Wednesday, April 29, 2009

All quiet on the Ontario pesticide ban

May is on deck, which means dandelion season will be in full swing.

In Ontario, traditional herbicides for killing dandelions, plus a host of other garden pesticides, have been banned for use and sale by the provincial government. There has been very little controversy about this in the news, which surprises me a bit. No doubt the abundance of really bad news - swine flu panic and the tanking economy - has kept the pesticide ban off the front pages.

So how law-abiding are Ontarians going to be? Well, there was a lot of stock-piling going on, according to one garden center owner in London, Ont. Apparently, the hoarding started last fall when the news came that weed killers would be gone this spring.

The researchers at the Guelph Turfgrass Institute Ontario's Turf had this to say about the new law:
2009 certainly promises to be an exciting year in the turfgrass industry particularly here in Ontario with the introduction of the new Cosmetic Pesticide Ban. Critics have suggested that the ban is being rolled out with insufficient information and support for both professional turf managers and homeowners. Those in support of the ban see it as an opportunity to rethink our approach to management of greenspaces in the province. It will be interesting to see public reaction to the ban as it has been overshadowed by the constant stream of negative economic news dominating the popular media. Time will tell.
Dandelion control options: Here's the advice I have on my website about control of dandelions. (In case you're wondering, I do mention herbicides because most of my site visitors are in the US, where these products have not been banned.) More lawn care and weed control advice from the Guelph Turfgrass Institute dealing with the new reality is here.

Dandelions in the kitchen: If you can't beat them, eat them. South of the border, blogger and novice gardener Cindy Scott Day has been contemplating the humble dandelion as food. Her blog post traces how this yellow weed many of us love to loath came to North America as a food stuff. She even gives recipes. Read all about her explorations here.

Pesticides in agriculture: A farmer's point of view on possible ramifications.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Six Plants I Can't Live Without

Southern Living magazine's Steven Bender, also known as the Grumpy Gardener, recently issued a challenge to 10 garden bloggers south of the border on this topic.

An interesting exercise, I thought, so here are my half-dozen must-have plants:

1. I simply can't have a garden without peonies. Period.

2. I know people who don't like them, but personally I can't live without ornamental grasses. (I know that's a very broad category, and I have many favorites within it.)

3. I adore white-flowering crab apple trees, especially if they also have persistent fruit.

4. Also can't live without hostas, and this 'Sagae' is my favorite.

5. It's a close call among many favorite native meadow plants, but Eupatorium won out over Echinacea and Ratibida. (All of these are good butterfly plants.)

6. When it comes to big shade trees, oaks have a special place in my heart. We're lucky to have space, and so we have planted many young oak trees. I hope that their majesty will be appreciated when we're gone. We are enjoying their youth. One young burr oak, now about 15 feet tall and growing at the south side of our house must have been planted by a squirrel 7 or 8 years ago. Don't let anyone tell you that oaks grow slowly. This one is speeding right along.

What about you? What plants can you not live without?

My blogging friend, Salix, took up the challenge. Read about her six picks here.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tax credit for gardens and landscaping

Did you know that the Canadian government's new Home Renovation Tax Credit extends to some garden and landscaping projects?

You have until February 10, 2010, to get some money back on home and garden improvements. So, if you need it, there's extra incentive to spend on your garden this year.

This program means you can get a credit on eligible expenditures of more than $1,000, up to $10,000. At $10,000, the maximum tax credit is $1,350.

Obviously, home reno projects, such as a new bathroom, kitchen or roofing, even painting, qualify for the tax credit, but which landscaping projects can you claim? Here's a list:

* New sod
* Trees
* Shrubs
* Perennials
* Interlocking driveways
* Decks
* Retaining walls
* Pathways
* Irrigation and lighting systems
* Ponds and waterfalls
* Garden sheds
* Professional landscape design services
* Professional landscape contractor services

What you cannot claim is the expense of hiring somebody to clean up your yard. (Too bad!) Annuals, lawn and garden maintenance, tree maintenance, snow removal, hanging baskets, containers and planters also do not qualify. Essentially, the tax credit is for any improvement or renovation of an enduring nature to your home or the land on which your house sits.

If you're doing a project yourself, only the purchase of materials (landscape pavers, wood for a deck, for example) and enduring plants (perennials, sod, trees or shrubs) qualifies under the program. Your own labor isn't eligible. However, if you hire a contractor, you can claim the full cost for the tax credit. For more info from the horse's mouth, see FAQ at Canada Revenue Agency.

