Garden Walls: 4 Things You Should Know Before You Build

Also known as ‘retaining walls’, garden walls can make or break a yard – literally…

If you’re thinking about selling your house, garden and retaining walls are a great way to boost the curb appeal and value of your home.

They draw the eye into the garden and give the appearance of a major landscaping design with relatively little effort.

They can be a DIY project, for the adventurous gardener, but if a retaining wall is needed to maintain the integrity of the garden structure, it’s always wise to call in a pro (or risk disrupting the flow of runoff and flood every lawn on the block!)

Whether to boost the appeal, or to improve your garden for your own enjoyment, a garden / retaining wall might be just the addition you’ve been looking for.

What Is A Garden, Or Retaining, Wall?

A garden, or retaining wall, is a concrete or stone, for lack of a better word, wall. They are used in a variety of ways in landscaping, including creating raised beds, an elegant border, or to help with soil erosion and drainage.

While similar, a garden wall is more about creating raised beds and upping the look of the landscape , while the retaining wall is more functional, to deal with uneven ground levels and slopes.

Why Should You Have Garden Or Retaining Walls?

Walls serve a practical, as well as aesthetic purpose. A solid retaining wall is designed to hold back the pressure that the soil exerts when there are two different ground elevations in a garden.

A slope might not be what you want in the garden, so the wall acts to break up the two elevations. The stability of the soil and more elevated portion of the garden is ensured by the solid stone or concrete wall, which takes the bulk of the pressure being exerted by the soil.

Garden walls are more about design: they typically aren’t as tall and are used more to create divided garden areas and beds, rather than to deal with slopes or elevations. They can be created in curved designs, which are very elegant and can enhance your flower beds and other divided garden areas immeasurably.

Materials Used In Garden Walls

Whether you opt for stone or concrete, most walls products are mortarless these days, which makes garden walls a project that the DIY landscape gardener can undertake (with caution.)

You can also opt for a combination of concrete and stone, such as where you use natural stone for steps or for the caps / coping; you or your hardscaper can create an elegant design that will last for years.

Concrete forming technology has resulted in concrete wall products that have the look and feel of natural stone, available in a range of textures and colours.

Concrete is lighter than natural stone, making it possible to build a wall without the extensive use of machinery, though it does require a level base, which might take some effort to dig down to create, to prevent the wall from shifting down the road.

Concrete wall systems are designed for easy tongue-and-groove interlocking installation and the new designs allow you to create curves that are still smooth and consistent.

One of the biggest pluses to concrete, particularly if this your first attempt at building a wall, is that is relatively inexpensive, compared to natural stone.

Those points made, natural stone has a beauty to it that is unmatched in other products.

The stones are different shapes and sizes, so they take more creativity to fit together tightly to build the optimal wall, but the result is gorgeous. Natural stone is stronger—and consequently heavier to work with—and requires less effort during the leveling process, as most natural stones aren’t perfectly level to begin with.

You may need some machinery to bring in natural stone and it is much harder to create a curved, consistent look. But when a natural stone wall is put together, with flair and design, it’s a sight to behold!

Should You DIY Your Wall?

The short answer is: Probably not.

Building a retaining wall to deal with unequal ground levels without the help of a professional CAN be risky. You want to be sure that you aren’t interfering with run-off patterns. Drainage that isn’t planned properly could end up seeping into your—or your neighbour’s—basement, among other risks.

Like what? Foundation erosion, drowning plants and trees, wood rot on decks and other garden features, pests and so on!

Building a garden wall, which is far more about creating a design that you want for your yard, is much simpler and can be done with a little design help from your local garden centre. With it, you will soon have a new focal point in your yard and a new area to grow flowers, plants and trees.

Concrete or stone, DIY or professionally installed, consider garden or retaining walls when you’re planning your landscaping changes: they can add a real dimension of visual interest to your yard, helping it to make it an oasis for you and your family to enjoy!

A Surefire Way To Growing Vegetables In Your Garden

The secret to growing vegetables is in the soil.

Like an epic wine that takes its flavour from the land where the grape is grown, vegetables are also effected by the soil.

The taste of vegetables can be impacted by the soil, and the quality of soil that you use. The idea that ‘locally-grown’ produce taste better is not just a happy notion to make people feel good: it’s a reality.

Since you can’t get more local than your own backyard, create an environment where your vegetables—and plants, shrubs and flowers—can not only grow, but thrive!

About That Mississauga Soil In Your Backyard…

Fact: The natural soil types found in the Mississauga area aren’t necessarily conducive to that perfect vegetable garden. Most of the area is comprised of three soil compositions, two of which are heavy in clay: heavy clay and coarse clay. These can be difficult to plant in, being too heavy or too compact.

