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February in (or at least near) the garden

Propagation has its benefits. Birds do it, bees do it, people do it, and plants do it. Some things in our garden we don’t want to multiply — like rabbits — but propagating plants is an easy and affordable way to grow your plant collection.

February’s Winnipeg Gardener looks at some of the intriguing varieties that garden club members are propagating in preparation for their club’s annual spring plant sale. We also hear from the head gardener at Riding Mountain National Park about a perennial that deserves a place in our gardens as well as from a teacher who is educating students on how to grow their own food.

Love is in the air and it sounds like this — hoo, hoo-hoo, HOO HOO. Courting pairs of great horned owls are filling the night air with their mating calls. The great horned owl is one of the first bird species to nest. James Duncan, an owl expert, shares fascinating facts about the mating habits of great horned owls. It gets a little intense.

Groundhogs may differ on whether we will have an early spring but officially, spring is in less than 45 days. Plant catalogues are piling up and gardeners are placing online orders for seed packets and plants. I have pre-ordered Leucanthemum Carpet Angel Shasta Daisy and Delphinium Red Lark for local pick-up in May — I can’t wait to get into the garden. What’s on your plant wish list?

Colleen Zacharias

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Propagating plants from cuttings

One of the advantages of propagating plants from cuttings is that the new plant will be identical to the parent plant. A new plant grown from a cutting grows rapidly once it is ready to plant in a garden bed or patio container.

Garden club members are especially prolific at propagating plants in preparation for spring plant sales, which help to raise funds for garden club projects and initiatives. Leila Wegert and Wendy Brigden are members of Selkirk District & Horticulture Society who are busy propagating plants in preparation for their club’s annual plant sale which will be held in May.

Sedums — Wendy Brigden gardens in Petersfield. She currently has six trays of cuttings.

Sedums can be propagated easily from leaf and stem cuttings. When propagating sedums from leaf cuttings, use a sharp knife to cut a leaf, including its petiole (leaf stalk). Cut the petiole at an angle leaving a length of about ½ to 1 inch. Allow the end of the cutting to form a callus (4-7 days). Reduce the surface area of the leaf by removing part of the top of the leaf. Brigden dips the cuttings into rooting compound. She plants the cuttings into moist (but not soggy) growing medium and places them under grow lights set on a timer for 12 hours a day.

Here, Brigden shares a list of the varieties she has propagated along with some of her tips and observations:

Donkey Tail or Burro’s Tail (Sedum morganianum) — These are quite delicate plants so need to be handled carefully when transplanting. They can grow quite a bit over the course of one summer.

Jade plant (Crassula ovata) — Very, very easy to grow.

Aeonium — Easy to identify by its rosette shape. The more sun that Aeonium receives, the more vibrant the colour around the edges of the leaves.

Ice plant (Lampranthus deltoides) — Grows into a compact plant with beautiful silver-blue colour.

Baby Sun Rose (Mesembryanthemum cordifolium) — Heart-shaped glossy chartreuse leaves. The flowers are about the size of a quarter resembling a flat disc.

Milky Widow’s Thrill (Kalanchoe laxiflora) — A small succulent shrub from Madagascar. The leaves are a beautiful silver-blue.

Kalanchoe laxiflora Milky Widow’s Thrill (Wendy Brigden photo)


Brugmansia Angel’s Trumpet — Leila Wegert gardens in St. Andrews.

Wegert has been growing white-flowered and apricot-flowered Brugmansia Angel’s Trumpet plants for several years. Brugmansia Angel’s Trumpet is an exotic plant with astonishing pendulous trumpet-shaped blooms. Brugmansia (pronounced brug-man-SEE-a) is from the Solanaceae or nightshade family. A popular type is Brugmansia sauveolens (pronounced swa-VE-o-lenz) which means sweet smelling. It is sometimes possible to find Brugmansia at a local garden centre if you check around but snap it up if you are lucky enough to spot one because this is a highly sought-after plant by gardeners. Pollinators love it, too!

