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Gardening Tips

Gardening Tips began in September 2020 as a weekly collaboration with


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  • February 21, 2021 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Saving Toronto’s Red Oak

    Submitted by Dinah Gibbs, a member of the Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society

    Our group’s November meeting featured a presentation by a talk by Mark and Ben Cullen on attracting birds to the garden. At the end of the presentation, we learned that Mark and Mary Cullen were helping with a campaign to save an ancient Oak tree in Toronto. According to the Sudbury Star newspaper, they personally contributed a significant donation as well as the promotion of this cause. 

    This Oak tree in Toronto is an extraordinary tree, which sprouted from an acorn in the 1700s. Now 24 metres tall and stretching equally widely in all directions, it has a girth of 5 meters.  A bungalow built in the 1960s beside it is now dominated by the tree which has overwhelmed the home and damaged the foundations with its roots. It’s located in Humbermede, a community within the northwest section of Toronto.


    Photo as supplied to newspapers

    Neighbour and advocate Edith George has been working with a group of volunteers to have the 350-year-old red oak designated a heritage tree since 1998. In an article by Mark Cullen, he asks us to “Imagine what the real estate around Etobicoke looked like in 1667 when this tree was born.  There was a trail that ran alongside the tree that led to Lake Simcoe.  The tree bears witness to a lot of our history.”


    Edith has spent 14 years trying to protect the tree as the owners of the house wished to remove the tree to redevelop the site. The task was enormous; the City of Toronto agreed to preserve the tree and create a park if $430,000 could be raised privately by November 26th, 2020. Despite generous donations from across Canada, just days before the deadline, the fund was $100,000 short! Philanthropist Ed Clark donated a further $50,000. Still short!


    Edith George and many anxious neighbours, tree lovers, and contributors watched the council meeting online with their hearts in their mouths. George, a retiree, was preparing to mortgage her home if the council rejected the motion to preserve the tree and create a park. 


    2020 was a terrible year. The fate of this fabulous tree was not destined to be yet another bad news story. Toronto Council voted 17-5 to cover the shortfall, proceed with purchasing the site, demolishing the bungalow, and creating a parkette. Any new donations will be put to the completion of the project!


    The tree was saved! There are simply some things money alone cannot buy. 


    To read more about this tree:

  • February 14, 2021 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Article and Photos by Doreen Coyne, a member of the Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society


    Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) is also known as Thanksgiving cactus, holiday cactus or crab cactus. The crab name refers to the leaf-shaped stem segments that have curved, pointed teeth or claws along the edges. The Easter cactus (Schlumbergera buckleyi) has rounded edges on its leaf segments. They all originated in southeast coastal Brazil in shady, humid forests. They are classified as epiphytes because they live above the ground in the trees, in areas where branches meet and decomposing fallen leaves and mosses collect. 

    3 types

    Some say that the “trick” to getting Christmas cactus to bloom in the following years after purchase comes down to two things: light and temperature.

    Christmas cacti produce flowers in a cool, environment when days are shorter. To initiate the production of flower buds, there needs to be at least eight days of 16 hours of dark and eight hours of light each day. Wherever the plant is placed, do not turn on the lights at night, even for a short period of time. I’ve read that to help it blossom, it should be in an east-facing window that receives abundant amounts of sunlight during the day and 12 hours of darkness each night.  Two solutions that might help.

    My Plant

    My plant has been growing for more than 40 years and has blossomed twice a year for most of those years!  Once in late November or early December and a second time between Feb and April.  According to, mine is a Thanksgiving Cactus due to its pointed teeth or claws along the edges of its leaves.  But I do find various sites use the more common name of Christmas Cactus to refer to all of the various varieties of this plant whether they are actually Christmas, Thanksgiving, or Easter Cactus.  BTW: I also have a “newborn” Thanksgiving cactus which is now about a year old.  It got a bit sunburnt last summer (thus the reddish colouring of the leaves) but is producing its first set of flowers right now. You can see it just below.

