Is Summer Really Over?

October 2012

Well-planned landscapes are still offering plenty of colour, but before too long it will be time to prepare for winter. Please look at last fall’s blog for some tips about planting bulbs and other autumn chores. And speaking of bulbs, did you know that squirrels don’t like daffodils? If you’ve had trouble keeping the rodents from eating your tulip and other bulbs, try daffs. If you sprinkle the area with blood meal fertilizer and then cover it with branches until the ground freezes, you just might discourage the furry varmints from even the tastiest bulbs.

This is a good time of year to tackle the perennials that have grown too large for their spots in the garden. Just dig them up, divide the roots with a sharp knife or shovel, and re-plant the divided plants. A bit of fertilizer and some water, and they’re well on their way to giving you a beautiful show in the spring.

Fall is also a good time to buy shrubs at discounted prices. If you’re planting evergreens, be sure to give them a good watering before the ground freezes. You can prune away diseased and dead branches on existing shrubs and trees, but generally speaking fall is not a good time to prune, because this encourages new growth just when the plant is trying to go dormant. Winter pruning is a better option, except for trees and shrubs that flower in the spring; keep the shears away from them until they’ve finished blooming.

Lawns also need to be prepared for winter. Now that we’re getting more rain, it’s easy to dig up weeds by their roots, keeping them from going to seed and filling your spring lawn with their offspring. September and October are also an ideal time to sprinkle a mix of grass seed and fertilizer to set the stage for a great spring lawn. If Mother Nature doesn’t provide all the rain we need, help things along with a good deep watering about once a week.


Tips for a Healthy Lawn and Garden

July 2012

Ontario has passed legislation to control the sale of a whole range of herbicides, fungicides and pesticides that we used to rely on to keep our lawns and gardens pest-free. More than 90 ingredients have been banned for cosmetic purposes (you can still get them for public health reasons), but gardeners need not despair. There are still lots of “legal” products available, such as insecticidal soap and neem oil. The Ontario Ministry of the Environment has a wealth of information on maintaining healthy lawns and gardens.

It says that lawns should be aerated spring and fall to loosen the soil. Seeding your lawn spring and fall helps promote a thick lawn, especially if you mix the seed with compost or soil. If you don’t mow your lawn too often, the longer grass filters out sunlight and makes it more difficult for weed seeds to germinate. Also, consider using a lawn mower that self-mulches, chopping up grass clippings that stay on the lawn to feed it organically. When you water your lawn, aim for a deep watering (about 2.5 cm or one inch) once a week, preferably in the morning. Over-watering starves the soil of oxygen, creating the right conditions for disease to take over. And if you want to remove your lawn weeds by hand, do it when the soil is wet so that you can more easily get the entire root. These and more lawn care tips are available at the Ministry of Environment’s web site.

The Ministry says the best thing for gardens is mulch. When you add mulch to your beds, be sure to leave a small “moat” around stems so that rainwater can get down to the roots. When pests do appear, early action is critical. Sometimes hand-picking and/or a strong blast of water can do the trick if you catch the problem early. You can also purchase copper strips that discourage snails and slugs, as well as mineral dust that contains sharp particles that discourage caterpillars, slugs and snails. We’ve heard that snails and slugs dislike crushed eggshells as well. A messy garden is a pest’s favourite environment, so be sure to clear away dead or diseased material regularly. For vegetable gardens, the Ministry of the Environment suggests inter-planting your veggies with plants that repel pests, for example planting marigolds around tomatoes. Finally, you can encourage natural predators to take up residence in your garden by setting up bird feeders, bat houses and bird baths. Information on gardens can be found here.

Finally, if you want expert help with your lawn and garden maintenance, you can rest assured that Skeggs Landscaping and Design fully complies with all Ontario laws.

Now that the spring rush is dying down, Skeggs Landscaping and Design is ready to accept bookings for fall projects. We will use computer-generated scaled drawings to work with you to design and plan your landscape project for this fall or next spring.


Spring Bulbs: Now and Later

April 2012

Last fall we wrote about the best way to plant spring-flowering bulbs such as tulips, daffodils and hyacinths. What a welcome splash of colour they provide – from the earliest snowdrops in April to late-flowering tulip varieties that last into June.

Here are a few things you can do to maximize the show this year and ensure equally impressive results next spring:

  • You can give your plants a light application of bulb fertilizer before and during the blooming period, but be careful not to overdo.
  • When the flowering is over, you should cut off the flower stalks because you want all the plant's energy to go into next year's bulb, not into seed production.
  • You should not cut back the leaves, even though they can look unsightly, because the leaves produce food for next year's flowering season. With luck and good planning, newly emerging perennials will hide the messy appearance, or you can plant annuals around the dying leaves.
  • You don't need to dig up your spring-flowering bulbs. They can rest quite happily where they are and be ready to emerge next spring.
  • However, if they produced less of a show than in previous years, they may need dividing. To do this, dig them up carefully after blooming is over, shake the soil off and keep the leaves attached if they haven't died off. The bulbs should separate easily; don't force them apart.
  • Bulbs that don't separate easily can be replanted, but it may be that they're simply getting old and need to be replaced (which you would do in the fall).
  • A dose of fertilizer after the flowering is over is a good idea, with another feeding in the fall.
  • Bulbs generally prefer dry soil while they're having their summer nap.

