May In The Garden!
Spring is nature’s way of saying “Let’s Party!”. - Robin Williams
I don’t think that there is a better way to describe spring; especially after a long snowy winter! I love motivational quotes like this as it gets me in the mood to garden– as if we need motivation to get excited about spring in Saskatoon! As I have always said, the wonderful people of Saskatchewan are the eternal optimists – there will always be another spring and we will make the most of that season in our gardens.
Last May, I wrote an In the Garden Article dated May 2, 2022 that covered a multitude of tasks to enjoy and accomplish in the month of May. If possible, I really don’t like to repeat myself so after re-reading that article, check back here for some interesting garden information happening this beautiful 2023 spring season.
To Lawn or Not to Lawn – for the past few years this has been a question in lawn care that is on the minds of gardeners everywhere. Green lawn alternatives are huge in the gardening world as they are more drought tolerant that regular turf, use less fertilizer, choke out weeds and in the case of this next plant, need far less mowing. Microclover (trifolium repens var. ‘pipolina’) is the latest lawn alternative to reach North America. There is much information on the internet regarding this plant and after doing some reading on the topic – pros and cons- I am on the side of using microclover as an over-seeding lawn addition in spring. This is not your everyday clover plant; the leaves are tiny and regular mowing at a 5 -7.5 cm. height keeps it at the very short, spreading and low-growing stage. It is not as invasive as regular varieties of clover. Mowing also means less flowers. What flowers do pop up means more for the bees! And yes, you can grow it in zone 3. The best time to over-seed with microclover is after your lawn has been aerated. Following aeration mow the lawn close to the soil surface. Mix the seed with a bit of sand and compost/topsoil and distribute it equally over the lawn. Roll the area with a lawn roller, then water the lawn as usual. Once the lawn gets growing, there is no need to fertilize as clover fixes nitrogen from the atmosphere, making it available to the clover’s roots and the grass roots as well. Microclover will not grow in full shade and like lawn grass, goes dormant in the fall. If weeds do appear, do not treat with broadleaf herbicides as this will kill the clover as well. Spot treat any aggressive weeds like dandelions that may appear.
Planting Under Existing Trees
Like many of us in Saskatoon, I garden on an established lot with mature trees. The trees provide us with much needed shade in the summer and keep the house cool as well. They also are in a constant fight for territory with the plants and lawn below. So what can we plant or add to spruce up (forgive the pun) these bare areas under and beside these large trees?
I think the most important thing to remember when contemplating a landscaping addition under your trees is never pile mulch, soil or compost up around the trunk. Keep the soil level around the trunk the same as it always has been. Wet soil around a tree’s bark will slowly erode the bark, smother roots and eventually kill the tree. I recommend leaving a bare space of 30 to 60 cm. out from the base of the trunk. A tree’s roots need to breathe and a raised planter can be constructed outside this space but still around the tree, giving the area a much needed colorful boost.
If you are constructing a new garden bed outside this ‘safe zone’, remember to remove any existing grass that may be in the new bed location first. Drainage in the bed area will be negatively affected which will lead to a lack of water and nutrients available to the tree.
I like to recommend creating an area under your trees that you can relax in during those hot summer days. Prune up any tree branches that are too close to ground level. Place a garden bench or two outdoor chairs with side tables under the tree. Group different sizes of pots around this area filled with shade loving annual and perennial plants. Provide a decorative screen background behind this seating area and hang some flowering hanging baskets from the tree branches above. And finally, place a birdbath or free standing water feature among the pots. The sound of birds and water is always a treat!
Large bare areas under mature evergreens are always a real challenge. Pine and spruce roots are shallow and can grow above the soil. In the battle for water under an evergreen, the tree will always win! Consider creating a grouping of pots as mentioned above in a few areas placed along a winding dry riverbed of different sizes of rocks. Two or more large rocks strategically placed will add to this tranquil scene. Edge all of the above with small grade rainbow rock (not too thick) and place your bench or chairs beside the ‘stream’. Again, add a birdbath, water feature or both!
As you may have guessed I like to create a ‘scene’ under large trees. All too often I see garden statues and ornaments placed on their own in a large bare area. Groupings of plants, pots, and garden furniture always fit and feel better in your garden when anchored to the ground/patio or flower bed.
If you are new to gardening, you are no doubt perplexed with the many petunia varieties in the garden centre every spring. Don’t get me wrong, I love petunias just as much as the next gardener, but wow there are a lot out there, making choices a bit overwhelming. And new petunia varieties/cultivars are introduced every year.
Petunias are started from seed or from rooted cuttings.
