What Soil Is Best For Your Gardening Needs?

Since we’re all hanging out at home, now is the perfect time to get your garden and lawn in order for the upcoming summer season.

After removing all of the detritus of winter, including dead leaves, branches and so on, your garden beds and lawns are ready and waiting for a little TLC to help them reach their best potential.

If you’re not sure how best to nurture the soil for your garden beds, veggie boxes and patchy lawns, read on!

Best Soil For Flower And Garden Beds

Hands down, your best bet is veggie soil, sourced from the best place in Ontario to get nutrient dense soil: Holland Marsh.

If you don’t know it already, the Holland Marsh, an area of land just north of Toronto, is sometimes referred to as Ontario’s Vegetable Patch. Why? It is 7,000 acres of low-lying land that contains some of the richest farmland in the province, with another 2,500 surrounding acres.

Because of the canal drainage system and exposed organic soil, the Holland Marsh produces nearly 60% of Ontario’s carrots and 55% of its onions, along with a number of traditional crops.

Made up of a quadruple mix including peat loam, sandy loam, cattle manure and compost, veggie soil is best if you are doing new flower and garden beds.

It’s also perfect to rejuvenate old soil with nutrients. Mississauga soil is heavy with clay, particularly at new construction homes. It probably also contains a lot of fill, which isn’t nutrient rich. Basically, if you haven’t added any soil to your gardens, what you will have there already isn’t great, so you want to use veggie soil to get a maximum yield from your flower and garden beds.

60% of Mississauga homes have three types of soil and there are ways you can assess what you have particularly well, after rainfall when you have 50-100% moisture levels:

  • Heavy clay soil – The clay soil is wet, dark and feels slick when rubbed between thumb and forefinger. You could even draw with it! Even at less than 50% moisture, you will be able to form a ball with clay soil.
  • Coarse clay soil – This soil is more of a sandy loam or silt loam. At 50% moisture, you can probably form a ball but it will crumble. At 75% to 100% moisture levels, it will be similar to a heavy clay soil.
  • Coarse sandy soil – A ball will not form at less than 50% moisture. At 75% to 100% moisture, a weak ball can be formed but it will fall apart easily.

No matter the existing soil in your garden, you will need to add high quality, nutrient soil to get the flowers, herbs and vegetables that you want.

Veggie soil has high acidity and contains the nutrients your gardens will be needing. If you’re growing berries, you need specific soil, and you will want to be well informed about your soil’s pH levels. Some berries, like blueberries, require more acid. They are tougher to get a yield on, so if berries are part of your gardening game plan, use a pH tester to verify your soil. You may need to introduce more acidity / alkaline, but we’re not berry experts! We are, however, experts at eating berries!

Having the right soil can affect the quality of your growths. Ideally, you’re looking for a pH level between 6 and 7. If the soil is too acidic, you can add some lime to even it out. If you have sandy soil where there is not enough organic matter OR if you have clay soil which is too heavy and compact, you need to add compost to help improve soil structure and composition while providing the nutrients required by the plants. This is where veggie soil can definitely save the day!

Veggie Soil On Lawns

We’ve been asked this question before: “Can you use veggie soil on your lawn?” The short answer is: It depends.

If the issue is that your lawn isn’t getting enough nutrients, then it might work. But there is a very important caveat: Because cattle manure, and consequently veggie soil, is high in nitrogen, this soil will generate more weeds.

Grass seed doesn’t need a lot of nitrogen to grow; it grows simply, so overseeding soil might be a better option, giving grass seed what it needs to grow but not forcing you to break your back weeding your entire lawn.

Lawn Care With Overseeding Soil

If you are overseeding your lawn, remember that there is no grass seed in the soil so you have to order grass seed separately.

While you likely wouldn’t want to use veggie soil on your lawn, to avoid a weed infestation, you also wouldn’t use overseed soil in your veggie garden. There’s nothing wrong with overseeding soil, but it doesn’t have the nitrogen levels you’d want for veggies and blooms.

If you really only want to get one type of soil for your lawn and your garden, we’d recommend that you use veggie soil. It will be more work, but overseeding soil simply won’t be enough for a veggie garden.

What About Topsoil

Topsoil is used for filler. So if you built a beautiful garden wall, you would use topsoil to fill in the space, for volume. Topsoil is also good for building up around existing trees, but if you’re planting new trees, use veggie soil.

Whatever projects you want to start in your garden this spring, starting from a solid base of good quality soil is the way to ensure your veggie, flower and lawn success for the coming summer season.

The Calming Effects Of Kitchen Gardening

During WWII, governments the world over were encouraging their citizens to plant “victory gardens”.

In Canada, these were vegetable gardens that citizens planted to help supplement their food resources.

But beyond the practical effects of providing additional nutrition, victory gardens were useful in helping people cope with the realities of war.

Today, we’re in a new war against the novel coronavirus so this is a great time to look for ways to help yourself and your family cope with the new normal. Gardening is a perfect outlet for that.

Depending on where you live, it may still be little too early in the season to be turning the soil outside, as you may disturb hibernating bees and butterflies, (which you’ll need if your garden is going to thrive), but there’s nothing wrong with getting your garden going indoors.

April / May is the perfect time to start with seeds for many vegetable options.