The rich, organic soil of the Holland Marsh, on the other hand, where a full 55% of Ontario’s produce is grown, is fertile and primed for growing produce including carrots, onions, parsnip, potatoes, cabbage, beets, tomatoes, cucumbers and more!

While you might not want to move to the Marsh, you can bring soil that is native to that area to your home, to enhance your vegetable (and flower / shrub) beds.

Three Types Of Soil For Your Garden

Vegetable soil—This should be a combination of peat loam, compost and manure, as it is at Holland Marsh. A fertile organic soil will be ‘active’, in that it will contain organic matter that will help keep moisture in and keep the soil alive with organisms, bacterias and fungi… all the things that make the soil diverse, and which then produce a tasty vegetable.

Overseeding soil—A combination of peat loam and compost, this is a weed free soil that is meant to be combined with grass seed, to promote grass growth.

TopsoilA filler type soil that is best used for filling uneven ground areas, creating raised beds and landscapes, and as a base for fresh sod. It’s also good for planting shrubs and trees.

When To Plant

Every spring, the question arises: when is it okay to start working the soil and begin planting? Ignoring for the moment the question of air temperature, the issue for soil is moisture.

If you start to work the soil too early, it will be too wet and dense from thawing and snowmelt, as well as spring rains, and will clump. Those clumps don’t break down later into the smaller, loose dirt particles that you need to create air pockets in the ground for plant roots to thrive in. If your soil is clumping, it’s too soon.

You can test your soil to see if it’s ready to start being tilled and worked: take a baseball size amount of soil that you think is relatively dry and squeeze it until it compacts into an actual ball shape. Then drop the ball from about table height. If it crumbles into loose soil, your soil is dry enough to begin your spring digging. If it breaks into large pieces or not at all, it’s still too wet.

Preparing Your Soil

Once you’ve determined that your soil is dry enough to begin digging, you need to clear the vegetable beds of any debris that accumulated over the winter: twigs, rocks, etc…

Then you can start working your soil, which means turning it over and digging down, at least 10 to 12 inches. Vegetable plants root fairly deeply. This is the point where you want to add your vegetable soil and work it through the soil in the bed. Particularly in the Mississauga area, where clay is a major composite of standard soil, adding clay-free vegetable soil will aerate the existing earth and create the air pockets your plants will need to germinate. The active, organic composition of the veggie soil will also help to retain necessary moisture and nutrients.

Creating New Beds?

If you’re new to vegetable gardening or creating new beds for the season, you can start off on the right foot (or bed!) by making sure that you plan for the best outcome!

Positioning—Many vegetable plants, including tomatoes, need a lot of sunlight to grow and to keep disease at bay, so placing your beds in relatively sunny, well drained areas of your garden is ideal.

Sizing—Make sure that your vegetable beds are big enough to leave space between your plants. Too close together and they will suffocate, get overly humid and be prone to more disease. You might also find one creating shade over another and stunting the growth.

The right foundation for any vegetable bed is going to be, first and foremost, the soil. The right base will retain an appropriate amount of moisture while still creating those all-important air pockets for roots to germinate and take, and will supply nutrients to the seedlings that your veggies need. Start with the right base, and you’ll find it easier to grow a steady supply of succulent vegetables, all season long.

To find out more about soil types, or to purchase soil, visit us at www.gardenbag.ca. If you live in Mississauga, we’ll deliver your soil for free! 😊

Essential Garden Tools To Create An Epic Outdoor Garden

All you need is elbow grease and a few critical garden tools to make your garden great!

The real results—and benefits—of a beautifully manicured garden stem from your exertions; the sweat of your brow, so to speak. Nonetheless, a few tools can make it a lot easier.

If you’ve been gardening for years, this is not new information, but if you’re new at it, like a young couple in your first home with a yard, you’ll want to bookmark this one and head over to Toemar soon.

Tools That Every Gardener Needs

Whether it’s a patch of green behind your house or a standard ‘city’ yard, there are certain tools that every gardener needs in their basic kit.

Trowel — This small tool is used to scoop and move earth and plants.

Spade — This shovel-like implement has a rectangular head and a sharp edge. Use it for cutting up earth, turf or digging.

Rake — At the very least, you’ll want a leaf rake but you can also consider a hand rake for when you need to work around plants that are more delicate, without damaging anything.

Hoe — This tool with a longer handle than a handheld has a thin metal blade. You use it for weeding or cutting up the earth, before planting.

Round head shovel — This is an essential tool for digging and moving materials like gravel and mulch around. Look for one with a D shaped handle, and a short enough shaft that you’ve got the leverage you need when using it.

