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Ask the Gardener Questions from April

So you enjoyed your Amaryllis bulbs now what? 

Cut the flowers off after they begin to fade to prevent seed formation.  Remove the flower stalk after it begins to yellow. Leave the leaves of your amaryllis to create energy/food so the plants can bloom again.

After your amaryllis is done blooming, place it in a bright indoor location (a window with southern exposure is likely the best place). Water regularly and fertilize monthly with an all-purpose houseplant or indoor plant fertilizer (follow the directions on the label)

Amaryllis can be taken outdoors once there is no longer a risk of frost. Place them in an area that receives filtered sunlight at first, and then gradually move to an area where it will get a minimum of six hours of sunlight a day. Continue to water and fertilize as needed. In the fall, bring the amaryllis indoors before the first frost.

For amaryllis to rebloom, they need to be exposed to cool temperatures for a period. This can be done by forcing your plants into dormancy by placing them in a cool (45 to 55°F), dark location. The bulb will need to go through a resting period for approximately eight to twelve weeks before it can be forced to bloom again. During this time, do not water the plants. Once the leaves become yellow, they can be removed.

While in this resting period, periodically inspect the bulbs. If they begin to grow, place them in a sunny window. If they don’t start to grow on their own, you can force new growth by watering the soil thoroughly and putting them back into a warmer, sunny location. When bulbs show signs of growth, resume watering and fertilizing. Flowers will usually develop about 4-6 weeks after this dormant period.


Can a Colocasia bulb be divided?

If you’re not familiar with Colocasia, you might know it better as taro, or, as it’s sold in garden center, Elephant Ears.   A tender perennial in our area, it is generally grown in a pot.   At the garden center, you buy a bulb (or corm).  It loves moist soil and can easily be grown in full sun to part shade.  You can also grow Colocasia indoors, year round as a house plant.  Be aware that all parts of the plant are poisonous if eaten raw and it may cause skin irritation.

Use this plant an as annual or dig up the corm after the first frost and overwinter it in a cool dry area.  You can leave the plant in the pot, moving the pot inside before the first frost for the winter.  Don’t place outdoors until temperatures are consistently 20°C.

Colocasia plants can be propagated by their corms by dividing them and placing them in a large 1-gallon pot with a rich growing media and applying consistent moisture.  

Winter is the time to propagate the plants by division.

To propagate colocasia by division of the bulbs, there are 3 main options:

  1. Slice off the top couple of centimetres of the bulb, where the leaf stalks emerge, and replant this in a pot to grow into a new plant.  Trim back the above-ground growth to leave just 15cm or so of the stalks.  You can do when you bring the plant inside in the fall, leaving them to grow indoors over the winter.  

  2. Lift the plant and take off the small suckers of offset corms around the main tuber, and grow these on to replant. This method is a little slower than the method above.

  3. You can also cut the main corm into small pieces, making sure that each one has an eye, and grow these sections on slowly for replanting.  (think potatoes) This is the most challenging method and takes the longest to produce new plants.


Can I transplant an apple tree?

​If you are thinking of transplanting an apple tree, there are several things to consider:

Age of the tree:  Trees three years or younger can be transplanted quite successfully with rate of success decreasing as the tree grows older.  After six years, the chances of successfully transplanting an apple tree can be quite low.

Location:  The degree of transplant shock (which will be suffered to some extent) can significantly be reduced if the old and new environment and soil are very similar. 

Time of Year for Transplanting:  Trees do best when planted as early in the spring as possible.  Early planting allows the tree to initiate new roots before the hot summer arrives.  Wait until soil is in good condition, not too wet, and when soil temperatures begin to rise.  It is possible to transplant a tree in the fall, but the tree must be dormant before it is dug, with planting completed as early as possible after leaf fall to allow roots time to grow.

Preparing the tree: While dormant, prune the tree lightly, only removing old or congested limbs and protruding branches that could be damaged in the move.  Do not prune more than a quarter of the growth.

Soil Preparation:  Thoroughly clear the site of all weeds, then dig a hole that is about 25% wider than the tree’s drip line and about 30cm deep. The day before the tree is to be dug up, water it well.  Ensure enough soil to backfill the hole around the roots.

