Winter Goals

winter goals

Now that I am feeling better, I can get back to my list of winter jobs that I create every year in my gardening offseason. As it is also our cottage offseason, I have things to get done in preparation for spring there too.

Dividing Houseplants and Winter Sowing

My houseplants are all doing very well, in fact so well that I have started propagating babies on many of them. These have already been promised to my daughter-in-laws. I know experts say you should not divide houseplants during the winter but it’s the only time I have time.

Winter sowing of seeds was so successful last winter that I plan to repeat that process. That’s where all those gorgeous zinnias came from that I transplanted at our local hospice last spring. All it takes is soil, clear plastic containers, and seeds. As you can see below, I have lots of seeds, this is just a small pile. Pretty simple, really. These mini greenhouses thrive on my (part sun, part shade) back deck, under the snow, as they require a cold stratification step for reliable germination in the spring. I am trying both perennials and self-seeding annuals this year.

winter projects

Sewing, the Other Kind

I hope to get some cushions made for a teak sofa at the cottage. The bones are great on it, light and airy, something that is important up there. The problem is we are not far enough along in our indoor renovations there to decide on colours. I’m pretty sure of the colour palette I want to incorporate for the whole renovation project, but have to find appropriate colour chips to show hubby what I like. The sofa colour is an important step but involves finding the appropriate (weight and colour) fabric. Now that my cough and other symptoms have subsided I can venture out to the fabric and paint stores for inspiration.

Spring Cleaning

One of the best things about removing the Christmas decorations around the house is that the process involves a good (pre) spring cleaning. I can almost check this job off my list as I accomplished a bit each day during my (limited) energy spurts the past few weeks.

Updating Family Photos

I would like to update my family pictures too. For Christmas, my grandchildren gifted me with a photo shoot with Hilary Elizabeth photography, the girls that did such a wonderful job at our eldest son’s wedding five years ago. What a great idea; It is so difficult to get a good family picture with six grandchildren and seven adults!

winter goal

Website and Blog Updates

The updates on my website and blog are ongoing from November to March. This winter I have decided to combine the two, so I will be deleting (not renewing) my Gardens4u website. This blog was already connected to it with lots of information overlapping anyway. The website was primarily used to attract new clients. Last garden season I decided to take on a few new garden design projects as time permitted but no more maintenance. I ended up doing some fall cleanup though for a few long standing clients as the wonderful fall weather was extended into November.

As for this blog, I have already created a Gardens4u tab (within the menu at the top, check it out!) with lots of before and after pictures of gardens I have designed and planted over the past ten years. There are lots of pictures from my own gardens, based on the bloom time of the flowers.

I am also contemplating hiring an expert to clean up the blog so it rates better on Google searches. If you can refer me to someone I would appreciate the help. I have done as much as I can with my limited technological and SEO knowledge.

Another goal this winter is to find new sponsors interested in advertising on this blog. Currently, I have mostly plugs for family and friends on the sidebar. Be sure to check them out too please, there is an interesting variety of talent.

Read More Books

Other than garden books, I like to get caught up on other reading in the winter. These past few weeks, when I was feeling under the weather, this love for reading was quite handy. And thankfully, I had just visited our local library before I was struck down. I think I’ve gone through all the James Patterson books, never get tired of his (fictional thriller) writing style. There is a reason he is the world’s best selling author! If you have not (literally) made his acquaintance yet, you should!

Seeds: Harvesting and Sowing Techniques

seeds

It’s that time of year! Having learned a lot over the past few years about harvesting and sowing seeds, this post shares the techniques I have been most successful with. The wildflower (AKA butterfly) garden created at our local hospice relied heavily (over 90 percent) on seeds. Some were purchased, many donated, and others collected or harvested by myself from my own and clients’ gardens.

Harvesting Seeds Requires Patience

The most important requirement for optimal seed harvesting success is patience, something I don’t have loads of. The seed heads have to be dried out, some actually fluffy (like dandelions) to be effective. Although I am loving this amazingly warm fall weather, seed heads are late to reach this stage this year due to the lack of miserable (cold, frosty) weather.

If you are impatient and do collect your seed heads before the seeds come away easily from the calyxes (the part of the flower head that holds the seeds together), dry them out in a warm spot, in a single layer.

Then, when they reach that fall apart stage, store them in a paper bag. Don’t use plastic bags as they hold moisture in causing your seed heads to get moldy. The faster the seeds dry out the better.

Brown Paper Bags

I find the best (and most cost-effective) way to collect seeds is to use brown paper bags. I use the kind we used to pack our lunches in, before lunch boxes were a thing. You can still buy them in grocery stores, so someone must still use them for lunches. You could also use the brown bags given out at LCBOs, they would work just as well. For those of you not living in Ontario, they are our government-run liquor stores.