Hose & Nozzle — Once you’ve planted your fabulous new garden or laid your grass seed or turf, you’ll need to keep it moisturized! A hose and adjustable nozzle are just the ticket to keep on top of your garden’s water needs.

Wheelbarrow — When planting, it’s a lot easier to buy loads of soil, topsoil etc., however carrying these bags is back breaking work so make sure you have a solid wheelbarrow to help with the heavy lifting.

Lawn Mower — Electric, gas or hand pushed, a lawnmower is essential for any yard space larger than a postage stamp. Keeping your grass at the right height ensures its health: That the stems get enough sun and rain, that you don’t get an influx of crab grass or weeds and generally have a healthy looking green space!

Extras?

Edge trimmer — Grass edges, around flower beds, shrubs and trees are hard to mow, so an edge trimmer (usually gas or electric) can help clean up these areas nicely.

Garden scissors — Having a pair of scissors that are exclusively kept with your garden tools makes sense and you’ll use them more often than you think: cutting herbs, removing the deadheads on perennials, cutting twine and so on.

Gardening gloves — These are a good idea of you are at all squeamish about bugs, worms or anything else that lives in the loam. A couple of other reasons for investing in a solid pair of gardening gloves is that they keep your hands safe from splinters, your nails impeccable and makes cleaning up after a long day of gardening a snap, allowing more time for sitting on the patio, with a drink and your feet up!

How To Pick Out The Right Tools

Go to the store and try them out! Okay, don’t go and dig in the garden store’s plant area, but you definitely want to handle the tools and see if they fit your hand and aren’t too heavy to use. Something might look good on a screen but when you see it in real life, you might realize that the shaft is just too long or heavy for you to handle.

Tools That Experienced Gardeners Need

Shears — Whether trimming grass around a feature, edging a garden bed, cutting back grasses or shrubbery, shears are an all around useful tool for the more careful cutting that needs to be done.

Muck Truck — Think of it as part wheelbarrow and part Tonka truck. Basically, it is a motorized wheelbarrow but with three times the capacity of the traditional kind, with an engine that can handle most uneven ground levels without losing a bit of earth, sand or gravel. It has 4 wheel drive and can go in reverse, and is equipped with a set of breaks so that it doesn’t become a runaway barrow on an incline!

Pruner — When you’re cutting branches that are less than 3/4” thick, where a saw or chainsaw is just ‘too much’, a pruner is a great way to get it done cleanly and neatly. You can also get telescopic ones with a rope action so that you can reach some branches that are high up without bothering with the ladder. If you prefer the ladder, a long handled pruner is still a good idea.

Bow rake — This is the perfect tool for leveling soil in your garden beds, spreading mulch or compost and generally keeping everything in your garden on the straight and narrow!

Is It Better To Buy Or Rent Bigger Items?

This depends entirely on the type of gardening you do. A person who does landscaping not only for themselves but for other family members or even as a volunteer for a local horticultural society might consider buying but for a one off project? Renting makes good sense. You get professional grade tools for just the amount of time you need to get the project done!

The types of tools you can rent include:

  • Compactors and hand tampers
  • Saws, including table saws
  • Stone cutters
  • Rock dolly
  • Lawn rollers
  • Muck Trucks

Taking Care Of Your Tools

Once you’ve made an investment in the necessary tools, you need to be sure to take care of them so that they’ll last you a long while. Wipe down any dirt or water off of your hand tools and store them. Ideally, long shafted shovels, hoes and rakes will be hung on the shed or garage wall, keeping the blades and tines in good shape, sharp and ready to go the next time you need them.

Make sure your mower blade is always sharp, to get optimal performance and check the tires on your wheelbarrow for proper inflation. If every tool has a place for storage, they’ll be easy to find when you just want to spend an hour doing a little weeding before you stretch out on the lounge chair and enjoy a sunny afternoon!

If you’ve rented the garden tools, then you don’t have to worry about the tools being maintained which leaves you more time to enjoy garden space you’ve so lovingly created.

Whether a newbie to the world of gardening, or an old hand, find a garden centre that you like and don’t be afraid to ask the staff questions! It’s what we’re here for!

 

 

 

 

 

Shhh: An Easy Secret To A Lush Beautiful Garden – Mulch

This secret garden ingredient will transform your lawn and garden from burnt to bountiful

A dry autumn with burnt leaves, as Mississauga experienced last year, results in drought like conditions for your garden, lawn and trees, come the following spring. So what’s a gardener to do? Mulch.

What Is Mulch?

At a most basic definition, mulch is a material that you spread over your lawn and garden to protect it from the elements.