Working With Seeds

Growing veggies from seeds isn’t hard, but it does require a few essentials.

While many garden centres are closed during the pandemic, others have curbside pick up of your order available, so give them a call to see what you can get.

  • Use potting mix that is meant for vegetable seed gardening—it’s going to drain well and be more lightweight, so the seeds can sprout easily.
  • Vegetable seeds. More below on what vegetables should work well.
  • A container for starting them. If you don’t have a seed tray, an empty egg carton will help. Just make sure you have a plastic tray underneath it, to contain excess water! You’ll also need something to cover them with, to retain humidity, in the early days of their growth.
  • Once they’ve started sprouting, seedlings need light: a windowsill that gets a lot of sun, or even lights from bulbs will make all the difference.

Once you have your essentials, you can get started:

  1. Fill your seed trays with the potting mix and water it well before even adding your seeds. You’ll want the mix to be thoroughly soaked but you don’t want to add seeds into the wet soil. Let the water drain through the mix before sowing your seeds.
  2. Every vegetable will have different instructions, so make sure you read the packet before you start sowing.
  3. Sprinkle seeds with about a half to full inch between each one and then cover them with another layer of potting mix.
  4. Cover them with a plastic cover—standard kitchen wrap will work—until they germinate and don’t place them in harsh, direct sunlight just yet. You don’t want to fry them with a hot, direct heat source! The cover will keep them warm and humid, with water dripping down to feed back into the tray: it’s self-watering at its best!
  5. When they’ve begun to sprout (or germinate, for the technical term), you can take the cover off and move them into a sunny spot.
  6. For watering, the key is consistency. You don’t want them to dry out or to drown! Even, consistent watering is best.
  7. You’ll also need to fertilize the soil, if your potting mix didn’t already come with slow release chemical fertilizers. Read the directions carefully however because over fertilizing can burn the very tender root structure that is forming.

Once you’ve planted your seeds, make sure you label the containers with both the date you planted them and what they are.

Different veggies require different amounts of water and light, per the packet instructions mentioned above.

Most seedlings take about 6 weeks to grow to a point where they can be potted into larger containers where you add veggie soil.

They will need 6-8 hours of sunlight a day to keep growing successfully, once potted out, so consider that a window sill might not do the trick after a while.

Whether you transplant them to a garden plot or to larger containers, just remember that you need good drainage to ensure your plants get the nutrients they need without rotting.

If you are using containers, size matters. You can use large trays that are only inches deep for things like lettuce because you’ll cultivate them quickly and before they are very large. Crops like beans and cucumbers, however, need to be able to build a solid root system and have a structure to be able to support them as they begin to climb upwards.

Obviously, crops that grow underground, like carrots, need a certain amount of depth of soil as well.

Before you move your seedlings outside, they need to be hardened. Basically, this involves slowly taking your seedlings outdoors to get them used to the light, wind and rain before you transplant them into a garden bed or large containers outside. Take them outside for the day, and bring them back in at night for several days, eventually stretching that out to all day and night until you can get them transplanted.

If the sun is direct, you might want to give them some partial shade during the hottest part of the day, while they are still very young.

Ambient temperature matters too.

While hardier crops like chard, lettuce and spinach can thrive even if the temperature is around 15 degrees, warm weather veggies like tomatoes and peppers need consistent temperatures of 20 degrees, so consider that when you are thinking of moving your seedlings outdoors.

Vegetables That Grow Well From Seeds

This list isn’t exhaustive, but it does give you an idea of what you can get going on right now, so you can be transplanting when the weather is more consistently warmer, in May and June:

  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Cucumbers
  • Lettuce, as well as other leafy greens like Swiss chard and spinach
  • Peppers
  • Tomatoes
  • Zucchini

Of course, you can’t forget all the wonderful herbs that you can grow indoors year round, if you want to: basil, coriander, parsley and rosemary are easy to grow and will add so much flavour to your cooking.

Enjoying a delicious dinner with your family can be a bright spot in an otherwise difficult time.

3 Garden Projects You Should NOT Attempt Alone

As the birds are now singing in the mornings, it’s tempting to start planning all of the gardening projects that will keep you busy this spring, summer and fall.

Perhaps you have simple aspirations, like putting in new annual or perennial plants in an old garden bed and re-seeding part of your lawn. Or perhaps you’ve got BIG plans? A walkway, a new deck, maybe even a pond?

If the latter, you need to consider whether or not you can do these projects yourself, or if it would be a better idea to bring in professional help.

With our climate changing, we’re likely to see more rain and higher water tables in many parts of Ontario, including Mississauga.

How you structure your garden could very well impact whether or not you end up with water in your basement.

Toemar’s take? DIY is well and good, but professional help at the outset could prevent a costly problem, down the road.

Interlocking Stone Driveways Or Pathways In The Garden

Laying down impermeable materials in a driveway or garden, particularly where none existed before, is a sure way to affect natural drainage patterns in your yard.

Ripping out the turf and installing paving stones in your backyard will certainly add beauty if well installed, but if could also create a path for water to flow into your foundation and flood your basement, if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Improperly planned drainage can also result in soil erosion around the impermeable materials, pooling or standing water which can also be ice in winter, creating a hazard, and potentially damaging your stone work. You can even end up creating sinkholes in your garden or driveway!

