Seed planting in Spring and caring for sprouts

 Seed Planting in Spring

Seed planting in spring and caring for the sprouting seedlings are always popular pastimes and certainly April is one month that has Northern Hemisphere gardeners chomping at the bit.

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Whether you had carefully scrutinized seed catalogues for your purchases or chosen them from the countless seed displays in local stores, you will have noticed the huge variety of seeds available!  Perhaps you collected seeds collected from last season’s garden, just as those in the Southern Hemisphere may be doing now as their gardens go dormant as colder weather approaches.

While many seedlings require different germination needs as previously written on this site, no matter  whether gardeners are working in large gardening centres or toiling over their grow lights and window sills, they are all hopeful those conditions have been met.

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 Despite the complex process a seed goes through before the first sprout appears, from large global gardens such as Viceroy’s Palace Garden in India and Tsarskoe Selo Russia, through to massive garden shows like Canada Blooms to our small but priceless gardens, each carefully planted seed carries with it the hope and perspiration of many hands.

Now that seeds are under the lights, or on a sunny window ledge the tricky part begins. Keeping a few simple points in mind should ensure the sprouts you watch daily, will grow tall and healthy awaiting their new home in your garden or planters.

 

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POST GERMINATION CARE

While the information on temperature, light and moisture levels seem pretty straightforward, to novice gardens especially, these both require careful monitoring. In addition, fertilizing is important in the right strength, to help ensure healthy hearty plants come from your seed planting in spring.

 

Temperature

If possible, providing a source of gentle warming from beneath is a valuable tool, enabling most seeds to germinate faster as it mimics the warm soil of your garden or planter. Certainly the top of refrigerators were once the site of many seed tray and seedlings, the newer model appliances give off very little heat. However, if they allow good sunlight, this would still be a good location for both new seeds and struggling seedlings.

The temperature requirements of most seeds are on the packages, but generally whether purchased or collected; seeds and seedlings both have minimum temperatures for good growth. Generally this is approximately 65 º F or 18 º C but above 68 º or 20 º is better. In addition, the optimal temperature is one if many pieces of information on the seed packages.

Heated seed tray starting kits are a big help as the try comes with a heating pad designed to warm the seeds from the bottom at an even temperature. Unfortunately on the one I purchased the actual temperature was not listed but the seeds sprout much faster than the comparable one in the small trays beside it.

 

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If you live in an older home heated by radiators, covered in a non combustible material, trays could be placed there for warmth but monitor the area regularly so they are not baked instead.

There are several problems that can arise if the temperature needs of the sprouting seedlings are not met. The first problem with lower temperatures is the metabolism of the seed/seedling is slower. In addition, the cooler temperatures combined with generally high moisture levels are good breeding grounds for fungus which may result in the disease or condition know horticultural as damping off.

Lighting

Seeds generally require a good source of light and in fact, some require so much to germinate that the packages suggest little to no coverage of the seeds. In addition, some plants do not grow well if planted early indoors and transplanted. I have had little success transplanting sunflowers and in fact, the package instructions say just to plant in the garden after danger of frost is past. While the root systems may not support the transfer, more often than not the plant’s metabolism requires a high level of natural sunlight, hence straggly plants even when under grow lights.

If you do not have a sunny, no draft location for your seed trays, pots, pellets or whatever you planted in to, perhaps grow lights are for you.  There are many locations from larger big box stores and most most large garden centres  that sell tiered, fluorescent lit plant stands. Another good source to check out are garage sales, or on line used items sites as new tiered light stands are generally quite costly.

 

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With the availability of new natural daylight frequency bulbs, often even a desk lamp or shop lighting arrangement can be used for seed planting in spring and  to give seedlings the light boost they need until they can be transitioned to outside areas. Of course there are many home made lighting set ups people have come up with, including adding foil around a light source to keep stray light at a minimum. In addition the increased warmth from the lights also helps with maintaining a good even temperature in the growing area.

To ensure good even lighting, start off with the grow lights approximately 6 inches or 15 cm from the seedlings and raise them as the sprouts grow. If the lights are too high above the greenery, the plants will grow taller and spindly as they try for more lights. In addition the lights should be on 16-18 hours a day to ensure the growth of sturdy  not tall thin plants.  Good, adequate lighting  promotes good leaf formation and strong stems,  and helps prevent  damping off.

Moisture levels

Water levels as any gardener know as crucial to plants, but with seedlings it is a bit tricky. Certainly the peat pellets, coir pots, mini greenhouse, coffee cups and pots that have been carefully planted are being watered regularly, but with the extra light and greenhouse like conditions watering may be a challenge. Of course it is highly recommended to either water via mat watering system or use a spray bottle to keep them seeds moist without disturbing them.

 

Mini Greenhouses on self-wicking water mat

Mini Greenhouses on self-wicking water mat

 

If corms or tuberous plants such as begonias or dahlias are started now to get a jump on the outside growing season, watering with a small container, gently on to the media is best to ensure thorough watering.

Begonia corms    sprouting

Begonia corms
sprouting

 

Possibly the easiest thing for garden novices especially is not drowning the seeds they plant in the spring. While the soil are growing media needs to be moist, try to ensure a consistent source of water by thinking of the seedlings as larger more mature plants. Most plant lovers know they do not need to water a plant every day, but when the soil surface is generally dry. Of course while there are always plants with more exacting water and lighting requirements, this is generally a good run of thumb that should be applied to the younger plant as well.

If there are tray covers on holding in the moisture, check the surface of the media used for possible mould formation. This is also possible when contaminated medium or dirty pots have been re-used. Provided the sprouts are up and growing fine, consider opening any vent on the lid or shifting it to allow more ventilation while maintaining a moist atmosphere over all. If you have rigged up plastic to create a greenhouse effect or are indeed using a greenhouse, remember circulation is vital, so create an opening and consider the use of a fan for good air movement.

Remember not all seeds even of the same plant will sprout at the same time so do not leave the lid on waiting for them all to catch up, so take the lid or dome off when a good percentage have sprouted and mist the rest. While moisture is required, at this point especially, good circulation is a must.

 

striving for better air flow

striving for better air flow

 

Fertilizing

One element often overlooked with seedlings is when and if they need fertilizer. Remember nutrients are important but the seed embryo itself contains all the food the new sprouts will need until they have developed true leaves, not the first ones formed. In fact, according to several expert sources, even mild fertilizer can kill the seedlings by over accelerating their metabolism and burning them.

If the growing medium you used contains no fertilizer, begin weekly feedings with a ¼ strength dilution of fertilizer, whether synthetic or organic. Keep in mind for most plants higher amounts of Phosphorus for good root and plant formation. In addition, if Coir pots or media are used, that coconut fibre product can compete with the new plants of Nitrogen so a more balanced N-P-K (Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium) ratio is best. After a week or two ½ strength can be used.

Full recommended dosing is not advisable until the plant is larger and ready to be acclimatized in to a cold frame, or shady area on the way to its permanent home. Another option at that point is mixing a granular organic or synthetic slow release fertilizer in to the soil when the seedlings are moved.

Additional Suggestions

There are countless sites, books, garden experts and even gardening forums that offer a variety of information and support and a few are listed below:

www.GardenWeb.com

www.Helpfulgardener.com

 

Final notes:

While to some, planting seeds in the spring is not something they are interested in, others find it very rewarding. To those of you who cannot spare the time but love to garden, remember most garden centres carry basic perennials, annuals, vegetables etc. at a reasonable cost so you too can have a garden of your own without breaking the bank… so whether it be seeds, sprouts, veggies, ferns, flora or fauna…let your garden inspire you…and happy Spring wherever you are!

