media is wonderful for keeping us aware of what is going on in the rest of the world, but sometimes it is hard to decipher the facts from the fiction and fake news. For example, we in Canada are horrified reading, hearing about and viewing pictures of the wildfires currently ravaging Australia. To put this catastrophe into perspective, I asked a Canadian friend living in Adelaide Hills, South Australia to put into words the harrowing experience she is living….

For many people around the world summer conjures imagines of fun in the sun. And it does for me too. Here in South Australia we have beautiful, sandy beaches. We’re known as the Festival State and our summers are jam packed with activities. World renowned wine regions are on our door step. Our hot, sunny summers mean we can schedule and attend lots of barbecues and other backyard get-togethers. There’s so much to enjoy and look forward to.

But what many of my overseas family and friends don’t ask when I post the latest forecast of the upcoming heatwave is the question in the back of my mind, ‘Have we done enough?’ While hot dry days sound great when you’re faced with shovelling your driveway for the third time in less than two weeks, for me these days cause concern. I live in the Adelaide Hills—a gorgeous wildlife and nature filled area. It’s also prone to bushfires. I watch the weather and the warnings like a hawk. Each day the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) and the Country Fire Service (CFS) issue fire danger ratings for the various regions within our state. These range from low, high, very high, severe, extreme, up to catastrophic. These ratings are based partially on temperature, but also factor in humidity, fuel loads and their moisture content, wind velocity (speed and direction), if there’s a weather change due and if there’s any associated thunderstorm activity.

Throughout summer it’s typical for any day to have a very high fire danger rating associated with it. We worry when it goes beyond that. Everyone living or travelling through a potential bushfire area is encouraged to have a Bushfire Survival Plan. These plans are different for everyone and are dependent on individual circumstances and requirements. Mine is divided into four stages and takes up the entirety of two single spaced, A4 pages. It’s posted on the inside of my pantry door and everyone knows what’s in it. We’ve practiced our plans and can be out the door and heading up our driveway in less than 10 minutes if an evacuation order is issued. Fires don’t only start on extreme or catastrophic days, and they don’t only start during waking hours. Most importantly, our plan covers what to do if we’re trapped and can’t leave.

However, being bushfire ready isn’t only about loading up the car and heading off to someplace safe. We spend considerable effort during the rest of the year making sure we’re prepared. We have a large 3000 square meter property that lots of trees and wildlife call their home too. In preparation for the “big day,” we move all our important documents and photos to a secure offsite location before the fire season starts. We routinely collect and dispose of deadfall, trim trees and bushes, and keep our eaves troughs/guttering clear of debris. We have lists of things to do in the days and hours before a catastrophic day to try and minimize the threat of ember attack. On bad days we pack up early and leave before anything starts. It’s quite sobering to look at your family huddled in the car and think that this is all that will be left if the worse happens.

The Friday before Christmas this year was a catastrophic day. Fortunately, we had a couple of days warning, but the rating for the next day can come in as late as 4:00pm. We were well on our way when the first fire of the day broke out. It was caused by a tree branch, weakened by drought, falling on some power lines. After that ~190 new fires spawned. These were started by high winds blowing embers many kilometers from the ignition point, and by dry lightning strikes that accompanied a weather change later in the day. The Watch and Act zone was a half hour from my house and embers were starting fires in nearby communities. The family of my middle son’s girlfriend was evacuated. A friend of mine’s home was razed to the ground when a sudden wind change drove the fire across her farm. She and her family were safe, having left early like we did, but for a while they didn’t know the fate of the farm animals they were forced to leave behind. Miraculously, the animals survived unscathed, despite the scorched and blackened ground surrounding them.

2019 was Australia’s hottest and driest year on record. Our fire season has slowly but surely lengthened. Typically it would run from December to April, but over the years we’ve seen bad fires start in late winter and early spring. Australia is the land of bushfires and flash flooding, but these fires are not what we’ve previously experienced. I hope they don’t become the new normal.

