“It’s not the temperature” is a common Canadian phrase, followed by either “it’s the windchill” in the winter, or “it’s the humidity” in the summer. We Canadians tend to be very weather obsessed.
In this case, however, I am talking about why I cover the base (crown) of my roses in my gardens…
It’s not just the cold temperature (although it is advisable to choose plants hardy to your area) that affects (kills) the roses, it’s the freeze and thaw cycles very common to Ontario weather that do them in. The mounded earth helps prevent the rose crowns from heaving out of the ground in these freeze/thaw cycles. Be sure to use clean soil (I purchase plain garden soil in easy to manage bags for this purpose) to avoid introducing mold, mildew, bacteria or insects and their eggs to the roses.
I counted twenty-two rose crowns to cover in my own gardens, lots more in my client’s….
Some of my GARDENS4U gardens have blue hydrangeas and some have pink hydrangeas. A garden I was at recently had both.
We all know that blue and pink together make purple, so I was not surprised to see a few pale purple blossoms within the garden…
What Does theBlossom Colour Depend on?
The colour of your hydrangea blooms depend on the pH of your garden soil.
If you prefer your hydrangeas to be pink, make your soil alkaline (pH of 6.0-6.2) You can do this by adding garden lime to your soil.
If you would rather your hydrangeas to be a blue color, lower your soil’s pH to the acidic side (between 5.2 and 5.5). Acidic soil can be achieved by adding 1/2 cup wettable sulfur powder or other commercial soil acidifiers each spring. Pine needles or pine bark applied as a mulch also creates acidic soil conducive to blue hydrangeas. So does compost or composted manure. Some gardeners have had success using coffee grounds to provide acidic soil around their hydrangeas.
Testing Your Soil to Determine its pH
So, how do you know if your soil is acidic or alkaline? Try this simple soil pH test using ingredients from your kitchen:
Collect soil from different parts of your garden. If you have a large garden, you may want to label your containers. Styrofoam cups work well.
put 2 spoonfuls of soil into each of several containers. (Two containers for each location)
Add 1/2 cup of vinegar to the soil in one container. If it fizzes, you have alkaline soil, with a pH between 7 and 8.
If it doesn’t fizz after doing the vinegar test, then add distilled water to the other container taken from the same location until the 2 teaspoons of soil are muddy. Add 1/2 cup baking soda. If it fizzes you have acidic soil, with a pH between 5 and 6.
If your soil doesn’t react at all it is neutral with a pH of close to 7.
Experiment with Soil pH
Once you get your soil’s pH figured out, try adding the appropriate soil amendments to just one side of a hydrangea bush to see if you can get both pink and blue blooms on one plant; perhaps you will end up with purple!
I have learned over the years that commercial (sold in bags or delivered in loads) garden soil and mulch are not the most efficient products to improve the quality of soil in your garden beds. Every time I have done so, I end up with more weeds in my gardens…
So, if you shouldn’t use the commercial garden soil and mulch in your gardens, what should you use? Instead of the commercial garden soils and mulches that are available in bags from your local garden center or delivered in truckloads, I currently use the following plan.
In the fall I use shredded leavesas a mulch throughout my gardens, then in the spring, I spread composted manure around all my emerging plants. Be sure to use well-composted compost or manure in this step to avoid stinking up your neighbourhood. The extreme heat levels in the composting process kills weed seeds too, so is very important. You could use your own compost pile, but ensure it has matured to the weed-free level. For large volumes, I use this variety (available at Home Depot) of composted cattle/steer manure, particularly because it does smell bad:
This process adds both nutrients and humus to my existing soil, improving its quality immensely. The proof is in the beautifully healthy-looking plants and lack of weeds!
The cool, wet weather we had last week was great for weeding gardens. Without removing the whole root system of the weeds, they will quickly return to spoil your gardens. After a hard rain, it is much easier to remove the weed roots intact…
A well-mulched garden also makes it easier to remove weed roots intact. Weed roots growing in soil seem to resist removal, often breaking off in the soil, leaving pieces of the root behind to continue growing. When growing in mulch, the weed roots come out intact with much less effort.
I had the pleasure of planting a garden in TEXAS this past January, something totally different for my GARDENS4U business located here in Ottawa, Ontario.
