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Peonies, Turnips & Rutabagas

Have you tried Hydroponics for your peonies? One listener/reader has! Just what is the difference be-tween turnip and rutabagas; the need to re-dig gladiolus each fall and a new Safers product.
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

October 3, 2004

Here is the box of Doktor Doom’s newest product, a foam mosquito repellent. Below, a very old photo of gladiolus..

Violet Ryan wrote over a week ago enquiring about peonies and whether or not they could be grown in containers. Unfortunately, other than knowing she lives in Canada (ascertained from her e-mail address), I have no idea where she lives, and thus cannot even guess at just what might, and what will not, grow in containers. I spend a good part of my book Gardening Off The Ground explaining most of the factors that affect what can be tried in containers, and what should not. For example, if she is resident in southern Ontario, or any place with the equivalent or more harsh climate, I would definitely recommend that she over-winter her peonies in the ground, not in a container.

Here’s what she actually asked: “I love peonies. Can they be grown in a container on the balcony? All my plants are in hydroponics. Would that be a problem in the winter with the peonies? Even if I insulated the container? Thanks.”

It is interesting to read that she is growing all her plants hydroponically on a balcony. However, unless she is in one of Canada’s most favourable climates such as here on Vancouver Island or one of the Gulf Islands in British Columbia, I don’t see how she will be able to protect the hydroponics containers over winter. The best thing to do, I think, is to sink the entire container into someone’s back garden. But, she may have to be quite creative in how she ‘plants’ the containers, because I think there will be a need to check periodically on now the plants are doing. My final suggestion would be to contact someone like Frank Pastor Jr. at Frank’s Magic Crops in Burlington Ontario (1-800-668-0980 or or Shelly Rea at Homegrown Hydroponics in Toronto (1-800-INFO-GRO or

Elizabeth Campeau of unknown location in Canada wrote last week about gladiolus as follows: “I am interested in planting gladiolus. I have an area about 20 ft. long by 5 ft. wide that runs parallel to a hedge. It gets afternoon sun which is quite hot. Would this area be OK for glads? I always thought that they had to be dug up and brought inside to winter but a friend tells me that is now unnecessary - just leave them to winter outside as long as mulched. What would you advise?”

My response began with the old plea, for folks with questions please, please to include their city/town from whence they write. “Ever so often, it is impossible to discuss a horticultural topic without having that information. This question is not really one of those.

“Having said that, I am not aware of any area in this country where glads are left in the ground, including on Vancouver Island where we do leave dahlias in, but not glads.

Gladiolus should be dug and stored.

Once glads are growing, the corm you planted generally begins to shrivel and a new one develops above it. Also, later in the season, tiny cormels usually develop all around the base of the new corm. When you dig the 'bulbs' (corms) in the fall, you should sort the corms by size, and also keep the cormels to be planted the next spring. They are planted only about 4-5 cm (1½ to 2") deep and the same apart vs. the 15 cm (6") deep and apart for large corms.

In any case do let us know where you are located, and who advised you otherwise re the glads!”

Also last week, Ann Kiel of Saskatchewan (I was able to ascertain at least the province from her e-mail ad-dress!) posed this interesting question: “What is the difference between rutabaga and turnip? Do they both need frost to have the sweet taste?”

Well Ann, that is a very good question; I know many people think they are one and the same. They are not!

It seems to me that since I was a kid, I’ve always noted more rutabaga in grocery stores and fruit veg markets than turnips. First, let’s note that they are related: rutabaga is Brassica napus napobrassica and turnip is Brassica rapa. Some think the rutabaga was developed from a cross of a turnip and a cabbage (Brassica oleracea). Second, rutabaga is a much larger root vegetable than turnip. The former averages at least 15 cm (6 in.) in diameter; whereas the latter is usually from 5 to 10 cm in diameter. Third, although both vegetables show a purple colour at the top of the bulbous storage root, the interior flesh varies substantially with the large rutabaga being yellow-orange and the smaller turnip being white.

There are also nutritional differences, which may or may not be of greater importance with the current emphasis on lower carb intake. Rutabaga has about 1/3 the carbs of potato, but turnip has an even a lower carb count.

Regarding your question whether both require frost to gain sweetness; that is certainly true in the case of rutabaga. They need 100 to 110 days for maturity and can be stored for up to six months after harvest. The turnip is different. It may either be harvested about a month after planting out when they are young and smooth, or they may be left for two to 2½ months and then dug. The mature turnips may be kept in a cooler for up to two weeks with the foliage attached, or if the foliage is cut off at harvesting, they too may be kept for up to six months.

Finally this week, while at the CanWest Hort Show a week ago, one additional new product I noted but didn’t mention in last week’s article is a new Safers 3-in-1 ready-to-use insecticide/fungicide/miticide. The ingredients are potassium salts of fatty acids and sulphur. This will be an RTU liquid product and likely will become available by early spring.

One final new product that I did not see at the CanWest show but which has been available now for a couple of months is a unique mosquito repellent that comes in the form of a foam. It comes from the Doktor Doom people and has limited availability. While the West Nile Virus season is now virtually over, since most mosquitoes die once the weather turns cool, next spring thousands will be looking for something with which to combat mosquitoes that does not leave a tell-tale scent on them. This new product from Doktor Doom is just that highly effective product. Check



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