Nancy Leinweber, freelance writer, Adelaide Hills, South Australia

Residents within the bushfire regions rely heavily on the 13,000 volunteers of CFS (South Australia Country Fire Service) for information, warnings, condition updates, advice and help. The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM), phone apps and Facebook groups of additional volunteers also provide local updates. It truly sounds like survival of the most informed and prepared.

I will be the first to admit that social media is wonderful for keeping in touch with family and friends around the world. However, it also permits the rampant spread of false information and distortions of the truth. For example, we read here in Canada that the fires in Australia were started by arsonists. Nancy had this to say about the arson stories we heard/read about…

Australia fires

A fire started within my watch zone (a 7km diameter area around my house) yesterday. The wind was blowing away from our property. The CFS dispatched 15 appliances and 3 aircraft (who dropped 12 loads of water). The cause is not suspicious.

In our own area we had ~190 fires start on one day. Zero were attributed to arson. We did have one person arrested for attempting to start fires (I think 4 fires) several days after the day I wrote about in the above comment. I think some of these things are taken out of context. The police released figures stating that 180+ people had been caught starting fires. This included 23 that were arrested and charged with arson. The rest were idiots ignoring common sense and fire-bans. They were warned for doing things like tossing a cigarette butt out of a car window, having a BBQ, using a chainsaw, angle grinder, etc. during total fire-bans. Apparently ~1% or so of bushfires are started by arson and this year is no exception.

An article written by the President of the Australian Academy of Science sums up just how devastating these unprecedented bushfires (as well as other extreme weather events) are, and will continue to be, without science-based consideration and adaptations moving forward…

The scientific evidence base shows that as the world warms due to human induced climate change, we experience an increase in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events.

Bushfires, along with other weather and climate challenges, pose complex and wide-ranging problems. Population growth, climate change, temperature extremes, droughts, storms, wind and floods are intersecting in ways that are difficult to untangle and address.

Professor John Shine, President of Australian Academy of Science

To learn more about the link between climate change and extreme weather events such as the Australian bushfires, do your research before you spread damaging information. Search for reliable, trustworthy, evidence-based information and ignore the rest.

Posted in DIY, gardening, gardens,,, weather

Winter Evergreen Arrangements

As I was removing window boxes filled with perennials and frost damaged annuals at the hospice I volunteer at, it dawned on me that these window boxes would look awesome with winter evergreen arrangements in them. Evergreen boughs with pops of red for a splash of color against the white walls of the building and snow on the ground.

Thanks to the early arrival of winter weather in our area, the plants and soil in the window boxes were frozen solid. I brought them home and put them in my basement to warm up to enable the change of décor.

Once thawed, the first thing I did was remove the dead annuals. Next I trimmed the dormant perennials hard, back to a few inches from the soil level. This step was to allow space for the evergreen boughs and decorative trimmings.

Most grocery stores sell evergreen boughs in bundles this time of year for such DIY projects, as do home improvement stores like Lowes and Home Depot. I just take a walk through the woodland trails in my neighbourhood with a pair of clippers and a bag. Cedar, pine, and spruce boughs as well as pine cones are plentiful. Sometimes I can even find some vibrant red dogwood and/or contrasting white birch branches and twigs. If not, the stores sell those as well.

Your local dollar store will provide the finishing touches like artificial poinsettia, bows, red berries etc. Battery powered twinkling lights were also added for night time pizzazz.

Posted in gardening,, weather

Garden Successes for 2019 Season

Well, it appears my garden season is over for 2019.  The increasingly cold, wet and miserable weather is telling me to give it up.  It was a great season, with lots of garden successes to snap pictures of. When I remembered to that is.