Texas obviously has its own gardening issues, with extreme drought and heat at the top of the list. I chose a variety of succulents and cacti for the focal points of this garden as well as the ground cover between the larger plants. As the ground cover fills in, weeds are choked out and both the roots of the specimen plantings and the soil are protected from the extreme temperatures and drought conditions…
Ground covers also work well in containers for the same reasons. Because soil in containers dries out faster than soil in a garden, the use of ground covers can reduce the amount of water your containers need to stay healthy looking. Nutrients in the soil are depleted slower too when the soil is protected. Planted just inside the rim of the container, the ground covers can “spill” over the edge and cascade down the side of the container, creating a beautiful focal point for your patio, deck or porch…
Fallen leaves make great mulch and compost for your garden, protecting your perennials as well as improving the condition of your garden soil. Instead of raking the leaves up and taking them to the curb in lawn waste bags, consider using them to your advantage this fall.
If they are small leaves, simply rake or blow them into your garden around your perennials and shrubs, taking care not to bury the smaller plants. If the leaves are large, run them over with your lawn mower to shred them before adding them to your garden. Oak leaves especially should be shredded, as they are slow to decompose. You may have to spray the leaves with your hose once they are in the garden to keep them from blowing back onto your lawn.
In the garden, worms from the soil will draw the decomposing leaves into the soil, improving the condition of your soil, which in turn benefits your plants. Next spring you can bury the portions of leaves that have not decomposed in the garden, and marvel at how rich your soil is.
The leaves in the garden will also protect your perennials and shrubs, like a warm blanket, from the freezing and thawing cycles that do the most damage to garden plants. Roses especially benefit from a blanket of leaves around their crowns at the soil level.
Leaves should not be left on the lawn however, as they will smother the grass, ruining even the healthiest lawn.
So, when you are out raking the leaves off of your lawn within the next few weeks, save your money by forgoing the lawn bags and turning the leaves into compost and mulch.
I have found many things in a bag of potting (or other types) of soil, but this tomato plant was a surprise. I first noticed a few leaves poking out of one corner the bag of soil and thought it was a weed as I have encountered many kinds of weeds in bags of soil in my business. I decided to wait to see what developed and was amazed to see a tomato blossom on the plant a few weeks later. I left the small amount of soil in the corner of the bag undisturbed so the plant could continue to grow, and sure enough tomatoes have sprouted! The tomatoes are still small and green and will probably not ripen in the limited sunlight they are growing in, but I will wait a bit longer to see how big they do grow.
Vigoro triple mix, a combination of humus (rich soil), compost and peat moss, is one of my favorite garden products. It comes in a very manageable size, not too heavy or large to carry or transport in your vehicle, The staff at Home Depot will load it into your car too.
It is currently on sale here at Kanata’s Home Depot this week for $2.99 per bag, a 25% savings. Pick up a few bags soon, or for large quantities, print off this coupon and stock up!
It gives me great pleasure to tell you that we humans are not the only ones that suffer in this cold winter weather. The larvae of the destructive emerald ash borer and japanese beetle also have a difficult time surviving temperatures colder than -25C .
The larvae of the japanese beetles (grubs) burrow into the soil in our gardens and lawns each fall to survive the winter weather. Generally, the colder the air temperature, the deeper they burrow, to try to escape the frigid and lethal temperatures. If they cannot get deep enough (below the frost level) they die, resulting in less destruction in our yards the following summer. So, these cold spells we have been experiencing are great, especially when the temperature drops quickly since the larvae do not have time to get below the frost level in the ground.
Another point I should make: the poorer the condition of your soil, the deeper and faster they can burrow and the greater chance they survive, so if you get to nothing else in your yard maintenance, amend your soil often!
The larvae of the emerald ash borer overwinter within the outer bark layer of the ash trees. They too do not tolerate the very cold temperatures, which can kill the larvae or stunt and delay its growth.
I hope this information warms your heart the next time the temperature dips below the comfort zone of humans; we are not alone in our hatred of this cold weather!
I know we need the rain, but do we have to get a full summer’s worth in twelve hours? Three weeks ago I spent two full days hand pulling the weeds, raking the compacted dirt to aerate it, top-dressing with soil, and seeding my front lawn. I then very carefully watered the lawn twice a day making sure the soil and seed did not wash down the slightly sloped yard. Yesterday the grass was coming along nicely, with the thick new growth about two inches tall. Today, after the downpour, it is looking pretty sad, with most of the added soil in a river on the other side of the curb, headed down the street!
Loreeebee is a freelance writer and avid gardener residing in Kanata, Ontario, Canada. Please check out her website at www.gardens4u.ca
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