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Germination of seeds

Germination of seeds is certainly a topic in most gardeners’ minds at this time of the year.  In fact, while I was cleaning out my old pots and collecting seeds to plant, my mind wandered to wonder…wondering how the tiny, hard seeds can indeed produce shoots to become wonderful and inspiring plants from something that almost seems dead.

group pf germinating seeds

group of germinating seeds

A seed surely looks lifeless as it displays no obvious signs of life rolling around in its package.  According to several articles in fact even biochemical tests for metabolic processes such as respiration, show very little to indicate whether the seed is alive. Of course for us the seed collectors, we hope the seeds have been stored correctly so they are not dead, but merely dormant.

 

Dormancy

 

While all living seeds are inactive, awaiting hydration, some require specific environmental conditions which generally mean a longer time before germinating.  In the case of home germination of seeds, gardeners need to know what those conditions are, as generally stated on seed packages or by checking out good sources of planting information.

Common vegetable garden seeds generally lack any kind of dormancy and are ready to sprout with some moisture and warm enough temperature for their biochemistry to begin. Many flower seeds and those from wild plants in particular may have deeper forms of dormancy that require further conditions before their growth is triggered.

While we may be familiar with scarifying and stratifying, both terms that describe external treatments   of a seeds outer membrane that some seeds require to leave their dormant state, temperature, and light also play a role before hydration can begin.  There are also physiological factors that signal the end of dormancy, such as plant hormones of Gibberellins which activate plant growth.  Other seeds may have a naturally found coating of Abscisic Acid which prevents germination until environmental conditions have worn this layer off and provided the conditions for germination of those seeds.

Germination

 

Germination can be explained simply with a few brief diagrams, or in great detail with many technical terms. When I bought seeds recently and began to collect pots and planting materials, the gardener and biochemist in me wondered how a few molecules of water and some sun could cause the tiny speck of a seed to ultimately form a large, beautiful plant.

Regardless of its size, each seed contains an embryo and in most cases, a store of food to help that seedling begin its formation.

Avocado seed diagram

Avocado seed diagram

 

A “typical” seed   has fundamental parts:

  • a seed coat
  • a storage area (in this case the endosperm which houses food and genetic material)
  • a dormant embryo

 

The embryo has three parts:

  • the cotyledon (or seed leaf)
  • the epicotyl (becomes the shoot)
  • the radicle (becomes the root)

 

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Physiology of Germination

 

When water penetrates through the seed coat and begins to soften up the hard tissues inside, causing the seed to swell up and then split.  Then water enters even faster and begins to activate the biochemistry of the dormant embryo.   Once such substance activated there is Gibberelli Acid (GA), which is a plant hormone similar to steroids.

Then the GA is carried with the water through out the seed tissues and in to the endosperm until it activates genes inside the seed and a complex DNA/RNA reaction takes place. Basically this “blue print” allows the genetic characteristics of the parent plant to be passed on through the seed. Also as this is going on, the embryo feeds on the starch and sugar found in the endosperm as well.

Under proper conditions, the seed begins to germinate and the embryonic tissues begin to protrude from the seed’s casing in the form of what is called the Radicle. This primary root anchors the seedling in to the ground as well as absorbing more moisture.  From here other growth takes place, but the components vary.

In most plants another shoot emerges, many of which have three parts:

– the embryonic stem called the hypocotyls

– the cotyledons ( first leaves)

– the epicotyls

 

 The hypocotyls

The hypocotyls grows out and lifts the growing seedling up as it becomes the stem of the seedling and carries the cotyledons (embryonic leaves)   clear of the ground.  At this point growth components change depending on the classification .Flowering plants are classified in to two groups, depending on whether they have one or two cotyledons.

The cotyledons

Monocots have only one single shoot or cotyledon after the seed breaks out of the ground. In these plants the roots develop from the stem instead of from the base of the embryo. Included in this group are flowers such as orchids and lilies as well as wheat, onions and corn, asparagus and many other plants and grasses.

 

 

Monocot diagram

Monocot diagram

 

Dicots have two initial leaves or cotyledons that grow from the embryo.  Then the the epicotyls forms the initial stem which holds up the true leaves, while the radicle grows and forms the plant’s the root-system. Most flowering plants found in the garden belong to this classification. Beans are also a dicot.

 

 

Dicots

 

The epicotyls

The epicotyls, which are above the cotyledons and below the plants real leaves, are not found in every plant. Where they are present, they become the plants stem, which rises up and gives way to the plant’ s further  leaf and stem development. The growth of plants is another matter that requires far more complex physiological terminology than this author/gardener can explain.

 

Germination of seeds

 

In addition to Monocot and , Dicot germination there are other forms including but not restricted to Epigeous, Hypogenous and Precocious germination. There are many names, classifications, conditions the seed requires and other complexities that my brain can barely contain!

Despite that, germinating seeds each spring is part of my celebratory ritual and I am glad to have some basic understanding of what really is going on inside each seed.  Based on several definitions, seed germination is said to have occurred when growth of the radicle bursts the seed coat and protrudes as a young root… but to us gardeners the no names matter as the excitement builds when the green shoots poke their heads above the ground and inspire us to bury more seeds for germination!

 

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Indoor seed growing

Indoor seed growing is always a joy for many reasons, not the least is that it means winter is nearing an end and spring is not far off. Of course there are many lessons learned each year as we try new seeds and new techniques that often do not yield the results we hoped for. Personally speaking, despite any setbacks…soggy seedlings and all, I still find it so inspiring that so much life, joy, beauty, food and medicinal elements come from such small seed.

There are a few basics that can help the novice who wants to start indoor seed growing and of course there are countless articles in magazine, books and on-line. Please take the following information as a starting point…off you go now, as there are countless seeds to plant.

 

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Choosing Seeds:

Before choosing seeds, remember that the soil and lighting conditions of your garden need to be considered, just as you would when purchasing live plants. The light requirement of the plants after germination is generally shown by a symbol on the seed packages of a sun for full sun through to a cloud for full shade.

Seed sources are everywhere from floral departments of large grocery stores, garden centres, hardware stores and even big box department stores. Of course dreaming our way through local seed catalogues is marvelous fun and gives the widest variety of choices for annuals, vegetables and even perennial seeds. In addition, the great photographs, detailed planting and maturity information as well as many new hybrids not available in stores, makes these companies a great source!

 

Getting ready for Spring

Getting ready for Spring

If you belong to a horticultural society or garden club, you are probably able to participate in a seed exchange for a good source of vial seed as well as information on the plants themselves. For those on their own, perhaps others in your neighbourhood have seeds to share or swap. Remember, once you have a hearty plant you love, whether grown from seed or purchased full grown, you will have all the seeds you need for next year’s growing season.

Annuals and vegetables are generally the easiest to start indoors as their germination requirements are quite straight forward. Perennials on the other hand may need stratification or scarification before germination can begin. Stratification is a cold period required to break the seeds dormancy, which can be achieved by a few weeks in the refrigerator before planting, or by planting directly in to the garden bed near the last frost date. Scarification is nicking or sanding through the seeds tough outer coat so the moisture required for germination can get in.

 

Seed Planting

Follow Directions:

Seed packs will contain a great deal of information on the plant itself, including the light requirement as mentioned, and length of time for flowers to bloom or vegetables to harvest. With new varieties of both available, even maturity times have changed so reading the packages is always important.

 

Perennial seed instructions

Perennial seed instructions

Annual seeds best started Outdoors

Annual seeds best started Outdoors

Further information on planting depth, times, light requirements, and growing temperatures are provided to ensure you have optimal germination. In addition, specific details for more challenging seeds would also be listed. An example of this would be for seeds requiring light to germinate so you not cover them with soil, while others might need soaking, scarifying or stratifying. Plants that do not transplant well will also be indicated and these seeds should only be planted outside once the danger of frost is past.