    New plant

    Here’s what I do to get it to bloom when I want it to:

    First, I leave the soil dryer than normal with less water starting about 6 weeks before I want it to bloom. Then about 3 weeks later, start giving it as much water as it wants. These are not exact durations but give you an idea that it needs to have a dryer time and then be allowed to drink more. Note:  My cactus is in a pot with holes in the bottom and that pot is in another container which is where I put the water. Thus, it drinks at its own pace from the reservoir of water in the second pot. And when it drinks a lot after a few dryer weeks, it tends to start flowering!  My plant sits in a west-facing window so lots of sun when we have a sunny day but Nov to April can have a lot of dull short days in our area so I believe it is getting the proper lighting to encourage blossoming.

    Also, the Christmas cactus is said to grow best when it is “pot bound.” That means leaving it in a small container for as long as possible and then moving up to just a slightly larger pot. They prefer a rich, organic potting mix and should not be allowed to dry out. Increase the amount of water when the plant is blooming. They prefer bright, indirect light. Full sun can cause the leaf segments to turn dark red as the plants begin to burn. My plant has remained in its current pot for 10 years now. So, its roots are likely getting a smidge crowded. Some of you may think that is a long time before repotting it, but its blossoms suggest overwise.  This spring after it blooms in Easter it is getting repotted, more to change the soil and ensure it has new good quality soil again. But a slightly larger, prettier vase will be nice as well.

    40-year oldHere's a view of my forty year old Thanksgiving cactus! It finished it's first  bloom by mid December and started this season's bloom in early February so it's not got all of it's blooms out yet. It's a great pink and white bloom whereas my new plant is a deep red.

  • January 31, 2021 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    What I learned this Christmas

    Submitted by Doreen Coyne, a member of the Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society

    This "Tip" is not about growing flowers, or seedlings, nor veggies. It is a personal growth story that I wanted to share.  Maybe there is a seed within it that you might harvest for yourself or a friend.

    Talking to people, giving to people, and sharing with people all make me feel better!

    • When I phoned a friend – they seemed happier and at the end of the call my spirits were also lifted.
    • When I wrote something for a newsletter or on Facebook, sharing something personal or a photo or activity – my heart warmed with the responses from FB friends.  Same thing when I saw something on FB and asked that person if I could share it with others in one of my newsletters. And each time they were pleased that I would like to share it and felt good when they saw it in print.
    • Giving – Christmas is the time for giving but of course, we give on many occasions throughout the year and in many ways, whether it is a card, e-card, a letter, or a gift.  I am as grateful and happy seeing the recipient’s happiness, as I am from what I receive.
    • It turns out that it is the gift giving I enjoy but definitely not the gift wrapping.  And with that said, here’s a true story, about gift wrapping that I’d like to share from my friend Susan in California.


    I learned Gift Wrapping is something I don’t like!
    Early in December I had complained to Susan that I hated wrapping gifts. Really what I hate is hauling out the wrapping paper, ribbons, name tags, etc. then putting them all away again. This year, after several hours, I finally got all the materials ready on December 20th to start wrapping the presents that I had lined up on a nearby table. Then it took another 3 hours of wrapping before I had them all done and labelled. I needed a break; so, I sat with a cup of tea and got out my iPad only to find an email from Susan with this story of her latest gift-wrapping experience.

    “Let me share a wrapping story with you.  I went out and got a friend who collects nutcrackers - the wooden soldier kind - a quick last-minute nutcracker to go with a book I got her much earlier in the year that was on the ballet.  It was indeed last minute; in fact, it was the only one the drugstore had left and fortunately it was a nice one in good condition.  I got it home and decided to put it in a box --I am often kidded especially by this friend about my habit of saving shoe boxes in the garage (a lot of them) and I thought this was a great opportunity to show her how valuable the boxes can be.


    Well, some 10 (or more) shoe boxes later, not one of them was the right size for the nutcracker and I had taken apart half my garage to reach them creating yet another chore for my “to do” list. Finally, I found an old Macy's box. It was pretty dusty and banged up but good enough.  Yea!  He fit in it as long as I angled him in there diagonally.  Then it took a huge amount of paper to wrap the box and a whole lot of tape.  Finally -- more than an hour later -- it was done.


    The moral of this story for me and for you: put your gifts in holiday bags with some nice tissue paper and be done with them!  Festive and easy!  I should have put him in a bag right after the first 2 shoe boxes didn't work!  I hope she likes the darn thing!”

