Who We Are
Shop York Region
"Dirty Knees" newsletter
Classes & Workshops
Articles & Tips
Drought Tolerant Gardens
Our Garden Services
Some helpful articles scattered
around the pages here -
Coping with the
dastardly Lily beetle.
Shrub Pruning Tips
Winter Garden Protection
Correct planting of
new trees & shrubs
Increasing Drought Tolerance.
Bits 'n bites on
things to do, or
in the spring garden.
Articles here are
my "Dirty Knees"
some of my
seminars, and appear
in no particular order.
a few highlights here in
for Newmarket gardeners.
was the driest on record! What does
that mean for the garden?
Winter's over already!? Notes from
early April '10
pruning time. Tips on how and when.
Pruning Weeping Mulberry
To-Do- list for early March
(from March 2011 "Dirty Knees" newsletter.)
So hard to decide what to do in our crazy climate here in southern
Ontario. Even in the super warm winter and very early spring of
2010, we had that late May return of winter temperatures that keeps us
on our toes - right on cue with our average last frost date in our zone
this photo is from late May 2010. In that very early spring, lots
of warmer than usual April and May temperatures brought along the dwarf Iris, Muscari, and bigroot Geranium, but this freak dusting of snow in late
May won't harm plants adapted to the cool growing conditions of spring.
A day or two later they perked themselves back up and carried on.
Freak super warm weather though would have sent them packing up their
flowers early . Spring bloomers NEED cool weather to bloom well -
they're adapted to the vagaries of Mother Nature and are used to getting
Evelyn Wolf, Garden Consultant
I can’t seem to decide what to call this
I started out with “Dirty Knees”, and
then switched to “Outside My Window” to
tie in with the short update I try to do monthly
on my web site. I feel pulled back to using
“Dirty Knees” though. It succinctly delivers
the image of what real gardening is about –
close observation of the fascinatingly detailed
and ever changing natural life that can only be
appreciated up close – down on our knees with
fingers in the
earth, nose in the heart of a blossom, and eyes
close enough to glimpse the retreating tail of a
worm or the intricate details of a plant and all
“Outside My Window” is a phrase that evokes the
appreciation of a garden from afar. Of course,
this is our end goal – a beautiful garden to
delight and admire, but the pleasure of the
process - the gardening itself - is something
quite different. “Gardening” isn’t the
achieving of an end goal, but the journey
there. The lessons that working together with
nature teaches, is open to all who take the time
to observe closely – down on our knees in the
garden with all of our senses on alert, to learn
from the undeniable insistence of the natural
forces at work in a garden.
So that’s it then – “Dirty Knees” it is!
And, as the new gardening season approaches, I’d
like to say –
Cheers, to dirty knee owners everywhere! A
clear sign that you too participate in the
wonder of the journey, and are just as itchy as
I am to see spring arrive! Evelyn
“to-do” list for early March – Anything
you can get done now, before the frantic pace of
April/May begins, is a bonus! Perennials
aren’t even out of the ground yet, but there are
lots of things you can get out of the way now.
If the ground is still frozen - all the
better, since you won't do any damage to the
soil or any plants you may accidentally step on.
up first is shrub pruning. While anytime
during the winter dormant season is fine for
shrub pruning, it’s certainly more pleasant
waiting for a warmish late winter day when the
snow is almost gone. It might be tempting to
wait for a really warm day in spring, but you
want to get out there before the ground thaws so
you don’t make a muddy mess of the newly thawed
ground. There’s nothing worse for soil than
trampling on it when it’s saturated with
moisture - texture and porosity is
irreparably damaged. If your soil is thawed
already before you climb into the garden where
the shrubs are, lay a board down to stand or
kneel on. Pruning at any time should always
focus is on the 5 D’s – branches that are dead,
damaged, diseased, defective, and desirable.
(There are still 3 spots left in our Stop the
Torture!: Shrub Pruning Workshop March 30th,
where you’ll learn the basic rules for
determining when and how to prune each shrub in
your garden correctly.)
job of cutting back ornamental grasses
can be done now. They’re an essential part of
an all season design for winter interest, but by
now they’re looking pretty tattered. With few
exceptions (perhaps Carex), they should all be
cut back to a few inches up from the ground
before any of the new season’s growth begins.