Mulch comes in a variety of formats. Some people use their fallen leaves in the autumn, but if you want to mulch year round, in garden beds for example, you can get bark mulch, as well as mulch made from recycled wood, in different colours (red, brown and black) to suit your landscaping design. In the case of the brown mulch, it is made up of natural pine and cedar so it not only has a beautiful colour, but also a heady aroma that gardeners favour!

What Is Mulch Used For?

Mulch has a variety of important uses. It works to keep moisture and nutrients in the soil while at the same time minimizing soil erosion and preventing weeds from growing. It also breaks down over time, enriching the soil. Think of it like the layer of leaves that protect a forest floor in the wild, except your garden has a little help from you (and your local garden centre)!

The weed prevention aspect is an important one for gardeners as a little mulch can go a long way to saving your back from endless weed pulling. There’s a reason you see it in garden beds on city / municipal property. It’s good for the garden but it also saves a lot of money in toil, weeding and maintaining the beds.

In the fall, a solid layer of mulch is a blanket between your garden and the cold and snow. Roots of plants, trees and shrubbery are better protected against the elements, by maintaining a more consistent, moderate temperature below ground. Come spring, it will also prevent soil erosion from heavy rain showers and run offs.

But if it is a barrier, isn’t it preventing moisture from penetrating? The bigger issue with moisture protection is evaporation and dew is the biggest culprit. Dew is mostly created by the condensation of the moisture in the soil, as opposed to the moisture in the air being deposited on the ground. So a barrier of mulch helps to prevent dew from the soil from forming and ultimately evaporating.

If you’re looking to grow plants like tomatoes, compost is indispensable, but so is mulch. Tomatoes are prone to soil-borne diseases and mulching your plants at the right time ensures that the soil won’t splash up onto the plants, during a rainstorm, for example.

What Is The Difference Between All The Types Of Mulch?

People use all sorts of things to mulch their gardens: straw, grass clippings, compost, wood chips, sawdust and so on. There are merits to all of them, and some downsides to many. Straw, for example, can attract vermin and may also contain some weed seeds, which really would defeat the purpose of using it in your garden. Grass clippings are useful to mix in with mulch if they’re green because while in that stage, they contain plenty of nitrogen and other nutrients. As the grass breaks down in the soil, those nutrients will be released and be good for your beds. Wood chips and shredded bark are the ideal forms of mulch, as they don’t come with the downsides of some of the others and are not only functional but add a lot of beauty to a gardenscape.

When Should You Apply Mulch To Your Garden?

You can mulch anytime of year: many people do it to beautify their garden beds in the spring and summer, as well as to minimize weed infestations. It creates a colour infusion or a lovely base for your grasses and flowers and will enhance everything from garden beds to pool decks.

The critical time of year to mulch that you should not miss however is in the fall, where the materials provide a blanket for your garden, to safeguard it through the winter months and help the ground retain the moisture it will need to be lush and full in the spring.

Whether spring or fall, just pile the mulch at the base of trees, plants and shrubs and if you’re covering a wider area, like a garden bed, make sure that you add a substantial enough layer—two to four inches ought to do the trick—to be effective in both moisture retention and weed prevention.

Where to buy your mulch in Mississauga

The good news is that mulch is one of our biggest spring sellers so we keep tons in stock. Come by the store to place your order, or order from www.gardenbag.ca and we’ll deliver it to you along with your soil.

If you need advice on mulching, composting or other gardening and landscaping needs, let us know! We’re happy to answer questions and remember that you needn’t cart your mulch home with you in the back seat: we deliver!

4 Useful Tips for Pool Landscaping – More than just a fence

Pool Landscaping is more than just a pool and a fence!

You want the area around your pool to be clean and safe, but there’s no reason why it has to look unpleasant.

An inground pool is THE focal point in a yard, so the surrounding features should enhance it and blend beautifully.

If you’re thinking about putting in a pool this spring, think ahead not just to the pool itself but on the landscaping / hardscaping that will surround it, so that you can include it in the budget.

Consider Your Space

This is the kind of landscape project that benefits from a drawn design—so you can get a sense of scale and how the project will look when it’s completed.

  • A good design will draw from your home and the existing landscape. Do you have a preference for clean lines or are you into very ornate styles? The design style in your home should extend to the outside area, so that it creates a seamless flow.
  • Do you have colour schemes that you prefer? A lot of natural greens, browns and shades of stone? Or do you prefer strong, vibrant florals? Contrast is ideal so if you’ve got a deep blue pool, keep the stonework lighter, or vice versa.
  • The pool already requires some level of maintenance so you have to consider how much time you want to spend dealing with the landscape that surrounds it, particularly during prime swimming months. Focus on plants, trees and layouts that suit the level of time commitment you want to make.
  • Look at the grading of the ground around your pool, if it is already in place, or if you’re planning one, make sure that drainage has been factored into the design. (More on this later!)