Brugmansia Angel’s Trumpet (Leila Wegert photo)

Wegert overwinters Angel’s Trumpet indoors and takes cuttings which she propagates and donates to the annual SDHS Plant Sale. Plant cuttings often root very quickly. Here, Wegert shares the steps she follows to propagate Angel’s Trumpet:

1. In the fall, move the plant — pot and all — indoors.

2. In October, cut all the stems back to about 12 inches (30 cm).

3. New growth immediately starts growing. Using a clean sharp knife or scissors, cut a length of the new shoot at a slant about ½ inch below a leaf node (the small swelling that is the part of a plant stem from which one or two leaves emerge).

4. Place the stems in a large, clear glass vase filled with fresh water and place the vase in a sunny room.

5. Periodically remove all the stems from the water and give the roots a gentle wash in warm water. Change the water and clean the vase once every two weeks.

6. When small white growths or bumps start to form along the stem, fresh roots are beginning to form.

Wegert says that her success rate with this method is usually 100 per cent. She currently has 14 Angel’s Trumpet plants that have rooted in water. In late February or early March, she will be ready to plant the cuttings in small individual containers filled with fresh potting mix.

SDHS’s annual plant sale which will take place on May 26th at the Memorial Hall, 376 Jemima Street, Selkirk. “This will be SDHS’s 25th Annual Plant Sale,” says Wegert.



Last year I purchased a new coneflower introduction for $22. Hopefully, it survives the winter.

The most affordable coneflower is the one grown from seed that you start at home. But the time to start is right now or better yet, the last week in January.

Echinacea purpurea is the easiest type to grow from seed. Begin by stratifying the seeds: place seeds in a plastic bag between moist paper towels or moist sand or potting medium and leave the bag in your fridge for a period of twelve weeks. Sow the seed into 3-inch pots filled with sterile potting mix. Lightly firm the seed into soil but do not cover the seed. Place under grow lights. In May, when temperatures are consistently warm without a risk of frost, move your seedlings outdoors into a sunny location for transplanting into a garden bed or container garden.


Lights, camera, action: spotlight on Senetti flowers

Senetti Flowers (Suntory Flowers photos)

Sharp-eyed gardeners will have spotted Senetti flowers Sunday on the red carpet at the 2023 Grammy Awards. Produced by Suntory Flowers at a greenhouse operation in South America, Senetti flowers are bred using a blue pigment called delphinidin which makes it possible to create vivid shades of blue and violet without artificial dyes.

Two new varieties for 2023 are Senetti White Red Heart and Senetti Magenta Bicolor. Senetti (pericallis hybrid) is a unique bedding plant with large, colourful daisy-like flowers that thrive in spring’s cool temperatures like few other flowering annuals. Available at garden centres each spring, you can’t miss Senetti’s astonishing vivid blues, magentas, and ultraviolets. Have you grown Senetti in a container garden or planted in your garden bed? Tell us how you have used Senetti flowers and what you like best about this cool-season annual!


New season of Ageless Gardens premières Feb. 13

Looking for an escape from winter? Starting Monday, Feb. 13 on Vision TV, Season 4 of Ageless Gardens premières with five new half-hour episodes featuring 16 Canadian gardeners who share their personal stories and talk about how and why they garden. I had a chance recently to watch the new episodes — the stories are inspiring, and the marvelous photography will transport you into sun-filled gardens that are rich with colour, texture, and the warmth of summer.

For a preview of Ageless Gardens, check out the official trailer.

Ageless Gardens is produced by award-winning filmmakers Ian Toews and Mark Bradley whose recent notable project, Visionary Gardeners, a cinematic documentary series filmed across Canada, aired on Vision TV in 2022. Visionary Gardeners included an episode that featured Winnipeg gardener Tiffany Grenkow.


Love is in the air and it sounds like this: hoo, hoo-hoo, HOO HOO

Great horned owl: (Ken Stewart photo)

It’s February and it is courting time for the great horned owl. A romantic pair of great horned owls have been singing up a storm outside my door these past few weeks.