    To Susan’s story, I want to add that I’ve never been overly concerned about how things are wrapped when I receive them, I enjoy the fact that someone thought of giving me something. So why do I worry and get so frustrated when I set out to wrap the gifts I give? My late husband always wrapped his gifts to me and the boys in brown Kraft paper and then either drew a picture on the wrapping or wrote a saying. Those were the most beautiful gifts in my eyes!  I’ll have to remember that for next year! Simplicity is a good thing. And I’ve already got a lot of holiday bags!


    So overall, what did I learn? The wrapping of the gift isn’t the gift. It’s just a container. Applying this more generally I believe that means we should simplify our lives and try to avoid those things that frustrate us. When we are happier, we can be more open and caring. And others will see and feel that and also be happier. This may mean changing the ways we do something like putting a gift in a gift bag rather than wrapping it. Even more generally it could mean doing lots of other frustrating tasks in a different way - such as preparing Christmas dinner over 2 or 3 days instead of rushing to get it all done in one day leaving you irritable and not even wanting company.  For me, simplifying also means telling people that you enjoy their company or their phone call. No fuss nor muss required. And it means trusting that your friends and family will be happier when you show them you love and care for them.

  • January 17, 2021 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Keep your Poinsettia for Years!
    Submitted by Doreen Coyne, a member of Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society

    Your Christmas or Holiday Poinsettia from December should still be blooming as long as you keep watering it.  And if you follow a few simple guidelines, it can be kept for many years to come.  The plant relies of three things – correct levels or amounts of light, temperature, and water.

    Photo by Doreen CoyneWINTER: While the Poinsettia is in bloom, keep it looking it best by placing it in a well-lit room, with as much indirect sunlight as possible.  Thiblooming period (coloured bracts i.e., the leaves that change color depending on light exposure.) typically lasts from mid-November to late April. It is a little fussy about temperature. You should keep it at normal room temperature, but not above 20°C (68°F).  Seems low but when my son is here, that’s his ideal house temperature year-round. And I can always wear a sweater. Nighttime temperatures of 16 to 17°C are best. Too much heat will shorten the blooming period. Poinsettias are sensitive to extreme temperatures (below 10°C and over 30°C). Avoid placing your plant too close to any heat source -i.e., not hear a furnace register, or on top of a PVR or television. Of course, my cat is always on top of those anyway, blocking the heat.  Also keep it away from cold drafts. Watering should be done when the soil is dry to the touch. Use lukewarm water but soak the soil. If there is a dish under the plant which can get water to the plant roots, don’t leave any water standing in the dish as overwatering can cause root rot.  And allow the soil to dry before you water again. The good news: there is no need to fertilize your poinsettia while it is in bloom. The length of blooming does vary by the variety (think colour) of your plant. After that time, its bracts will gradually lose their colour.

    SPRING:  After blooming ends around the end of April, the vegetative growth period begins and lasts until mid June. To help it through this stage of its life cycle, keep the plant in bright light or filtered sunlight at 20°C. In late April, you need to prune your poinsettia, cutting all the stems back by one third. For a more compact plant, keep only two or three leaves on each stem. Be sure to mist the plant with water to limit the seepage of white sap (aka latex) and prevent it from drying out. Note that the latex of a poinsettia can cause irritations to the skin or eyes, so it's best to avoid getting on yourself or your pets.  After pruning, water only often enough to prevent the soil from drying out completely. This is also the time to repot the plant in an aerated, well-drained medium. You can use a ready-mixed commercial substrate or blend your own, using equal parts potting soil, perlite and peat moss. It is also time to change how you fertilize the plant once new shoots form, apply a soluble fertilizer, such as one labelled 20-20-20, once a month. Cuttings may be started from May to July. Cut the existing stems back to allow new growth to develop. Keep the parent plants warm, consistently moist, and in a bright location to produce useful cuttings. Once the new stems have grown at least 4 inches, you can begin taking cuttings. The cuttings should be between 3 to 4 inches long with 2 to 3 mature leaves. Each of these can be grown into a new plant.

