227203
Gardening-with-nature

Creating future gardens from the very beginning

Seeds key to a new garden

Whether you buy blooming plants and tall trees for your landscaping or plant seedlings and seeds—it all really begins with the collection of seeds from mature plants.

We all have the means to do that right in our own back yards. But, like so many things, it’s actually a bit more complicated than that. Working recently with Okanagan Xeriscape Association members and volunteers in the Xeriscape Demonstration Garden, we spent a couple of hours collecting seeds from the garden’s perennials and annuals. It’s a fun and inexpensive way to ensure the plants that thrived in their given environment this year will be around for future seasons.

As we were collecting the seed heads and labeling the storage bags, one of the volunteers peppered me with questions. How do you know when the seeds are ready to harvest? the volunteer asked. What conditions do you need to store them, and in what?

Quite a heated discussion ensued among everyone present, as, with so many gardening tasks, there is often more than one answer.

Annual and perennial seeds are ready to harvest when the flowers have finished blooming and the flower petals have turned brown or fallen off. Collect the ripe seeds from the flower heads and lay them on wax paper away from sunlight to dry for a week or so. You can use a variety of storage vessels, plastic bags, wax or paper envelopes. My personal favourite are the compartmentalized plastic containers my mechanic uses to store nuts and bolts and such.

Proper storage of your seeds will go a long way to keeping them viable for longer. Ideally seeds prefer a dark, dry, cool environment between 35 F (1.6 C) and 40 F (4.4 C) with a humidity as low as possible.

While your refrigerator can supply the cool and dark environment the high humidity inside is not ideal. If you do choose to use your fridge for seed storage, make sure to use airtight containers such as mason jars.

Wherever or however you choose to store your seeds make sure to properly label them, specifying the date and the plant from which the seed was collected. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought I would remember which seeds were which, only to scratch my head in the spring when I opened each compartment.

Many seeds benefit from a chemical change which mimics what they experience in their natural environment, such as freezing winter weather, burning temperatures or scarring or cutting from being exposed in the outdoors, or gnawed by an animal.

Scarification is the process of opening the seed coat and it can be done mechanically, chemically or thermally in order to allow water inside the seed coat. Typically, this method is used on seeds with an extremely thick outer layer and is achieved unnaturally by scratching, filing, breaking, puncturing or burning the seed coat.

Stratification uses temperature to break the dormancy of the seed and it can be achieved by subjecting the seeds to periods of cold, either dry or wet cold. It is often achieved by storing your seeds in either the refrigerator or an outbuilding for several months.

One of the seed varieties that I’m most excited about is the Echinacea purpurea “Cheyenne Spirit” seeds, which we collected from the West Kelowna Xeriscape Spirit Square Garden. Many of the fancy new Echinacea cultivars have to be cultivated by vegetative means, and as such are expensive. Echinacea “Cheyenne Spirit” can be easily cultivated from seed and comes in a dazzling array of colours including red, purple, pink, orange, yellow and cream.

This xeriscape perennial has performed very well in the garden even during the challenges of severe water restrictions imposed during this summer’s fire season.

I can hardly wait for spring to start propagating more of these tough beauties ready for purchase at our annual spring plant sale.

The Okanagan Xeriscape Association is grateful for the ongoing financial support of the Okanagan Basin Water Board and is proud to be collaborating with them on their Make Water Work campaign.

Sigrie Kendrick is a master gardener and executive-director of the Okanagan Xeriscape Association and can be reached at 778-363-8360 or by email at [email protected].

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.



225868


Rodent problems can force harsh measures in a garden

Desperate action needed

What’s that old saying: Do as I say, not as I do?

If anyone has been by the Okanagan Xeriscape Association’s Xeriscape Demonstration Garden recently, they are probably thinking something along those lines about me.

“What is she going on about advising us to leave the garden clean-up until the spring to provide food and habitat for wild creatures, and yet the perennials and ornamental grasses in the garden have been cut back and there’s not a fallen leaf left?”

The garden does look pathetic and boring, bereft of any winter interest. It saddened me to instruct the volunteers to essentially raze the garden to the ground last Friday at our weekly Dig with Sig, but this was only done in desperation. It was an all-out effort to help get rid of four-legged pests in the garden.

We have a huge vole problem, which I became aware of this past spring when I started cleaning up after winter. I began by cutting back one of the Autumn Joy Sedums and the whole plant came away in my hands. The roots had been annihilated.