Word of warning: If you plant too early, the seedlings and young plants may become spindly and overgrown, despite good sunlight or strong grow lights!

 

Planting Media:

While regular potting soil can be used but as it can be heavy when wet, soilless mix is recommended. Jiffy pellets, which are peat moss compressed for ease of storage and use are readily available both in kits and often priced per piece. The advantage of these media is their inexpensive prices and that no containers are needed as the mesh around them ensures they retain their shape even in the wet, expanded state.

Jiffy pellet kits are readily available in most types of stores selling seeds as they hope to encourage customers to try their hand at indoor seed growing.  There are many brands of soilless mix available at garden centre and many easy recipes for mixing your own.

As it has now been determined that peat Moss is not an infinitely available resource, grown coconut fibre or compost can be used instead with the addition of compost.

Basic Soilless Potting Mixes              

  • 4-6 parts Sphagnum Peat Moss
  • 1 part Perlite
  • 1 part Vermiculite

OR

  • 4 parts coconut coir
  • 2 parts compost
  • 1 part Vermiculite
  • 1 part perlite

 

Coir is a natural fibrous material extracted  from coconut husks, which are the byproducts of other industries  that use coconuts for food products. In addition to many commercial items manufactured from these harvested husks, they are also used in horticulture.Frequently labelled as Coco Peat , this product is commonly available in gerden cnter as are vermiculite and perlite.

Coir or coconut husk segregation

Coir or coconut husk segregation

 

Coco peat is recommended as a substitute for shagnum moss (peat moss), because it is free of bacteria and fungal spore, and produces good results without the environmental damage caused by peat mining.

Coco peat is usually shipped and sold in compressed forms of bales, briquettes or discs which expand up to more than ten times their weight after  the consummers add water.Unfortunaley while it is a great produce to hold moisture, it is low in nutrients and can compute for nitrogen in the soil,  so when used as a soil additive compost or other slow release fertilizer should be added.

Containers and accessories

There are a wide variety of containers you can use  for indoor seed growing, from small flower pots to any container with drainage holes (cell pack, pots, jiffy pellets, Styrofoam coffee cups, food trays etc.). Remember if reusing containers, to wash with them soap, water and a little bleach first and then rinse them very well to ensure any fungus, bugs or bleach is long gone!

 

old pots before washing

old pots before washing

 

In addition you would need trays to hold those containers, plastic covers or domes to keep the moisture in and labels to ensure plants are properly identified. Of course you can use the clear lids of takeout containers or even clear plastic veggie bags held above the seeds. I have found popsicle sticks wedged down in the corners of a small container works fine and I remove it once the seeds have poked out of the growing media.

Theses sticks can also be used as labels there or if broken off and placed in front of where you will place a specific seed. One drawback to these is that ink can run on the wood. You can buy plastic plant labels or even cut up margarine lids. There are many ways money can be saved and items reused and indoor seed planting is no different.

 

Planting:

Fill the containers with your sterile planting media and moisten the mixture so it feels like a damp sponge about an hour an hour before sowing to let the water penetrate evenly. While wait you can collect all seeds and planting devices as well as go over the seed planting information to ensure you have soaked, scarified or stratified the appropriate seeds.

The most difficult thing about planting seed is getting the right depth especially for the smaller seed. In addition, the smaller seeds almost seem to disappear so for those a planting aid helps. There are small plastic seed holders available that have a tiny opening designed to let small seeds out one or two at a time. For the handy minded person, a small envelope can be sealed and then a tiny hole poked in the end, allowing seeds out.

 

Watering:

Your newly planted seeds need to be watered lightly from the bottom of the pot or by using a spray bottle to ensure the seeds are moistened but not disturbed. When they are moist, cover them with a plastic dome and place them in a warm location to germinate. Other options for speedier germination are placing them on top of the fridge, under grow lights , safely by a warm heat source as they germinate best between 18 – 24°C. In fact, there are temperature controlled heating pads specifically designed for this purpose which are available in kits or individually at most garden centres.

Once germination has take place, make certain the dome or clear plastic cover is unsealed to ensure good ventilation and prevent fungal growth in the soil. Fungal buildup, called damping off can cause seedlings to turn black at soil level and die overnight. In the past I have had this issue when crowding pots and pellets too close together which also blocks good airflow.

Prevention is best, but antifungal products are available, and seedlings could be sprayed with commercial fungicides Mycostop or Captan , but there are healthier herbal remedies you can use. A home remedy that apparently prevents this as well is a one dusting of ground cinnamon on the soil surface.  A Chamomile tea infusion of 3 tea bags soaked for about 20 minutes can be lightly misted over the seedlings.  Garlic as well is known to be a natural fungicide, so mash up several cloves and boil then in about an inch of water and water in to the seedlings once cool.  Of course good spacing and even a fan can ensure better air movement, no matter where you have the seeds growing.

Once the seedlings get an inch or two high, you can remove domes or covers completely, but keep an eye they not get too dry either. Water lightly still, once the soil begins to look dry.

 

Light:

Seedlings love light, so if you only have a few, placing them on a sunny window ledge should do the trick. For many of use with limited light and a seedling urge that is hard to control, grow lights are a good option. There are light stands, small lamps and many fixtures where grow light bulbs can be used instead of regular fluorescent tubes. Again, a much needed field trip to a garden center is a must, at least to research your options!

Grow lights or cool fluorescent lights work best and now there are a few frequency options such as natural, wide range and those designed to simulate sunlight. Ideally optimal amount of light for your seedlings under lights are 16 hours on, 8 off. And the lights should only be 4-6 inches above them to start. Remember, whether your newly sprouted plants are under lights or in a sunny spot, leggy seedling are an indication that the light is inadequate.

Transplanting & Fertilizing:

After the seedlings have formed their second set of leaves they can be gently transplanted in to individual pots. In addition, feeding them a general balanced water soluble fertilizer of 20-20-20 at approximately ¼ strength once a week, is recommended for good growth. Gradually increase the strength over the next few weeks as you prepare to harden the new plants and move them outside.

 

Hardening Off :

 Before you move the young plants in to their final containers, or in to the ground of your garden, they need to adjust to the outside conditions they will call home. This process, which is called our seedlings into containers or the ground outdoors, it is essentially to “hardening off” is a gradual period of acclimatizing which ensures a good survival and growth of the once tiny seedlings.

 

As the light intensity, temperature outdoors, wind etc. is much different than what they were used to inside, begin  by moving the trays and containers out in to a shady, protected area  for a couple of days . Then gradually extending the stay and moving them over a week to ten day period, to where they get their ideal light, soil and temperatures needs.

 

 

Gardening in Winter

Gardening in Winter

While to many, thinking of gardening in  winter may seem to be a foreign concept, really the “thinking” is no different than ever, just the practicalities and chores are different. Now while we merely remember the plants we once had or perhaps look at photos, our outside gardening is limited to trimming and protecting the grounds we love

In fact as we dream of the upcoming spring, our thinking caps need to be on and our imaginations too get to run wild, while our gardens are fast asleep in the frozen ground(except for a weed or two!) . In many countries that experience winter in Dec-March, the temperatures do not take on the -20 C we here in Ontario have been experiencing this past week, but still experience the dormant periods most plants experience in the cooler weather.

 

weed Geranium

weed Geranium

While the gardens may be dormant, January and February are the few months where gardeners are not, but certainly do less physically demanding chores and store up their energy for the upcoming spring. Personally after the Holiday season ends, I turn my focus to my poor neglected house plants before the seed catalogs come pouring in.

