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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.

 

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.

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.

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.