Adventures in gardening: 'Mini-gardens' & bug watch
Who needs the gym when you can work out in the garden – at least, that’s what I’ve found. Whether you’re digging out new beds, trimming hedges or lugging bags of soil and mulch, there’s plenty of work to do. You could also call these ‘exercise opportunities’ as you can get in a workout at the same time. In my last column I showed you my stacks of 24 bags of mulch – I was right, it wasn’t enough. 32 bags later (!) and the garden looks great. Better still, that mulch will keep the weeds down and help keep the water in. Like any workout, it’s important to stretch, take breaks and pace yourself. I’m not always good at taking my own advice, but I try. If garden work leaves you feeling a bit stiff a good Epsom salt bath can really help. Also helpful – reward yourself with a trip to the garden centre! Which leads me to something a lot of Canadians are doing right now…
Container gardening is simply the act of creating a ‘mini garden’ in a container - be it a pot, basket, barrel, window box or more unique container like an old boot or kettle. There are several main reasons gardeners use containers:
- They allow you to bring the garden closer by having a ‘mini garden’ of flowers, foliage or herbs on your front or back porch.
- They help soften and enhance the look of outdoor living spaces like pool decks and patios.
- They allow people with limited time or small spaces like balconies, to garden.
- They allow you to experiment with different plant and planter combinations.
There’s a huge range of pre-made pots and hanging baskets at garden centres, and some really beautiful combinations. As with buying any flower or shrub, choose healthy, good-sized plants and make sure they are suitable for the amount of sun/shade in your chosen spot.
Alternatively, you can put together your own creative masterpiece. To help you make the right choices and create an arrangement with impact, use the concept ‘Spiller, Thriller, Filler.’ Here’s one of the pots I put together this year for a mostly shady spot on my deck.
- The Thriller should be eye-catching and make a visual impact. I’ve chosen perennial Euphorbia Martinii ‘Ascot Rainbow’, Martin’s Spurge (also the headline picture this week) – gorgeous lime-green flowers with scarlet centers. It was an impulse buy – I was so excited by the colourful foliage that I didn’t notice the blooms only last through mid-summer, so it will be an adventure to see what my ‘star choice’ looks like later in the season.
- The Spiller is a plant that will spill over the edge of the container, creating visual interest and softening the overall look. I’ve chosen Goldi Lysimachia (Creeping Jenny) here.
- The Filler should complement but not overwhelm your other choices – this is an annual from the popular Coleus family, ‘Defiance’ - its large burgundy centers beautifully pull out the scarlet centers of the Euphorbia.
- Lastly, I added the perennial vine Hercules American Bittersweet, which climbs the trellis and provides a background that’s attractive as well as cost-effective. The foliage turns golden in fall. I then trim it back and put it in the garden to overwinter, and dig it up again in the spring.
Whether buying or creating your own, when it comes to container gardening remember the handy concept – ‘Spiller, Thriller, Filler.’
I always have a couple of large clumps of red Dragon Wing Begonia in pots on my mostly shady deck. This spectacular looking annual has a vitality that looks tropical – glossy foliage with brilliant red flowers that bloom all summer long.
Be on bug watch!
As temperatures warm up be on the lookout for signs of bug damage. These could include random holes, circular holes, curled or rolled leaves, ‘skeletonized’ leaves and so on. It can happen quickly. On more than one occasion I’ve discovered a plant being terrorized by bugs that seem to have come out of nowhere - frustrating! So be observant - and be prompt about treating plants as needed before you have an infestation.
There are both ‘good’ (beneficial) and ‘bad’ (damaging to your garden) bugs. Your local nursery can be a great resource to find out what insects are active in your area at any given time and how best to treat them. Pick off a sample of the damaged foliage and take it in for advice. A good insecticidal soap can help with many issues. Also remember that more birds mean less insects in your garden. So considering planting perennials that will attract birds.
Did you know that ladybugs are ‘good’ - beneficial - bugs? Ladybugs eat soft body, sap-sucking insects like aphids. Speaking from experience, aphids can devour Roses, Heliopsis and many others – left unchecked these tiny bugs will decimate your garden. Ladybugs, on the other hand, will eat about 5000 aphids in their lifetime – so be happy whenever you see their distinctive spots flitting about the garden.
Late spring/early summer ‘to do list’
- When picking annuals, perennials or shrubs at the nursery remember to choose varieties that are appropriate for the amount of sun/shade in your garden – too much or too little and the plant can’t thrive and may die off altogether.
- Watch for signs of bugs and treat plants as needed before damage accelerates.
- Cover the soil in your garden beds with a layer of mulch 2”/5cm deep to help keep moisture in and minimize weeds.
- Apply late spring fertilizer and weed killer to your lawn.
- Snip off dead blooms on spring bulbs (daffodils, tulips, etc) but leave foliage to die back.
- Remove weeds diligently now, which will mean less work for you in July and August.
Favourite Weather Network viewer photo
This pretty scene comes from Mira Marut in Charlottetown, PEI. Many Canadian gardeners grow Rhododendrons - and we’re not alone. Believe it or not there are many different varieties that thrive in places like the Himalayas - I’ve seen massive blooming bushes along trekking trails in Nepal. There are literally hundreds of varieties of Rhododendrons that grow around the world - consider bringing this spring bloomer into your corner of the world.
I look forward to hearing your gardening stories and suggestions. You can add your comments below, upload your photos to our website, or tweet me an update and photo of your garden at @SuzanneTWN. Be sure to also join me on TV weekday afternoons and early evenings for the latest weather news and forecast.
The passing of the May long weekend means it’s early summer in Canada and the outdoors is beckoning, what are you waiting for?
Happy gardening adventures!
“Don't let the tall weeds cast a shadow on the beautiful flowers in your garden.”
― Steve Maraboli