Category Archives: Garden

Maintaining Outdoor Containers

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Maintaining Outdoor Containers

Planting in containers is the easiest, most versatile way to garden. We always recommend container gardening to beginners to help you “get your hands dirty” (quite literally!) and learn the basics of plant care. It’s exciting to choose some pretty containers and some equally gorgeous annuals to fill it up, but once everything has been planted—then what?

Learning how to care for potted plants is no more complicated than taking them home and planting them! Here are our best tips for keeping your outdoor containers looking vibrant into the fall.

Keeping Outdoor Containers Trimmed & Tidy

The key to maintaining container gardens is to keep them from looking unkempt. Unkempt plants will throw off the balance of your container design or detract from the beauty of your plants with unsightly dead material. Here are a few questions we often hear from new container gardeners at our garden centre:

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What time of day should I water my plants? The best times to water your plants are in the early morning or in the early evening. At these times, the heat and sunlight aren’t at their peak, which gives your plants more time to absorb moisture before the sun begins to evaporate the water in the container. Well-hydrated plants are less likely to die prematurely, especially in the blazing Manitoba summer sun. You can help containers retain moisture by applying a layer of mulch over the soil—just make sure you leave a little room between the mulch and your plant stems.

How much water is enough? Plants should generally be watered when the first inch or so of soil feels dry. In the cooler months of the growing season, like late May and early June, this may happen only every few days. In the heart of summer, you can expect to water your plants daily or even twice a day for smaller or shallower containers. 

When you water, water the soil and not the plant leaves to keep disease at bay. Water thoroughly enough that water emerges from the drainage holes at the bottom of the container, but make sure the water can drain through the soil. If your soil has poor drainage and water is pooling in the container, your plants will be susceptible to rot. Amend your soil with peat or another amendment to improve drainage as soon as possible.

When should I cut back my plants? There’s an element of design preference when it comes to trimming back plants. For instance, you may have a Creeping Jenny vine that you want to cascade bountifully out of the side of your container, whereas another gardener may prefer a few tendrils of vines peeking down. However, there are two other common-sense times when trimming back is appropriate.

The first is if a part of your plant appears diseased, dead, or dried out. To prevent the issue from spreading to the rest of the plant, trim off these bits so your plant can focus on generating new, healthy growth. The other is if your plants have begun to overwhelm the other plants in your container. If it appears one of your plants is getting buried in the foliage of another, trim strategically so each plant has its time in the sun.

How much should I trim off my potted plants? When you start out trimming container plants, you may be concerned about taking off too much. As long as you trim back no more than ⅓ of the plant at a time, your plant should bounce back just fine. It’s also extremely important to leave plenty of foliage on the plant, which allows the plant to photosynthesize sunlight into energy.

 

Fertilizer for Outdoor Containers

Fertilizer is often an intimidating topic for fledgeling gardeners, but it doesn’t have to be. Container gardeners especially should learn the basics of using fertilizer, as containers are small, enclosed environments that need to have their soil replenished with nutrients regularly. Here are some of our most popular fertilizer questions for container gardens.

What is the best fertilizer for container plants? You may not love this answer, but it depends. The plant variety is much more important than the container when it comes to choosing the correct fertilizer. Fertilizers for flowering plants will need a different nutrient balance than fertilizers for foliage plants, so it’s best to ask one of our garden centre specialists for help when selecting your formula. 

How often do you fertilize container plants? This also depends on the fertilizer product you use. Always follow the instructions on the fertilizer packaging—it provides the details of how much to apply for the amount of soil in your container, how to apply it, and how often.

What’s the difference between liquid fertilizer vs. dry fertilizer for potted plants? Liquid fertilizers are normally applied as you water your plants. There are both synthetic and organic formulas available, but the downside to these fertilizers is they need to be applied more often. This is because these fertilizers are water-soluble and drain through the container as you water your plants. Slow-release fertilizers, on the other hand, come as a solid medium you add to the soil that releases nutrients little by little. Both kinds of fertilizers can be very useful, it comes down to the plants you’re growing and your personal preference.

 

Prolonging the Blooming Period

One of the simplest tricks to keeping your container flowers looking great is to deadhead or pinch off spent blooms. While it may seem counterintuitive to pluck off flowers, deadheading prolongs the blooming period and encourages the plant to produce more flower buds. If spent blooms are left on the plant, the plant will begin to sense the season is ending and stop producing new flowers altogether.

Healthy, great-looking containers are a major asset for your yard. Just about any outdoor space can be enhanced with a pot or two of vibrant flowers and foliage within view. By taking a little time each day to tend to your containers, you and your plants can soak up every sweet moment of our precious summer days.

