Winnipeg Gardener
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Welcome to Winnipeg Gardener!

Is there anything more enjoyable than growing plants and creating a beautiful garden space? Shopping for plants and writing about plants has got to be right up there, too.

Hi, I’m Colleen Zacharias. I write about gardens, gardeners and growers and gardening tips in my column every Saturday in the Homes section of the Winnipeg Free Press, and now I’ll be writing this monthly newsletter about gardening in Winnipeg.

I am a certified master gardener and graduate of the Prairie Horticulture Certificate program. My first column in the Free Press was in 2010 and the topic was hydrangeas, my favourite plant. I grow more than 70 hydrangeas along with countless perennials in my large urban garden in south Winnipeg.

My backyard in August, when they hydrangeas are all in bloom. (Supplied)

The only lawn that remains at my home is a strip of boulevard grass – but not for long, I hope. My project this year is to add a meadow garden with anemones, rudbeckia, and ornamental grasses and a few more hydrangeas.

I would love to hear about your garden and gardening plans — and more about what you’d like to see in this newsletter!  Reply to this email to send your suggestions and ideas.

Colleen Zacharias

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May’s gardening tasks

Seizing the opportunity this spring to check off even a few items on my garden to-do list — in between Colorado lows and extreme winds — has been a bit of an adventure.

Despite the unpredictable weather, spring blooming perennials such as Brunnera and lungwort (Pulmonaria) are right on time with an abundance of colourful, nectar-rich flowers to attract early pollinators. All we need are a few warm, dry days and gardeners will be right on time, too.

Here comes the sun!

Pruning lilacs and hydrangeas: The best time to prune early flowering shrubs such as lilacs is immediately after they have flowered. This helps to ensure bountiful blooms for next year. Lilacs bloom on the previous season’s growth (old wood) and begin setting next year’s buds shortly after they have finished blooming.

The two main species of hydrangea grown in Winnipeg’s zone 3b climate are Hydrangea paniculata (examples include ‘Quick Fire’ and ‘Limelight’) and Hydrangea arborescens (examples include ‘Incrediball’ and ‘Annabelle’).

Panicle and arborescens hydrangeas bloom on new wood or the current season’s growth and can be pruned in either late fall or early spring. If you have already pruned your hydrangeas, you are ahead of the game!

Panicle hydrangea such as “Limelight” are popular in Winnipeg’s climate. They can be pruned in either late fall or early spring. (Supplied)

But if you are pruning hydrangeas now, start with ‘Quick Fire,’ which is the earliest summer blooming hydrangea. In most cases, a light pruning is all that is needed for hydrangeas. Snip off dried flowerheads and prune to just above the first leaf bud.

Wait until early to mid-June before pruning Hydrangea macrophylla, also known as the bigleaf hydrangea. The best-known example is the Endless Summer series. The first signs of fresh, leafy new growth often appear just above or at ground level.

What’s been chewing my shrubs? During winter, rabbits can do damage to shrubs by stripping the bark off branches above the snow line.

If the damage is severe (the complete removal of bark around the entire circumference of a branch), prune branches to the first leaf bud just below the damage. Check the base of your shrubs as well for any signs of chewed-up bark, which may have been caused by voles.

Shrubs are resilient and will recover from minor injuries, but a significant loss of bark can affect healthy growth through the restriction of water and nutrient movement from a plant’s root system to its leaves.

Cutting back and dividing ornamental grasses. The most popular ornamental grass grown in Winnipeg gardens is ‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grass with its strongly vertical shape, feathery plumes, and excellent winter hardiness.

A cool season grass, Karl should be pruned in spring before new growth begins. With the late start to the season, now is a good time, too. Do not cut the dried stems level with the ground; leave at least 15 cm (six inches) or more standing.

The most popular ornamental grass grown in Winnipeg gardens is ‘Karl Foerster.’ It should be pruned in the spring before new growth begins. (Supplied)

If your ornamental grass is dead in the centre, plan to dig up the entire plant – getting as much of the root ball as possible. Divide the grass into smaller pieces, discarding the centre, and transplant (or share!) the divide portions.

Pruning roses: Good sanitation is key. Remove and destroy any leaves remaining on rose stems from last year as well as debris from the soil surface around the base of your roses. This helps to reduce the reoccurrence of fungal diseases, such as black spot.

Your questions, answered

Have a question for a gardening expert? Email us and we’ll dig up an answer for a future issue of this newsletter. 

Where are my perennials??

Some plants take longer to show up at the party. Each day, perennials in the garden are pushing up fresh new growth. But what if you aren’t seeing even a trace of new growth coming up for a particular plant?

Not all plants come out of dormancy at the same time. Plants that are growing in cooler, shadier areas of the garden may take longer to make their appearance. Pull any mulch or debris away from the base of plants to allow the soil to warm up.

“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.

To start us off, please admire this crocus captured by Brandon Sun photographer Tim Smith in a pasture on the north side of the Assiniboine River valley north of Alexander, Man.

“Despite the repeated spring snowfalls and cold snaps, Manitoba’s provincial flower persevered and were blooming in the hundreds in this pasture.”

(Tim Smith/The Brandon Sun)




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