Walkways Around The Pool

There are so many options: Cement, interlocking pavers, flagstone or stone tiling, to name a few. The pavers are a superb way to create pathways to and around the pool and a pool deck, allowing space for sunbathing or sitting poolside with a cocktail in hand. Durable and easy to install, pavers don’t require mortar, so they make an economical option too. Different colours and shapes are available, which allow you to design a pool area that matches your style.

A very popular design style is to use pavers or interlocking stone on the walkways and pool deck and then switch to natural rock and boulders, intermixed with small evergreens, tall grasses and mulch or decorative stone. It’s a clean and easy to maintain look.

Landscaping Around The Pool

If you’re planning on having trees near your pool, you need to consider those that will not have a far reaching root structure.

Look to species that will not ‘shed’ a lot of leaves and branches into the pool (and consequently, the pool filtration system!) Some people choose to have trees to create some shade for part of the day, or even as a windbreak, depending on your land’s elevation and how much wind flow your backyard is subjected to. Evergreens are a good option for both aesthetics—that oh so Canadian look and feel—and ease of maintenance.

For flowers and plants that are placed close to the pool, consider garden containers. Flower beds are lovely but unless you have set the pool on an incline and the flower beds on the downstream side, a heavy rainstorm could leave you with mud draining directly into the pool. You can, of course, line your walkways with a small edge, which will keep the flowerbeds close but still protect the pool. Make sure these drainage considerations are part of your design plan, from the beginning!

The types of trees, flowers and plants that you choose should be consistent with your hardiness zone and the look you are trying to achieve. It may be that a tropical paradise is your heart’s desire, but the reality is that you can’t plant palm trees in Mississauga. You can, however, use a textural mixture of stone, rock, garden pots, grasses and shrubbery to create a truly luxurious ambiance. Ideally, your floral landscape will consist of a variety of plants that will bloom throughout the ‘swimming season’, to ensure a pleasing aesthetic.

One advantage of adding green plants, grasses and bushes near to the pool area is that it gives the impression of the pool being an integrated, natural part of the space; more like a chlorinated (or salt water!) pond, than a pool.

Other Accessories

Lighting around the pool area, accenting certain trees, ornamental grasses or the walkway around it make all the difference come nightfall, in terms of the look of your garden. It also ensures the safety of anyone venturing out after dark.

And don’t forget the patio furniture! Because what’s a pool if you can’t luxuriate beside it on a comfortable chaise longue or under the wide shade of a beautiful umbrella?

With all these tips in mind, you can get to planning the ideal pool escape to enjoy for years to come. Got questions, call us today for some friendly landscaping advice.

The Awesome Planting Guide For Your Plants – Knowing When

We’ve got the research and experience to give you this awesome planting guide to know when to plant for people living in Mississauga.

Read on to find out how you can get the best and (probably) the most productive garden on your block!

Timelines for gardening: three seasons dates and deadlines for Mississauga zone.

January is the time of year for planning: resolutions, good will, ideas and preparations for the year ahead. There is no more obvious place to lay the groundwork for the year than in your garden.

Do You Know Your Zone?

Before you can start planning your planning, you have to know your hardiness zone. This was originally an American system to categorize plants, shrubs and trees by temperature zone. Basically, the lower the number, the colder the weather in the zone. Picking plants that are meant for an 8 zone, when you live in a 6, will likely leave you with a dead plant.

For Mississauga, we are currently a 6a (there is also a 6b, in case you were wondering). 6a is a little colder than 6b but when you are picking most plants, you will simply pick by hardiness zone 6. You can choose from among hardier plants (5,4,3…) as well. We say ‘currently’ because global warming is having an effect on the hardiness zones. There are sources that say that Mississauga is now a 6b but for the gardener planning their next year’s garden, the number you need to remember is 6.

Know Your Frost Free Date

This is an ever changing target but in the GTA, you can reliably look to around Mother’s Day—in the area of May 9th— for the frost free date. This means that it is unlikely that we will experience severe frost after that date, making it relatively safe to start your planting. That said, it’s still best to leave less hardy plants and flowers—tomato plants, for example— for another month, if you can. Check your day and night forecasts from Environment Canada before you plant and remember that planting works best when the soil has had a chance to warm and dry up a little from the winter run off.

Highway 401 is a good demarcation point to use when considering your frost free dates. Above the 401? Wait an extra week or two after Mother’s Day. Proximity to the lake and to the general heat created in an urban setting like downtown Toronto affects the likelihood of late frost occurring.

