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Gardening Tips
When should you apply dormant oil?


Research has shown that time of application is crucial to whether dormant oil is effective or not. Conventional wisdom says that oil sprays must be applied when the tree is completely dormant but more recent research has shown that, in most cases, spraying oil at complete dormant is not very effective and is, in fact, a waste of money.       

The oil spray’s mode of action is to suffocate the emerging insects as they hatch. If it’s applied too early, spring rains will wash it away well before hatching commences. The right time to apply dormant oil is when it’s warm enough that insect eggs are hatching~ well after buds have started to swell. The ‘best bang for your buck’ is had when you apply the oil as late as possible (insects are hatching) without doing serious damage to foliage. Oil can be safely applied to foliage when it starting to open but before  it has completely unfurled. Because fruit tree buds grow at different rates depending on variety, location and growing season, check the buds regularly to see how much green is showing. You can safely apply dormant oil even when there is up from ½ to 1 inch of green growth showing.  Commercial fruit growers have been doing this for twenty years and more! Dormant oils are much lighter than they used to be and can even be applied during active growth but at a different application rate. Read the application instructions and you will see that there are separate rates given for Dormant application and for Growing Season application.                        

          Dormant oil is available alone (Horticultural Oil) or in a boxed set with sulfur. Sulfur is fungicidal and when applied with oil can provide broad spectrum insect and fungal control early in the season. Sulfur can also be used during the growing season but must not be applied when daytime temperatures reach 30°C.

          Sulfur, while an effective fungicide, is also miticidal, killing all species including the helpful predaceous mites. For this reason, we haven’t used the oil/sulfur combination in our orchards for many years. The benefits of using sulfur are outweighed by the damage to the predaceous mites. Without a healthy population of predatory mites, the damaging species get out of hand.  Furthermore, Sulfur is smelly, is messy to work with and is phytotoxic to certain plants. Even if you choose to use it on other types of fruit trees NEVER apply it to apricot, Delicious apple, or hazelnut trees.

          Dormant oil and sulfur sprays, while both derived from minerals, are considered organic products because they have no residual ecological effects.  Even so, wear protective gear during application and be careful not to overspray onto surfaces that can be stained by the sulfur.



When can you start seeding vegetables and flowers outdoors?

Our area contains so many different micro-climates that there is no one definitive answer to this question other than to say it all depends on soil  and air temperature. Raised beds in full sun warm up more quickly that in-ground gardens and may be ready for some early cropping. The best way to know if your can plant early is to check soil temperature. Over the years I’ve gathered germination and growing information on many different plants and have found it useful, not only with regard to when to plant but because it has saved me money. You’ve heard the saying “Plant early~ plant often”. If you plant too soon, you’ll probably get to do it again. What follows is a chart with optimum soil temperature ranges for good veggie and flower seed germination. You’ll see that some seeds are quite cold tolerant but even so it’s still pretty early for most on the list.  Once germinated, some can tolerate fairly cool soils.


Vegetable      Range °C        Optimum °C         Growth °C

Beans (Snap)          15-27                       26.5-29.5                 15.5- 23.8

Beets                       10-27                       29.5                         15.5- 21.1

Cabbage                 7-35                         29.5                         15.5- 21.1

Carrot                      7-27                         26.5                         15.5- 21.1

Cauliflower              7-27                         26.5                         15.5- 21.1

Celery                      15-24                       21(Night 15.5)         15.5- 21.1

Corn                        15-35                       35                            18.3- 23.8

Cucumber               15-35                       35                            18.3- 23.8

Lettuce                    4.5-27                      23                            15.5- 18.33

Muskmelon              15-35                       32                            18.3- 23.58

Onion                       10-35                       24                            12.7- 23.8

Parsley                    10-27                       24                            15.5-18.3

Peas                        4.5-24                      24                            15.5- 18.3

Peppers                   18-35                       30                            21.1- 23.8

Pumpkin                  21-35                       34                            18.3- 23.8

Radish                     7-32                         29                            15.5- 23.8

Spinach                   7-24                         21.1                         15.5- 23.8

Squash                    21-35                       34                            18.3- 23.8

Turnip                      15.5-40                    29.4                         15.5- 18.3

Watermelon             21-35                       34                            18.3- 23.8



Flower            Notes             Optimum °C         Growth °C

Alyssum         Surface sow                      26                            10- 12.5  

Aster                                                        23.8                         15.5

Calendula       Requires darkness           23.8                         15.5

California poppy   Sow in situ 21           

Candytuft                                                 18-29                       20

Celosia                                                    23.8                         18.3

Clarkia             Sow in situ                       23.8                         23.8

Cleome            Sow in situ                       26.6 (Night 23)

Dianthus                                                  20                            10-12.7

Godetia                                                    23.8                         15.5

Impatiens         Surface Sow                    23.8                         18.3

Larkspur          Sow in situ                       23.8

Love in a mist    Sow in situ                     21

Monkey Flower    Surface Sow               18

Morning Glory   Nick seed                       23.8

Nasturtium      Requires darkness           21

Nemesia                                                  12-15

Pansies           Requires darkness           21.1                    Frost tolerant

Poppies           Requires darkness          15.5

Rudbeckia                                               21

Schizanthus                                             15-23.8

Snapdragon    Surface Sow                    4                              10

Stocks                                                      23.8

Sunflowers                                              21.1

Sweet peas     Nick/soak/Darkness

Are Fruit Cocktail/Combination Fruit trees a good choice for the home gardener?

