Sunday, 26 July 2020

Planting Parenneals in a Zone 3 Garden

Well, I'm in the mood for writing. So this week, you're getting some good meaty content for your green thumb arsenal!

Lets talk about Perennials! This post is gonna be from the bare-bones-basics, information for any of you who may not understand the world of perennials! So if you're a more experienced gardener, this may be a bit basic for your needs. But who knows! We can all learn something new right!? :)
onion chives are a wonderful perennial. Did you know that they flower? yup! they are very pretty as cut flowers!

Have you ever noticed that some flowers and plants need to be planted every year, and some come back year-after-year? Well, that's what I'm talking about! :) A Parennial is a plant that you plant one year, and then it comes back the following year, and potentially for several years after that!
hydrengia's are a perennial that take a few years to establish. But their floral show is worth the wait!
Similar to Perennials, there are also flowers whose seeds survive our winters and new plants spring up the following year. Technically this is NOT a perennial, but a zone 3 annual. Forget-me-knots, dill, sweetpeas, marigolds, clover, even those darn cherry tomatoes that spring up from fallen fruit last year. These are not technically perennials, because it is a new plant that grows each year. Perennials, use the same root system from the previous year.

people often mistake forget-me-not's as a perennial. In reality they simply let down many seeds every year and the seeds sprout in early spring.
Have you ever heard someone talk about an apple tree, comment about how poor the production of fruit was this year, or vice versa, how well it did? some perennials are actually classified as BIENNIALS. This means they produce flowers or fruit every OTHER year. Saskatoon is a biennial. One year you'll have a bumper crop, and the next year, almost nothing at all. Hollyhocks are both a Biennial and a re-seeding plant here in Manitoba. They only produce blooms on the same root stock, on the second year, and then the plant dies, leaving seeds for the following year. So plants like this are good to plant two or three years in a row for a consistent harvest of blooms or fruit. Though once established, plants such as apple trees and Saskatoon will fruit based on the climate as opposed to the year they were planted. If its a wet year, there will be more Saskatoons than a dry year, regardless of when the plant was put in the ground.
Hollyhock plants in their second season, producing blooms that will be full of seed pods to drop for the following year.

Planting Perennials has it's appeal to many people:
- For one thing, it's cost-effective. You have the same plant year-after-year and you dont have to buy it over again.
- spring perennials are a wonderful treat! It allows you to have flowers in your yard long before the may-long-weekend planting season begins. These are the bulbs planted in the fall after first frost.
Tulips and irises are popular fall bulbs to plant that give a wonderful early spring show!
 - autumn perennials often bloom long after the first frosts wipe out your yearly annuals. It's a nice treat when you get late season flowers, or a plant whose foliage turns a bright red or orange. Perennials can drastically extend the season of your garden's beauty.
Sedum's unique succulent-like foliage in the spring

Sedum's wonderful autumn color-changing flower show!

- For another thing, they are lower maintenance. The first year you grow a perenneal, you still treat it like any other flower in the garden, giving it water, weeding carefully, sheltering it from frost if necessary etc... But after that? Once the plant establishes (sets down it's roots and is here to stay) you have to do absolutely NOTHING for it! The plant has figured out how to survive. It's got deep enough roots that it doesnt require regular watering.It's stronger than most competing weeds in it's space, and it's accustomed to the climate's cool and hot spells.
- Perennials tend to give an air to non-gardeners, that you "really know what you're doing"... In reality, the plant does everything. Technically Annuals (the name for plants that must be planted every year AKA: Annually) are far more work. Needing to have the soil tilled, being watered regularly, weeded, sheltered etc...
A field of Lupines
 - Perennials are often quite showy. Because they establish over a few years, they are much larger than your average bedding plant. So when they flower, it's unique. The foliage is larger and more pronounced, and in general has a healthier look regardless of what kind of summer we're having.

There are several food items that can be grown as perennials here in Manitoba. A non-exhaustive list includes:

-Apple trees
- sour cherry trees
- blueberries/saskatoons
- strawberries/raspberries
- apricots/plums
- onions/chives
- peppermint
- oregano
- lavender (some years)
- asparagus
a Perennial mint plant

Perennial Oregano plant

The beauty of growing these things as perennials instead of anuals, is that the plants get larger and tougher to the climate! Something like Oregano that is very slow-growing, makes a wonderful perennial. It sends up shoots from all of it's roots. So in it's second year, the plant will be 4-5 times the size of last year's plant, in early may! :) So if you're a mint fan, get planting!