To learn more about the mating habits of the great horned owl, I contacted Dr. James Duncan, a biologist who is involved in research, education, and conservation with owls. He is the director of Discover Owls. Duncan lives on a 160-acre farm outside of Winnipeg with his wife Patricia who is a zoologist. Together they have banded over 3,000 owls in Manitoba. A live owl accompanies Duncan when he gives presentations.

“The greatest show on earth can sometimes be right outside our door,” says Duncan. Here, he reveals more about the amorous habits of the great horned owl, a year-round resident in cities and rural areas throughout Manitoba.

Courtship is part of the nesting cycle of the great horned owl and right now, courtship is intense. Great horned owls have peak calling periods during the calendar year, and these are an important part of courtship. There is an increase in calling behaviour or singing prior to nesting.

As the days get longer, hormones stimulate the birds to call right up to nesting.

The great horned owl is a year-round territorial resident. They maintain a territory and must defend it against other great horned owls.

The female and male reinforce their pair bond by hooting and calling to each other and perching close together.

Male owls are generally smaller than females. The male has a lower-pitched hoot which can travel farther through complex environments like cities. The female has a higher-pitched hoot.

The great horned owl has been recorded as nesting quite early in Manitoba some winters and especially in Winnipeg because temperatures are slightly warmer in cities than in rural areas.

On average, the great horned owls lay their eggs in March but there will be a few exceptional individuals that might lay their eggs in February or late January. Once owls lay their eggs, they typically become very quiet because they don’t want to alert predators.

Great horned owls appear to be monogamous when they are nesting but it’s not a lifetime thing. A female will replace a male if she doesn’t like the male anymore or if another male comes along. Since the female is bigger, she is pretty much in charge of the home range and the male does everything he can to keep her happy.

There are always other owls out there which are called floaters. Floaters don’t have a territory. There are territories all over Winnipeg but often floaters or young birds must wait until a male or female owl dies before they can compete for that spot. Sometimes a female owl decides she doesn’t want to nest anymore with the same male. She has plenty of opportunities. Sometimes she even picks a male that is already paired up with another female. It is a real soap opera out there!

The colder the weather, the more competition to find food. In its search for food, the great horned owl expands its territory, and this can lead to clashes with another pair of owls (a battle of the titans). This is another reason that you may be hearing more calls at this time of year.

Please don’t use rodent poison. This can adversely affect the ability of owls to reproduce if they feed on mice or voles that have ingested poison.

Have you heard some early courtship calling by owls in your neighbourhood?

On Saturday, March 4, Duncan will give a presentation, Up Close and Personal With Manitoba Owls, at McNally Robinson Community Classroom. To register, visit


Mark your calendars (the early bird gets the worm)

The Manitoba Horticultural Society will host a virtual Annual General Meeting on Saturday, March 25, from 1 to 4 p.m. Keynote speaker Rick Durand, renowned plantsman and tree breeder who has introduced numerous hardy trees, will present on New Trees for Manitoba. For more information, visit

The 36th Annual Gardening Saturday, hosted by Grand Forks Horticultural Society and University of North Dakota Extension, takes place on April 1, at the Alerus Center, 1200 42nd Street South, Grand Forks, N.D. Sessions start at 9 a.m. and cover a diverse range of topics — houseplants, how to grow a tea garden, watermelons, carrots, succulents, and more. Keynote speaker Lisa Nunamaker, award-winning designer, artist and educator will present on How to Create an Out-of-the-Ordinary Theme Garden. For online registration and class descriptions, visit Registration closes at 8 a.m. on March 16.


Grocery store strategies

Last month, when Winnipegger Naomi Wiebe experienced sticker shock over the cost of green onions that had doubled in price, she decided to keep the rooty bits of the green onions she purchased and try growing her own. She punched holes in the bottom of a small yogurt container, filled it with moistened soil and planted the onion rootlets. She set the container on a sunny windowsill. The roots made themselves right at home and began growing almost immediately. The only challenge is that the onions have to compete with coleus cuttings for space on her windowsill!

