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 Gardening in the northern York Region, zone 4 climate area.  We have challenges!     Hope you have time to browse the pages here!  Scroll the articles below in date order for when-to-do what guidance, but you can also  look to the index at left to browse by topic.       Evelyn Wolf, Garden Possibilities.Evelyn Wolf   
North of around Hwy#7, we're on  the colder side of zone 4 / 5, (zone 5b on the Canadian zone map and zone 4 on the USDA map) and we have more challenges than our GTA colleagues to the south.  Our weather here in the northern part of York Region is more influenced by Lake Simcoe than it is Lake Ontario, unlike conditions in say Markham or Richmond Hill.    (Where I live in Queensville, it's kinda crazy how the two weather systems collide sometimes!  I've often driven through torrential rain in Aurora to find clear sky and not a drop on the ground once I'm home!  North of Green Lane in particular it seems the Lake Simcoe influence becomes dominant.)    We have fewer frost free days, with extreme temp swings at the start and end of winter, that frustrates efforts to grow unusual plants and keeps us guessing on the timing of what-to-do-when. 

 I used to garden in north Toronto and believe me - there's a big difference up here!  Forget most of those lovely cut-leaf Japanese Maples or any of the flowering Dogwood trees (other than our native Cornus alternifolia which I thankfully love!).   Flower buds are often zapped by just a day or two of our area's last frost date that regularly happens in late May.   No matter!  There's still plenty of gorgeous plants to choose from!

 I've been writing on gardening for many years for local publications, my workshop handouts, and a newsletter I used to email.     Here's a collection of my favourites, or those I thought would be most useful.   All of the articles here reflect gardening in the relatively cold-ish climate of northern York Region.

 other articles pages to browse for more specific information -
Shrub & Tree Care   ~   Drought Ready Gardens   ~   Seedy Thoughts  ~   Collected Wisdom   ~     Shopping York Region    in the Spring Garden 






from April 5th, 2007  
Is Mother Nature entering Menopause?!   On the crazy freeze/thaw of early Spring.
(An article I wrote originally for the local Era Banner.)
Mother Nature's mood swings this spring are extreme!     Perennial plants NEED a cold winter to stay safe during their dormant period.  We had record cold temperatures for February and, so far,  April has been well below normal.  What's the problem then?  The record WARM temperatures we had in January and March! 
In central Ontario our early spring weather is usually erratic, but 2007 saw temperatureextremes more severe than any in my gardening memory.   A warm spell in January lasted long enough to cause alarm among horticultural experts with reports coming in from all over southern Ontario of buds beginning to swell on trees and shrubs and even a few spring bulbs popping. 
three contrasting small evergreensWhen winter finally arrived in mid January we quickly dipped down to normal temperatures and had good snow cover, and I thought we just may have nipped disaster in the bud.  (excuse the pun  I couldn't resist!).    The February thaw we always experience just plain didn't happen.  Instead Mother Nature kept all her warm thoughts bundled up and concentrated on a late March warming that, again, lasted much longer than usual, sending the signal to plants that spring had firmly arrived.  Wouldn't it have been wonderful had this been true!   
But alas, it was too good to be true as it is also routine for us to experience many last blasts of winter in April.  But our plants didn't know this so in the sunshine and +10ish temperatures of late March flower buds on trees and shrubs broke dormancy and perennials started showing themselves above ground. 
There's no doubt we'll see the effects of these extremes on many early blooming shrubs such as magnolias, forsythias, elderberry, and rhododendrons, with lots of flower bud damage.  It may have been a deadly situation for some roses, viburnums and newly planted shrubs.  Even a few of the late spring bloomers such as crabapples, lilacs, and some fruit trees may have experienced some flower bud damage.  

It isn't just gardeners that may be affected by this unhappy situation though. 

for more topics and in-depth articles, visit our new web site at -
your LOCAL guide
to all things gardening in York Region
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Flower bud damage on fruit trees may show up in the price we'll pay for fresh fruit later this summer since reduced flowering, of course, leads to reduced crop yields.  Depending on cultural practices (winter mulch protection, or not), the strawberry and other small berry harvests may also be affected.  The extent of the damage depends on plant species and the stage of plant development just before the cold April temperatures hit with a bang.  Let's cross our fingers!  Not much else to be done.

In my Newmarket garden, thankfully no shrubs had yet unfolded their leaves and flowering perennials, for the most part, had poked their noses up only fractions of an inch, but sunny exposures in gardens to the south may have prematurely warmed enough for leaf damage to also occur.     