Indoor Gardening Chores

While house plants are in a slow growth period as well, due to lower UV light levels even in a sunny window as well as generally cooler temperatures and humidity inside tend to slow down their metabolism, transplanting is not recommended. After having said that, I must confess I occasionally do that if the plant/pot ratio has gotten out of hand for a few sad struggling plants, knowing full well they will probably not get a new lease on life come spring and the busy outside garden season.

Here is my rough list of chores to accomplish in February and March. While this list is not as extensive as it could be, it serves as a starting point for you to jot down your own and keep you in the gardening in winter mode… knowing soon the first buds will form, plants will come to life and spring fragrances will fill the air!

cottage planter in January

cottage planter in January

 

 

Inside plants

-water sparingly and put humidity sensitive plants on gravel to provide extra humidity

-cut off dead/dying leaves and top up soil

-re pot leggy plants in to larger pots or cut plant back and put in original pot

-check for gnat flies/ treat with yellow sticky pads

 

Relocated garden tubers/plants

-check any plants brought in from outside to ensure no bugs are present and treat if necessary

-trim dead/dying leaves and top up soil

-check Chrysanthemum, Dahlia, begonia tubers for rot or dampness

-cut out any spots and ensure shavings/newspaper wrappings are dry and plentiful

Seed supply and propagation equipment

-check seeds harvested from last summers plants

-ensure they are still dry with no mold or mildew formation

-collect propagation trays, labels, soil less mix, seed dispensers etc.

Gardening tool tune up

Brave the cold if need be and gather all spades, trimmers, trowels etc from the garden shed and clean, sharpening and repair them.

 

Pruning

Gardening in winter also includes getting shrubs ready for spring. Despite the cold, February is a good month to prune deciduous trees and shrubs. Even shade, flowering and fruit trees can all be pruned  now, but spring flowering plants such as Forsythia or Spirea as what you will actually be pruning   flower buds  along with the new leaf growth.

Any pruning of these plants should not be done until after spring flowering is complete .Of course pruning a branch of spring flowering shrub from the back will do  little to ruin the overall look in spring  but allow you to force the blooms on it and give your winter gardening a preview of things to come.

 Odd and Ends

There are many odds and ends that still require our focus as the uneven temperature fluctuations of winter create hardships for plants and birds. Remember to keep your birdfeeder (s) full of yummy seeds.

Then of course, you can enjoy a lovely cup of tea or coffee while you daydream and plan with your gardening catalogues.

 

 

Winter Garden Tour

Winter Garden Tours

Winter garden tours may seem like a dream unless you live in a warm climate, but today when the sun was out I decided to take a tour of my garden, with camera in hand.  Normally the weather would make this a rather chilly walk, but as the early morning sun and temperatures up to 9 º Celsius had melted the snow on most of my property  while others around were full of snow!

two seasons at once

two seasons at once

 

While this January has not yet seen the record -15º, with the exception of the Hellebore plant in my side garden, I expected everything to be frozen. To my surprise there were so many plants still alive, despite the -4 º temperature nights and warm almost Spring like weather during this unusually warm January in Canada.

 

Who know there would be a lovely green Fever-few (Tanacetum parthenium) plant nodding at me in the wind? In fact, there were parts of the old plant with new growth bursting forth in both the side and back gardens.

 

Feverfew

Feverfew

 

Close to the Feverfew, are the mixed red and green leaves of the Toad lily (Tricyrtis latifolia) which survives being previously buried in many inches of snow.

Toad Lily leaves and Blue Fescue

Toad Lily leaves and Blue Fescue

The snow in the front garden also was inches deep for several weeks, but not long enough or cold enough to kill off the small pink rose bush that bloomed there all summer and was now an inspiring part of my winter garden tour. While there are no flowers, there quite a few dark green leaves and even a rose hip that waved as a reminder of past glory!

P1410078

 

Past the front and through the side gate, leading to the north side yard, revealed even more winter surprises. First my eyes fell on the lovely green crinkled leaves of a Primula, easily recognized despite none of the yellow flowers being evident.

Primula

Primula

Representing the wildflower family, not to be outdone, was one Golden rod.  Bouncing in the wind, its tiny yellow flowers made a statement, despite not displaying their brilliant summer colour. Buried also in the snow, but not down for the count, was a wild weed Geranium (possibly a Dovefoot Geranium).

 

Goldenrod

Goldenrod

P1410093

wild Geranium

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I walked completely around to the rock garden as my winter garden tour continued, under the huge Spruce tree, I found buds forming on the heather plant (Calluna Vulgaris) that in early to mid summer would be filled with lovely, tiny, pink blooms.

 

my Heather in bud

my Heather in bud

Heather in bloom

Heather in bloom

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beside this was a Chrysanthemum plant fiercely growing new green leaves, despite the dried flower bud still attached!

 

 struggling Chrysanthemum

struggling Chrysanthemum

 

Not to be outdone was the lovely evergreen fern Dryopeteris erythrosora (Autumn fern).

 

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 Last, but not least, was a Heuchera key lime pie that didn’t seem to mind the cold at all!

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Today, despite the return of real winter weather and -10 º weather the Hellebore is happily bobbing its head and I am bundled up, remembering my inspiring winter garden tour while dreams of seedlings run through my head.

sunflowerseedlings_1

 

Hellebore Plant or the Christmas Rose

Hellebore Plant or the Christmas Rose

Recently, while hurrying in from shopping just before my celebration of Christmas, I was amazed to find a plant in bloom despite the cold winter temperatures. In fact with night time getting to -3 Celsius and highs during the day of +2, most of the plants in my garden have long died or frozen. Certainly the white blooms that bobbed in the cold winter winds caught my eye and then after a few pictures, led me to check on this plant which was new to my garden and whose name I remembered to be  Hellebore plant or the Christmas Rose.

 

Day before Christmas garden surprise

Day before Christmas garden surprise

 

Hellebore Plant general Information

This Genus of plants, from the Ranunculaceae (or buttercup) Family, are early-flowering, generally poisonous perennial plant that has large divided leaves. According to folklore hellebore was used in 585 BC. , to poison the Greek city of Kirrha’s water supply, leaving the troops weak with diarrhea and unable to defend  the city  and it is even suspected in the death of Alexander the Great.

Native to much of Europe and parts of Asia, these plants are found naturally growing in areas of England, Spain, and Portugal. They also grow wild along the northern coast of Turkey with the greatest concentration in the Balkans. In North America, based on plant temperature zone, these plants are grown successfully hardy from as low as Zone 4 to the warmer zone 8.

The Hellebores, originally 16-20 species, were valued for their winter and early spring flowers and still are today.  Classic species were known for their drooping white, pink, dark purple, sometimes green flowers on plants which generally grew 12-15 inches tall. These flowers are made up of 5 petals that are not typical, but are unique modified sepals that support the real flower which is in the centre of the “petals”. The hellebore’s real flower is a ring of small cup like petals called nectarines.

sepals and nec

sepals and nectaries

 

Nectaries are special cup or tubular like petals that contain glands that secrete nectar to entice insects, especially bees. This sugary substance not only provides an important food source for the bees in cooler weather, but attracts them for the purpose of pollinating the plants themselves. Both the nectaries and the sepals last a long time and then fall of similarly to petals falling off a rose.

Species/Hybrid colours

Highly valued for their colder weather flowers, Hellebores are now grown and planted with increasing popularity. As a result originally with 20 species, now breeders have begun hybridization of the original 20 species to mass produce an increasingly wide variety of plants with different colour blooms and petal combinations, including double flowered varieties. Now colours range from dark purple through to different shades of green, with multi -toned and even speckled blooms. Of course there are still many amazing single bloom specimens too!

 

solitary bloom

solitary bloom

bloom in snow

bloom in snow

 

 

 

 

 

 

H. Argutifolius or Corsican Hellebore is widely grown for its pale green star shaped flowers and leathery foliage. In my garden, I have the very popular Hellebore Plant or the Christmas Rose, official known as H. Niger. This plant white has pure white flowers in winter, specifically near Christmas  In fact, the blooms on mine opened the day before Christmas and now are covered in snow, barely alive on this January 1, 2013.

 

Boxing Day after storm

Boxing Day after storm

 

H. Orientalis, which is commonly known as Lenten Rose based on the plant’s seasonal flowering time near Easter, has flowers that range from white to creamy yellow. Originally found in the Ukraine, this species is not commonly found in gardens, but is used to create new subspecies due to its hardiness and the ease of which it adapts to new colour formations. Currently the Orientals and hybrids are increasing in popularity and they are seen in gardens everywhere.

 

 

Hellebore Orient

Hellebore Orient

 

 

Growing Hellebores

Hellebores are readily found at your local garden centres or perhaps you are lucky enough to have a friend who will split you off a starter plant in late spring or early fall. The plant may be added to your garden in the summer as well, but as they prefer shade and consistent levels of moisture they will need much closer attention if that is your planting time.

 

Requirements

Moisture

Hellebore plants can grow in any type of soil, but thrive best in soil that is well draining as they do not like to have soggy roots. Once established however Hellebore plants are quite drought tolerant. In addition, they like soil is rich in nutrients, especially organic matter.

Soil

Before planting anything, knowing your soil type is important.  If you want a complete analysis of your soil, there are test kits for general info and site where it can actually be sent away for a complete breakdown in to elements such as Sodium (Na+) etc. For most of us, knowing if the soil is sandy or clay in composition as well as the basic pH, that is good enough.

If you have heavy clay soil, adding some grit, such as sand and mixing them together well with organic matter will provide better drainage as well as basic nutrients. For sandy soil, adding some heavier clay based soil or clay pellets will help prevent the water from running through too quickly.

pH

In either case, it is reported in quite a few articles, that Hellebore plants prefer alkaline soil. This means earth with a pH of over 7.0. However, unless you know the pH of your soil, adding too many additives can cause more problems than it solves. One article I found stated they preferred 7.0 which is in fact a neutral pH and says Hellebores grow fine near evergreens. Evergreen trees and their fallen needles make the soil pH lower than 7.0, but should not be a problem.

Again, testing for pH can be done with a kit purchased at many garden centres. If you need to bring it up, dolomite Lime is suggested and to lower the pH, sulphur is recommended. Certainly checking with the garden centre  were you buy these  products  is best before adding, as the amount needed depends on the test results and the area of soil you plan to adjust.

Fertilizing

Before planting, adding organic compost, such as manure, leaf mold, mushroom compost or lovely rich homemade compost and mixing it in to the soil well will always give any plants a good start. Once they are beginning to show signs of new growth, adding bone meal or a slow release fertilizer will help once the plants are established and before the height of summer’s heat arrives.

 

compost

compost

Light Requirements

Again, there are differences in opinion here. Generally however, Hellebore plants prefer partial shade and not the midday sun for hours. Suggested locations for planting are near deciduous trees for several reasons. First these trees provide a break for hot sun during the summer and secondly once their leaves fall off, the plants will be able to take advantage of the reduced strength of the sun in the fall and winter months.

Planting near evergreen hedging or rows of conifers, provides a break against the dry and biting cold of winter winds. Provided the hellebore is planed with half a day of reasonable light the plant should be fine.

Disease

Hellebore plants are susceptible a few disease including   blight mold and crown rot fungal as well as Black Spot and Black Death.  Both Black Spot and Black Death cause blacking on the leaves, but the Death is far more fatal. If you see darkening of the leaves or any disease at all, examine the plant closely, make notes and then head straight to a horticultural expert!

 

Hellebore Black Death is a serious disease of hellebores, probably caused by a newly discovered virus, where plants become stunted, deformed and marked by black streaks and ring patterns. This viral disease causes stunting and distortion. In addition, it causes black streaking and netting patterns on the leaves that can also develop on the stems and flowers. All infected plants should be dug up promptly and destroyed as there is no known treatment that controls Black Death.

 

Black Death

Black Death

 

Black spot is generally known as leaf spot and in this plant is caused by the fungus Microsphaeropsis hellebore.  The fungus infects leaves and stems giving rise to roughly round dead, brown spots. Remove all affected leaves promptly and destroy them so they will not be a source of re-infection in the next gardening season. In addition there are also fungicides available at garden centre, which can be effective on Hellebore plants.

 Pests

Hellebore plants are good eating for aphids, mice, slugs and snails. These all prefer the seedlings found from this self-seeding plant as well as the buds on mature plants. Sprays are available for aphids, and traditional course grit may prove to be effective against snails and slugs.

Personal Experience

 

Despite everything, most plant experts agree that hellebores are generally trouble-free, but it pays to be aware of possible problems. As with many other family of plants good breeding practises have resulted in many new varieties that are easy to care for and resistant to most pests and diseases. All this being said, I still love my Hellebore Plant or the Christmas Rose.

Armed with my new found knowledge and an ever increasing fascination of the inspiration gardens have over me, I intend to try several other species of Hellebore plants this coming spring and hope you will too!

 

 

Just a few Hellebore            flowers

Just a few Hellebore flowers

 

 

Poinsettia Plant

 

 At Christmas time here in North America, the Poinsettia plant is a common sight almost everywhere you look. Hardware, department and even corner stores, all carry a wide variety of this brightly coloured plant. Then there are plastic replicas, cards, wrapping paper, brooches, earrings and assorted jewellery . Never have I seen one plant so recognized by gardeners and non gardeners alike.

 

assorted colours

assorted colours

Then, as a gardener, I am embarrassed to say how little I know of this plant except how to care for it. Certainly I know it likes to be evenly moist and likes lots of light, to keep the plant firm and healthy. Then there is the darkening process required to get the lovely colourful flower, which I once successfully did, even if I started so late the pale red petals come out in February, making it a Valentine’s Poinsettia.

 

Right now, there are two different colour specimens of  the  Poinsettia plant, in my living room, and even an all green one that is celebrating its one year anniversary at my workplace. Recently when watering that plant, someone asked me where it came from and of course I replied form the cafeteria, where they tired of it in January.  Then I began to wonder where this plant originated and I realized I had another plant for my inspiration.

 

History of Poinsettia Plants

Poinsettia plants, proper name Euphorbia Pulcherrima, which translates to “most beautiful Euphorbia” and is part of the Spurge Family of plants. Largely composed of herbs, this family contains a wide variety of plants including some shrubs, trees and succulents, in tropical areas.  I was unable to determine who discovered this plant and when that happened but it is known the Aztecs used it in the 14th-16th Century.

 

The plant was throughout their habitat region in Central America and tropical regions of Mexico. Record show the plant was part of their daily lives in addition to being beautiful. The sap from the leaves and stems was used to reduce fever and the red coloured leaves found around the flowers, were used as a dye.

 

Traditional Red Poinsettia

Traditional Red Poinsettia

As the 16th century began to draw to a close, legend and fact become mixed. Certainly it is know that the Poinsettia plant, know there as “Noche Buena”, meaning Christmas Eve, was used in Mexico as part of Christmas tradition . From the 16th century the plant was used in Mexico as part of the Christian Christmas Celebrations and that continued in to the 17th century, with the Spanish Conquest of the area. Then the Franciscan Friars also continued to use it, in celebrations and Spanish botanists began to study it.

 

Further research reveals that between 1825- 1828,  the colourful poinsettia  plant was introduced in to the United States from its native growing areas along the Pacifica Coast of Mexico and Central America, by Joel Roberts Poinsett, the United States Minister to Mexico at the time. He sent these plants to President Andrew Jackson for a Christmas display at the White House, where they were named there in his honour. Since then, the plant’s role in Christmas tradition spread throughout the United States and Canada.  In Mexico and Guatemala the plant is still referred to as “Noche Buena”, meaning Christmas Eve.

 

History records that this brightly coloured plant was shipped to Egypt around 1860 and that it is still cultivated there to this day. In this area of the world the plant is called “Bent El Consul”, “the consul’s daughter”, referring to the U.S. ambassador Joel Poinsett.  Perhaps the strangest part of the history of this plant is the legend that follows it.

 

Poinsettia Legend

Legends told over the years do vary, as word of mouth is not the most reliable of ways to record history, but there are some constants that come through each telling of this plant’s legend. During the 16th century the tale records that two small, children, from a very poor family watched all manner of Christmas celebrations in the village. One of these ceremonies was the setting up of a manger scene in front of the church.

 

After the manger was set up people came with gifts to place before the crèche. With nothing to give, these two children decided to pick plants for along the roadside to decorate the crib for Baby Jesus.  The children placed these weeds at the manger and before long everyone teased them about their gift, but on Christmas morning the weeds had bloomed in to beautiful red star shaped flowers of the Poinsettia Plant.

 

The moral of this story was that giving from the heart is the most important and true way to give. Of course one of the Aztec name for this plant was flor que se marchita translated to the flower that wilts) and gardens know that the  noche buena  or Poinsettia wilts within a few minutes after it is cut, making it unsuitable for bouquets…so if the legend was true, it really was a miracle!

 Anatomy of Poinsettia

This family of flowering plants is composed of approximately 300 genera and 7,500 species of flowering plants.  One  thing this family shares is an unusual flower cluster composed called  cyathium , which is a cuplike group of modified leaves enclosing a female flower and several male flowers.

In fact, what we think of as the Poinsettia flower is really the modified leaves called bracts. These bracts serve several purposes. First, they protect the poinsettia’s true flowers, which are the tiny (4-5 mm) greenish-yellow buds in the centre of the bracts.   Also the bright red colour attracts pollinating insects to the little flowers.

 

flowers

tiny yellow flowers

 

 

In addition to the attraction we have to the bright red colours of this plant, most people are also aware of the misconception that the sap of this plant is poison. While the plant does have a thick milky sap, or latex, that is known to be a skin irritant, studies have shown that their toxicity is greatly exaggerated!

 

Eating or ingesting any part of  a Poinsettia Plant will cause digestive problems of cramps, nausea with diarrhea, especially in serious cases. One article I read said in dogs the sap irritates mouth and stomach. Even poison control centre in the United States determined a small child would have to eat over 500 leaves before it would become toxic.

 

A general precaution, with Poinsettia’s and all plants, is to keep them out of easy reach by pets and children alike.

 

Poinsettia care

Poinsettias require little care to thrive through the Holiday season. Water them when the soil feels dry to the touch, but do not over water or the leaves, both green and red, will turn yellow and fall off.

The plant likes lots of direct sunlight, as they did come from  a tropical area, it makes sense.  If the Poinsettia is part of a scene or display that is not close to a window, then moving it occasionally to a bright window for even a few hours, will help the bracs keep their bright red colour.

Regular house temperatures  are tine for this plant but be aware it is sensitive to cold drafts and being too close to cold windows.

 

After season Care

Many people discard this plant after the Christmas season, however many gardeners keep this plant and hope they can force it to recolour in the fall.

Basically keep watering the plant through the spring and then place in a sunny window. If the plant begins to get scraggy, leave a branch intact for food production and trim the other back.

Once the last frost is past, the poinsettia can be planted in the garden. New growth in both cases will be deep green and the size of the plant may get out of control so cutting back will be required. Regular fertilizing with a good general purpose brand is also a good idea.

One the summer is past and the weather begins to cool, the challenge of forcing the Poinsettia plant bloom and bracs, becomes the challenge. Starting Oct 1, the plant needs total darkness from 5 p.m to 8 a.m ( 12-14 hours in total) and still good light during the day.  This is required for about 10 weeks until the end of November when you should notice buds forming.

Suggestions:

 A black plastic bag works well. Put the plant in the bottom and merely pull the bag up and twist tie it closed over the plant. In the morning drop the bag down around the bottom of the plant.

If you have a deep, dark cupboard that the plant can be moved in to that will also work  but remember any stray light during this resting period can impact forcing the bloom.

lovley plants

Forests in Fall

Forests in Fall are amazing places and recently, I found myself them observing one up close and personal when walking through one of many local conservation areas near my cottage. The air was crisp, the sun quite warm, and there were countless birds chirping and flitting from tree to tree. While most of the forest floor was carpeted with thousands of dry, deciduous tree leaves  the air was frequently filled with the scent of pine from the tall white and red pine overhead.

 

 

Beneath the towering trees, while shuffling my feet through the leaves, I began to notice native plants still thriving despite the mid-November weather. In this area, zoned climate region 5A, with nights recently below -4 ? Celsius and current daytime temperatures this weekend up to 11?, it seems native plants are definitely heartier  than I realized.

Carolinian Forest Native Plants

There are many locations of Carolinian Forests in South Western Ontario. Previously I have written in detail of Point Pelee National Park and Pelee Island (Pelee Island blog August 2012) as l provided information on other locations as well as plants that are native to this eco vegetation area. However, I had no idea of exactly how hardy these plants could be until I witnessed their vigorous state just today.

In fact forests in fall can contain a wide variety of plants still splendid in green. On my recent walk I noticed, a few Golden Rod plants in bloom, dandelions and even a milkweed pod just beginning to burst.

 

 

 

 

Most of the black, pin and giant oak trees as well as the poplar had shed their now brown leaves. The white, red, and scotch pines waved their deep green needles back and forth in the wind, while sending a small cascade of dry needles and pinecones to the ground below.

fallen pine needles

fallen pine needles

 

Also helping these needles and their cones fall to the ground also were a wide variety of aviary creatures…birds of all sizes and colours. In fact, there were many tiny sparrows and chickadees flying from branch to branch with such speed that glances were a treat and photos were almost an impossibility!

Thankfully the native plants below were just waving in the wind, waiting to be noticed. Throughout the mounds of brown crunchy leaves in this primarily oak forest, there were native ferns with deep, rich, healthy green frons. Occasionally there were the tiny, green lobbed leaves of the Hepatica Americana plant, sticking out from the sloped banks above the walking trails that extended many kilometres through this county park.

Native Americana Hepatica

native fern in November

 

 

Nature in Harmony

Nature works in harmony with itself, when man does not interfere, which is evident as see by trees, helping everything for purifying the air to providing homes and food for living things of all sizes.

Hearty plants are aided by natural windbreaks and mulch. Full evergreens change the flow of cool winds that blow through all forests in fall by diverting it around the trunks directly and through the branches and needles as well.  Deciduous tree also diver the strong breezes as some of them in this conservation area where I walked, are up to three meters around.

On the ground, below these trees, the thick leave layer provides insulation to plants there like a multilayered blanket. This layer also provides a moisture barrier for worms and other insects as well, as countless bacteria and fungi that do most of the work in breaking down the organic matter of forests in fall.