Success with Annuals

Still one of my favourite annuals, these gorgeous cleome (AKA spider flowers) went crazy in a garden at the hospice I volunteer at.  Unfortunately, they are non-hardy annuals in our climate, but I will definitely plant some again next spring.  I like to plant as many colour variations that I can find, this year I used dark pink, pale pink and white…

Other annuals starring in my garden successes included coleus (they come variegated in contrasting colours), miniature multi-coloured hibiscus (for a tropical look), portulaca (for full sun colour) as well as black-eyed-susan and sweet potato vines…

Eye Popping Colour Combinations

Another of my garden successes this season involved the colour combinations I chose in several containers.  Remember, the best colour combos are those that are opposites on the colour wheel.  Don’t try to match your colours if you are going for the WOW factor, contrasting colours give more of an impact…

Container Gardening

The containers I planted for clients and myself were garden successes too.  As described above, I aim for colour combinations that create splashes of bold colours…

These window boxes were created to add a splash of colour to the otherwise bland white older portion of the same hospice mentioned above.  The empty window boxes came from a client that passed away a few years ago.  I added perennials from my own gardens and a few annuals for contrasting colours, then attached six of them to the wall below the windows with brackets…

Wedding Flowers

I attempted more wedding flowers this season and am happy to say these too were one of my garden successes. This time I had the pleasure of creating small tabletop arrangements.  The biggest hurdle was the colour scheme.  The bride and groom wanted blue and silver but anyone with a bit of flower savvy knows that neither blue or silver are abundant colours in gardens.  Unless of course you want to order (expensive) exotic varieties from afar. They turned our well, phew…

Other beauties

My lily trees just keep getting more and more gorgeous every year.  Their very first season they grew to about eighteen inches with a few blooms.  This year I had multiple, thick, sturdy stems with tons of spectacular blooms…

This time of year any nice days are a rare bonus, we were fortunate to experience a few last week.  This picture shows a rose bush in a client’s garden that would just not quit.  It is (was) so beautiful that neighbours thought the blooms were fake.  When they saw me preparing the garden for the winter, one neighbour came over to comment and check for herself…

gardens successes
ever blooming rose

Please be sure to check out my other blog for random thoughts on all sorts of topics, except gardening.

Posted in nature, ontario, weather

Burning bush ablaze with colour

The colourful foliage this time of year is hard to beat, one of the reasons fall is the favourite season for many.  The burning bush in my neighbour’s garden is absolutely gorgeous this year.

burning bush
burning bush

Temperature, moisture levels and the amount of sunlight dictate just how colourful the foliage becomes.  Apparently the vivid colours on the deciduous trees and my neighbour’s burning bush can be attributed to the wet growing season we had as well as the cool nights and warm days this fall.  The scientific explanation involves fancy words like:

  • xanthophyll (yellow pigment)
  • carotenoids (orange pigment)
  • anthocyanins (red and purple pigment formed by sugar trapped in the leaves)
  • chlorophyll (green colour)
  • abscission layer (when nights get cooler, this layer forms blocking chlorophyll from entering the leaves, so other colours are visible)

Also (still) looking good are some of the containers I planted this season.  We have had a few frosty nights, but nothing severe enough to slow these beauties down:

As long as this nice weather continues I just may get all my gardens put to bed this week!

Posted in, weather

Fabulous fall, again, already

Yes, I know, I said fabulous fall.  Last year I posted about how fall is not my favourite season and provided a (quite short) list of things I like about it.  Well, this year I have come up with a few more things to expand my list.  I grudgingly have to admit that fabulous fall does boast these advantages, over and above the gloriously colourful foliage of course.  The incredible display of colour always seems to be at the top of every fall lover’s list, at least here in the north.

Cooler nights:

I love opening the windows in the house to let the breeze cool and refresh the air, but my husband and the only son left living at home prefer the AC.  We have arguments every summer over canned air versus fresh air.  My argument is that fresh air is free, not to mention it lacks the feel of an artic blast!

Our AC lowers our home temperature to 18 degrees (Celsius) overnight to prevent them from getting too warm when they sleep.  I too like the lower temperatures to sleep, but not during the day.  I absolutely hate when it’s too cold in the house in the summer.  Somehow wearing a sweater in the summer (when it’s sunny and hot outside) does not feel right.  As a compromise, I set the temperature to a liveable 22 degrees during the day.

