Living Christmas Trees

miniature christmas tree and live trees

Living Christmas Trees

Truly Live Christmas Trees
Bringing Home and Living Christmas Tree
After the Holidays
Living Tree Tips

“The answer to all your holiday tree-related woes!”

When it comes to Christmas trees, the classic conundrum for years has been choosing between a cut tree or a fake one. Cut trees come with an authentic aroma and environmentally-friendly nature, but also an expiration date. Artificial trees last for years and can even be purchased pre-lit to save time, but they lack authenticity and just take up space in our already full landfills when they’re disposed of. Wouldn’t it be nice just to get a tree that looks real, smells real, lasts for years, and actually helps the environment?

Truly Live Christmas Trees

Living Christmas trees are the answer to all your holiday tree-related woes! Unlike their cut companions, these trees keep their root systems intact so they can last year after year totally alive. How do they do it? Like our houseplants and container gardens, these trees are potted, so they can keep on living even after the holidays have passed.

Once they’ve played their part in the house, you can keep them in their container to enjoy another year with some coddling or you can plant them in the ground to add beauty to your landscape! Not only is it a great way to commemorate a special event, like baby’s first Christmas or an anniversary, it’s also incredibly beneficial to your home. Having a tree not only increases your home’s market value, but it also brings down your electricity bill by offering windbreak in the winter and shade in the summer to regulate temperatures naturally! How’s that for a selling feature?

Bringing Home a Living Christmas Tree 

To bring home all the benefits of a living Christmas tree, you’ll want to start by digging your hole. If you’re planting it after the holidays, chances are the ground will be too frozen to bring up, so you’ll want to do that earlier in the season. Here in Alberta, the ground is pretty solidly frozen by about mid-December, so may want to break your rule of waiting until December to get started with the holiday decorating.

Dig a hole as deep as and much wider than your root ball. You’ll want extra space around your tree to fill in with workable soil it can use when the rest is frozen. Loosen the soil in the hole and bring the soil you dug up into your home to keep it workable.

Cover your hole with wood or a tarp to keep it from filling in with snow and ice. It’s hard to plant a tree when there’s a popsicle in its place.

Keep it well watered. Like our other potted plants, living trees will go through their limited water supply much faster. Water every other day while outside and every single day inside to keep it quenched. Make sure the water flows freely from the bottom each time.

Don’t bring it inside until a few days before Christmas. Your tree won’t like the warmth your house is probably filled with at this time of year, so keeping it outside as long as possible will keep it happiest. When you do bring it in, slowly acclimate it to its new temporary home by bringing it in the porch or garage for a few hours a day beforehand.

Place it away from vents, heaters, or fireplaces. Excess heat will trick your tree into thinking it’s spring, so it will adjust to those temperatures, which could cause shock when moving back into the blustery cold after the holidays. Keep it cool and content.

Water every day. With the excess heat and drier climate our homes tend to have, your tree will

Limit its time indoors. If left inside too long, not only will your tree be missing the sun, it will also become more susceptible to shock when moved back out again. Only keep it inside for 7-10 days to limit any unnecessary stress.

Dig in with Alberta’s Best Gardening Blog for more great insights on holiday plants and decor!

After the Holidays

When the holidays are over, and it’s time to transition your tree outside, remember to acclimate it slowly, just as you did bringing it in. Then, once it’s ready, you can get planting!

Take it out of the pot and loosen the root ball very gently before placing it in the hole. Fill it in with the soil you stored inside and water thoroughly to settle it in place. Top it off with a layer of mulch for a little extra insulation and you’re set!

If you happened to pick up your tree a tad late in the season to have dug your hole, don’t start stressing that it’s all over just yet! Simply bring your potted tree outside to an area that is sheltered from the desiccating winds and keep it well watered until the ground is workable.

Of course, you can always leave it in the pot, too, just remember to water it very frequently and remember to re-pot it when needed as it grows.

Living Tree Tips

Use LED lights to prevent burns. Incandescent lights burn hot to the touch and can singe the needles of your tree. LEDs run cool and keep your tree burn-free.

Use lighter ornaments to prevent damaged branches. Heavy ornaments can weigh down branches and damage them in the long run. Keep your tree full and healthy by using lightweight bulbs and decorating gently.

Take clippings to decorate your house next year. When the time comes to give your tree a haircut, take those pruned branches and use them in your wreaths and home decor!

Don’t forget to decorate outside. As beautiful as your tree looks with lights and ornaments inside, it’ll look twice as good when decorated in its own natural element.

Don’t confine yourself to choosing between a slowly dying specimen or a plastic alternative. Give yourself an authentic tree that lasts for years, not just beautifying your home for one holiday season, but for many to come!

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DIY Whoville Tree

DIY Whoville Tree

DIY Whoville Tree

What You’ll Need
Prepping Your Station
Creating Your Whoville Tree
The Finishing Touches

“Every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot…”
– How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Sure, our traditional Christmas trees are classically beautiful, but anyone who has seen The Grinch knows the Whos down in Whoville knew how to take Christmas decor to a new, whimsical level. The best-known Christmas decoration in Who-lore is their iconic curved conifer. This tree is as fun to make as it is to look at, and is a perfect weekend DIY to get you and the little ones in the festive spirit!