Planting Your New Tree

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Planting Your New Tree

Trees are some of the most important features of our landscapes. They provide shade, beauty, and structure to a property, and they add value to the home. Especially for families, trees often hold a great deal of sentimental value. From tire swings to treehouses, some of our most precious memories couldn’t have happened without our beloved trees.

As our communities grow and our landscapes change, many newer homes tend to lack mature trees. Planting just one new tree makes a tangible, long-lasting difference in an entire community. That tree is likely to stay on the property much longer than you will, and every year it’ll give a little more back. From its earliest days, your new tree will produce oxygen, then soon after it will become a shelter for wildlife. Then, someday, it will become a landmark that will always remind someone of home.

The Best Time of Year to Plant a Tree

The best time to plant a new tree is when the tree has gone dormant. Early spring is the most favourable time to plant a new tree, as the tree is just beginning to wake up and the air isn’t too warm yet. If you can get the tree or shrub into the ground before the buds burst into leaves, the timing will be just right for them to settle in and enjoy their new home before the temperature rises.

However, despite common belief, summer planting is not entirely out of the question! While there certainly is more possibility for transplanting stress in the summer, planting a pot-grown tree can be done anytime as long as you can get a shovel in the ground. 

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With the increased temperature, though, when planting in summmer it is important to remember to water thoroughly and regularly to keep the root ball from drying out. We recommend a generous drink every third day or so.

Planting a New Tree

Choose a location for your tree that will look attractive and suit the environment the tree is adapted to. For instance, if the tree prefers a wetter environment, a lower area in the landscape will collect more water during rainfall.

Before you plant your tree, make sure you’ve got some black earth on hand to backfill the space between the tree’s root ball and the surrounding ground. Fresh black soil has air pockets that will allow new roots to pass through easily as the tree establishes, whereas compacted old soil may be tougher for the new roots to penetrate. Allow several inches of space around the root ball. The tree’s label will tell you how much space is recommended.

The hole itself should be about the same depth as the root ball so the tree can be planted level with the ground. After planting, water the tree well and lay down a layer of mulch to conserve moisture and prevent weeds from sprouting in the fresh soil.

Your New Tree’s First Year

During your tree’s first spring and summer, water it well every 10-14 days to help it establish. Continue watering until the ground begins to freeze in the late fall. Freshly planted trees are much more vulnerable than established trees, so be very careful not to run over the root ball or bump the trunk with a lawn mower or weed whacker. Mulch the tree within about a foot and a half radius of the trunk to prevent the need for lawn tools near the planting site— just be sure not to pile up mulch around the base, because this could lead to rotting.

If you’re concerned about your new tree surviving its first Manitoba winter, try wrapping the tree. We carry a few tree wrap materials to help you guard your tree against harsh frost and wind. Our staff can help you choose the right wrap for your tree species.

A new tree is a significant investment in your landscape— one that you’ll grow to love more and more each year. As your tree matures and grows, it will begin to shape the way you and others see your property. With the right start, your new tree will be on its way to enjoying a long and healthy life.

Raised Bed Gardening

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Raised Bed Gardening

Especially at this time of year, when the weather is precarious and the threat of frost isn’t altogether gone, we’re all too aware of how precious the warm weather is. While we love our four distinct seasons in Manitoba, as gardeners we always wish the growing season was a little bit longer. We can’t control Mother Nature, but we can gain a bit more control over our growing conditions by building a raised garden bed.

Benefits of Raised Gardening

Raised garden beds solve a lot of the issues we face when planting directly into the ground. Not unlike the difference between heating a kettle of water and heating a swimming pool, soil that sits in our yards takes far longer to reach a warm and cozy seeding temperature than the soil we keep above ground in a raised bed. While we still need to keep our eye on the forecast, this allows us to plant some cool-weather tolerant varieties a little earlier than may be advisable in our standard garden beds.

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However, there are even more benefits to raised bed gardening. It’s far easier to control the environment in a raised bed, as we can simply replace all the soil with fresh, sterile soil and compost any time we need to start again. The contained environment is also far less vulnerable to pests and weeds, making it a suitable place to grow our more finicky annuals and edibles. Plus, it’s much easier to spend hours tending the raised bed, as the need to bend over is virtually eliminated.

Building Raised Garden Beds

There are several ways to build raised beds, but the most traditional way is with wood. Also known as ‘garden boxes’, wooden raised beds are a fairly simple woodworking project for anyone who isn’t afraid of a few boards and nails. There are many raised garden bed plans available online that vary in difficulty, so it should be a snap to find a project that isn’t too intimidating.

When choosing your plan, keep in mind the plants you hope to grow and how much room you’ll need to house them. Consider spacing, planting depth, and the room those root systems will need. Unless you have other beds you can transplant into, you’ll want to ensure your plants will be able to reach maturity comfortably inside the bed.

