Mark Cullen e-newsletter
May 2012 
 Gardening with Mark
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'Plasmo Let Down'

I have been excited to write you this month as May is THE gardening month of the year, certainly where planning and planting are concerned. It is the one month of the year when we can plant winter hardy stock like trees and roses (the first half) and frost tender stuff like tomatoes and petunias (the second half, unless you live in Newfoundland - God bless all of you).

Which brings me to point #1. Impatiens (the flower, not the lack of patience that we all experience from time to time) are under siege. Every corner of the country is susceptible to the pathogen Plasmopara obducens, which causes downy mildew.

If you planted some impatiens last year, as I did, and found yourself wondering why they never grew much and why the runts that sat in the ground all summer finally keeled over in late August you have experienced "Plasmo let-down" (I made that up).

Our first response is always to seek out a solution. Surely in these times of optimism and hope and sophisticated scientific answers to most of life's vexing problems there is a whammy that will save our precious impatiens.


This is not a new problem and nor is it exclusive to our part of the world. My British gardening magazines have been talking about it too, and even there, where people would rather garden than eat, there is no solution.

The next question is 'what else can I plant that will give me a great show of colour in sun or shade that I got from impatiens?' I can provide an answer to this one. Here is my list of plants to consider for those places in your garden that are protected from the wind, demanding an eye full of colour and are generally considered low maintenance:

Tuberous Begonias. I know, they have been around a long time and they are not new, but the Non Stop begonias do get better each year. The rose shaped flowers that hang on the strong, fleshy stems provide a show like no other. What they lack in fragrance they make up for in their exotic, hollyhock-like flowers and plugged in colours.

Fibrous begonias. Troopers. They will not let you down in sun or part shade, they bloom all season long, the leaves are a lovely glossy green or bronze and they are inexpensive (like impatiens!). Make sure that you plant in well drained soil and put some diluted 20-20-20 on them from time to time to keep them growing at their optimum.

Angel Wing Begonias. They grow taller than the other begonias but they are great garden performers and container plants. Squeeze a couple of them into your window boxes or moss lined hanging baskets and you will have a rich show worthy of downtown Victoria, where they really know how to mix it up!!

Other colourful annual plants that thrive in the shade include dusty miller, browallia, coleus (look for King Kong for a giant of a winner).

Perennials that make great groundcovers in the shade include pachysandra (Japanese Spurge) hardy to zone 4, vinca periwinkle which is hardy to zone 3 and lily of the valley which is hardy to zone 2. Hard to miss with any one of these.

 Best Tomatoes

Tomatoes I grow 200 tomatoes each year. Last year was my best year ever in the tomato patch largely due to the love and attention heaped on my crop by Zac, an intern student from the University of Guelph. Zac worked for me last summer and he poured his heart and souls into my tomatoes. Here are his secrets:

1. Buy short stocky plants with deep green leaves (not yellow)
2. Prepare the soil with � bushel of 70% compost/30% sand mix or 'Mark's Choice Vegetable soil' (Home Hardware)
3. Plant up to the first set of true leaves (the stem will make roots of its own) and put the shell of one whole egg in the bottom of the hole.
4. Stake each plant with a spiral stake to eliminate the need for tying them up. When you get your tomatoes off of the ground you double the crop
5. Water deeply and only once a week, once established.
6. Mulch with 40 to 50 cm of straw or 8 cm of finely ground up cedar bark mulch.
7. Spray beginning in mid June every 2 weeks with Bordo Mixture. This prevents early and late blight - the biggest problems of all with tomatoes.

Harvest often to keep the fruit coming.


 Emerald Ash Borer

TreeAzin If you have an ash tree on your property and you live anywhere in southern Ontario or Quebec you can count on losing your tree to the Emerald Ash borer within the next 3 to 5 years. However there is a treatment that many (smart) municipalities are using to save their valuable ash trees. It is called TreeAzin and it is a biological (read: safe).

TreeAzin has to be applied professionally as it is injected into the tree. Trees need to be treated once every 2 years for 3 to 4 applications. Call a local tree professional for a quote. The product, which was developed in cooperation with the federal government, is a derivative of the Neem tree, native to southern Asia. The cost of treatment of a mature ash over the 3 or 4 applications is about the same as the cost of cutting down the tree and replacing it with a young one.

