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Gardening
Rhea Seeger, Gardening, Feb. 2015 PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 23 February 2015 13:53
Part of the joy of gardening for me is solving some of the challenges I face. These challenges usually involve impulse buys and a learning curve.
When we bought the farm so many years ago, I thought a blueberry bed would be a fabulous idea. Klaus and I set up a bed with old beams and filled it with peat moss mixed with the soil. I thought it should have worked but we were both busy and the weeds took over and more importantly the plants never really prospered. There was a severe lack of water and the plants were just not happy here.
The blueberries did not thrive but I have not given up the idea of planting acid-loving shrubs here.
I wrote to you about my azalea last November and have uncovered some more insightful information. Years ago I bought my first azalea which is in the same group of acid- loving plants but this time I planted it in the garden that I see every time I go out my door. It offers dainty clusters of wee lavender blooms early in the spring. It is so pale that at first glance you almost miss them but a few days later as more blooms appear it becomes quite festive looking.  Water is still an issue. While the leaves are leathery and will withstand some droughty conditions, here on the gravel ridge they do need a drink when the when rain is slow to come.
Azaleas were developed from various species of rhododendron. The University of Minnesota developed and introduced the Northern Lights series in 1978. These azaleas prefer sun to partial shade and a rich, moist, acidic soil. They are long lived and in my garden that means they are just a bit more tenacious than other plants. Since that initial release there has been a burst of new varieties. The colours go from pastel to vivid shades of orange (my favourite), to red, white and pink, lasting anywhere from two to four weeks. Those in sunnier locations will not last as long as those in shadier spots.
I see them in the garden centres every spring and I am curious as to where people plant them. They can grow anywhere from 30 inches or 75 cm high and wide as 40 inches and seven feet tall. That must be in perfect conditions!
They can be featured in rock gardens and used in the understory of evergreens where there is increased acidity in the soil. As I write this I look out at the large evergreens in our east garden and realize my next azalea will be right there nestled on the north east side of the 30 foot spruce and equally tall weeping cypress.
Once you have selected a site it is important to prepare the soil around your new plant. Dig the hole twice as large as you need and fill it with half topsoil and half peat moss. Water well after planting and mulch with bark chip, oak leaves or pine needles. Like so many plants, a bit of fertilizer in the spring would be appropriate. There are brands of plant food geared for acid loving plants. I used to think aluminum sulphate was the best choice but have learned that ordinary sulphur or ammonium sulphate is the one to look for. A small amount of sulphur added to the soil each year will keep the soil acidic. I did a bit of checking on the differences. Ammonium sulphate slowly releases an ammonium ion in damp soil. This creates a small amount of acid, which lowers the ph of the soil. A cheap, artificial fertilizer, it also contributes nitrogen to the soil. But be careful not to get any on the leaves of your plants. Ammonium sulfate is also an effective herbicide when applied to leaves where it will burn and leave a plant weakened or dead.
You can prune for shape and deadhead the spent blooms, being careful not to nip next year’s buds. Think of lilacs, which set their next year’s blooms this year.
Winter is always a challenge. While azaleas are bred to withstand temperatures from -34 to -45 C. they still need some shelter from drying winds. Some varieties drop their leaves in the fall and others hold onto them.
My one pale lavender azalea on the west side of the house is sheltered by boxwood and trees and I have never covered it. The two new ones on the north side are more in the open.
This year I drove three stakes around the plants, wound burlap around the stakes and created a flap over the top. I stapled the burlap to the stakes and then wrapped binder twine around the whole bundle. It is recommended to fill the ‘tents’ with leaves and since this attracts rodents, place some mouse bait around the base. I am not a big fan of mice but I am the first one to stomp around the garden cursing the damage done by the critters.
My supply of leaves was too wet and I am hoping that the burlap will suffice this year. The tents, as of January, are still mostly intact. I think I will have to use wider stakes next year to offer more surface to staple to. I am excited to see what blooms this year as my new one is Mandarin Lights and features large trusses of deep orange flowers.
One last note: I had a lovely call from a gentleman eager to find a variety of native maple tree that features the reddest colour. We had a conversation about what causes the great change of colour in maples and he believes that while we understand it is created by environment, there may be a bit of genetics at work here. So if you have a picture of a green-leafed maple that consistently shows red in the fall, I want to hear from you! ◊
ACID-LOVING AZALEA GETS TENTED FOR WINTER WITH HOPES THE MICE WILL STAY AWAY
By Rhea Hamilton-Seeger
Part of the joy of gardening for me is solving some of the challenges I face. These challenges usually involve impulse buys and a learning curve.
When we bought the farm so many years ago, I thought a blueberry bed would be a fabulous idea. Klaus and I set up a bed with old beams and filled it with peat moss mixed with the soil. I thought it should have worked but we were both busy and the weeds took over and more importantly the plants never really prospered. There was a severe lack of water and the plants were just not happy here.