Overall your spring plants may behave poorly this year with dead flower buds and perhaps freeze burned foliage, but don't panic and rush out for any plant-problem-fix-its.  The culprit is simply Mother Nature in a particularly bad mood this spring and your plants will recover and leaf out again.  You may need to wait until next year to see a good full blooming on some shrubs again though.   If any of your plants have been severely affected, extra TLC this summer during any drought spells and perhaps a few shovel fulls of compost will help them recover.   

I'm not normally one for burlaping or otherwise protecting shrubs during the vulnerable period of March & April, but this cross-my-fingers attitude will likely cost me dearly this year!  In the rush to plant up my new garden last fall, plants were put into the ground without the appropriate care and I didn't get a compost mulch on until just recently.   This test-the-limits approach teaches me a lot about plant adaptation and survival techniques that serve me well in the gardening classes I teach, but boy -  this year my gardening lesson probably bears a hefty price tag!  I'll see just how many plants succumbed to this extreme see / saw winter in a few weeks, but with the heaved root balls and browned buds all over my new garden, it certainly doesn't look promising.  Check in with me later this month when I'll yet again pass on words of wisdom learned from hard experience!
                    Happy Spring!  Evelyn 

  ©Evelyn Wolf, 2019.  All rights reserved.  Contact for permission to use.

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  from May 13th, 2007
Steps to Creative Planting Design. stark contrasts of texture and plant form 
All too often, plant choices are dictated by the rush of excitement in the opening days of the season, during your first garden center visit.  (I'm certainly as guilty as any when it comes to the inability to restrain myself from buying far too much, without any idea of how they'll fit into my garden's design.)  Once you're back home though, some thorough research on the plants you've purchased is the first step to knowing where to plant them to take best advantage of whatever design merits they have.

Designing a mixed perennial and shrub garden bed is easier to feel confident about if you think of it not as a collection of individual beautiful plants, but as a collection of vignettes -  smaller groupings of plants that compliment eachother through contrast or harmony to create a single picture within the larger canvas of your garden bed.    Each vignette should have plants with different flowering times and seasons of interest and also have as much contrast in foliage texture or colour as possible.  For each flower favourite try to find a foliage companion with a different bloom time.    

Here's one classic example. 
~  Early tulips (late April), late tulips (May), with forget-me-nots (late May) as an underplanting.  A white edged Hosta and dark ferny leaved Astilbe close by will be only inches out of the ground but will be ready to take over the space with contrasting foliage for June when the forget-me-nots can be removed and tulips cut back.
~ Hosta and Astilbe will be your July bloom while their foliage phase alone makes a lovely duo in the meantime.  A white flowered Japanese Iris added to this group will bloom in June and echo the white in the Hosta leaves and also add another element to the foliage contrast. 
~ By August all flowering is finished in this group, but the foliage contrast alone is keeping this spot looking good.  A clump of Purple coneflower added as a backdrop will offer August and September bloom and some height.  ...and finally, the Coneflower seedheads and the foliage of the Japanese Iris will stand tall all winter through the snow, for winter interest.    

In this one tightly planted group you have a miniature garden within a garden, looking good at all times.   Surrounding it could be a low groundcover plant like Dianthus to help the vignette pop.   You're aiming at creating plant groupings that stand out.   

To create a harmonious larger picture, the garden bed itself, a few all season vignettes like these should be repeated through the bed.  Each group becomes a focal point that gives the illusion of the garden being larger, but the eye still moves comfortably from group to group to take the whole picture in.  

planting design uses the same skills as putting a nice outfit together. Developing an eye for planting design comes step-by-step and grows with your expanding knowledge of the huge assortment of plants available today. Train yourself to look at a plant's form (mound, upright, fountaining) and foliage texture (ferny, fuzzy, bold, strappy), not just its flower colour.     When you get dressed in the morning, you choose the main item you want to wear and then choose either a contrasting or matching item to wear with it.  Then perhaps a bit of jewelry in scale with the outfit completes the picture.  In a garden you're using the same sense of matching, contrasting, decorating, etc. to design individual pictures that come together to create the whole.  Make notes as you go and think of mistakes as learning opportunities, then move on. There is no right and wrong to art, and garden design is art.  Like all art, it takes practice, keen observation, and learning more about your tools -  the plants.

for more topics and in-depth articles, visit our new web site at -
your LOCAL guide
to all things gardening in York Region
link to...

Happy planting! Evelyn

©Evelyn Wolf, 2019.  All rights reserved. 
An expert from the handouts in my "Great Plant Combinations" workshop. (linkto...)

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 a short article written for my "Dirty Knees" newsletter early August 2009 after a very rainy summer.  The 2018 season had the same problem and I lost many of my plants to crown rot again!  Evelyn 

Too Much of a Good Thing...! 
"Remember summer 2007 when the heat and drought just went on and on?  We were all convinced that it was a sign of things to come in the era of climate change.
Well...uh...where's the drought?  Can I have some drought please? PLEASE!

