Mark Cullen e-newsletter
August 2011 
 Gardening with Mark
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Mark's Gardening Connections

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A Paradigm Shift.

The man on the other end of the phone is clearly annoyed.

A Home Hardware dealer on the Prairies has called me to ask WHAT he is to say to customers who are looking for effective control of lawn weeds.

The fact of the matter is, there is no simple, straight forward answer.

My response to the question is this:

You compete lawn weeds out of existence by cutting your lawn 2 � inches high (to shade out lawn weed seeds before they germinate), use a mulching mower (to return the nitrogen rich lawn cuttings to the root zone), fertilize with the best quality lawn fertilizer that you buy 3 times a year (I only use Golfgreen as it is slow release and made in Canada), water less frequently but deeply (when you water at all).

This little recipe eliminates 90% of your lawn weeds over a year or so.

And for really tough lawn weeds you spread triple mix or lawn soil over them and reseed with quality seed (again Canadian Golfgreen).

Perhaps you have heard me say this before. Maybe it is not a big deal to you. But when I offered this answer to the same question from a customer in Barrington Passage, Nova Scotia in June this year she walked out of the store on me. No 'thanks' or anything. Clearly she was as irritated as the retailer on the phone.

It was a big deal to her.

 Here is the truth

Golfgreen Our expectations have been set up - conditioned - by the use of the broad leafed weed killer 2,4-D for 2 generations.

In the past if you saw a dandelion or chickweed you just shot it with this magic elixir and you thought no more about the 'problem'. Dead weed: healthier grass. Or so we thought.

Our lawn is not healthier when we eliminate weeds with weed killers: it is just minus a competitor.

Follow the simple formula that I outlined above and your lawn will be healthier.

And when you think about it, a healthier lawn is better able to do the things that we value it for most of all.

An average sized lawn produces enough oxygen to support a family of 4. It sequesters carbon and filters toxins out of rain water. It is cool to walk on, roll on, eat a picnic on and (when it is chemical free) is both pet and child friendly.

I am a great supporter of the Canadian lawn.


 Like a Potato

Lawn Think of your lawn like a potato: is a potato a bad thing? You know that it is not. There is 50% of your daily requirements of vitamin C and lots of fiber in a potato (especially if you eat the skin).

It is what we put ON the potato that makes it not so good for us, right? Butter, sour cream, salt and deep frying them doesn't sound like a great idea from a health point of view.

So too with your lawn.

Healthy Lawn = fewer weeds/pests and diseases.

Make your lawn healthy and strong and weeds are minimized. Grubs and snow mold are less of a problem too.

It is like the doctor that says, "Eat well, exercise regularly and get your sleep and you will fare better against the vagaries of flu and colds and the like."

A healthy lawn is a happy lawn.

All of this is to say that growing a great looking lawn is (as our friend Martha S. would say) "A good thing." We just need to change our way of thinking about such things as weed control and the 'look' of our lawns.

The man on the end of the phone has heard my speech about competing weeds out of existence and he says, "So there is no answer."

I did the best that I could.

Another generation from now no one will be reaching for the magic elixir in the bottle that kills dandelions. By then all Canadian gardeners will be cutting their lawns at 8 cm high with mulching mowers. It will be hard to find a mower that doesn't mulch.

They will be feeding their lawns with environmentally responsible product.

They will let their lawn go brown and dormant mid summer.

They will have a reserve bag of grass seed in the shed for thickening.

And weed control will not be a big deal because there will be 90% fewer of them.

See below for information on growing the best lawn ever. August is THE best month of the year to start a new lawn, thicken an old one and to lay sod. My Dad used to say that if you lay sod upsidedown in late August or early September it will grow.

I don't recommend that you test that.


 Elsewhere in the garden there is lots to do:

Garden As summer heat persists it is important to keep the perennials and annual flowering plants watered, especially those in containers (as they dry out much more quickly).

Do not water your lawn until evening temperatures drop to 15 degrees Celsius. Tthen water once a week only but apply 4 or 5 cm of water at one time.

As you harvest your crop of tomatoes, peppers and the like keep your local food bank in mind. They can always use your excess produce.

See a more extensive list of 'to do's below.

Be sure to keep on top of garden chores by reading my weekly blogs. We craft these according to the weather and time of year, keeping in mind that not all Canadian gardeners do the same things in the garden at the same time. It IS a big country.