January / February Planning

If you’re going to make changes to your garden this season, now is the time to plan them. Are you planning to add a water feature? You should get in touch with your local hardscaper to be sure that your plans are accurate, or to book them in for the Spring. Or maybe you’re going for a few more modest changes: just a couple of raised beds of perennials, perhaps? Are you planning a vegetable garden? Do your research now on plants and vegetables that are adaptable to your zone and check the dates for sowing / planting to get optimal return for the season, so you’re not scrambling later. Also, start checking out the seed catalogues and get your orders in, if you enjoy growing your garden plants from seeds.

March Planning And Action

By the middle of March, you should be starting to sow seeds indoors, if you really want to get a jump start on the season. Annuals like impatiens or vegetables such as peppers can be started indoors. Later in March, you can start sowing things like parsley, petunias and other more delicate florals.

April Planning And Action

If you’re into sowing seeds to prepare for Spring planting, this is the month when you really need to get it in gear!

  • Early to mid-April — tomatoes, onion, lettuce all should be sowed now.
  • Mid to end of April — cucumbers, herbs, cabbage and annuals such as morning glories and marigolds.

Once the daytime temperature is consistently above freezing, you can start preparing your beds:

  • Rake off winter debris of old leaves and clear twigs, branches or other materials.
  • Add compost and manure.
  • If you haven’t started already, now is a good time to start composting. You’ll have a good base with the old leaves you raked off.
  • Rake your lawn to get up the old, dead grass.

Late in the month of April and IF there has been no further frost, you CAN start to plant hardier items like peas, turnips, onions, radishes, and pansies. Just remember that a late, hard frost is always possible, right into the middle of May.

May Planning And Action

Once the threat of frost is well and truly over, you can start planting out some of the plants you were sowing indoors. If you prefer not to grow from seeds, you can start visiting your local garden centre and picking out the plants—annual and perennial—that you had planned for your beds. You may still want to have covers handy (old bed sheets or row covers): in case of a sudden frost, just pop them over your new transplants to keep the frost at bay.

June / July / August

Enjoy your garden! Summer is fleeting so spend time in your garden and if you want to do any autumn planting, check out our previous post on the subject! It will help you to plan what will work and what won’t, as well as give you a list of things you can do to start preparing your garden for winter.

Lawn care at this point is a lot about maintenance but you can also start planning for the winter by doing some overseeding / sodding where it’s needed.

September / October Planning and Action

Now is the time to start getting your lawn and garden ready for winter and the first frost, which can be as early as the first days in October. You don’t want to be caught short and have all that hard work go to waste! Also, there is a lot you can do to prepare your lawn and garden for next year’s planting, to ensure that you get a maximum return on your green thumb efforts!

It’s a great time of year to check in with your local landscaper / hardscaper to make sure that your projects are ready to start work when the ground thaws or give us a call for some friendly landscaping advice.

5 Things You Should Do To Choose The Perfect Christmas Tree

‘Tis the season for decorations and delights, just so long as you choose… right?

Okay, that was a little awkward: rhyming is not our forte. Trees, however, are definitely in  our wheelhouse! This year, if you’ve decided to eschew the plastic tree that you’ve had stuffed in the basement these last few seasons, we’ve got you covered on the whys and wherefores of a real Christmas tree.

Types Of Christmas Trees

There are a couple of species of tree that make the best holiday decor for any home or office, each with their own merits.

  • Fraser fir — Well watered, a Fraser fir can last up to eight weeks in your home and has that most distinctive of Christmas-sy scents. The silvery tint to their needles and less dense branches are the perfect complement to your ornaments.
  • Balsam fir — These very popular trees will typically last six to seven weeks and have good fullness, needle retention and that classic pine scent that screams: “Pass the eggnog!” Their more slender look with dark green needles make these the perfect tree for smaller spaces.
  • Scotch pine — With needles that vary from bright green to blue/green, these bushy trees have strong branches and excellent needle retention, which is important if you have heavy or simply many ornaments AND hate vacuuming the needles!
  • White spruce — The full, dark green branches are just part of the appeal. These trees are some of the most symmetrical, with very consistent shape all around. These are great trees if you are using them as a central decoration in a room, rather than placing it in a corner, as it will look beautiful from every angle. The downside? Their needles are VERY prickly, which can be unpleasant for wee ones, when decorating!

Before Buying A Tree

Measure your ceiling height, taking into account the tree stand AND any top of tree ornaments, like a star. You don’t want to end up with a National Lampoon Christmas tree, bending at the top!

Also, take a look at the area where you plan to place the tree: you need enough width, as well as height, and if you are getting a tall tree, you might want to consider whether you will be able to anchor it to the wall, for safety. In addition, you want to make sure to place it far from heat sources, which can be a fire hazard. If you are using lights, make sure there is an easily accessible plug or switch on a power bar so that you can be sure to turn off the lights when you aren’t home and before you go to bed. Again, this is in case of a short or overheating.

