Richmond Hill Garden and Horticultural Society, Ontario Horticultural Association
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Gardening Tips

Gardening Tips began in September 2020 as a weekly collaboration with


Society members may click Add Comment following any article, and post comments such as adding more retrospective, agreeing with the contributor, or even suggesting a correction. 

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  • May 09, 2021 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Planning My Garden

    Article & Photos by Samantha Butler, a member of the Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society


    My garden make over has been a work in progress with many challenges.  I have only been the new owners of this property for the last three years and during the first two, I have managed to revitalize an overgrown tired garden, into a space that consists of year-round perennials and blooming annuals for colour, which I love. 


    After taking what it seems to be never-ending removal of weeds, and over 100 garden waste bags later, cutting overgrown bushes and trimming trees, I was able to slowly sort through what made sense in the space that I had.  I tried to take inventory on what plants I was familiar with and researched ones I was not.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help from people who stop to look at your garden.  I even offered many plants to other people when I was culling through the space.  I loved doing that.  I started by creating a rock garden in the front of the property using Chilean black stones and colourful larger rocks as the center stone, you can be very creative with rocks, I also used coco bean shells as mulch which is unique and colourful; you can find these at Angelo’s Garden center.

    I planted three (designers like to accent in threes, you can also use this principle in gardens) dwarf lilac trees, with burning bushes in between, the great colour in the fall offsets all the greenery.  There was an overgrowth of ground cover, tangled English ivy and many other varieties that I am not sure of their names, but it was overtaking the entire garden.  I had many seedlings, and wild weeds and plants that you would commonly find in the forest’s trails in the neighbourhood.  It took some time to sort through these and then give-away, discard, or relocate plants to open the space. With the space now opened up, I used colourful hanging baskets until I could figure out what else I wanted to plant.

    This used to be a four-foot fence between me and my neighbours’ home.  I extended the boards a few extra feet with small pieces of fencing boards, and the vines already in place continued to grow to the new height.  The privacy of the space is quite amazing, it was so simple to do.

    I also created a side garden for all my fresh herbs and vegetables.


    It has been labour intensive to say the least, but a real pleasure to see the end results.  My end goal is to have a colourful garden that is less work to maintain.  I have enjoyed the process and will continue to change things up as the seasons go.  I hope you enjoy your garden as much as I do mine.

  • May 02, 2021 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Importance of Stepping Stones in Garden Beds

    Submitted by Lyne Webb, a member of the Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society

    While you may think that stepping stones in the garden bed make a nice decorative touch, there is a much more important reason to include stepping stones among your plants and bushes. 

    Photo by Lyne WebbWe all need to get into the garden beds to plant, weed and harvest.  Walking on the soil causes it to compact, especially if the soil is composed of any amount of clay.  When compacted like this, essential oxygen and moisture are prevented from reaching and nourishing the plant roots.  The stepping stones need to be large enough for both your feet, as you will likely want to crouch down while standing on them.  They also should be set into the soil so that they lie level, providing for firm footing.  You may also need to use stepping stones as a path between a sidewalk and the lawn to avoid people trampling the garden accidentally.

    Stepping stones can be fancy, but that is not necessary.  Often, after the garden grows, the stepping stones will end up covered by foliage; but you, the gardener, will know where to find them when you need a firm footing.  Of course, you can buy these at the box stores such as Lowes, but you can also find them at nurseries.  For a less expensive solution, I have used bricks, as well as broken pieces of patio stones. I’ve also made concrete stepping stones in a mold.  Other members have made paths using unused, or discarded, hardwood flooring.

    Be creative. Use materials you like. Lay a path that provides you with a sure footing while weeding in the middle of your garden!

    Photo by Lyne Webb  Photo by Lyne Webb

    Photos by Lyne Webb with the exception of the wood slat walkway which was sourced from Ingrid Sunar.

