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Will My Plants Survive the Winter?

Will My Plants Survive the Winter?

Understanding Hardiness Zones

 

This time of year can cause trepidation in novice and non-gardeners. Will that beautiful flowering potted plant make it through the winter? Will that cute ornamental tree that I planted in the back flowerbed see next spring?

Well, there’s a resource that farmers, landscapers and green thumbs know of which outlines what plants will survive in different regions. The Hardiness Zone Map (below) is a colour-coded and alphanumerically-labelled infographic that represents growing zones and their respective average temperatures.

hardiness zones ontario stratford perth county ministry of natural resources

Originally created in the 1960s by Agriculture Canada, today’s hardiness zone maps are updated in Canada by the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR). And while the current map will serve you well when choosing and protecting your plants, it is subject to change and does have a few limitations.

Not surprisingly, climate change has a direct impact on hardiness zones. The maps below demonstrate a shift from the early 1960s (first map) to about 2010 (second map). This was one of the subtlest shifts in Canada. Western provinces saw a more marked change. Out there, the shift was a two-zone transition, and warmer zones were introduced that hadn’t before been seen in Canada.

 

southwestern ontario plant hardiness zone map 1961-1990
southwestern ontario plant hardiness zone map 1989-2010

Each numbered zone represents 10 degrees of difference in average annual temperature. Zones are further split into A and B, representing the lower and higher five degrees of the zone, respectively. Stratford, Ontario (see location indicator on map) used to be just inside Zone 5A, but is now in Zone 6A.

mandevilla dipladenia tropical flower hardiness zone 9 overwinter in southwestern ontario

Mandevilla (Dipladenia)

So, what does that mean for the Mandevilla (for example) that you bought in the spring and have been enjoying all summer long? A Mandevilla is a tropical plant and is only winter-hardy down to Zone 9. That’s an average annual temperature of roughly 30 degrees warmer than we experience here in Southwestern Ontario. So, if you want it to survive the winter, it has to be brought indoors.

Of course, the alternative is to treat a plant like this as an annual and just let it die off in the fall. However, many plants that aren’t winter-hardy in our zone will come back year after year if you properly acclimate them and have the space to overwinter them indoors. For the most part, they go dormant in the winter – a kind of hibernation – so require minimal attention.

If you’d prefer not to fuss with overwintering, and just want plants that can handle our winters, just do a little bit of reading when you’re selecting plants at the garden centre. Most perennials come with information tags that outline ideal drainage, sun exposure, and approximate dimensions of a fully-grown specimen. In addition, there will most likely be an indication of minimum hardiness zone.

perennial flowers plants garden purple flowers green leaves hardiness zone stratford ontario

Perennial garden with winter-hardy plants

There’s such a wide range of native and non-native plants, shrubs, and trees to choose from, you’re sure to find some that suit your own personal landscaping style.

If you’re looking for ideas and inspiration, check out some of our previous blog posts, like, Choosing native Ontario Plants for Your Garden, Fall Colour – Extending the Enjoyment of Your Gardens, and Drought-Tolerant Landscaping.

And of course, if you’d just prefer to leave your landscaping to the experts, we’re happy to help. Simply contact us to get the ball rolling!

 

Give Annual Flowers A Second Wind

Give Annual Flowers A Second Wind

It’s late summer and for many people, that means it is time to start thinking about fall flowers. With fall just around the corner, many people start thinking about pulling out those annuals and overgrown perennials to get ready for the cooler months.

However, if your flower beds and planters are looking a bit past their prime right now, don’t write them off. Summer’s not over yet. Here are some tips on how to get your late-summer annuals back into shape so you can enjoy their blooms until the frost.

Annuals can start to get leggy this time of year with extreme heat and/or prolonged periods without adequate care. Other annuals maybe just didn’t fare well in this summer’s damp, humid conditions.