Simply hold the bag under the seed head and cut the stem just below the seed head so it falls into the bag. I use a separate (labelled) bag for each type of seed head but that’s because I collect tons of seeds. If you are collecting fewer seeds of a greater variety for a blended, random wildflower garden, store them all in the same bag.

I add a strip of heavy-duty tape (book binding tape works well) to the bottom of each bag so the seeds don’t escape through the bottom of the bags.

Seed Sowing Techniques

I have discussed my sowing successes and failures in previous posts. The easiest method (that I tried) was the outdoor winter trick using clear plastic clamshell (from grocery stores) containers. If you try this, be sure to leave your containers in a partly sunny (not full sun or full shade) location outdoors for best results.

The plastic cup method in late spring also worked well, especially to fill in bare spots. It too was easy and inexpensive.

Both the clear plastic clamshell containers (winter) and cups (spring) act like mini-greenhouses, holding the moisture in and collecting the warmth of the sun. For obvious reasons, the plastic used must be clear (not frosted, no stickers/writing etc).

Before you pick one of the methods mentioned over the other, research whether or not your seeds require a cold stratification stage to ensure success. Most perennial seeds have a tough exterior shell requiring this cold step, while most annuals do not. The clamshell method includes this stage while the cup method does not.

Unfortunately, I have still not had much luck or success with sowing seeds indoors for spring transplanting. That technique seems to need lots of patience too. Perhaps that’s my problem. I manage to get the seedlings to a few inches tall then they fizzle out.

Conclusions

I’d love to hear from anyone that has experimented with seed harvesting and sowing, both failures and successes. It is definitely a learning curve!

Winter Sowing in Six Easy Steps

winter goals

This is a guest post from Gardens by Barby. I was intrigued when I read about this ingenious method involving winter sowing of seeds. Other methods prefer waiting until March to sow seeds, and involve heat lamps, a large designated space and more. I have yet to be overly successful with those methods. Inspired by this post, I raided my recycle bucket for plastic clamshell containers and started my mini greenhouses on my back deck…If I find success with this method I will have lots of annuals and perennials to plant in my gardens come spring.

Compulsive gardeners can get quite morose in the dead of winter. It’s one thing to pour over the new seed catalogues, dreaming about how those perfect flowers will look in your garden. But what gardeners really want is to DO something. Create, grow, nurture. We’re just itching to get out there.

winter sowing

In all my years of gardening, I had never heard of winter sowing until last fall. A friend bequeathed me with a garbage bag full of recycled jugs, bottles, clam shells and jars. She said I could use them like mini greenhouses for germinating my seedlings. What? How?

She grabbed a clear clam shell that once held a sandwich and instructed me to get some potting soil and some seeds. She cut some holes in the bottom and poked holes in the top. She wet the soil and filled the clam shell half full. I sprinkled some sunflower seeds on top, added a bit more soil and sprayed it with water. We set it in a large planter on the deck. And that’s it. She said that come spring, the seeds will sprout at their own pace with virtually no effort on my part.

Well…. let me tell you that I suddenly envisioned the possibilities. No overloaded window sills, no seedling rotations to ensure they all get some sun. No angst about who gets to be planted in February… or March… or April. No dilemma about whether or not to lay out the bucks for lighting, heat mats, trays and pots.

Could it be true?

So I dove right in and started to research. The term, “winter sowing” was coined by Trudi Davidoff in the early 2000’s. She was looking for a solution to a problem. Too many seeds, too little space. It occurred to her that Mother Nature sows her seeds outside in winter, so perhaps she could do the same.

The idea of winter sowing is not new. Seed packets will sometimes instruct you to direct sow outdoors in the fall. These plants are adapted to winter conditions and have evolved to lay in wait in the cold before germinating in the spring. But the life of these seeds is precarious. Many are fated to fail due to, for example, predation or heavy spring rains.