Check out my podcasts too. Only 10 minutes of listening before you go to sleep each night and you will sleep like a baby.

Go to for both.

I plan on spending some time on the Rideau river this month, cruising with my brother Pete and brother in law Bryan.

I hope that your second half of the summer is a good one.

I remind you that this is the month when the weeds actually slow their rate of growth and mosquitoes decline in population. This is God's way of rewarding gardeners for our hard work in the first half.

Read a book.

Hang in the hammock.

Eat lots and sleep more than you would normally.

You earned it.

With thanks to all of you who e mailed me last month about my message on Hole's Garden Centre ('Enjoy Centre'). I had no idea that they had so many fans outside of Alberta.

Also I wish to thank everyone that submits a comment on Mark's Choice product by clicking on the hot button on the home page of I read every one of your comments and appreciate the positive and constructively negative.

A reminder that I appear every Wednesday on Canada AM coast to coast. 8:45 a.m. (EST) and if you should miss it you can see my segments streamed on their website, which you can access through my website In August we feature a series on the value of trees in urban spaces. We celebrate them and offer advice on how to look out for potential problems like the emerald ash borer.

Follow the progress of my upsidedown tomato on my Facebook page.

It is so easy to be informed (and at times even entertained).

Thanks again,

Talk next month.

Merchant of Beauty


 Mark's Choice Product of the Month
 Folding Bypass Lopper

Loppers Prune with less effort.
Who would have thought that you could carry a pair of lightweight, heavy duty loppers in the back pocket of your jeans? Not I. Until I discovered these wonderful bypass loppers that will cut through 1 1/2 inches of green wood like a hot knife through butter. The gearing at the hinge is the secret to the ease with which you can remove reasonably mature wood in your shrubs, trees and evergreens - without a lot of effort!

The big bonus is that this quality tool folds down to fit nicely into your car trunk, behind the seat of the pick-up or even the seat pocket of your jeans.

(Home Hardware item# 5067-822)

Check out the full line of Mark's Choice products 

 To Do This Month

Prune * Cut back perennials that have finished flowering. Speedwell, delphiniums, day lilies, roses and even lupines and the like will often re-bloom in September when they are cut back aggressively early in August. Note: roses are on this list and there is no question that you will get a nice September show when you 'dead head' mid summer.

* One last fertilizer application. I use a lot of Green Earth granular fertilizer in my garden, especially around the heavy feeders like roses and peonies. Early August is your last chance to feed your perennials, shrubs and trees before late autumn. The reason is that you do not want to force new growth late into the season that is soft and therefore susceptible to winter kill.

* Prune your cedar hedge. Truth is, there is no bad time to prune a cedar hedge - but if you do it in August you will gain the benefit of the last flush of growth come late August and September. Come late fall you will stand back and say, 'Nice job!'

* Plant. Many of us forget, come mid summer, that this is a great time of year to plant trees, shrubs, evergreens, perennials and even late season annuals. The #1 reason for doing it now may be this: the savings at your local retailer! A lot of stuff is on sale at a lot of places. Choose wisely - don't buy junk. Avoid yellowing leaves, plants that have out grown their container.
Do look for plants that are deep green (a sign that they are well fed), lush and ready to grow.

* When you remove a new plant from its' pot the roots should fill up to 2/3 of the soil mass but no more. If the pot is 'all roots' you have a root bound plant that is going to have trouble putting down new roots in your garden.


* Cut your lawn high. I have mentioned this before, but it is important to repeat: during the summer months cut your lawn at 2 � to 3 inches high. No shorter! Keep in mind that the 'taller the grass blades the deeper the roots' the deeper the roots the more drought tolerant they are. You will water less. You will also have a lot fewer lawn weeds to deal with as the young ones will be shaded out by the long grass blades.

* Sow grass seed. To thicken an established lawn or start a new one, this is your best bet. I recommend Golfgreen grass seed 99.9% weed free. Produced in Canada too. Sow grass seed in the 3 rd or 4 th week of the month to take advantage of heavy morning dew, shorter days and cool evening temperatures. This is when 90% of all sod growers sow their next crop of sod - makes sense that we do the same.

In the veggie garden:

* Apply Green Earth Bordo mixture to all of your tomatoes. I cannot over emphasize this one for anyone that lives in parts of the country where you have experienced lots of rainfall this summer and cooler than normal temperatures. The copper that is in the Bordo will act to prevent 'early blight': the #1 scourge of tomatoes everywhere.