Installing impermeable like stone or concrete requires a professional, if not to install, then at least to help guide you.

Garden Or Retaining Walls

A small edge of scalloped interlocking stone around your garden beds is definitely a project that you can DIY if you want, but if you are looking for something more substantial, you should consult a landscape / hardscape professional.

Why? Well, getting it right takes some practice, in terms of laying stones or concrete bricks properly. Even interlocking ‘tongue and groove’ style concrete systems aren’t easy to manage for a larger project.

More importantly, if your retaining wall is less about aesthetics and more about how to manage a structural issue in your garden, professional help can make all the difference.

What kind of issues? Imagine you have two levels of elevation in your yard. A good retaining wall will hold back the soil, which exerts a fair amount of pressure, to keep the integrity of the yard intact. A badly built wall will cave against the pressure.

In addition, a badly placed wall that does not take into account natural drainage patterns for rainwater run-off, could flood parts of your garden, or worse, your neighbour’s garden. You could be looking at foundation erosion/infiltration, drowning plants, shrubs and trees that can’t cope with low draining soil areas, wood rot on decks and fences, pests and more!

Overall Landscaping Design

Once your garden is designed and in place, you can hire a gardener to take care of the basic lawn maintenance, garden pruning and weeding and so on, if you prefer.

But if you’re creating a garden from scratch, as so many people buying new homes have to do, you should definitely get advice from a qualified landscaper.

One of the main reasons is to ensure that you don’t create drainage problems that damage your house and garden, or anyone else’s in the neighbourhood. Most areas are designed to include swales and drainage paths: interfering with these could be a real issue. A qualified landscaper will be able to design a garden that is properly graded and contoured, to eliminate / avoid drainage issues.

Beyond drainage, a solid design will take into account how you want to use the space, what kind of time you can put into maintaining it, availability of sun and shade as well as hardiness levels of various plants to ensure that you are putting in place a garden that will not just survive, but thrive.

A Few Tips On Hiring A Landscaper

As with hiring any professional, getting referrals from trusted sources and checking credentials is always a good idea. Here are a few other tips:

  • Do a little research on your short list of landscapers. Look for verified reviews and at before and after pictures.
  • Ask for several project quotes. They should provide you with an outline of the work, time required and an estimate as to the cost. With several options to review, you’ll be able to make a better choice based on a variety of factors, including value for money.
  • Check their stated credentials. If they say they’re a member of Landscape Ontario and have taken extra courses for a variety of skills, check to make sure.
  • Get a contract with exactly what they’re going to do, a timeline and a payment schedule. NEVER pay for all of a project up front.

For months of every year, a beautiful garden can be the perfect spot to relax after a long day, or to enjoy the company of family and friends. Make sure that your yard is the oasis you long for by getting the job right, the first time!

How To Blend Edible Landscaping With Ornamentals

Unlike formal gardens, which usually separate those areas where they grow edibles, blending edible plants with your ornamental landscaping can be not only aesthetically pleasing but actually good for your flowers and food!

Referred to as ‘foodscaping’ by some (yes, we are serious!), the idea of mixing edibles and ornamentals was not ‘always’ considered ‘acceptable’ by horticulturalists. But we at Toemar take a different approach to things, and we believe that the idea of mixing edibles and ornamentals, given the tiny size of many Mississauga backyards, is a good and necessary thing.

The Practical Advantage Of Mixing Edibles And Ornamentals

First, and most importantly, the big advantage is that pollinators love gardens with mixed plantings.

If you’re interested in maintaining a garden to support healthy habitats for food supply pollinators (fancy term for ‘bees’), mixing your edibles and flowers is a great idea.

Pollinators—again, ‘bees’—will go from your rose bushes to your chives and to other herbs quite happily, and spread pollen and nectar from and to both.

If you grow your edibles with your ornamentals, instead of growing them separately, there is an even greater chance of bringing in those pollinators to your food garden. This is a WIN for everyone.

Having different flowers mixed in with edibles will help to attract insects that help to protect edible plants, and they can also distract other insects, like aphids, from attacking your edibles (if you have an apartment garden close to tree tops, you’ll know what we’re talking about!)

It’s one of the reasons that you’ll see rose bushes at the end of rows at a vineyard: The roses attract aphids more than the vines, and the bushes also serve as early warning signs for problems like rot and mildew, as they’ll suffer from those ailments before the vines suffer them.

With the variation on what’s available for those pollinators, they’ll stick around or visit again and again, as there’s value in cross pollination with different types of plants.

This will enhance the growth of your entire garden to a greater degree, which is ideal if you want to have greens and herbs, tomatoes and veggies, throughout the growing season.

The Aesthetic Advantage Of Mixing Edibles And Ornamentals

In addition to improving the pollination of your various plants by maintaining a healthy habitat for pollinators, mixing your edibles with your other flowers, grasses and vines provide texture to balance your garden.

Instead of having rows of edibles, all neat and tidy, mix them in with your annuals and perennials for a look that changes with the seasons.

After all, you probably don’t need a tractor to get through your rows of beans, so there is no technical reason not to mix things up a little.

If you’re partial to protected rows for your edibles, you can also go half-way and do a little of both. Sow some rows, then mix in your florals to add visual distinction to your vegetable patches.