Soil microorganisms mineralize or chemically convert organic compounds in to simpler forms, once the fungus family have begun the process of what is known as mineralization. Mineralisation is the biological process in which organic compounds are chemically converted to other simpler organic compounds or inorganic forms, such as carbon, ammonium or phosphate,  which are basic elements required for plant growth.

Mushrooms and toadstools

Regardless of the time of year, woodlands have trees and plant life in various stages of decomposition.  In fact, my walk through the Backus Conservation Area forests in the fall, revealed logs rotting away everywhere. These natural sources of compost eventually break down completely and add to the soil levels of the forest floor.

Before that happens, the breakdown delivers nutrients to local plants through the surrounding soil as well as to the parasitic plant forms that grown on the decaying wood. Many varieties of mushroom and other fungi were thriving well in the in the grown in the damp, shady areas on the forest floor, despite the colder November temperatures. On my walk I found many such life forms whose colour and variety were amazing.

 

 

 

After further investigation, I discovered that toadstools are not an official plant genus or species, but are part of the Kingdom of Fungi. As with all Kingdoms, this one has many Family, Genus and Species, which include mushrooms, mold, yeast, lichen, rust and truffles.

Fungi Kingdom

Forests in the fall contain many fine examples of this Kingdom as I witnessed firsthand on my walk. There were mushrooms that grew directly out of the rotting wood while others had stems. In addition to the interesting shapes the colour range was amazing as I noticed green scaly mushrooms and large almost flowery looking orange ones that looked like some alien flower species.

 

 

These wildly coloured and unusually shaped living things where but the tip of a huge subject that now intrigues me. In fact, off I go to research the fascinating subject of Fungi. After all, Mother nature’s gardens are certainly inspiring…especially forests in fall!

Autumn the Colourful Equinox

Autumn the Colourful Equinox

Autumn is a wonderfully colourful time of year that is enjoyed by gardeners and non-gardeners alike. From the tall stands of drying grasses, to the late blooming perennials, there are subtle earth tones to the bright and bold shades. Certainly in Ontario, Canada where I call home, even the trees shout out their presence.  Each limb is full of coloured leaves that put on quite a show before they drop to the ground, hence the term fall.

Recently, watching the neighbours piling theirs along the curb to be sucked up and taken away, I was wondering about the countless others who were doing the same, or merely admiring the colours of fall. Either way we all know that colder weather is coming. For gardeners the temperature change also means it is time to put the gardens to rest with winter protection of some sort.

 

 

What to do with all those leaves?

Speaking for myself, I leave my leaves alone.  Of course with seven tall evergreens on my property, only the wind delivers them from the gardens around me. In fact if I rake at all, it is to put a layer on my garden with evergreen boughs on top to hold the leaves in place for additional protection. Despite this being my ritual, gardening sources present two different viewpoints about using leaves for winter garden protection.

 

Some believe any disease on the leaves will transfer to the soil and plants that will grow there in the spring, while others believe they will help provide a more even temperature throughout the winter and keep   strong winter winds from drying out the soil. The one thing both schools of thought share is that oak leaves break down very slowly and are best left off gardens and out of any compost pile.

 

Compost

 

 

Speaking of mulch, I think it is very nice of my neighbours to rake up their leaves nicely, for me to mulch. I do not compost them but neatly transfer those soggy leaves in to green garbage bags and put them on my back patio in a sunny spot. Quite by accident (or should I say laziness) I left several bags over the winter until early summer and discovered they had mulched quite nicely. The sun’s rays and the dark plastic helped the damp leaves form lovely rich compost.

 

What a gorgeous view!

Putting all uses aside, today seeing trees full of coloured leaves, the yellows through to red shades, mixed with each other, certainly made me wonder why and how they change to such magnificent shades. Again, I resorted to my gardening books and the internet to find the facts I probably learned many years ago in school and have since forgotten. Fall splendor is nothing more than good, old fashioned chemistry, whether here or on the other side of the world. Yes, the Northern Hemisphere worldwide gets to share in the lovely Fall or Autumn leaf colour changes from September through to late November.

 

 

Photosynthesis

Photosynthesis is a term most of us learned in school, from the Greek words  “photo” or light and “synthesis “which means putting together. This process, describes how most plants and trees make food for themselves. Like many other scientific processes, it is complicated when studied in depth, but has quite a simple explanation. Water in by the roots,  plus Carbon Dioxide from our air are the basics need for sunlight  and the green chlorophyll in leaves , to form two major compounds.

 

The first is oxygen which is given off and purifies the air around us, and the second is Glucose. Yes my dear, leaves produce glucose for immediate use as energy and some is stored for later use. Of course unlike in humans, the storage is beneficial and does not increase pants size or cause health issues.

 

Instead the stores are used once the September equinox arrives and the weather changes. While temperature is a factor in slowing photosynthesis, the decreased amount of UV in the suns rays shuts off the green chlorophylls food making ability. Then the stored glucose which is trapped in the leaves begins to turn red. Also now visible are orange carotenes and yellow xanthophylls which were hidden by the green.

 

Colour guide

Certainly leaf colour cannot by itself be a guide to trees but if you are looking for a tree that produces a specific colour palette in the fall, here is a general guideline. Of course checking with a local nursery would certainly help or finding a good sourcebook or on line.

Red Leaf colour

Red Maple trees are known to produce the brightest red leaves, as does the shrub called the Burning Bush.  Additionally a few other maples  including Japanese,  turn a lovely shade of red, as do some oaks such as Red, Pin and Scarlet, Dogwood, Sassafras and Sweetgum to name a few. Let’s not forget the Japanese maple!

 

Sumac changing colour

Yellow and orange Leaf colour

Some of the trees known for yellow and orange leaves are Hickory, Ash, and some Maples, Poplar, Tulip Tree, White Oak, a number of Japanese Maples and Chestnut. Also some Sassafras, Sweetgum, Beech, Birch and Sycamore foliage changes to lovely golden hues tones between the yellow and orange shades.

 

Maple in Transition

 

Season Science

Gardeners always find something to do each season and as we are not weather persons, I will not try and be one now. However, not until the digging bug better known as curiosity, picked at my brain again, did I really think  how Geography of about Equinox, Hemispheres and latitude.

Equinox

Equinox from Latin “aequus” or equal and “nox” which is night is the day in September when the Northern Hemisphere, or half of the Earth, has equal hours of day and night. As the planet we call home, shifts while it spins, we in the northern side get tilted back from the sun’s rays while the south moves forward for more. This means the Southern Hemisphere is planning and planting their vegetable gardens while we are putting ours to sleep.

 

Equinox

 

 

Hemispheres

Hemisphere comes from two very long Ancient Greek words that translate to mean “half of a sphere. Here on the earth using latitude or longitude (north to south division) there are four map based hemispheres.  The North-South the division is the equator and East-West the dividing line is the prime meridian

 

Northern Hemisphere

 

 

Latitude Travels

Combining fall experiences from across the world would be interesting but staggering by volume. Instead, I remembered my globe and decided to follow the approximate latitude of Ontario, Canada to find out what Fall looks like around the world. Latitude is the system of parallel lines that are used to mark a position on the planet, from east to west with the Equator being Zero degrees and the North or South Pole being Ninety degrees.

 

Latitude

 

WWF- World Wide Fall

Fall comes to most of the world but not all at once. In the Northern Hemisphere, September, October and November are considered fall, which is the hottest time for the Southern Hemisphere.  Then during March, April and May when the northern half of the planet is beginning its growing season, people in the south experience Fall.While there is some variation across the globe, East to West and closest to the Equator, almost every continent experiences seasonal foliage colour changes, as the temperature drops and sunlight diminishes.