Green onions (Naomi Wiebe photo)

Polished off the last of your homegrown carrots and celery? I go through killograms of carrots and celery which I use in soup and stew recipes. Buying the largest bags of carrots and celery at the store is cheaper than buying small quantities. As soon as I bring the produce home, I slice the carrots into two-cup measurements and the celery into one-cup measurements and put the cut vegetables directly into small plastic freezer bags which I store in my freezer until they are needed for recipes. Since the frozen veggies are not in the freezer for very long, I skip the blanching process which saves me even more time.


Feature perennial: Penstemon

Lyndon Penner is the head gardener at Riding Mountain National Park. He is the author of several gardening books. On January 30, Penner’s most recent book, The Way of the Gardener, became available as an audiobook to listen to on your smartphone, tablet, smartwatch, and desktop or laptop.

One of Penner’s favourite perennial species is Penstemon. “Penstemons are fabulous late-flowering border plants that are long-flowering and easy to grow,” he says. “They prefer a sunny position and will attract bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects to your garden.”

Perhaps you grow Penstemon Husker’s Red Beard-tongue in your garden but Penner says there are countless other Penstemon varieties worth growing.

“If you sow Penstemon from late February through late March, you will have beautiful plants to plant outdoors by May. Both you and the hummingbirds will be thrilled with the results,” he says.

Below, Penner shares his unique perspective on Penstemon with Winnipeg Gardener readers along with tips on how you can start Penstemon from seed:

Penstemon is the largest genus of strictly North American flowering plants. There are over 270 species found in a very wide diversity of ecosystems, they come in a wild assortment of colours, and there are several hundred hybrids and cultivars. Although they are much loved as garden plants in Europe (particularly the UK), they are under-utilized in North American gardens, perhaps because they have a reputation for being short-lived. It is surprising how little respect Penstemon varieties seem to get from gardeners in our part of the world!

Not only are the different types of Penstemon beautiful, but these wonderful plants are also rich nectar sources for many pollinators and much loved by bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and long-tongued moths. Many also make excellent cut flowers and most bloom over a long period. They have no pest or disease issues, most can be easily raised from seed or cuttings, and they are generally inexpensive.

Arabesque orchid penstemon (Lyndon Penner photo)

Previously, these plants were members of the figwort family (Scrophulariaceae) but DNA analysis has now revealed they are actually members of the plantain family (Plantaginaceae). Foxgloves and snapdragons are among their closest relatives. First described scientifically in the mid-1700s, by the early 1800s they were becoming available as garden plants in Europe. In 1946 the American Penstemon Society was formed.

In the garden, penstemons want average soil, full sun, and excellent drainage. (Many of them like moisture they just don’t want to be standing in it.) Most have rather uninteresting foliage, but the long, tubular flowers are extremely showy and make up for this.

The Latin name means five stamens, and all penstemons produce a sterile fifth stamen that is often bearded or fuzzy at the tip — hence the other common name of beard-tongue. Not all penstemons are hardy, but many of them are worth experimenting with. Some make excellent annuals or container plants. Most are herbaceous but a few are shrubby. A few of them are even evergreen. Established plants can also be divided.

Both the species and the hybrids are worth having in the garden and there are four species native to Manitoba. They are often available from native plant suppliers. One of my favourites is the smooth blue penstemon (Penstemon nitidus) which favours hot, dry areas with poor soil and usually blooms in early summer. The white penstemon (P. albus) also likes dry areas but does not flower as long. Both are good in a rock garden or xeriscape design.

In terms of hybrid penstemons which are offered at garden centres, you really should try the Arabesque series! A well-branched, compact strain growing to a compact height of just 20-24 inches (50-60cm), these are easy to grow from seed or cuttings and are in flower just 10 weeks from sowing! They are very showy in the garden or terrific in containers. Arabesque Red won the All-America Selections award in 2014 and was the first penstemon to receive an AAS Award. The series now also includes Apple Blossom, Violet, Orchid, and Pink.

