Don’t Let Snow Stop You from Planting!


So what if there’s a bit of snow on the ground? If you have things to plant, just do it!

In my area, and in many areas in Southern Canada and the Northern US, snow has come early this year and the ground is all covered in white. In most places, all this snow will probably melt away over the next few days only to reappear in a more durable form later in the season, but even if it does persist, that doesn’t mean it’s too late to finish the last plantings in your garden. If you have bulbs that you put off putting in the ground or shrubs or perennials still sitting around in pots, just plant them.


Break up the crust of frozen snow and dig a planting hole.

Planting through snow couldn’t be simpler: just brush away the snow from the planting site with a broom or shovel and dig a planting hole. You’ll probably find the surface of the soil is frozen, but so what? Just break up the frozen crust with your shovel. The soil underneath will still be perfectly friable.

Plant just as you would have done if the snow wasn’t there, digging a hole to the desired depth (as deep as the root ball is high for potted plants, 3 times the height of the bulb in the case of fall bulbs). Add compost, mycorrhizae and/or fertilizer if you feel they are needed. Now, center the plant or bulbs in the hole and fill in with soil, tamp down lightly, then water.

The only difference to your usual planting technique comes afterward. It would be wise, as you finish planting, to cover the area around the plant a good 6 inches (15 cm) of mulch (consider a mulch of dead leaves, since they are probably abundant at this time of year). The mulch will slow frost penetration and give the new plantings a little more time to root in.

Planting through the snow? There’s nothing to it!

Do You Suffer From Plant Blindness?


The plant blind just don’t notice the plants around them.

Plant blindness is a fairly new term, coined in 1998 by the American botanists James Wandersee and Elizabeth Schussler. They define it as “the inability to see or notice the plants in one’s own environment” and that can lead to “the inability to recognize the importance of plants in the biosphere and in human affairs”. Despite it being a new term, the majority of people, and especially those living in urban settings, suffer from plant blindness.

A plant-blind person essentially sees the green environment, even when it surrounds them, only as a backdrop. They don’t remark the individual plants. They might notice a lawn or a park, but would be hard pressed to pick out any individual plants that grow in them.


A plant blind person won’t notice when a plant is in distress.

The plant blind likewise don’t notice a plant in distress. They literally don’t see that a plant is wilting from a lack of water, or turning yellow because it is under attack by spider mites. That means they generally fail to grow plants with success, leading them to believe they to have a black thumb.

Plant blindness tends to lead to an underappreciation of plants. The plant blind are unlikely to object when a green space is bulldozed or a virgin forest is cut. When you point out to them that there would be no animal life on earth without plants, that not only do they provide the food that animals and humans eat, but also the oxygen we breathe, they always seem surprised.

The plant blind almost seem afraid of plants and willingly accept any negative nonsense that might be said about them, like the outmoded concepts that climbing plants harm buildings, that tree roots attack foundations, or that houseplants suck up the oxygen people need to breathe. Certainly, they see gardening as being “complicated” and yet any good gardener knows that, when you give a plant the basic conditions it needs, it will literally grow all on its own.

The Cause


Country dwellers are much less likely to be plant blind.

It’s interesting to note that people raised in the country are less likely to be plant blind than those raised in urban settings. Most country folk experienced growing vegetables or harvesting fruit as children, opening their eyes to differences in the greenery around them. They had daily contact with plants of all sorts during their childhood. But these days the majority of people in many countries have lived all their lives in the city. City dwellers often have never taken care of any kind of plant, not even a houseplant. Many have no idea that carrots grow in the ground (I kid you not!).

Yet cities have always had parks and green spaces and they are in fact increasing in number, what with green walls and green roofs and, in many cities, obligations to put in green spaces when new buildings are added. But while city dwellers often appreciate these green spaces because they make them feel better (it’s a well-known fact that simply looking at plants makes people feel better about themselves), they never really notice the plants that make up the space because they were never taught to.

The Cure

Schools don’t offer much support: their curricula are often nearly devoid of plant-based knowledge. When botany is taught at all, it is often from a textbook using illustrations and many students never even see a live plant during the course! How stimulating is that?


To save the panda you need to save its environment, the bamboo forest.

Primary schools use fuzzy, cuddly animals to attract children’s interest, but fail to mention that those same fuzzy, cuddly animals need plants to survive. Everybody, for example, wants to save the panda, but pandas are totally dependent on a bamboo forest that is facing extinction. Why is not “save the bamboo forest” a rallying cry rather than “save the panda”? Most kids don’t even know what bamboo is.