    SUMMER: Growing time is July and August, aka the Active Vegetative state. It is the time to ready the plant for flowering again.  Prune the plant again in late July or early August, or pinch back the ends of the stems (leaving three or four leaves per stem) to encourage bushy, compact growth. After pruning, a temperature of 20°C to 24°C is ideal. Never pinch a plant back after early September if you want it to rebloom.  Keep the plant in sunlight. Once the risk of frost is past (temperatures remain above 13°C), you can take the plant outside for the summer. But do this gradually. At first take it to a semi-shaded or sunny spot for a few hours. Each day you can extend its outdoors living. But if you can’t move it outdoors, then place it in your home where it will get as much light, even full sun, as possible.  As it grows and new leaves appear, increase the frequency of fertilizing (every two weeks) to promote vigorous growth. As temperatures start to get below 20°C, you’ll need to bring the plant back indoors – again introduce it slowly (over a week) to the indoors. During the growing period after that, indoor temperatures of 20-24°C are good.  After pruning, the poinsettia will require less water. Give it only enough to prevent the soil from drying out completely. Outside, especially in full sun, be sure not to let it wilt!

    Photo by Doreen Coyne

    FALL: Flower initiation (flowers and bracts form) from mid-September to mid-November. Once growth resumes, water only when the soil is slightly dry then soak the soil and allow the soil surface to dry out slightly again before the next watering.  Please the plant in bright light in day (or filtered sunlight) with 14 consecutive hours of total darkness a day for eight to ten weeks. Keep the plant at 20ºC and once tracts are completely covered keep it at a lower temperature if possible, of 15-18°C to intensify the colour.  Use a Soluble fertilizer (20-20-20) every two weeks. But in early November switch to a fertilizer that is 15-15-20 to further help with bloom formation. No need to prune nor repot during this time. And not a good time to take cuttings. By mid to late November, you can proudly display your Poinsettia for the Holiday season again.  But you’ll know it is an attractive plant during all its life cycles!

    Poinsettias like a fertilizer with a smaller amount of phosphorus. Look for one where the second number is lower than the other two. Fertilizers are rated N-P-K. So, one labelled 17-5-19 or 20-10-20 is good. One that is 20-20-20 as this article states may be used as it is easier to find. Always follow the directions on the label. 

    Impact of eating Poinsettias: Poinsettias aren't poisonous to humans. Ingesting many leaves would cause some stomach discomfort (as with eating many other non-food items). If leaves or stems are eaten, rinse the mouth with water. The sap can be a skin irritant so wash the affected area with soap and water after contact. As with any plant or material, if you experience a severe reaction of any kind, seek medical help promptly. For you pet: As with humans, the Poinsettia leave’s sap can also irritate your dog or cat's mouth and esophagus. If ingested, your pet may experience nausea or vomiting. If your pet is willing to drink extra water, this is a good time.

  • January 03, 2021 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Put Your Christmas Tree to Work this January

    Submitted by Debbie Coleman, a member of the Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society

    Nature Conservancy of Canada has an excellent suggestion for reusing your old Christmas tree by leaving it in your backyard over the winter. This will provide shelter and a resting place for birds and wildlife during the cold winter months.  You can even get the kids involved by spreading peanut butter in pinecones and tucking them into the branches, providing an additional source of food over the winter. And of course, suet hung by the bird feeder would make a great complement to the tasty tree treats. Imagine: Food & Warmth. 

    In the spring, as leaves start to grow again, they you can chop up your Christmas tree’s branches and trunks then put them into yard waste or mulch them. If branches or the trunk are over 10cm in diameter, they can not go into the yard waste.  In that case, offer it as firewood to a friend with a fireplace.

  • December 13, 2020 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Wrapping trees & shrubs for Winter
    Submitted by Doreen Coyne, a member of the Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society

    You may recall seeing trees and shrubs wrapped up in burlap as you drive through a residential area. Over the years, I’ve seen fewer of these and began to wonder why people do it and others don’t.

    There are several reasons for this.

    • Dry winter winds can damage evergreens. In exposed, windy areas, wrapping shrubs with burlap or easy-to-use shrub wraps will help. An alternative is to build a windbreak (small fence) on the exposed sides of the plant
    • Another common reason for wrapping plants is to support branches which could be damaged or broken from snow and ice over the course of the winter.