Cut annuals back to allow for new growth

Hanging Baskets of Annual Flowers

Mix of annual flowers and foliage in hanging baskets

Some annuals thrive in the dog days of summer, but if some of your blooms are looking more dead than alive, trim them back, removing all dried out stems and foliage, and cutting back the healthier looking parts by about 30-50 percent.

The heat-loving flowers will continue to thrive for the time being, but once the weather starts to cool down, the trimmed down plants will come back to life and provide another round of colour to finish out the season.

Replace flowers that can’t be brought back to life

If there’s no reviving select plants, you might consider replacing them, as annuals are generally being cleared out at nurseries so the pricing will be favourable. If you have a lot of affected flowers in pots and beds, consider only replacing those in high-visibility areas, and simply remove others and add to yard waste.

Replace annual flowers with a fall favourite

Chrysanthemums mums fall flowers perennial annual plants

Mums offer beautiful late-summer colour and will come back every year when planted.

Mums are starting to appear in nurseries across Southwestern Ontario right now. They’re typically positioned as an annual. But Chrysanthemums planted in the ground, given sufficient time to get established, and mulched well before the snow flies will generally tolerate our winters, coming back year after year. And they’re available in a wide range of beautiful colours, making them a fantastic candidate to replace or compliment annual blooms.

Create balance

Annuals are ideally used to provide bursts of colour in planters and flowerbeds throughout the summer. Be sure to balance the lively hues of annuals with dependable, low-maintenance perennials that provide ever-evolving visual interest from spring to fall.

Annual flowers zinnias mixed with shrubs boxwood perennials day lilies

Annual flowers mixed with shrubs and perennials for evolving visual interest.

You’ll still be able to find many perennials at nurseries at this time of year. Opt for native, non-invasive species, which are adapted to our climate. Not only do they typically require less maintenance than their more exotic counterparts, but they also can provide food and habitat for pollinators – birds, bees, and butterflies.

If you’re relying too heavily on annuals to provide colour and visual interest around your home, or if you’re ready for a landscaping makeover, contact us anytime. We’d love to help you create a plan that better suits your lifestyle, needs, and budget.

 

Drought-Tolerant Landscaping

Drought-Tolerant Landscaping

With the dog days of summer mere weeks away, homeowners want to spend more time outside, but not necessarily more time working in their gardens.

One of the most common requests we receive when working with new landscaping clients is for a low-maintenance design. This usually means, very little work in terms of watering, weeding, dead-heading, and pruning.

While no garden or flowerbed, is maintenance-free, we’ve put together some tips below to help you minimize your gardening workload, so you can maximize relaxation this summer.

Drought Tolerant Honeysuckle Vine (Lonicera)

Honeysuckle (Lonicera)

Stave off drought with these tips

Before we look at plants that tolerate hot, dry conditions well, let’s talk about your soil. Generally, plants enjoy soil that drains well. Soil that doesn’t (typically clay-based soil) can contribute to root rot and may claim otherwise healthy plants. However, soil that drains well can quickly become too dry in hot, windy, and/or dry weather.

The key to maintaining soil moisture is mulch. We recommend a thick layer (three to four inches) of mulch on flowerbeds and around trees. Mulch comes in a variety of types and colours and not only helps soil maintain moisture, but also helps keep weeds to a minimum, and gradually breaks down to help nourish the soil.

Another tip for maintaining a drought-tolerant and sustainable landscape is to collect run-off rainwater in a rain barrel. Strategically placed under a downspout close to your gardens, harvested rainwater can get your plants, shrubs, and trees through the drier spells of summer.

drought tolerant Coral Bells (Heuchera mirachantha)

Coral Bells (Heuchera mirachantha)

Drought-tolerant plants for Southwestern Ontario summers

Generally speaking, the more established a plant or tree is, and the deeper the root system, the better it will tolerate drought. That generally takes care of trees and evergreen shrubs, but you’ll still need to tend to well-established deciduous shrubs and perennials during spells of extreme dryness.

The following are a small sampling of drought-tolerant species.