We live in the climate/gardening zone 3B here near winnipeg manitoba. This is a classification given based on how long and cold our winters are, how warm and sunny our summers are etc... This type of classification allows gardeners to understand which plants will grow in their climate.
For example: Did you know That a tomato plant is a perennial? It IS! The plant itself can live for several years in it's proper tropical climate, producing fruit in it's season. It's not a perenneal here though. Because we are zone 3, not zone 8 climate.

Perennial Tomato plants in a tropical climate. The same plants used year after year for tomato production.
Also, many of our beloved annual flowers such as spring bulbs we plant, or bedding plants, are indeed perennials in another climate zone. But because of our winters, we call them an annual, since we plant them every year.
Geraniums are an annual here. But in zone's 5-8 they can be planted as a perennial! :)

a pretty weeping Japanese maple...  you'll see these in local greenhouses, but when you look at the tag, it's a zone 4 or 5 even. This will not survive our winters.
If you are investing in something such as a pretty tree, or fruit plants, or other perennials, The greenhouse will have put a plant tag on the tree or in the pot, with information on it. Usually it'll talk about how much sunlight the plant needs, how much water, how far to space it from another plant... another thing on the tags of PERENNIAL plants, will be their zone number. It is very important to check your zone numbers, because greenhouses don't always discriminate in their selection. Remember, their goal is to sell you plants. They don't care if you kill them all. So when you see a pretty weeping maple tree that you love, turn the tag over and  see the dreaded "zone 5" on there. Don't kid yourself! The odds of that thing ever living past it's initial summer are incredibly slim, even in your sunniest, most sheltered corner of the yard. Sorry to say it! I have seen zone 5 parenneals at shreimers, T&T soils, Shelmerdine's, and Costco greenhouse. Don't think that just because a company is local, that they only carry zone 3 products. Many greenhouses are from companies that work across canada or the united states. And they carry a variety of plants for different zones.

Most of the time there's no magical tricks to growing a perennial. You plant it in the spring, water it and tend it, and when winter comes, you simply pray it'll come back next year! One trick that can help, is to not water it quite as often as your annuals. When a plant is dry (not crispy and wilty, but just dry), the roots grow deeper, in search of more water. As a result, your perennial's roots will establish farther down in the soil, giving it a better chance of surviving the winter.

For trees, you can even buy an attachment for your hose that is a post with holes in it. you pierce it deep down in the soil, and water the tree's roots BELOW the root ball to encourage the roots to grow downwards to ground water, not upwards toward surface water.

You can also research individual perennials, to find out if giving them a spring or fall fertilization will help them out! And if you're really concerned and want to keep it, after the first frost, simply mulch the tender perennial plant with wood chips, or dry leaves or burlap. That way, if the snow coverage is poor (like this winter was) your plant has some extra insulation!

If you do some research into Perennials, you'll notice we're actually in a very cold zone, and don't have that much variety in our perennials. But climate changes over time, and so do gardening techniques. The variety of perennials we have today is vastly larger than it was even 10 years ago! People are grafting branches of tender plants onto hardier plants (such as putting the branches of a BC apple tree onto a Manitoba crab-apple trunk) so we can have wonderful varieties here too, that are strong enough to survive our winters!
how grafting works. A zone 4-6 branch grafted to a similar (hardier) zone 3 plant. The branch will be true to itself, while the root of the zone 3 will also be true, bringing life to the zone 4-6 branch year after year thanks to it's zone 3 roots! Yes this is real! If you have an apple tree, you're probably already benefiting from this!
Every year, new varieties of zone 3 perennials are coming out. we can grow hazelnuts, and all kinds of fruits we used to not be able to. We can grow grapes, blueberries, sweet cherries and apples etc... 10-20 years ago, it was either saskatoons, strawberries, chokecherries, or crabapples. (and of course everyone's beloved rhubarb!)
personally, my heritage and roots are here, and my tastebuds follow suit in that I prefer the sour/bitter fruits to the sweet ones anyways! :) But it's nice to have the options available today that weren't around years ago!

And I look forward to seeing how the varieties continue!

It takes many years to establish a fully perennial garden. Each plant will grow best in a specific location in your "micro-climate" (the term used to describe how your back yard grows, compared to someone else nearby). You might move a plant around several times before you find it's sweet-spot. And then, you'll want to take into account when a plant flowers! You may have beautiful plants, but if they all flower early spring, you'll be bored the rest of the summer with your garden. It's best to spend a year or two taking note of OTHER people's gardens, asking questions, making notes of flowers you see in fall and late summer that are perennial etc... Similarely, if your garden area is shaded, to walk around and do some eye-to-ground research on what does well!

