Gardening wisdoms: fact or fiction
Saturday, Aug 09, 2014 06:00 am
What grows together goes together, or so the saying goes. But is it true? There are gardening wisdoms we take as fact, when it’s not always so. Experts weigh in as we explore a few long-assumed truths.
Take that belief about companion planting, for example. Long time gardener Derrick Harrison says companion planting has merit – bugs that attract to certain plants can benefit neighbouring ones, while conversely, “a clematis will strangle a shrub” he says, so you want to avoid planting these two together. Harrison said innovative gardeners are experimenting with growing multiple seeds in the same root ball – the ultimate in companion planting. Busting this myth, though, is local gardening guru Jim Hole, who says as long as a plant has sunlight, water, nutrients and space, it’ll be fine anywhere in the garden bed.
Can’t grow grass under your trees? Too much shade, compacted soil and roots competing for moisture are often the real reason why, but it’s still common to hear the old folk remedy of adding lime to the soil. “It can make the situation worse,” said Hole, “but people keep asking about it. Get rid of branches and add water – the problem is a lack of sunlight and moisture.”
True or false. In our cold prairie climate, everything is safe to plant after the Victoria Day long weekend in May. Not so fast, said horticulturalist Tam Andersen, owner of Prairie Gardens & Adventure Farm. While statistics show that our risk of frost goes down to 14 per cent as of May 27, there’s still that slim chance, she said.
“Sometimes it’s worth the risk to plant and cover as needed for things that need a longer growing season, like tomatoes,” Andersen said. “But I’ve planted pumpkins as late as the 10th of June and still lost them to frost. My only golden rule is to have corn planted before May long weekend. With everything else, there’s risk.” Heat loving plants like squashes, cukes, melons and tomatoes are generally best left to plant until the first week of June.
Are you a lazy gardener like me? If you haven’t planted a garden by now, forget it.
Not so fast, said Andersen, pointing to the flowers and perennials that sell through June and July at her greenhouses. As quick growing beans and peas come along, a gardener can re-seed those empty spaces. The same goes for perennials, which can be planted through the summer. “These are problem-solvers that fill in spots, after the flurry of annuals get settled in. It takes just a season to get perennials established, and you can have colour and greenery in the patio pots or garden beds through until freeze up.”
If you’re planting a new tree in the yard this summer, strap it down tight, so no swaying or toppling will disturb it from taking root. Makes sense, but it’s the wrong thing to do. Hole said “guy-wiring trees” to death does them no service, causing more harm than good when the tight wires gradually cut into the bark. “Trees also need to sway in wind to develop reaction wood (like developing muscle through exercise). The best strategy is to gently secure trees and allow them to move several centimetres. Most trees should be staked for at least one growing season,” he said.
And newly transplanted trees need water several times a week, until the root system becomes well-established. For mature trees, Hole said a good rule of thumb is to water once a week, one gallon per foot of tree height or spread, whichever is greater.