Have extra time at home on your hands? Most of us do right now, with stay at home orders in place. But stay at home does not have to mean stay in the house, and getting out is important for your physical and mental health!
Yes, it may still be cold out there right now, but the last of these frigid winter months are the ideal time to get your landscape plans in shape, long before the weeding, planting and mulching begin.
When it comes to gardening, everyone starts off as an amateur and slowly gains knowledge through experience. Whether you are a fairly experienced gardener, or a new Waterloo Region homeowner who has never had a garden of their own before, the following tips should help.
Stay Safe from the Start
Gardeners who are also new Waterloo Region homeowners are often unaware that there could be buried lines beneath their property. Not only is it the law, but a necessary safety precaution for you, your family and your neighborhood that you make a call to Ontario One Call before you dig, even if you will only be planting a tree or two.
Review Last Year’s Garden.
How did it do? Were plants healthy and productive, or were there issues that need researching? Did you start enough seeds to make up for losses due to transplanting, weather, bugs, etc.? Are you cutting back to a more manageable garden or considering starting something new, like a vegetable garden? Is this your first garden? Did you just recently move into your new Waterloo Region home and need to start over?
Garden plans and notes are really handy to have. If you didn’t keep records last year, start now. This can help with spacing, intensive planting, succession planting and growing more food in your existing space. Also helps with small space/container growing.
There are a few great apps you make use of to plan your new garden. If you are planning to plant lots of flowers and shrubs the Armitage’s Great Garden Plants app is an excellent choice. If you are planning to add veggies to your garden this year - and why not, homegrown produce tastes great and you don't have to make a trip to the store to enjoy healthy greens - the Garden Manager app may be the best choice for you.
Diagram your yard, marking buildings, driveways, roads, fences, power lines, established trees and beds as well as anything else that can affect your garden. Pay close attention to how many of each plant you’re growing can go in a square foot, so you can maximize without overcrowding the garden.
It will help to take a walk around your property to visualize where landscape improvements are needed or where you might put in a new flowerbed. Also, if you have trees in your backyard make sure your plants will get enough light in the location you choose.
Order New Seeds Soon
The sooner you order the seeds you need, the sooner you can get started. Since you know the what, and you’re waiting for your seeds to arrive in the mail, you’ve got time to figure out the where. Once you have a general plan it’s time to start getting more specific.
Plan early for varieties that might need a longer growing season or take longer to germinate. This isn’t just a beginner’s mistake; many experienced gardeners can mess up on the timing for their garden. Do some research about plants that are native to our area and try incorporating those into your garden. Plants that naturally grow where you live will be easier and more likely to yield than imports. This fantastic resource will help you figure out just what native plants will work best in your 2021 Waterloo Region Garden
Try Something New – And Edible
Find a great salsa recipe calling for banana peppers? If you like to grow vegetables and herbs, experimenting with new recipes can be a great way to help you decide what to grow in next year’s garden. Basil, oregano, thyme and rosemary are great first herbs, or you can try exotic varieties like cilantro. Fresh herbs are an exciting addition to your cooking, and you’ll enjoy savings when you don’t have to buy expensive dried herbs. This chart shows how long common herbs take to grow, to help with your garden planning.
Plant Some Pollinator Attractants.
Alyssum Agastache (anise hyssop)
Asclepias (butterfly weed)
Aster Echinacea (coneflower)
Monarda (bee balm)
Rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan)
Pollinator Attractants are flowers and will dramatically help your garden’s production. Just one or two varieties planted throughout the garden can make a huge difference. Some options you can consider include the following:
Not only do bees love these, these are all attractive choices for adding easy colour to your garden. And as an added bonus you’ll be helping your local bee population, and doing that is beneficial for everyone.
Calculate Planting Dates
Work backward to determine the best date to plant. In order to know when you’ll be harvesting, you’ll need to figure germination time (how long the plant takes to pop out of the seed and start growing roots), the approximate last frost date for your area, when the seedlings can be planted in the ground (hardening-off period), and how long until the plants are mature (actually grow fruit).
While you can wait it out and plant seeds later, it’s best to get them started as soon as possible to maximize your growing season and get every last fruit from your labor that you can! There is an excellent resource here that offers expert advice - and specific dates - when it is best to start off various plants that is specific to Ontario and the Waterloo Region.
Plan for Food Storage
Set aside space in the kitchen, basement or garage if you plan to store long-keeping crops such as carrots, onions and potatoes through the cold months. You might also want to make room in your pantry or consider investing in a chest freezer if you want to can, ferment, dry or freeze garden produce.
Check Your Tool Shed
Winter is a great time to think about your tool shed. If you have one, great! It probably needs to be organized. Don’t have one? Maybe it’s time to think about expanding your tool selection. The most important characteristic of any garden tool is durability. It’s best to select tools from local garden stores, where you can feel them in your hand yourself.
Clean up neglected pots and sharpen tools. Mud caked on hand tools and shovels can be cleaned with a rag and some soapy water, and a bit of sandpaper or steel wool will help remove some of the tougher stuff. Also, check the blade of your lawn mower to see if it needs to be changed.
If you are new to gardening and need to start your tool collection, the following are staples you should have on hand when it comes to garden tools:
Shovel and Spade: Both tools are important for digging and scooping. A spade is useful for slicing into dense soil.
Garden Fork: A fork is the most important tool after a shovel and spade and is used for many jobs, such as turning over compost piles.
Rake: The most useful rake is a standard steel-headed rake that you can use to break down soil and level ground.
Hoe: The Dutch hoe is best for simple weeding.
Trowel: You’ll need a trowel to dig in small areas, particularly to dig holes for planting.
Hose: Choose a high-quality, reinforced hose that will not kink, plus a reel to wind it on.
Garden Centres in the Waterloo Region
If you are new to the Waterloo Region you may not know where to go to get the best gardening supplies. Here's a handy map of some of our favorite spots. Call ahead though, as many businesses are operating under new rules and restrictions right now due to the COVID-19 pandemic response.