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Gardening is Coming!

Marg Hundt

Spring is coming! The days are getting longer, the sun is warmer and soon we will see Robins. Most gardeners are getting excited and planning for our gardens. Many have already searched garden catalogues, read many garden magazines or some like me have ideas from last summer as to what we want to plant and where.

Beautiful gardens don’t just happen. Creating a garden is a slow process and lots of work, but any gardener will tell you that being around plants is very satisfying and relaxing, almost therapeutic. A daily check is the best way to keep a garden healthy and beautiful. Take a bucket and shears with you – they are great for getting rid of weeds and spent blooms. For some, this daily tour in the garden is the highlight of their day.

There are many things to keep in mind before we spend our hard earned dollars and work up those muscles that have gone dormant over the winter. Which plant will suit our garden? Where’s the best place to put them? When should we plant and how?

Here are some basics:

Hardiness zone: All regions of North America are divided up into zones. Generally speaking the warmer the weather the higher the zone, eg. the Arctic is zone l and Mexico is ll. Here, in Peterborough we are Zone 5. The plant tag should tell you what zone the plant is best suited for. The US zones are different than Canadian ones – we would be in US zone 6. We can usually grow plants from zone 3 and 4 but ones from 6 and 7 are more difficult. Be aware, some garden centers will try and sell you plants that are not winter hardy in your area. There are of course many microclimates where this rule doesn’t apply and many factors in your garden can cause this: which way the garden faces, a nearby body of water, a concrete or brick wall, fences, hedges, trees or lack of, a rooftop or balcony. Global warming may be making the winter temperatures more unpredictable and thus changing what we normally could grow.

Light conditions: Now is a good time to watch how much sunshine you get in each area of your garden and often it is a lot less than you think. Its easy to think that a garden that faces south or west gets lots of sun, but there are many factors to alter that, such as shade from trees when the leave are on, bushes, fences, your neighbour’s house, or even a van parked in the same place every day. Check the level of sunlight in all seasons, not just spring. The sun will be higher in the sky in mid summer and shadows will change. The tag on your plant should tell you how much sun the plant needs. Full sun is 6-8 hours of unobstructed sunshine a day. Many plants need that much sun and if you have less, then you will not get the results you expect. There are many beautiful plants that will tolerate less sun. Light shade is 4-6 hours of direct sunshine a day, partial shade is 2-4 hours of direct sunlight or dappled shade, full shade means the plants get only reflected, indirect light and dense shade means there’s very little light reaching plants at all.

Types of plants: Perennials are plants that stay in the garden year after year and have a specific time of the season in which they bloom. Annuals are planted for only one season and generally bloom all season. It is helpful to buy insect and disease resistant varieties. Spring flowering bulbs such as tulips, and daffodils survive our winter and come up every year. Tropical bulbs such as dahlias, gladioli, canna cannot be exposed to frost and must be dug up and brought in over the winter. Be sure to buy a variety of plants: tall plants for the back of the garden, small for the front, some that will bloom early and others that bloom later. Planting in odd numbers is more aesthetically pleasing to the eye. Be wary of invasive plants – those that rampage everywhere and crowd out everything else and become impossible to get rid of eg. goutweed, ribbon grass, evening primrose, mint, periwinkle, poppies and many more. Make sure there is good air flow amongst your plants for it helps prevent diseases from spreading, particularly fungal infections.

Soil: “ The secret is in the soil”. If you ignore your soil the money you put into your plants is wasted. To have healthy, beautiful plants, and a beautiful garden you must have good soil. Soil is made up rock particles, fine silt particles, and organic matter (such as decomposed leaves and food scrapes). Mix these equally, add a few minerals and living organisms like earthworms and bacteria, with lots of air pockets and you will have an ideal soil. This magical product is called ‘loam’. It is well aerated, easy to work with and retains moisture and nutrients well. Very few gardens are blessed with perfect loamy soil so you must enhance and top up your garden each year. Adding peat moss will aerate your soil and retain water but it has no nutrient value, but it must be spread over your garden and completely dampened and mixed well into the soil. Unfortunately, it is a dwindling resource and if you have concerns about this, use another soil additive. We are very lucky here in Peterborough in that you can pick up city produced compost at the Ecology Garden or have it delivered by the Waste Management Division – call 742-7777 ext 1657. Apply your compost early, before the tulips bloom, to give it time to settle in. You don’t need to take out those leaves from the fall – let the worms mix it up and do the work.

It is worth building a relationship with a reputable local garden center, after all they are the best source of advice on what will work in our area. Even with the best advice and planning, it can all be changed by Mother Nature who has a mind of her own. There will be failures, but also great successes. The truth is no garden is ever perfect all of the time. Happy Gardening!