Some raised bed plans include raised walls, which offers a little extra wind cover. If the plan you choose doesn’t involve a higher wall, try to position the planter near a fence or wall that can shield plants a little from strong gusts.

Due to the weight of the finished garden bed, most folks choose to build them in the same spot the garden bed will sit. Keeping in mind that it will be hard to move it once it’s built, choose a nice spot for your garden bed before you build. A little bit of dappled shade isn’t a bad idea since raised beds tend to dry out a little faster than your typical garden soil. You’ll still want to make sure your plants are getting plenty of sunlight, but unless you plan to check on them frequently, choose a spot that will offer a little cover from the sun midday.

When choosing a raised bed style, don’t discount the importance of height. While many people are perfectly happy with a simple raised bed that’s just a foot or so higher than the ground, those with back problems may prefer one that sits on wooden legs or cinder blocks. The closer to hip-height your garden bed is, the easier it will be to work in. While a higher design may add some extra steps and materials to the building process, it’s important to consider how important that long-term benefit could be!

How to Choose Wood for Building a Raised Garden Bed

Like any permanent fixture in our gardens, materials make a huge difference in the longevity and appearance of a garden box. Most home renovation and hardware stores sell raised garden bed kits that have already been cut and partially assembled to make setup easy but beware of kits that are far cheaper than the rest. The heat, moisture, and bacteria that will inevitably fill your garden bed will lead to a faster breakdown of cheap woods, so your kit should ideally contain parts made from cedar or redwood.

These woods are ideal choices due to the oils in the fibres that naturally protect against rot and infestation. Cedar has an especially pleasant aroma, which can be reminiscent of a trip to the sauna. Redwood and cedar planks and kits may cost more than other woods, but they’ll pay for themselves as the years go on and you’re not left repeatedly replacing your garden bed!

Straw Bale Gardens

If you’re not dead-set on the look of a constructed garden bed, straw bales are an excellent choice for a maintenance-free raised garden! The straw functions as a great growing medium, as it boasts great drainage and plenty of slowly-degrading organic matter. A little extra soil on top can help keep plants in place as they establish, and then all they need is a little watering.

To make a straw bale garden, purchase a wheat straw bale and move it to an area with full sun in your garden. Place a barrier, like landscaping fabric or even newspaper, between the bale and the ground to prevent weeds from entering the bale. For two weeks, water the bale every day, fertilizing every other day with high nitrogen (or a higher first number) fertilizer. For the second week, add the fertilizer at half-strength for the first three days and switch to plain water for the last four days.

This process helps the straw start to compost and break down. To confirm the bed is breaking down properly, you should notice the temperature of the straw bale is noticeably higher. It may also be starting to show small specks of soil forming on the hay.

If you wish to sow seeds in your bale, add a little extra potting soil on top of the bale and plant as you would any other garden bed. To plant seedlings, gently separate the hay to make holes for your seedlings and secure them with some potting soil. Finish planting by watering thoroughly to help your new garden settle in.

Straw bale gardens work just as well as raised vegetable gardens or raised flower beds, but they do expire quickly. You should expect to need a replacement bale each year. If you have access to bales and you like the rustic country look of straw in your garden, they’re a low-cost option that’s perfect for beginners.

 

Raised garden beds are excellent options for those who have a hard time with ground-level gardening, with a little more room to grow than a typical container. With total control over the growing environment, raised beds may even enable you to grow plants you never would have considered trying out. If the usual plant maintenance chores have gotten harder on your body, a raised bed may be just what you need to reinvigorate your passion for gardening!

Incorporating Tropicals in Your Outdoor Containers

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Incorporating Tropicals in Your Container Garden

Most of us know and love tropicals as cheerful houseplants. As tough as it is to replicate their natural environment in the middle of a Manitoba winter, we certainly appreciate the little touch of the tropics to get us through! In the summertime, however, not everyone knows that we can bring some of that island aesthetic outside. In fact, incorporating tropicals into our container garden design is a great way to create a “staycation” destination in our own backyards. That’s especially great news for those of us who are passing on trips abroad this year!

Can I Plant Tropicals Outside in Manitoba?

With most of us sitting firmly in Zone 3 territory, it’s reasonable to be reserved about bringing tropicals outside. The fact of the matter is, though, while our growing season is famously short, our summers are perfectly hospitable to tropical plants! In fact, the best thing we can do for our existing tropical houseplants is to let them soak up all the extra sun possible during the warmer months. This is especially true if the plant has started to lean toward the sun, a major hint that the plant is craving more light. Treating them to direct sunlight is the least we can do after keeping them cooped up all year!

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Caring for Tropicals Outdoors

It goes without saying that our region is a long way from the tropics, but tropical plants are a lot more adaptable than we might give them credit for.