  • April 25, 2021 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Hardening off Plants
    Submitted by Jennifer Pyke, a member of the Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society

    Seedlings and young plants have only known the comfort of your home or a greenhouse. If you place them outside too early, they will not thrive and may not survive. They need to be “Hardened” to the outdoor weather.

    Here’s how to prepare them to do well outside.

    Harden them off gradually, so they become accustomed to strong sunlight, cool nights, and less frequent watering. This should be done over a period of 5 to 8 days. Protect them from strong sun, wind, hard rain, and cool temperatures. 

    Here’s the recommended process:

    1. On a mild day in mid-May, put them in a sheltered shady location and bring them back indoors at night. 

    2. On following days put plants in partial sunlight gradually increasing to full exposure. If temperatures below 10°C are forecast, bring the plants indoors. Warm-season crops such as eggplants, tomatoes, zucchinis, and cucumbers, prefer warm nights, at least 15°C. Water all plants only as needed. 

    3. Transplant to the garden in the late afternoon/early evening to allow a cooler settling in, after the last frost-free date, usually the Victoria Day weekend. Water.

    When is the last frost-free date?  According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, it should be May 9th this year and our first fall frost will be Oct. 1st.  Of course, these are not firm dates. Frost dates are an estimate based on historical climate data with the of a frost occurring after the spring frost date or before the fall frost date is 30%.  So, there is still a chance of frost occurring before or after the given dates!  More generally, frost is predicted when air temperatures reach 32°F (0°C), but because it is colder closer to the ground, a frost may occur even when air temperatures are just above freezing. Always keep an eye on your local weather forecast and plan to protect tender plants accordingly. 

  • April 18, 2021 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Eliminate Walkway Weeds

    Article and photos by Rahe Richards, a member of the Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society

    Four summers ago, when we moved into our house, we found that the walkway and front patio made of random paving stones were filled with weeds. There were very small, tiny weeds in between the stones. Since we did not want to use chemicals on them, we spent considerable time on our hands and knees weeding them. It was a brutal process—one we did not want to repeat!

    Two years ago in April, it occurred to me to cover the spots with thick, black garbage bags. We used stones and heavy items to hold the garbage bags in place for about six weeks. By the end of May, when the bags were removed there were no weeds. We repeated the process this past spring with success—without chemicals and no backache! You may want to give this a try yourself next year on walkways, driveways, or around your pool.

    Can’t try Rahe’s solution this summer? Try one of these weed control methods. They are good for hard surfaces such as walkways, sidewalks, and driveways.

    1. Spray a home-made solution. Mix the following together in your sprayer: 1 gallon of vinegar, 2 cups Epson Salts, and 1/4 Dawn Dish Soap (the blue one). Spray this solution on the weeds after the morning dew is gone and the weeds will be dead by dinner time!

    2. Use a Weed Torch. These are long-handled tools ending with a flame source near the ground and a small propane tank near the cane-like handle. And yes, it burns the weeds for instant results. But be careful. Wear hard shoes! And remember that fire can travel underground via roots to your yard so have a hose near you. Do not use this tool in your garden or lawn!


    Above you can see the areas we covered with

    garbage bags to eliminate the large amount

    of weeds that had grown each year.

    To the right: The amazing result.  Weed free

    for the rest of the summer!

  • April 11, 2021 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    New Garden Bed with Border – Made Easy

    By Rahe Richards, a member of the Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society

    Starting a new garden can be hard work when one must get rid of the lawn on the spot needed for the soil. To avoid the backache of clearing out the lawn you can simply do the following:

    • Mow lawn extremely low
    • Cover area with carboard or 3 or more sheets of newspaper
    • Top that with dried leaves if available. (optional)
      BTW: It’s always a good idea to recycle dead leaves from your trees in the fall by spreading them over your gardens to compost during the winter. Some folks make a huge pile of them next to a side fence or the side of the house. These will compost to add to flower and vegetable beds as well! If you have too many, then set the extra out for the garbage pickup.
    • Put a good layer over that of topsoil, manure, and/or compost
    • Water down and continue to ensure the area is moist for about four weeks
    • At that point, the area is ready for planting

    A nice border, or edging, can be made around the edges if you wish by putting in old bricks, cement blocks, unused planting pots, or 2x4s or 4x4s, etc. Whimsy and creativity will add visual appeal to your garden!