Below are four main types of seed grown petunias. All are available in ‘Series’ which are groups of plants (in this case petunias) that share a mature size and flowering habit. Within each ‘Series’ there may be a few or many colors.
For example: The Grandiflora Daddy Series includes the colors Blue, Orchid, Peppermint, Pink, Sugar, Red and Mix. All share the same - Height: 30-38 cm. and Spread: 25 – 30 cm. and the same flower characteristics such as veining and flower size (7.5 -10 cm. diameter) The only thing that varies in the series are the colors.
Grandiflora – Grandifloras were developed in the 1950’s. Bloom size was favored over quantity of blooms. The blooms produced are fairly fragile. These petunia flowers are the largest of all the petunias with the flowers measuring 10 -12 cm across and can be susceptible to wind and rain damage. Some of the Series under the Grandiflora umbrella are Ultra, Dreams, Storm, Daddy, Cascades, Surfinia, Supercascade (trailing), Supermagic. Grandiflora blooms can be double or single and these plants must be deadheaded.
Multiflora – Multiflora petunias have smaller blooms than grandifloras, but more of them. They are available in single and double cultivars. The smaller blooms are more wind resistant and also stand up to heat, humidity and heavy rain. They are fast growing and have few disease problems. They are often used for edging and do not require deadheading. Series names include Primetime, Celebrity, Carpet, Horizon, Mirage and Primetime. Flowers are 5 cm. wide. Height: 25 – 30 cm. and Spread: 25 – 38 cm.
Floribundas – Hybrid petunias that are produced by crossing grandiflora and multiflora. They have fairly large blooms and are vigorous growers. The Madness Series introduced in 1983 are very popular and classified as Floribundas. A few Floribunda Series are listed as follows: Celebrity, Double Madness, Frillytunia, Prism, and Horizon. Their height and spread is usually 25 – 30 cm.
Milliflora - Mini petunias that produce masses of blooms. Mature size is usually 20.5 cm by 20.5 cm. Millifloras are early bloomers and no deadheading is required. Series names are Picobella, Tiny Tunia and Fantasy. Introduced in 1996, they are the perfect petunias for edging.
Spreading (Wave Petunias) - Spreading petunias have 5 cm. wide blooms and require no deadheading. The Wave Petunia Series include colors such as Carmine Velour, Pink, Lavender, Misty Lilac and of course, Purple Wave. They are rapid growers and grow very close to the ground with one plant spreading up to 1.21 m in a season. The flowers cover the entire length of the stems. Once established they tolerate heat and drought very well. Other series include Easy Wave, E3 Easy Wave, Tidal Wave, Shockwave, and Avalanche. Shockwave, Easy Wave and E3 Easy Wave are stunning in hanging baskets. One plant will easily fill a 25 cm (10 inch) hanging basket. They are self -cleaning, mounding and rain resistant. Tidal Waves are the tallest and most vigorous with dense flowering and an aggressive plant habit. The mature plant height of a Tidal Wave Series petunia is determined by spacing. The closer you plant them together, the taller they will grow. Tidal Waves hold up very well to rain. The Avalanche Series looks beautiful in window boxes, 30 cm (12 inch) hanging baskets and large planters. Avalanche colors include pink, white, red, blue star, purple star and yellow (gold) star.
Petunias can also be propagated via rooted cuttings. An example of rooted cuttings are Proven Winner Supertunias available in both single and double blooms. They do not grow true to seed, so must be started from cuttings (cloning). Supertunias are vigorous growers and rain/wind tolerant. There are 21 cultivars in the Supertunia Series. Some of the more notable are Supertunia Persimmon (new 2023), Priscilla (a double bloom), Daybreak Charm, and Picasso in Purple. Pay a visit to their website and view the rest!
Be sure to check the plant pot tags for the name and valuable information that accompanies your petunias. Most will tell you the mature height and spread of the plant and favorite sun or semi-shade location. Save your tags – they are very helpful when it comes to remembering favorite plants next spring!
Every spring season you can be sure there are new petunia cultivars being introduced all over the world. Plant breeders are producing hybrids that focus on the best traits of both parents, bloom size, disease resistance and rain/wind tolerance. The petunias mentioned here in this blog are just a few of the hundreds available in the world today!
FYI - Microclover has been used for over ten years in Denmark and Holland for use in golf courses.
If you have grown microclover please leave a comment below on how it did for you. Tips on growing this lawn alternative will be much appreciated. Thank you!
Petunias are part of the Solanaceae (Nightshade) family. Despite this, petunias are non-toxic to humans, dogs and cats.