Perennials

Honeysuckle Vine (Lonicera)
Fragrant and colourful, the honeysuckle can be trained on a trellis or arbour and is a favourite of pollinators and hummingbirds.

drought tolerant Daylily (Hemerrocalis)

Daylily (Hemerrocalis)

Coral Bells (Heuchera mirachantha)

Foliage ranges from purple and red to bright green and plant produces tiny, bell-like flowers. Mounding and provides excellent ground cover in shade gardens.

Daylily (Hemerrocalis)
Available in an extremely wide range of colours with both solid and variegated foliage, the exotic-looking flowers of these super-hardy perennials also attract pollinators.

Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum)
This sturdy grass provides dense mounds of colour (depending on the variety) including yellow, green, red, and purple. Flowers stretch on thin stalks above foliage.

drought tolerant Lenten Rose (Helleborus occidentalis)

Lenten Rose (Helleborus occidentalis)

Lenten Rose (Helleborus occidentalis)
Has sturdy foliage and blooms in early spring, bringing shades of pink, purple, blue, green, and yellow to your garden. Prefers shade or dappled sunlight.


Shrubs

False Cypress (Chamaecyperas psifera)
This evergreen species lends dense structure to gardens. With foliage in a range of colours from gold to emerald green and blue, it’s great for adding both privacy and visual interest.

Drought Tolerant Yew (Taxus)

Yew (Taxus)

Yew (Taxus)
This dense shrub can be planted on its own, but is commonly planted in a row to create a hedge or natural privacy screen. Female specimens develop showy, red berries.

Panicle Hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata)
Beautiful clustered blooms in pale green and white to pale and vibrant pink. Browning flowers/seedheads remain on shrubs well into winter, providing visual interest and (when planted near a food source) a place for winter birds to perch.

Butterfly Bush (Buddleia)
Blooming in mid-summer, the long clusters of flowers in bold hues attract butterflies and last until first frost, providing colour when most other flowers’ blooming periods have ended.

drought tolerant Butterfly Bush (Buddleia)

Butterfly Bush (Buddleia)

Sumac (Rhus typhina)
Ranging in size from compact to large, this shrub’s feathery foliage is bright green during the warmer months, but is better known for its eye-catching fall colours including bright yellow, orange, and red.


Succulents

While not native to our region, succulents are the camels of the plant world, maintaining an internal water supply that sees them through long periods of drought. However, not all succulents can survive Ontario winters, so we do need to be somewhat selective unless we transplant to pots to bring indoors for the winter months.

Drought Tolerant Sedum Autumn Joy (Herbstfreude)

Sedum Autumn Joy (Herbstfreude)

There are a couple winter-hardy selections that add visual interest and are incredibly low-maintenance. The Autumn Sedum, which is a lower growing perennial, blooms in the fall, providing dashes of colour when many other flowering plants are already spent. And Sempervivum (commonly known as “Hens & Chicks”) is hardy in flowerbeds and rocks gardens, but also works well in containers, both outdoors and indoors.

While these tips may provide you with information that helps you determine a general direction in which you’d like to take your landscaping, you might not have the tools, equipment, or time to create the beautiful, low-maintenance outdoor experience you’re hoping for. We invite you to contact us any time for assistance with landscaping design and installation.

Spring Cleaning for Your Lawn & Garden

Spring Cleaning for Your Lawn & Garden

Finally, after another long winter, Spring is here. Although the weather in Southwestern Ontario can still be unpredictable, the overall warmer temperatures and increased daylight hours are waking our lawns and gardens up.

Before we get too far into the growing season though, you might like to take care of a bit of cleaning and maintenance. Last year, Johan walked through some basic landscaping and maintenance tips that help get and keep your grass, trees, and flowerbeds in optimal condition right through the to fall.

Edging Your Flowerbeds

In this episode, Johan discusses when, why and how to edge around your softscaping and hardscaping.

Dethatching Your Lawn

Johan discusses what thatch is and when you need to take action. You’ll also learn how to use grass clippings.