The point in foodscaping is to grow edibles in a more natural and visually pleasing design, giving those who look at your landscape (including YOU!) a reason to linger.

After all, they might not notice the squash vine right away, nestled in near your favourite perennial blooms, but a second glance will have them counting your bright, showy  gourds blossoms.

Choosing the right combinations of colours will enhance your garden: from the blue-purple of lavender and violets to orange pumpkins and red peppers and tomatoes, there’s no lack of colour choices in the edibles to make your ornamentals pop even more. Rainbow swiss chard, anyone?

The Best Of Both Worlds: Edible Flowers

There’s nothing more attractive in a summer salad or frozen into ice cubes for summer sippables than edible flowers.

Zinnias, for example, are an excellent edible flower that come in a range of colours and can be mixed in with other edibles, to create a beautiful visual in your garden.

Your  handy list of edible flowers include:

  • Nasturtiums
  • Pansies
  • Chive blossoms
  • Violets
  • Elderflower
  • Marigold
  • Snapdragon

Gardening Basics When Mixing Edibles With Ornamentals

Most edibles require lots of sunshine to grow successfully, so you need to consider that when choosing with which plants to mix them. An excess of shade from trees or bushes will not yield a good crop, plus they also need nutrient rich soil, so fertilizing those areas is important, as is plenty of water.

One way to encourage growth in a partially shaded garden bed is to keep edibles to the outer edges of the beds where there is more sun, and it’s easier to water them.

Alternate between medium-high grasses and edibles, leaving the centre of the bed for bushy florals and climbing vines. You could also alternate with different herbs in a repeating pattern, creating an edge to your flower bed.

Another option is to plant your edibles in pots and then place them in amongst your flowers, keeping some distinction between them, while getting the benefits of a beautiful and bountiful mixed arrangement.

Consider also the height of your edibles, when deciding where to place them. Climbing beans or peas will be taller and should be mixed in with other tall ornamentals that like sun, like sunflowers. Mid-range edibles like peppers and tomatoes mix in well with lavender. Low plants like squash are nice in the front of a bed, intermingled with smaller florals, like Pansies and Sweet Williams.

Edible perennials are a good bet, to avoid replanting every year. Varieties include:

  • Asparagus
  • Chives
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Currants
  • Lavender
  • Leeks
  • Onions
  • Rosemary
  • Strawberries
  • Rhubarb

Whatever combination of edibles and ornamentals you plant this spring, do a little planning to ensure that the edible plants get the soil, water and sun that they need without compromising the flowers and grasses that make a garden beautiful.

Do you have a beautiful Mississauga garden that you’d like to share? Share a pic on our Facebook page! We’d love to see it!

5 Ways to Attract Bees, Birds And Butterflies To Your Garden

Butterflies and birds add so much natural beauty to a garden, which is a great reason to attract them, in and of itself! But there are other good reasons to plan your garden in such a way that you attract all manner of winged creatures: producing a healthier garden, enhancing food production and, in general, being very good for the environment.

As Humans, We Need Bees, Butterflies And Birds

Unfortunately, due to climate change and destruction of biodiverse habitats the world over, the bee populations, in particular, are in decline. Does that matter to you and me? Of course! Bees are what’s known as a keystone species: other species, including humans, need them to survive. Bees pollinate more than one third of the food supply around the world, so without bees, we don’t eat. While experts don’t seem to be able to pinpoint a single cause for the loss of bees, the effects will, if not stopped, be dramatic.

Birds, such as hummingbirds, provide excellent long distance cross-pollination and development of different plant species, as well as protection against encroachment by insects, like aphids. Butterflies, in addition to being beautiful, pollinate your garden as well.

Southern Ontario is a richly biodiverse part of Canada, with a lot of farming as well as urban development. With the latter pushing greater boundaries in Mississauga and beyond, planting a garden that attracts these all important pollinators is a great way to do your part to keep the environment thriving.

5 Ways To Attract Pollinators To Your Garden

1. Avoid chemicals — herbicides and pesticides are the number one way to ensure that pollinators will not frequent your garden. If you love the idea of growing vegetables, or even an extensive herb garden, you need pollinators to come and help!

2. Attractive plants are best — if you want to attract birds, bees and butterflies, it’s best to choose plants that they like. That doesn’t mean that your garden has to be entirely made up of those species, but just that including some in your garden beds and designs will help bring the pollinators in. A few examples include: daylilies, black eyed Susans, morning glories, crocus, cornflowers and lavender. If you want to add trees, any that are flower or fruit bearing will definitely be of interest to the pollinators. Hummingbirds are attracted to red—it’s why so many of the feeders for them are red—bee balm and coral bells are particular favourites! All three species enjoy sun flowers: in the winter, the heads become a chickadee friendly haven! Choose plants that flower at different times throughout the season, to ensure a continuous source of nectar and pollen for your pollinators. One great option? Wildflowers. They are nectar rich and easy to grow.

3. Group your flowers — pollinators like to do the work of collecting nectar and pollen and sharing these around but it’s better if you make it easier for them. Grouping like plants and flowers makes the trip from one bloom to another a lot easier, particularly for the bees. Since butterflies thrive on warm, sunny spots, creating several of these will help to bring them to your space.

