Watering and Your Trees

The one thing most likely to cause an issue — like death — in your garden, is water: too much of it or too little.  If you have an irrigation system, spring is a good time to think about what wasn’t working last year.  Or what will need a tweak after a bed renovation.

Was there a soggy area in your lawn or garden last year? Perhaps that area is getting water from more sprays or emitters than it should. Get rid of the unneeded extra. Is there a dry area? Add a spray or emitter to correct that — or use the area for more forgiving plantings.

Remember that your trees may be thirstier than your lawn (or not as thirsty in the case of some native trees) — and they are much more expensive to replace. You may have to water evergreens even in the winter — under the eaves of your home, under the canopy of other trees… depending on your plantings, the amount of rainfall, etc.

Most of the water and air absorbing roots are in the top foot of soil at and beyond the drip line (the edge of the canopy) of the tree. So when you water a tree, you want to deliver water to the top FOOT of soil, at and beyond the dripline of the tree. NOT the trunk of the tree.

Is there a “formula” for watering deeply? It’s not the same as watering lawn. I can’t give you a formula on how to know when you have watered deeply enough.  There are too many variables.  And this is too important to fool around with.

– Give your drip line and beyond a soak, measuring the time watered.
– Cut into the soil — or just dig — in an easy-to-dig, inconspicuous place. (I like to pick a place where I don’t cut an irrigation line.) Do what you need to do to get a look at how far water has penetrated into the soil. Look and/or feel. Knowing how long you just watered, use that to adjust your irrigation plan for the tree.

E.g. A slow 30 minutes soak resulted in 4 inches of moisture penetration? Try watering for 60 more minutes and see if you get a foot of penetration in total. (Sorry but check a different test hole.)

Deep, infrequent watering is better than frequent, shallow watering. We all KNOW that, but we don’t necessarily DO that. I love to give things a “sprinkle” with my hose. But the way to make our water use count — especially for our trees — is to water deeply and infrequently (and slowly enough that there is no runoff).

**Don’t assume that soil is not dry just because you’ve laid down gallons of water or it has rained for a day.  Be aware that when soil is very dry, it can become hydrophobic — a state where it repels water. This situation can easily arise on compacted soils, layered soils (topdress/mulch not intermingled with soil), under the eaves of your house, or under the canopy of evergreen trees.  (Fine for the evergreen but not for anything else growing under the canopy.)

An example I saw compared healthy soil to newspaper. Newspaper absorbs water readily. Hydrophobic soil was compared to WAXED paper — water just stays on the surface and runs off. (http://www.soil.ncsu.edu/publications/Soilfacts/AG-439-25/)

The best way to see what is happening with water is to get into the soil and look. Even the greens at Crown Isle got cut into and checked if there were sickly patches. It let us really see what was happening when we watered the greens.

Noxious Weeds in Your Landscape

Ah, getting out into the garden again.  It is a true pleasure after the long, long break I’ve had.  And of course, it is an instant reality check.  The garden… it’s not Eden!  Today I’m going to talk about a few of my least favourite “rooting shooting” weeds and how to control them without the use of banned pesticides.

Field bindweed/hedge bindweed (Convolvulus species).

field bindweed

Field bindweed (Image cut from http://www.agf.gov.bc.ca/cropprot/weedguid/bindweed.htm)

hedge bindweed

Hedge bindweed (Image cut from http://www.agf.gov.bc.ca/cropprot/weedguid/bindweed.htm)

Field bindweed has smaller leaves and flowers. Hedge bindweed looks like a lovely white morning glory.  Either way, it’s best just to eliminate any sign of them as quickly as possible.  The roots can run forever and the seeds will outlast me.  Trying to get rid of what seems like MILES of cable-like roots is excellent exercise, but disruptive to the garden bed.  It’s easiest to eliminate them completely while they are very young.

Thistles — Scotch (Onopordum acanthium) and other.

You know what I mean.  The prickly things whose white roots go down forever and just don’t want to die.

Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella)

sheep sorrel 1sheep sorrel 2

(Images cut from http://www.agf.gov.bc.ca/cropprot/weedguid/sheepsor.htm)

This little weed is only classified as a “nuisance weed” in BC.  However, if it is in your landscape it will make you curse just like the others as it chokes your bed.  One of my landscaper friends calls it “elastic weed” because its roots ARE very elastic.  You can dig (and dig!) and carefully pull, but chances are it will eventually stretch and snap.  The red-flowered females are the ones that will form seeds.  Don’t let that happen.  That will just give it a jump on you.

English Ivy (Hedera spp.)

When I lived in Saskatchewan, ivy was something I grew in a pot in my home and yearned after as a bonsai subject.  When I arrived in BC, I saw it covering forest floors and creeping up very tall trees to rob them of sunlight.  After seeing that, ivy is just not pretty any more.  Add in that it is habitat for rats… really not feeling the ivy-love anymore.

Once English ivy begins to flower and seed, the situation becomes even worse. Starlings (another invader) eat ivy berries and spread the seeds to our yards and forests, where they readily grow. Ivy replaces desirable plants that provide valuable wildlife habitat, becoming an “ivy desert”.  Once it grows up a tree, it not only blocks sunlight, but it makes the tree more top-heavy than it should be.  That contributes to blowdown in our winter winds.

Please reconsider any outdoor plantings of ivy.  If you already grow ivy, remove it.  Replace it with clematis, climbing honeysuckle, or some other non-invasive selection.  It could be a great opportunity to introduce native plants into your landscape!

If your land or trees have already been invaded, please refer to this website for information on how to best handle that situation:


Horsetail (Equisetum spp.)

While a native plant, it often shows up where it’s just not wanted.  And it is very difficult to control.  So it makes my list.

That’s my “roundup” (pun intended) — my own personal most wanted list.  These rooty, shooty plants that are so insistent, persistent, and resistant… that they ALMOST make you long for Roundup.  The BEST solution is to make sure they never get a firm footing in your landscape.  Having failed that, it’s going to mean your own persistent, consistent resistance.

Dealing with Infested Beds

There are two options that I can see.  Both are a LOT of work.

Method 1

Prepare a (weed-free) holding bed.  Dig up the DESIRABLE plants out of your infested bed/area.  Work their roots over carefully, looking for invaders.  The invasive roots may be in, over, under, around, or through your plant.  You have to inspect very carefully and remove every bit of root and stem.  (Dividing them will help, if that is possible and/or useful.) Plant them in the holding bed. MONITOR them for more weed growth. The best time to do this for minimal impact to your treasured plants is after the fall rains start or during winter dormancy.  Late winter/early spring is fine too, but you are more likely to have an empty bed for the growing season.

With the weed bed “empty”, you can have at the invasive plants.  Dig it or double-dig it, depending on the weed involved – get down as far as you can see roots.  Break every clod up looking for the bad guys.  THEN, once you are “done”, know that you WON’T be done for a month or three.

Check the bed (and your “keeper” plants) at least weekly.  Eliminate any invaders that pop up.  DO NOT let them photosynthesize.  This lets them build roots for another push.  Keep at it.  IF YOU ARE NOT VIGILANT, YOU WILL NEVER CLEAR YOUR BED.  When the bed has been invader-free for a couple or three weeks (more if you are cautious/don’t’ EVER want to do this again), you can begin to transplant your WEED FREE plants back into the original bed.

Continue to monitor.  Your invader will likely have created a store of seeds that may last decades.  This is not really a problem as long as you knock them down as soon as they sprout leaves.

Method 2

Leaving your desirable plantings in the weedy bed, cut down every bit of invader that you can see.  Pick through your desirable plants doing the same.  Monitor the bed every few days, cutting down every bit of invader leaf every time you see one.  The idea (again) is to not let them photosynthesize.  Eventually you will deplete the root and the plant will stop sending up shoots with leaves.  As above, keep at it until you are confident that you have eradicated the invader.  IF YOU ARE NOT VIGILANT, YOU WILL NEVER CLEAR YOUR BED.