 We have had so much rain, combined with a lack of any intense sun and heat this summer, that many plants just flopped about as though they were drunk.   Many drought loving plants suffered rot spots and mildewy leaves and a few just outright died from crown rot.  Plants were loving the wet cool spring as they were in their green growth phase and were able to use up all the water that fell, but by summer they needed some heat and sunshine!  To say the blooming this year was lackluster as a result, is an understatement.
Echinacia hybrid "Summer Sky".Normally sturdy, upright and tall, this new salmon Echinacea hybrid I was so looking forward to being really great this year in my 2nd year garden, is flopping near the ground instead, with many fewer blooms than it would normally have.   Overall, it isn't so much the excess water that's the main problem, but the inherent lack of sunshine and heat that comes with lots of rain days that is the double whammy when there's a summer with just too much rain. 

There's not much to be done about this problem.  At least when climate change brings us dry heat, we have the option of planting lots of drought tolerant things, as many of our standard garden plants are, but when there's too much water, all we can do is dream of next year."   
Cheers!  Evelyn

  ©Evelyn Wolf, 2019.  All rights reserved.  Contact for permission to use. 
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  from Nov. 9th, 2003 - an article originally written for my "Dirty Knees" newsletter I used to email.
Chop Leaves Instead of Bagging Them Up !emptying leaf filled yard waste bags for chopping
Q.   I'd like to start using all the leaves we have in our yard at this time of year in my garden, but I've been told that they can rot and create a big mess.  Can I use them directly on my garden beds? 
A.  That's absolute gold falling from your trees!  Gardener's gold!  Yes, you can, and should, use your fallen leaves in your garden for many reasons.  All you need to do to prevent any rot problems is chop them up a bit to increase air flow and then make sure it isn't piled on top of your plants, but around them - just like you'd handle any mulch. 

The fallen leaves of deciduous trees are a major part of Mother Nature's intricate, self sustaining system.  Through this annual cycle of shedding leaves to rest and renew, soil is given an annual boost of organic matter to keep it alive and able to feed and sustain plant life.  Somehow though, we have come to think of autumn leaves as garden "waste" that needs to be cleaned away.  

Let's look more closely at this annual gardening ritual.    Each autumn we put out $25.00 or more to buy yard waste bags to cope with the task of bagging leaves.  Special gadgets to help keep the bags open while you rake and stuff can also be bought for a few more dollars.  We then haul dozens of these full bags to sit at the curb for a couple of weeks (a real eye-sore) until yard "waste" pick up day.   On this day, your tax dollars go towards (Once you experience the benefits of improving your soil with chopped leaves, you'll turn into one of those people who drive around at night in autumn to scoop up everyone else's leaf bags sitting by the curb in fall to add to your pile!)  paying someone to pick up this "waste".   They then take this precious cargo to a compost yard where it is chopped and piled to naturally decompose.  Then, next spring when you're working in your garden and realize you need some compost to boost your soil, you drive to the same compost yard, where they'll happily sell your leaves back to you for $6.00 or more per bag.  Personally, I'd rather spend all this money on new plants!   

Instead of bagging your leaves this fall, put them right where they were intended to go - in your garden to feed the soil, which will in turn feed your plants.  All you need to do is speed along the decomposition process a bit by chopping the leaves to make an attractive and highly nutritious mulch.    When most of the leaves have fallen rake them into a huge pile in the middle of your yard and go at it with your lawn mower.  Move along in circles working in from the outside edges, aiming the exit hole of your lawn mower to the inside of the pile so that the chopped leaves are just a fraction of the orginal bulk size. chopped leaves remain in a pile and are chopped ever finer with each pass.  

Most people think that they have too many leaves for their garden to consume, but you'll be amazed at the small mound that remains when you're done.  From personal experience I know that a pile of 40 or more bags is reduced to just a small pile that would fill maybe 2 or 3 bags.     Spread the resulting rich and attractive material in a 2" blanket over your soil and around your plants.    If you have enough, also spread a very fine layer over your lawn.    This is all you need to do for the entire year to keep your soil healthy and plants well fed.  Other than the cost of a tank of gas for the lawn mower, this gardener's gold didn't cost you a cent!   