4. Make habitats that are friendly to all three pollinators — trees, shrubs and vines on trellises are a good start. Each species enjoys a certain amount of shelter, both as safety from predators and to hide from the elements when they need to. Bird and butterfly houses are a great addition: they look nice and will definitely attract more creatures. Butterflies need warmth, so placement of their house in a sunnier part of the garden is ideal. For birds in particular, having a water source, like a bird bath or water feature in your garden, will make your garden seem like the perfect place to visit. Many varieties of bees are ground nesters, so having a patch of ground that you leave messy and more or less undisturbed and free of mulch, will entice bees to call your garden home.

5. Feed the creatures — while adding seed to the birdhouse is an obvious way to make sure the birds get a good meal, you have to be more careful with butterflies. As caterpillars, they will tend to eat the plants you are hoping to attract them to protect, so what you want to do is make sure you have some butterfly friendly plants available, planted away from your favourite garden beds. Such as? Milkweed, parsley and dill are among their favourites!

As you can see, planning your garden can include so much more than just aesthetics. You can do a lot to encourage pollinators to visit your yard, enhancing not only the beauty within, but promoting sound ecological practices for all of us.

Guide to Winter Gardening In Mississauga And Beyond

Within the GTA, there are different zones for hardiness, but there’s one truth that is equal to all the areas: winter gardening isn’t easy! Snow, ice, blowing polar vortex winds… It’s not a recipe for joyful digging in the dirt.

As a result, those of you who are passionate about your gardens and landscaping may find the long months of winter hard, but there are ways you can keep going, to keep your passion alive through the deep freeze.

Did You Keep A Garden Journal?

Think of it like scrapbooking but it’s all about your garden: pictures, notes on when you planted and what, how it went, and more. As the winter weather sets in, you can sit by the fire and review your journal from the past season(s) and make some plans for next spring. If you didn’t keep a journal this year, think about it for next year and add it to your holiday wish list. Lee Valley has an excellent one!

If you took photos of your garden, think about putting them into a photobook. You can take your digital images and make a book online that will be printed, bound and shipped directly to your door. This way, you can peruse your images while you sip a hot toddy.

Order Up Seed Catalogues

Part of your planning can include some enjoyable hours poring over seed catalogues. Keeping in mind the hardiness zone in Mississauga, which is 6b, you can look through all your options for perennials, annuals, edibles and more, deciding what you want to add and when it would be best to start.

Add Some Indoor Greenery

House plants will help you forget that the snow is falling outside. You can spend your winter months babying your indoor plants. Just remember that most homes lack some humidity in the winter, so you will have to make sure your plants get plenty of water and misting.

Some lovely seasonal options are:

  • Christmas cactus
  • Poinsettias
  • Miniature evergreen

Another fun project is to create a terrarium. These tiny landscapes are fun to put together and a great project for kids too. They add a decorative focus that speaks to your green thumb, even in February. Cacti and succulents make the best choices, but you can also add rocks, moss and other features to jazz up your mini-garden.

Join A Garden Club

If you can’t garden, you can at least talk about gardening and landscaping with people who are interested in the topic as you are! Join a local garden group or horticultural society: they often use the winter months to bring in speakers on a variety of interesting topics. Don’t have one locally? Start your own!

Grow Edibles Indoors And Out, Even In January

With raised box beds that have lids, for example, you can grow veggies all year long. The key to remember is that snow is not the problem, for growing edibles in the winter: it’s ice.

For this, you’ll need to start in August / September with planting out happening before the first frost. On warmer, sunny winter days, you can open the lids of your planting boxes, so that the plants get some air and a little sunshine. When it’s cold and icy, keep them closed and protected.

What can you grow outdoors in winter?

  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Leaf lettuce — spinach, mustard, arugula
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Swiss chard
  • Carrots and other root vegetables like beets

You can also continue to grow parsley and chives, and the beauty of herbs is that they will thrive indoors as well.

What can you grow indoors in winter?

Your best bet is to stick to herbs, which can flavour your cooking throughout the winter. You can start some from cuttings which will grow roots in water, like mint. Others can be grown from seeds, like basil and chervil.

Whatever you choose, just remember that the dry conditions in a centrally heated home mean that you have to pay special attention to your indoor herb garden, ensuring that they get the moisture they need.

  • Oregano
  • Thyme
  • Chives
  • Mint
  • Rosemary
  • Parsley
  • Chervil
  • Basil

With all of those ideas, even the most ardent of gardeners can find something to do to keep them going through winter. What will you choose?9

Top 2 Mississauga Plants That Are Dangerous And More

Some plans can cause real problems to pets and people. We joke about plants like poison ivy and poison oak, but the reality is that a brush with many of these plans can land you in hospital. 

Mississauga’s landscape contains many plants —wild and cultivated—that should make all gardeners and landscapers use caution.

Most Troublesome Plant Of All: Poison Ivy

If you’ve ever done business with a poison ivy plant, you won’t be surprised that this one tops our list of troublesome plants.

Did you know that the oil that it secretes—called urushiol—is so potent that it can take less than a pinhead worth to set off a full blown reaction?

And by reaction, we’re talking unspeakably itchy rashes with liquid filled blisters. Worse still, while it won’t affect your pets, if they walk through a patch, they can get the oil on their fur and transfer it to you.