Showing children how to garden has a positive lifelong effect.

Studies show that early experience growing plants with a knowledgeable, friendly plant mentor is a good predictor of a student’s later interest in plants. So parents and grandparents who garden can make a huge difference. Teach kids how to grow vegetables, have them start cuttings or grow plants from seed. Just letting them help you harvest carrots or peas can make a huge difference. At least they’ll know that carrots grow in the ground even if their friends don’t.

Take them to parks and point out the intricate web of nature. They may be excited to see a bunny, so show them that bunnies eat plants and especially like clover. That clover supplies nitrogen to the soil, that nitrogen helps other plants grown and that clover is a necessary part of a healthy lawn.

Take a walk with them, even in the city, and look at the plants that grow there, even if they are considered weeds. Most have flowers that attract bees and butterflies and flowers produce seeds that birds and animals feed on. Even ubiquitous squirrels need trees to nest in and acorns to eat. All that will be news to many children.

It’s so easy to interest children in plants once you get started. If we can produce a generation of nature-aware children, not only will that combat plant blindness, but raise their awareness of the environment in general, and that can only be a good thing!

Curing Your Own Plant Blindness

If you’re suffering from plant blindness yourself, recognizing that fact is the first step towards a cure. Still, it’s hard to open your eyes to plants all on your own. You really need a mentor.

You probably know a “plant person” in your neighborhood: they have the greenest yard or the greenest balcony. Ask them to show you how to take a cutting or how to start a few plants from seed. I guarantee they’ll be thrilled to be asked (passionate people always want to share their passion).


Learn as you help out in a collective garden.

There’s bound to be a community garden nearby. Rent a lot and try your hand at gardening (and ask questions of neighboring gardeners). Or ease into it by joining a collective garden (communal garden) where, rather than having their own specific garden space, members share in the responsibility of planning, managing, and harvesting a communal space, then share the produce. The advantage of a collective garden is that you’ll always be either taught how to carry out each task or be paired with someone who does.

As you learn more, try signing up for courses on horticulture. They may be offered at a local public garden. Borrow a gardening book from the library. Join a horticultural society.

The first thing you know, not only will your plant blindness be cured, but you’ll find beginning gardeners coming to you for advice. How neat is that?20161027a

Aphids on Houseplants


Hibiscus covered in aphids. Photo: Éric Trepanier.

You brought your houseplants back indoors a few weeks back and everything is going pretty well, except one plant seems covered with small white dead skins. Examining it more closely, you see that its stems and leaves are covered with small plump insects: aphids! What can you do?

Know Your Enemy


Green peach aphids, much magnified.

There are thousands of species of aphids and they can come in almost any color: black, purple, orange, red, yellow, white, etc. However, the aphid that is most often found on houseplants is the green peach aphid (Myzus persicae), an insect that, despite its name, is not limited to peach trees, but is instead rather a generalist, affecting many plants outdoors and in. This aphid is usually a translucent pale green in color, although it can occasionally be yellowish or pinkish.

It is usually introduced on a plant that was not thoroughly cleaned before coming indoors, but sometimes too hitches a ride on a pet or human coming inside. Although usually wingless, there is a winged generation, usually in the fall, but aphids remain weak flyers and are therefore unlikely to find their way indoors on their own.


Small dead white exoskeletons are usually a sign of aphid presence.

It only takes a single female aphid to produce thousands of babies, and in just a few weeks at that. No male is required: the female produces replicas of itself by parthenogenesis (reproduction without fertilization) and its babies begin to produce babies just days after birth. Imagine the speed at which they can multiply!

Damage to Plants

Aphids damage plants by piercing their cells and sipping the sap that flows out. This weakens the plant, often leading to the yellowing and eventual death of affected stems and leaves. Affected flower buds often abort. A seriously infested plant may die.


Sooty mold often forms on lower leaves.

You’ll often see honeydew on the plant’s lower leaves or on furniture the plant is set on. It’s a sweet, sticky excretion that aphids give off and drips down to the lower parts of the plant. Sooty mold often forms on honeydew and covers the leaves with what looks like black powder, reducing the plant’s ability to absorb light.

Aphids can also affect your plant’s health indirectly by transmitting plant viruses and other diseases.

Finally, aphids can also spread to nearby plants. They’re not very selective: almost any plant can be infested.


Outdoors, predators such as ladybugs, lacewings and hoverflies often come to the rescue of the plant and stop the infestation in its tracks. Indoors, however, these predators are absent. So it’s up to the plant owner to react and thus limit the damage.

