Category Archives: Q & A for New Gardeners

Vegetable Gardening

Twice in the last month I have had each of my sisters ask me about how to start a vegetable garden.  One has a rather large-ish city lot, but more interest in eating local than the actual act of gardening.  The other is helping a school create a large garden plot.  As I was researching various aspects of their projects for them, I came across, which had a great comparison of three different types of veggie gardens:

Traditional Gardening

  • A large plot of earth tilled up, and organized in long rows.
  • Requires a lot of space, and a lot of work.
  • If you have good soil the startup costs can be very low–just purchasing some seeds.
  • Challenge:  weeds. Mulching can help, but you will inevitably battle as many weeds (or more!) as you have plants.

Square Foot Gardening

  • Garden beds are built and filled with soil. Raised beds are easier to access, especially for those with physical limitations.
  • Plants are spaced very close together, eliminating “rows.”
  • Utilizes vertical gardening–supporting plants with trellises, staking, etc. This reduces the space needed on the ground by growing vining plants up instead of out.
  • Challenges: startup costs can be much higher because beds must be built or purchased, and soil must be replenished each year. You may need fertilizer to provide enough nutrients for the plants to grow and thrive.

Container Gardening

  • For those with very small yards or just a balcony or a porch to use, container gardening is a great option
  • Many “dwarf” varieties have been developed to help those growing in such small areas.
  • Benefit: requires very little space.
  • Challenges: harvest may be limited, the soil will need constant improvement and fertilizer, and plants grown this way can be more susceptible to disease.


And because whenever I begin looking at pictures of veggie gardens, I have to dream a bit, here’s my ideal garden, a blend of traditional and square foot gardening!

Potager Garden

Fall Garden Clean-up Checklist

We can certainly all remember the joy of jumping into a pile of freshly raked up leaves, and perhaps we can also remember the frustration of having to rake up that pile again and again and again.  However there is more to fall clean-up than simply raking.  A bit of searching around online, I’ve compiled this list which will hopefully assist in your end-of season tasks!

Not included in the list is of course, the fact that you should be rewarded at the end of all the work with a bonfire with friends, while drinking some warm apple cider (or Pumpkin Spice Latte, if that’s your style ;))


*Fall is the time to plant many favourite spring flowers.  Crocuses, tulips, allium and daffodils are all planted in the fall.

*Dig up tender bulbs (Canna Lilies, Calla Lilies)


*Rake leaves

*Rabbits love to chew the bark off of newly planted trees, but damage is easily prevented by wrapping the trunks.

*Springtime damage from cankerworms is also easily prevented by banding with Tanglefoot


* Fall is a great time to both divide and plant new perennials.

* As perennials finish, trim off the dead foliage. You can compost the healthy trimmings to continue the cycle of nature.  Alternatively, some perennials, if left alone, look great as winter interest and can provide winter food for wildlife. Leaving the perennials can also ensure greater snow cover, which can help protect tender perennials against winter kill.

*covering any marginal (tender) perennials with mulch will also protect these plants from exposure to the elements

* Clean away any and all diseased plants and dropped leaves.


* Vegetable gardens are best completely cleared up to prevent any disease or pest overwintering.

Tropical Plants

* Tropical plants should be brought inside before the first frost


* Tools should be cleaned and sharpened so they are ready for action in the spring

* Containers should be emptied, at least partially and covered to prevent cracking

* Even the best quality cushions on lawn furniture need to be dried and stored inside

Q & A for New Gardeners

I’ve planted my first garden, but am not sure if I’m watering too much, or not enough. Should I be fertilizing every time I water?

How much to water depends very much on a wide variety of factors, not the least of which is the weather! Obviously, gardens, planters and lawns will not need watering after two or three days of rain. Short showers probably aren’t sufficient to maintain new plantings; especially as rain can be blocked by decks, fences and eaves.

For new plantings of trees and shrubs, I usually make sure that I water them thoroughly a few times a week.  For a tree I usually fill my 8L watering can, and use the whole thing on each new tree.  For shrubs, I generally do about half of that.  For perennials and annuals planted in the ground my method is a little less precise; I usually just water until it seems like the ground isn’t absorbing any more, and the water is running away from the plant.

Container gardening requires more frequent watering; generally I water my containers every day. When we recommend a potting soil for customers planting in containers, what we actually recommend is a soil-less mix.  This mix is wonderful for the plants root growth, and health, but doesn’t contain any nutrients, and does not retain water in the same way that garden soil does. My method for determining how much to water a container is the same as how I tell in the garden; when it seems like the soil isn’t absorbing the water as thirstily, that’s generally enough.  Depending on the size of container and planting, it could be anywhere from ½ to 1½ L. A good rule of thumb would be to use a finger; if you poke a finger into the soil, and the top two inches of soil are dry, it is time to water!

As for fertilizing, we usually fertilize our annuals each week, according to the directions on the package.  The only caution I would add is that if you’ve planted with Myke (a micorhizae product we highly recommend to promote root growth), make sure that you’re using a low-phosphorous fertilizer.  All of the fertilizers we currently have for sale are sufficiently low in phosphorus.

Q & A for New Gardeners

I’m looking for some shrubs to plant on the north side of my house; what are some suggestions for such a shady location?

The two best choices for shrubs to plant in the shade are Hydrangeas, and Viburnum.

Nannyberry:  Viburnum lentago


Mature Height: 8-10’ (3m)
Mature Spread: 8-10’ (3m)
Flowers: White (blue fruit)
Zone: 2

This native shrub produces white flowers in June, followed by blue-black fruit. The upright growth form with brilliant red foliage in the fall makes this a great landscape choice.