 

DIY Whoville Tree supplies - wire cutters, decorations, cedar, ribbons

What You’ll Need

To get started with your Dr Seuss creation, you’ll need to grab a few supplies:

A container for your tree
Oasis floral foam
Port Orford Cedar, 3-5 branches
Western Red Cedar, 3-5 branches
Ribbon
1 large focal ornament
Smaller ornaments to fill the rest of the tree
Wire floral picks
12-gauge aluminium wire
Garden clippers
Scissors
Wire cutters
Bread knife

 

Prepping Your Station

To keep the D in DIY meaning “do” and not “disaster”, preparation is key – especially when working with children. Set up your stations first and keep your Whoville creation fun and safe for everyone involved.

 

trim your Porch Orford Cedar branches

 

Cut your greens. Line up your Porch Orford Cedar branches, trim them all to about 2 feet in length, and set aside. Then, take your Western Red Cedar branches and chop off the smaller branches extending from the centre branch. Split these smaller branches into 2-3 pieces and set aside. (Pro tip: Always cut stems on an angle to allow for maximum water absorption.)

Soak your foam. Fill a bucket with hot water, place your floral foam on top, and let it sink like an anchor in the sea. It’s a much slower process than giving it a nudge under the surface, but this method will prevent air pockets in the foam that will dry out your greens.

 

 

Fit your floral foam. Once saturated, drop your floral foam block into your container and trim away any excess foam 1 ½ inches above the top. Don’t go tossing away that extra foam like the wrapping paper on Christmas Day just yet, though. Use whatever you need to fill in the gaps between your block and the sides of your container for a sturdy fit.

Creating Your Whoville Tree

While it usually makes us cringe to see our plants drooping in any way, the most iconic part of this cartoon tree is its curved shape. Here’s how to make that happen:

 

wrap your Port Orford Cedar branches with 2 pieces of aluminum wire

 

Grab your trimmed Port Orford Cedar branches – which we use because they’re nice and floppy for the ultimate curve factor – and 2 pieces of aluminium wire about 3 feet in length each.

Bundle the branches together in your hand and wrap them together with one of the pieces of wire, using a spiral motion, and leaving a few inches at the bottom. Be sure to keep the wire tight as you wrap – you’ll need it to be strong enough to hold ornaments!

 

wrap your tree with the other alumminum wire again for the criss-cross effect

 

After you’ve wrapped it once, grab the second piece of wire and repeat in the opposite direction to create a criss-cross effect. Once you reach the tip, use the excess wire to create a hook that will hold your focal ornament.

Once it’s wrapped not once, but twice, you can shape the bend of your tree. Don’t worry about it being perfect just yet – you can always adjust it as you add elements for that perfect touch.

 

plant your whoville tree into your floral foam

 

To pot your Whoville Tree, simply stick it into the foam slightly off-centre to keep it balanced. Plan your positioning carefully first. You should only push it into the block once and leave it there, or you’ll squeeze all the thirst-quenching ability out of it. If it doesn’t look just right – that’s okay! Like I mentioned before, you can always adjust your bend to fit.

 

The Finishing Touches

By now your show-stopping centrepiece is taking shape, but your arrangement isn’t quite ready to make the Grinch’s heart grow 3 sizes just yet. Give it that extra bit of oomph with these finishing touches:

 

closeup of western red cedar clippings

 

Fill it out with greens. Remember those little Western Red Cedar clippings from earlier? Grab them and begin sticking them into the rest of the foam base. Start in the centre around your tree and work your way outward, turning as you go. Continue filling until the foam disappears!

Add your focal ornament. Whether you’re using a grandiose vintage bulb or a modern, whimsical shape, dangle your featured piece from your wire hook at the tip.

 

add christmas decorations such as berries and gold ornament balls

 

Fill in your tree. Working in groups of 3-5, add ornaments around your tree. Use whatever colour scheme you like, or none at all – just make it uniquely you!

 

add ribbon tabs

 

Add ribbon tabs. To make the ribbon billow out from your tree, take pieces and fold them in half. Pinch them in the centre and use a wire to secure it in place, leaving a little extra to attach it to your tree or foam.

 

add wire spirals

 

Add wire spirals. To make your own wire spirals, simply take your wire and wrap it around the handle of your clippers or even a pen, leaving a straight piece at the end. Slide it off and stick it into your tree or foam for an artistic touch.

 

gold christmas ornament ball

 

Add other decorations using floral picks. Use the little piece of wire to attach any ornament to your arrangement to personalize however you want. The wooden pick will do all the heavy lifting in keeping it in place so you can put it wherever you so choose!

 

finished DIY whoville tree

 

With the final personalizing touches, there you have it! Your very own Whoville tree that will have everyone as green as the Grinch with envy.

Dig in with Alberta’s Best Gardening Blog for more DIY tutorials!

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Why is My Houseplant Brown? And Other Common Annoyances

Dying Houseplant

Why is My Houseplant Brown? And Other Common Annoyances

Dying Leaves
Yellowing Leaves
Drooping Leaves
Sticky Residue
Mold

“Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died.”
    Erma Bombeck

Even the most experienced horticulturist started with a few dead houseplants. The way I see it, killing a houseplant is a coming-of-age experience, a catalyst for that “what-did-I-do-wrong” moment that all plant lovers have had. It makes us want to be better plant caretakers, to learn more and to exercise more discipline. I’m happy to report that it’s been a while since I’ve killed a houseplant, but I’ve also been practising for a long time. I invite you to learn from my mistakes with these tips for keeping your plants alive.

Dying Leaves

When leaves start browning, you know something isn’t right. Thankfully, this situation isn’t the end of the world. The cause is usually easy to pinpoint when you know what to look for.

Have you watered your plant enough? Probably the least shocking cause, under-watering is the easiest way to kill a plant. Some plants only need a day of neglect before starting to look sad. Water is essential for keeping your plant alive, and when there isn’t enough, the leaves are the first things to go. If your soil is dry, just add water.

Have you watered your plant too much? We all need water to survive, but no one wants to live in a swimming pool. Over-watering your plant can cause rotting of the root system, which seriously interferes with the plant’s ability to metabolize soil nutrients. If the soil seems very damp or muddy, give it some time to dry out a little and see how it goes.

Is the air in your home dry? Here in Alberta, this is an especially common issue in the winter. If you’ve noticed the need to reach for the hand cream more often lately, your plant may also be suffering from dry air. Try increasing the humidity by spritzing the plant daily, or putting a layer of pebbles and water in the drip tray beneath the plant pot.

Are you using too much fertilizer? Fertilizer helps maintain the nutrients in the soil, but it can also be high in natural salts that can burn plant roots like a garden slug. If you notice a white residue inside the pot and your leaves are looking worse for wear, save your plant with a generous watering.

Yellowing Leaves

While some plant leaves simply turn yellow on their way to turning brown, yellowing can also be a warning sign for other kinds of ailments.

Is the temperature okay? A tropical plant may not be living its best life seated next to a drafty window at the height of our Alberta winters. Keep plants looking their greenest by keeping them in a climate that’s as similar as possible to their native environment.

Have any pests moved in? Yellow leaves combined with other damage may be an indicator that you’ve got some unwanted company in your plant pot. Spider mites leave behind small, pinprick-like holes and mealybugs leave behind a waxy, whitish residue. If you have reason to believe that pests are afoot, prune off the affected areas, rinse your plant with water in a spray bottle and apply an insecticidal soap.

Is your plant getting enough light? Especially during these colder months, it can be hard for your plant to get enough sun. If you don’t have very many windows, a sun lamp can help your plants get the light they need. Plants near windows should be rotated from time to time to make sure all the leaves get their chance to photosynthesize.

Dig in with Alberta’s Best Gardening Blog for more great insights on houseplant care!

Drooping Leaves

Wilting is another common issue, and is often caused by the same problems that cause leaves to change colour. If your plants are looking wilted, check for soil that’s too wet or too dry and examine the amount of light your plant is getting.

Sticky Residue

I’m not talking about sap, either. I’m referring to a mysterious stickiness that seems to appear out of the blue on your houseplants. The good news is, it can be fixed. The bad news is that it’s caused by a pretty gross pest.

Does your plant have a scale infestation? These little suckers leech onto the undersides of plant leaves and leave behind that sticky substance. They have a hard shell and look like dark bumps glued onto the leaves. You can use neem oil, or any similar horticultural oil, to gently get rid of them. Gentle to your plant, that is. Use lukewarm water to clean off the stickiness.

Mold

It’s gross in your refrigerator, and downright horrifying in your beloved plant.

Did you find grey mold on your plant leaves? Grey mold is a symptom of a fungal disease and often happens when dead plant matter starts to decompose on a live plant, in damp or humid conditions. Keep the moisture content of your soil in check and make sure to clip off those deadheads promptly.

Did you find white mold on your plant’s soil? Soil is mostly organic matter, and leaving it too damp will eventually grow a different kind of indoor garden than you were going for. Monitoring soil moisture is the key. This issue sometimes develops due to a drainage problem. Make sure your pots have holes on the bottom and your soil isn’t too compacted.

If you encounter any of these issues, don’t fret. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad plant parent. With this troubleshooting guide, your plants will be back to their original glory before you know it.

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Aloe Vera

Aloe Vera

Aloe Vera

The Miracle Plant
How to Take Care of an Aloe Vera Plant
How to Prepare Aloe Vera

“Aloe you vera much.
Unknown

If you’ve ever spoken with me about plants, chances are that you know I’m not all about looks. Sure, a flower can look nice and bring beauty to a garden, but beyond its visual appeal, it really doesn’t offer much. The plants I’m much more interested in go beyond the blooms and pay you back for all the hard work you do to keep them healthy with a little hard work of their own. Like aloe vera.

The Miracle Plant

We’ve all heard of this succulent’s amazing ability to soothe any burning effects – everything from accidentally catching your arm on the stovetop to an extra hour in the sun. Whatever burn may ail you, the age-old remedy has been the gel of a little aloe plant.

Recently, though, it’s reported list of benefits has grown quite significantly. Found in everything, from ointments to juices, aloe has been labelled as a cure-all for everything – including dry skin, open wounds, wrinkles, acne, dandruff, digestion, and even weight loss. With an impressive list of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and amino and folic acids, too, it’s even been labelled as a superfood.

The truth is, though, not enough science exists to support any evidence that aloe even has any medicinal benefits at all. In fact, the medical community only classifies aloe as “possibly effective”. However, they do admit its soothing effects for inflamed skin (and I can tell you from experience that it makes an accidental lobster tan feel a whole lot better).

How to Take Care of an Aloe Vera Plant

More at home in the desert, you won’t find many succulents growing in the wild prairies of Alberta, our winters are just too cold. Instead, to keep them happy here, we treat them as houseplants to keep them healthy and warm year-round.

To get started with your healing houseplant, plant your aloe vera with cactus soil – or potting soil amended with sand – in a pot with plenty of drainage. Aloe veras, like their cacti cousins, hate standing water and are very prone to root rot, so keeping their roots dry is key.

Once potted, place your plant somewhere it will get plenty of light. Like other succulents, aloes will wilt without their daily dose of vitamin D, so a South or West-facing window is best. You won’t want to let it burn in the sun, though. (How’s that for irony?)

When it comes to watering, the most important thing to remember is to let the soil dry completely between waterings. In the summer, this may mean every week or two. In the winter it’s a little closer to a month or two. There’s no exact scheduled timeframe to follow, but just checking in with the soil every so often will be enough to tell you what your plant needs.

Dig in with Alberta’s Best Gardening Blog for more great insights on houseplant care!

How to Prepare Aloe Vera:

While science can’t speak to all the other “benefits” of aloe you may see on the internet, it won’t deny how great it is at soothing burning and itching. And if you’re already growing it at home, why not take advantage of this effect with some homemade ointment.

The famous first-aid gel can be found in the plump leaves of your aloe vera- all you need to do is cut it open. To make sure you’re keeping your plant healthy, you’ll only want to take off 1 or 2 leaves at a time – taking only the outer leaves, which are the most mature and ready to go. Pick the fattest, juiciest one and cut it off clean at the base.

Before jumping right into it, you’ll want to drain the sappy substance that leaks from the freshly-cut foliage. Just place it against the edge of a bowl and leave for an hour or so before moving on. Then the rest is easy.

Simply lay the leaf flat and peel off the top layer of skin with a knife. Then, with a spoon, just scoop out the clear gel inside (a.k.a. the good stuff). If you like a thinner consistency, blend it up before refrigerating, but it’s not necessary.

With centuries of continued use and quite an impressive nutritional facts sheet, aloe vera is certainly a plant that is more than meets the eye. Not just a treat for the eyes, it’s also a treat for the body, making it a must-have in any houseplant home.

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How to Grow Cannabis

Cannabis Plant

How To Grow Cannabis

What is Cannabis
Supplies
How to Grow Cannabis
How to Harvest Cannabis

“Doesn’t the idea of making nature against the law seem to you a bit . . . unnatural?”
Bill Hicks

With the legalization of cannabis just around the corner, there are (understandably) a million questions crowding our minds. As a gardener, though, the one that intrigues me most is growing this once-taboo species that is now totally kosher.

What is Cannabis

Cannabis is a tall plant with pointed, serrated leaves that produces buds with little, hairy flowers adorning them. These blooming buds are what transform into marijuana, the actual dried and cured product that all the ruckus is about.

What makes cannabis so controversial is the two, powerful chemicals that react in just the right way with the brain: CBD and THC. CBD is pretty basic and creates a therapeutic response in the brain, much like a painkiller. THC is the madman, not only amplifying the therapeutic effect to sedative levels, but also causing the “trippy” psychoactive reactions, too.

Supplies:

Getting started with growing your own cannabis can be quite the project. Here’s what you’ll need to get your green on:

Lights. If you aren’t growing outside (which is probably best, since Alberta laws prohibit us from having them in areas with easy access for kids and youth), you’ll need some lights to mimic the plant’s full-sun needs. There are plenty of options on the market, like HIDs, LEDs, fluorescents, and incandescents, all with their own merits. My advice for the best bang for your buck? Fluorescents.

Growing Medium. If you’re going with soil, grab yourself a good, quality, organic soil that has been pre-fertilized. If you’re going soilless, rockwool, vermiculite, and perlite are most popular. For hydroponics, you’ll need a good starter kit from the greenhouse to get started.

Container. No matter how you’re growing your cannabis, you’ll need to give it a space to grow with excellent (and I mean excellent) drainage. These plants can’t stand wet feet, and you’ll be drowning your investment in no time without it.

Fans. For the indoor grower, making sure your plants get the air circulation they need can be tough. A couple of strategically placed fans should be enough, though.

Fertilizer. Cannabis, like many kids, is a picky eater and has very particular fertilizing needs. Thankfully, to save you the headache, you can find ready-made mixes just for cannabis to mix in water and use as needed.

pH Kit. Cannabis is very sensitive to pH and needs to be between 6 and 7 in soil and 5.5 and 6.5 in hydroponics to grow.

Seeds. Last, but certainly not least, you will need your actual cannabis plants. Whether you go with sativa or an indica, make sure you legally purchase from a Health Canada-approved retailer and only get as many as you’re allowed (4 plants per household).

How to Grow Cannabis:

Now for the tricky part. If you ask any professional grower, growing cannabis is a fine art that requires careful attention to detail. In fact, you can find hundreds of pages of growing advice across the internet that detail all the nitty gritty of it. Here are the basics, though:

Find a space. Whether you’re using a spare room, a tent, or even a closet, make sure you have enough room to work with these tall, bushy plants. An added tip: to save yourself the hours of scrubbing with Mr. Clean, avoid being around fabric or wood for faster clean-up.

Germinate the seeds. Cannabis seeds need a warm and moist environment to germinate. The easiest ways to do this are with starter cubes or even just damp paper towel.

Set up your lights. Cannabis needs 16-20 hours of light per day in the young, vegetative growth stage and 12 hours per day in the budding growth stage.

Set up your fans. The fans not only help the air circulate, but they also cool the plants from the melting heat of the lights, so set one above and one on the side to circulate best.

Keep even temperatures. Cannabis prefers the same balmy weather we enjoy in the summer, between 20℃ and 30℃. If it’s too hot or chilly for you, same goes for your plant.

Water as needed. Cannabis hates wet feet, so only water when the soil is dry or when the leaves start to droop slightly.

Fertilize regularly. You’ll know when your cannabis needs another hit when the leaves start to curl or yellow.

Check the sex. There may be no such thing as “boy” and “girl” colours, but there’s definitely a difference for cannabis plants. Females are what produce the flowery buds that we harvest, while males only produce useless pollen sacs. Look for wispy white hairs at the base of branches for females. If you only see little sacs, that’s a male, so give him a toss.

How to Harvest Cannabis:

Depending on the strain, it can take months for your cannabis to be ready, but you can generally expect a yield after 8-9 weeks. You’ll know it’s good to go when the plant is luscious and fragrant, with lots of buds, and the white hairs start to darken and curl. When you see this, cut your buds off with scissors, leaving plenty of stem. Then, hang them upside down by the stem in a cool, dark place to dry before curing.

To cure, place your buds in mason jars and store in a cool, dark place once again. For the next two weeks, give your buds a daily visit, opening the jar for just a moment each time to let them breathe. After two weeks, space out your visits and only open the jar about once a week for 2-4 weeks. If at any point you open the jar and find moisture building up, leave the jar open until it dries out before sealing again to prevent mould.

Once you’ve got your crop harvested, dried, and cured, you can successfully check off “growing cannabis” from your bucket list. While it may be a complicated and delicate process, the reward is an intriguing and highly sensationalized product that is worth the work, even just to say, “I’ve done it.” Before embarking on your adventure through the weeds, though, be sure to check the regulations for Canada and Alberta to make sure you stay 100% legal and safe.

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Your Harvesting Calendar

Your Harvesting Calendar

Spring
Summer
Fall

“Be patient and wait for due harvest.”
Lailah Gifty Akita

The best part of vegetable gardening has to be the harvest. There’s just nothing like finally being able to dig into the fruits of your labour, and with a well-rounded vegetable garden, with something for every season, you can enjoy the thrill of the harvest all year long. For the ultimate produce yield, here’s your harvesting calendar for Alberta:

Spring:

Spring is a time for the cold-loving vegetables that like to be the first to the table. Where most of your garden is still waking up, there’s a little less to see after the first thaw, but these spring vegetables have had their morning coffees and don’t mind an early start.

Lettuce loves to get up and go in the spring, ready to fill your plates with fresh, green colour and plenty of vitamin A. Here in Alberta, lettuce will usually be ready to enjoy in May, when they are just reaching full size. To harvest, tear away the outer leaves, making your way inward, and cut off the whole plant just before it matures.

Radishes love to grow in the cold, as it gives them their most delicious and spicy flavour. Your radishes should be ready to pull straight from the ground in May, when the root is about an inch in diameter. You’ll want to get them young, before the ground heats up, for a crisper, more delectable taste.

Rhubarb makes its debut late in spring, just before berry season, when it is best jammed into a delicious pie. In June, watch for when your stalks reach about 10 inches long and then cut or break them off to enjoy that terrific tart flavour.

Summer:

Summer is, by far, the busiest time in the harvesting calendar, with more fruits and veggies in it than all other seasons combined. With plentiful sun and warm weather, though, it makes complete sense that the brightest and best the garden has to offer would happen then.

Tomatoes are made for summer, with drip-down-your-chin goodness everyone loves. In late June, look to harvest your tomatoes when the fruits are even in colour and just a little softer than firm. To pick them, gently twist the fruit until it falls off the vine.

Cauliflower and Broccoli are internationally adored for their amazing flavour, vitamin C content, and their little tree-like shape that kids love (although you may have to push them to eat it). You can expect these vegetables to be ready as early as late June, when they feel firm and tight, and are just about to flower. To harvest, cut off the heads with a knife at a slant.

Beans and Peas are seed-filled pods loaded with mouth-watering goodness and plenty of vitamins and minerals to boot. You can expect them around July, when they are looking firm and well-sized. A perfect on-the-go snack, just snap them off and keep moving!

Fruits, like berries and apples, need plenty of sun to make them the sweet, all-natural candy they are. Starting in July, look for fruit that is firm and evenly coloured. Whatever fruit you may be growing, it should easily break from the stem with a gentle tug.

Carrots may or may not make your eyesight better, but they are yummy and high in antioxidants. Harvesting these orange veggies in July is simple – just loosen the soil and tug them up and to enjoy (but try to wash them off first).

Squashes make their debut in summer, too, starting as early as July for summer varieties and lasting as late as September for the winter ones. When to harvest squash depends on the variety. Summers need to be cut from the vine before they mature and winters will need to wait until they are fully matured.

Of course, this is just the shortlist of summer-ready harvesting. You can also plan to enjoy beets, cabbage, cucumbers, garlic, onion, peppers, and many, many more!

Fall:

Fall is when the weather finally breaks into cooler, crisper air and it’s time we start pulling out our sweaters along with our harvests. With the days getting shorter and colder, we move back into a shorter list of produce, but luckily there’s still lots of fantastic flavours to pick!

Swiss Chard is garden-fresh green that makes its start as early as July, but continues to grow and grow throughout fall and winter, even as late as February. When the leaves are still young and tender, cut them off. Leave the main stem intact, though, to keep yielding.

Kale is a Pinterest-renowned superfood that loves to grow in cold weather. Just like its other leafy, cold-weather cousin, after harvests start in August, you can enjoy kale all the way into winter! You’ll know your kale is ready to pick when the leaves are about the size of your hand and you can start by tearing off leaves from the outside in.

Brussel Sprouts may be the bane of every kid’s existence, but their little compact cabbage flavour is hard to beat in a roasting pan. You can typically expect your sprouts to be ready in September, when the heads are firm and tight. Simply twist, break off, and enjoy!

Parsnips are the superbly sweet cousin to the carrot, turning starch to sugar in cold weather for amazing taste. They’re typically ready in November, when the ground is already pretty solid, so you’ll need a spade to help dig them out if you don’t want them breaking.

Our gardens are full of delicious, flavourful potential that can be enjoyed in every season of the year. To make the most of every season, plant your garden packed with a variety of veggies, with different harvesting times, to enjoy garden-fresh flavours every month of the year, no produce aisle required.

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The Social Network in Your Garden

The Social Network in Your Garden

Do Plants Really Talk?
How Do Plants Communicate?
Volatile Organic Compounds (VCOs)
Mycelium

“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.”
Peter Drucker

With everything in an online, interconnected cloud these days, it’s hard to imagine anything being completely on its own anymore. It’s as simple for us to connect with anyone as the push of a button, and connection is always at our fingertips. We’re not the only lifeforms with a complex, intricate web of communication, though. In fact, our plants may be just as linked-in as we are.

Do Plants Really Talk?

The short answer is – yes! Well, sort of… I’m not saying your plants have a secret language they whisper out of earshot when you’re not around. They certainly don’t talk the same way we do. We’re confined by the limitations of words and vocal chords, while our plants have mastered the art of speaking without words.

For the sci-fi nerds out there it’s either reassuring or disappointing that they’re not using telepathy or any supernatural means to chat away. While that would be the discovery of the century, the reality is a much more complicated combination of chemistry and biology.

How Do Plants Communicate?

The way plants communicate has been the focus of horticulturalists and PhD candidates for decades. You don’t need a doctorate to understand in intricacies of the plant languages, though. Here’s the basics:

Essentially, plants have the ability to emit organic compounds that give off signals to the plants around them. Think of it like fancy plant pheromones. When a plant is trying to communicate, it will releases these chemicals into the air or soil, where the other plants near them will find it and take the signal. They do this in two ways: VCOs and Mycelium.

Dig in with Alberta’s Best Gardening Blog for more interesting plant facts!

Volatile Organic Compounds (VCOs):

VCOs are are airborne chemicals that travel through the air for neighbouring plants to pick up. Specifically, they are released when a plant is in distress from disease, infestation, exposure, or damage. They let the plants around them know that something is coming that could damage them, too, so they better up their defences.

If a pest comes to munch away on a poor plant, the plant emits a pheromone-like compound that warns the other plants what is happening. When these nearby plants get the news, they ramp up security themselves to keep themselves from becoming the next victim.

For example, if an aphid were attacking, these unaffected plants will release a chemical designed to make them less attractive to the little bugs, but more attractive to natural aphid predators, like wasps.

Mycelium:

Mycelia are complex structures that make up something not so complicated at all: fungus. You can find them not only in mushrooms, but you may have also seen them crawling around on your fruits and veggies. The little, fuzzy growth that frosts your edibles after too long in the crisper drawer? It may look like a nasty substance you want to be rid of immediately, but it is actually a gorgeous network of cells with the potential to bring plants together.

Studies have shown that these spider web structures will actually team up with the roots of plants, connecting them with the roots of nearby plants. In doing so, they create a mutually beneficial relationship where the mycelium takes advantage of the plant’s water and nutrient collection, while the plants use the network as an information highway to pass messages to their neighbours.

Much like what happens with VCOs, mycellia will pass along the plant’s warning signals of distress from the roots through their branches, known as hyphae. This works below the soil surface and isn’t subject to the fickleness of wind patterns.

As fancy as Facebook may be, plants have naturally developed their own, integral social network that not only keeps them alive, but helps them to thrive. Saving their breath on the small stuff, they pass along essential survival skills to keep your garden fresh and fabulous. Pretty and smart, your plants prove once again that they deserve a place in your life and your yard.

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Bog Gardening for Those Wet Spots

Rainy Garden

Bog Gardening for Those Wet Spots

Bog Plants for Sunny Spots
Bog Plants for Shade

“When you pray for rain, you gotta deal with the mud, too.”
– Denzel Washington, The Equalizer

In a boggy, wet spot, you’re stuck with soil that never dries and seems to drown or rot everything you plant there. With attempt after attempt foiled, you may have even given up hope on ever gardening there at all. Well, have I got news for you! Turns out, there are plenty of bog-friendly plants that don’t mind soaking their feet, giving you a lush, beautiful, and full garden no matter where you’re planting.

Bog Plants for Sunny Spots:

If your wet spot sees plenty of sun all day, these plants will take to it straight away:

Ornamental Rhubarb:
Many of us have fond memories of a deliciously sweet and tart rhubarb crisp on a warm, summer day. This is not that rhubarb. Ornamental Rhubarbs live up to the name and give a beautiful, ornamental show best enjoyed with the eyes, rather than the mouth. You’ll love the giant, deep purple, variegated leaves that transition to green throughout the summer and the showy white flower spikes. Keep it looking sharp with an annual fall pruning.

Marsh Marigold:
For effortless ground-cover and brightness, the magnificent Marsh Marigold has got you covered. This stunning plant stands just over a foot tall and offers brilliantly bright buttercup blooms that perfectly compliment any garden. It’s a North American native that requires very little to grow. An occasional trim will keep it looking its best, but that’s about it! It has been known for its toxicity, though, so be cautious around curious kids and pets.

Globeflower:
For a truly unique addition to make your garden pop, Globeflowers are simply amazing. As the name implies, these beautiful blooms are made up of overlapping petals that curl together to create a round, globe-like appearance. They’re large in size and impossible to miss with bold colours like yellow and orange (although, the Orange Princess Globeflower prefers a shadier spot). To keep these flowers looking their best, give them a small trim in fall and enjoy!

Milkweed:
If there is one thing that Milkweed is known for, it’s its power at pulling in pollinators. In particular, monarchs just can’t get enough of this fragrant flower. And the best part? It is naturally found in bogs, so you can be sure this little lovely will thrive! This low-maintenance beauty comes in many amazing colours, but my favourites are the pink and white Cinderella and the simple, white Ice Ballet. Both look amazing in the yard and as a cut flower for double-duty beauty.

Dig in with Alberta’s Best Gardening Blog for more helpful gardening tips!

Bog Plants for Shade:

If your wet spot sees little to no sun at all, here are some plants that love just that:

Astilbe:
Astilbes are amazing bog plants for their showy flower spikes. These plumes of soft colour can come in various shades, all the way from white to crimson and every pink in between. They are low-maintenance, deer resistant, and a favourite of butterflies. All they need to succeed is acidic soil to start and an annual pruning in early spring.

Hosta:
Also known as Plantain Lilies, Hostas have been a number one choice of gardeners everywhere for years. They come in all shapes, sizes, and colours, and give an amazing show of big and bold leaves that can’t be missed. They’ll also sport spikes of little bellflowers in the summer, giving them an extra layer of texture to love. Try my favourites: August Moon, Big Daddy, and Blue Ivory for incredible variety.

Cardinal Flower:
Cardinal Flowers are amazing bog plants that skirt the line where shade is concerned. They do like a little morning sun, but can’t stand the harsh afternoon rays, so they’re best planted in that transitional spot. They sport gorgeous plumes of blue, tubular flower that hummingbirds and butterflies adore. While they can be low-maintenance in the right conditions, this flower is really only hardy to Zone 4a, so they’ll take a lot of tenderizing to make it in the winter. Also known for being toxic, take care around kids and pets.

You’ve heard the basic plant needs reiterated over and over again: “well-draining soil, weekly watering, doesn’t like wet feet”. With this in mind, planting in a boggy spot seemed impossible. No longer! These effortlessly awesome bog plants make filling your garden easy once more.

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Best Tips for Pulling Weeds

Best Tips for Pulling Weeds

Tips for Weeding
Prevent Weeds

“On an exhausted field, only weeds grow.”
– Henryk Sienkiewicz

Weeds are the bane of every gardener’s existence. Just when you think you have a pristine garden, they pop out of the ground to wreak their havoc. Now, don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of “weeds” that look great in a garden or yard. The problem isn’t always their appearance, though. Weeds compete with what you actually planned and planted for sun, water, and nutrients. In a contest, the weeds are better at getting what they want than what you’re trying to grow. To keep your garden growing the way it’s intended, taking out the weeds is key.

Tips for Weeding:

Despite hours of tireless work in the hot sun, pesky weeds can keep popping up. For more effective and easier weeding, here are my top tips:

Weed When Wet: This tip is a simple idea that gardeners have been following with great success for centuries. If you pull weeds when the soil is dry, they often get stuck and the roots remain in the soil to grow again. If you pull them after rain or after watering, the soil is easier to move, and the roots will slide out with less resistance. Careful where you step in a wet garden, though, because wet soil is also easier to pack down, smothering your plants and making it harder to pull weeds.

Weed Early: Get weeds when they’re small. By weeding earlier in the season, you’ll not only keep your garden from becoming infested with little weeds, but you’ll also catch them before their roots have become too complex. You’ll stop them from seeding, and their smaller roots will be easier to pull.

Loosen Your Soil: To make sure you get the roots, you want to make one smooth pull. This is hard to do when met with the resistance of stiff soil. Gently loosen the top layers with a spade or weeding tool (your hands can work, too). If done correctly, you should be able to see where your roots connect to the plant. Grab the plant from its growing source, and you’ll know you left no roots behind.

Up and Out: When pulling weeds, tug them straight up rather than on an angle. Angles can cause roots to break off, so up and out is the way to go.

Decapitate: If you can’t quite get their roots, taking off their head may be your best bet. Seeds are produced when the flowers are spent, so chop them off frequently to prevent them from making more.

Know Thy Enemy: Pulling weeds can feel all the same, but it most certainly is not. Knowing the weeds you’re pulling will help you remove and prevent them more easily. It’s important to know how they grow to stop them from popping up again. It will also help you know if they are dangerous, poisonous, or beneficial!

Can’t Kill Them? Use Heat: Despite your hardest tugs and best efforts, sometimes you just can’t shake weeds. A surefire way to kill them, though, is roasting them alive. One way is to pour boiling water on them. This is great for weeds in the lawn or popping up through cracks, but not so great in the garden where you can damage your other plants. In the garden, just cover them with dark plastic for a month. They’ll die off with no light and too much heat.

Dig in with Alberta’s Best Gardening Blog for more tips on keeping a tidy garden!

Prevent Weeds:

Now that you know the tips and tricks, pulling your weeds might not seem so bad. Saving yourself the extra work is always much better, though. To prevent weeds from growing in your garden in the first place, remember:

Mulch is key. This prevents weeds from growing and seeding. It also regulates temperatures and moisture for your plants. It’s an all-around win-win in the garden.

Pack your plants close together. Weeds need the sun to grow, and if there are only shady areas left, they won’t get a chance. Make sure to give your plants the space they need, though, to get to full size.

Don’t let pulled weeds touch your soil. When weeding, place weeds into a bag or bucket to prevent seeds from getting into the soil. Also be sure to clean your gloves after weeding to prevent the spread of seeds during other gardening later.

Proper disposal is also very important. Use a lawn waste bag to dispose with garbage. Many weeds are also edible, so check to see if you can add them to a salad! You can also compost them, but to prevent seeds, you’ll need lots of heat to cook your compost.

A weed-free garden is a happy one where your plants are free to grow with all the sun, water, and nutrients they need. With these tips and tricks handy, you’ll be sure to have a healthier garden in no time!

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Best Plants for Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds

Best Plants for Hummingbirds

Salvia
Delphinium
Penstemon
Bee Balm

“The daily hummingbird assaults existence with improbability.”
– Ursula K. Le Guin

Hummingbirds have long been a garden favourite as stunning creatures and helpful pollinators. Their beautiful colours and crazy hovering ability makes them completely captivating. Their wings can beat 50-100 times per second, making them incredibly fast. There and gone in a second, these quick, flitting birds can feel impossible to keep around. Luckily, I’m here to help you attract some of these winged beauties and keep them around. Here are some of the best plants for hummingbirds.

 

Salvia:

Salvia

Salvia is a sworn favourite of gardeners for attracting hummingbirds. Some have even nicknamed it Hummingbird Sage. These shorter spikes come covered in tiny blooms in sensational colours. Great in the garden or in a container, salvia is a surefire way to see more hummingbirds hovering around.

Salvia will only tolerate full sunshine to keep their beautiful blooms bright. Beyond their sunshine needs, though, they are really a low-maintenance plant. They are very adaptable to both moist and dry soils, so a little neglect won’t hurt this variety.

 

Delphinium:

Also known as Larkspur, Delphinium is one of the best flowers for hummingbirds. The tall flower spikes give hummingbirds lots of colour to lure them in. This is perfect for the bird that can’t smell very well and uses sight to guide them. While the bright colours draw them in, the 5-8 foot tall buffet of delicious, nectar-filled flowers keeps them around.

Delphinium plants will need lots of sunshine to give them their bright colours. Planting in full sun is a must. Plant them a foot apart to give them plenty of space to grow and keep the soil evenly moist. If you notice your stalks drooping slightly, you may need to plant a stake to help keep your flowers upright and luring in hummingbirds.

 

Dig in with Alberta’s Best Gardening Blog for more tips on how to attract pollinators to your garden!

 

Penstemon:

Penstemon

Penstemon is another tall, spiking flower that is sure to bring hummingbirds to your garden. Covered in small, tubular flowers – a favourite of hummingbirds for their plentiful nectar – these plants can grow over 2 feet tall, making them easy for hummingbirds to spot. Their low-maintenance care and plentiful colour options also make them a treat for us, too.

Penstemon, also known as Beardtongue, can grow anywhere from full sun to partial shade. They are drought tolerant and even prefer slightly dry soil, meaning less time spent on watering. Make sure to let the soil dry out before another shower, as these plants have been known to die off in standing water. Spend some time neglecting them, though, and you’ll have beautiful blooms to bring in the birds all summer.

 

Bee Balm:

Bee Balm

Bee Balm, or Monarda, offers gorgeous flowers that look like little pincushions. Their hues of red – a hummingbird’s favourite colour – makes them perfect for drawing them in. A favourite for many winged warriors, you may also notice a few more bees and butterflies in the garden. A mounding variety, this plant is also sure to fill out your garden with its self-seeding and spreading abilities.

Plant your Bee Balms in full to partial sun about 2 feet from each other. They spread quickly, so keep an eye on your new plants to keep them from going anywhere you wouldn’t want them. They are quite adaptable to many watering habits, but I recommend regular watering to keep them happy (and bringing in more hummingbirds).

As quick as they are, hummingbirds are hard to keep around. You can keep them coming back for more with their favourite nectars always on-tap in your yard. Keep them fed with plenty of hovering space and you’ll be sure to have hummingbirds a-plenty all season long!

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