Don’t forget to dig out your tree stand and make sure all the parts are in good working order or your decorated tree could topple like Uncle Art after a couple of hot toddies!

What To Look For In Your Tree

Whether you are buying your tree at a garden centre, a tree lot or going to a farm to cut your own, there are a couple of things you should look for when selecting your tree:

  • Check for broken branches, bare spots and dead branches to assess the health of the tree and how well it survived transportation (if you’re not at the farm yourself).
  • Look for a fairly even colouring of the needles. Dull or brown / rusty needles may speak to the freshness of the tree.
  • Check for pests and insects: you don’t want to be bringing these into your home!
  • Run your hands over the needles by grasping a branch about six inches in and pulling forward gently: the needles should stay put and be flexible. A few may drop off but if a lot of the needles are dry and come off in your hand, the tree might not be fresh.
  • Check the branches to see that they are strong enough to hold up ornaments and lights and flexible, which is another sign of a fresh tree.

Setting Up Your Tree

First, cut about an 1-1.5” off the bottom of the stump: the fresh cut will allow your tree to soak up water more easily.

Second, place a plastic tree bag or garbage bag IN the water compartment of your stand and lay it open—don’t worry, you can cover it with a tree skirt so no one has to see the bag, but it will make disposal at the end of the holidays a little easier, with a lot less needle dropping on the carpet. It can also help to prevent water spills soaking up into your carpet or staining your hardwood, in case the stand gets overfilled a little.

Third, leave your tree in the tree stand a full 24 hours before decorating it. Some of the branches will fall naturally as the tree acclimates to the room temperature, so premature decorating can end up looking a whole lot different a day later! Don’t forget to water it! A tree will go through a lot of water, particularly in the first day it is in your home, so make sure you keep an eye on the water line in your stand.

Disposing Of Your Tree

Sadly, the holidays WILL come to an end and it will be time to dispose of your tree. Most areas across the GTA have curbside pick up service in January so check your local recycling schedule and see when yours is. Too often, we’ll see trees with sad bits of tinsel on them, stuck in a snow bank in February.

When it’s time to move the tree, make sure someone is holding by the trunk, towards the top, while someone else undoes the tree stand clamps or retention mechanism. Then pull up the bag that we mentioned earlier, up and around the tree, so you can move it out the front door with a minimum of needles dropping everywhere. Remove the bag and keep it for next year, as most recycling trucks will not pick up a tree that is in plastic.

If you miss the collection dates, you can hold onto your tree and put it out with the yard waste in the Spring, in lengths of about four feet.

Now that you’re ready to bring home your tree, armed with all the information you need, we at Toemar want to remind you that with all the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it’s important to take a step back, smell the Christmas tree, and enjoy the moment. Have safe and happy holidays!

 

 

4 Things You Should Know Before Using Your Fireplace

The first step is making sure you have the right wood

While most homes no longer use wood burning fires as their primary heat source, there’s nothing like an old wood stove or fireplace glowing bright and flickering through the cold winter weather. Just the smell of woodsmoke puts one in the frame of mind of hot cider and warm toes.

Whether you’re new to the world of wood fireplaces or an old hand at stacking logs, we’ve got a few good tips about firewood that are worth reviewing.

What Characteristics Of Wood Give The Best Results?

First off, aged wood—at least two years—is best. Even better if it has been cut, split and stacked outside, exposed to the elements of nature.

Like a fine champagne (drank in front of a glowing fireplace of course!), good wood has been rotated in the stack to ensure an even and consistent aging, with decent exposure to sunlight and air flow to help dry it out and lower the moisture level to less than 20%. Less seasoned wood has as much as 50% moisture, which will smoke when lit.

Why is aged wood better?

Aged wood burns hotter and more slowly, giving you a better result in the fireplace and requiring you to add wood less often. The slow burn gives a more consistent temperature and heat, rather than a fast flare up that dies out quickly. There is also little to no smoke with well-aged wood.

There are three characteristics you are looking for beyond aging:

  1. Density of the wood, which gives you more heat per cubic foot volume of wood.
  2. BTU (British Thermal Unit) of the wood, which gives you more heat per piece of wood.
  3. This refers to the ability of the wood to form coals after the initial burn, extending the fire life.

Overall, a well-aged quality hardwood will have more density, BTUs and coaling ability, giving you a better burn, with consistent and even heat.

Examples?

White birch, which is a hardwood, has a density of 42 lbs per cu. ft. , 20.8 million BTUs / cord and is good at coaling.