Many garden centres offer the Fruit Cocktail or Combination Fruit Trees each spring. They sound like the perfect solution for the home gardener. After all, what could be better than growing four different varieties of fruit on one tree in your own back yard? We don't sell the combination trees: they're just not a good idea! Different varieties grow at differant rates and in order to keep  a combination tree growing well, the varieties have to be kept in careful balance so that one doesn't take over to the detriment of the others. This is a challenge for even a professional grower and for an amateur it's almost impossible. Invariably, after only a few years, what is left is a tree with only one variety (perhaps two) that is growing well. Eventually the weaker ones will die. Combo trees are expensive and a poor investment.  Purchase the varieties you want as separate trees on dwarfing rootstocks. In the long run, they will be a much better choice.

What can I do to winterize the garden?




  1. FRUIT TREES: rake up diseased fruit and/or leaves. Burn or bury; do not compost.

-protect tree trunks from winter sunscald with white latex paint and from rodent damage with tree guards and bait.

-spray members of the Prunus family with copper to prevent peach leaf curl and coryneum blight.

-a copper spray in fall not only helps clean up fungal diseases but encourages leaf drop and enhances bud hardiness in winter.

  1. SMALL FRUITS: prune out fruited canes of raspberries, blackberries, etc.

-transplant strawberry offsets. Plant with crown @ soil level and then mulch after hard freeze to prevent ‘heaving’. Use transplanter fertilizer.

-prune back grapes in late fall. Spring pruning results in heavy ‘bleeding’.

      3.  SUMMER-BLOOMING BULBS: dig up gladiolus, cannas, begonias, dahlias and other tender bulbs after the first hard frost has blackened the foliage. Clean, label, and store in a frost-free location.

-use Bulb and Soil Dust or give gladiolus corms a Lysol bath (1:10 with water) if thrips were a problem this year. BugBGone, and organic product, can also be used as a bulb dip.

  1. VEGETABLE GARDEN: clean up debris in the garden, chop and put in the compost; burn/bury if it is diseased.  Lightly till the soil to expose weed seeds and insects so that birds can feed on them.

-make raised beds in heavy clay soil. They warm and drain more quickly in spring allowing earlier planting.

-plant a cover crop of fall rye to protect soil from erosion and to serve as a green manure when it is tilled-in in spring.

-plant garlic. Sow spinach in late fall.

-top-dress asparagus and rhubarb with compost or manure.

-build up the soil by adding amendments: gypsum for clay, and organic materials for both clay and sandy soils.

-ripen green tomatoes indoors in a warm location. Use ripe apples, which give off ethylene gas, to hasten the ripening process.

      5.  HERBACEOUS PERENNIALS: cut back to soil level (except for evergreen perennials and warm-season grasses, plants with basal rosettes of leaves, and Aster frikartii ‘Monck’ and Perovskia (Russian sage), which should not be cut back because they produce new buds next spring on the old stems).

-apply mulch where there won’t be adequate snow cover. Apply rodent bait  in  bait stations (to protect birds and pets) if they’ve been a problem in the past.                      

                                    -protect groundcovers with evergreen boughs after hard freeze.

  1. EVERGREENS: spray coniferous and broadleaf evergreens that may be damaged by winter winds/sun with an anti-desiccant (Wilt pruf or Leaf Shield) while daytime temperatures are still above freezing.

-wrap with black netting, rather than burlap or tree-wrap, if necessary to prevent snow damage. It does a fine job and is almost invisible (who wants to look at brown or white wrapped 'blobs' all winter??)

-water deeply just before hard freeze so that plant tissue is turgid going into the winter.

      7.  ROSES: plant with the graft about 6 inches below soil level to provide built-in winter

                                    protection. Apply a wood chip mulch to tender varieties.

                                    -withhold water in early fall to force the plants to harden-off for winter but water deeply just before hard freeze. 

-allow rosehips to form; this is nature’s signal that it’s time to harden-off.

-clean up all debris and leaves on/round the plants to prevent disease and insect carry-over to next year.

-a fall copper spray encourages leaf drop and enhances bud performance in winter.

-apply an anti-desiccant or dormant oil to provide a barrier to fungal spores.

-tie and train climbing roses horizontally rather than vertically. this will encourage heavier flowering next season.

-DO NOT PRUNE HEAVILY IN FALL! Wait until spring to prune.