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GARDENING-JANUARY 2015 PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 15 January 2015 09:01
I think I am in trouble with my passion for trees. It started innocently enough when we got some trees through the Ministry of Natural Resources so many years ago. Those trees are now a wonderful presence in the landscape. Like the saying goes, “the best time to plant a tree is yesterday and the next best time is today.”
I eyeball trees planted along our roads and highways and wonder why maples, beech or other large varieties are not utilized. All I see are Mountain Ash trees, stunted from excessive pruning, and assorted true ash trees either dying from Emerald Ash Borer or being removed to stop the movement of said EAB.
So in my little part of the world we have been planting more trees. My trouble is I am sowing seeds for trees that need a more moist site and I am looking at my neighbour’s land along the creek!
My latest project is Ohio Buckeyes. Sounds like something you would hear about in a story about Daniel Boone (yes I know he was from Kentucky!). My friend John Hazlitt, another tree lover, gave me a dozen nuts from an Ohio Buckeye, Aesculus glabra, growing in the area. It can be easily differentiated from its relative the horse chestnut, Aesculus hipposactanum, by its near spineless husks. Native Aesculus are called buckeyes in North America and in Europe they are chestnuts. There are some discrepancies about the actual number of species; some references estimate 15, some 13 to 19, and others 23 species of buckeyes in the northern hemisphere. I love the description of the seed capsule in For the Love of Trees by Richard Hinchcliff and Roman Popadiouk. The split seed capsule is thought to resemble the half opened eye of a deer, hence the name buckeye. The shiny rich brown nuts inside the thick husks are normally spread by squirrels. There is some speculation that First Nation travellers helped spread them into Ontario.
The native buckeye trees won’t be as tall as the horse chestnut trees but will stretch to 28 feet. The nut is graded as slightly poisonous unless heated and leached.  I think their true value, besides being just good for the environment, is their fine even texture wood that is easy to work with. They are among the first trees to leaf out and have wonderful showy greenish yellow flowers in May, which are pollinated by insects.
Our old horse chestnut may have suffered from bacterial leaf scorch disease. Leaf scorch can be brought on by an unfavourable environment i.e. drought. Whatever was bothering the tree caused its demise. The bark cracked from the ground up to six-foot mark and also split the branches –  still a mystery for us.  The buckeyes are supposed to be more resistant to scorch disease.
Buckeye’s are adaptable to moist soils and won’t thrive on dry sites. It is this reference to moist soil that has me eyeing the neighbour’s land to the east. They have a creek running through their property that may make an ideal spot. I am going to have to ‘gift’ them some trees, provided my seeds sprout. Is this like counting your chicks before they hatch?
After much discussion with John about how long to leave the nuts in the back fridge versus potting up and leaving the pots in the fridge. Then, when to nurse them through the rest of the winter on the window sill, I turned to my Growing Trees From Seed by Henry Kock.
It all goes back to observing how these seeds germinate naturally. When the husks change colour from green to yellowish tan, the nuts are ripe. The husks dry out and split, showing the shiny brown nuts inside. These nuts start to dry out quite quickly and should be planted within seven days or stored in a plastic bag in the fridge until planting time.
Rather than take up fridge space I popped the nuts about two to three inches deep along the edge of the vegetable garden. I have been carefully monitoring the site, looking for any digging. So far so good. I also piled three inches of leaf mulch over the site to keep the ground moist until it freezes. I will pull that back in the spring. Being an optimistic, I hope they’ll all sprout but in reality only 50 per cent will germinate.
You would think that once a seed has germinated its appeal to squirrels would be lost, but not so. Apparently the kernel or endosperm of the seed is attractive to those long tailed rodents until the plant itself uses it up. So a seed enclosure is important to protect the newly sprouted seeds.  I think I better start improvising before spring. I know we have some well-fed creatures around here that graze their way around the yard. We have already had two small oak trees nipped this fall. That costs us a year’s growth. No wonder it takes so long to grow trees!
Like trees that grow in the forest, a bit of light shade through the hot days of summer is helpful. A heavier seed enclosure will also serve as a shade house.
I can hardly wait to see what sprouts. I suppose counting my sprouts before plodding along my neighbour’s field looking for good sites to plant would be a good plan.
The next challenge is to grow a gingko tree from seed. I have never noticed their seed pods before. It takes two trees to produce the seeds and fortunately, there is a tree nearby producing seeds!◊
OHIO BUCKEYE’S LATEST PROJECT FOR DEDICATED TREE PLANTER
BY Rhea Hamilton-Seeger
I think I am in trouble with my passion for trees. It started innocently enough when we got some trees through the Ministry of Natural Resources so many years ago. Those trees are now a wonderful presence in the landscape. Like the saying goes, “the best time to plant a tree is yesterday and the next best time is today.”
Read more...