Continue to monitor.  Your invader will have created a store of seeds that may last decades.  This is not really a problem as long as you knock them down as soon as they sprout leaves.

Bonus option

No time for all of that?  Then try to contain the problem. Weed the “edge” of the infested area to keep it from spreading. Remove all flowering and seeding tops and dispose of them safely.


*****DO NOT COMPOST these plants.*****

*****DO NOT throw them into the forest or an empty lot OR on the beach. *****

Dispose of all plant parts. Leave them sealed in a black garbage bag to cook in the sun, put them in the municipal garbage pickup, or bury them in a deep, deep, deep hole that won’t be disturbed.

And a Last Word:  Keep an Eye on Your Garden — and Your Hanging Baskets!

“Noxious weed” doesn’t necessarily mean the plant is unattractive.  It just means they like to get away and take over habitat from native plants/crops. For instance, Buddleia/butterfly bush and common fennel are on Washington’s B/regional list. Today’s coveted favourite might just become the next invader. Take notice of how many volunteers are coming up in your landscape.  If it’s VERY vigorous in your garden – especially without supplemental water – it might become our next broom or Japanese knotweed.

Watch for the “spillers” in your baskets.  Lamium goleobdon (yellow archangel) is great in your basket.  On the ground it acts quite a bit like ivy, blanketing the ground and choking out native plants.  Ask for baskets without it. Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea (golden creeping Jenny) and Ajuga reptans (bugleweed comes in many lovely varieties like ‘Black Scallop’) can be very vigorous. They might not be quite ready to take over the world but you WILL curse them if they make their way into your well-watered lawn.

Note that the BC Government has excellent web resources on noxious weeds.  For information about these and other weeds (cleavers, mullein, etc.), check out:    http://www.agf.gov.bc.ca/cropprot/weedguid/weedguid.htm

Also check out the noxious weeds for Washington state. With climate change, if a plant is bad there, it’s likely just a matter of time before it’s bad here.  http://www.nwcb.wa.gov/nwcb_nox.htm

Mason Bee Blocks

I found a cute little video about “solitary bees” online today.  It shows a design I haven’t seen before.


I don’t like that it’s hung like a bird feeder instead of firmly attached, but it’s cute.  It’s also the paper tubes that I’m never going to use …  Well, it made me think about bees again anyway.

Mason Bees

Around here we have mason bees (Osmia lignaria). If you see them, you might think they are flies rather than bees. These innocuous little bees work hard to pollinate our spring flowers and fruit trees. They deserve a good place to have their young.

It happens that it’s exceptionally easy and cheap to provide accommodations for them! September is not the perfect time to put up a bee block/”bee hotel”.  But you might have time over the winter to MAKE one, so here goes.

Your nest can be a simple block or a half-round log with a roof, or you can build one that looks like a birdhouse, or you can paint the roof to make a charming folk art nest block, or…  The sky is the limit! Do some research or use your imagination and come up with something that suits you.

You can get your kids/grandkids involved too. It’s a great project for them to participate in. They could drill, decorate, or hang. And they can help you keep track of how many holes are sealed up every year, and watch the bees emerge in the spring. It could be a great Christmas project too — a useful home-made gift for the person who has everything.

Mason Bee Blocks

DO NOT USE TREATED WOOD.  You likely want softwood, because you’ll be drilling a lot of holes. Pine or spruce is fine.  (Agriculture BC says no cedar because it repels insects, but I’ve seen bees checking out the countersunk screw holes on my cedar deck chairs. They didn’t seem repelled. Your call.)

Ideal dimensions:

  • Space the holes ¾ of an inch apart.
  • Make holes 5/16 inches (7 to 8 mm) in diameter.
  • Make holes about 6 inches deep.  Do not to drill all the way through.