    Start now to ensure you are ready for planting by the end of MAY.


    Photo credit of new bed on top of grass by member Jelenko Skakavac.
    Other photos are from Pinterest.

  • April 04, 2021 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Planning More Appeal for Your Garden 

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

    This is a great time of year to start planning how to make our gardens more appealing for the coming summer.  There are a lot of books and magazine articles out there that you can browse but I thought you might be interested to know more about the criteria used to judge the front gardens for the annual Richmond Hill Blooms event.  The event is run by the City with the assistance of several members of our Society who judge the short-listed gardens in each ward. The first time I helped with the judging, I was given the criteria used for judging. Seeing and using those helped me judge the gardens more effectively but also gave me a new perspective when I looked at my garden as well as great insights into what changes I could make so that my gardens more appealing and “all-seasonal”. I hope you too find that these judging criteria provide a solid base for objectively looking at your gardens with a different view in mind than you might normally have.

    As it turns out there are 6 sections, or groupings of criteria, for judging each of which has 2 to 7 criteria to be judged. Our Society uses these criteria when we are asked to judge the short-listed gardens in each of the 6 Richmond Hill wards.  The scores, when averaged by our 3 judges per ward, give a solid basis to decide which are the top 3 gardens per ward. I helped judge the gardens for the first time 2 summers ago. With each garden, I began to see ways of improving my garden. 

    • The first section of criteria is Design which looks at colour and texture and how it looks in comparison to your home as well as the balance, rhythm, contrast and dominance of plant material and its scale in proportion to the building. It also looks at elements of design such as space, lines, form, colour, textures, and patterns within each garden and of the garden itself. I’m starting to think about adding a small Japanese maple next spring and perhaps a taller, shaped evergreen to provide balance to the left of my house. And more varieties of plants to add colour and varying plant textures.
      First tulip blooms. Photo by D. Coyne
      Another aspect of Design is the year-round appeal of the garden. I have a great spring tulip display in spring sporting over 200 tulips when all are in bloom and a reasonable summer showing of perennials; but I have nothing for fall nor winter. To make my garden more colourful and cheerful year-round, I’ve started to add fall plantings (ex. Mums) and winter shrubs which provide year-round greenery. I’m also looking at flowers that have a longer blooming season. Nasturtiums were a good find as were Marigolds which also repel insects and small animals. And each of those plants can self-seed for the next season.

      Nssturtiums. Photo by D. Coyne
    • The second grouping of criteria looks at the use of plant material. Do you have native plants and no invasive plants? Do you have both perennials and annuals in your garden? Are the plants suitable for your location? (Consider the amount of sunlight, shade, and hardiness on our Zone.) I have mostly perennials and no native plants so last summer I purchased several native plants from the City’s Healthy Yards online plant sale. I also added some annuals and now can enjoy picking out annuals of varying colours and sizes each year to see what I like best!

    • Another section considers “Hard Landscaping”
      with the use of stone, statuary, chairs, etc.  Thinking of my garden, my statuary was minimal in the backyard and non-existent in the front yard.  I quickly found an adorable cat to grace one section at the front yard, 2 interesting stones that I can grow succulents on, and a wonderful angel giving peace to the garden. I have a nice set of chairs on the porch now so I can sit and overlook the garden. I feel that these small additions make the garden more interesting - inviting you to sit, relax, and look at its variety. 

