Documents: Garden Design:

Pampas Grass, Klondike Rose Potatoe & Snowdrops

On growing pampas grass in southern Ontario; Klondike Rose potatoes—an interesting new one; and how to get rid of Snowdrops!
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale

email: art@artdrysdale.com

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 http://www.artdrysdale.com


April 16, 2006

Pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana) as it is seen growing on Vancouver Island, and two single giant snowdrop (Galanthus elwesii) flowers!

Last week Rosmarie Notar wrote from Welland wrote with this question: “Once again I come to you for help. I really like the off white coloured ornamental grasses with tassels that I see in gardens all year round. The one I purchased last year died down over the winter and yet I see other people's standing erect in winter. Mine is more green than off white...poor advice from the garden centre??? If you have time to respond as to the name of this grass, I'd certainly appreciate it.”

My response, equally applicable to most of southern Ontario, was: “The plant you refer to is Pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana) and in areas of mild climates, it can become quite a nuisance when it spreads from seeds blown from large plants. There are a number of different cultivars, including a dwarf form, and on that has pink plumes. All are considered ‘tender’ in southern Ontario so any that you have seen are likely older, established plants. On the other hand yours having been newly planted obviously did not fare well. If it does come through (and it should since you had such a mild winter, and you are literally in one of the mildest parts of Ontario there in Welland), then I would fertilize it well, and give it some protection the next winter. That would include hilling up some soil around the base, possibly mulching the base with leaves once the ground is frozen, and likely ringing it with some protective burlap for the winter.

“Another alternative would be to try and get some roots of someone else’s plant anytime now, and planting those in your garden. In theory, such small offset plants should be at least as hardy as the plant from which you take them—likely much hardier than young plants offered in a nursery.

“Further, you may find that your existing plant is fine this year, and comes through the winter next year fine.”

Just one day earlier, on April Fools Day, Irene Horne wrote about a potato variety that I didn’t know at all: “I recently discovered Klondike Rose potatoes. We favour red skinned potatoes in our household and my husband usually plants them in our garden. We had never had a yellow flesh red skinned potato before and we found them very tasty. My four-year old grandson (a very picky eater) asks for them whenever I cook for them.

“My husband enquired at our local Co-op feed supplier if they carried the seed potato but the answer was negative. I am not sure whether he enquired elsewhere but my question is this. Can I just buy a bag of potatoes from the grocery store and use them to plant in the garden? What is the benefit to buying seed potatoes for the garden?

“Your expertise would be beneficial. I enjoy listening to your programme and although our gardening routine has diminished over the past few years, we still like to be able to pick and pull a few of our own veggies straight from the garden for dinner. Nothing tastes quite as good. Thank you for any help you can give us.”

After a little research, here was my answer: “First, I hope I may assume you are writing from Ontario? I had not personally heard about Klondike Rose potatoes previous to your note, so I thank you for telling me about them. If you are indeed in Ontario, I think your best contact for further information is likely Tom K. Hughes, President, Mackay & Hughes, Toronto, 416-251-2271. He is in charge of sales and marketing for Canada. If anyone can, he should be able to direct you to a seed potato supplier; however, it may be they are limiting seed potato supplies to licensed growers of the cultivar.

“The simple answer to whether you can buy a bag of potatoes in a grocery store and use them to plant in the garden is yes, but it likely will not work well. A way back in 1960, I wrote a thesis at The Niagara Parks Commission School of Horticulture on the use of nuclear energy in horticulture, and most of the thesis was based on a lengthy visit I paid to the Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island in New York State. One of the most successful uses that had been found for the use of nuclear energy even then was a simple means of exposing potatoes ready for marketing, to very minor rays and this virtually completely prevented the potatoes from sprouting. You may remember how, in the ‘old days’ nearly all the potatoes we bought were either already sprouting, or did before we could cook them. That is virtually unheard of now. One of the reasons is that the potatoes are treated to prevent sprouting. Obviously those are not the kind of potatoes anyone would want to use as seed potatoes.

“Seed potatoes are always untreated. But, I have not seen Klondike Rose in any seed potato displays. And, I did call and talk to Stan Mills of Eagle Creek Seed Potatoes in Bowden Alberta and he is unaware of the cultivar. [Incidentally, Eagle Creek have recently taken over the business of Becker’s Seed Potatoes of Trout Creek Ontario.]

“So, you may, at the moment, be asking for the impossible.”

Also recently, Maurice Bouillet wrote from Vancouver Island with this interesting problem: “We saw your show on Shaw’s 'The Daily Gardener' the other day and we were impressed. We have a question for you. We have Snow Drops coming up all over and taking over. As nice as they are, they need to be controlled. Every spring we work to keep them from spreading but they get ahead of us. Would Roundup [glyphosate] kill the bulb in the ground? What do you suggest?”

That is an interesting question; here was my response: “That is an unusual problem; hundreds of gardeners are likely trying to have more and more snowdrops! However, too much of anything is often a nuisance. Yes, I would try Roundup, and you might also want to try WipeOut on a different patch. In both cases I would get the concentrate form which you may then mix with water in a plastic container, but at perhaps twice the recommended rate. Then I would use a large old paint brush to paint the foliage, and that would be as soon as possible now. Try to do that when you are likely to be rain free for about 48 hours!

“When you have some ‘action’ you might let me know; and then again next spring when you’ll know for sure what happened!”

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