Toronto Star column – published June 22, 2013
Last month I wrote an article here in (the Star) that addressed some of the most asked questions on my website www.markcullen.com Every day this time of year we receive between 150 and 200 gardening questions [secret: there is more than one of me]. The response to that column was so favourable that I decided to give you another ‘shot’ with information that you can take into the yard and garden and use right away.
The longest day of the year was yesterday: June 21st. Friends that live way up north will have to close their curtains and wear an eye shade to get to sleep, the daylight hours will be so long. While we struggle to get our 8 hours of sleep this time of year, many of the plants in your garden love it. Tomatoes, for instance, are growing to beat the band and will not slow down until late July.
How important is weeding this time of year?
Either we get out and pull weeds or we ignore them to our peril. With the hyperactive growth taking place in your garden right now it is important to get weeds under control. The alternative is to pull them when they become small trees in the heat of July, after they have put down a monster-root and the effort produces an equally giant sweat on your brow.
How do I minimize weeding? It is not my favourite job.
Now this is a question that we get a lot and I have an answer that is chemical free, easy to do, and inexpensive. Mulch. My mulch-of-choice is ground up cedar or pine bark mulch. Look for it at your local garden retailer and lay it down around all of your garden plants this time of year about 5 to 6 cm thick. Keep the mulch pulled back from the base of the plants.
How do I reduce watering by up to 70%?
See my answer to the last question: mulch. Same advice stands. One job. Double the benefits.
How do I grow peppers?
Heat. Peppers perform best in an area constantly in heat. Well, I don’t mean that exactly how it sounds, but they are ‘heat seekers’ and when they get it they respond by growing, flowering, and fruiting. Plant them against a south facing wall for the best and quickest results. An open, well-drained soil helps too. Use 3 cm of bark mulch on them to reduce water evaporation and weeds. Mulch helps to hold the heat in the soil as well.
I have grubs in my lawn. How do I get rid of them?
Nematodes. Dormant nematodes (microscopic-sized and naturally-occurring) are sold out of a refrigerator at your local garden retailer. Apply them now for great results but remember two key points: the ground should be wet before you apply them and you should water thoroughly after you apply them. The moisture helps the nematodes, which feed on grubs, to multiply and drives them deep into the soil where they make contact with their hosts: the grubs. When they meet, the nematodes win.
How do I attract hummingbirds to my garden?
Welcome to June and July – hummingbird season, especially up north. Many hummingbirds have already passed through Toronto on their way to the boreal forest. Some, however, stay here where they will enjoy the fruits of our labour, provided that they can find lots of nectar-rich flowers in the neighbourhood. They love tube-shaped, bright-coloured flowers like cardinal flower, salvia, foxgloves, and the flowers of hosta. Plant your heart out!
Hang a hummingbird feeder and be sure to clean it out thoroughly each week. They visit Toronto again on their flight home and stay longer than they did in spring, when making babies was on their mind.
How do I fix dog patches in my lawn quickly?
Easy. If you golf, you already know the secret to divot repair: a shaker bottle of sharp sand/grass seed. Keep a closed bucket of dampened sand and quality grass seed at your back door. The moistened sand predisposes the seed to fast germination. When you see a yellow spot in your lawn developing, simply scoop some of the mix on to the area and step on it. No golf shoes required.
What is ‘sharp sand’? Where can I buy it?
Sharp sand is also called ‘builder’s sand’. It is not play sand. Look for ‘builder’s sand’ at your local hardware store.
How often should I water my flower garden?
Not as often as you think. All plants require an exchange of oxygen at their root zone between water applications. When the soil is allowed to dry about 3 to 5 cm deep between applications of water, the pores in the soil become oxygen-charged. This is good for root development and overall plant health. Sometimes I worry about all of the water that is wasted and the resulting weakening of plants due to the abuse of in-ground watering systems that are used too frequently. Alas, I am here to serve, not to judge.
The plants in my containers are getting straggly and the flowers infrequent.
Your container grown plants could be either hungry or lacking the sun that they require or both. A ‘rangy’ looking plant with long stems and few flowers is stretching for available sunshine. Move it to a sunnier position.
Yellowing leaves and a general lack of flowers usually means that the plant is hungry. Give it an application of ‘Feed and Forget’ now and well, forget about it as each time you water, a mild solution of fertilizer will filter down to the root zone. Or apply water soluble 20-20-20 every 7 to 14 days.
My neighbour tells me that I should apply water from a rain barrel – why?
Rain water is 30 to 40% oxygen (there is that word again!). All plants benefit from generous doses of it. Rain barrel water is warm: this is appreciated by all plants but none more than hot crops like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and all members of the ‘squash’ family. I water all of my container plants using water from my four rain barrels.
And there you have it, a few more of your questions answered to get you through another month in the garden.