"April is a promise that May is bound to keep." ~Hal Borland
It is finally here: my spring arrived on Sunday, the day that I took this picture of crocus on a Main St front garden in Unionville, Ontario.
You may live in a colder climate and have to wait a bit for this show, while others (mainly on the BC coast and Vancouver Island) are saying goodbye to their daffodils.
The point is that we are all in this together. And I am delighted to say that there is much to be hopeful about. After all, what is spring if it is not all about hope?
I hope that your lawn is not too badly damaged after the winter. I have a recipe for you that will help immensely. And NEW news!
I hope that you have plans for a highly productive garden: I have a secret that will help you achieve just that.
I hope that you are ready to get dirty: it is one of the best things you can do for yourself.
Welcome to April.
A Great Looking Lawn
As the snow melts, the first feature in the garden that is drawn to our attention is not the garden at all, but the lawn.
Here is my recipe for a great looking lawn:
Rake your lawn lightly with a fan rake (I can recommend the Worlds Best Rake, a Mark's Choice product at Home Hardware. It is the last rake that you will ever buy). The goal is just to remove the loose debris and place it in your composter.
Fertilize. I only use Golfgreen Iron Plus and not because it has a picture of my ugly mug on the front of the bag (though, it is there for a reason...). This is the most sophisticated lawn fertilizer formula on the Canadian consumer market. It is guaranteed to produce a visibly greener lawn in 72 hours or your money back. The secret? There are two actually:
- Iron, which boosts the generation of chlorophyll in grass blades and deepens the green colour: it is almost 'blue-green' it is so green.
- Slow release nitrogen. The element that your lawn craves the most. 18% is the perfect amount of nitrogen to apply to your lawn for a long lasting green. 20% of the nitrogen in Golfgreen Iron Plus is derived from Sulphur Coated Urea. It lasts up to 10 weeks. Your lawn gets fed as it can use the nutrients. This is better for your lawn and the environment.
- (I know, I said that there were two secrets). This product is made in Canada, by a Canadian owned company (Premier Tech Home & Garden) and it is formulated for Canadian lawns. This is not a secret, but it is a strong #3 reason to apply Golfgreen Iron Plus.
While at Canada Blooms I met a couple thousand people and overwhelmingly I heard good reports from users of this product. One customer said, "I liked the results to much that I fired my lawn service company." Enough said.
Weeds? Bare patches? Overseed to thicken your lawn and push weeds out of existence. Premier Tech has introduced a new seed blend this spring that germinates in temperatures as low as 4 degrees C. Yes!! Finally you can thicken your lawn BEFORE the weeds get a head start.
Look for 'Ultimate Condition' Grass seed by Premier (the same people who make Pro Mix). Spread Mark's Choice lawn soil over the area about 2 to 3 cm thick, rake it smooth, apply the grass seed, rake THAT smooth and then step on it to bring the soil/seed in firm contact. Water well until germinated.
Everyone seems to want to know when to start their tomato seeds.
Answer: 2nd or 3rd week of April is ideal IF you plan on planting out in late May/early June. It is important not to let your young seedlings grow too tall and lanky before you place them out of doors (and to harden them off before you do plant the out - more on that in May).
My secret to starting the best seeds? Worm castings. I discovered this last year when I added one tenth worm castings to my seed starting mix. I use 10 scoops of Pro Mix to one of worm castings. The Canadian supplier agreed to package their wonderful worm castings in a Marks Choice bag, so that we could have them available at Home Hardware stores across the land. Ask for product #5025-710.
Why worm castings? Because worms work miracles. They convert the raw, organic material in the soil into a rich material that is loaded with microbes, beneficial bacteria and mycorrhiza, all of which assist in the growing process of all plants, especially in their early stages of growth.
I plan on using worm castings in each hole as I plant my 200 tomatoes later in the season, but more on that later.
For a list of seeds that can be started now, see check list below.
This month and in May, many migratory birds will either pass through your garden or stop to make nests and have their young. This is a truly exciting time of year for all birders!
I cleaned out my nesting boxes and found a nest in each one of 27... so I made 13 more! It helps to have a 10 acre garden to spread them around, but the point is, I am ready! Are you?
The New Canadian Garden
Since announcing the publication of my new book, The New Canadian Garden, we have received a warm reception to it everywhere.
Thank you for showing up at Canada Blooms, Brighton, Mississauga and the Arts and Letters Club in Toronto in recent weeks. In just those 4 locales we sold over 500 copies of the book... thank you ever so much!
My publisher, Dundurn Press, tells me that we are headed towards a Canadian best seller. They are very happy. And so are my friends at the Highway of Heroes Living Tribute as all of my royalties are going to this cause: 117,000 trees along the Highway of Heroes, one for each of Canada's war dead since confederation.
May I remind you to consider this book as a gift for Mother's Day or any other special occasion (or make an occasion up!) and to be sure to buy yourself a copy.