Moving the Tree:  To dig up the tree, you should first probe the extent of its root system by digging around the line of the canopy.  Adjust the width of the circle depending on whether or not you encounter roots as you dig deeper.  Although a little damage to the roots will be unavoidable, it is imperative to limit this to the bare minimum.  

Once the tree is removed, observe the size of the root ball and adjust the transplanting hole so that it is of the right depth and twice as wide as the root system.  Water the hole, including its sides and the surrounding ground.  Spread out the roots and place it in the hole, making sure to spread out the roots once more. 

Examine the set of the tree and adjust vertically as necessary so that the soil line and the surface of the ground will be level when the hole is backfilled.  Tramp the soil firmly around the roots.  Leave a slight depression to catch rain water or for watering during the first summer.  Water thoroughly after planting.

After planting, other organic matter such as old straw, hay, lawn clippings, sawdust and wood shavings may be applied as a mulch under the tree. The mulch, which should be deep enough to suppress weeds and conserve moisture, should be kept away from the tree trunk and extend out to the spread of the limbs.


When can I start spring cleaning in my garden?

We all want to get out and start playing in the dirt, but it really is best if you can wait a while.  Here’s why:

  1.  Spring soil is squishy and soft – don’t compact it by walking through and standing in your gardens until the soil has a chance to firm up a bit.  You don’t know who you might be squishing when you wander into your garden too early before mining bees, carpenter bees, mason bees, bumble bees emerge.  

  2. Many pollinators overwinter in your garden – attaching themselves to last season’s dried standing plant material.  The hollow stems of last years plants can act as home over the winter

  3. Don’t remove garden litter too soon as it is still providing protection for your plants and the invertebrates against late season frosts

So when is it time?  Here are some suggestions:

  1. Not until temperatures reach 50°F consistently

  2. Not until apples and pears have finished blooming which can be as late as mid-May  

  3. Don’t rush lawn mowing – but once grass has grown long enough that mowing is warranted, most pollinators have probably emerged.  No Mow May is a movement to allow grass and wildflowers in lawns to grow unmown until after May, creating habitat and forage for early season pollinators when floral blooms can be less common. If you do mow before then, consider reducing intensity or frequency.

In the meantime – enjoy the lovely early spring days when you can sit and watch the world awaken guilt free!


Wheeler, J., 2020, For Pollinators’ Sakes, Don’t Spring Into Garden Cleanup Too Soon!  Xerces Society,

Is wood ash good for my garden? 

Wood ash can be a valuable source of certain nutrients and can also be used to modify soil pH. you need to ensure that the ash comes from an appropriate source.   Never use ash produced by burning coal, treated wood, waste oil, plastics or garbage.

Wood ash can contain many nutrients that can be beneficial for plant growth including calcium, potassium (also called potash), magnesium, phosphorus and sulphur.  Wood ash can also contain trace amounts of iron, aluminum, manganese, zinc, boron and other nutrients needed by plants.  It is also said to be a deterrent to slugs and snails, helping to protect your plants.   

Wood ash is alkaline so you should ensure that you do not add it to any soil that has a pH level of 7.5 or higher.  Keep in mind that the area around Fenelon Falls tends to be alkaline because we sit on limestone, so adding wood ash may not be helpful to the plants in your garden.  Make sure you do not add the ash to acid loving plants such as blueberries, azaleas, rhododendrons, birch trees, red maples and pin oaks. Many vegetables, for example, potatoes, prefer slightly acidic soil so don’t use wood ash where you intend to grow potatoes or other acidic loving plants. 

Before applying wood ash in your garden, it would be a good idea to test the acidity of your soil.  You can purchase test kits at hardware stores and garden centers that test for nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus and will also give a range for pH.  Remember, if pH level is 7.5 or higher, wood ash should not be added to your garden.

How do I apply wood ash? Prior to use, sift wood ash to remove large charcoal pieces, as well as any active embers.  Remember, more isn’t always better.  Applying excessive amounts can lead to nutrient toxicity and/or nutrient deficiency issues in plants. Applications of wood ash are generally limited to a maximum of 15 to 20 pounds (approximately a five gallon pail) per 1000 sq. ft., per year.