Sunlight is what tropicals crave the most (and even so, there are a fair number that are more adapted to the shady rainforest floor). When you think about it, sunlight is abundant here—in the summertime. We often forget that our summer days are much longer than the global average, so tropicals have a large window to get the minimum amount of sunlight they need during those warm July days. Allow them to adjust gradually by moving them into a brighter location, like a sunroom or gazebo, before moving them into direct light. If a plant appears to be yellowing, it may even be better off in a spot that gets some relief from the sun midday.

Watering is seldom an issue for outdoor tropicals. Manitoba summers can get fairly humid, which tropicals love, but we also get a fair amount of rain. Tropicals are adapted to moist soil and often prefer their soil to dry out between waterings, so enjoying the odd rain shower with the occasional watering suits them just fine.

Fertilizer for tropicals should have a lower middle number (phosphorus) than most flowering plants. Select a fertilizer specifically made for tropicals and follow the package directions for application.

Space can be an issue for larger species, like philodendrons, who tend to grow very large very fast in the right conditions. Make sure your container has the right space to accommodate your tropicals’ growing habits and keep an eye on them in case they need to be trimmed back.

Styling Tropicals in Your Container Garden

As with all container gardens, the rule of thumb is to include a thriller, a filler, and a spiller to balance the look and proportions of the arrangement. Since you’ll be fertilizing tropicals differently than most of your other plants, it makes the most sense to plant tropicals with other tropicals. This will also keep your arrangement looking cohesive. Here are some examples of tropicals to incorporate in your container garden design.

Tropical Thrillers

  • Palms
  • Croton
  • Canna Lily
  • Elephant’s Ear
  • Bird of Paradise
  • Philodendron
closeup of holiday decorated porch pot with berries, lights and pinecones
closeup of holiday decorated porch pot with berries, lights and pinecones

Tropical Fillers

  • Lantana
  • New Guinea impatiens
  • Dragon Wing Begonia
  • Cuphea
  • Ctenanthe
  • Succulents, like Leatherpetal or Ghost-plant

Tropical Spillers

  • Alternantera
  • Fittonia
  • Pilea
  • Peperomia
  • Clematis
  • Jasmine

Overwintering Tropicals

Keeping tropicals in containers makes it easy to bring them inside when the weather becomes less-than-ideal. In the fall, as soon you feel the urge to wear a light jacket, bring your tropicals back inside. Tropicals can’t handle frost, and it’s best not to tempt fate. Switch to a monthly dose of a balanced fertilizer during the cool months and keep them under a grow lamp in the evenings before bed when the days get short.

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Even though they come from far away, tropicals are happy to vacation outside with us while the weather is warm! Incorporating them into your outdoor container design is a fabulous way to enjoy them while they best suit the season.

The Basics of Soils and Soil Amendments

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The Basics of Soils and Soil Amendments

By Erna

As much as we all need soil, not many of us can say it’s our favourite part of our gardens. To a beginner gardener, soil may seem like a necessary mess that doesn’t seem too exciting at all. With experience, however, we can start to appreciate soil as a living organism that performs a lot of different functions to keep our plants healthy. Furthermore, like any living thing, our soil also needs to be nourished to stay productive.

What Exactly is Soil?

Soil is made from water, organic matter, gas, minerals, and network of living organisms. All soils are complete ecosystems, just like the forest or the sea, and are home to thousands of bacteria that play important roles in helping plant roots absorb nutrients.

When we talk about soil in a gardening context, we often focus on a soils tendency to drain or retain water and its content of 

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organic matter. When we’re just buying bags of soil, we often have the luxury of bags and labels that help us match the soil to the needs of our plants. When it comes to the soil we already have, however, it can get a bit more complicated. It’s up to us to determine the soil types on our property and to “diagnose” issues that may be holding back the performance of our gardens.

Soil Types

Soil types fit into six main categories, each with their pros and cons. They are:

  • Sandy – Composed of coarse mineral particles, sandy soil tends to allow water to pass through quickly.
  • Chalky – Chalky soil has a hard time holding onto both water and nutrients, and often contains a lot of rocks.
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  • Clay – Clay soil contains fine mineral particles, which hold onto moisture so well, it tends to pack down and impede airflow.
  • Silty – Silty soil has a similar texture to clay soil but contains more soil nutrients due to a higher concentration of organic matter.
  • Peaty – Peaty soil is high in organic matter but tends to be very acidic.
  • Loamy – The “gold standard” of soils, loamy soils have the best qualities of each type: nice drainage and airflow, high concentration of soil nutrients, and just-right water retention.

What Are Soil Amendments?

While just about every soil type is favoured by at least some plants, the soil we have isn’t always hospitable to the plants we want. Soil amendments are additives that allow us to “treat” soil problems by adjusting the overall composition of the soil. From drainage issues to an undesirable pH, soil amendments can help us adjust our soils to create a better environment for our plants over time.