So, when the nights are cooler (less than 18 degrees), I win with the open windows method of air conditioning at night.  And during the day too if the temperature stays below 22 degrees.

Great gardening weather:

In my gardening business, fabulous fall probably (spring is close too) provides the most productive days.  In the hot summer months I have to get started quite early in the day to avoid the overwhelming temperatures and humidity that slow me down.  These (fabulous fall) days I can work longer hours, although some mornings are quite nippy so I wait until it warms up a bit.


When my children were younger I used to bake much more frequently.  In fact, I used to spend hours making and decorating their birthday cakes, until they were old enough to graduate to Dairy Queen ice cream cakes.

Now that my grandchildren are old enough to help (sort of) and appreciate freshly baked goodies, I am getting reacquainted with the fine art of baking.  Although my 2.5 year old grandson is a little too exuberant with the buttons on my mixer. Our last batch of blueberry and banana muffins were pretty tough, not to mention greenish in colour.  Blue and yellow do make green, if you mix the colours enough (excessively).  Folding the blueberries into the batter at the end was not his idea of fun.

These are my latest creations, made for my granddaughter’s 6th birthday…

My neighbour helps with the decorating ideas, she is the most talented decorator with unparalleled artistic imagination.  She bakes to fundraise on National Cupcake Day supporting Sit With Me Shelter Dog Rescue.  Check out the link to support the cause, any time of the year.  If you live in the Ottawa area and would like to sample some of her incredible creations while supporting the dogs, let me know.  I will send you the link to her next event.  Here are a few examples of her talent…

Incredible Deals at Garden Centers:

Fabulous fall is the best time to find great bargains on perennial plants, trees and shrubs to spruce (pun intended) up your (and mine) gardens.  The deals are especially awesome at locations where their garden centers are seasonal; Canadian Tire is a great example.  Some of the plants may look a little sad and bedraggled, but the beauty of perennials is that they come back bigger and better each year.

Fabulous fall is also the best time to plant or move perennials, shrubs and trees.  As long as you do it NOW, (in my area) at least six weeks before the ground freezes.  This will allow for the roots of whatever you are planting to settle in for the winter before they are assaulted with the looming cold weather.

Less bugs at the cottage:

The bugs (mosquitoes, black flies and horse/deer flies) seem to disappear this time of year at the cottage.  They were brutal earlier, from April right through to August, making it difficult to get any work done outdoors.  We can finally sit around a campfire without getting eaten alive.

Cheers to a fabulous fall, may it last a long time…

fabulous fall


Posted in cottage life, food, nature, ontario, weather

Morel mushrooms, our consolation prize

One good thing about our cool, wet spring weather is the bumper crop of morel mushrooms we have been harvesting at our cottage. This is the first year we have seen them, in fact I was not sure what kind of mushrooms they were and whether or not they are edible. So, I sent an SOS (and picture) to the “all things nature related” expert, my cousin John in Missouri. Whatever would we do without our handy cell phones?

morel mushroom
edible or poisonous?
morel mushrooms
delicious or poisonous?

He sent me this link so I could read up on these delicious discoveries before we sauteed them up in butter for dinner. We did wait until we were in the (relative) safety of our home to try them as the cottage is a bit far from any hospital. I am happy (and alive) to report cousin John was right, morel mushrooms are quite yummy. Lots of work though, to clean them up, as their brain-like crevices hold lots of dirt.

morel mushrooms
first harvest of morel mushrooms

As the (miserable) cool, wet weather continued into June, we are taking some consolation in the fact we have had three weekly harvests of these morel mushrooms now, each collection larger than the last. At first they were hard to find; now we know what to look for and where to find these beauties. And also to check that their stems are hollow, an important characteristic that distinguishes them from their more sinister cousins.

morel mushrooms
third harvest

This week has been much warmer, finally some summer weather, so that may be the end of our mushroom harvesting for this year.