Poison Ivy can be found throughout Southern Ontario, and it can grow in all sorts of conditions: deep woods, rocky or sandy areas, road sides, open clearings and so on. It is a climbing perennial characterized by three leaves with jagged nodes, with the middle leaf having a longer stalk.

If you have some growing in your yard, get rid of it immediately by removing it at the root, while wearing protective clothing, placing all the plant parts in a garbage bag and sealing them.

A warning: Don’t ever burn poison ivy. The smoke can carry the effects of the oil and can cause incredibly painful lung damage as the rash occurs internally.

Runner Up: Hemlock

While less common than poison ivy, there are two species of hemlock that can harm people and animals: spotted water hemlock and poison hemlock.

The roots of the former are very similar to parsnips and are often confused with the benign water parsnip. The difference is in what the roots contain, however. Spotted water hemlock contains Cicutoxin.

This poison is strong enough that one root can kill horses and livestock; at the very least, they would be plagued by vomiting, convulsions and severe cramping. In a large quantity, they can even cause central nervous system damage and even death.

Poison hemlock has the dubious distinction of having been used in ancient Greece, to do away with prisoners and even Socrates himself is said to have died from being poisoned with it. It is a weed that wasn’t native to Ontario but instead was brought here in the 1980s, along with some non-native alfalfa. The results of eating it are devastating, with a neurotoxin that will disrupt the central nervous system.

While it’s unlikely that anyone would plant either of these in their gardens, they can grow wild in larger acreages, so it’s something to watch for.

A Few More Troublesome Flowers And Plants

Here are a few more that are worth skipping, or at least being aware of, as you plan your garden:

  • Castor Beans — an ornamental shrub with seed pods that contain ricin, a chemical that is VERY toxic, even in small quantities.
  • Amaryllis — ingesting the bulbs that contain lycorine can be dangerous.
  • Mistletoe and Holly — while these are holiday favourites and you’d have to eat quite a few of the berries to be ill, it wouldn’t take a lot of these to make kids and pets quite ill.
  • Easter Lily — the leaves and bulbs are appealing to cats in particular, but will cause renal failure and almost certain death if ingested by your feline friends!
  • Canadian Nettle — while more of a wild growth, the stinging hairs on it can get under your skin and leave a nasty itchy rash that can last for weeks.

For a comprehensive list of poisonous plants, see the Canadian Poisonous Plants Information System, for details on which plants are poisonous and what damage they can cause. If you’re interested in a good read on the subject, Amy Stewart’s Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocitiesis worth picking up. It’s an A to Z compendium of evil plants the world over.

“Betony has a long and storied history as a magical and medicinal plant dating back to Roman and ancient Egyptian times. In fact, it was often planted in graveyards to prevent the activities of ghosts and worn in an amulet as a charm against evil spirits.” (Source)

It’s important when you consider what you’re adding to your garden not to include plants that have serious toxicity within their leaves, stems, berries or bulbs, particularly if you have children and animals about.

Take care to keep troublesome plants at bay and plan a garden for next spring that is safe for everyone to enjoy!

Basic Principles Of Landscape Design

Planning a new garden next Spring? Keep these principles of design in mind!

When you think about your garden landscape, and changes you want to make, your first priority has to be the purpose.

Do you want to grow your own vegetables or are you more focused on creating a zen space for your yoga practice?

Do you need space for entertaining or do you need your garden to be a safe space for your kids?

You also want to consider the positioning of sun: will you want the patio to face the sunsets or sunrises? A spot that gets a lot of sun in the afternoon might seem great in February, but consider if that will work for dining al fresco in August!

Whatever your purpose is when designing the landscape of your garden, there are a few basic elements that you need to keep in mind.

Establish Form

What do we mean by ‘form’?

Think of your garden as if you were painting a landscape on a canvas. Would you put all tall trees with high reaching branches and nothing else? Probably not. The point here is to look at the style you want to create in the space.

Modern gardens with symmetrically designed pathways and retaining walls—a very formal looking design—might be your style. Or perhaps you care for something a little wilder and more haphazard. Whatever style you’re going for, it’s best to decide on it first as your choice will dictate what you add to your design.

Figure Out The Line

The line refers to how a person’s eye travels through the space and views it. How you lay out your garden will alter how a person sees it.

The eye is attracted to specific lines.

The best way to create functional lines in your garden is to use a focal point. Whether that’s an outdoor eating area or a fire pit, a focal point will draw the eye, and all lines should lead to it. For example, if you create a winding path through your garden with stones, the eye will follow it naturally. The plants you place around the path are therefore very important to the overall aesthetic.

If that line leads to a seating area with a fireplace, all the better!

What you’re looking for here is a natural flow, so that when you view the space, it feels like all the elements are well combined and nothing is placed in such a way that it is jarring to the eye.

Test the lines and views from every vantage point: indoors looking out, from the sides of your gardens and from the back, looking towards the house. These different perspectives will help you to see what is working and what isn’t, in a design.

Consider Scale

You will want to consider the size of elements that you put into your garden, relative to the size of your space and your home. Enormous boulders and a pond will be overwhelming in a small space next to a tiny bungalow.

