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Dallying In The Dirt, Issue #119 --- Cactus were everywhere as we visited Tucson.
November 01, 2012

Didn't have time to do pictures this week. Dashing off to catch a plane.

Tucson in October, what a wonderful place to connect with colleagues at our annual Garden Writer’s Symposium. It’s amazing how connected we stay with people we usually see only once a year. Those of us from Northern climes were in complete awe at the desert vegetation, or lack of it. We recognized a great many of the Cactus that we saw but we are used to them being in 15cm (6") pots, not growing 8M (25') tall planted in the ground. The most difficult thing to adapt to, at least for me, was the barren ground. Roadsides, vacant land, anywhere that something wasn’t intentionally planted and irrigated, the ground was dry and brown. They must have some weeds that invade their gardens but none were evident to this casual observer. We did see some fantastic gardens created with the many varieties of succulents that thrived in this climate. I was asked to do a presentation on how to do a presentation for our seminar series. Interesting to stand in front of your peers and do such a thing but it went very well and turned into an excellent discussion among the several accomplished speakers that were there. Wonderful information for the novices in the group and a clear indication that everyone’s own style is their most important asset. The best piece of local advice was for the photographers. “If you can’t get everything in your frame, don’t back up with out looking first because something behind you is probably prickly and dangerous.” I think we all learned this from experience as well.

Not all gardening chores are totally pleasant. Yesterday’s weather was cold and damp but that’s not going to change soon and so I girded my loins and took on the necessary but unpleasant chore of removing vegetation from the ponds. I couldn’t do this until I had an empty compost bin to dump it into, which entailed a couple of other chores that I managed to struggle through last week. The water Hyacinths were rampant in this summer’s heat and the bottom pond yielded three large containers of them. Then it was time to get my wonderful long handled pruners from Fiskars and cut the leaves from the Water Lilies as close to their container as possible. That involves laying on the wet grass and reaching in to the cold pond water, a thoroughly unpleasant operation. I could do this earlier in the year but I like to keep the vegetative cover on the ponds as long as possible. It gives the baby fish a place to hide and grow, safe from their hungry aunts and uncles and it makes the fishing more difficult if the migrating heron decides to stop and refuel in our yard. This vegetation must be removed so that it doesn’t sink to the bottom of the pond, using up valuable oxygen as it converts to smelly ooze on the bottom.

My back is slowly recovering from planting the 600+ new Tulips in front yard. Most of the Tulips that had been blooming there for the last few years, failed to bloom last spring. Their age combined with the warm snowless winter did them in. Myself and the entire neighbourhood, thoroughly enjoys this huge blast of colour every spring so the great bulb plant was undertaken. Three early varieties and three late varieties were chosen. I was able to procrastinate their planting for a week or two while I stood in the garden and contemplated the appropriate pattern to plant them in. There will be three long strips running through both main beds and each strip will have 100 early and 100 late Tulips so that there should be continuous bloom for an extended period next spring. I’ve done everything I can to deter the squirrels and it seems to be working. Now it’s time to glide down the ski hills and contemplate my results.

Just before I take off for the ski hills there is still a “short” list of other chores to accomplish in the garden. Downstairs there is a box with a 100 miniature daffodils. I will be potting these up in the next few days. They will be well watered and left to grow roots for a week or so and then moved into the cold room. After about 8 weeks of cold, I will be able to bring them upstairs in February to burst into bloom and provide us with a bright reminder of the coming spring. Forcing bulbs to bloom in late winter is a simple and easy chore with wonderful results. The only difficulty is finding a place to keep them cool, under 40̊ F. The Assistant Gardener sometimes objects if I fill the refrigerator with them, so it’s a blessing that our old house has a cold cellar. They cannot freeze.

We have mentioned the Downy Mildew problem that appeared on Impatiens this year. I have talked to a few nurseries that are planning to dramatically scale back or eliminate their production of these very popular annuals. What are gardeners to do? While I was at the Garden Writer’s Symposium, I talked to the representative of the seed company that produces most of the new varieties of Begonia seed. She tried to hide her glee at the demise of the Impatiens because fibrous rooted Begonias are the natural alternative. On person’s disaster is often somebody else’s opportunity. These Begonias have a bright floriferous habit and they do well in the shade. I have several samples of seed arriving that I will be trying. That is the biggest drawback to these Begonias, they have very tiny seed that is a bit more difficult to grow and they do have a longer crop time than Impatiens do. I will be starting some of these seeds well before Christmas in order to have nice sized transplants for next spring.

Time to answer a few questions. If you have a gardening question just ‘reply’ to this newsletter and send me your query. I try to answer most of the questions and the ones that I answer here are those that I think will have the widest interest. You can also find the latest garden updates on the front page of .

Mary Asks? I have several dahlia's that have been prolific! One has blooms 10" across, without any pinching. I am waiting for the first frost before I dig up, will label and then put in saw dust ( from the pet section)... Then what?

Ken Answers! They like to spend the winter in a dry, dark and cool, not cold, location. Between 45 - 50 F would make them very happy.

Noreen Asks ? I have a question about burning bush. I have the dwarf variety and it is not turning red. It is in full sun all summer and the area is irrigated so I know it gets enough moisture. Last year they didn't turn red and now for a second season, they are still green. What's up?

Ken Answers! I have no idea! They are usually a very reliable source of fall colour. My best guess is that your problem is the soil. It either has something or is missing something that aids in the development of the red pigments. These colours are there all summer but are masked by the green of the chlorophyll. As it fades in the fall the other colours become obvious. I will attempt some research to see if I can find out just what may be the problem.

Huberte Asks? In May,I was visiting my daughter in Guelph. We went to listen to your information session at the nursery. We bought a bag of potatoes that produces a lot (forgot the name).To my surprise ,it produced 28 to 35 potatoes a plant. My question is : why were the potatoes mostly small ? some were medium size. The potatoes are delicious.

Ken Answers! The Potatoes were probably French Fingerling, I remember mentioning them and there nature is to produce a lot of smaller potatoes. You did very well to get that many and yes they are delicious.

111 Trent St. W.
Whitby ON

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