Uses of Common Soil Amendments

Once you have your soil “diagnosis”, you can remedy issues with the many amendments we carry in-store. The most common ones are:

Compost/Manure – Organic matter is important to add soil nutrients and improve the structure of clay, sandy, and chalky soils.

 

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Water retention aids – Shredded bark mulch, peat moss, and vermiculite are highly absorbent and prevent sandy and chalky soils from drying out too quickly.

Gypsum – Like organic matter, gypsum adds nutrients and structure to the soil but breaks down at a slower rate to improve soil quality over the long-term.

 

There are many other soil amendments available for more challenging soils. If you’ve been struggling with keeping your plants going, talk to us during your next visit to our garden centre and we’d be happy to offer advice. With a proper plan of action, just about any soil can be transformed into a healthy home for your prized plants!

The Gardener’s Book List

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The Gardener’s Book List

In Manitoba, it can be tough to feel cheerful in February early March. The short days, bone-chilling temperatures, and snow-clogged roads all remind us how long it will be before we’ll see any signs of life outside. But during this time of year, the best thing we can do is embrace it!

The days may be short, but perhaps that can motivate us to find creative ways of bringing light into our spirits. The roads may not always be clear, but maybe we can use the time indoors to start dreaming up our master plan for this year’s annuals and edibles. The mercury may be plunging, but perhaps that means it’s the perfect time to curl up and ‘plunge’ into a good book in front of the fireplace. And perhaps we can do all three of these things at once. Here are some fabulous gardening books to pick up this month.

Colour Your Garden: Exciting Mixtures of Bulbs and Perennials by Jacqueline van der Kloet

Fans of bulbs and perennials will love this guide for capturing and enhancing the colours and shapes of these magnificent plants. Author Jacqueline van der Kloet offers practical tips and guides for creating stunning combinations for gardens of all

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sizes – from airy landscapes to balcony-sized container gardens. This is a must-read for those of us who get a rush from watching our spring tulips bloom!

Escape to Reality: How the World is Changing Gardening, and Gardening is Changing the World by Mark Cullen

For those who crave the soul-nourishing pleasures of gardening, Canadian gardening guru Mark Cullen’s recent release is the gardener’s very own Chicken Soup for the Soul. With beautiful design, touching

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narratives, and practical tips, Cullen’s collaborative work – co-written with his son, Ben – explores not just how we garden, but why.

Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt by Christopher Silas Neal and Kate Messner

You’d have to dig deep to find a better way to introduce young people to gardening than Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt. For parents and grandparents who wish to spark a curiosity about gardening in young readers, this book is equally filled with adorable illustrations, bedtime-worthy lyricism, and teachable information about the garden ecosystem. It’s the perfect way to share our love of the garden with our little ones and get them itching to explore the outdoors in the springtime.

Vegetables, Chickens & Bees: An Honest Guide to Growing Your Own Food Anywhere by Carson Arthur

You might recognize Carson Arthur as the host and garden expert on shows like Better Homes and Gardens’ Home, First Home, Global’s Room to Grow, and HGTV’s Green

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Force. If you’ve been a fan of his, you’ll be excited to hear of the upcoming release of his first book. In Vegetables, Chickens & Bees, Arthur imparts the wisdom he’s gained over his 20-year career with an unconventional gardening book – to be released on February 26, 2019 – that speaks to a younger crowd of homeowners.

Prairie Garden 2019 Growing Food by the Prairie Garden Committee

Guest-edited by urban farming and gardening expert Tiffany Grenkow, the latest edition of the Prairie Garden Committee’s Prairie Garden guide is set to be released on February 24, 2019! This issue will be

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focusing on the edible gardening trend, but will cover so much more. Look forward to over 50 articles produced by local gardening experts, all with invaluable advice for growing gardens of all kinds in our region. If you’ll be in the Winnipeg area on the 24th, you can even attend the book launch at the Grant Park location of McNally Robinson at 2:00 pm.

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During these bleary days when the snow won’t let you into your garden, let your imagination take you there instead. We hope you find some inspiration in these titles, and maybe a new perspective to serve you well when the snow melts!

Seeding Indoors

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Seeding Indoors

By Erna

While we can’t wish the deep freeze temperatures away, there are some things we can do as we wait for the weather to warm up. The time is near for beginning our indoor seeding – even if the cold weather outside doesn’t make it feel like garden season is around the corner. It’ll soon be the right moment to start giving our favourite annuals and edibles a “head start” into the season by seeding them in the warmth of our homes, giving us a longer window to enjoy them after their spring transplant.

Before You Plant Your Seeds

Gardening indoors during the winter can have a magical effect on your mood, as we’re able to get the joy of seeing fresh spring shoots before the real thing appears outside. Beyond the mental health benefits, however, seeding our flowers indoors has tangible benefits for our gardens, too!