The easiest way to start a perennial garden is to do 80% annuals, 20% perennials the first year. Then year after year, see what comes back. Slowly add a perennial here and there, and phase out the annuals. But allowing room for this to take time,  allows you to have beautiful flowers all summer long until your perennial garden is fully established. And when that happens, you won't be sorry you invested the time in creating it! :)

That's all for this week's lessons. I hope I was able to bring a new tid-bit to your green thumbs! And I hope i've also removed some of the hype about perennials that scares new gardeners away from them. Try them out and see what happens! :)

Until next time, keep things green!

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

Mid-summer update!

WOWZERS I haven't written on here in a while. It seems my year-off of blogging really ruined me for regular posting. Haha! Well, since my last post, a lot has happened... Namely a Pandemic and such.... but you already know about all that!

Thankfully, i'm an early starter on the gardening front so I had already fully stocked up on dirt, pots, seeds, etc... everything I needed to start seedlings early this year! So I was all set with my quarantine hobby of starting my seedlings ahead of time!

For today's post, I'm simply gonna share some snapshots from around the yard, and chat about them! This is where things are at over here!

Perennial Garden:
This is Hyssop. It's been in my perennial garden for about 3 years now, and I started from seed indoors. The bees love it, and it can be used herbally for anything in the mint/lavendar palette of flavors.

the small blue flowers are Forget Me Nots. They have been coming up as volunteers for two years already, after I seeded them three years ago. Another favorite of the bees. They are showy, but short lived. So I tend to pull them out after they are finished blooming. Still, seeds seem to find their way into the soil for the next year!

At the end of June, I threw some cosmos seeds into the soil in the perennial garden, and now they are all coming up and flowering beautifully! I'm realizing more and more, just how many flowers can be direct-sewn in the ground instead of starting them early indoors.

My Heliopsis is as big and lovely as ever! I cage it in a tomato cage early on in the season to help it not to fall over. The plant gets very tall. 5-6 feet tall! The tomato cage completely disappears in all the foliage but it provides much needed support. These are one of my personal favorites in the perennial garden because they bloom from early summer all they way into heavy frosts in the fall.

These cute tiny daisy-like flowers are actually german chamomile. The plants get about 2.5 feet tall and the flowers look like daisies for quite a while before they lose their petals. A favorite of those teeny tiny bees.

Another direct-sew pleasant surprise were the batchelor buttons. I LOVE how these look with their foliage. It's alike a whimsical row of green with pompomps on top. very fun, and i'll definitely be planting them again in the future!

well, after 3 years of trying to have hollyhocks, i FINALLY HAVE HOLLYHOCKS!! If at first you don't succeed, try try again! :) I'm  very pleased with them, and I hope it's the first year of many!

This is the first year I have done sweetpeas. They are very cute and fun, and they dont take up much realestate in the soil, since they trellace upwardes. Another direct-sew seed i'll be doing again in future.


I have two sets of flower pots this year. The black plastic ones are surrounding the sandbox this year (simply because they had to be in full sun based on what plants I started this year! haha!).  The big wooden barrels continue to live on our front steps, where they have always been.

These Plastic pails I got from Schreimers for 20-30 dollars each. Very reasonably priced. We laid styrofoam pieces in the bottom half and then filled the rest with a good potting soil. This year I tried something new. An ornamental pink corn is what is shooting up in the centre. The front is nasturtiums, which I planted as a bait crop for flea beetle, in hopes that I could grow some brassicas this year (Cabbage, broccoli, spinach etc...)...Sadly our property has too many of them to make a difference... none of my brassica seeds even made it above the soil this year for me to try and keep the pests at bay! But the nasturtiums are doing lovely, and I am spraying them regularly with a mixture of dishsoap, water, and Neem oil (which is supposed to make the buggars not want to eat or mate, and therfore die off naturally). In the back of the planters, is some petunias I started from seed indoors.
The flower barrels on the front steps are filled with zinnias, petunias, snap dragons, alyssum and that pink corn (which never took in them). Nothing is from the greenhouse this year.  I started everything myself! :)
 Overflow Perennial garden:

Yup! You read that right, last summer I made a second perennial bed! It's just small and its semi-shaded, next to are shed, close to the fire pit. In this one I have a few fun things. Some Hydrengias that I bought from schreimers last year in July, and then a few random gifted perennials from someone off the Manitoba Gardeners facebook page. Purple and white veronica,  Goldenrod, blooming onions, and perennial geraniums.

to the right is the snowball hydrengias. To the centre is the perennial geraniums which are finished flowering. They have beautiful pink and purple flowers when they are in season! Left of those is the purple veronica. The white bits arent flowering yet. And to the far left is the Goldenrod.

a close up of the Goldenrod.