* Pick your ripe veggies and fruit. It is a rule to live by: pick your beans/peas/raspberries/tomatoes etc. as they ripen and this will encourage new fruit to develop. Period end of story.

* Fertilize your tomatoes. I use Green Earth granular 4-6-8 Tomato food. Tomatoes are heavy feeders.

* Mulch your melons. Use a 10 inch (25 cm) layer of loose straw to insulate the soil from drying out too quickly and to minimize weeds. Squash, pumpkins and all other members of the cucurbit family benefit from the mulch treatment.


 Organic Farmer's Market

TBG New Organic Farmer's Market
Toronto Botanical Garden
Every Thursday. 3pm - 9pm
Corner of Lawrence and Leslie
(10 minute bus ride from Eglinton Station)

More info 

 Book a Tour at Toronto Botanical Garden

TBG The Toronto Botanical Garden offers an array of 17 award-winning themed gardens spanning nearly four acres, designed to educate and inspire. You'll also find a complete range of innovative indoor and outdoor learning experiences for all ages including programs, garden tours, nature day camps, field trips and an extensive horticultural library; LEED Silver Certified Building with an energy-efficient sloping green roof and award-winning ecologically conscious design; rental facilities; garden shop and seasonal caf�.

Tour Guides conduct tours through five gardens in Toronto: Toronto Botanical Garden, Edwards Gardens, Toronto Music Garden, Allan Gardens and the gardens of Casa Loma. These informative and engaging tours are designed to help experts and novice gardeners alike gain a greater understanding of plants, the natural landscape, landscape design and the history of these unique gardens.

For prices, packages and booking information 

 The Brandon Garden Club Flower Show & Tea

Flower Show Date: Monday, August 8, 2011
Time: 1:00pm - 6:00pm. Tea: 1:00pm - 4:00pm
Place: Seniors for Seniors - 311 Park Avenue East, please use the North door.
This is an amazing display of Flowers from the Garden Club members.
Featuring: Tea, Coffer & Dainties/Raffle/Silver Collection

The Brandon Garden Club Membership fees are: $20 annually / $30 annually for couples. Visitors welcome: come to any monthly meeting for only $5.00.

The Brandon Garden Club is a non-profit volunteer group, which provides education and networking opportunities for its members to promote the love of gardening, floral design, civic and environmental responsibility.
For club or program information please call Gwen: 727-8558


 Fresh Basil
 Ocimum basilicum

TBG On Wednesday, August 17, 6 to 8 p.m. is the next Taste of the Garden event at the Toronto Botanical Garden. Get an advanced opportunity to chat with Paul Zammit, TBG's Director of Horticulture, as he presents 18 varieties of Basil. With exotic names like Dark Opal Basil and Purple Ruffles Basil as well as the rare Aussie Sweetie Basil, Paul will explore the many tastes, colours and flavours of this old world aromatic herb.

Chef Simon Katter will be creating his magic with the garden harvest for the guests to enjoy as well.

To register for this evening event please call 416-397-1341.
Public: $55; TBG members $50

For more info 

 Corn Roast

SHARE logo September 11, 2011

3:30 - 8:30 pm

Harmer Farm

In support of S.H.A.R.E. Scholarship Fund (to help students in Belize go to high school)

Come and bring friends

Eat, drink and have some fun

Swimming - Tennis - Walking - Games

Please bring your own lawn chair and cheque books to help this cause (all donations will get a Tax Receipt)

Harmer Farm 2395 No 1 Side Rd., Burlington (905) 335-3730

More info. 

 Magnificent Abundance
 The Gardens and Wildflowers of San Miguel do Allende

David Tarrant The Applewood Garden Club is pleased to announce that David Tarrant is coming to Mississauga on October 14th.

Situated high on the central plateau of Mexico is the charming colonial town of San Miguel de Allende. During rainy season its High Desert landscape is transformed by a stunning array of wildflowers. Let David take you on a tour of the choicest blooms and the town's most magnificent gardens, including his own garden and the home of Toller Cranston.

Date:October 14, 2011
Time: 7-9 pm
Venue: Noel Ryan Theatre. 301 Burnhamthorpe Rd W., Mississauga, ON
Cost: $20

Proceeds to The Riverwood Conservancy.

For tickets and information