The Polaris series is similarly sized and just as good, with blossoms that are large relative to plant size and strong, vigorous growers. It is also a bit more drought resistant than some of the other bedding plant varieties of penstemon. Red, purple, magenta, and rose are the colours available.

How to grow Penstemon from seed

For best results, sow seeds onto a good soil-based compost between February and April. Cover the seeds with fine grit or compost to approximately their own depth. Germination is variable but usually occurs around 21 days. Germination can take place earlier if the surrounding temperature is maintained at 15 to 20 degrees Celsius. Transplant seedlings (once they are large enough to comfortably handle) into 3-inch pots. Spring-sown seed will make good plants for overwintering and may even flower lightly the first year. — Lyndon Penner


Learning to grow

Louise Shachtay teaches the horticulture program at R.B. Russell Collegiate. Starting seeds and watching plants grow in the greenhouses at R.B. Russell is an exciting time for students, says Shachtay.

“Students not only experience and are engaged in the curricular aspects of seeding but reap the benefits of nurturing good mental health when they grow their projects from seed and care for the plants throughout the growing process. It is a time of learning and troubleshooting and accepting that all seeds are different just like people. Depending on the environmental and cultural factors seeds are receiving or lacking, seeds will perform differently and may require different care to thrive.”

Shachtay compares seed packets to a mini textbook.

“Students learn seed packet literacy and learn how to follow instructions,” she says. “They are introduced to endless varieties of herbs, annuals, and perennials. They learn about the taxonomy of those plants and the terminology associated with growing seeds. They learn how to identify life cycles of different types of plants, their growing habits, and requirements for growing media.”

Students are encouraged to research the origin of the plants they are growing, says Shachtay, and learn about hardiness zones.

“We also focus on elements of math when studying our seed packages. Students are required to create drawings of garden plots (hypothetical and actual if they have the space at their residences). Using the information provided on the packages, they can learn to calculate distances between seeds and rows in one-foot-square spaces and garden plots. Students can also learn how to estimate and calculate germination and harvest dates of the seeds they are growing.”

Shachtay uses seed packets to show students just how much money they can save by growing their own produce. Seed saving for food security is a truly immeasurable benefit of teaching students how to grow plants from seed, says Shachtay.

“They can be the future of change by being more sustainable and growing their own food, saving seeds, and eating more nutritious produce. The benefits of building these lifelong skills in students and increasing their knowledge about nutrition and taking care of our land are endless.

“I have some very strong-minded and environmentally committed students who if they could, would be growing food at every corner of the North end and beyond. They recognize the struggles and issues with being able to afford healthy produce that they or others in their communities and beyond face, and they want this to change,” says Shachtay.

Shachtay is very proud of her students and their commitment to growing food and experimenting with growing seeds.

“The students are aware that it is not always a simple task to grow food with the unexpected circumstances at times with climate change and the unseasonable weather, bug infestations, and other nature-related issues but these teaching moments only help to grow their knowledge and can help them perhaps be innovative in new techniques or the like,” says Shachtay.

“The more skills and confidence they build will only guide them to becoming more self sufficient in taking care of their own food security needs, educate them more in their nutritional needs, and in how their financial budgets can benefit by growing their own food.”


New research on bird-proofing your windows

Window strikes are a significant cause of bird mortality. Bird collisions can be especially prevalent during the spring and early summer when birds are breeding (male birds, for example, attack their own reflections in windows). Covering your windows with a one-way transparent film also known as bird tape can reduce collisions. A series of vertical or horizontal dots spaced 2 inches (5 cm) apart works best. Stripes should be at least 1/8” wide (3.17 mm). A few decals spaced far apart will not prevent collisions.

According to new research announced a few weeks ago, a study from the College of William and Mary found that decals or one-way transparent film to deter bird strikes are only effective if they are placed on the outside of a window. To learn more about the new study, visit


Your questions, answered

Have a question for a gardening expert? Email us and we’ll seek answers from some of Manitoba’s most knowledgeable gardeners. If you’re asking about a problem with a plant or pest, including a photograph will help our experts diagnose the issue.