    • Yet another examines the condition and maintenance of your yard and gardens.  Looking at things such as overall cleanliness of property, driveways, weeds, garbage, etc. These criteria also consider the pruning of hedges, borders being edged, weeds under control, no diseased plants. For lawns & groundcovers, they look to see if there is good, dense growth that is well-maintained. This seemed harder for me to implement at home.  I found I had spots of browning grass on my lawn and realized in conversation with fellow gardeners that I had grubs.  Strangely, my weed control company that I paid for years said they took care of this but the grubs weren’t listening.  Now I buy live nematodes (the best thing to eat grubs) from a local Ontario company, called Natural Insect Control, and spray it on myself at a substantially lower cost.  The grub problem is gone but I know one has to respray if and when they return.  For weeds, I’ve found 3 very good techniques which you can read about in a prior Gardening Tip. Of those, one is particularly useful for driveways and interlocking stone patios.

    • Environmental Practices was the second last section.  It was looking for evidence of the usage of rain barrels, mulches, compost but also that no pesticides were being used. This was harder to judge as most people have their rain barrels in the back yard behind a fence and we only judged the front yard of each home. But none-the-less these were useful to consider for my home. I already use mulch and compost and am considering a rain barrel this year. One should be aware that there is a growing trend towards using less mulch. Certain bees that we want to visit our gardens live in the ground and too thick a layer of mulch is a deterrent to those bees.

    • The last section looks at how your yard/garden contributes to the neighbourhood. i.e.) does your garden contribute to the beauty of the area? Does it entice others to make their gardens better? What is its overall impact and appeal?  This might involve things like colours used in the gardens, and curb appeal. I’ve discovered much of my garden is lacking flowers throughout the summer and I still need more early spring flowers. I tried hyacinths last year which were gorgeous as they first bloomed, but each bloom lasted for only a few days and the total display was done in less than two weeks. For my space, I want to find longer-lasting early and summer flowers. I’ve decided for more curb appeal I may want to extend my front flower beds by making them a bit wider.

    With the judging criteria in mind, I found several ways to make even my humble garden more appealing. My garden may not win an award, but it brings me happiness. I’ll continue with my winter and spring planning efforts each year to try out different plants and colours to see what I like the best.

    Give it a try and start planning more appeal for your garden one step at a time!

  • March 28, 2021 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Crop Rotation
    Submitted by Rahe Richards, a member of the Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society

    Crop Rotation is the practice of planting different crops sequentially on the same plot of land to improve soil health, optimize nutrients in the soil, and combat pest and weed pressure.

    It is a good practice to do crop rotation in the vegetable garden every year to avoid crop diseases and/or pests from previous years coming back the next year.  Many crops produce a byproduct that can help other plants. For example, legumes produce nitrogen that they release into the soil from which other crops can benefit.  By growing a different vegetable in the spot where you grew legumes last year benefits plants needing more nitrogen and growing the legumes in an area that is low in nitrogen this year, will benefit the crops you grow there in the next year.

    Knowing what your crops leave or take away from the soil helps you know how to rotate crops each year so all of the crops will benefit from each other. Vegetables not only produce good food but also enhance the soil!

    In a small urban garden, the gardener typically has limited space for crop rotation for planting their favourite crops. The solution is to physically transfer most of the old soils each fall/spring from the vegetable garden to the perennial garden. And then add new soil and compost to the former vegetable bed in the spring.  This labour of love results in better vegetables and perennials each year!

    Photo of Bean seedlings from Harvest to Table

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

    Growing Potatoes

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

    I was just reading the online version of The Old Farmers’ Almanac, as one does. There was a list of the best 10 vegetables for beginners. Potatoes didn’t make the list! I was shocked and dismayed. For anyone growing food for the first time, may I recommend the humble potato as the perfect choice for anyone digging up garden lawn turf?

    Now, I recognize that potatoes take up A LOT of space, definitely not a project for the balcony of a high rise. Being the person I am, I see the plus side of filling a large part of my plot with a crop that is robust, stores all winter, can be eaten several times a week and leaves the soil largely weed free and tilled to a good depth.

    As the initial lockdown was in place, I was not optimistic about obtaining certified seed potatoes. Lady Luck shone on me and I actually found some at the Loblaws garden centre while looking (somewhat unsuccessfully) for annual plants for my planters. However, had I been unlucky, I would have planted potatoes from the grocery store.