Winter sowing changes the game. By sowing the seeds in a confined environment, they are protected from the vagaries of nature. Will it work with all seeds? No. It will NOT work for plants that come from tropical areas where they would never be exposed to cold. It WILL work especially well for seeds that require a period of cold stratification to come out of dormancy.

winter sowing

Step One – Prepare

Assemble and clean your containers. You should use either clear or cloudy plastic containers that will hold 3 to 5 inches (7 to 12 cm) of potting mix, allowing room for sprouting seedlings to develop at least two sets of true leaves. Remove and discard labels and cap. Cut drainage holes in the bottom.

winter sowing

Slice the container about three quarters of the way around the middle, leaving a ‘hinge’.

winter sowing

Step Two – Sow

In a large bowl, moisten your potting mix. Spoon it into your containers and pack it a bit to remove air pockets.

winter sowing

Sprinkle your seeds on the potting mix and press them into the soil. Sow more than you need, but not so many that they will be too crowded. Cover the seeds with sifted dry potting mix. Note that many seeds require light to germinate, so don’t cover too thickly. Gently spray water to thoroughly soak the potting mix, but not to the point of being muddy.

winter sowing

Step Three – Label

Label your containers with species and date. There are several ways to do this. You may use a thickly-applied permanent marker directly on the container. (Note that it is common for the lettering to fade with long-time exposure to the sun.) You may simply write a bold number on the container and keep a list of the corresponding seeds in a safe place. OR you may write the information underneath the container so it is not exposed to the sun. OR you may insert a popsicle stick or other labeled item directly into the container. Some people do ALL of these things, just to be sure. You may then seal the top to the bottom with strong tape.

winter sowing

Step Four – Place Outside

Put your containers outside somewhere safe, perhaps on a table or along the edge of the deck. Keep in mind that you want them to receive snow and rain as part of the process.

winter sowing

As spring approaches, you will see condensation forming, which is exactly what you want. The ventilation will allow air and water to circulate in your little greenhouses. Watch to ensure they do not dry out as the sun gets stronger. Use a gentle sprayer to add water through the vent.

winter sowing

Step Five – Monitor

Watch for your seeds to sprout. As the weather gets warmer, be aware of them overheating. Move them into a shadier area if necessary. If your seedlings are threatened by a cold snap, cover them with an old blanket, or move them into an unheated garage, or even the trunk of your car. Do NOT move them into your house.

As Trudi Davidoff says,
“ … the warmth fosters fast top growth which may not be as cold hardy as the seedlings that sprouted outside in early spring weather. If you must protect your seedlings, give them tough love, no coddling. Sometimes a few seedlings will falter and die, but those that survive grow on to be hardy plants.”

winter sowing

Step Six – Plant

Ideally, transplanting should be done while the seedlings are small. If there are only a few seedlings, gently pull them apart to plant individually. If there are many seedlings, gently pull apart hunks of seedlings and roots. Plant these hunks into a nicely prepared bed and let nature thin out the weaker seedlings. Make sure everyone is watered in well and then give a light feeding.

You should expect that your winter-sown seedlings will be more robust and tolerant of weather conditions than nursery stock. As with any new plants, monitor them daily and keep them moist until established. Give them a regular boost with a quality fertilizer and feel great about the money you saved on flats and potted plants.

This is my first year trying Winter Sowing. I’ve read everything I can find on the subject and gleaned much through the stories and experiences that others have shared. I am both nervous and excited!

Have you tried winter sowing? What plants did you try? Would you do it again? Please share your experiences in the comments.

Until next time ….

Propagating Plants From Seeds: What I have Learned

Propagating Plants from seeds: what I have learned

Anyone who has tried propagating plants from seeds will tell you the process is not as easy as it seems. Each year I give it a try, without much success. The ideal time to start the process is six to eight weeks before the last frost date in your area when they can be planted outdoors.

This year I started way back in the fall with my oldest granddaughter. We have had some success, but not much.

Since then I have researched more and tried different techniques. I can get the seeds sprouted but the sprouts always flop over and shrivel up.

My latest attempts (it has been a long winter) have been more successful, using these techniques:

Humidity

Humidity is a must to coax the seeds to sprout. I have several mini greenhouses and peat pellets that are perfect for for achieving humidity levels the seeds require. This is especially important as most homes have lower humidity levels during the winter months.

propagating plants from seeds: what I have learned

Labels

My granddaughter convinced me to use labels to differentiate the seedlings in their rows within the greenhouse. She noticed my memory is not as good as hers, so thought the labels would help me remember what I planted. She was right.

Grow or Heat Lamps

Once the seeds sprout, the seedlings need heat and light. This can be achieved by keeping the seedlings in a warm window, rotating them often so they grow straight up and not tilted towards the sunshine. Or, you can create warmth and artificial light with a grow/heat lamp.

I am using a desk top in a south facing, sunny window as my propagation station.

propagating plants from seeds: what I have learned

Hydrogen Peroxide

With the humidity comes the growth of mold and mildew on the soil surface. Both are disastrous to seedlings, causing them to wither away.

Cleaning all your (previously used) containers before use with undiluted 3% hydrogen peroxide will sterilize them, reducing the chance of mold. You can purchase hydrogen peroxide in your local grocery store or pharmacy and pour it into a spray bottle, or already in a spray bottle here.