Pruning

Here's a simple rule of thumb about trimming your flowering shrubs: prune spring-flowering shrubs after they finish blooming, but prune summer and fall-flowering shrubs in late fall or early spring. If you're pruning shrubs to rejuvenate them, the best time to prune is late winter or early spring. This could mean you're sacrificing spring blooms, but you might decide that is a small price to pay for the longer-term health of the shrub. There's lots of how-to advice on the Internet, including this page from Canadian Gardening magazine.


What To Do With Your Christmas Plants

January 2012

Just because the holidays are over doesn't mean that your beautiful Christmas flowers have to follow your tree to the compost pile. Bulbs that have been forced (paperwhite narcissus, daffodils, tulips and hyacinths) can be stored in a cool, dry place and planted in your garden next fall for flowering the following spring. Poinsettias and amaryllis require a bit more care, but the rewards are worth it.

Poinsettia

Did you know that poinsettias can grow to more than six feet in height? We've seen a full hedge of poinsettias in Barbados, fronted by a mass of shorter white plants known locally as "snow on the mountain". It was an unforgettable sight. Even in the Caribbean, though, you need perfect conditions for successfully growing these showy plants, and to coaxing a new growth of red leaves each year: warm temperatures, not too much moisture, and total darkness at night. If you follow those tips and you like a challenge, you can successfully keep your poinsettias from one year to the next, and have bragging rights when they produce new red foliage. For full information on how to care for your poinsettia after Christmas, you might want to visit poinsettiacare.org.

Amaryllis

We've also seen these spectacular plants growing in Barbados, and we suspect they didn't receive much special care at all. We have a friend in Canada who keeps one in a pot and seems blissfully unaware of the standard instructions to remove the bulb from soil after flowering to let it rest for a while before re-potting. The result of this apparent neglect: beautiful blooms more often than he deserves! Still, if you've received an amaryllis bulb this Christmas and want to have it deliver more flowers later, it's generally accepted that your bulb will need to be fertilized and also allowed a period of rest. There are instructions at amaryllis.com or amaryllisbulb.net.

Thinking spring?

If you are planning any spring projects such as new flower beds, patios or other landscaping jobs, it isn't too early to sit down with the professionals at Skeggs Landscaping and Design to talk about your wish list. Skeggs can advise you on what will work best for your location and lifestyle, and if you book early you can have the work done in time to have a full summer's pleasure from your outdoor space.


Thinking of Spring

September 2011

Many Ottawa gardens are looking their best at this time of year, but it isn't time to rest. September and October are the time to prepare your plants for winter and to start planning your spring garden.

Bulbs

Nurseries and hardware stores have plenty of spring-flowering bulbs on sale now, the most popular ones being tulips, crocuses and daffodils. There are other interesting bulbs too, so have some fun experimenting.

When choosing your bulbs, be sure to check the labels to see when they'll bloom. You may want to choose a variety, so that some bloom almost before the snow is gone and others don't put on a show until well into April or May. When planting bulbs:

  • Choose a sunny spot if you can, so that your bulbs flower early. Also, bulbs that are planted in shady spots have trouble storing nutrients and so they don't put on as great a show in subsequent years.
  • Bigger is better: larger bulbs cost more but they'll give you a better show.
  • Plant natural-looking clumps (e.g. 7 or 9 bulbs) rather than rows. You can intersperse the clumps among your perennials, which won't be blooming for a while anyway. Then, when the perennials do show up, you can let the leaves on the spring flowers die down naturally and they'll be barely visible.
  • Plant deeply enough that the stems will be able to stand up straight. Instructions come with the bulbs. Generally speaking, the larger the bulb the deeper you'll want to plant it.
  • Scatter some blood meal on top of the soil. It's a good fertilizer and the odour repels some rodents too. Don't overdo it, though, or you could end up burning surrounding plants. Nurseries also sell specialized products to repel animals.

Fall maintenance

  • You don't need to put all those raked leaves in compost bags at the curb. Instead, scatter them (especially smaller leaves or shredded ones) on your garden to serve as a mulchy blanket for the winter.
  • However, don't use diseased leaves for mulch and don't put them in your compost pile either. These definitely belong in your green bin.
  • You can divide some of your larger perennials now, getting them established now to get a head start in the spring.
  • This is the time to protect your delicate roses. Rose bushes should be "hilled up" with about 25 cm of soil. Climbing roses should have their branches gently brought down so that they're horizontal to the ground.
  • Think twice about wrapping trees and bushes in burlap. Ice can collect in the folds and actually do the plants more harm than good. Instead, consider setting up a windbreak with stakes and burlap if you think your plants need to be protected.
  • You might want to sketch out a little diagram of your flower beds now, perhaps highlighting the spots where you know something will need replacing in the spring. It'll give you something to think about during those blustery winter evenings when you're browsing the catalogues and the websites.

