Mark Cullen e-newsletter
May 2011 
 Gardening with Mark
In This Issue:
Where to Find Mark
Mark's Gardening Connections

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"There are some things he likes to do
And some he likes to leave to you -
While he is putting in the seeds
You will be pulling up the weeds

Reginald Arkell, Green Fingers

I have a passion for gardening - as do many readers of this letter - but I believe that none of us enjoy all aspects of creating and maintaining a garden equally.

Weeding can be fun - for a couple of weeks after the soil warms up and before it dries out completely and temperatures rise and sweat begins to form on the brow. Then it is not so fun (as my kids now have us saying: what ever happened to 'much' as in 'so much fun'?)

Hand watering is never fun. Standing at the end of a hose with a shower head on the end of it while water runs through the breaker is the closest that I get to falling asleep standing up. Maybe that is just me.

How bout pruning a rose bush? How bout 50 on the same day?

Or sowing seeds by hand can be fun. My vegetable garden is laid out in rows 60 feet long. I can sow one row of beans and enjoy it. Two rows is o.k. By the time I get to the third row I am looking for a seeding mule or making excuses to change my job.

All of this is to say that May is your best bet to break the tedium of the gardening experience so that you can bask in the activity that you love and enjoy.

 Back to Weeding

mulch As you wade into your garden retailer looking for the plants that will make your garden and yard look spectacular this season, I suggest that you pick up some bark mulch. Spread over the surface of the soil about 5 cm deep it will eliminate up to 90% of your weeding this season. YES!! To be precise it will prevent most weeds from coming into existence by insulating weed seeds from the direct rays of the sun.

The same bag of finely ground up bark mulch will reduce your watering by up to 70%. How so? By insulating the surface of the soil around your perennials, roses, vegetables and shrubs during the hot dry spells this summer. Get your plants in the ground in the month of May by all means, but spread mulch over the soil and around the plants afterwards to give yourself enough time this gardening season to enjoy the elements of the gardening experience that you love the most, including more hammock time.


 The Toronto Star

logo On Monday, May 23rd the Toronto Star will run a special story about 'How to Shop' while at your garden retailer. Well before then you may want this information, so here is a teaser, intended to help get you set in the right direction. Full details are in the 1,000 word article that day or on line in late May at

1. Good value does not always equal the lowest price. While there is a lot to be said for sale prices on most anything that you buy retail keep in mind that buying plants is unlike most other items that you put in your grocery cart. Plants are living things. A great looking plant is not pot bound, leggy, has yellowing leaves or is necessarily in full bloom. It IS young, roots only fill of the container, stocky and always green. And not necessarily in full bloom.

2. Labelling pays for itself. During this, one of the busiest times of the year at garden retailers, it is not always easy to get answers from a sales person to your gardening questions. For this reason accurate picture labels are worth their weight. A good label is printed in Canada and is appropriate for our growing zone, includes a picture and detailed cultural information. It is also a handy reference placed next to your new plant in the garden.

3. Roots do not encircle the inside of the container. Young, white fibrous roots are ready to take off in your garden. These roots must make a home in your soil before the top part of the plant can thrive. It is o.k. to turn a plant upside down while at the garden centre, gently remove it from the pot and inspect it. If the roots circle the inside wall of the pot or cell pack put it back and look for a younger, perhaps less impressive looking specimen.

4. Full bloom is not always a good thing. It takes energy for a plant to produce a bloom. It is, after all, an effort on the part of the plant to attract pollinators (not buyers) and to reproduce. A great garden performer will have much more green growth on it than blooms. The power reserved in the roots will be there when you most want it to push the blooms to max while planted in your garden over the next month or two, rather than on the retailers shelf.

5. Wet. The hallmark of a good plant retailer is one that pays close attention to the maintenance of the plants that they sell. Many mass merchant retailers fall down in this department, allowing plants to become dry after they are received at the store. A plant that dries out excessively 'hardens off', reducing the vigour that it had when it left the green house. Avoid buying plants that are 'light weight' [dry] as they may just collapse on you before you get home. Buy wet plants.


 Canada AM

CTV Join Jeff Hutcheson and I during the month of May (through until Christmas, actually) as we bring you tips to help you grow a better garden. Wednesday mornings at about 8:45 a.m. (EST) on CTV/Canada AM. If you are busy and miss it you can watch it 24/7 (as many times as you like) by following this link: We have a lot of fun and try (in our own way) to get some useful information out to you on a timely basis.


 Hand Pruners that Reduce Fatigue

pruner Imagine a pair of hand pruners that will cut through 3/8" of green wood like a carrot and that requires 30% less power from your wrist to do it. The blade is made of high carbon steel and is Teflon coated to help you do the job smoothly and without nicks. And speaking of nicks, you can keep this pruner sharp, lubricated and smooth with a hand sharpener and oil dabber that is included with the purchase.