Will the tax credit give you an incentive to plan a project you might not have done this year? We don't have any landscaping projects in mind, but we are getting a new roof and some painting done. We were going to do these projects anyway, so the tax credit is a bonus for us.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

April flowers - Bloom day highlights

Here's my contribution to Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. (Head on over to May Dreams to see all the other contributions.) As you can see, our early flowers are pretty subtle. Mostly, they are the little bulbs, and a couple of rock garden plants. There's not too much happening here yet, but I'm glad to report that the lawn is greening up.

Puschkinia libanotica or striped squill

Pasque flower - just beginning to open - love those neat furry buds

Classic combination: scilla and narcissus

Draba in my husband John's rock garden

Glory of the Snow (Chionodoxa)

Cornus officinalis, Japanese cornel, a type of dogwood

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Ornamental grass clean-up in record time

Twilight of the grasses from last season

It was very cold yesterday, but dry, so the cutting down of our masses of ornamental grasses went ahead. I actually hired a landscaping company this year. It was wonderful: five young men swooped in with a truck and two gas-powered hedge trimmers.

After cutting down the grasses, they threw the material onto a tarp, and then loaded it onto their truck and drove it to their headquarters down the road, where it will naturally compost.

The splendid crew from Cedarsprings Landscaping

I think it was about five loads in a three-quarter ton truck. What an amazing amount of labor we avoided by doing it this way - and the job took just half a day! I guess this means that my husband and I have reached the age (50s and 60s) when it starts to became desirable to farm out the really hard jobs. Actually, the impetus for this solution was no longer having a pickup truck. (John got tired of driving it, and wanted a car again.)

I used to rely on his truck to move the grasses. (It's impractical to move that much dead plant material with wheelbarrows.) John would cut down the grasses, and with the assistance of two gals (both around my age), we would work on the clean-up for a couple of days, our arms would get all scratched up.

Now the gals and I can proceed with the finesse gardening when it gets nice. That's supposed to happen later this week.

The only downside of grasses: bare early spring,
but heck this is the country and we can live with it for a few weeks

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Early spring shrubs - not forsythia

Cornelian cherry dogwood (Cornus mas)

Garden snobs love to deride forsythia shrubs as too obvious, common and even vulgar. I have nothing against forsythia (except when it's been pruned into a bun), but I do find that in my garden, it will only bloom if the winter has been very mild. Generally, we get a bit of bloom at the bottom of the shrubs where the branches were protected by the snow. I know there are some hardier varieties, but our site is very exposed to harsh winter winds, so it's rare that we get many forsythia flowers. That's why I have just two of these shrubs on my 10 acres.

Much more reliable in early spring for us are two species of early-flowering dogwoods that are closely related, Cornus officinalis, Japanese cornel dogwood, which is in bloom at the moment, and Cornus mas, the cornelian cherry dogwood, named for its cherry-like fruits which appear in the fall (shown left).

It's not easy to tell the two species apart as their flowers are so similar, but the Japanese species blooms a week earlier than the cornelian cherry. The other main difference is that fruits of C. officinalis are not as showy as those of C. mas.

Japanese cornel dogwood (Cornus officinalis)

Both of these shrubs are more subtle in flower than forsythia, and for that reason, they are most effective in the landscape if you can give them evergreen foliage as a backdrop. Cornelian cherry dogwood is hardy to Zone 4, and its Japanese cousin is hardy to Zone 5.

One of my favorite garden bloggers, Margaret Roach, has some thoughts on forsythia alternatives and some good pictures at her blog, A Way to Garden, so be sure to check that out.

My spicebush shrub in fall color

Margaret also touts the native spicebush (Lindera benzoin) as a forsythia alternative. I have one of these shrubs, and it's a beauty. The flowers are subtle - I hardly noticed them last spring - but, to be fair, my shrub was very small until it experienced a good growth spurt during last year's moist summer. Then in the fall, it blew me away with its fabulous golden yellow foliage. So if you're looking for a native shrub that's lovely in spring and fall, spicebush (hardy to Zone 4) is a another great choice. Margaret Roach has an amazing picture of hers in flower here. I can't wait until mine gets to be that size.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

What happened to spring this week?

What a roller coaster week we've had! Sunday was lovely. I spent the afternoon pruning low branches on all the young shade trees in our west field.

I had planned the big ornamental grass cut-down day for Monday, but I called my helpers off because of the miserable forecast. As predicted, on Monday the weather turned wintery, and Tuesday we awoke to snow on the ground. By today, most of the snow had melted.

It's been a real tug of war between winter and spring. Of course, spring is winning, but it's a long haul getting from cold to warm this year. Judging from the long-range forecast from the Weather Network, I see it's going to take almost to the end of the month for the weather to really warm up. I guess the silver lining is that we get a good run of blooming from all those spring bulbs.

Click on forecast to see larger. Note to US readers: don't panic - temperatures in Celcius

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener