Hot New Plants for the Landscape

Can you believe we’re almost halfway through March? Spring is so close, I can practically smell the lilacs already! It’s time to say sayonara to the snow, and hello to landscaping season. When it comes to choosing your backyard plants and designing a layout, it’s always more exciting to branch out and try new things instead of sticking with the same old, same old. If you’re in need of a little inspiration, take a gander at this list of bright and distinctive plants that will thrive here in Zone 3.

Backyard Landscaping Ideas: Out of the Ordinary Plants and Flowers

If you want your yard to really impress, why play it safe and stick to just the basics? Experiment with bold colours and exotic flowers that will give your garden some serious Wow-factor. It’s low risk, high reward! Here’s a few picks that are sure to make a statement on their own or as a centrepiece to some of your classic favorites:

Hot New Plants for the Landscape Out of the Ordinary

Columbine: There are so many neat colour combos of columbine available. I love the way the rounded inner blossom contrasts with the bold colours of its spiky outer petals. The foliage is pretty spectacular too— watch it change from deep green to burgundy as summer turns to fall.

Balloon Flowers: They’re the flower within a flower (flower-ception!) that starts out as a puffed-up balloon-shaped bud, but bursts open into a gorgeous star-shaped blossom. They usually begin to bloom by mid-July, and while they do best in sunny spots, a little bit of partial shade won’t hurt.

Alliums: These vivid, spherical blooms look like they’re straight out of a Dr. Seuss illustration. They’re actually an ornamental species of onion, and they come in many colours and sizes, some reaching up to four feet tall! They’re perennials, so once you plant them, they’ll come back to greet you each spring. However, it’s important to note that you can only plant these pom-pom flowers in the autumn, so if you like the look of these whimsical blossoms, you’ll have to plan ahead for next year.  

Shade Plants for Low Light Areas

It can be tough to find that perfect bloom that packs a punch even in the shaded corners of your yard. Instead of treating those spots like a chore to fill, try these stunners:

Hot New Plants for the Landscape Shade Plants

Bleeding Hearts: These flowers are eager to get blooming, so not only will they be one of the first to make an appearance in your garden this spring, they may very likely steal the show with their peculiar-but-iconic shape and bright pink petals. They like their soil nice and moist, so regular watering is a must.

Ladies Mantle: This shady lady is wonderfully low-maintenance, so you don’t need to worry too much about fertilizer or extra watering. A little rain is all it needs to stay happy. It’s lime-tinted blossoms are pretty subtle up against its bright green foliage, so no matter what your chosen colour palette is, ladies mantle shouldn’t clash. It doesn’t grow too high, so consider filling out some of the shadier patches and corners of your garden with this one.

False Goat’s Beard: As you can probably guess by the name, this plant sports a shaggy, pointy hairstyle (although its neon colours make it look a bit more like one of those Troll dolls, in my humble opinion). It blooms from June to September, so you can enjoy those cute colourful tufts all summer long.  

Ground Cover Plants and Flowers for Landscape Edging

Just because you need some plants for edging and borders doesn’t mean that they have to be boring. There are tons of classics out there to choose from, but why not try something new (you might find a new favourite!) this year in your garden to highlight everything else you have going on:

Hot New Plants for the Landscape Ground Cover Plants

Muscari: These conical indigo flowers don’t grow very high (only about 6-8 inches), so they’re a great pick for borders. They look particularly stunning when planted in front of tall flowers in bright contrasting shades of orange and yellow, like daffodils.  

Thrift: This low-growing flower comes in every shade of pink imaginable. It likes its soil nice and sandy with good drainage, so try not to overwater it, because root rot is its sworn enemy.  

Creeping Phlox: These pastel-flowered plants are pretty easy to please and can thrive in even the roughest of soil conditions. They tend to creep their way over rocks, so planting them around decorative paving stones can lead to some pretty fantastic results.

Dragon’s Blood Sedum: This flower obviously wins the title for most badass name, but it’s also pretty awesome as far as colour goes. It starts with a bright red bud that bursts open, revealing a star-shaped magenta flower that slowly gets deeper and redder as autumn approaches.

Stepping out of your comfort zone and trying something different can lead to some pretty incredible discoveries, so why not get creative this year and design a backyard landscape full of these eye-catching beauties? Trust me, when the compliments from your neighbours start rolling in, you’ll be glad you went the extra mile to make your garden pop.

Seed Starting Indoors

seed starting indoors

Here in Edmonton, we’re no strangers to freezing cold winters, so when spring rolls around, our soil often isn’t quite toasty enough to directly plant seeds in our gardens. Luckily, starting your seeds indoors is pretty easy, and it won’t compromise the quality of your plant if you follow the necessary steps.


Prepare to Plant Seeds

Before you dive into planting, make sure you check the back of the seed packet for any special instructions on preparing your seeds. Bigger seeds with hard shells, like beans and squash, need to be soaked overnight to soften up. Other seeds, like lavender and catmint, need to be chilled first to help break them out of dormancy by mimicking the conditions of transitioning from winter to spring.

Some seeds with particularly tough exteriors, like morning glories and nasturtiums, need their shells scratched up and weakened to help them sprout. You can do this by rubbing your seeds gently with sandpaper or putting tiny nicks into the surface with a knife. Just make sure you’re only cracking the outer surface of the seed while still leaving the inside intact.


When to Plant Vegetable Seeds

Figure out the frost date in your area (typically early May here in Edmonton) and plan accordingly. Every plant is different, so you’ll want to avoid transplanting them into the garden too early or too late. If you do it too early, they could fall victim to frost, and if you wait too long and keep them indoors for longer than necessary, they could get a bit leggy and limp.

Many common plants, like tomatoes, need about 6-8 weeks of growth before moving out into the yard, but some will need a little more or little less time. Just read that seed packet ahead of time to be sure you’re timing things out right.  


Planting Tools and Equipment for Seed Starting Indoors

To increase your odds of a successful seed starting endeavour, here are a few tools that will make things a little easier:

Grow lights. There isn’t exactly an overwhelming surplus of sunshine in February. So, to make sure your seedlings are getting enough rays, use a grow light for about 12 hours a day. Don’t leave it on overnight, though — remember, you’re trying to mimic outdoor conditions, so 24/7 sunshine isn’t gonna bode well for your plants.

Peat pots. Some plants have delicate roots that get jumbled up during transplantation, so to avoid this altogether, plant your seeds in plantable peat pots that can be popped directly in the soil. Easy peasy!

Dome lids. Edmonton air can be treacherously dry in late winter, and seeds that crave humidity won’t be too keen on our climate. Placing a dome lid over their containers should help to lock in moisture.


Plants to Start Seeding

Not sure which seeds to start with? Here’s some recommendations for easy-to-start seeds for planting a garden in Edmonton:

Beans

Lettuce greens

Tomatoes

Spinach

Zucchinis & other summer squashes

Radishes

Peppers

Cucumbers

With this handy list of planting and gardening tips, all you need to do to get started is to pick a sunny window in your home and put together a slick setup for your seeds to sprout in. But don’t get too attached to your funky window display, because these babies gotta move out to the garden at the tail end of spring!


Eat What You Sow

Eat What You Sow

Edible gardening is rapidly gaining popularity, and for good reason. Sure, regular houseplants are great and all, but why not make the most out of your gardening endeavours and get some fresh fruits, veggies and herbs out of the deal? Nothing beats the bragging rights you’ve earned when you serve your friends a meal made from organic food grown in your very own home.


Benefits of Urban Food Gardening

Even if you don’t have a sprawling backyard to fill with vegetable plants, you can still create a pretty slick indoor garden using smaller container plants. The convenience an in-home garden brings to your cooking routine is pretty spectacular. You reap the benefits of garden-fresh organic food, skip the trips to the supermarket, and eliminate the frustration of big bushels of fresh herbs wilting in the fridge.

On top of the obvious convenience of having a produce section in your own home, edible gardening has tremendous health benefits. The nutrient content of fruits and vegetables reduces gradually the longer they’ve been picked off the plant, so by picking the exact amount you need right when you need it, you’re getting healthier food, with less waste as a result.


How To Start Vegetable Seeds

The best soil for starting seeds should mostly consist of peat, with a mix of perlite for good drainage. Pop it in some small cups or fill up an old paper egg carton. Before planting your seeds, be sure to read the instructions on the back of the seed pack, because some need to be chilled, soaked in water or scratched before you go ahead with germinating. It’s a good idea to put two seeds in each container, so once they sprout you can pluck out the weaker of the two. Find a sunny spot by a window and set up your seedlings. Some seedlings need a little extra humidity, so placing a dome over the cup should help trap in moisture.

If you’re planning on transplanting your seedlings outdoors, take note of the frost date in your area and plan accordingly. Here in Edmonton we’re usually looking at an early March frost date. If you wait too long to germinate your seeds, your summer harvest won’t be too impressive with such a limited growing season. Starting seeds indoors too early in the season sets your plants up for failure, because they just won’t get enough light when the days are much shorter. Even if you use a supplementary growing light, this could cause your plant to start flowering too early, when ideally you want your plant to begin flowering after you’ve transplanted it to ensure the best possible yield.   

If you plan on keeping your plants indoors, make sure you’ve got a sunny window, preferably South or West facing, to set up your indoor garden by. If your home is particularly dry, it wouldn’t hurt to pick up a humidifier, because many plants like lettuce and cucumber prefer the air to be a bit more moist.


Indoor Vegetable Gardening Tips

While not every fruit or vegetable is keen on growing indoors, there are more than enough viable options out there to make for a tricked-out kitchen garden. Herbs are always a great starting point— they don’t take up too much space, they’re easy to care for, and they make a huge impact on the quality of your cooking. If surface area is limited in your kitchen, try installing a hanging herb garden in your window— it’s like edible art, perfectly backlit by the sun.

Now, herbs aren’t exactly the foundation of a meal, so if you’d like to grow something a little more substantial size-wise, try your hand at growing some of these edible plants that fare well in indoor containers:

Lettuce Greens: We all could stand to eat a few more salads now and then, so growing lettuce at home is a great option if you’re looking for a quick convenient meal that doesn’t break the bank. If salads aren’t your thing, blend lettuce greens into a yoghurt and berry smoothie, and you’ll barely taste the difference.  

Arugula:Whoever said salads were boring obviously has never encountered arugula, because this flavorful leafy green has serious attitude. Balance out the spiciness with something sweet, like a honey-lemon vinaigrette with sliced beets and goat cheese. It also makes a great topping for burgers and creamy pastas. If you’re the impatient results-oriented type, you’ll love arugula, because this plant doesn’t waste any time, and reaches maturity in around a month and a half.  

Lemons: Pick up a dwarf lemon tree for your kitchen, and the hipsters and artsy types in your life will be swooning. Has anyone else noticed lemon motifs popping up everywhere right now? While this option may take a lot longer to produce food than the typical indoor gardening project, the payoff is so worth it. Dinner, dessert, tea time, and cocktail hour will be extra snazzy with a twist of lemon from your very own tree.   

Strawberries: These tasty fruits grow quite well in containers, but you just need to make sure they’re getting tons of light and good soil drainage. If necessary, a little grow light should help it along. Keep it on for about 14 hours per day, and you’ll be in business in no time.

Tomatoes: While tomatoes can be a bit trickier to pull off indoors, it’s certainly not an impossible feat. They need about 8 hours of direct sunlight per day, so it’s probably in your best interests to grab a grow light. Small upright varieties of tomatoes like Red Robins and Florida Petites will do best (leave the jumbo beefeater tomatoes for growing outdoors).  

Have fun putting together your own kitchen garden, and don’t be afraid to take risks and experiment with new fruits and veggies you haven’t tried before. What’s the worst that could happen? Nothing wrong with a little trial and error, it’s all part of the learning experience. You’ll love having so many fresh ingredients on hand, and it’ll make for some of the most spectacular farm to table recipes you’ve ever tried (or in this case, windowsill to table).


Sustainability in the Garden

As our awareness of the environment grows, our daily actions immediately come into question. We now realize that what we bring into our house and what we throw out of it has a direct influence on our habitat. And our respect for the land is imminent for future generations, so sustainability is top priority for us in many ways.

What is Sustainable Gardening?

Sustainability is the ability to maintain a balance between all elements within the equation. Sustainability, as it relates to the garden, is the concept of working the land without damaging the soil and surrounding occupants.

How to Create a Sustainable Garden

Before you go all-in and redo the entire yard, there are simple steps to start implementing right now as you thrive for a more sustainable landscape:

Be water-conscious. Water is an incredibly precious resource. It’s so vital to our well-being that towns regulate the days, times, and amounts of water you can use for exterior projects, such as watering lawns or newly planted trees. Manage your output by cutting back on watering the lawn, and allow the roots to grow deeper. This will make the grass more sustainable in times of drought. And If you’re installing a new landscape or preparing a vegetable garden that will need water, consider collecting rainwater to keep your plants thriving.

Use mulch to help manage excessive watering. Mulching around newly installed tree and shrubs will immediately help retain moisture right where the plants need it most. Additionally, using mulch as a groundcover for your entire landscape, instead of rock, will help rainwater reach all your plants along with natural nutrients!

Go organic.The underlying premise for sustainability is to do right by the environment, and using chemicals for your lawn, landscape and otherwise, can be harmful and sometimes unnecessary. Selecting organic products to maintain your lawn’s lush appearance, grow the largest tomatoes, or keep your petunias flowering is a happy medium.  

Plant more. Adding more plants to your landscape might seem counterintuitive to the water-wise suggestion made previously, but in the long run, the right plants will be a great benefit to your landscape. Trees, such as oaks, maples, and honey locusts, will grow to shade the lawn (for less watering to keep the grass green) and the house (for fewer utilities to maintain the interior temperatures). Perennials and ornamental grasses will provide seasonal color while stabilizing the ground with their expansive root structure.

Additionally, selecting plants native to your region is the ultimate goal for a sustainable landscape. Plants that naturally grow in your climate will require less watering, little to no fertilizing, and will easily thrive will little maintenance.

Minimize the green space.Anyone who knows me knows that a lush, green lawn is not a top choice in my playbook, especially if it’s high maintenance. And sustainable gardening practices agree. Adding garden beds with native perennials and grasses will minimize the amount of water and mowing required for a lawn. Plus, if designed for the seasons, you’ll have a picturesque view all year round.

Grow your own food. Another way to cut back on the lawn is to make space for an edible garden. Growing your own vegetables, berries, and herbs not only minimizes your trips to the grocery store, but it’s also an opportunity to teach younger generations how to be self-sufficient.

A self-sustaining garden or landscape doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Start with a few ideas and grow from there. Mother Nature will thank you!

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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