This is the new Mark's Choice hand pruner and I love it. Only $25 at Home Hardware. Item# 5067-220. See details below.

Great Mother's Day gift!


 Speaking of Mother's Day

Book cover Now is a good time to get out and buy her something special. If your Mom enjoys gardening or just enjoys seeing great gardens I recommend that you consider my newest book, The Canadian Garden Primer. 410 pictures, many of my own 10 acre garden. Many tips to help you create the garden of your dreams and information that you can use regardless of where you live in Canada. This book is packed with information that will help you garden sustainably and images that will inspire. $30 at Home Hardware and book stores.

If your Mom enjoys reading stories about the gardening experience I have an unusual book that she will enjoy reading on the deck or the hammock. A Sandbox of a Different Kind, Reflections on the Canadian Gardening Experience, contains 52 short gardening stories that are fun, insightful and inspired by you: Canadians that I have met while travelling the country with Home Hardware and CTV.

Enjoy your May in the garden. Check out my website often including my weekly blogs and podcasts which we launch every Wednesday. If you have gardening questions be sure to access my library where over 10,000 gardening questions are answered or leave a question for us to answer for you.

Keep your knees dirty,

Merchant of Beauty


 How to Improve Your Lawn

lawn Every spring, this is one of the most popular gardening questions. There are basic steps you can follow to grow a healthy lawn.

1. The first step in any gardening project is good soil preparation. Established lawns should be raked lightly with a fan rake. This will remove winter debris and loose thatch to allow the grass plants to 'breathe'.
Follow up with a layer of Mark's Choice Lawn Soil to fill in any low areas or bare patches.
Mark's Choice Lawn Soil helps retain moisture for fast seed germination and establishment of strong, healthy turf.

2. The second step is to overseed your lawn every year. This should be done in early May. Use a top quality grass seed.
CIL Golfgreen grass seed is virtually weed free, contains only named varieties of quality seed and it is produced here in Canada. Overseeding each spring helps to fill in bare spots and dramatically reduce weeds in the lawn.

3. Fertilize your lawn 4 times a year. This allows the lawn to compete with weeds and win. Fertilize in the spring with a quality lawn food that contains slow release nitrogen, like Golfgreen.
This will feed the lawn for several weeks. The second application takes place in late spring. Fertilize a third time in mid to late summer to maintain healthy growth through the growing season. The final application of fertilizer is the most important feeding. This takes place in the fall and it prepares the lawn for our Canadian winter.

4. Set your lawn mower to cut at 5 to 7 cm. Allowing the grass to grow at this height will shade out many weeds and the roots of the grass plants will grow more deeply. A deep root system allows the lawn to survive during periods of drought. Maintain mower blades to keep them sharp so they are cutting the blades of grass and not tearing them.


 Where is Mark this Month?

Mark * Tuesday, May 3
Orillia Home Hardware Building Centre - Ladies' Night
Orillia, Ontario

* Tuesday, May 5
Bridlewood Home Hardware
Kanata, Ontario

* Saturday, May 14
CIL Golfgreen tent at the Mississauga Marathon
Mississauga, Ontario

* Saturday, May 21
Warkworth Lilac Festival
Warkworth, Ontario

* Monday, May 30
Rocky Mountain House Home Hardware Building Centre
Rocky Mountain House, Alberta

* Tuesday, May 31
Rimbey Home Hardware
Rimbey, Alberta

For more info on these events 

 Mark's Choice Product Feature
 What's New for Spring 2011

Yard Cart * Mark's Choice Folding Yard Cart
This cart makes collecting lawn and garden clippings easy. A built-in scoop makes it simple to collect waste in the convenient pop-up bag. This handy trolley has wheels for easy transportation and folds down to fit in even the smallest storage space. (Home Hardware item # 5118-022).

* Mark's Choice Bypass Pruner Set.
This 8 3/4" drop forged aluminum pruner features high carbon steel blades with a non-stick coating, and a unique cutting action that draws the branch into the blades. The sharpener is 4 3/4" long with a tungsten carbide blade and has an oil reservoir for sharpening at one end. (Home Hardware item # 5067-220).

* Mark's Choice Cornstarch Pots
Cornstarch pots are made from Plastarch (PSM), which uses starch as its main ingredient. Use these environmentally friendly 4" pots to start your seeds indoors this spring. They can be planted directly into your garden or recycled in the compost bin. Each pot comes with a matching saucer that fits securely on the bottom of the pot. Biodegradable cornstarch pots will not decompose until they are planted in the ground or buried in the compost pile. (Home Hardware item # 5058-310).

* Upside-Down Tomato Planter
While the idea of growing a tomato upside-down has been around for a long time, it was not until I was introduced to this - the best upside-down planter in the world - that it made sense.
Growing a tomato with the roots in the air makes a lot of sense if you want to maximize the vertical growing space in your yard, balcony, deck or roof top garden. (Home Hardware item # 5057-132).