The first step is always to isolate the affected plant so the infestation can’t spread.


A thorough, strong rinsing can eliminate aphids.

The easiest and often the most effective treatment is to carry the plant to the sink and rinse it thoroughly with a strong jet of water. If the plant is too big for the sink, try the shower. For this to work, you have to be able to reach all parts of the plant, including the undersides of the leaves. It may be necessary to repeat the treatment several times, because if even one aphid survives, the infestation will start up again.


Insecticidal soap is a great product, but for economy’s sake, do make sure you buy the concentrate. This spray bottle contains mostly water!

Neem is an excellent pesticide for controlling aphids, as it not only kills many of them instantly, smothering them in oil, but also has a longer term effect, since it contains hormonelike substances that prevent them from reproducing. Insecticidal soap, an organic product readily available in garden centers, is another good choice. Horticultural oils and pyrethrum-based insecticides can also be effective.

Dilute the product chosen according to the manufacturer’s recommendations and apply it to the affected parts with a small hand sprayer, also being careful to reach the less visible parts, like the underside of the leaves. Repeat as needed every 4 to 5 days.

Beware of using dishwashing liquid to treat aphids. Although this product was once often used by gardeners to control insects, today’s brands often contain additives (colorants, perfumes, stabilizers, etc.) that can be toxic to plants. Plus modern dishwashing liquids are usually detergents, soaps, and detergents are not much more effective against insects than plain water!

Keep At It

I’m not going to deny that aphids are difficult to control. You often have to repeat the treatment several times before you finally get them all. But if you are persistent in your applications, you will be able to free your plants from aphids.

Layer Your Bulb Plantings


You can easily layer bulbs for a greater concentration of blooms or a longer blooming season.

Did you know you can plant bulbs in layers, like a lasagna?

Plant a first layer of larger bulbs, like hyacinths, narcissus, and tulips, since they need the deepest planting anyway. Now cover them with soil and plant smaller bulbs that are usually planted only a few inches deep overtop: snowdrops, crocus, squills, Greek anemones, grape hyacinths, etc.

Tulip Pinocchio

Tulips blooming through a layer of Greek anemones.

Usually the small bulbs bloom first, and when they stop blooming, the larger ones take over, extending the flowering season. But even if they bloom at the same time (Greek anemones [Anemone blanda] stay in bloom more than a month and will usually continue to bloom as later bulbs push up through them!), the result will only be that much more beautiful. Imagine beautiful red tulips emerging from a carpet of white or blue anemones: superb!

And why stop at only two layers: you can plant three! Put the largest bulbs on the bottom, the medium-sized ones in the middle, and the smaller ones on top. Or late-blooming bulbs on the bottom, midseason bulbs in the middle and the earliest bulbs closest to the top. In fact, it really doesn’t matter what order you plant bulbs in: they’ll naturally bloom in their usual order, from early-bloomers to season-enders.

Note that even if you plant bulbs deeper than is usually recommended, at most it will only delay their blooming by a day or two; they’ll still flower. Even bulbs planted at twice the usually recommended depth will still flower readily, at least as long as the soil is well drained.

More flowers in the same amount of space? Why not!20161025a

Gain A Warmer Microclimate Through Windbreaks




With proper planting, you can create a warmer microclimate in your garden.

Gardeners often talk about “microclimates”. They come to understand that part of their property is a lot warmer than another and they learn they can grow plants there that would not survive otherwise. A zone 6 plant in zone 5, for example.

But rather than just taking advantage of a naturally occurring warmer microclimate, have you ever thought of actually trying to create one, of nudging most of your yard to a slightly warmer hardiness zone? You can easily do this by using a windbreak.


Farmers use windbreaks on a large scale to reduce erosion and evaporation and to lengthen the growing season.

A windbreak (also called a shelter belt) is a planting of trees or shrubs that serves as a barrier to slow down the wind and protect the plants growing on its far side. You see them outlining farmers’ fields and also along highways, where they’re used to prevent snow from accumulating on the road.

In an urban setting, a simple hedge can serve as a windbreak, but so can a row of trees or conifers.

Shrubs, Trees and Conifers

Three types of plants make the best windbreaks: trees, shrubs and conifers. Their woody stems, solid but flexible, allow them to withstand the worst winds without breaking. Tall perennials can also be used as windbreaks as long as you’re only seeking warmer summer conditions, as they are usually ineffective during the winter.

Windbreaks are commonly used in the countryside to reduce erosion and evaporation and to warm the soil up more quickly in the spring, but can be just as useful on a smaller scale in cities and suburbs where they help create warmer microclimates where you can grow less hardy plants or those that require hotter summer conditions.