It is a useful reference book, picture book, an update on HOW and WHY we garden and perhaps most importantly it offers a window into the future of gardening. Exciting. Ask anyone who has read it.
It is, indeed, the most exciting time ever to be a gardener in Canada! Find out why in The New Canadian Gardener. Available at Home Hardware, independent book stores and of course everywhere that quality, Canadian book titles are sold.
I was reflecting on the massive number of veggie gardens that were planted in Canada during WW II when a listener sent me this link to an interesting picture of a garden growing on top of an air-raid shelter in London, England.
And a story about how they have converted an old air raid shelter into an underground veggie farm.
April 30 - Oshawa. Durham Court Park planting in cooperation with the City of Oshawa and Scouts Canada
May 14 - Toronto. Located at the terminus of the Highway of Heroes, (Keele Street & 401), plantings at the OPP Detachment and MTO building in cooperation with CBRE and The Garden Club of Toronto
May 21 - Trenton. At the start of the Highway of Heroes at the Glenn Miller Road overpass & the 401, in cooperation with the Vineland Research & Innovation Centre and the Upper Canada Chapter of Landscape Ontario
May 28 - Whitby. At St. John's Anglican Church in cooperation with the St. John's Anglican Church Community Garden and Trafalgar Castle School.
Please plan on joining us if you can and also consider making a donation. All money raised goes directly to tree planting, as all administration costs have been covered by a private donor.
Brenda and I have concocted some exciting contests this month.
Your chance to win copies of my newest book, The New Canadian Garden, the Harrowsmith Gardening Guide and Mark's Choice seed packets.
See details below.
Things To Do this Month:
- Sow seeds now to plant out later. Veggies (now): broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, leeks, peppers. Later in April: cucumbers, squash, tomatoes. Flowers (now): petunias, geraniums, alyssum, dahlia bulbs, cosmos, pansies, snapdragon. Flowers (later): asters, zinnias, calendula, salvia. For a more complete list, check out my blog.
- Rake and fertilize your lawn. I only use Golfgreen Iron Plus. Really, it is the very best, in my opinion, for fast green-up and long lasting results. And it is your best long-term defense against weeds.
- Start dahlias and canna lilies in one gallon sized pots indoors, in a sunny window with lots of heat. Look for the new Mark's Choice selection of dahlia bulbs at Home Hardware. I have had excellent results with these top-sized bulbs! Watch the video.
- April is a great month to plant all winter-hardy material including shrubs, trees, evergreens and later in the month, roses too. Just make sure that they are near dormancy at the time of planting as 'forced' material is frost tender and subject to frost damage.
Prepare the soil for planting. If you plan on planting a garden this May prepare the soil this month. And add one shovel of worm castings to every 10 shovels full of triple mix or planting soil, for outstanding results. You will see the difference!!
- Plan. Many of us wait until the warm days of May and June to think about what plants we want to plant where. Now is a great time to call a garden designer to get a plan. I guarantee that if you wait until late spring for a professional consultation you will have to get in line for a good one. And that can take weeks. Same for an arborist, a landscaper or water feature specialist.
It is April: early spring.
Enjoy it and revel in it.....
Keep your knees dirty,
Merchant of Beauty.
10,000 gardening questions. answered.
'Searcing for Spring' Contest!
This is the 3rd Annual 'Searching for Spring' contest.
Take a photo in your yard that shows a 'Sign of Spring'.
The photo with the most 'likes' will win the Grand Prize ($78 value):
A signed copy of my new book The New Canadian Garden + a $50 gift card for Home Hardware + 4 packs of Mark's Choice vegetable seeds.
The next 10 photos to receive the most 'likes' will win:
a copy of the 2016 Harrowsmith Gardening Digest + 4 packs of Mark's Choice Vegetable seeds ($13 value).
Deadline for entry: April 5, 2016. Deadline for voting is April 11, 2016.
Enter today! And check out my mid-April newsletter for a great new contest.
'What's Growing' Contest - Winners
Last month I asked you to share 'What's Growing'.
Winners had a choice of a pair of tickets for Canada Blooms ($40 value) or 4 packs of Mark's Choice Premium Vegetable Seeds as their prize ($8 value).
Congratulations to the winners:
Alison Morin and Gloria
Winning photos can be seen here.
All photos entered can be seen here.
Are Insectivorous birds a threat to pollinators?
I received an email from a reader in response to my weekly Toronto Star column. Tim was concerned that attracting Blue Birds to his yard, which are endangered 'insectivores' might also mean a depletion in pollinators.
For an accurate answer I went to the president of Bird Studies Canada and received this thorough and thoughtful reply to a very good question:
"Are insectivorous birds a threat to the pollinator bugs that we want in our gardens? As you have discussed in previous articles, we have a decline in "good for the garden bugs" - I would not want to do anything to negatively impact the pollinators for the sake of a lot less mosquitoes."