For the complete list of new products, visit my Buyer's Guide.

Spring Buyer's Guide 


Water Wicks I have a way to cut your watering down by up to one half this summer. Water Wicks were introduced to the Mark's Choice line up last year and I remain very excited about them. Each 'Water Wick' tea bag absorbs up to 400 times its weight in water.

When you prepare a hole for planting, drop a pre-moistened Water Wick tea bag into the bottom of the hole and place the plant directly on top of it. Firm the soil around the plant as per usual. Now, as the soil dries out the plant will draw moisture from the Water Wick. When you water your plants the Water Wick is automatically recharged with water.

The results are that you will water much less and your plants will become deeply rooted in their search for water at the bottom of the planting hole.

How do we know these work? We tested them ourselves. But not until the Ontario Flower Growers applied them to over one million potted plants that were shipped to retailers across the country. The Water Wick concept was such a hit that reforestation projects are now using them when planting tree seedlings. We (Home Hardware and I) have the exclusive use of the product in the retail market.

Give them a try and let me know what you think. I have used them in the veggie garden, under newly planted perennials and in containers with great success.
Water Wicks are made in Canada and are a 100% Canadian concept!

Home Hardware item# 5012-622 (10-pack), 5012-624 (30-pack).


 North American Native Plant Society
 Wildflower Sale

Wildflowers Saturday, May 7, 2011
10 am - 3 pm
Markham Civic Centre, Atrium
101 Town Centre Boulevard, Markham
All plants come from NANPS approved ethical growers. Visit for the plant database and to place your advance order.
This annual fundraising event supports NANPS.


 Spring Plant Sale
 Saturday, May 7th

logo The Richmond Hill Garden and Horticultural Society (RHGHS) is having its annual Spring Plant Sale from 9am to 11:30am on Saturday, May 7th in the gym of the McConaghy Seniors' Centre at 10100 Yonge Street in Richmond Hill (just north of Major Mackenzie Drive East).
There will be lots of annual and perennial flowers, herbs, and vegetables (including several varieties of heirloom tomatoes) for sale at great prices, plus a large Gardener's Bargain Table. And learn more about the RHGHS.

Visit for more information. 

 Through the Garden Gate
 Swansea Village

TBG Toronto Botanical Garden's 24th annual garden tour.
Saturday and Sunday, June 11 & 12, 2011
Visit 23 spectacular gardens.
One-day pass: public $40 / TBG members $35
Two-day pass: public $50 / TBG members $45
Tickets are limited. Advance purchase recommended.
Ticket locations:
Bill's Garden Centre. 903 Pape Avenue
Plant World. 4000 Eglinton Avenue
Sheridan Nurseries. 784 Sheppard Avenue East, 2827 Yonge Street
Shop TBG. 777 Lawrence Avenue East

Visit for more info. 

 Tools, Pizza and Beer at the TBG
 Mark Cullen and Denis Flanagan

TBG Can you say Father's Day gift? How about Boys Night Out? Join Mark and Denis for a night of tool talk, pizza and a pint or two. Get some expert advice about your garden and lawn. All gardeners are welcome. Each participant will receive a signed copy of Mark's book The Canadian Garden Primer.

Wednesday, June 22, 7 to 9 pm.

Public $50; TBG members $45

For more information... 

 Almost Eden
 Designing Gardens in Relation to Creation. By Kim Burgsma

Book cover "Almost Eden captures the absolute wonder of the earth and teaches us how we can create a little bit of this wonder in our own backyards. Readers will discover how their gardens can be in tune with God's original plan of earthly stewardship and be creative and well designed. Readers are encouraged to revisit the notion of what a perfect garden actually looks like and discover how to achieve this perfect garden.

Almost Eden shows how the creative use of colour and art can transform our gardens through the seasons. Paying attention to all aspects of design principles, the reader will be able to create their own backyard oasis. Friends and family will not only be delighted by flora and fauna, but also entertained through sport and refreshed with great outdoor cooking and dining spaces.

Explore how anyone, regardless of physical or cognitive limitations, can enjoy a garden an participate in its creation and maintenance.

Almost Eden journeys through back roads and hikes through forests, wetlands, and hillsides where the most amazing gardens can be found without spending a dime or lifting a shovel. The journey is intended to inspire worship to the One who created such gardens for us all."

For more info. 

 Those Dame Gardeners are back
 With their book "Watching My Garden Grow - A Gardener's Organizer

Journal cover It's that time of year to get organized and think about what worked last year and what you might do differently this growing season. There is more and more focus in gardening articles about mapping your gardens, keeping your tags and receipts handy and making notes about what works and what doesn't. This handy little book is designed with all this and more in mind. Let's face it life gets busier and busier so who has time to search for all these things? That's why this organizer is a must for every gardener.

Check out the website to order online Mother's Day is fast approaching!

15% of all books sold will be donated to support Breast Cancer Research.