Where to Put a Windbreak

In the Northern Hemisphere, a windbreak is usually placed to the northwest, north or west, because cold winds come mostly from the northwest. In the city and suburbs, how buildings are placed may change that somewhat. For example, wind becomes concentrated when it passes between two buildings, creating a “wind tunnel”. Planting a windbreak at the exit of such a tunnel will therefore be particularly effective.


The taller and denser the windbreak, the greater its effect.

The effect of a windbreak is remarkable: studies show it will usually protect an area at least 10 times wider than its height and sometimes up to 20 times its height, depending on its density. So even with a short windbreak only 4 feet (1.2 m) high, you can protect plants from cold and drying winds for 40 feet (12 m) or more! A taller windbreak 20 feet (6 m) high should create a 200 foot (60 m) zone of warmer conditions, enough to protect your entire lot… and probably your neighbor’s as well!

Windbreaks Absorb the Force of Wind


Windbreaks absorb the force of the wind, reducing its strength on the lee side.

As wind flows through a windbreak, the trunk, branches and leaves absorb some of the momentum of the wind and wind speed is reduced. Also, as wind flows over the plant surfaces, it is slowed by its roughness of the surface and wind speed is further reduced. Together, these two processes help reduce the force of the wind.


A full wall only makes the wind swirl; it doesn’t reduce its strength.

If you think a full wall, like a solid fence, would also reduce the effect of the wind, you’d be wrong. A solid fence doesn’t absorb the wind: the wind passes over or around it, causing it to swirl, then quickly resumes blowing as strongly as ever. Fences can be used as windscreens, but they have to be fences that let the wind pass through them. Typically an effective windscreen fence is covered in fabric (often several layers of fabric) that can move in the wind.

Proof of the effectiveness of a windbreak can be best seen in snowy climates. Snow will accumulate directly behind the windbreak, dropped as the wind weakens, while snow is carried completely away on the lee side of a solid fence, a clear sign that the wind there is as intense as ever.

To be effective, a living windbreak must be relatively dense and have many branches. Very open trees such as staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) make poor windbreaks, while those with naturally dense branches, like most shrubs and also columnar trees, are very effective.

Conifers make even better windbreaks, but in colder climates their needles tend to “burn” on the windward size, dried out by the passage of strong winds, and they then lose their effectiveness. This can be corrected by planting a row of deciduous shrubs (they better tolerate the drying effect of winter winds, because their foliage is absent) to the windward side of the conifer windbreak. This can double its effectiveness: it may remain effective over a distance equivalent to about 20 times its height!


Combing deciduous trees, deciduous shrubs and conifers makes for a truly effective windbreak.

Similarly, a windbreak made up of deciduous trees tends to let a lot of wind flow through its base because most trees have fewer branches near the ground, but this can be corrected by planting deciduous shrubs at their base to fill in that gap or by planting a second windbreak of deciduous shrubs on the windward side of the tree windbreak.

In some mining towns in northern Canada and Siberia, the entire town is surrounding by a dense windbreak maintained by the municipality in order to make life more livable for the inhabitants. They can easily maintain lawns and gardens on the leeward side, something that would be impossible on the windward one.

On a Small Scale

You don’t have to plant a long double row of trees and shrubs to profit from the effects of a windbreak. Even 3 or 4 shrubs planted in a row to reduce the dominant wind may drastically improve the gardening conditions on the other side. Try it and see: you may be surprised by the results!20161024f

199 Poisonous Plants to Look Out For


poisonous-flowers-rd2.pngToday, a guest blog from ProFlowers. The presentation below was sent to me by Taylor Poppmeier, one of the people involved in preparing it, so I’m using it with permission. It’s quite interesting, although unfortunately not searchable, nor is the botanical name used, so in many cases, it’s hard to be sure which plant is being referred to (I can think of 4 different plants known as “bottle tree” for example). If you’re concerned about potentially toxic plants in your home and garden, though, you’ll probably find it very useful.

I’ve placed the table in this blog, but if you prefer to go to the original site, here is the link:

199 Poisonous Plants to Look Out For
By Erica Daniels

While plants and flowers are a great way to decorate, not every plant is safe for your home. We know poison oak shouldn’t be touched, and to keep poinsettias away from our pets, but did you know some of your favorite blooms may have toxic properties as well?