    • Put the wrap on in the fall and remove it in the spring after the last frost.
    • Burlap, tarps, sheets or blankets give the best insulation.
    • These are readily available from a nursery, Lee Valley, Big Box Stores, and even Amazon.
    • Do not use brown paper tree wrap or black colored tree guards as they will absorb heat from the sun which can be too drying to the plant.
    • For the better protection, some suggest turning that windbreak into an entire enclosure built using a frame around the plant. Add extra mulch around the base of the plant to blanket the soil and ensure that the windbreak structure doesn’t touch the plant. Extend the covering all the way to the ground to retain heat radiating from the soil so the plants can benefit from it.

    Which shrubs/trees need this?

    • Wrap newly planted trees for at least two winters.
    • Young trees, benefit from burlap wrapped around their trunks.
    • Wrap thin-barked species up to five winters or more. When buying a tree or shrub, remember to ask the nursery staff what is best for the specific plant you are purchasing.
    • Burlap makes great frost protection for in-ground plants and potted shrubs or trees that are too heavy to move
    • Delicate trees such as citrus should be potted and brought indoors if the temperature is like that in Richmond Hill which can go well below freezing. Citrus plants start to be hurt when the temperature nears the freezing point.

    What to do if your evergreens turn brown over the winter? There are a few reasons for this so let’s consider common problems.

    • Dry Winds: The Evergreen’s roots rely on water stored in tree needles once the ground freezes. This can drain the tree’s water quickly, causing the needles to turn brown from dryness. If wrapping the tree, ensure you wrap the tree all the way to the soil. Of course, you’d need to spray it before wrapping the tree and if not wrapping it, then you can apply the spray in both November and February.  These sprays are known as anti-desiccant sprays which provide a waxy coating to shield the plants from moisture loss. Spray when the temperature drops to 4 to 10 degrees Celsius and there’s no rain forecast for at least 24 hours.
    • Dry air + Sunny days: This combo dries out your tree’s needles faster and is known as sunscald. Spraying with the protective spray is important and if some of the bark is dried or dead, and you didn’t wrap the tree, then wrap the bark of the tree trunk in burlap to keep the areas warm and protected from the weather. Of course, this is best done preventively before the problem occurs.
    • Pests and disease: Evergreens attract a few common pests and diseases, like the pine beetle or cytospora canker disease. Browning needles can be a symptom of infection, along with small holes, sawdust or white sap leaking on the branches. Wrapping is not going to help in this case.  Please call your local arborist for help.
  • December 06, 2020 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Leaf Blowers – good or bad?

    Article by Doreen Coyne, a member of the Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society

    As promised, an article is on leaf blowers. Most people have already bought or used their leaf blower this season or perhaps you are considering a new one for yourself or a relative as a Christmas present. This article reports the benefits and issues with leaf blowers.  I hope to arm you with information that helps you make a better decision for yourself and your neighbours.  Indeed, the issues with Leaf Blowers can also be true of gas-powered lawn mowers; so good to know in case that is on your Christmas list this year.

    On the good side. Leaf blowers can make quick work of getting the leaves off your grass and into your garden beds and around the base of your trees and shrubs.  Or even into piles for putting into yard waste bags. The blowers can be fairly light weight and you can easily hold them or use the belt like strap to hang it from your shoulder or across your chest. They produce a great gust of wind that you can direct at the leaves and send them scurrying across the yard to their new home. Fast and efficient.

    But.  That great gust of wind they blow is achieved with 2 main issues: Expulsion of gases into the air and high pitch noise that is damaging to your ears and your neighbours’ ears

    1. Emissions: Most leaf blowers are gas powered and are designed to be air-cooled. The engines can release 100% of their “tailgate” emissions directly into the environment. Generally, leaf blowers can create high levels of various organic compounds which are known to cause dizziness, headaches, asthma attacks, heart and lung disease, cancer and dementia. Many of them unfortunately burn fuel inefficiently and several studies have shown that leaf blowers can emit hydrocarbons and other pollutants at similar rates to a car engine idling or driving in the city.  And the great wind it produces – which can be 200 mph- can stir up contaminants and pollutants from the ground and send them circulating back into the air.