Don’t cut right down to the ground – this will
damage the crown on many of the true grasses.
(Put April 11th on your calendar and
our Ornamental Grasses seminar!
Lots of different grasses for different
sun/shade situations, and how to care for them.)
Next of course is dealing with the messy
plant debris. After the snow melts and
before anything starts greening up is the
ugliest phase of a perennial garden’s life.
More than at any other time, this is when
patience is a virtue though! Along with your
plants, worms are also stirring from their
winter dormancy and looking for food – all those
dead leaves. Leave as much as you can right
where it is! Cut back the gawky stems and
anything particularly unsightly, but instead of
raking and bagging it up, crush or snip into
pieces and drop it right back onto the garden
soil. When you’re done, it will look much neater
but you’ll likely still have the temptation to
pull out the rake and just get rid of it all.
Turn away from what may look messy right now for
just a few weeks and between the worms and the
it will all magically disappear from sight.
This isn’t about being lazy, this is about
leaving as much natural organic matter as
possible to feed the worms and nourish the
we want to learn something important
about ourselves, it’s a good idea to
go into our garden. We’ll find that
we’ve planted a lot of answers
my "Living Earth" seminar on healthy organic soil.
Look closely at the ground in early
spring, where last year's organic debris lies. Are there any pieces half
in and half out of the ground? That's worms at work, pulling
down organic debris into the soil ecosystem where there's a whole other
living world ticking away! Don't rake away all this "mess" - leave it right where it is for the worms to feed on and thereby
enrich your soil. A lot easier and cheaper than buying compost or
other raw material each year! Clean away the most unsightly stuff,
and leave as much as you can. Plants will have no problem growing
up through this organic debris mulch.
Outside My Window,
Now that the month of April 2010 has closed, the stats are
in. According to yesterday’s Toronto Star, this has been THE
warmest April on record since records first started to kept in 1938.
It’s also the second driest on record, with just 36 millimeters of
rainfall – a full 50% less than average. (The driest April on
record, since rainfall records started to be kept at Univ. of Toronto in
the 1840’s, was in 1881 with just 2.6 millimeters.). And the
rain we did have, fell mostly during the first week. Here now,
at the end of what is supposed to be the wettest month of the year, the
ground is already so dry that some gardens already need watering
attention. We can apparently blame (or credit, depending on your
point of view), a lingering El Nino climate pattern.
Click here for the full stats report article in Friday’s Tor.
does this mean to our gardens?
We’ve experienced drought
conditions before, but usually during the mid summer months. The
repercussions of a dry spring though is much more challenging for our
garden plants. Any of you who have taken my gardening class in the
past will perhaps remember that I call April and early May the “Zoom
zoom” period in a plant’s annual cycle, when from one week to the
next they rush to put out maximum leaf growth to sustain them for the
season. They need a lot of moisture to do this – more than at
any other time of the season. In response to extremely less than
adequate moisture, most of the larger perennials will likely be dwarfed
this year. They’re unlikely to die just because of inadequate
water, but they’ll hunker down and put out less growth in a survival
adaptation response. Not always a bad thing though - tighter, shorter
plants means less flopping and in some drought loving plants, more
Each gardening season's weather
patterns has it's pros and cons. They're predicting a drier than
usual summer, but I'd rather deal with drought than all the excess rain
and cool temperatures we had last year where plants had too much of a
good thing and grew tall and fat with all the water and just flopped
about as a result.
Kate' in the picture
to the left, is
smaller than it
usually is at this
time of year.
This is an example
of what we can
expect from some of
the more moisture
loving perennials in
this dry spring -
shorter and tighter
than it would
normally be. For
some of the tall
plants though, this
wouldn't be such a
bad thing - shorter
growth means less
of water all summer
resulted in bigger,
taller plants that
were too fleshy and
weak to stand tall.
Any plant that is
stressed performs at
(Is it too much to
ask of Mother Nature
to bring us just the
right amount of
water - not too much
or too little!?)