Similarly, a large garden and expansive building with tiny garden beds here and there will also look ‘out of place’.

In addition to the overall scale of the elements relative to the space, you need to consider the scale of elements relative to each other.

In other words, you want to build up your design with some sequence: from the smallest elements, like a small flower bed or pots of flowers, to the largest, such as trees or large shrubbery. If you place a small pot garden next to a grouping of large trees, they will be lost in the shuffle!

Add Texture To Your Garden

Contrary to scale, texture is where you can add a little disruption to your design.

If every element you add to your design has more or less the same texture, there is nothing to draw the eye or add visual appeal. All leafy green trees, plants and shrubs will be, not to put too fine a point on it, boring!

Repetition of elements is important for a cohesive look, but you need to interrupt that with different elements every once in a while. Otherwise, your design will tend towards the monotonous instead of magnificent!

By repeating textures and colours, with the occasional addition of a different texture and/or colour, you can create a pulled together look that blends well into the overall design.

Look to different plants mixed together to add texture and appeal. Tall grasses, for example, are a great way to add texture and movement at the end of a retaining wall, along a pathway or mixed in with other elements in a bed.

Mixing rocks with soft leaves and flowering shrubs is another way to add texture that creates a beautiful visual.

Always Look At Colour For Your Garden

Consider when your plants and flowers will bloom and what colours they will include or you could end up with a wall of green and brown and not much else for large chunks of time. There’s little appeal in that!

If you’re new to designing your landscape, you might want to start small and take it slow. Pick a corner that you want to change up and work on it until you feel it’s done. Then you can expand your plans logically and organically, creating a cohesive design that flows and is appealing.

How Many Tomatoes Does It Take To Can A Jar Of Tomatoes?

No, this is not the start of a good joke!

There is nothing like the warm, bursting flavour of a home grown tomato. With the warm weather we’ve had this summer, you might have a bumper crop that even you can’t enjoy before they’re destined to go bad. Your best solution? Canning.

Canning may sound like something out of pioneer days to many people, but it’s actually a fairly simple process that will allow you to enjoy the ‘fruits’ of your labour (oh yes, we went there…) for months to come.

Canning Vegetables 101

Contrary to the name, you’re probably not going to be putting your gorgeous crop into metal cans. Indeed, the term ‘canning’ comes from an 1810 patent of the tin can as a method of preserving food safely. It’s still used to refer to the process of preserving despite the fact that many people who put up pickles or other vegetables at home are using glass jars patented by John L. Mason, with the threaded screw lid.

After that little bit of history, let’s look at the process of canning:

Depending on what you are canning, there are two methods: pressure canning and water-bath canning. There is a simple rule as to when to use which: if you are canning vegetables that are being placed in a brine or have high acidity, such as pickles, you can use the water-bath method. Anything low acid? Use the the pressure canning method.

Tomatoes are the wonderful exception! With tomatoes, you can use either method. While tomatoes don’t have a consistently high acid level, they are relatively high in natural acids. You need only add a little extra in the process to ensure that botulism spores don’t develop, no matter which method you choose. Like what? Citric acid powder is one option, as is used in commercial developments, but a readily available option is bottled lemon juice. Just 2 tablespoons of bottled juice per litre of tomatoes should do the trick!

How much time required to process your tomatoes depends on how you’re going to can them: crushed, whole or half tomatoes in water, in tomato juice or with no liquid. Your best bet is to look up a recipe that

Other steps?

  1. Wash the tomatoes thoroughly;
  2. Peel them;
  3. Core and seed them.

Some recipes call for you to jar your tomatoes raw (called cold packing); others say to blanch / heat them first (hot packing). The consensus seems to be that hot packing is best with tomatoes, as they will lose some of their liquid in the process and be less likely to separate in the jar.

Bernardin, the well known makers of jars and other canning accessories, has a variety of recipes on their site worth perusing, including Canning Whole or Halved Tomatoes.

Don’t Like Canning?

If canning whole / half tomatoes isn’t something you want to try your hand at, there are a lot of other great ways to make use of your crop!

Tomato sauce — what’s spaghetti night without a great sauce? No need to buy jars of sauce at the store that don’t even really have great flavour. Plus tomato sauce are a great base for chili, stews and a variety of soup recipes. The beauty of making your own sauce is you can flavour it however you want: spicy, lots of herbs or simple salt and pepper. You’ll need about 5 lbs of tomatoes for a litre of sauce, if you like it thin, 6.5 lbs for a thicker sauce.

Alternatives? How about barbecue sauce, seafood cocktail sauce, pizza sauce. You can have homemade pizza night anytime with your very own base.

Tomato paste — with a few extra ingredients, you can create small jars of thick, luscious tomato paste that is a great addition to stews and soups.

Fresh salsa or pico de gallo — whether with tortilla chips or as your base on delicious bruschetta, you will enjoy the flavours brought from your garden to the table.

Gazpacho — chilled tomato soup is going to be the reminder of summer that you can enjoy for a while longer!

Frozen tomatoes — invest in a vacuum sealer if you want to do this, to ensure a minimum of air that will cause the tomatoes to fall apart. Obviously, they won’t have the same texture as fresh, when thawed, but this is a great way to keep them handy for making your mom’s favourite sauce recipe. Some people call for blanching them first, but that’s not necessary. Wash, dry, core the tomatoes, cut them up and freeze them flat and make them easier to store. You can store them for up to 9 months… or until your fresh batch is ready to pick off the vine!