I am having the 40 ash trees treated on my property. Given the investment that I have in the trees to date, it is worth it to me if it saves them.

From my point of view this is a no-brainer. If only more municipalities agreed. Go to this article that I wrote for the Toronto Star for more details.

As a matter of interest, the students at Elora Public school in Elora have raised over $4,000 to treat the valuable ash trees in their town. The municipality has not set money aside for the EAB yet but we are hoping that they follow the lead of the students. I have no doubt that the same politicians will find funds to cut down dead trees on town property when the time comes, the cost of which will be no greater than the treatment to save them in the first place.

For information on selecting a Tree Care Company visit 

 Buy in Doses

Garden Centre As you wade into the intense shopping environment of your favourite local retailer this month let me suggest that it is in the best long term interests of your personal success to buy plants in small batches and return to the store frequently. Plants that you bring home and do not plant for a few days should be stored on the north side of your house or garage and watered before they become too dry. For best results, use 20-20-20 water soluble fertilizer to keep the plants wet and apply again at the time of planting.

Buying in small batches only makes sense when you are certain that there is a reliable supply of plants when you need them.



CIL Golfgreen My friends at Home Hardware have been running lots of TV ads about the new, exclusive formula of Golfgreen lawn fertilizer this time of year. The ad features a guy pushing a spreader, talking about the gorgeous lawn that you can enjoy with this magic elixir of a Canadian made product.

This raises the question that I am very often asked: "What is different about the formula that you are peddling for Home Hardware?" Answer: more nitrogen.

To the point "more slow release nitrogen". There is 5% more of this amazing stuff in each bag vs. the 20-0-5 formula that you find at other retailers. Your lawn craves nitrogen this time of year more than any other element.

If you dream of a great looking lawn without a lot of work I urge you to try this formula of Golfgreen 3 times this year, to cut your lawn at least 2 � inches high and to water no more than once a week. Pull lawn weeds with a Mark's Choice 'Speedy Weeder' and where thin patches occur lay down 5 or 6 centimeters of Mark's Choice lawn soil, spread Golfgreen grass seed, rake smooth, step on it and water well.

You can fertilize the same day that you spread grass seed.

Reminder: you receive a free copy of my new book Canadian Lawn and Garden Secrets when you buy two 6 kg bags or one 12 kg bag of Golfgreen at Home Hardware. A $12.99 value.

Watch the video 


Weeks Home Hardware Spring is a very busy time for me and I look forward to it every year as my best opportunity to meet YOU. I am always delighted to meet newsletter readers and encourage you to provide feedback with your comments on its content. Are we hitting your gardening hot buttons? It is our goal to do so.

Check out my many events below and remember to keep your knees dirty.

Merchant of Beauty.


 Featured Product of the Month
 Bobbex Deer Repellent

Bobbex Bobbex is an effective foliar spray used to deter and prevent deer and other wildlife from causing damage to ornamental plantings. It repels by both odour and taste by using meat meal, fish oil, eggs, garlic and other natural ingredients. The distinctive smell warns wildlife that area has been treated, and the burn of cayenne, though not harmful, gives them a reminder not to eat any of the sprayed plants.

Bobbex can be used all year. The use of Bobbex should be increased in Spring due to the rapid growth of plant material. Spray every 10 to 14 days to protect new growth as it appears.

Apply Bobbex in the early morning hours rather than the 'heat of the day'. Use on all types of ornamentals, trees and shrubs. Bobbex should not be used on food plants when fruits, vegetables or herbs are developing.

For more info 

 Where is Mark this Spring?

Mark Saturday, May 19 - Get Bloomin' Spring Garden Symposium. Goderich, ON

Saturday, May 26 - Mark Cullen Approved Garden Centre event. Napanee Home Hardware Building Centre.

Saturday, June 2 - Iroquios Falls Home Hardware. Mark Cullen Approved Garden Centre event.

Thursday, June 7- Lloydminster Home Hardware Building Centre. Mark Cullen Approved Garden Centre Event.

