The Weather, Hurting Plants & Weeds

What is the weather doing to traditional gardening seasons; one further comment on “hurting the feelings of plants;” and, introducing a new method of selectively killing dandelions and other broadleaf weeds!
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

May 3, 2008

Above, last year in southern Ontario, most magnolias failed to flower significantly, for example this tree in Rosedale which is this year reported to be absolutely loaded with bloom; and a newly planted Magnolia ‘Daybreak’ in our garden here in Parksville. It has no open blooms yet this year! Below, a field of dandelions which the new product Sarritor should tackle once it is available on the retail market; a Vancouver street scene of tulips at a commercial building I happened to note on my way to meet with Jeff Watson, the president of Sarritor; and the new BC Ferries ship “Coastal Renaissance”. Author photos.

May is considered by most Canadians, indeed by most people in the Northern Hemisphere, as the key and busiest gardening month of the year. This year, one of the most unusual in recent history, the weather has played some unusual ‘tricks’ on most of us--record snows and cold in the east, near record cold temperatures in the British Columbia banana belt and storms almost everywhere. And, that certainly includes our U.S. neighbors!

As I write this, while saucer magnolias (Magnolia soulangiana) trees may be seen in full bloom on most of the south eastern tip, and mid-island regions of Vancouver Island, as well as on lower mainland B.C., and the star magnolias (Magnolia stellata) have been in bloom here for at least two weeks, almost the exact same can be said for southern Ontario. Right now, there, they have star and saucer magnolias in full bloom along with golden bell (Forsythia) shrubs and many other spring flowering trees and shrubs. In my six-plus years living out here, and during countless visits here in the 60s and 70s, never have I seen these shrubs and trees at virtually the same stage of growth in both B.C. and Ontario, and even elsewhere.

The entire northwest has been cold and wetter than normal (although we here in Parksville have escaped most of the rain that has inundated other locations, that courtesy of nearby Mount Arrowsmith which carries the rain up and over to the mainland and Vancouver). Ontario had virtually a record total snowfall, which generally fell early and lasted long meaning that most soils had little or no frost in them. This, amazingly, allowed most if not all of the snowmelt to penetrate the farm fields, forests, gardens and lawns, rather than running down the storm drains, This should go a long way to replenishing the low water tables of the last few years which have left established trees and shrubs, in many cases, in dire straits! Colder areas, such as northern Ontario and Quebec are experiencing the floods we are hearing about and seeing--the opposite (and undesired) result of the excessively heavy snowfalls.

* * *

Turning to another “hot topic”, with Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty [remember, he is the same Premier that in September 2005 was going to introduce Sharia Law into Ontario to pacify Muslims!] having recently announced legislation that will impose an almost total ban on the use of “cosmetic pesticides”, many gardeners are wondering where they’ll turn for the control of some common pests, diseases and weeds. I have said enough about this issue over the past two decades and while I may speak out yet again, it won’t be in this item! (Thank goodness the crowd roared!)

However, I simply have to share with you one astute and hilarious comment that came to me by e-mail this week from a good horticulturist friend of mine, after he read my item of last week outlining the Swiss government’s legislation which outlaws any research on plants that would “offend the dignity of the plants.” My friend’s comment was, “I have just launched a new environmental organization, the LLA, the "Lettuce Liberation Army." There is no cost for membership but you must agree to giving up on Caesar salads as egg yolks and bacon bits might compromise the dignity of the plant!” He also said that he was copying Premier Dalton McGuinty’s office saying, “sounds like a cause the Premier's Office would support.” His comments, not mine; although I very much agree!

Just as the prime chemicals for selective weed control in lawns are about to be phased out (in Ontario at least, and no doubt many other provinces will follow Québec and Ontario’s example), we have news of a new method for such control in home lawns and other prime turf areas. In Vancouver on Tuesday this past week I met with Jeff Watson, president of a company called Sarritor which has been working on development of a naturally-occurring fungus that can be applied to lawns and will kill dandelions and other broadleaf weeds such as plantain, thistle etc. The fungus was initially discovered by Jeff’s father, Alan, while at McGill University in Montreal back in the early 90s. The company began developmental work on the product in 2003-2004. Last year significant tests on home lawns were conducted in a couple of Canadian cities by custom spraying companies.

The product has the same name as the company--Sarritor. It is a spot treatment and one-year old dandelions seem to die with just a single treatment provided the conditions are just right--medium temperatures (definitely not over 20o C) and plenty of moisture available. Older dandelions or other tougher broadleaf weeds may require a second hit. Now, just as dandelions are just beginning to show their colour is the ideal time to apply Sarritor.

That was the good news! The bad news is that the product will only be available on a very limited basis this year in Ontario and Quebec, and there, only through custom sprayers Weed Man and Dr. Green. Retail distribution on a limited basis, it is hoped, will follow in 2009.

The reason for the slow introduction is that the method of ‘growing’ the fungus is lengthy and somewhat complicated. It is grown on inert barley stems and it is the barley that is applied to the individual weeds. Once the weeds die (usually within seven days) both the fungus and the barley are inert in the soil.

The product has a temporary permit from Canada’s Pest Management Review Agency, and is approved for use in all provinces except British Columbia which must alter its rules and regulations and have those changes approved legislatively. That is not expected to happen until 2009.

But, this new twist to selective weed control will be available on a limited basis this year from the custom sprayers noted, so if you want to be among the first to try something new, contact your local lawn spraying company now!

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