Making sure your garden soil always has a fresh supply of organic material is perhaps THE most important thing you can do in a garden to ensure long term success.    The organic material portion of the triple-mix your garden started with a few years ago is consumed by now.  Without an annual replenishment of organic matter, there is no food for the worms or the millions of other smaller micro-organisms that are an essential part of the amazing underground chain reaction that is a soil's own ecosystem - the living earth.   a ride on lawn mower makes quick work of leaf chopping. Plant life feeds on the nutrients that result from all of this busy micro-organism underground activity.   Think of the microscopic forms of animal and insect life that live underground as your much beloved pets and garden allies that help your garden thrive.  Just toss them this annual meal of chopped leaves and they will stick around and pay you back handsomely with healthy plants and plenty of blooms.

Cheers! Evelyn

  © Evelyn Wolf, Oct., 2019.  All rights reserved.  Please contact for permission to use.
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from April 1st 2003 
Correct  Planting of New Trees & Shrubs.
       Q. My friend and I both bought a cutleaf Japanese maple last summer, but hers is doing fine while mine seems to be struggling. They were both similarly healthy when purchased.  

    A. It isn't easy to diagnose plant problems from a distance of course, but the difference between the current state of health of your shrub, as opposed your friend's, is probably the result of improper original planting.
I'll assume you watered well at planting time, but watering after planting often won't penetrate the tightly congested root ball of a new plant that has spent the first few years of life in a pot.
Even though nursery grown plants are healthy and treated well, life in the confined space of a pot is not a happy one, especially for woody plants.  Roots on a sizeable container grown plant can become so congested as they circle around the Even "drought tolerant" plants need lots of watering help for the first 2-3 months after planting.  Until they regrow the fine root hairs that were damaged at planting time, they're extremely vulnerable to collapse since they can't replace leaf moisture fast enough.  Same is true for even dry loving plants.  For just a bit of time, they need your help.  (read "This Year We'll Be Ready" on the Drought Tolerant Gardening page. link to)   Evelyninside of the pot that they can become impenetrable - even by water.  If these roots are not untangled at planting time to let soil, water and air reach all of the roots, only the outer roots will ever be in contact with water and the plant will struggle for life until it can establish a whole new network of roots outside of this congested ball.  They can suffer a lot of damage during this period and sometimes will not make it through.  (This sounds like what your young tree might be going through now.) 
If your tree or shrub does makes it through this phase, a different problem can emerge much later in the plant's life if root that circled the  inside of the pot weren't untangled at planting.  In a worst case scenario, these roots will grow in girth to literally strangle the tree or shrub's trunk base, eventually cutting off the flow of water and nutrients.  It isn't unusual for these "girdling roots" to be the cause of poor health or death of long established trees.
 (To prevent this problem in a mature plant, at year 5 or 6ish, when the tree has established a good new root system, cut any roots that appear to circle the trunk at the base.  Scratch 5 or 6 inches down around the trunk and hunt for any offenders.  Even if you find a large circling root, the stress caused by cutting it will set the plant back a bit, but it will recover.  It won't be able to recover from a girdling root that's allowed to stay and strangle the tree in the future though.)

The correct method for planting all new plants, especially woody plants is as follows.correct planting diagram - NEVER too deep!
~ Prepare a hole twice the diameter of the pot, but no deeper.
~ Fill the hole with water and let it drain to thoroughly soak the soil.
~ Remove the plant from its pot (in the shade!!!) and put it in a bucket of water to soak and loosen the root ball.  If the root ball is very congested, the jet spray of your watering hose will help force a break in the armor.
~ Separate and untangle larger roots, especially any that are circling, even if you have untangle roots diagramto cut them to do so.  Dunk them in the water again to moisten and loosen them further.
~ Spread roots out in the hole as much as you can without causing damage, positioning the crown at the correct level (no deeper than it was in the pot) then add soil, firming as you go.
~ Leave a bit of a trench around the base to allow water to pool and soak through the root area, and drench thoroughly again to help soil particles settle close to roots.
~ Leave the trench in place for a few days and drench daily for at least 4 - 5 days. An added guarantee of success would be to provide shade for these few days.  I use an old bed linen to just drape over the plant.  This is especially helpful if you're planting during the warmer days of summer rather than spring.
~ After a few weeks you should see the plant revive and begin to put out new growth. 

for more topics and in-depth articles, visit our new web site at -
your LOCAL guide
to all things gardening in York Region
link to...

This is the time to fertilize with a water soluble booster applied at half strength - again, really well watered in - not just in the top few inches.  However, if you're planting in the fall you really don't want vigorous top growth but you do want roots well established and moist, so water well right through until just before ground freeze up in December, but don't fertilize until spring. 

As you've experienced, correct planting can mean the difference between life and death for any shrub, let alone a sensitive cut-leaf maple. For now, don't fertilize, water well, and cross your fingers!

    Good luck!  Evelyn

  © Evelyn Wolf, 2019  All rights reserved. 
from my newsletter "Dirty Knees" that I used to send via email.
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