Friday, June 8 - Invermere Home Hardware Building Centre. Mark Cullen Approved Garden Centre event.den Society.

Saturday, June 9 - Three Hills Home Hardware. Mark Cullen Approved Garden Centre event.

Friday, June 22 - Wilson's Home Hardware. Mark Cullen Approved Garden Centre event. Barrington Passage, NS.

Saturday, June 23 - Sissiboo Home Hardware. Mark Cullen Approved Garden Centre event. Weymouth, NS.



Old mower/cycle My brother Peter sent me this and I thought that you would get a kick out of it!

Useful for all of you Golfgreen users!


 A Great Video Testimonial
 for the Garden Mule

Home Gardener Mule My buddy Al McQueen sent me this video. He is known to be honest and forthright in every way. Can't imagine why he would make this stuff up.

Watch the video 


Squirrels napping I built 2 wooden blue bird boxes with my buddy Larry's son, Ryan. He took them home proudly and with some help from Dad mounted them on their ash tree.

They apparently make a great place to nap if you are a squirrel.


 Helpful Videos
 From Mark Cullen and Home Hardware

Helpful Videos Home Hardware and I have been busy creating a series of How To videos.

Our goal was to answer the most Frequently Asked Questions of home gardeners. Most of these videos were shot in my garden.

Let me know what you think. I hope you learn lots!

Choose from the following topics:

Great Looking Roses - Chemical Free

Chemical Free Grub Control

Achieve the Best Lawn on the Block

Insect and Disease Control, Chemical-Free

Chemical-Free Weed Control

Pruning Trees and Shrubs

Maximize Flowering and Fruiting

Improving Lawn & Garden Drainage

Soil Improvement


 LEAF's Subsidized Backyard Tree Planting Program

LEAF This program is available to all Toronto residents. The goal of this program is to plant over 2,500 native trees and shrubs in backyards in 2012.

LEAF provides a backyard consultation to help property owners select the right native species and planting location for each yard.

Property owners pay a subsidized cost of approximately $100-$200 per tree. This cost includes a consultation with an arborist, a tree and full planting service.

Property owners who request a consultation in the next two to three weeks can still expect a Spring planting. Those who contact LEAF after that will get a consultation right away, with the planting taking place in the Fall.

More details 

 Are Geraniums the Answer to the Japanese Beetle Question?

Geranium At a recent speaking event I received an interesting tip. A number of gardeners have had success controlling Japanese Beetle damage by planting geraniums!

"Japanese Beetles aren't particular about their diet but are, apparenelty, drawn to geraniums. Their digestive system is somehow not compatible with this diet and there is something in the geranium flower that casues a lenthy paralysis. During the time of paralysis they are not able to evade predators. The beetles are apparently more drawn to white geraniums but any colour of geranium flwer will work. "

I admit that I have not tested this theory. But I think it is worth a try this season. Let me know if this works for you.


 Floriade Officially Open
 April 4, 2012

Floriade Her Majesty Queen Beatrix officially opened Floriade 2012 on April 4. By adding a tulip to a colourful bouquet of Dutch flowers she gave the go-ahead for the six-month World Horticultural Expo, which is this time taking place in Regio Venlo.

The Floriade park comprises five different themed worlds separated by wooded areas within a total area of 66 hectares. The site boasts more than a hundred exhibits - gardens and pavilions of the participating horticultural sectors, businesses and international participants. A total of 35 countries are represented at this edition of the Floriade, the sixth to be organised so far.

As from April 5, 2012 the park will be open to the public for six months. The envisaged 2 million visitors will make the Floriade the biggest event in the Netherlands.