Thank you Tim for your question. Answer from Steven Price, President of Bird Studies Canada:
"Yes, some birds do eat bees. Many bird species we call "aerial insectivores" eat a variety of insects, including bees. Flycatchers and swallows, such as the Eastern Phoebe and Cliff Swallow, both of which may nest under the eaves of your barn or shed, will eat bees, but only as part of a wider diet of insects. Some species, like the Summer Tanager of southern Ontario and the eastern U.S. (not the more widespread Scarlet Tanager of northern forests), will specialize on eating bees.
These birds will also eat wasps. Wasps are a huge order of insects, which in fact includes bees (and ants). Don't just think of those unwelcome picnic guests, the Yellow-jacket wasps, but thousands of species of bee-like wasps, many of which are also pollinators of wild and cultured plants.
While birds may eat pollinators such as bees and wasps, I feel confident, as an ecologist, saying that having nest boxes for insect-eating birds is still by far 'a good thing' to do. It is very difficult to control just one kind of insect, or to have birds that eat pests but not pollinators. We should strive to manage our lands to encourage more diverse communities of plants and animals, and view our yards and farms as part of larger ecosystems. A variety of birds near our orchards and gardens is far more likely to help us and our neighbours in the long run, as well as be more interesting and pleasant. And many of those birds - swallows and flycatchers, too - are in decline, which ultimately may lead to even more insect outbreaks we'll have difficulty controlling.
So enjoy building and installing nest boxes, and observing which species use them from year-to-year. You'll be doing your part to conserve birds in decline, while helping to manage lands for greater diversity of species, including pollinators."
Thank you Steven. And thanks to Tim for asking the question.Reminder: Register for The Great Canadian Birdathon. Go birding for conservation in 3 easy steps!
Product of the Month - Mark's Choice Monster Anvil Lopper
I am very excited about this brand new addition to the Mark's Choice line up (at Home Hardware).
The new Mark's Choice Monster Lopper has strong, all steel jaws to grip branches securely.
It has comfortable, non-slip cushion grip handles.
The sharp, hardened, non-stick blade releases material after cutting.
The 1 3/4" diameter cutting capacity means you won't be reaching for a pruning saw as often.
You will spend less time pruning and use less energy. More time for the other stuff that you love to do.
Twin gear drive = less strength required by you.
Feel it in your hands, enjoy the power of cutting through monster limbs in one motion.
Urrrghhh! I love it.
BTW - I am partly kidding about He-man stuff. Please do no put too fine a point on it. Women will enjoy my Monster lopper too, as you will my Firefighters hose nozzle.
Measure Your Yard App on Gilmour.com
It can be difficult for homeowners to know what the square footage of their lawn is when buying a sprinkler or when applying lawn fertilizer.
This cool app was developed by Gilmour to make yard care easier.
How to find it from the Gilmour.com home page:
1. Click on Sprinklers in the "Products" drop down at the top of the page
2. Scroll down a little to "Lawn Sprinklers" and click on "Learn More"
The Giant Vegetable Growers of Ontario (GVGO)
Great Canadian 1-Ton Challenge
$5,000 top prize!
1. The Challenge is open to ALL CANADIANS & the pumpkin must be grown in Canada. Visit www.gvgo.ca
for more information.
2. Membership to the GVGO is required. In return, the GVGO will provide everyone with a package of @ 15+ seeds, worth well over $100. These seeds are the real deal (not the store bought variety) & have the potential to grow pumpkins up & over 2,000# if the conditions are right.
Each member will also receive 3 issues of our newsletters per year. Each one has many growing tips & information. We will also hook you up with a mentor if needed.
3. The Challenge Prize amount is $5,000 for the 1st 2,000# pumpkin grown in Canada by a Canadian. We will add another $500 to that if it's grown off a GVGO seed. If by chance more than 1 pumpkin is grown over 2,000# this season, then the heaviest will win the Challenge.
4. Pumpkins must be Sound (no holes, splits or cracks), weighed at reputable sites (GPC registered site) & adhere to GPC (Great Pumpkin Commonwealth) rules for AG pumpkins.
5. The 1-Ton Challenge will follow the Giant Pumpkin Tour (weigh offs) across Canada this Fall, starting in Bracebridge in mid Sept & ending at the Royal in November.
6. Deadline for joining for 2016 will be June 1st for new members & April 30 for existing members.
Mark's Gardening Connections
My monthly Event Listings are so popular we were running out of room in the newsletter. All event listings have moved to www.markcullen.com.
Event lists are organized by Province and accessible through these links:
Do you have a 'gardening' event you would like to promote? I would be happy to include your event listing on my website.
Send your info to [email protected]
with the subject line 'Event Listing
'. Please provide a brief description of the event, along with a website for further information.