We’ve rounded up a list of almost 200 common poisonous plants so you can be sure you’re picking the safest options. Most of these plants are safe to grow and keep in your home, but should be avoided if you’re concerned of accidental ingestion from a hungry pet or curious child. Look through the list of plant names and make sure no one in your home is at risk.


Explanation of toxicity levels
Keep in mind toxicity levels can vary based on your level of contact with a plant. For example, a plant like black henbane is fatal even in low doses, whereas some plants you need to consume a large amount to experience side effects.

Here is a breakdown of the four levels:

Major toxicity: These plants may cause serious illness or death.
Minor toxicity: Ingestion may cause minor illnesses such as vomiting or diarrhea.
Oxalates: The juice or sap of these plants contains oxalate crystals, which can cause skin irritations or more serious ailments like throat swelling, breathing difficulties, and stomach pain.
Dermatitis: These plants may cause a skin rash or irritation.
With all four toxicity levels, it’s advised that you contact the Poison Control Center (800-222-1222) or your doctor.

If you notice that some common fruits are on the list, there’s no need to rush to toss out your last grocery run. Many toxic parts of plants such as cherries, apricots and peaches aren’t the fruits themselves, but other parts like the stem, leaves and seeds. These parts we never consider eating, so we never come in contact with them.

Special care for children and pets
Most plants we would never think to eat or touch, but for small children and pets that are unaware of harmful side effects, it’s recommended you keep them out of arm’s reach. For example, a peace lily is a very popular indoor plant given its ability to clean the air in your home. But it’s also highly toxic for cats and dogs, so try to keep the plant on a high shelf.

Looking for safe plants?
We’ve got you covered. Brighten up your home with any of our popular bouquets delivered right to your door.poisonous-flowers-rd2

2016 Urban Tree of the Year


Its narrow upright habit makes ‘Musashino’ zelkova a good choice for urban streets. Photo courtesy of J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co.

Zelkova serrata ‘Musashino’ has been voted the 2016 Urban Tree of the Year by the Society of Municipal Arborists (SMA).

To win the award, the selected tree must be adaptable to harsh urban growing conditions and have strong ornamental traits. That is certainly the case with the ‘Musashino’ zelkova.

It’s an extra-hardy, upright-growing, highly symmetrical selection of the Japanese zelkova (Z. serrata). It was first selected in Japan and named after the town Musashino where it was found. It can reach up to 45 feet (14 m) in height and 15 feet (4.6 m) in width at maturity with medium green leaves in the summer while fall colors range from yellow bronze to red, depending on the growing conditions. It has proved to be hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 9 (AgCan zones 6 to 9).


Fall color is variable, but attractive. Photo courtesy of J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co.

This is one tough tree and it adapts well to urban conditions, tolerating air pollution and salt spray. Although it prefers moist, well-drained soil, it is drought resistant once established, pH adaptable, and more heat tolerant than most zelkovas. The smaller than usual leaves (only 3 inches/7.5 cm de length) reduce the need for raking in the fall.

Musashino zelkova was introduced by J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co. and is available through nurseries that habitually carry Schmidt trees.

Past Winners

Here is a list of past winners of the Urban Tree of the Year award:

  • 2015 Yellowwood (Cladastris kentuckea)
  • 2014 ‘Vanessa’ Parrotia (Parrotia persica ‘Vanessa’)
  • 2013 Live oak (Quercus virginiana)
  • 2012 Accolade™ elm (Ulmus x ‘Morton’)
  • 2011 Goldenraintree (Koelreuteria paniculata)
  • 2010 Redbud (Cercis canadensis)
  • 2009 Chinkapin oak (Quercus muehlenbergii)
  • 2008 Black tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica)
  • 2007 Baldcypress (Taxodium distichum)
  • 2006 Kentucky Coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus)
  • 2005 ‘Chanticleer’ Callery Pear (Pyrus calleryana ‘Chanticleer’)
  • 2004 Autumn Blaze™ Maple (Acer × freemanii ‘Jeffersred’)
  • 2003 Allee™ Lacebark Elm (Ulmus parvifolia ‘Emer II’)
  • 2002 Heritage™ River Birch (Betula nigra ‘Cully’)
  • 2001 Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa)
  • 2000 ‘Redmond’ Linden (Tilia americana ‘Redmond’)
  • 1999 Skyline™ Honeylocust’ (Gleditsia triacanthos f. inermis ‘Skycole’)
  • 1998 Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor)
  • 1997 ‘Ivory Silk’ Japanese Lilac (Syringa reticulata ‘Ivory Silk’)
  • 1996 ‘Princeton Sentry’ Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba ‘Princeton Sentry’)20161022aenglish