In a pinch, make the holes at least 3 inches deep, and 1/4 inch to 3/8 inch in diameter. Holes that are shorter than 3 inches deep and small diameter holes encourage the laying of males, which are not as beneficial as females.  (Sorry guys!)

I don’t think that the number of holes matters a great deal.  (… the allure of my cedar lawn furniture.)  I think they just want a nice deep hole, period.  You could start with a 6 inch or foot long section of 6 by 6, or a log and see how that works. (A 4 by 4 drilled almost through will also do in a pinch.)

Do not varnish or paint the INSIDE of the nest holes.

You could char the outside of the block.  Darker wood is more attractive to bees.

If the place it will be mounted doesn’t provide rain shelter, you might want to make a wide roof for your block.  And you could use a screen of wire mesh (no finer than the drilled holes) to  protect the nest block from foraging birds.

Slot the back of the block for hanging.  OR use a (~) 4 inch by 4 inch board about 1/2 an inch thick screwed onto the top back of the block to mount the block. (Two screws to attach the bottom half of the board to the block and two screws to attach the block to its support.)  OR you could just angle two screws through the top of the block to mount it.

(Note that there are many other ways to make bee blocks.  One method uses paper sleeves like the ones in the video above.  Some people go to the trouble of bathing their bees to remove mites and storing them in the fridge.  I’m never going to do that.  It’s even less likely than me ironing clothes.  🙂  But feel free to check it out via web searches if YOU want to do it.)

Replace the nest block every one or two years — in early March or when the current occupants have hatched.  (If some holes are “occupied” by the time you get to it, you can cover the unfilled holes or fill them with a nail.)  Pathogens will build up if you leave the nest block up indefinitely.

I would replace it every year, just to be safe. Or you can research ways to clean and re-use the blocks. Just keep in mind that you don’t want mould, parasites or chemicals to impact your bees.

Mounting the Block

You can attach the block to your shed, your house, a fence post or even to a tree. You want to make sure the wind can’t blow it around. Firmly mount the nest block at least 3 feet and not more than 6 feet above the ground.

Winter wind/rain protection is key. Ideally, you can mount it on a sheltered southeast to east-facing site (to receive morning sun in the spring). That’s why it gets a bit complicated where I live.  The prevailing winds in the winter are from the southeast — often driving the rain pretty much horizontally.  In this case we can either shelter our bee block elsewhere for the winter OR we can mount it out of that wind and not give the bees the morning sun. (It won’t matter if they receive morning sun if they haven’t survived the winter wind and rain.)  If the blocks are relocated for the winter, make sure they are protected from heat, predators, etc. Don’t bang the block around.  Be very gentle so that you don’t disturb the larvae in their feeding. Put the block back in its optimal position in late winter — when the native flowers and fruit trees begin to bloom.

What else can you do?

Bees need a mud source and a water source. (Butterflies too!) They use the mud to make the little plugs you will see in your mason bee block — hence “mason” bees, eh.

You may have heard that our bee populations are in trouble. Helping these little bees is a simple way to help save our one and only planet.  I hope you will give it a try.

Check the library or the internet for more information on mason bees, or for information on the solitary bees in your area.


Check out my website at yourgardener.webs.com

In Praise of Fallen Leaves

Fall is coming. That’s okay. I love fallen leaves! I love looking at them, I love crunching in them and I love USING them!

Coming from Saskatchewan, the leaves fall off most everything. Maybe that is why so many of us “from away” want only evergreens in our home landscapes. Oh wait!  Lots of people who were born here want the same.  

With such a huge selection of evergreen trees, shrubs, and plants available, and with perceived lower maintenance, it is truly tempting. Fallen leaves can be a LOT of work. But there’s something to be said for it happening “all at once” rather than the ongoing shower of cones, needles, interior leaves, etc. that fall from our evergreen trees and shrubs.

