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.

Increase Your Home’s Value with Landscaping

Increase Your Home’s Value with Landscaping

With the current circumstances – stay-at-home orders and a crazy local housing market – many homeowners are opting to invest in their homes. Money that would otherwise be spent on travel, entertainment, consumer goods, etc. is directed instead to home improvement.

Done right, this can potentially increase a home’s value. However, the value of your home isn’t just about what you can get for it when you sell, but also the enjoyment you get out of it while you live there. So, let’s discuss a few ways to enhance both your quality of life and the monetary value of your home.

Curb Appeal

improve curb appeal to increase the value of your homeIf you search online for ways to increase a home’s value, one method that almost invariably tops the list is to increase your home’s curb appeal. After all, the front of your home provides the first impression for potential buyers, whether they’re passing by or viewing your home online.

Improving curb appeal doesn’t have to be complicated. The most important thing to do is keep things tidy by weeding, edging, and mulching your flowerbeds, pruning your trees and shrubs when appropriate, and aerating, fertilizing, and dethatching your lawn.

Minimal Maintenance

Low maintenance perennials with mulch and stone walkwayIf you’re looking to upgrade your home’s exterior – front, sides, or back – consider updates that will enhance livability, functionality, and practicality. Not only will this maximize your enjoyment, but when it comes time to sell, potential buyers will be able to see themselves relaxing in, rather than working on, the yard and gardens.

One way to add low-maintenance beauty to your landscape, is to include native varieties among the trees, shrubs and plants you choose. Native Ontario plant species are well-acclimated to our conditions, so require very little extra care over that which Mother Nature provides. Native species also attract native birds and smaller pollinators, which is an added bonus.

Hardscaping

Hardscaping stone patio and surrounding flowerbeds improve outdoor living area and add valueWalkways, patios, and retaining walls are gratifying additions to a home’s exterior. In keeping with the theme of minimal maintenance, though – a focus of almost every one of our customers – we recommend being mindful of the materials you use.

Wood decking has historically been inexpensive but does have a limited life span and also can require quite a bit of maintenance to keep it looking good and hazard-free. Poured smooth, brushed, or stamped concrete can make a great patio or walkway, but durability can be an issue and maintenance is required in the form of cleaning and sealing.

For optimal durability and ease of maintenance, precast or natural stone pavers are ideal. The range of colours, textures, and styles is virtually limitless and a stone patio or walkway can be straight/square or round/curvy, so you can be sure to find the right look to complement your home’s exterior.

And if you like the look of stone, smaller-sized decorative stone like river rock, lava rock, quartz, peastone, granite, and dolomite can be used in lieu of mulch in flowerbeds, in between large pavers in walkways and patios, and in and around water features.

Visual Impact

Visual impact adds value to your home lush gardens around poolPlants, trees, and shrubs can be used to camouflage imperfections, add privacy, and enhance the existing beauty around your home’s exterior and yard. For example, an exposed foundation can make a home appear old and unkempt. But, planting a balanced selection of plants and shrubs appropriate for the location’s sun exposure can add depth and colour, providing a welcome distraction from your foundation’s drab, grey expanse.

Exposure to winds or neighbouring properties can make backyard living less enjoyable than it should be. Planting a row of trees, shrubs, or ornamental grass can add shelter and/or privacy. Consider mixing shrubs or grasses with fence panels for increased visual interest.

Serenity

Water feature bubbling rock serene serenity peaceful atmosphereAdd unique atmosphere to your outdoor living areas, walkways, and/or front entrance with lighting and water. Ponds, streams, waterfalls, fountains, and bubbling rocks add an audio-visual element that has a universally relaxing effect. And including lighting along walkways, trees, water features, pools, and patios enhances outdoor safety and enjoyment after the sun goes down.

There are a multitude of ways to improve your landscaping for added quality of life and value. Starting with a plan can help you get focused and establish a budget. If you’re planning some upgrades this year, but don’t want to go it alone, we’re here to help. Drop us a note to let us know what your goals are and we’ll help you get there.

What’s Your Landscape Design Style?

What’s Your Landscape Design Style?

Landscaping is a fantastic way to upgrade your home’s exterior. Done right, it improves curb appeal and enhances your enjoyment and the functionality of your outdoor environment.

And, like the clothing and home décor you choose, landscaping also provides an excellent opportunity to express your personal style. You may have inherited an already established landscape design when you moved into your home. Or you may have previously defaulted to a style that you thought suited your home’s exterior style.

While matching the style of your home may be a factor you want to consider, the design can be updated to better reflect your personal style as well.

If you haven’t given much thought to your landscaping style, we’ll outline the major styles, their differences, and their defining elements. When we get right down to it, there are really only two principal styles – traditional and contemporary (or “modern”) – with many substyles that can play a role in the overall design.

Traditional landscaping with native plants

An example of a traditional garden design overflowing with a mixture of native plants and flowers

Traditional Landscape Design

The traditional landscaping style tends to be associated with soft or curved lines, more rustic, textural materials in muted, mottled tones, and a balanced mixture of softscaping, hardscaping, and water elements that create a relaxed, laid back atmosphere. More often than not, traditional landscape design tends to be associated with the “informal” style. Because of its more free-flowing lines, a traditionally designed landscape can be more desirable for those wanting a lower maintenance outdoor living area.