Outside My Window,
April 7th, 2010
Is it really here? No more freak storms like we usually get?
I keep my own temperature and weather
records each March/April to monitor the subtle changes that climate
change is creating for our gardening zone. Well ... this
year's shift from winter to spring takes the cake!
Last year on this date, we were still watching the melting off of the
last snow fall that left 5" on the ground on the 4th. The
ground was only partially thawed and very little was out of the ground
yet. Below are some photos from the first week of April 2009.
What a difference this year!
In my long gardening career I've never
seen a spring like the one we're experiencing this year. In
hindsight, many of us could have been out there seeding all the cool
season vegetable crops and some of the hardy annuals around the
beginning or March! Imagine!
I have two Witch Hazel's ('Diane' and
'Arnold's Promis' that have been in bloom since March 10th;
Primulas, snowdrops, scilla, have been in bloom for at least a couple of
weeks now, and the past weekend I drove by some Forsythia in full bloom!
Apple trees and tons of other shrubs are already starting to open
their buds. At this time they're usually just starting to swell
out of dormancy!
I have a gambler's heart (I think most gardener's do), and my gut tells
me that this is really it - that we can get those veggies and annuals in
the ground and open the season with just the same level of risk as there
would be in a normal early May. A full month's extra growing time!
The problem with being ready for some risk taking? The
garden centers aren't ready with any plants! The wholesale /
retail side of this industry has many thousands of dollars at stake if
they risk bringing plants in early. I can't image that they'll
take that risk which means that unless you're planting seed, you may
nevertheless need to wait for the regular planting time. What a
This will be a year for experimentation and note taking for sure.
The downside is that many insect pests may have also had a very easy
time overwintering in large numbers successfully, and there's
perhaps even time for an additional egg laying cycle. The lack of
snow and the extra month of warm weather may cause an early drought
season ... There's always a cloud that comes with the silver
April 6th, 2009.
Snow that stayed put
a few days didn't
harm emerging tulips.
Shrub and small tree pruning.
April 6th 2009
The main snow cover melted very early
this year and temperatures have been much warmer than usual for late
March / early April. Dormant buds on your woody plants are
stirring and will be ready to fly into growth as soon as this last
little taste of winter passes. This week we're getting that predictable return
to something more resembling winter than spring, but the forecasts
aren't calling for anything near as cold as we sometimes get at this
Some shrubs break
bud earlier than others, but whatever their growth pattern is...
...Now is a great time for pruning!
Details of exactly how to prune which
shrub is something that comes with experience or a bit of research on the
particular plant and
how it grows. In a nutshell,
pruning is not a straightforward chopping off of the outer
branches. That "haircut" type of pruning only weakens the blooming power and ruins
branching pattern. Each shrub has it's own growth habit and bloom time that should be taken into consideration and there is always
your own, the plant's, or the garden site's, unique reason for pruning
in a particular way. Most shrub
problems begin and end with incorrect pruning. Aside
from removing dead or damaged branches, if in doubt about how and when
to prune correctly - don't! The shrub will likely be better off.
Take a bit of time to research correct
shrub pruning on the web - there's lots of great information there.
Or, if you can wait a bit, register for the next run of our in-depth
pruning workshop. Correct shrub pruning is one
of the gardening skills to master if you're ever to achieve a
beautiful garden - time spent learning how to do it correctly will be
well worth it.
The very popular
Weeping Mulberry requires
frequent and aggressive pruning to clean out all the dead branches
within it's canopy. It's such a fast
growing, weak wooded, plant that it becomes an impenetrable mess if
left for too many years. The overlapping branches pinch, push and
trap one another,
often leading rot and disease.
In April weeping
Mulberry can be cut right back to just a
dozen or so of the healthiest branches with great success and can become gorgeous
sculptural plants again. Don't
be afraid to cut it right back to clean it out. It will respond
with an explosion of growth in the first season! They don't leaf out until May so if
you can't get around
to it in early
April, May is fine
too - just do it!
me anytime if your
shrubs and small
trees need a bit of
experienced TLC. Often just one hour
in March/April and a
follow-up hour later
in the season is all
that's necessary to
keep all your shrubs
healthy and looking