Roasted tomatoes — slow roasting your tomatoes intensifies the flavours, like sun dried. You can preserve them in oil or you can freeze them to add to your cooking as you need, for months to come! It takes 3 or 4 hours but the flavour is so worth it!

If you want to get ready to grow more tomatoes next year, to enjoy some of these recipes or canning your harvest “Fact: The natural soil types found in the Mississauga area aren’t necessarily conducive to that perfect vegetable garden. Most of the area is comprised of three soil compositions, two of which are heavy in clay: heavy clay and coarse clay. These can be difficult to plant in, being too heavy or too compact.” (Source) All you need to fix that is some high quality vegetable soil.

Whether you choose a vertical garden, a raised bed or starting in a greenhouse, we’ve got 33 Awesome Tips for Planting, Growing and Harvesting Tomatoes. Get started this winter indoors and get a jump on the season next year!

The Real Cost Of Using Artificial Turf For Your Lawn

Tempting as low maintenance artificial turf might seem, there are issues to consider beyond aesthetics.

A few days ago, a Toronto homeowner received a notice from the City of Toronto to remove the astroturf that she’d had professionally installed in the front, and back, of her home or face a $1400 fine.

Operating on a complaint to 311, by-law officers informed the owner, Sangeeta Gounder, that 75% of a front lawn has to be comprised of ‘soft landscaping’. So that means no paving over the front lawn, but also, no artificial turf (aka synthetic grass).

What’s The Problem With Artificial Turf?

The city cited that the issue with the synthetic grass is drainage. Ms. Gounder’s artificial grass was professionally installed, with two feet of drainage installed below the turf, but nonetheless, there is the possibility of creating flooding or drainage damage.

Artificial grass, unlike natural turf, does not absorb water as quickly, so in a large or sudden downpour or during the spring melt, the water might just run off, causing problems for neighbours and other infrastructure around the area.

According to the city itself: “Soft landscaping excludes hard-surfaced areas such as decorative stonework, retaining walls, walkways, or other hard-surfaced landscape-architectural elements. Artificial turf is not acceptable or considered to be soft landscaping and is, therefore, not permitted.” (Source)

Ms. Gounder and her husband had the synthetic turf installed three years ago because: “It was getting very difficult to keep a green, weed-free lawn.” The irony of their story is that the City of Toronto gave them a “Beautiful Front Garden” Award last year.

If Artificial Turf Isn’t Allowed, What Is?

Ms. Gounder’s wish to have a nice yard that isn’t made up of grass in the front makes a certain amount of sense to us: a beautiful, green lawn requires a fair level of maintenance and if that’s not your thing, you could end up with a lawn full of weeds, crabgrass, infestations and more.

So what are some other options that would be permitted under the idea of ‘soft landscaping’?

  • Dry gardens — by creating a space with a combination of stones, gravel, ornamental grasses and succulents, even with a weed barrier, you are creating a permeable solution so that rainwater and runoff can get through and drain properly. It also creates a yard that requires far less maintenance than a standard lawn. Keeping to the rule of 75% soft landscaping, you can also include garden beds with a colourful mulch to add pop and style, with some low shrubs mixed in with tall, waving grasses that will give the space a nice look year round.
  • Wildflower garden — have you ever walked by a house with what looks like a meadow of wildflowers instead of a manicured lawn? A lot of people create these floral yards with intention, even though it looks wild and natural. The choices they make of different perennial flowers and tall, ornamental grasses means that the yard isn’t a usable space for playing but it also means that you’re not contending with the neighbour’s dog using your lawn as a lavatory!
  • Ground covering plants — with either of the two above suggestions, or just on its own around your hardscape walkway to your front door, you can also consider perennial ground covering plants. These are plants that grow low to the ground and spread, often overpowering weeds, to create a virtually maintenance free garden, once firmly installed. Like what?
    • Several varieties of creeping thyme will work well in this capacity.
    • Mazus will grow with stems that take root as the creep and spread along.
    • Golden carpet sedum also grows no higher than 4” but spreads as it takes root.
    • Dutch clover is another option, creating a soft layer of green, with flowers, that is clearly not in need of mowing!
    • If you’ve got a lot of shade because of trees, consider moss. It looks great, doesn’t need to be mowed and helps absorb water nicely.
  • A dry creek bed — building a dry creek bed with rocks and small stones, and surrounding it with ground cover plants, mulch, and other hardy perennials, you can make it look like your front lawn once had a river running through it, without the bother of a hardscaped water feature.
  • Sod — if you must have a green lawn in the front, for at least part of your yard, it’s worth considering professional landscaping and lawn maintenance. The enhancement to your curb appeal from the application of fresh sod every season makes it a worthwhile investment, and with the combined use of one of the garden alternatives we described above, you can minimize your costs by only sodding a part of the front lawn area.

As you can see, if a green grass front yard isn’t for you, there are lots of options that require some elbow grease at the outset, but are low maintenance, well draining and will look beautiful for years to come. Consider one or combine several for a look that leaves your visitors wowed and your weekends free from mowing.