Floriade 2012 facts & figures
* World Horticultural Expo, organised once every ten years * 1960: Rotterdam, 1972: Amsterdam, 1982: Amsterdam, 1992: Zoetermeer, 2002: Haarlemmermeer, 2012: Regio Venlo * Patroness: Her Majesty Queen Beatrix * Theme of Floriade 2012: "Be part of the theatre in nature, get closer to the quality of life" * 5 April until 7 October 2012, open every day * 2 million visitors * 66 hectares, of which 40 hectares exhibition site * 5 themed worlds separated by wooded areas * The themed worlds: Relax & Heal, Green Engine, Education & Innovation, Environment, World Show Stage * Gardens and pavilions (buildings) of approximately 100 participants * Horticultural sectors, Dutch organisations and foreign participants * Largest cable car in the Netherlands: capacity of 4000 persons per hour * Two permanent buildings: Innovatoren and Villa Flora * Villa Flora: largest indoor flower exhibition in Europe * Planted vegetation: 1.8 million bulbs, 18,000 shrubs, 190,000 perennials, 15,000 hedges, 5,000 roses, 3,000 trees

More details 

 Gardening from a Hammock

Gardening from a Hammock Gardening from a Hammock, a new guide to low-maintenance gardening, pulls together advice and tips of well-known garden experts, designers and nursery owners for both new and experienced gardeners.

This book is for those who love to garden, but have neither the time, knowledge nor energy to do much about it. Gardening from a Hammock will give you tips to save time, techniques to avoid weeding, and a selection of plants that will survive benign neglect. You'll have more time to relax and enjoy your garden.

Gardening from a Hammock is a soft-cover book with hundreds of gorgeous, full-colour photos and 17 chapters, each devoted to a different style of garden and philosophy.
A practical addition to the book is the detailed Botanical Reference Guide, an illustrated 32-page chart with photos and specifications for all of the selected plants, as well as details on growing conditions, size at maturity, and how to use each plant in your garden. Take this guide to a nursery to help you choose the right plant for your site.
The book also contains an alphabetical index of plants by common and botanical name to help you find your favourite plants, plus a section on hardiness zones, and a metric conversion chart.
Gardening from a Hammock is a self-published book by garden writer Ellen Novack and Master Gardener Dan Cooper. It will be available for sale at Toronto Botanical Garden or online through the website at a cost of $22.95.


 Spring Plant Sale

Plant Sale The Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society Spring Plant Sale is from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, May12th at the McConaghy Seniors' Centre, 10,100 Yonge St., Richmond Hill. Plants for sale include perennials and annuals, herbs and vegetables, member grown divisions and selected nursery-grown plants. Cash only.

More details 

 Niagara-on-the-Lake Shaw Garden Tour
 Saturday, June 9 from 10am to 4pm

Garden Tour Once again this annual tour has 8 magnificent gardens to unveil for public viewing. Varying from small and neat, to large acreages divided into room-like settings, every one of these gardens is unique. You will see many varieties of mature trees, unusual perennials, creative planters, life-size garden statuary, relaxing pool and pond areas, and even artificial turf that looks so real you'd never know it wasn't grass. Master Gardeners are on site in every garden to give advice and answer questions. Don't miss out! Tickets are $20.00 and available now by calling the Shaw Festival Box Office at 1-800-511-7429.

More details 

 New Contest

Vegetable seeds Ask your gardening friends if they would like to receive my FREE monthly e-newsletter. If the answer is 'yes', send me their email address.

I will add your friend to my list of newsletter subscribers and both of you will receive $8 in premium Mark's Choice vegetable seeds.

When you send me your friend's email address, include their mailing address and your mailing address.

The Mark's Choice team will ship your vegetable seeds ASAP!


 April Contest - Did You Win?
 Daily Prize Winners

Winners Every day in the month of April, we selected a winner from our list of e-newsletter subscribers. Each winner will receive $8 in Mark's Choice premium vegetable seeds. If your name is on our list of winners, and you haven't already done so, please email your mailing address to [email protected] and we will ship your prize ASAP.

Ann Hill
Elizabeth Brewster
Dorothy Lorelli
Peter Oaks
Ken Edge
Stephanie Vorstermans
Dawn Davidson
Heather Stuart
Heather Bowman
Margaret Cuthill
Patricia Meacock
Linda Terrio Colbon
Brenda Nelson
Adelle Richards
Amy Louise Maloney
Lorraine Pickering
Colin Weldon
Judy Anaka
Cynthia Mellaney
Helen Morag McKinnon
Mario Gugliotta
Barbara North
Christine Weadick
Carol Watt
Laura Zielonko
Joy Belyea
Kathryn Seguin
Ingrid Janssen
Jessie Butler