Using my finger as a pointer, I traced my way through countries from west to east, writing their names on a list as I circled the earth. Then I began digging through my photographs and the wonderful world of Wikepedia , leaving you with the inspirational colours of to leave  you  with an inspirational tour of Autumn around the world!

 

 

Mt Tremblant, Quebec, Canada

country lane Great Britain

autumn in La Rioja Spain

Cacak Serbia

Great Wall of China

Kyoto Japan

Alberta’s Larch trees in Fall

Planting Bulbs

Planting Bulbs

While there are many things I have posted on that can inspire others to garden, paint, research their favourite flower, just to name a few, one activity that much of the Northern Hemisphere has in common in the fall is planting spring flowering bulbs. My last post gave brief information on bulbs and their origin, leading to this more factual information on the steps to actually planting bulbs and corms.

 

corm

corm

bulbs

bulbs

 

Tulips are merely one of many bulbs, along with Hyacinths, Daffodils and Narcissus that are the most widely known bulbs. The structure of a bulb’s interior is composed of fleshy, modified leaf like layers, which would be easily visible if it was cut in half. Corms such as crocus and gladiolas may look similar to bulbs, but they are basically thick stem like tissue.

Whether you choose true bulbs or corms, be certain they are winter hardy.  Remember then, to provide the proper temperature for  vernalization to take place. Vernalization is derived from the Latin word vernus, or spring, and is the required exposure to cold winter weather which allows the plant to grow and flower. If you live in a warmer zone than an 8, where the temperature outside will not provide the required temp of 5-10 degrees Celsius (40-50 Fahrenheit), then forcing bulbs in your fridge is a good option. Instructions for this will follow those for gardeners who will be planting outside in the flower beds.

Bulbs can be planted almost until the ground freezes, but early to mid October planting allows time for the bulbs to settle before the cold winter starts. There are many things to consider when planning what and where to plant, but with a few basics, anyone can have lovely spring blooms!

 

planting info

 

SUNLIGHT

Despite the deciduous trees having no leaves in the spring, shade from buildings and evergreen trees is still a factor to consider. With a shadier area in the front garden both at home and at the cottage, I was concerned about how this would impact the blooms there. After a bit of digging, into books, I found that bulbs labelled “early flowering” were the best for this situation. Really this classification of bulbs is not based on a specific family, genus or species, but the fact that they bloom and flower with less UV rays than other plants…hence the early designation. I other words, these bulbs, that require less UV are better suited to shadier areas.

SOIL

Bulbs sleep all winter, blanketed in soil, until the temperature there has chilled them for approximately eight weeks below 10 degrees Celsius or 50  degrees Fahrenheit, long enough for their growth cycle to begin. This is an important factor to consider as with planting any annuals or perennials.

If your soil is sandy , like at the my cottage, any natural compost, peat moss, cocoa fibre  or organic aged manure  that can be worked into the soil  will help provide a more even moisture content  throughout the winter in to spring. If the soil is too dense, these additions can also break up the clumps that often prevent adequate drainage.

Basically you need to add anything natural that will help lock in moisture and provide nutrients. Adding clay soil to offset the sandy is good, or vice versa, but remember to ensure nutrient levels are high.

Organic matter, in addition to being a good additive for improved soil fertility, also provides food for earthworms and beneficial bacteria in the soil. These creatures break down the soli and its nutrients so they can be absorbed well by the forming bulb roots and all plants as they grow.

 NUTRIENTS

Certainly the better flowing nutrient laden soil is better for both spring and summer flowering bulbs. In addition to augmenting the soil itself, the addition of blood or bone meal, provides a boost to the bulbs themselves.  Approximately ¼ to ½ a teaspoon can be added to the hole around each planted bulb.

Blood meal as a dry powder made from animal blood that provides much needed nitrogen to the soil. In addition, spread on or slightly below the ground level, the scent is a deterrent to small animals such as rabbits and squirrels. Bone meal is crushed bone that provides higher amounts of phosphorus which is good for root growth, but it may in fact attract animals looking for bones.

A good soluable general fertilizer 10-10-10 can also be added to the soil and then watered or dug in again when the bulbs begin to shoot out of the earth.  This can be mixed with the blood or bone meal and should be in the soil down to below the level of the bulbs being planted.

LOCATION

Again, the sunny spots will probably produce the best blooms with early flowering bulbs the best selection for shadier areas. Evergreen trees will shade all year round but do help even out the soil temperatures close by, evening out extreme fluctuations that can damage bulbs. In addition, spring bulbs planted on a slope will tend to bloom earlier than bulbs in a dip or gulley as warm air rises and cold air tends to settle in lower areas.

PREPARATION

Beyond the soil preparation, there are a few basics that can be prepared in advance. Collecting clean spades and trowels as well as blood/bone meal or other fertilizer helps cut down on the actual planting time. Also knowing the location to plant, whether it is in an existing garden or part of a new garden design, and proper spacing of all bulbs to be planted, is vital for enhanced garden design and good spring growth.

METHOD OF PLANTING

There are basically two methods of planting, both of which require the gardener to know the depth of planting. As a general rule of thumb the bulbs or corms are planted with the fine tip up and to a depth of approximately 3x the height of the bulb itself.  Checking the package or growing directions at the nursery will also help. Good gardening practise is also never to plant in even numbers as it seems odd number produce a more natural look.

 

1. Using a spade or small shovel, one large hole is dug at the required depth for the assortment of bulbs requiring that depth. Using a tape measure or judging by eye are the basic way of measuring the depth. Then a small bone /blood meal or natural fertilizer is spread lightly in the whole before placing bulbs.

 

grouping in one large hole

 

If space allows for any smaller bulbs/corms to be planted, once the bigger bulbs are partially buried, spread more nutrients and add those buds.

 

smaller bulbs above

 

2. This method is similar but uses a small trowel or a bulb planter. There are short handled manual bulb planters that require you to be on your hands and knees and many long handled versions where you stand and use your feet to force the tool in to the ground.

 

bulb planter

 

 

 

 

 

There are many of both types available at local garden centres, many of which have the depth scale right on the tool. Again, nutrient supplement is added to the whole once the soil is removed, before the bulbs are added.

larger bulbs in place

best individual holes

small bulbs indiv

 

 

 

 

 

 

FINAL STAGES OF PLANTING

After bulbs have received their nutritional supplement, been spaced properly in depth and between each other, soil is filled in around them. Then mulch on top will provide an extra measure of winter protection and keep the temperature and moisture levels more constant. Finally a thorough watering will ensure the ground there has adequate moisture for the  bulbs to get started once there is a spring thaw.

REFRIGERATOR BULB GARDENING

If you can purchase at garden centres or by the Internet, spring bulbs that require vernalization, never fear as your fridge is near! There are many articles on what is called forcing bulbs and sometime the misconception that they have to actually be frozen.

Basically the easy version is as follows:

-good soil

-pot 13-18 cm deep  ( 6-9 inches)

– few inches of soil in bottom so bulb is ad required depth

-add bulb and cover well (with nutrients to be watered in later)

-water thoroughly

-put in a plastic bag with one end open for ventilation

-place in the back of the fridge

-check on it every week to ensure it does not get too dry

-after approximately 6-8 weeks  there should be small shoots

-bring out of fridge in to partially lit room for a few days

-water with fertilizer and then bring to a brightly lit room or window ledge

-enjoy!

Final thoughts

Remember, while many things seem to go wrong, bulbs are very forgiviing. In fact, once I planted my bulbs upside down and although it took some extra time, they did bloom. Only when I thinned them out a few years later, did I realize the pointed tip was facing down!  🙂  Happy planting!

Holland  Commercial Tulip Farming

Holland Commercial Tulip Farming