Annabelle Hydrangea:  H. arborescens grandiflora‘Annabelle’


Mature Height: 3-4’ (1.25m)
Mature Spread: 3-4’ (1.25m)
Flowers: White (mophead)
Zone: 3

A large flowered hydrangea that requires a sheltered location.  The large flowers produced in July are long-lasting.  Spring pruning will renew the plant.

Of course, there are also many many perennials that will grow quite large in shady areas!

Q & A for New Gardeners: Am I too late to start planting?

Is it too late to start planting?

I like this one! It is definitely NOT too late to start planting.  I still have a couple of flats of impatiens waiting to get in the ground.  They’re at least sitting beside where they will go, but we’re just waiting on a free hour to get them in there!

Bedding plants, vegetables and basket stuffers are still available in the greenhouse, and will be just fine to plant anytime. (Though be warned, the selection is no longer as extensive as it was in early May).

Starting seeds, with proper selections is still possible too.  It is unfortunately a little late to start tomatoes and peppers by seed, as they require a longer growing season than we have left.  However, there are lots of choices that only require a 60-day season.  Lettuce and arugula grow quickly, and you will be enjoying fresh salads before too long.  Beans, radishes and beets are also great choices, and you can enjoy them later in the season, after others’ are finished!

How to Attract Butterflies to the Garden

One of the common questions we hear throughout the greenhouse, is how to attract butterflies to a yard.  The Garden Experts at Costa Farms have assembled this list of 13 must-have plants for your Butterfly Garden.

An added bonus, 8 of the 13 are perennials for us in Winnipeg! (Butterfly Bush, Lavendar, Penstemon, Scabiosa and Verbena are not)






Q & A for New Gardeners: How do I Overseed?

We moved into a new house just as the snow was falling, so didn’t see the grass until the snow melted.  We have dead patches, and dirt patches so will need overseed, do we need to worry about figuring out what kind of grass we have?

Brown patches are an unsightly addition to an otherwise green yard, but are easy to fix.  99% of the grass used in yards is Kentucky Blue Grass, but there are lots of suitable options for overseeding. 

The first step is to spread some fresh soil over the areas that need repair. It doesn’t need to be a particularly deep layer of soil, just enough to cover up the bare patches, but thin enough that the existing grass still peeks through.  To spread the grass seed, its best to use a proper spreader, to ensure that the seed is dispersed evenly (sprinkling by hand will likely lead to more patchiness).  Finally, water regularly (every day) until the seeds germinate, grow, and grace you with a newly beautified lawn!

As for matching the types of grass, it is not at all necessary.  As long as you choose a type of grass seed appropriate for the area (shade-loving fescues for shade, or classic Bluegrass for sun) the grass will blend in just fine!

Q & A for New Gardeners: Essential Tools

What kind of garden tools do I need to have?

A quick Google search of “essential garden tools” will lead you to lists of 8 essential garden tools, 10 essential garden tools, 4 essential garden tools.  Since my goal here is to try to give some simple, realistic answers, here’s my official list of essential garden tools.  This list is what we actually, honestly and truly have in the garage, and use regularly.

  1. Garden gloves: These will provide some protection against scrapes and cuts, and greatly reduce clean-up time, in case you need to rush out to a fancy ball after weeding your tomato patch :)
  2. Trowels: I like to have two: a narrow one for digging out dandelions from the yard, and a wider one for planting bedding plants
  3. Shovel: An essential tool for digging; either for planting trees and shrubs, or removing trees and shrubs!
  4. Pruning shears: Small handheld pruners make clipping back old growth much easier
  5. Scissors: Because of course you will want to harvest your beautiful herbs for cooking, and flowers for arranging!
  6. Rakes: See last week’s post on the importance of raking!
  7. Wheelbarrow: If you ever need to haul any amount of soil, gravel, sand, mulch using a wheelbarrow makes much more sense than moving things one shovel-ful at a time!
  8. Hose/Sprinkler/Watering Can: Plants need water to survive!
  9. Twine: I use this to tie tomatoes to stakes, but it seems like it always comes in handy for other things as well
  10. Old recycle bins/Large paper bags: Once you’ve done a big clean up, you’ll need a place to keep your yard waste until pick-up day

Bonus: Stereo or Radio or something to play music while you work!


That’s what’s on my gardening shelf! How about you? Is there anything you’d add?

thatch rake

Q & A for New Gardeners: What Rake to Use and When

When can I rake my yard? What kind of rake should I use?

Now that all the snow has melted, and people are making their way outside, it is time to start thinking about raking up all the “thatch” that’s resting on top of the lawn.  Thatch, and snow mould can matte together and make it difficult for new (green!) grass to grow through.

You can start raking once the ground seems to be fairly dry.  If you try to rake while the grass is still wet, you risk damaging the grass that may already be growing.

For Spring raking, the best rake to use is a thatch rake, which looks like this:

 In our house, we describe this raking as a good back-scratch for the lawn.  The thatch rake is the rake that looks like it would do a good job of it!

Other rake types:






Bow: for levelling mulch/soil in garden beds                                       Fan: for gathering leaves

Q & A for New Gardeners – What is Vole Damage?

Now that the snow has melted, it looks like there are little paths, or tunnels through my grass.  What IS this? What can I do?

If you see what looks like tunnels throughout your lawn, its likely vole damage that you are seeing.  Voles typically move in in the fall, and frolic under the snow all winter. Repairing the damage, is fortunately not that difficult or time consuming.  Take some soil, and spread it over the entire lawn, re-levelling any trenched areas.  Sprinkle some fresh grass seed, and water away!

If you’re feeling compassionate, and don’t want to worry about exterminating little creatures (they are kind of cute, in a mouse-y way), you’re in luck.  By the time the snow melts, they’ll have migrated somewhere else.  Next fall, to avoid the same problem, spray around your yard with Plantskydd, and they will be repelled by the scent, and choose a different playground for the winter!