Spraying the soil surface daily with a solution of hydrogen peroxide and water (1:4) once the seeds have sprouted will keep mold at bay. This solution will also kill any fungus gnats (the tiny fruit fly-like bugs) hovering around your baby plants.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is not just a tasty and aromatic ingredient in your spice cabinet. Sprinkling it liberally on the top of your seed pellets, before the seeds sprout, will help control mold growth so the seedlings have a fighting chance breaking through the soil.

Transplanting

The use of peat pellets make it simple to transplant the seedlings into larger containers. I just squish them into a pot filled with soil. The size of the new container will dictate how many pellets I transplant into each container.

I like to use a premium potting soil with lots of moisture retaining ingredients to enhance drainage, aeration and add some nutrients.

This is when I use the hydrogen peroxide solution described above to keep the bugs away.

Sticky Bug Catchers

In between the spraying of the peroxide solution, sticky bug catchers work great too to capture the little fungus gnats that like to hang around the plants. They are durable and harmless to kids and pets.

I also use these bug traps in my house plants to keep other insects at bay. They work on the fruit flies and mosquitoes that are more prevalent around here in the summer months…

propagating plants from seeds: what I have learned
warning: bugs appear much bigger here, zoomed in.

Conclusions

A heat source might be a good addition to my experiments as my house does cool off at night. I am considering purchasing heat mats to place below each container to maintain a more consistent temperature for the seedlings. I would love some feedback on these.

There are lots of seeds that can be directly sewn into your gardens and outdoor containers. Of course, they have their own issues. Birds, wandering grandchildren, overgrowing established plants are just a few.

Obviously I could use advice to improve my rate of successful propagation. If any of you have had greater success in propagating plants from seeds, please pass it on!

Oh, and the labels work well outside too to remind me where I planted which seeds.

Houseplant Obsession

houseplants

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…

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.

Repotting Houseplants

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 hallway 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.

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.

Replenishing my Collection of Houseplants

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 newfound 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.

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

Propagation Project, Seeds and Cuttings

Propagating Plants from seeds: what I have learned

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!

Teacher AKA Grandma, that’s me!

teacher

With Covid restrictions and precautions gripping our world for several months now, with no end in sight, online learning or e-school has become popular. It was a tough call, but my son and his partner (both essential service providers) decided to keep their eldest child home from school to reduce her (and the rest of our bubble’s) chances of contacting the dreaded virus.

Me a Teacher?

In high school, (waaaaay back when) one of my career goals was to be a teacher. That goal was stymied by lack of money in the family to support a university education. As I was fifth of sixth children applying for government assistance, the pickings were slim. I worked several jobs each summer and through the school years to scrape barely enough money together to attend college. Community college and medical laboratory technology was my reality.

That might explain why this always-wanted-to-be-a-teacher Grandma is embracing my new role as online supervisor to my seven year old granddaughter on the days her mom works or has an appointment. The teacher is online with the kids too, so I am just backup in case assistance or guidance is required, close enough for me.

Offline Lessons

In addition to the online learning I am helping my granddaughter with, I am creating lessons of my own to teach her during her breaks from the online stuff. Fun (to me) things like botany, geography and piano. She has shown an interest in my gardening business, so for her recent birthday, I gifted her with a mini greenhouse kit and some tulip bulbs.

The greenhouse kit came with all necessary components as well as instructions on how to grow plants from seeds. The seeds however were not included, so we collected some from my gardens…

When the seeds were all planted and peat pots were labelled, we decided to keep the greenhouse on top of our fridge as warmth and distance from little brothers is recommended for the success of this lesson.

Seeds planted and labelled

Much to my delight, she has also shown an interest in learning how to play the piano. My eldest son (not her father) attended piano lessons at Music For Young Children years ago when he was just a toddler. I was the adult attending with him, so learned basic piano too. Fast forward almost thirty years to where I am sharing what I learned with all of my grandchildren, but as the oldest this particular granddaughter is able to grasp the concepts and has already mastered Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. Music is indeed the universal language!

Advantages and Disadvantages of Online Learning

Back to e-school and the online lessons we are both learning. I must admit I am impressed with the online program (OCDSB) my granddaughter has access to. Her teachers are cheerful and as organized as they can be, considering they are teaching six and seven year olds. At the beginning we encountered a few issues, like login failures, link errors and inability to get our French accents to work. That’s where my learning came in; having never used a Chromebook, I was not familiar with the language options on it. I may be an old dog, but I can learn new tricks.