Our growing season in Manitoba is unfortunately short, with most regions only

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seeing up to 125 frost-free days per year. While there are plenty of early-maturing flower and edible varieties out there, indoor seeding allows us to enjoy other varieties who wouldn’t have a chance to reach maturity if we waited to plant until after the last frost. Before you get started, though, you’ll want to prepare first:

Read your instructions carefully. The back of each seed packet has important information specific to that particular variety. Ensure you read the back of the packet before purchasing so you’re prepared to meet your seedlings’ special requirements – and that the end result is what you’re looking for.

Get familiar with your zone. The southern

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half of Manitoba is predominantly zone 2a, 2b, and 3a. Review a plant hardiness zone map prior to purchasing seeds. While some that are from zones close to ours can be convinced to grow here, some seeds adapted to much warmer climates may start indoors just fine, but might not survive our climate after transplanting outside.

Start small and work your way up. If it’s your first year of seed starting and you hope to plant an entire edible garden, pause before you start seeding all your vegetables indoors! It’s better to start with one or two varieties and learn how to care for them well, rather than biting off more than you can chew with five to ten plants in the first year. It’s better to have one or two strong, healthy, high-yielding plants than several struggling ones. Besides, you can still always purchase starter seedlings in the spring if you still want to expand your edible garden.

Don’t start too early. While it may be tempting to start seeing something fresh and green as soon as physically possible, you find yourself a little underwhelmed by starting seeds too early. Most plants only need about six weeks of start time before they’re ready for transplant. Start too early and the conditions the plant needs to grow won’t be there for it yet, leaving you with a weak, lanky, or stunted seedling. Review a seeding calendar to plan your indoor seeding schedule first!

Planting & Germinating

      Once you’ve prepared properly, you’re ready to get growing! Here’s how to get your seeds started indoors:

    Use the right soil blend. Potting soil is great for houseplants, but plants that are being grown with the intent to transplant need different conditions. We recommend a

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blend of peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite, which should allow sufficient drainage and oxygen flow for your developing plant. Whatever your blend is, though, make sure it’s with new materials purchased at the garden centre and not pulled from your garden, because your vulnerable little seeds will need sterile conditions to get started. Then, follow the seed packet instructions for the correct planting depth.

Give seedlings a proper introduction to light. Before germinating, seeds haven’t developed a system for synthesizing light. So they should be kept covered to conserve moisture until the first leaf develops. Once you see the leaf emerge, place them by a sunny window. In our climate, your seedling likely won’t receive the necessary 12 hours

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of light it needs per day this early in the year, so supplement light during those dark hours with a grow light!

Be mindful of moisture levels. Seeds are already rich in the nutrients they need to grow, so they need no fertilizer, but they will need a consistently moist environment to germinate. Too much water can cause mould and too little can dry out the baby plant. Keep soil damp by misting as needed with a spray bottle.

Transplant thoughtfully. While those first few days of above-zero weather may make us feel like breaking out the shorts and t-shirts, it’s still a little early for your seedling to survive outside – especially in the chilly spring nights! After the risk of frost has passed, harden them off by giving them a few hours outdoors at a time, then move them back indoors. Repeat this daily for longer and longer stretches of time. Overcast days without wind or rain are particularly good starting points, as your plant is not accustomed to direct sunlight or rain. After a week or two, your seedling should be toughened up enough for transplanting.

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Plants, like babies and puppies, are a lot more work than you’d expect from something so small – but at least they have the manners to stay in one spot while they grow! However, as they mature, all the dedication you put into them is worth it. Before long, you’ll be able to look on proudly as they sway in the summer breeze – and this winter will be a distant memory.

Winter Porch Pots

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christmas decorated winter porch pot

Winter Porch Pots

By Erna

“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields that it kisses them so gently?”

-Lewis Carroll

On the coldest days of winter here in Manitoba, all we can think about is wrapping ourselves in warm blankets and snuggling by the fire with a mug of hot cocoa. Those cozy evenings have a way of making us feel like all is right in the world, despite the howling winds and blowing snow outside! After a day of work or running errands, when all you can think about is getting back to your toasty nest, it’s a wonderful thing to see a little bit of that cheerful winter spirit waiting for you on the front porch. With the power to lift spirits of guests or passers-by, and to bring a smile to your face as you reach for your keys, winter porch pots add a few extra degrees of warmth to your home’s exterior.

Making a Winter Porch Pot

Winter porch pots are, in essence, container gardens brimming with winter greenery. Evergreens are the natural choice for creating a seasonal look that keeps its colour and beauty. Simply select cuttings from a variety of conifers and other winter plants, and arrange them artistically to suit your taste. The basic steps to building your porch pot are:

Choose a Container – Your container makes almost as much of a statement as the greenery inside! Set the tone with a reclaimed wood barrel for a farmhouse look, a sleek-looking concrete planter for a modern industrial vibe, or a stately urn for

oakridge winter porch pot

traditional appeal. Fill your chosen container with dense potting soil.

