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Spring Planting & New Products

What to plant now or very soon, what not to do, and some new products you will want to try soon!
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

April 10, 2011

My own garden, as it appears now in the second week of April in a cooler-than-average B.C. spring. Above, our red-flowering currant (Ribes sanguinea) and a close-up as well; its white-flowering cousin (Ribes sanguinea ‘White Icicle’) and a close-up of it too. Below, a shot of our large pond with the geyser at its full height and marsh marigolds (Caltha palustris) at their best; the Rhododendron lutescens also the best it has ever been; and finally one of our Daphne odora in full bloom. These latter appear to be deer-resistant as we have a number of them growing in front of our water-side deck with no ‘munching’ of the foliage! Author photos.

While it may be a “bit early” to think about most gardening in Ontario, and in similar if not even colder climates; such is not the case here in British Columbia. I thought this week I should write about some of the chores you should at least be thinking about now that the snow has disappeared.

If the frost is out of the ground in your garden now, there are all kinds of plants that can be planted right now, and there is no better time to put them in than right now. Visit your favourite garden centres and make your selection of perennials, evergreens, vines, trees, deciduous shrubs, roses, and hedge plants. If they don’t seem to have what you want, ask the manager whether or not he is expecting whatever it is you want, to come in from wholesale suppliers soon. Management will know or be able to check what they are expecting in (and approximately when). It might even be a good idea to ‘reserve’ your needs with management.

In addition to planting the materials suggested here, it is not too early to begin other garden preparations. Your vegetable garden could be turned over, and if you did not cover it with compost and possibly manure last fall, then now would be a good time to do that, at least for the compost. Manure too, if it is not too fresh (hot). You might also to apply a scattering of dry 4-8-12 fertilizer on top. Then turn it over to at least the depth of a garden spade but don’t bother smoothing it into a nice planting bed yet. Let the cool spring temperatures have an effect on the newly turned soil.

An exception would be any of the early-planted veggies such as peas, beets, spinach, lettuce, onions and potatoes which can generally be planted as soon as the ground can be turned over.

Most other veggies are considered warm-season crops: carrots, beans, okra and even the cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli, traditionally known as cool-season veggies, are best not planted until temperatures average 10o C. or more.

Moving back to herbaceous perennials, my two favourite garden centres for these plants are Humber Nurseries on Hwy. 50 in Brampton, and The Country Squires Garden on Derry Road, just west of Guelph Line and south of Campbellville. Both outlets will likely have the vast majority of their plants ready by this time next week, and now really is the time to visit and make your selections. That is, before they get too busy!

While there are a few perennials that are considered tender, and their planting might be better delayed for a few weeks, most are absolutely hardy and will transplant better now than later in the season.

Other plants you may wish to bring home for your garden are some of the wide range of bulbs/tubers/corms available now. Some of the most obvious are lilies, begonias, dahlias, gladioli, canna and calla lilies. There are a whole host of other lesser-known bulbs such as Acidanthera, Tigridia, Anemone, Hymenocallis (Ismene), Tuberoses, Ranunculus, Galtonia, Habranthus (Zephyranthus), Calochortus, Ornithogalum, Cyrtanthus (Vallota), Ixia, Eucomis, Alstroemeria, and they are in garden centres now.

It is certainly not too early to get the first application of fertilizer onto your grass. If you happen to have some old fertilizer and weed control product in your ‘stash’, it is too early to apply weed killer—wait until at least the middle of May for that. And, before some people get upset, I realize that Ontario has joined two other provinces in banning these so-called ‘cosmetic’ pesticides, but they are still legal products according to Health Canada.

Before applying anything to your lawn, it would likely be best to give it a good stiff raking to get the dead grass and sticks and stones that arrived during the winter months. If there are bare patches, keep in mind my rule of thumb—if the bare spots are less than 20 cm (8 in.) in diameter, then forget putting down grass seed unless you are going to protect it from the birds (by, for example, putting a thin covering of sterilized soil, or peat moss over the seed). Instead just apply a second application of a good turf fertilizer about three weeks after your first application. That will encourage the existing grass to spread into the bare spots.

Finally today, a comment or two on some of the products available this year. If you have had problems in the past with damping-off disease killing your newly germinated seedlings just after the first two leaves came out (the seedlings just topple over and die), the ‘fix’ for that used to be an excellent product called No-Damp. Unfortunately it has gone the way of many good products and is off the market.

There is something new you may want to try. It is a new anti-fungus product that contains live organisms. The name is Serenade Garden, and it comes from the AgraQuest company in Davis California, and is being distributed all across Canada by Greenstar Plant Products. Most large garden centres should have it in now. Although the product’s labels do not indicate so, many gardeners have tried the ready-to-use sprayed directly on the seed-starting medium prior to seeding, and found that it worked well in preventing damping-off disease.

The product will be found useful as well in cleaning up powdery mildew and some leaf spot diseases on plants such as garden phlox, roses and veggies such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower. There is actually a long list of fungal infections which can be controlled by early application of Serenade Garden either before the fungus is noticed, or at least as soon as it is observed.

One point that is interesting is that it may be applied right up to the day of harvest in the case of veggies!

Finally, a further note about an additional change to the sale of pesticides in Ontario, that begins on the 22nd of this month. Only one class of pesticides (Class 6) will be allowed to be sold directly to customers off store shelves. Any others which are allowed to be sold, will have to be behind a counter, or within glass cabinets, and obtained by asking a clerk.

My old friend Doctor Doom has advised me that he has five products which will be available from the shelves, and two of those can be used for the control of Bed Bugs! When you visit your favourite garden centres be sure to look for these Doctor Doom products.

Happy Gardening!

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