Three weeks in things are going much smoother, in fact more and more children are joining the classes every day as the number of Covid cases continues to rise. Of course there are disadvantages to online learning, the main one being lack of physical contact with their friends. Although during the breaks they can be amusingly chatty, some kids more than others.

The main advantage is the computer familiarity for the kids. They have learned to log in, navigate between tabs, create their own favourites list, copy and paste links, alter the size of fonts, as well as the keyboard layout and the function of different keys, etc.

Their “jamboards” are cool, an interactive screen created by Google, where they can play around with ideas, much like a white board in a meeting, except it’s online.

They do get breaks often so their eyes and brains don’t get too fatigued, including 5 minute dancing sessions. A favourite dance tune is The Gummy Bear Song, although I bet their teacher is sorry she introduced them to that one…

The Gummy Bear Song

Next Lessons

Tulips will be next for my offline lessons, planted outside with banana peels to deter the squirrels from digging up the bulbs. We have both been saving banana peels in our freezer in anticipation of planting. I usually wait until just before the ground freezes to plant to reduce the temptation for the squirrels. As my dad used to say “squirrels have to eat too”, just not my bulbs!

I also want to teach my granddaughter basic geography with the help of an atlas and a large wall map my son used to be fascinated with, if I can find it. We used to have a globe around here, but think it is long gone. This idea came to me yesterday when she thought Florida was in Canada.

Any other ideas for offline, supplemental learning would be greatly appreciated!

Sunflower Season is Here

sunflower season

One of the best things about fall (autumn) is the glorious sunflowers that seem to sprout up so quickly this time of year.  Fall is probably my least favourite season, with spring being favourite, but I do like the cheerful sunflowers.  That’s why I renamed fall sunflower season. Few flowers have the dramatic showmanship of sunflowers. Tall, (there are short varieties too), sturdy, brightly coloured, and easy to grow, sunflowers are spectacular.

This past spring I planted a variety of sunflower seeds with my grandchildren.  You can start some inside before your last frost date, or wait and plant seeds directly in soil outdoors. We planted some in pots on the back deck and a few in my front garden. I also plant lots in the gardens I tend to.

Sunflowers are annuals here in zone 4/5, meaning they have to be planted each spring. Some do self-seed if the squirrels don’t devour all the seeds dropped from the flowers in late fall. Squirrels will jump right onto the plants if they are located too close to a fence, tree, or any other scalable surface. Choose your location wisely when planting them, unless you don’t mind the entertainment provided by the perseverant squirrels.

This orange beauty was one of my favourites, different from the typical yellow sunflower:

Planting Seeds Encourages Kids’ Green Thumbs

Encouraging kids to develop green thumbs is a great outdoor activity, especially for this garden loving Grandma.  Recently I taught my two oldest grandchildren (1.5 and 4.8 yrs old) the fine (very simple) art of planting seeds.  I filled some large pots with soil and added bamboo trellises shaped like teepees for the plantings to climb on.   I chose pole beans and morning glories to plant as they are both fast-growing seeds, perfect for impatient children.  In fact, our seeds sprouted within a few days, and in less than three weeks their tendrils had started to climb the teepees…

A few weeks after planting seeds and the beans have climbed up, around, and through the teepee-shaped trellis, producing purple pole beans.  No sign of the morning glories yet…

Now, if I could only get the kids to eat the pole beans.  Grandma certainly will…


I must admit that I have never planted purple pole beans before and did not realize they turn green when they are cooked….

You can entice children to enjoy gardening by getting them their own gloves, tools, and watering can. I also let them choose the seeds we plant. My grandchildren love the little “critters” and other whimsical touches I have on my back deck and front veranda too…

Mulch full of weeds

This is another rant, based on a pet peeve of mine.  I advise gardening clients to use mulch to keep their gardens from drying out and to help reduce weeds.  The problem is, some products out there are full of weed seeds, so when I go back to check out gardens two weeks after planting them I see more weeds than were there before I planted!  A dead giveaway is that each use of mulch seems to have its own species of weed, today’s was horsetail weed mixed with a coarse grass:

 

This is not the first time this has happened with this particular brand of mulch.  I will be contacting the manufacturer of Scotts Nature Scapes to complain and will avoid this brand from now on.

Scotts-Nature-Scapes-Color-Enhanced-Mulch-FamilyShot-88402440-Lrg

Too bad, because I do like their choice of colours, and the colour does not fade in the sun like some other brands.  My favourite is the dark brown as it looks like wet earth so I think the most natural looking.  I also like the size of their bags, big enough but not too heavy for me to load, unload and carry from my van to my gardens.

If anyone can recommend an alternative (weed free) brand (available here in Ottawa) for me to use and recommend to my clients, please let me know!  I do use a lot of mulch in a season!