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Dallying In The Dirt, Issue #125 --- I have a bad case of Hellebore burn
April 10, 2013

Hopefully, you will be as happy as I am, to learn that the two 100th Anniversary Sheridan Nursery Roses, that I tried to kill have recovered and each are showing several wonderful new shoots. I’m continue to be amazed at the ability of many plants to survive and revive from the most adverse conditions. Each winter I marvel at the bare branches of our large deciduous trees. They stick out in the cold and snow with no leaves providing any sort of nourishment and their water source thoroughly frozen. After several months of this they amaze me each spring by breaking out into green leafy splendour for another season of growth.

Just before it manages to break out into blossom and its green leafy splendour, I managed to prune my Crab Apple tree this past week. I could have ventured out and done this anytime during the winter but there was always next week. This tree is in the centre of my three ponds and I prune it severely to retain a reduced size and interesting shape. I don’t want too much shade over the ponds and I want that whole area to have a distinctive appearance. Almost all of the new growth is removed each year. Luckily apple trees bloom on old wood spurs and not on the lanky new growth. This particular variety blooms every other year. That’s not so great in the spring but it is much better in the autumn when I don’t have to contend with a pile of small crab apples that fall into the ponds and make them look like large apple bobbing venues for a children’s party.

At the wonderful Canada Blooms show, there were a few plants that were very much in evidence. Hellebores, sometimes called Christmas Roses, were everywhere. They are rather “in” these days and a lot of new varieties are showing up in the marketplace. That and the fact that are easy to get into bloom for mid March made them popular at the show. They bloom naturally outside about now, in our part of the world. They tend to be evergreen and put out their blooms near the end of the winter. I have had one for a few years and have moved it twice in an attempt to get it well situated. I will be moving it again as its very burnt and crispy leaves, indicate that it is receiving far too much sun during the winter months. There are, nevertheless, a host of flower buds opening up just under those burnt leaves. Maybe it knows that it really isn’t my favourite plant despite its general popularity these days. I’m just not that impressed by its rather drab flowers even though they are one of the few things blooming. The large clump of bright Crocus blooming beside it are, at least to me, far more worthy of the space.

Those Crocus are just a few of the bulbs that continue to emerge and bloom despite the very slow spring. The original clump of Snowdrops, a few bulbs about 10 years ago, is now a rather large area of plants with a multitude of blooms. These grow in what was, a section of lawn. It has been reseeded a few times, sodded over at least once and is now the area that is solidly planted to creeping Thyme. The Snowdrops have emerged every spring no matter what else I have done to this plot of soil. They are tough little bulbs and naturalize beautifully. There are a variety of Crocus popping up, wherever they escaped the foraging of the Squirrels or possibly in the locations that those bushy tailed tree rats, moved them to. The pink Chionodoxa are just opening up and it’s amazing how thickly they spread. Areas that received a few bulbs are now a solid mass of these sprays of bright pink blooms. The Bulbous Iris are also making their appearance. How come the big patch in my neighbour’s yard seem to be doing much better than mine, which are just a few metres away? I know they came from the same box and have been in the ground the same number of years.

I should know better than that. The unfinished portion of fence at the back of the yard needed to be filled in. I really didn’t want to block too much of the light so I purchased a few 4' x 8' sheets of premade trellising. It is very light and just a touch flimsy. When I used it at the front I put a 1" x 2" frame around it to give it some strength. In the back I was in a hurry. Never garden in a hurry! I simply stapled it to the 2x4 cross bars and walked away proud of my quick fix. The wind has flexed it enough to pop those staples a couple of time this winter and each time I rescue the lattice work from the snow and put it back up again. This week I cut some 1x2 cedar strips and screwed them to the 2x4s with the lattice worked clamped in between, the way I should have done it last year. It should now stay in place and maybe I will learn to do things correctly, not quickly, the first time around.

Yesterday it almost felt like spring for the first time and after I pruned the Crab Apple I just wandered around the garden to see what had happened over the winter and to search for signs of spring. All of those lovely bulbs were pushing through and in the very front I found something quite exciting. The Tree Peony had large swollen buds bursting forth everywhere. There appeared to be very little winter kill on it. Those buds are the promise of some spectacular blooms in a few weeks. Many of the Roses were showing signs of life. The Explorer Rose that I have trained into a small tree shape has emerging buds, indicating yet another year of survival for this very hardy, Canadian bred, Rose. The Fritillaria were several centimetres out of the ground and, as yet, the Red Lily Bugs have not woken up and discovered them. They will, I’m sure and my needle nosed pliers will get oiled up for another season of bug crushing.

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 I try to change it every few days so check back often.

Janis Asks ? Love your column. I plant broccoli seeds every year and not as early as you, but they grow but only produce small stalks of produce and never a full head. I'm in Barrie zone 5, so maybe the seed needs to be planted earlier?

Ken Answers ! Broccoli is definitely a cool weather crop. I plan to have mine in the ground by the end of April, so I seed them indoors about 7 weeks ahead of that. You can also grow a crop in the fall. Plant out the transplants in mid August and they will develop nice heads through September and October.

Dorothy Asks? I am wishing I had a cold frame and heater as I have slipped so many geraniums that they are crowding out everything else under my grow lights. I have amazing south facing window sills here at the church, so perhaps I shall move some of them there.

Ken Answers ! Geraniums do very well in good windows so that move would work well and free up some space under your lights.

Joyce Asks? I was wondering if there is any way to treat the soil in which Impatiens were planted last year so it could be used this year. If not what suggestions do you have for a plant that would replace Impatiens. We have a strip between two properties that we jointly maintain and have always planted impatients, I also plant in front of my house as both areas are shady. Just really interested in an annual.

Ken Answers ! No, is the short answer to the soil treatment. Replacement for shady areas include the many varieties of fibrous or wax Begonias, Torenia and coloured foliage such as Coleus. I’m using some Caladiums for coloured foliage but they are bulbs that need an early start indoors.

111 Trent St. W.
Whitby ON

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