Mulching Your Gardens

In the second episode of this series, Johan discusses using mulch to help retain moisture and minimize weeds. 

Pruning Your Trees

Johan discusses when and how to prune to promote and preserve the health of your trees and shrubs.

Landscaping Materials

Landscaping Materials

Last month, we discussed gardening tools – how to select and use the right ones for your do-it-yourself landscaping needs. What we didn’t address were foundational landscaping materials – what they are, why you need them, and how and when to use them. So that’s this month’s gardening tip.

If you’re starting from scratch – creating new flowerbeds or planting new trees – then you’ll probably need to use most if not all of the materials listed below. If, on the other hand, you’re in maintenance mode, you may only need a couple materials we’ll be discussing. Regardless, we want to share the importance of each so you get the best possible results.

Soil

Soil types balanced loam sandy clay-based siltSoil is foundational to everything landscaping-related. The naturally occurring soil in your area may be clay-based. Clay holds onto water, which can promote poor drainage and lead to root rot in plants and trees.

On the other end of the spectrum, some areas have naturally silty or sandy soil. This tends to drain a little too well, making it difficult to keep plants adequately watered.

For most vegetation, loamy soil – a blend of the three soil types mentioned above – is preferred. Loam offers the best of all worlds, maintaining a more consistent moisture level over time and requiring little to moderate watering depending on weather conditions.

Struggling with your existing soil because it’s too sandy, silty, clay-based, or lacks the necessary nutrients? You can amend your soil by adding peat moss, manure, fertilizer, or compost as appropriate.

Mulch

adding mulch to flowerbed garden cedar mulchingThere are various types of mulch, including rustic options like straw, grass clippings, and shredded leaves. Some gardeners are even using newspaper as most of them are printed with neutrally-derived inks.

Pine needles can also be used as mulch and are especially effective around plants that require additional acid in soil. However, they are quite dry and small, so they’re not great at suppressing weeds and maintaining moisture.

The type of mulch that we use and recommend is made from bark. It’s an excellent choice for weed suppression and moisture retention. Above all other reasons, many people use it simply because it significantly improves the appearance of their gardens. Cedar and pine bark are excellent if you’re looking for a natural appearance. Hardwood mulch comes in various colours that you might opt for if you want to colour-match with your home’s exterior.

Stone

landscaping natural stone rocks gravel edging lawnStone has multiple applications in landscaping. Natural stone can be used with landscape fabric in place of mulch to suppress weeds and help retain moisture. Large natural rocks can be used as standalone sculptures and can even be made into water features. And of course, flat stone like flagstone is a great natural option for walkways, stairs, and patios.

Pavers are engineered stone also used for walkways, stairs, and patios. But the advantage is that pavers are easier to work with because of their consistency in thickness, size, and shape. This in addition to the variety of colour options and patterns means it gets chosen more often than flagstone.

Sand

Pavers gravel stone engineered concrete sandSand is an aggregate that’s most often used as a foundation for stone and pavers. It’s typically a combination of granular A gravel, sand or high-performance base stone.

If the aforementioned sand is at one end of the spectrum, then Polymeric Sand is at the other end. Primarily comprised of quartz silica, crystalline silica, and polymer (hence its name), Polymeric Sand is used to fill paver joints. Unlike regular sand, Polymeric Sand is activated when it comes in contact with water, providing a secure bond with pavers. It also greatly reduces weed and ant infestations.

So those are the basic landscaping materials. There are various others like soil amendments such as compost, peat moss, manure, and fertilizer. And landscape fabric can be used to keep weeds down and edging helps create clean lines between hardscaping, softscaping, and turf.

A final note about where to source your soil, sand, stone, and mulch: often times, you get what you pay for, so buy from a reputable retailer and consider these materials an investment. You don’t have to purchase the most expensive products, but you should base your decision solely on price or you might not get the best value for your money.

