Ah, the Victoria Day long weekend, or as we call it here in Quebec, National Patriots’ Day! (No politics here, please, this is a gardening blog!) In Canada, we have a holiday the Monday before May 25. Since the weather has warmed up and it’s the first real spring long weekend (Easter doesn’t count, it’s too cold in here to garden!), everyone is busy buying plants, soil, gardening tools, etc. Maybe we could change the name of this celebration and call it National Gardening Day?
Quick tip: there are usually good discounts on plants and horticultural products in the fall. Think about your purchases ahead of time or get behind, you’ll save money!
At this time of year, I have a thought for the employees of garden centers and nurseries. This is probably one of the busiest times of the year for you. Take heart!
Check the Temperature Before Planting Annuals and Vegetables in the Garden
For those who hope to start their vegetable garden, make sure that temperatures remain above 12°C at night for the next few weeks, otherwise you risk damaging your plants and delaying their growth. For annuals, the same applies, don’t plant them too early. Cool nights can cause damage to them. This is a general rule, of course. Some plants are more resistant to cold and can be planted earlier, but if you are not sure, wait a little.
If you plan to plant perennials, shrubs or trees, this may be a good time. However, it’s best to wait until your garden soil is dry before treading on it and compacting it. The advantage of planting in the spring is that your plants can get established a little before the summer heat arrives, which is often combined with dry spells. The soil is still slightly cold, but the roots will grow faster as the temperature rises. The days are also getting longer, so there will be plenty of light at this time of year.
Late summer is another good time for planting, as the hot weather will be a thing of the past. The soil is warm, allowing the roots to grow faster and with the cooler nights, water evaporates less quickly, so less watering is needed.
But before you cart your basket with plants, here are some tips for successful spring planting:
Make a Garden Plan
A small hand-drawn sketch will help you plan your purchases. It will give you a better idea of how much space you have and how many plants you can put in it. A plan will also help you note the conditions in your garden, such as the amount of sunlight. That said, you don’t have to follow your plan to the letter. I have rarely followed a plan perfectly, preferring to let inspiration take over in the field.
A Bit at a Time
You don’t have to install your entire garden in one weekend either! First of all, it’s a lot of work and it could take away from your desire to garden. Also, by taking your time, you will see which plants work and which ones don’t in your garden. You can avoid mistakes or repeat your successes!
Making a plan allows you to choose plants that are the right size for your space. If you plant a spruce tree near your house that is now 60 cm wide, consider that eventually it will be several meters wide and may block the view from your windows. By selecting plants that are too small, your beds will not be well filled and weeds will take up residence there.
Check Your Hardiness Zone
In Canada and the United States, we give plants hardiness zones that identify their ability to withstand various winter conditions. If you are in zone 4, you can grow zone 4, 3, 2 and 1 plants. By choosing plants that are not hardy, they will likely not survive the winter, or, weakened by the cold, succumb to insects or disease. This is one of the first things to look for when buying plants. This information is usually found on the label that is included with plants sold in garden centers and nurseries.
Another piece of information that will be found on the plant labels is the light requirement. The categories are sun, semi-shade and shade. Plants for sunny conditions need at least 6 hours of light per day, those for semi-shade between 2 and 6 and when we have less than 2 hours per day we must go with shade plants. It is important to establish the degree of light in the different areas of our garden to choose appropriate plants. A lack of sunlight can reduce flowering, size and ultimately kill your plant.
Water requirements are not always listed on labels, but it is important information to note. Some plants do better in dry soil and others in wet soil. If you have sandy soil, water is likely to drain quickly. It would be best to choose plants for dry soil if you don’t want to spend time watering. Do you have a corner in the back of the yard where water collects after rainfall? It is better to choose plants adapted to wet soils.
Many plants bloom for only a few weeks during the year. It becomes difficult to coordinate their blooming to have year-round flowers. The easiest way to do this would be to choose a few plants that have an extended bloom time and will produce beautiful flowers from early summer until the snows in some cases.
Since plants are not always in bloom, it is important to choose plants that have beautiful foliage. Your garden will look great all season long! To create interest in your garden, choose leaves of different colors or textures.
When choosing perennials or small shrubs, don’t just buy one of each. To make a visual impact, you’ll need a minimum of 3 or 5 plants, depending on the size.
I suggest placing and mixing compost on the soil surface after planting. This will nourish your plants in the long term. Mulch is even more important. Not only does it protect your plants from freezing during the winter, but it helps to keep moisture in and reduce watering, as well as decompose and nourish the soil afterwards. Mulch also prevents weeds. Buy an organic mulch that decomposes such as ramial wood chip or use shredded leaves left from last fall, when you buy your plants. Cedar mulch is nice, but since it doesn’t decompose, it doesn’t add nutrients to your soil or plants.
If you have made good plant choices for your conditions, your plants will not need additional watering, except during prolonged droughts. However, it is important to water your garden after planting for the first year, or even two years for large trees. After a while, the root system of your new plants will expand and be able to meet their water needs. Wait for the soil to dry out a bit before watering, and water thoroughly so that the water is absorbed deeply. I suggest using a weeping hose. Simply place it around your new plantings, connect it to a water outlet and let it run. There are also timers that allow you to water automatically.
I know it’s a lot to think about at once, especially when you’re in the center of the garden, in bright sunlight, with an impatient child or spouse who isn’t interested in plants, and you’re trying to choose a plant for sandy soil that will grow in the shade and bloom in late August. That’s why I suggest making a plan and taking it a little at a time!