Spread wood ash evenly over the area to be treated (e.g., vegetable garden bed, established perennial flowerbed, lawn or other landscape area) during the winter. Because wood ash particles are very fine and can easily be blown by the wind, avoid making

applications when it is windy. Whenever possible, apply wood ash to moist soil.  Where feasible (e.g., in a vegetable garden), work the ash into the soil using a rake in early spring.

Another way you can use ash in your garden is by adding it to your compost pile. The benefit of this is that the ash will help plant fertility.  Once again, this will affect the pH level of your compost. If the pH level is raised too much this will affect the bacteria in your compost.  Ideally you should keep the ash in a container close by to your compost heap and sprinkle a thin layer every so often. 

WARNING!  Due to its alkalinity, wood ash can potentially pose a human health risk. Therefore, when working with it, be sure to wear appropriate protective clothing (e.g., long pants, long sleeve shirt, gloves, eye goggles, dust mask) to limit exposures that might lead to skin, eye or

respiratory irritation.  


I didn’t get my spring bulbs planted last fall.   Can I plant them in the spring?

​Bulbs really need to be planted by late fall in order to ensure root growth and bloom.   For most spring-flowering bulbs 10-13 weeks of temperatures below 40 F are needed to initiate flowers.  Bulbs also need to put down good roots before they sprout foliage and flowers so the roots can supply the tops with water and nutrients from the soil.

Planting bulbs in the spring won’t satisfy these requirements, so spring planted bulbs will likely not bloom this year.  Saving the bulbs for planting next year isn’t a wise choice either as bulbs need proper storage conditions to keep the bulbs cool and dry.  Bulbs usually begin to soften and rot or may sprout before they get planted.  They may also dry out, losing some of their food reserves.

During the winter you could force the bulbs into bloom indoors.  They will have to be chilled up to 13 weeks to initiate flowers.  Plant the bulbs in pots of soil with the tips of the bulbs just above the soil. Moisten and store in a cold, 40-degree location, such as a refrigerator. After the chilling period, bring the pots into a cool environment, about 65 F to 70 F. Plants should be in bloom in seven to 14 days.

The next best choice is to get those bulbs in the ground as soon as the soil is thawed enough to dig, so that some chilling will take place. Soil temperatures must be above 40° F for root formation. Apply a mulch after planting to prevent bulbs from being heaved out of the soil due to alternate freezing and thawing. The bulbs likely won’t bloom this spring, but they may bloom later in the summer, out of their normal sequence, or they may just wait until next year to bloom at the normal time.


When can I prune my lilacs and hydrangeas?

When to prune a shrub depends on whether it is a spring-flowering or summer/fall-flowering shrub.  Spring-flowering shrubs, like forsythia, (witch hazel, chokecherry, azalea, lilac, magnolia, spirea, flowering plum and cherry) produce blooms on wood grown the previous season, so if you prune early in the season, before bloom period, you will be pruning all this year’s blooms away.  Prune immediately after blooming to allow new growth of wood for next season’s blooms.  

Summer and fall flowering shrubs bloom on wood grown during the current season. – butterfly bush (prune close to the ground), late blooming clematis, most hydrangeas, roses.   Prune these shrubs in early spring, or wait until after blooming is finished. Shrubs that are grown primarily for their foliage can be pruned in late winter/early spring before growth begins.  Dogwood, ninebark, sandcherry, smokebush, sumac (ninebark)

Prune lilacs after flowering.  Remove young suckers and all the dead wood.  From time to time remove some of the older branches so more light reaches the centre.  An old, uncared for lilac should be cut nearly to the ground ad restarted as an entirely new plant.

Often we prune shrubs to remove branches with winter damage or to thin out a shrub.  

Renovation Pruning (Rejuvenation pruning) cutting down overgrown shrubs to the ground.  Generally done to fairly vigorous shrubs that produce flowers on new wood.  Generally done in early spring before new growth starts.

Examples:  Butterfly bush, Dogwood, Forsythia, Rose of Sharon, Smooth Hydrangea, Oakleaf Hydrangea, Mockorange, Cinquefoil, St. John’s Wort, Elderberry, Sumac, lIlac, Viburnum, 

Just understand – spring blooming shrubs will not bloom this year if practice rejuvenation pruning  


Pruning Trees, Shrubs, and Vines. 1980, Storey Communications, Inc. Pownal Vermont


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