The Problem with the Peat Moss in Your Pots (and What to Use Instead)
Peat moss is used in many bagged potting soils as well as bulk soils and amendments that can be purchased by the cubic yard. I try hard not to use it personally and professionally, but sometimes alternatives can't be found locally. Perhaps as a community we can push back with garden centers and landscaping supply companies, and not support peat moss harvesting. This article from Better Homes & Gardens will give you the details you need to make informed decisions regarding greener alternatives.
The Problem with the Peat Moss in Your Pots (and What to Use Instead)
Why urban gardens are crucial for conserving bees and butterflies – and how you can help themNicholas Tew, University of Bristol; Jane Memmott, University of Bristol, and Katherine Baldock, Northumbria University, Newcastle
As humans have industrialised farming to feed a growing global population, pollinators – animals vital for plant reproduction – have seen their food supply decline. In the UK, intensive agriculture has eroded biological diversity in large portions of the countryside, with vast swathes of cereal crops and ryegrass pastures now replacing flower-rich habitats.
For pollinators such as bees, hoverflies and butterflies, a loss of flowers means a loss of the nectar and pollen that makes up their food. A reduction in the diversity and quantity of this food is an important factor in the widespread decline of their population numbers.
However, pollinators may have an unlikely saviour: cities. Although traditionally regarded as ecological wastelands, urban landscapes can support diverse pollinator populations. Our new research, conducted with colleagues at the universities of Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Northumbria, Reading and the Royal Horticultural Society, investigated the nectar production in different urban areas to see how they compared with one another and with rural habitats.
We found that urban areas are not so bleak after all. They offer comparable resources to rural habitats, with gardens providing nectar-rich oases to support our pollinating insects.
For our study, we measured how much nectar flower species make, by sampling in a range of urban environments including private and botanical gardens, allotments and road verges. We also made use of other published studies on nectar production in order to compare our findings with the nectar quantity and diversity of rural areas.
Measuring nectar is fiddly work, but it is fascinating to see how flowers have evolved different strategies for supplying insects with their reward. Using a thin glass capillary tube, roughly mimicking a bee’s tongue, we extracted nectar and measured its volume – sometimes less than a hundredth of a raindrop.
Next, we needed to work out the sugar concentration, which we achieved using a refractometer. This clever piece of equipment, commonly used by brewers, measures the amount light bends when passing through a solution and tells you how much sugar is dissolved. Nectar can be 60% sugar by weight – the equivalent of putting 100 spoonfuls in your cup of tea. After repeating this process on more than three thousand flowers, we were able to scale our nectar calculations up to look at entire sampled habitats.
Our findings suggest that urban landscapes are hotspots of nectar diversity. This means that there are more kinds of flowering plant producing nectar in towns and cities than in the farmland and nature reserve sites we measured. Just like in humans, a balanced diet is important for keeping pollinators healthy, helping them to fight off diseases.
On top of that, flowers have different colours, smells, shapes and sizes, and pollinators vary in their preferences. For example, butterflies like to feed from thin, tubular flowers with a sweet fragrance, like buddleia, but hoverflies need easily-accessible nectar, like that found in carrot flowers. Knowing that urban landscapes provide an especially diverse array of flowering plants is important as it means they have the potential to support a wide range of pollinator species.
The importance of gardens
Spaces within towns and cities differ greatly in the amount of energy-rich nectar they produce. For a given area, residential gardens make a similar quantity to allotments, but four times as much as public parks. Overall, because gardens are both nectar-rich and extremely widespread – covering around 30% of urban land – they produced an average of 85% of all the nectar in the four towns and cities we surveyed (Bristol, Edinburgh, Leeds and Reading).
This means that eight or nine out of every ten grams of urban nectar comes from someone’s garden. It is no exaggeration to say that gardens are critical for the food supply of pollinators in our towns and cities. The decisions every gardener makes about their garden matter for the conservation of bees, butterflies and other pollinators.
Here’s how to maximise the benefit of your garden space in a few simple steps:
Nicholas Tew, PhD Candidate in Community Ecology, University of Bristol; Jane Memmott, Professor of Ecology, University of Bristol, and Katherine Baldock, Senior Lecturer in Ecology, Northumbria University, Newcastle
To add some vertical interest to your garden, clematis is my favorite choice. Growing up a trellis, covering a fence, twisting up some tree trunks, or even as a ground cover, clematis offer vigorous growth with the addition of colorful flowers. There are actually 3 types of clematis based upon their growth characteristics:
type A - blooms on old wood in the spring
type B - can bloom on both old and new wood
type C - blooms on new wood later in the summer
Since our winters are so long, I do appreciate plants that can provide flowers in the spring. There are two type A species of clematis, C. alpina and C. macropetala that are suitable choices for Calgary gardens. In addition, these clematis are more shade tolerant than type B and C clematis. Since they bloom on old wood, they should not be pruned like most perennials. Instead, only remove any dead branches as required. A very low maintenance plant!
Here is a plant trials bulletin from The Royal Horticultural Society that provides details on the various cultivars of C. alpina and C. macropetala.