By morning’s end, I came to the heart-breaking realization we had lost a good portion of the plant material in our ornamental grass-themed garden. Nothing was left on the animals’ buffet table. Perennials, ornamental grasses, ground covers were all gone.

We are a not-for-profit organization and are constantly watching our finances, so I was trying to add up the cost of replacement as I worked. As I continued to clean away more plant debris, the little tunnels of destruction became obvious. What exactly were we dealing with and how should we approach the problem?

Even though I learned about rodent pests when I took my master gardener education, I have to admit that having three “slayer” cats at my home garden meant I probably didn’t pay as much attention as I should have to that module.

If you also have something nibbling at your garden, here are some clues to identify the culprit.

Voles are vegetarian and have short, stocky bodies covered with brown, reddish fur and short legs and tails. They eat plant roots and grass and make the surface runways which I encountered at the garden.

Voles will also make one-inch holes to access bulbs as well as cause damage at soil level to tree and shrub bark where you will notice side-by-side grooves from their teeth.

On the other hand, moles have large snouts and paws, perfect for digging in search of grubs, earthworms and insects, as they are meat eaters and not considered plant pests. They create closed tunnels with lots of mini volcano-like soil mounds, called mole hills, while in search of their food.

Whether you suffer from either or both, please do not resort to pesticides in an attempt to rid your outdoor space of these pests as that can have far-reaching implications and travel up the food chain. You could be poisoning the very predators that are so necessary to keep these populations in check.

Rumour has it neither voles nor moles are fond of castor oil, which is available in either liquid or granular form. So you know what’s next on the shopping list. We may set traps in the garden in an attempt to rid ourselves of the problem.

Like any rodent, both voles and moles are extremely reproductive, so we have a challenge ahead as only last week a vole ran between two of the volunteers.

We will keep you posted on our progress, or lack thereof, and hope that by making the garden less hospitable for rodents we have a start on solving the problem. If anyone has some success stories, please share them.

The Okanagan Xeriscape Association is grateful for the ongoing financial support of the Okanagan Basin Water Board and is proud to be collaborating with them on their Make Water Work campaign.

Sigrie Kendrick is a master gardener and executive-director of the non-profit Okanagan Xeriscape Association and can be reached at 778-363-8360 or by email at [email protected].

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.



Now's the time to prep your garden for winter

Last watering of the year

You might not like what I’m going to say, but your garden will thank you for your efforts now.

I planted a shrub in a client’s garden recently and was shocked by how dry the soil was. It was basically dust.

I soaked the root ball of the Rhus typhina (“Tiger-eyes”) prior to planting and gave it a good watering after planting but it got me thinking about all the established plants that had have not been recently irrigated.

This fall has been extremely dry and warm, with temperature records broken throughout the summer and into the fall. Although by now you’ve had your irrigation system blown out, you are going to have to think about providing one last good drink for your plants as they head into winter.

That may require dragging around hoses that were already stored away in the garage for the winter, or the arduous task of multiple treks to and from the kitchen sink with a watering can, but it must be done.

Going into winter without a proper soaking is a killer for many plants.

As of this writing, the 14-day forecast doesn’t include any freezing temperatures, making this the ideal time to irrigate your garden prior to the onset of the colder winter weather.

While bare branches above ground indicate the growing season is over, the roots of your trees, shrubs and perennials will continue to grow in the warm soil until the ground freezes. They need to be hydrated.

At this time of year plants store the sugars and nutrients in their roots that are essential to their survival.

If you must pick and choose where you irrigate, focus on your evergreens and the newly-planted or recently-transplanted plants.

Evergreens, by their very nature, don’t lose their leaves, and therefore require additional hydration to survive winter as they never get a break from the drying winter wind and sun.

Plants recently planted or transplanted will not have had time to establish a strong, deep root system and will also benefit from additional irrigation.

As always when you water, do so deeply, but infrequently, to encourage the establishment of deep roots, as they are then better able to withstand drought come summer.

A soil probe is a useful tool to determine soil moisture, with perennials requiring four to eight inches of moist soil and shrubs and trees requiring up to twelve inches.

Don’t let our recent rains give you a false sense of security as that moisture only permeated the first few inches of soil.