Select Your Evergreens – Porch pots look best with boughs from 3-4 different conifers with contrasting sizes and textures, like juniper, spruce, pine, and cedar. Gather several clippings of each before you begin.

Assemble the Porch Pot – Sturdier clippings, like the spruce, look great in the centre, while draping pine needles look elegant trailing over the side of the pot. Juniper makes a great cover to fill in gaps. Fan-like shapes, like cedar clippings, look beautiful as a backdrop to the arrangement. Get creative with your placement, but make sure to sink each clipping into the pot deep enough to withstand strong gusts of wind!

winter porch pot in urn

Decorate the Arrangement – Add flair to your winter porch pot by adding sprigs of real or artificial winter berries, curly willow, or oversized pine cones. Stouter shapes, like the pine cones, will look best as a central focal point, but tall shapes, like the curly willow, look better as accents on the sides and near the back of the arrangement.

Holiday Porch Pots – To give your porch pot a little Christmas spirit, add festive decorations, like red buffalo ribbons and bows, and add string lights to finish the look.

Front Porch Winter Decor Ideas

    If you love the look of the porch pots, you may be tempted to coordinate the rest of your front porch decor to match. Here are some fun decorations you can add to finish the look.

Wreaths – You’ve likely hung your wreath on

closeup of holiday decorated porch pot with berries, lights and pinecones

the door before you’ve even though to take on a porch pot project! However, if you haven’t yet, consider matching the greenery of your wreath to the ones in your winter porch pot.

Birch Poles – Birch accents are all the rage right now, and a pile of birch “firewood” or crafty displays made with birch poles will put your front door decor in line with the trend.

Vintage Sleighs and Skates – These adorable decorations add a little Canadiana to your front entry when rested against your home’s facade.

Outdoor Benches – Add a little extra coziness to a covered front porch with an outdoor bench, complete with a plush

wooden sleigh with winter porch pots

blanket in a synthetic material and outdoor-safe cushion. Choosing a storage bench makes for a clever storage solution for de-icing salts and winter boots!

closeup of red berries in winter porch pot

Your winter porch pot and coordinating decor will make your whole home look more inviting while lightening the spirits of all who pass it – and we all know that during these short winter days, we could use all the light we can get!

Growing Herbs Indoors

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growing herbs indoors

Growing Herbs Indoors

By Erna

“Herbs deserve to be used much more liberally.”

Yotam Ottolenghi

While the days of fresh vegetables from the garden have passed for the time being, the days of savoury stews and hearty dinners have only just begun. Of course, the secret to a truly memorable home-cooked meal is the addition of fresh herbs. Not only do they impart a beautiful flavour and aroma, they also add that great hit of colour that you simply can’t get with the dried varieties. Not to mention, it looks downright gorgeous when a dish is served with a garnish of thyme or rosemary sprigs!

Fresh Flavours Indoors

Here in Manitoba, the long and chilly months of winter can leave us longing for the warmer season. Luckily, we can still add some life to our homes, hearts, and plates by keeping an indoor herb garden! Rosemary, thyme, parsley, and basil can all thrive indoors with the right conditions and a little TLC.

growing plants indoors

Pests Off

If you’ve brought your herbs in from your outdoor garden, the first order of business should be to get them freshened up and ready for life indoors. Outdoor herbs can bring some unwanted guests inside with them, like spider mites or aphids, so they appreciate a gentle bath with a little warm water and dish soap just before settling into

aphids

their new homes.

If you notice more bugs than expected on your herbs, all is not lost! Insecticidal soap is safe to use on your edibles as you migrate them indoors. Wash them weekly with the insecticidal soap treatment until the pests are all gone. If you chose to use your herbs in the meantime, give your sprigs a good rinse before using to take care of any bitter residues.

Growing Herbs Indoors

Light is the most important gift you can give your indoor herb garden! Set them up close to a west- or south-facing window where they’ll be treated to full sun for as long as possible. Deep into winter, even a full day of sun isn’t all that much, so you may need to supplement with a grow light. A few

windowsill herbs

extra UV rays will make such a big difference in the height, health, and flavour of your herb plants.

Water: Herbs might experience a little culture shock travelling from their outdoor summer climate into an indoor winter escape. Just as the much as the dry winter air has most of us reaching for the lotion bottle, your herbs will be craving moisture when the humidity fades away.

fresh basil leaves

There are a few tricks for increasing humidity indoors – some of which might make your home more comfortable for you, too!