    2. Noise: Low frequency sound travels over long distances and penetrates walls and windows. I looked up a few mid-price leaf blower available in the local box stores. One that cost $200 was rated at 200MPH wind speed and 72 db(A). Another I looked at, priced at $400, had a lower wind speed of 145 MPH but displaced an even higher amount of air when blowing and with a sound rating of 75 db(A).  Some leaf blowers have much higher db(A) levels - reported at greater 95 db(A) at the operator’s ear and between 65-80 db(A) at 50 feet away from the source. All in excess of the recommended daytime sound standards set by the World Health Organization which are no more than 55db(A).  I can personally attest to hearing my neighbour running his even though I am 60+ feet away from his property line and wrapped up cozily within my home, no windows or doors open, and my TV turned on.

    Suggestion: If you are looking to buy one, I’d urge you to check both its emission ratings and sound level ratings. Consider an electric or battery charged blower (and lawn mower) as they don’t have the same emissions even though they are still noisy. And make a low sound rating an important criteria for your purchase. Some are better than others on your ears having a lower db(A) rating.  Also, invest in really good noise suppression headsets given the person doing the work is getting the maximum decibels delivered to their ears.

  • November 29, 2020 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Fall: The New Season for Planting

    Article by Linda Lynott ©, Master Gardener, GWA and a member of the Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society

    Marion Jarvie, a passionate plantswoman who has been gardening in Thornhill for over forty years, encouraged me to plant in the late fall and early winter and she was right. In mid-November I divided and moved my perennial Geranium ‘Rosanne’. They move better in the fall than the spring, what with their deep tap roots and virtually no watering at this time of year; just watered upon planting. When I divide and move this plant in the spring, it needs daily watering, for months and it takes the whole summer to settle in.

    Many plants can be moved or divided or planted right up to January. The best times to plant are between 11:00 am and 3:00 PM. Even if the soil is frozen in the morning, it is often workable by noon.

    Just about any perennial can be moved and divided now; Corral Bells, Rhubarb or Clematis, for example. Note that Hostas do not do well if divided after August 1.

    New trees can be purchased and planted now. Plus any left at the nursery are on sale – a definite bonus. Onecaution is to do no tree pruning at this time. It causes new growth that will only die because of the cold and hurts the tree’s chance of surviving. Its energy is diverted from hibernating mode to growing mode.

    Tulips can be planted even in the snow and they will bloom next year, as will most other Bulbs. However, Narcissus, planted after October 31 will not bloom the following year.

    Unlike the spring, the soil in the fall is still warm and full of air. The trick is to dig a hole slightly bigger than the plant, water the hole, then plant and stomp the earth down around the plant.

    Enjoy your new planting season.

    PS: From Patty Carlson, another member of the Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society: I grow a number of Morning Glories, an
    annual plant that blossoms from mid-summer into fall.  I don’t cut down my Morning Glory plants in the fall. Instead, in the spring, before I cut them down, I shake them well so the seeds come off and then new Morning Glories sprout again.

  • November 22, 2020 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    More About Lawns and Leaves
    Article by Doreen Coyne, a member of the Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society

    After last week’s Gardening Tip was posted, I had a few people ask me to provide some follow-up information so let’s try to address each of these in today’s article:

    • Can we to run the lawn mower over the leaves?
    • Can I leave my leaves on my lawn?
    • Coming soon: Leaf blowers – good or bad?

    Can we to run the lawn mower over the leaves?

    First let’s talk briefly about grass clippings.  You can use a regular or mulching lawn mower to on grass clippings. The mulching lawn mower is better as it shreds grass clippings into tiny bits, allowing it to slowly turn into a compost that is rich in nutrients such as nitrogen. You can do this throughout the summer and into the warm part of autumn. If your grass was overly long when you cut it, or if the lawn was wet, then you should consider composting them in a compost bin or bagging them yard waste bags. Another time to not leave grass clippings is if your yard appears to have bare spots. This may be a sign of disease and you don’t want to leave the clippings nor add them to your compost bin possibly spreading the disease.


    For leaves, you can use the mulching lawn mower or if you don’t have one, take the bag off your lawn mower, set the blade up as high as it can go, then run over fallen leaves with your lawn mower a few times. You'll know you're done when about half an inch of grass can be seen through the mulched leaf layer. If you can’t see any grass – then reattach the bag and go over the lawn again.

    The leaf bits in the bag can be spread over your garden areas or added to your compost bin. Once the leaf bits settle into the lawn, microbes and worms get to work recycling them.  Many experts suggest that after you mulch your leaves, feed the lawn with some nitrogen rich lawn fertilizer to help speed the composting process. 