Contemporary Landscape Design

On the other end of the spectrum, modern landscape design employs straight lines, clean edges, and sharp angles. Contemporary landscapes offer steep contrast in colour, with lots of symmetry in the shape and size of its elements. Hardscaping materials tend to be flat with a matte or polished finish. These attributes lend to what is generally considered a more “formal” style and also tend to demand more work to maintain the shapes and symmetrical appearance.

modern landscape design clean lines right angles monochromatic hardscaping retaining wall

Elements of modern landscape design – clean lines, right angles, and monochromatic colour scheme

Generally speaking, while most landscape designs may primarily be classified as traditional or modern, they really fall somewhere in between. Besides your personal style, here are many good reasons for a hybrid design, including:

  • Soil conditions and light exposure
  • How you use your yard
  • Your proclivity for garden maintenance
  • Your home’s exterior style

Substyles and Themes

If you don’t want your yard to be purely traditional or one hundred percent contemporary, below are a few substyles/themes you can work into your design.

Native

Plants and trees are indigenous to Ontario/Canada. These not only attract birds, bees, butterflies, and other native wildlife, but also tend to require less maintenance because they’re well-adapted to our climate.

Xeriscape

This type of landscaping reduces or eliminates the need for supplemental watering through the use of above-ground or underground water collection and circulation techniques in conjunction with more drought-tolerant plant and tree varieties.

 

asian inspired traditional landscape design natural flagstone walkway native plants and shrubs pagoda

An example of Asian-inspired traditional landscape design with flagstone walkway

Asian-Inspired

Elements can include a pergola, gate, trickling water feature, ornamental grasses, koi pond, walkway or labyrinth, and soft lighting.

English Garden

Lush green lawns with one or more sitting areas among large, colourful gardens, overflowing with flowers, plants, and trees that attract a range of pollinators.

Natural/Organic

Plants and materials are sustainably sourced and managed. Can be easily combined with Native and/or Xeriscape themes.

Rustic

Incorporates wood and natural stone into decks, patios, walkways, fencing, sheltering structures, and retaining walls.

So, what’s your landscape style? Hopefully, this guide has provided some insights. If you’re having trouble deciding, we’re just a call or email away.

Why Choose Native Ontario Plants

Why Choose Native Ontario Plants

Creating a healthy local ecosystem in our own backyards

There have been myriad reports over the past few months from backyard birders about the decrease in visitors to their feeders. If you’ve noticed this too, you’ll be pleased to know there are things we can each do to radically reverse the decline of small wildlife in our yards.

Coral Bells are a native Ontario plant that flowers in the late summerIt’s all well and good to provide seed and suet for birds, but the solution to population decline requires us to look a little closer. Instead of thinking short-term, say season by season, let’s look at it from a yearly perspective, or even longer.

What we choose to plant directly affects the quantity and activity of small and large living organisms in our yards. If our only priority is a yard that looks pretty, we may be missing opportunities to positively impact the local ecosystem.

We should also consider biodiversity – choosing a variety of species that co-exist nicely. If we also opt for plants and trees that require minimal resources for survival, then we can move toward a landscape that not only looks good, but is low-maintenance and welcomes beneficial interdependent activity above and below ground.

Nature's Best Hope Book by Doug TallamyWildlife Ecologist Doug Tallamy, author of “Nature’s Best Hope: A new approach to conservation that starts in your yard” offers strong arguments and simple tips for being a backyard conservationist. Here are a handful of his suggestions:

  • Reduce the amount of lawn in your yard to that which you require for walking and playing. Fill this area instead with more productive “host” plants.
  • Over thousands of years, native fauna has developed defences and tolerances (and thus, preferences) for consuming native flora (plants with which it has co-evolved), so naturally if we replace these native food sources with non-native alternatives, local wildlife will either have to go elsewhere for food or perish.
  • If not kept in check, unproductive, foreign cultivars can become invasive species, choking out native plant life beyond our back yards.
  • We currently have 3 billion fewer birds than we did 50 years ago. Globalization and hybridization have replaced native garden options with more “exotic” options that might be fashionable, but don’t contribute to the local ecosystem.
  • A great deal of the animals in any ecosystem don’t eat plants, but eat something that eats something that eats plants, so ensuring the right plants are available as a food source for caterpillars and insects is a very big deal to our entire ecosystem.

Butterfly Bush is a native Ontario plantThe good news is this isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. You don’t have to swap out all of the plant life in your garden and risk disrupting your current modern or tropical motif, for example. Plants that are native to Ontario come in a wide range of shapes, sizes, and colours, so you’re sure to find a few cultivars that appeal to you.

And adding just a few native plants and trees will produce favourable results. Visit our June 2019 post on Choosing Native Ontario Plants for Your Garden or head over to our Native Ontario Plants Pinterest Board for some inspiration.

As always, if you need assistance choosing the right native plants and trees for your yard, or you just want to get started on a landscaping project, contact us.