-DO NOT APPLY NITROGEN FERTILIZER after mid-July. Fertilizers high in potassium in late summer or early fall, however,  will encourage plant maturity and hardening off.

  1. LAWNS: renovate where necessary. Seed and sod both establish quickly in fall when soil temperature is warm.  Aerate compacted areas.

-apply a winter-fertilizer high in potassium to strengthen grass stems. A late fall application of a high nitrogen fertilizer can be beneficial for quick green-up in spring.

-apply corn gluten meal~ an organic pre-emergent annual weed killer.

-rake up leaves to prevent suffocation of the grass. Chop leaves and use as mulch in other areas of the garden. (Alternately, spray leaves with Murphy's Oil Soap-organic0 and add to compost. Treated chopped leaves will break down more quickly than untreated.  

-mow grass short (1 ½ “) in the final mowing to prevent snow mould.

      9.  TENDER PLANTS:  move houseplants and tropicals indoors in early fall before night

temperatures start to dip. Groom plants. Address insect and disease problems immediately and quarantine affected plants. Bug B Gone is a good organic spray and can be used on most house plants.


-if repotting is necessary, go up only 1 pot size.

-take cuttings of tender plants such as geraniums, coleus, brugmansia.

  1. SPRING-BLOOMING BULBS:  plant as early in fall as possible for good root

establishment before cold weather (especially daffodils and narcissus).

-fertilize with a bulb fertilizer at time of planting (just below the root zone) and as a top-dressing  each fall when the roots start to regrow.

-a handful of Epsom salts sprinkled over the soil will enhance the colour of many bulbs including pink daffodils.

-plant in layers to maximize bloom impact or if space is a problem.

-plant tulips 8” deep in heavy clay soil, 12” deep in light sandy soil.

  1. DECIDUOUS SHRUBS AND SMALL TREES: mulch border-line hardy and fall-planted items. Mulching is often best done once the top 1/2" of soil is frozen to keep the soil to  evenly cold.

-fertilize fall transplants with a root boosting fertilizer (5-15-5 with rooting hormone) to encourage root growth, and fertilize established plants with 5-10-10 fertilizer in late fall. Fall-planted trees and shrubs are best treated with Myke soil myccorhizae at planting time. While Myke doesn't contain fertilizer, it will enhance root establishment.

-spray anti-desiccant (Wilt Pruf) to Japanese Maples and other fine-textured or border-line hardy small trees such as Flowering Dogwoods, Stewartias, and Halesias.

      12. CONTAINER GARDENS: insulate with bubble wrap or hot-water-heater insulation

                                    unless 1. plants are at least two hardiness zones hardier than necessary for your area.

                                                2. soil volume of the container is more than 4 square feet.

                                          3. containers are already insulated(eg) polyfoam pots

                              -move containers indoors if they cannot be insulated or if the container  is water permeable and therefore not tolerant of winter exposure.

                              -alternately, remove hardy plants from the pot and transplant into the

                              garden to over-winter. Remove soil from ceramic and clay pots and store in a dry place.

  1. WATER GARDEN: partially drain pond to work in it. Later refill and add treatment if

required. (Do this before water gets too cold or ice forms to make this a more pleasant job for you. You may want to invest in chest waders and mucking gloves.) Clean up debris on the bottom of the pond as much as possible. Discard tender floating plants.

-cut back water lilies. Submerge pots to bottom of the pool (if it is at least 3feet deep) or lift pots from water, allow to drain, put into black plastic garbage bags and store in a frost-free location.

-cut back marginal - plants that grow at the water's edge- to just above the water line.

-remove pumps: clean and store properly. Disconnect plumbing to waterfalls and fountains.

-if you have fish in your pond, use an inexpensive, energy efficient air bubbler for aeration in the top third of the water to prevent freezing and allow gases in the water to escape, and to keep cold surface water from mixing with warmer water on the bottom of the pond. No need to install heating devices.

-Feed high-protein food to gold fish and koi in early fall. Fish stop feeding when water gets cold so stop feeding.

-Put a plastic garden net over the pool to prevent leaves from falling into the water. Tannins produced by rotting leaves can be toxic to fish.

-Provide a hiding area for fish while they are still active.

-Float a plastic beach ball to keep water open in winter.

-If you have fish, DO NOT BREAK ICE that forms.

-It is generally recommended that waterfalls not be run in winter~ prevents ice formation and resulting water losses and pump damage.


-blow out irrigation lines. Shut off water.

-Coil, bring in garden hoses. Clean, put away garden furniture.

-Clean gutters and down spouts. Wash windows. Put up Christmas lights.

-Clean up tools and equipment. Store in dry location.

-Start planning for next year. Take photos.

-Find ways to make you winter garden more interesting:

            1. Evergreens: colours, textures, forms

            2. Berried plants

            3. Bark: colour, texture

            4. Winter-blooming plants such as Witch hazel

            5. Hard landscape and structure


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