RHS Plant Trials Bulletin - C. alpina and C. macropetala
I have been apprehensive about writing a blog on fertilizing gardens, because it is a complex subject. In addition, there are so many untruths about gardening practices that people truly believe. I strive to share and use evidence-based practices for clients citing articles written by horticultural scientists (PhD level), and ask that you question any conflicting information you receive from the following sources:
Attached is the latest review of six soil myths. One of the bottom lines is do NOT fertilize without a soil test. Mismanagement of soil can be problematic in so many ways. Don't be tempted to participate in damaging practices.
Soil Myth Busting for Extension Educators: Reviewing the Literature on Soil Nutrition
As I look out my back door, my entire yard is awash with fallen leaves. A tapestry of yellow. Am I going to spend time gathering up and bagging these leaves? Absolutely not! Instead, I will follow Mother Nature's lead and return them to the soil.
Grasscycling: Reference - https://www.calgary.ca/uep/wrs/recycling-information/residential-services/organics-recycling/grasscycling.html
Leave grass clippings on the lawn
Leaving grass clippings on the lawn after mowing is the natural way of breaking down grass, also known as grasscycling or grass mulching. The next time you mow the lawn, try leaving clippings on the lawn rather than putting them in your green cart or in paper yard waste bags.
It’s good for your lawn
How to leave clippings on the lawn
Cut grass when the surface is dry and keep mower blades sharp. Follow the 1/3 rule: mow your lawn often enough so that no more than 1/3 your grass is cut. You may need to raise the height of your mower. This frequent mowing will produce short clippings that will break down quickly.
You can leave clippings on the lawn with almost any mower (push, electric or gas). Using your existing mower, remove the bag and leave the clippings on the lawn.
Mulching mowers cut grass blades into small pieces, allowing the clippings to settle into your lawn without clumping. They are sold at most yard and garden stores, nurseries and home supply stores.
Common questions about leaving clippings on the lawn
Will leaving grass clippings make my lawn less attractive?
Leaving clippings can actually produce a healthier looking lawn. It is important to cut the lawn frequently to produce small clippings that will decompose quickly.
Does leaving grass clippings cause thatch?
Grass roots are the primary cause of thatch, not grass clippings. Thatch is made up of roots, stems, rhizomes and other plant materials. These materials contain large amounts of lignin (fibrous material) and decompose slowly. Grass clippings are about 80-85 per cent water with only small amounts of lignin, and break down rapidly.
Does leaving grass clippings spread lawn disease?
Poor watering and fertilizing has a much greater impact on the spread of grass disease than leaving clippings on the lawn. If a desirable environment for grass disease is present, infestation will occur whether clippings are collected or not.
Mow over the fallen leaves with a mulching lawnmower and leave them as they fall to enrich the lawn. If you don't have a mulching lawnmower, a regular mower will do however, you may have to mow 2-3 times to chop the leaves finely. These finely chopped leaves can also be used on flower beds, and around shrubs and trees. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, an average-sized lawn can accommodate 150 bags of leaves.
A 20-year study by Michigan State University shows that leafcycling:
As we approach the end of October, winter is on it's way. Some of you may have added tender bulbs to your garden such as gladiolus, dahlias, and canna lilies to name a few. As these plants will not survive a Calgary winter, they must be properly cleaned and stored to be planted again in the spring. This gives you the opportunity to multiply your garden stock by harvesting offsets and enjoy your favorite flowers year after year.
GardenGate Magazine has a comprehensive article on this topic:
An article just popped up on my news feed regarding the ongoing litigation in the United States about the herbicide glyphosate. This is something I use and recommend for aggressive perennial weeds in the garden. Unfortunately, there is some hysteria over the use of this product, which to date has not been backed by objective data. I direct you to the article I'm referring to as published in the Financial Post.
Frequently I have clients that have decided there is something wrong with their soil and we should dig it up and replace it or at least remove several inches of soil and add something to it to make it better. In Calgary, our soil is clay rich, which helps it retain moisture as well as nutrients. I usually recommend adding one inch of compost to flower beds if the soil is particularly heavy as compost can improve soil structure, drainage, and add nutrients.
Unfortunately there is now a lot of information/misinformation available to consumers about gardening practices. Some of these ideas are not based on science and frustrate me to no end. One of my favorite sources for information is The Garden Professors. Their mandate is to provide research-based information on creating and sustaining gardens and landscapes to the general public. I will direct you to their blog on amending soil for more information on this topic.
Amending Soils - Why??
Have I mentioned I love roses? Luckily enough, there are some cultivars that can grow well in Calgary. The Canadian Hardy National Rose Program develops winter hardy, disease resistant, low maintenance roses that have a long bloom period.
For further details and photos of the Canadian Shield, Chinook Sunrise, and Aurora Borealis roses , click here.
Many gardens have areas of shade. Don't consider these areas to be wasted parts of the yard to be filled with gravel. There are many lovely ideas to brighten up these darker areas of the landscape. Here is an inspiring article from Better Homes and Gardens complete with gorgeous pictures! Contact me to help you implement these exciting plans.