Question: I have saguaro cactus that I grew from seed. It is at least 20 to 30 years old. I wonder about transplanting it.

I have a very hot greenhouse where I put it in summer. The plant is 14 inches tall with the bend at the bottom about four inches. The current pot is 10 inches long, 7-3/4 inches wide and about four inches deep. Any suggestions? -Evelyn

Saguaro has quite specific growth requirements: hot temperatures, sufficient water and well-draining soil. (Supplied photo)

Answer: Saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea), pronounced suh-WAR-oh, is native to the southwest U.S., specifically the Sonoran desert in Arizona. A protected plant that cannot be removed from the wild, it has quite specific growth requirements: hot temperatures, sufficient water and well-draining soil. Although it can withstand short freezing to -2 C, it survives best in a hot, full-sun location.

Saguaro cactus have a taproot with fibrous feeder roots close to the surface of the soil. With your plant having been grown in a wide, shallow container, the taproot could be wrapped around the entire container in the soil mixture, making it difficult to transplant.

Your Saguaro appears to be in good health, but would benefit from repotting. As Saguaro live a very long time and rejuvenating its habitat would aid in its longevity, the suggestion is to repot it into a new container that is similar in size and weight but a bit deeper.

Use new cactus-type soil mix consisting of one part potting mix (be sure it does not contain a wetting agent), one part perlite, and one part coarse builders or traction sand (not play sand). Mix well and moisten before putting it in the container.

Remove the Saguaro from the original container and tease out its roots a bit. Put some of the new soil into the bottom of the new container and carefully place the Saguaro on top. Fill in around the plant roots up to the correct level, patting the soil down gently. Then water the soil surface lightly.

To prevent soil splashing onto the plant, top the soil with pea gravel or small pebbles. This topping prevents soil disease from splashing on the Saguaro and gives the plant a pleasing natural look.

Manitoba Master Gardener Association


Question: This is a ‘Charisma’ amaryllis. Watching it grow to be 30 inches tall and then burst into glorious bloom over Christmas was amazing! I’m wondering whether I can plant it in the garden in the spring? — Donna

‘Charisma’ amaryllis (Donna Marion photo)

Answer: What a beautiful photo! You can definitely plant your amaryllis in the garden in the summer or grow it in a container. It is a tropical plant, so do not move it outdoors until temperatures are consistently above 15 C.

When signs of new growth (flower stems and flower buds) begin reappearing, it is recommended to feed amaryllis with a balanced liquid fertilizer like 10-10-10 at half strength. When the plant is in full bloom, feed it at full strength once a week or twice a month, taking care to water the fertilizer in thoroughly.

If readers have the type of amaryllis bulb that is dipped in wax: they can also be planted in the garden, but you have to remove the wax and any wire from the bulb and plant it in a pot — amaryllis likes tight quarters — then care for it in the same way you would an unwaxed bulb. Most bulb growers say that the waxed amaryllis is meant to be grown for just one season.

— Colleen Zacharias

“Please admire my plant!”

Got a fabulous flower blooming in your garden? A handsome houseplant? A ravishing radish or elegant eggplant? An attractive annual or pulchritudinous perennial? We want to see it.

Send your submission to us and we’ll feature your gorgeous growth in future issues of this newsletter. Please include a photograph, the name of the plant, your name and any details our readers might want to know about it. Please submit a photograph only if you took it yourself.

My name is Ted Kleiner and I have found what I consider to be a perfect combination of natural coconut shell hammocks and air plants. I create the shells as my retirement hobby and over the past nine months I have added more to my collection. I now I have 17 hanging shells with 17 guests and three are having “pups.”

My indoor hanging garden has been a source of great joy and already I have had flowers bloom.

Shell and coconut planter (Ted Kleiner photo)

Air plant pups (Ted Kleiner photo)




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