  • A humidifier is an excellent way to keep your herbs (and other indoor plants) happy and humid during the cold months. Plus, if you’re prone to coughs and colds, you may even find the humidifier also helps you breathe better!
  • Spritzing herbs with a misting bottle will help keep your plants looking vibrant, but during very dry weather it can be cumbersome to keep up with. If you don’t mind spritzing throughout the day, it’s hard to overdo it in the winter – so spray away!
  • Pebble trays cost very little and help a lot! Just place a layer of pebbles on a flat tray with a lip about ½” high. Add water until the pebbles are almost submerged, but not quite, then place the herb pots on the pebbles. The water from the tray will slowly evaporate into the air around the plants all day long. Just check the tray daily and top up with water to maintain.
growing herbs in pebble trays

When it comes down to it, it doesn’t take much work to grow your own herbs inside when the weather outside is frightful. That means you’ll have plenty of time for the real work – the cooking!

Houseplants to Clear the Air

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Outdoor Fern

Houseplants to Clear the Air

By Erna

“Fresh air impoverishes the doctor.”  – Danish Proverb

What do camera phones, LEDs, CAT scan technology, and handheld vacuum cleaners all have in common? All these technologies exist because of all the hard work that goes into space exploration. We also have the fine folks at NASA to thank for finding out which of our humble houseplants put in the most work to keep our homes clean. Luckily, it’s not rocket science, so feel free to take advantage of their discoveries to help clear the air at home.

NASA’s Air-Cleaning Plants

The problem that NASA was working on in 1984 was simple enough (well, simple compared to some of their other rocket-based problems): they were researching building bubbles with carbon and the latest lightweight plastics to live on other plants. Problem was, they found that all the synthetics they had to use made the air inside practically unliveable in a matter of

NASA's air-cleaning plants

days. All those chemicals give off toxins, like formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, and benzene, which were making those that breathed that air severely ill. In addition to all the complex filtration technologies they worked on, NASA also turned to nature in attempts to clear the air. They found that very common plants that many of us enjoy as houseplants did an amazing job at cleaning the air, not only cleaning up toxins, but using them to actually boost their own growth!

Toxins at Home

We don’t have space-station amounts of plastics and synthetics at home here on Earth, but as every year passes they seem to make up a bigger part of our lives. Air-borne toxins aren’t just NASA’s problem – our homes are slowly filling with a cocktail of toxins, too.

Air-borne toxins

Household Plants and Household Toxins

The simple version of the science behind air-cleaning plants is that they breathe (or “transpire”, if you ask a scientist) kind of like we do. They take in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen, but they also take in tons of other chemicals as they breathe, too, pulling those toxins down to their roots to use as fertilizer. The same chemicals that

Household Plants and Household Toxins

can cause headaches, respiratory issues, or irritation for us can actually boost the growth of our plants. Even better, with indoor houseplants that don’t have to brave our Manitoba winters, our homes get a health boost all year. Just be sure your houseplants don’t get root bound!

Our Top Picks For Removing Airborne Toxins

Not every plant is equal when it comes to cleaning your air. Here are some of our favourite air-cleaning powerhouses:

 

Peace Lily: These plants are a blessing in every way. They thrive in low-light rooms that your other houseplants might not cut it in and are incredibly easy to care

Boston Fern: The oldest houseplant in the world

for. They also produce elegant, white flowers almost all year and are experts at eating toxins. These are an excellent choice for beside an entertainment unit where they can devour the acetone that come off the electronics.

 

Boston Ferns: This is the oldest houseplant in the world, and we can’t help but wonder if their ability to filter toxins and molds had a part in that. They are absolutely greedy for toxins in the air and will even treat you to a humidity boost around them.

Spider Plant: This plant is so easy to manage that it is often the unsung hero of houseplants. They’re practically impossible to kill, require very little light and care, and love cleaning up your air. It’s one of the few houseplants that will take on deadly carbon monoxide with enthusiasm, making it a great choice near fireplaces and kitchens.

Spider Plant - the unsung hero of houseplants

English Ivy: This vine is easy to grow (you’re more likely to be cutting it back than coaxing it to thrive) and is a gift for allergy sufferers. It gets rid of true nasties in the air, like mold or even airborne feces (yes, you read that right). You are what you eat, though, so this plant is toxic and should be kept out of reach of children and pets.

 

Bamboo Palm: Also known as “Reed Palm”, this plant is stately and compact enough to fit in any obscure corner of your home. It’s also a heavyweight champion when it comes to eating up benzene and trichloroethylene. This is a good choice to place near new furniture to make the most of its appetite.

Bamboo Palm is also known as Reed Palm

It wouldn’t be the first time that we “borrowed” space age research to make our lives here on Earth better. Thanks to some of the brightest scientific minds, we can breathe easy while enjoying a bright future of working with our favourite plants more and more as they work with us, too!