And finally...

If you're thinking of doing some major work in the spring, be it a deck, a whole new landscaping plan or fine-tuning what you already have, don't forget that Skeggs Landscaping and Design is open for business year round for consultations and planning. Give us a call early so that we can discuss your requirements before the spring rush.


Summer Care for Your Garden

June 2011

The hard work of spring planting season is over, your garden looks beautiful, and now you can relax and enjoy it, right? Well, not really. While it's true that the lion's share of the work is done, there are still some chores that need to be attended to during the lazy days of summer.

At this time of year, the thing your garden needs most is water – one or two good, deep soakings a week rather than frequent sprinkling, so that your plants will develop long roots to survive the hot and dry weather. You should avoid watering in the middle of the day, and you should water around the roots, avoiding wetting the leaves, to reduce the chance of fungus forming.

To keep the flowers coming after their initial big display, it's important to remove the "dead heads". This is because plants, like all living things, have the urge to reproduce. If you remove dead heads you prevent the formation of seeds, so the plant will try to send out more flowers.

Some plants might get "leggy" – pansies and petunias, for example. You can be quite ruthless about trimming them back, and they'll reward you with new growth and a bushier, healthier appearance.

What about fertilizing? If you have good, rich soil, you might not need to fertilize your flowers during the summer, but the needs of each plant vary and no one rule applies to all. However, it's generally true that plants that are not producing flowers, even though they are getting plenty of sun and water, might need more nutrients. Roses, for example, should be fertilized once a month during the growing season. Other plants can use a boost after their first big blooming period, but others can actually be harmed if you have too heavy a hand with the fertilizer. Potted plants – including hanging plants – should be fertilized about once a month to replace the nutrients that get washed away with watering.

Your lawn's growth will be slowing down now that the hot weather is upon us. You should be careful not to cut the grass too short and you should also make sure that your lawn gets a good deep watering: an inch or 2.5 centimetres a week should suffice.

Insects, slugs and other garden pests need to be kept under control too. Try to visit your garden frequently to identify problem areas, because the sooner they're dealt with the better your chances of winning the battle for garden supremacy. Health Canada's website provides information about a range of garden pests and how to deal with them.


Feeding Your Garden

May 2011

Fertilizer? Peat moss? Top soil? Garden centres and hardware stores have a bewildering array of products to boost the productivity of your lawn and garden, but Mother Nature will tell you that plants in the forests and fields do just fine with a steady dose of dead plants and leaves... in other words, compost.

Whether you make it yourself, have Skeggs Landscaping & Design apply it, or purchase it at a garden centre or from the City of Ottawa, replenishing your soil with natural nutrients is the way to go. As compost breaks down in the soil, it provides many of the same nutrients that are in commercial fertilizers: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. However, the nutrients are released gradually, unlike chemical fertilizers that tend to release them in one big dose and then rapidly lose effectiveness. And while over-fertilizing can cause real harm to your lawn and garden, it's just about impossible to over-compost.

In addition to adding much-needed nutrients, compost helps break down heavy clay soil and helps sandy soil retain moisture. It encourages earthworm activity, which in turn improves the soil's structure. It makes a good mulch to place on top of your flowerbeds and around trees to retain moisture and reduce the need for watering.

How often to apply compost – and how much to apply – will depend partly on the condition of your soil. If it's been subject to a lot of chemicals over the years it will need a few years of steady composting to improve its quality. Once it's been nourished with compost for a few years, it will need less. Suffice it to say that five to ten cm (two to four inches) of compost for flowerbeds every spring is a great start. For new vegetable gardens, even more – 10 to 15 cm (four to six inches) – is advisable. For pots, mix about 1 part compost to 4 parts potting mix, and lawns only need about one cm (half an inch).

Michael Skeggs says that adding compost is beneficial throughout the growing season but it is important to work it into the soil so that it can feed the roots. "If the compost is too rich in nitrogen it will burn the roots if applied too thickly", he explained. "We prefer to add compost in the spring and fall but a small amount of compost in summer will not hurt either."

If you want to try making your own compost, there are lots of books and on-line sites to get you started. The Composting Council of Canada has lots of useful information, as does The City of Ottawa.

If you'd rather buy your compost, you can purchase it at just about any garden centre or hardware store. Compost is also for sale at the City of Ottawa's Trail Waste Facility.


Welcome to the New Skeggs.ca

April 2011

Welcome to the Skeggs Landscaping & Design blog. We want you to know that once we've finished creating your dream landscape we're not disappearing from the scene. Through this blog we hope to continue providing gardening advice and information that will help you make the most of your outdoor space. Over the next months we'll be talking about fertilizing, pruning, mid-summer maintenance, fall planting, winter preparations, forcing bulbs, etc. We know some of you are rank amateurs and others have lots of experience, but we hope the blog will offer something for everyone. Enjoy!