At our regular Friday Dig with Sig, we will need the help of volunteers to haul hoses and buckets to ensure the demonstration garden is well-irrigated in preparation for the upcoming winter season.

The Okanagan Xeriscape Association is grateful for the ongoing financial support of the Okanagan Basin Water Board and is proud to be collaborating with them on their Make Water Work campaign.

Sigrie Kendrick is a master gardener and executive-director of the non-profit Okanagan Xeriscape Association and can be reached at 778-363-8360 or by email at [email protected].

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.





Enjoy ornamental grasses through the winter months

Don't mow low in late fall

Grass, grass everywhere—and I’m not talking about the turf-grass type. Fall is definitely the time of year when ornamental grasses shine.

What poet within us wouldn’t be charmed by the gentle way their seed heads sway in the breeze and dance on the long stalks they’ve been growing all season? Grasses really add movement to your garden—unless you chop them down prematurely.

I recently had the opportunity to consider the importance ornamental grasses hold in our gardens, as I cut down literally hundreds of Calamagrostis x acutiflora “Karl Foerster”, commonly known as Feather Reed grass, at a client’s property.

So often clients want their grasses razed to the ground before the onset of winter as they perceive the standing grasses to be “messy” rather than graceful.

Often, land care providers such as landscapers are all too happy to oblige, as that means one less task facing them in the spring.

Instead of this perverse desire to tidy in the fall, why not take into consideration all the benefits of leaving ornamental grasses over the winter?

From an aesthetic standpoint, ornamental grasses offer important structural interest in the winter garden, looking beautiful alongside the seed heads of perennials which often should also be left standing to enjoy for another season.

As gardeners, let’s remember to switch up the traditional garden tasks and focus our energy at this time of year on planting perennials to begin getting established over fall and winter or planting bulbs for spring colour and forego our cleanup until spring.

Many grasses, such as Miscanthus ssp, Panicum ssp, and Saccharum ravennae, are strong enough to remain upright through the snow, providing vertical interest until being cut down in the spring.

One of the ornamental grasses recently planted at the Okanagan Xeriscape Association demonstration garden by our assistant garden manager Brad Parks is Andropogon “Red October.” I can’t get enough of it.

Parks says he sourced it online and I am going to try to do the same, so we can offer it for purchase at our spring plant sale. It is an absolute stunner.

From an ecological standpoint, there also are many reasons to leave your ornamental grasses standing over the winter. They provide needed habitat for birds and a myriad of other wildlife, as well as for beneficial insects to overwinter. The seed heads of ornamental grasses also provide food for birds, who have to forage widely during the colder months, just to survive.

They also provide great erosion prevention and slope stability, especially where wildfire has run through the previous season.

The time to shear your ornamental grasses is when you begin to see new growth at the base sometime in spring. Then, don’t toss out the cut grass. Instead, find a spot in your yard where it will be out of your way, but will provide valuable habitat for beneficial insects.

Remember too the fallen leaves from deciduous trees should also be left where they fall, rather than being neatly raked up and composted elsewhere in the fall. Those rotting leaves are like gold to a gardener as they provide habitat for insects and wildlife while they decompose over winter. They also suppress weed growth and protect the roots of perennials over winter and what’s left can be gently dug into the soil come spring. So, leave the leaves.

The Okanagan Xeriscape Association is grateful for the ongoing financial support of the Okanagan Basin Water Board and is proud to be collaborating with them on their Make Water Work campaign.

Sigrie Kendrick is a master gardener and executive-director of the non-profit Okanagan Xeriscape Association and can be reached at 778-363-8360 or by email at [email protected].

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.



More Gardening with nature articles



226736
About the Author

I inherited my passion for gardening from my Australian grandfather, a renowned rose breeder in New South Wales. My interest in water conservation started early after a childhood spent growing up in the desert of Saudi Arabia, when a day of rain was cause for a national holiday.

After meeting Gwen Steele, co-founder of the OXA through the master gardener program, I became passionate about promoting xeriscape. I joined the OXA board as a director in 2015 and became executive director in 2019.

When not promoting the principles of xeriscape and gardening for clients throughout the valley, I can be found on a rural property outside of Kelowna where I harvest thousands of litres of rainwater with which to water my own xeriscape gardens.

Connect with me at [email protected] or call 778-363-8360.

Visit the website at: www.okanaganxeriscape.org

 



223464
The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

Previous Stories