    Planting photo by Dinah GibbsLast year I broke new ground in a former horse grazing paddock where I had been blessed with a new plot in the Forster Collective Community Garden. Potatoes were my vegetable of choice for all the above reasons. I admit that I got mechanical assistance, two passes with a rotary tiller, aka rototiller, to get me started. I COULD HAVE used a spade, but... I then hand removed major rocks and unwanted plant material that had been uprooted. I was taught that soil needs to be as fine as the seed. And seed potatoes are the size of a child’s fist- not too fine! (another plus!)

    I then used a garden fork to do a rough till to about fork depth (20cm.). That achieved, I made a series of small craters 50cm apart, in rows. Each row was also 50 cm from its neighbour. I dropped one seed potato into each, kicked a little soil to hide the seeds and stood back. As sprouts appeared, I gradually filled in the craters, finally hilling the rows later in the season.  The grid pattern I used to plant the rows, allowed the leaves of the growing plants to form a canopy which controlled weeds germinating and sheltered toads. Too close and they are more likely to get fungus.

    Growing photo by Dinah Gibbs

    Potatoes also benefit from irrigation. I dutifully trudged to and from the well on biweekly garden visits to ensure a good crop. Despite planting far later than I would have liked, due to all community gardens being closed early in the lockdown, I achieved that goal. I had planted in early June but normally would plant in April.

    Harvesting photo by Dinah GIbbs

    Harvest photo by Dinah GibbsHarvest begins when the foliage of the potato plant has died off. I began harvesting at the end of September. The skins of the potatoes should be allowed to cure (dry) before storing the potatoes in boxes, or paper sacks such as lawn waste bags. Then these should be stored in airy dark, cool place. (Editor’s note: my family had a large metal bucket filled with soil in the cold storage room at the house and vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, and parsnips were layered into the soil ensuring they lasted until spring.)

    The result of my hard work? I had a supply of organically grown spuds to last us until Christmas and a plot, largely weed free, nicely tilled to a good depth, all ready for me to get more ambitious this coming spring when I will definitely choose to plant some of the recommendations on the Farmer’s Almanac list!

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

    Hints and Tips when Growing Seedlings
    Submitted by several members of the Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society

    Containers for seedlings – from Ingrid Sunar- When buying some fruits, vegetables, muffins at the grocery store you'll get see-through closing containers. Some take out containers could also be used. Place a seed or two in several plant plugs (available at any Dollar store) then place the plant plugs in your opened container. Put some water in the container and close the lid for a self-watering unit.
    - If you do not need a self watering container, use an egg carton and simply place your seeds in each egg space which you filled with soil.
    - For a biodegradable container, plant your seeds in an edible ice cream cone filled with soil. The cones can be placed directly into the soil when it is time to plant outdoors.
    - You could also fill toilet paper rolls filled with hot soil in which you place your seeds and store them in the takeout containers as well. Many plants would be fine if you cut the toilet paper roll into 2 cylinders for twice as many planting containers. A paper towel roll can provide 5 or 6 planting containers.


    Growing flowers in jugs – from Ingrid Sunar
    If you have a large jug with a handle you can cut a rectangular hole on the one side of the jug just behind the handle then down towards the end of the jug. Fill this with soil and then plant your seeds or small plants.  Lay this on the opposite side on your patio, balcony, or porch. You'll have beautiful flowers or vegetables growing out of it shortly. 

    Growing Milkweed – from Jennifer Pyke

    In early March, wrap the seeds in wet kleenex, place in a plastic bag, seal it and put in the freezer.  In early April place the seeds on top of a pot of potting soil, press in, sprinkle more soil over them. Put in a sunny window.  Harden off outside by gradually moving from shade to full sun, and plant out after any danger of frost."