Contact us if you’d like to spend more time enjoying your landscaping and less time working on it.

 

 

Gardening Tools – Using the Right Ones for the Job

Gardening Tools – Using the Right Ones for the Job

Now that we’ve gotten halfway through winter and the daylight hours are increasing, our thoughts are turning to the approaching spring season. You might be starting some seedlings indoors or planning for a garden expansion or landscaping overhaul using some online planning tools.

We figure it’s never too early to share some DIY gardening tips for beginners and veterans alike.

This month, we’re focusing on gardening tools. Here are a few suggestions and tips for selecting the right tools and getting the most out of each one.

Use the Right Tools

There’s a reason we put this tip first. It’s important. Besides your hands and maybe a decent pair of gardening gloves, there are a few fundamental tools that can make quick work of most projects.

Wheelbarrow standing on a neat manicured green lawn alongside a flowerbed while planting a celosia flower garden around a house with fresh spring plantsSpade and Shovel

Although these terms are sometimes used interchangeably, they are different tools, each with its own set of unique capabilities. But both are foundational to your gardening toolbox. A spade tends to have a shorter handle and their flat blade makes them great for digging trenches, edging, and cutting into sod. A shovel has a longer handle, helping with leverage when digging holes and lifting soil. Its pointed blade helps with breaking materials apart as well.

Garden Trowel

This tool is a handheld version of a shovel, that allows gardeners to scoop and move smaller quantities of earth with more precision. Great for planting seeds, seedlings, and small plants. And great for potting and re-potting as well.

Pruning bush shrub pruners Hand Pruners or Secateurs

You’ll find that this is one tool that gets used often, spring, summer, and fall. Used for trimming soft stems and woody branches up to about a half inch thick, they’re perfect for trimming shrubs, hedges, bushes, and small trees. They also come in super handy when trimming everything back during fall clean-up.

Hoe or Cultivator

Like the garden rake, a hoe is also good for breaking up soil clumps, as well as moving and leveling it out. The smaller width and solid working surface means it can fit in tight spaces and move earth and mulch more efficiently.

Leaf and Garden Rakes

When you think of a rake, you probably think of the upside down fan-shaped leaf rake. Of course, these are a must-have for homeowners with any size of lawn. There’s just nothing that compares when trying to gather fallen leaves, sticks, and other debris on grass.

garden tools rakes trolley summer springA garden rake on the other hand, is a bit heavier and has one flat row of short steel tines. If you want to transfer, level out, and/or comb through soil, this is the device for the job. Other types of rakes include the hand rake, shrub rake, and thatch rake – all nice to have as well, but we wouldn’t consider them fundamental.

Wheelbarrow or Garden Cart

While it may take up a bit of room in your garage or shed, a wheelbarrow or garden cart is indispensable when you need to move large, heavy plants, shrubs, and materials around your yard. If you’re short on storage space, there are garden carts available that can be folded down to a fairly compact size when not in use.

Of course there are a plethora of additional and more specialized gardening tools and gadgets that are nice to have. A few we’d recommend in addition to the above tools are:

Lopper – for trimming and pruning thicker, woody branches

Edging Tool – you can edge a garden with a shovel, but this purpose-built tool does a much nicer job

Rain Gauge – such a simple tool that helps keep you from over- or under-watering

Soil Knife – has multiple purposes, from quick weeding and trimming, to cutting sod and dividing plants

Pitch Fork – great for moving mulch; like a pitch fork but with more tines that are more closely spaced

Clippers – great for shaping hedges and trimming excess growth

When you’re selecting tools, you don’t have to buy the most expensive of everything. Keep in mind though that you generally get what you pay for. So, if you don’t want to replace your tools every season, invest wisely and clean, maintain, and store them properly. Finally, it’s best to use tools for their intended purposes only to help avoid breaking them or injuring yourself.

Of course, if you find you lack the tools, time, or expertise to add landscaping or manage your existing lawn and garden, contact us to discuss how we can help.