    This leaf “mulch” can be left on the lawn but be sure you are not leaving a large layer of it. as long as there is not more than a 1” layer of mulch on the lawn. More than that can cause harm.  Chemically speaking, when there is too much leaf mulch microbes in non-composted leaves may compete with grass for nitrogen during the decomposition process, lessening the beneficial effects of the mulch.  If you have more than a 1-inch layer of mulch on the lawn, you need to stop leaving the chopped-up leaves and/or grass clippings on your lawn. Put them into a compost bin so they turn into compost for next year. And in the fall, put the fallen leaves onto your garden beds.

    Can I leave my leaves on my lawn?

    People may be concerned that the chemicals, such as tannins, in leaves will have a negative impact on our lawns.  The tannins that help make good red wine and bright fall colors (in leaves) may also help make good soil and healthy livestock, according to a multi-year research effort between the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), it’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS), and the tannin laboratory in Miami University. The teams combined their efforts and capabilities to identify important features of tannins that determine soil interactions. Below are some of their findings.1

    Tannins and other organic compounds are common in many plants which enter soil from plant roots and decaying leaves. They may become part of the rain or melting snow as it runs down tree bark or drips off the leaves.

    Results show that the rate and amount of binding to soil varied from one tannin to another meaning that different tannins will have more or less impact than others. Scientists also found that tannins can immobilize heavy metals which will lessen their toxic effect on root growth. (good news) And tannins and related organic compounds can free up nutrients such as calcium for crop use. (good news) Scientists hope to learn more about how forest soil microbes metabolize tannins, leading to a better understanding of the multiple ecological functions performed by tannins. At this point, tannins do have some benefits but be advised not to leave too many on your lawn and ensure you mulch them.  Moving the leaves into your gardens can have a positive composting impact. And putting excess leaves into a compost bin is a great idea to generate compost for the next season.

    1. USDA Agricultural Research Service’s article “Tannins Surprising Benefits for Soils, Forests, and Farms. Link:

  • November 15, 2020 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    To Rake or Not to Rake

    Fallen Leaves. Photo by D.CoyneContributed by Doreen Coyne, a member of the Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society

    The leaves have fallen and this past weekend most of my neighbours were raking leaves and piling them into yard waste bags. This week’s garbage pickup will require a lot of heavy lifting by the waste management crew to get all those bags, that now so neatly line the curb, up and into their trucks. One of my neighbours simply blew leaves into his neighbours’ yard. Not such a good idea.  Me, I took the easy way out and let my leaves stay put.  Why?  Well I don’t see anyone raking leaves in the forest and those areas look pretty good. And more importantly, many experts are now recommending that we leave our leaves.

    Leaves moved to gardensYes, those in the know tell us to leave our leaves where they fall. Actually, not quite where they fall, but rather they’d have us move the leaves into our garden beds and around our trees, shrubs and other plants.  Why?  There are benefits to your plants by following this practice which, if you think about it, is actually similar to the concept of composting and spreading compost into the gardens in the spring and fall. And these benefits support my action of raking (or lack thereof).

    Benefit: Leaves add nutrients to the soil.  Fallen leaves decompose into the soil releasing their nutrients, such as nitrogen, back into your gardens and lawns. Organic matter makes soil more fertile.

    Benefit: Leaves help to heat the ground and retain moisture.  Have you heard the phrase “the snow is blanketing the ground”?  Fallen leaves act as a cozy blanket for your gardens, shrubs and trees.  They keep the roots of your plants slightly warmer during the winter months. And they have a property similar to that of mulch i.e. retaining moisture for the plants.

    Benefit:  Animals and insects rely on leaf litter. Many insects, microbes and even larvae reside in the decomposing leaves. And some small animals and worms rely of nature’s litter for protection from the cold. And of course, birds will search the leaves for a meal of insects that may be hiding out of site.

    Bottom line. Don’t throw out your leaves. Add them to garden beds and let nature do your fertilizing for you.  And if you prefer, you can buy a compost bin next spring and start composting all season. The result: less yard and garden waste and more “nature made” soil nutrients for your trees, shrubs, and gardens.  I’m looking forward to a healthier garden next year given all my “hard” work of not raking leaves this fall! 

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