    Blossom End Rot
    This occurs in many plants such as tomatoes, peppers, squash, and pumpkin.  Blossom-end rot is caused by insufficient calcium in the tissue of the plan ex. A tomato. Blossom-end rot first appears as water- soaked spots on the blossom end, or bottom, of the tomato. The affected tissue breaks down rapidly and the area becomes sunken, dark brown or black, and leathery. This can happen at any time as the tomatoes mature, and most often on the first tomatoes of the season.

                                            Photo credit: Michigan State University

    • The first thought is that the soil may be calcium deficient. This is especially true if you use don’t enrich it. Members, Joe Celebre & Rahe Richards give this advice: During the winter months save clean eggshells. When planting tomatoes outdoors, put about quarter cup of crushed eggshells into the soil then add the seedling and cover with soil. You could also spread some around the seedlings.  Egg shells have several benefits when growing vegetables. The egg shells provide the needed calcium, but also act as slug repellent, and help prevent end rot. Member Patty Carlson adds that she adds powdered milk to the soil where she plants tomatoes and peppers to help prevent “blossom end rot” which is caused by a lack of calcium in the soil. And of course, milk has a good amount of calcium. She also finds that dry conditions and insufficient moisture in the soil often bring it on.
    • In a recent seminar we held, member Deb Coleman elaborated on end rot caused by insufficient moisture in the soil. If the soil has enough calcium, we look at the growing process. Conditions that cause blossom-end rot are closely linked to inconsistent soil moisture throughout the growing season. Since calcium is only moved into the plant with an ample moisture supply, when drought occurs the fruit continues to develop but will be affected by a calcium deficiency. Actively growing parts of the plant such as developing tomatoes must have a continuous supply of calcium to prevent these spots from developing.
    • The third cause of end rot on tomatoes is root damage of the plants in the soil.  This is because root damage can lead to decreased moisture intake. Cultivating too close to plants or burning them with fertilizer can reduce nutrient and water uptake through the roots. At the other end of the scale, waterlogged soils also interfere with the root’s ability to take up nutrients.

  • March 07, 2021 12:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Growing plants from Seeds
    Contributing authors: Jennifer Pyke, Patty Carlson, Doreen Coyne, members of the Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society

    Milkweed is a great addition to your native garden. It especially attracts Monarch butterflies. But it can be hard to grow from seed, but last year I learned about a process that copies nature. It worked! I harvested the seeds in the fall. Then in early March, I wrapped the seeds in wet kleenex, placed it in a plastic bag, sealed it and put in the freezer.  In early April, I take out the seeds (but kept them in the Kleenex) and put then on top of a pot filled with potting soil. Press them in and sprinkle more soil over them. Then put the pot in a sunny window.  In later May, you need to “harden them off” for outside planting by gradually moving them from shade to full sun, and plant out after any danger of frost. – Jennifer Pyke

    Annuals plants CAN self-seed! For many annual plants that you didn’t cut down or remove in the fall, give them a good shake in the spring before cutting down the dead plants. The shaking disperses the seeds into the ground – thus self-seeding for this new season. Bottom line, less plants to purchase and/or fewer seedlings to grow this year! This can be done with Morning Glories, Nasturtium’s and many more annual plants. – Patty Carlson

    Marigolds are simple to grow. 

    Pull the dried flower heads off in the late fall. Then put them into a labelled envelope until spring. In March, you can place one or two in each seedling pod and let them sprout.  I place all the pods in a plastic container with a closable lid so that the pods, once in the container with water added to it, can be closed thus acting like a greenhouse and keeping them moist without much watering. Once the seeds germinate, or sprout, they do need sunlight. You can remove the cover and place them in direct sunlight for 6-8 hours a day.
    Leggy seedlings occur if sunlight is inadequate. Sunlight must be direct or the seedlings will stretch to find the light. Once they get to 3 to 5 inches tall, put them into slightly bigger containers and put them under grow lights or near a window. As the weather allows them to go outside, take them out for a few hours a day, working up to a full day. Then transplant them in your garden. I love that marigolds come in various yellow, orange and red colours and the plants seem to keep pests away! – Doreen Coyne

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