And there are loads of other considerations… So here’s my case for fallen leaves:


How can we do without the fabulous colours our turning leaves give us in autumn? Our lovely maples (Acer japonicum and others) are a case in point, but many deciduous trees and shrubs put on a spectacular show of reds, oranges, purples, and yellows in autumn. Even blueberry shrubs can put on a gorgeous display.

Bark colour is a feature of some deciduous beauties like the coral bark maple (Acer palmaum ‘Sango Kaku’, and red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea). The peeling reddish bark of the paperbark maple (Acer griseum) adds interest long after its leaves fall.

Leafless trees and shrubs showcase winter berries and fruits.  And it makes it easier for you to watch birds enjoy the fruits and berries.  Consider plants like hawthorns (Crataegus sp.), roses (Rosa sp.), and berberis (in a wide variety of sizes and colours).

Form and texture!

Some plants actually look better with their clothes off — or at least as good as they did with them on.  Cases in point:

  • The contorted hazelnut aka “Harry Lauder’s walking stick” (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’).  You can check out an established specimen at the Comox Marina — by the childrens’ playground/parking area.  Beautiful!
  • Our amazing Garry oaks (Quercus garryana).  Check out the winter beauty of the one by the RCMP detachment on Ryan Road — just up the hill from Canadian Tire.  It might be difficult to fit one of these giants into the home landscape, but if you have the space…
  • Some of of deciduous azaleas have a natural “bonsai” form that is attractive summer and winter.


Deciduous trees can give us the best of both worlds — shade in the heat of summer and light in our grey winters.  Of course, this has economic impact — reflected in our utility bills — as well as aesthetic impact.  Consider this when you plan or renew your landscape.  

Snow loading

It’s not easy being green — when you are heaped with snow and ice!  Deciduous trees and shrubs won’t collapse as readily under the weight of heavy winter snows.  How many of us have been out in the worst winter storms, knocking the snow off our sagging evergreens?  I have!

A visual rest from unrelieved green!

I love green, but a person can only take so much.  

And most of all… your garden will love them!  

Leaves are a great soil amendment.  Many of us pay for manure, fish compost or other soil amendments every year.  Fallen leaves are a nutrient rich, free resource.  They are what nature intended to feed our plants.  In healthy soils, they release nutrients at just the right rate.  

Leaves can help protect the soil from compaction in our heavy rains.  They provide protection from freezing and frost heave.  Leaves make a home for beneficial microbes, fungi and such — the good guys that help our plants thrive.  And they help our soils hang onto moisture.  

Leaves are like soil superheroes.  They can help our soils become the living, breathing ecosystems they were before humans disturbed the natural cycle and changed soil into dry, sterile dirt.  Great soil = great garden.  All because of fallen leaves!

So think about making use of your leaves!  Collect your leaves and run them through your mulching mower into the bagger. You can add them to your compost heap, top dress special trees and shrubs, or make a leaf mould pile for use next spring. If your neighbours don’t want their leaves, scoop them up. Your rhodos will love you for it!  

Take care though:  

  • Fallen leaves and lawns don’t mix.  Our lawns are trying to grow in the fall and winter. Rake leaves off your lawn OR mulch them regularly on the lawn. Don’t let too thick a layer build up either way.
  • Dispose of any rose leaves or trimmings. These provide a place for black spot to overwinter.
  • Leaves of any diseased plant should not be used in the garden.
  • Mulch after plants are dormant. Don’t smother perennials. An inch or two is usually okay (often more). Be sure to uncover your plantings as spring weather arrives.
  • **Don’t mulch (or topdress) close to the trunks of trees or shrubs.  It can lead to rot.
  • Very large leaves like those from bigleaf maples can create an impenetrable barrier unless they are shredded before use.

Have a look around this fall and winter and see what appeals to you.  Your next great plant might not be evergreen!

(I used tree examples from Comox/Courtenay because I haven’t gotten the lay of the land in Parksville/Qualicum yet. But I will. Cheers!)

Check out my website at yourgardener.webs.com