This year I did 6 rows, and my Aunt Rita is doing 3 rows. This helps me to not over-extend myself (since I still have a wild and crazy 1.5 year old to chase after along with my other boys). It also helps to keep the whole garden well worked, and nicely weeded when the space is shared!

Here you can see most of my personal rows in the garden. Front and centre is the pumpkins. the next row is tomatoes, followed by other rows of various garden plants.

Lots of blooms ,lots of bees, but no pumpkins just yet!

The cucumber plants are loaded with blooms, and theres the odd cucumber here and there, but it's certainly not cucumber season yet over here.

I've harvested about 3 cups worth of green beans from my row, which isn't a whole lot,but I did plant significantly less plants than I usually do.

My pepper plants have looked underwhelming all season. but despite their appearances, they sure have been putting out a good yield! I've harvested peppers twice already, with dozens of sweet peppers and about 10 jalapenos already, when only picking the red ones! PLenty more green ones still on the plants. I started my peppers early indoors, and it's certainly paid off.

The Zucchini plants are looking healthy, but no zucchinis to report yet.

its difficult to say if my beets are doing well or not... The joys of root crops! The leaves certainly aren't as big as they sometimes are, but they are also planted in the fence-row, which tends to be a poorer growing area. I'm not certain why, perhaps it's because the grass roots tend to creep in and choke things out? who knows.

all of this volunteer cilantro is already bolting and flowering... oh well, it's very pretty and the onions don't mind!

Here is a section where I tried to plant kohlrabi... none even sprouted despite two plantings, one of which was well before the frost date, and should have grown no problem... Instead I have a few carrots growing, some marigolds, and some volunteer chamomile and borage.

Borage is a medicinal herb that also is super attractive to bees. I planted it two summers ago, and i get volunteers ever since then. I love to let it come up anywhere it wont be a nuisance. and as you can see by the photo, the bees dont mind that I let it be!

while everyone else's basil is bolting and finished, mine is just beginning. I plant it from seed instead of plants. This way it's ready to use at the same time as my tomatoes! :)

All of this dill, like the cilantro is volunteered for me. The flowers will be fully mature just as the cucumbers are ready to use. A perfect recipe for pickles! Too bad I only planted slicing cucumbers this year.

I was fortunate to be able to snag some milkweed from a friend who lives near our place. I stuck it in the garden for lack of a better place to put it, and it appears to have taken just fine! When it becomes a nuisance, i'll find it a better home. but till then, Grow and multiply little butterfly magnet! :)


Well, I'll spare you photos of the berry patch... lets just say its a big rectangle of thistles... we really ahve neglected it badly this summer. Despite the neglect, our raspberry bushes have held their own quite well and are producing bountifully this summer! Our saskatoon bushes got winter kill this winter, and nothing came up sadly... and the strawberries are just choked out by the thistles... we will have to start fresh next summer with them I fear.

the chokecherry tree is LOADED with berries this year. More than I will know what to do with! Jam anyone!?

we have 3 apple trees, in their 3-4'th summer now... this one has about 4-5 apples on it, despite being loaded in blooms. A farming friend of ours let me know that you don't actually want a young tree to have a high yielding harvest as it isnt good for the growth of the tree. So although we covered these trees through several spring frosts, we did let them catch one frost when they were in full bloom... this killed off most of the blooms so we didnt have a huge production of apples.

This is the tree that Kaiser attacked when we first brought it home in it's pot... thats why its such a funny shape still... but it's healed well, and its got about 6-8 apples on it!

This one, is the healthiest looking of all 3 apple trees. But it has yet to even produce flowers in the spring, let alone apples. I'm told this is actually normal, and that fruit trees ought to be 7 years old from the time of grafting, before baring fruit... we planted it 3 years ago, so I would asume it's maybe 5 years old or something like that... We will be patient with it. If nothing else, it's a very pretty tree!

Well, that's it for today! Thanks for popping by and visiting! What do you want me to blog about next? feel free to leave me a comment or email and give me suggestions! :) Until next time, keep those thumbs green!