In contrast, pine, which is a softwood, has a density of 22 to 31 lbs per cu. Ft., 15 million BTUs / cord and is poor at coaling. In addition, it has a strong smell and can leave an oily residue in your chimney.

Pieces that are cut from 12” to 16” are ideal to fit in most fireplaces so be sure to ask your provider what you are getting before you take delivery.

What Types Of Wood Are Available?

Hardwoods—maple, oak, ash, birch, and fruit trees—burn hotter and longer but are more expensive and harder to split. However, with a longer burn, you’re using less of it so it probably comes down to an even split for the recreational fireplace user.

Softwoods—pine, balsam, spruce, alder, and poplar—these are much easier to split and light, but they burn out quickly and are prone to creating creosote buildup in the chimney, which can cause a chimney fire.

TIP: Avoid FREE firewood sales! Very often, ‘free firewood’ is made up of wood pallets that have been broken down. Pallet wood is a major fire risk. They catch fire very easily and burn at such a high temperature that the fire could easily spread to nearby objects. They break down into wood dust, which can combine and ignite into a fireball! In addition, most wood pallets are treated with harmful chemicals that act as pesticides, such as Methyl Bromide or fungicides: when burned, the toxins are released into the air and can pose a serious health risk.

How Should Wood Be Stored?

When you’re checking out a seller, beware of those who simply pile the wood out of doors. This means that there is little to no airflow for the pieces underneath, resulting in wet, even mouldy wood that won’t burn well. You’re looking for nicely stacked wood that has plenty of airflow and a seasoned appearance.

unstacked-firewood

It should go without saying but it’s best not to store your firewood in the house. Split logs should be stacked with the ends facing prevailing winds, off the ground with only the top covered and bark facing up. This helps to ensure that sunlight and air can still reach the split logs but the bark protects them from rain and snow.

It’s best to get this done within two weeks of delivery from your firewood provider, so best to plan your location before you order! The goal is to prevent moisture from building up in your wood pile, which will make the wood too wet to burn properly.

How can you tell if your wood is too wet? If you try burning it and it hisses or steam bubbles appear at the ends, your wood is too wet to burn.

Well seasoned, dry wood is darker towards the ends, with cracks and splits in it; it’s also relatively light weight.

Before you get your first roaring fire going this season, check out our Fireplace and Chimney Checklist! Toemar has been in the business of selling firewood for more than thirty-five years, so if you’re looking for a source of wood that you can trust, give us a call.

Protect Your Garden For Winter: 4 Things You Can Do Now

It’s time to protect your garden & yard ready for the winter freeze!

Do you know that old fable ‘The Ant and the Grasshopper’? While the ant was busy preparing for winter, the grasshopper lazed about enjoying the last of the season’s delights.

Come the first snowfall, the ant was ready to hole up for the winter, while the grasshopper was suddenly scrambling to find food. He showed up at the ant’s door and the latter told him to hop away. It’s such a great allegory for life… and gardening!

If you get all the pre-winter tasks done now, your garden will sleep happily through the winter months and be easily restored come Spring. If you want to be a grasshopper? You will have that much more to do in the Spring before you can enjoy your outdoor space.

So what’s on the list?

 

Preparing Your Lawn

Rake and aerate—Keep raking up those leaves and any other clippings to keep your lawn exposed to light and air, which will help it stay moist and fed.

You can toss the leaves in your composter but before you do, check some for disease or pests that you might not have noticed over the summer! If you have fruit trees, make sure you gather up any fallen / rotting fruit.

Finally, if you can, aerate your lawn to increase the amount of nutrients that are flowing to the roots of your grass.

Fertilize—After you have raked and aerated, it’s a good time to fertilize your lawn. The aeration will allow the fertilizer to get down to the roots and make them stronger and better able to withstand the rigours of winter.

Pick one that is meant for Autumn use, as these contain a high amount of potassium, which makes the grass and roots more resistant to the effects of frost.

Cut—Give your lawn one last trim before the snow flies and pay special attention to corners around your home or hardscapes, or around trees. Tall grasses in these areas are prone to be areas for mice and other small rodents to build their winter homes!

Avoid cutting your lawn too short at this point—2.5 inches is ideal. The right height ensures that your grass strands stay strong and upright, allowing for airflow and moisture, two things your grass needs to avoid rot and disease building up.

Overseed—We talked about this in our August post, but it’s worth repeating: if you want a lawn come Spring that is the envy of all your neighbours, do a little overseeding in the early Autumn. Remember that you need enough time to cut the new shoots a few times before winter hits or they won’t be strong enough to survive the freeze.

Use a high quality overseed topsoil and your grass seeds will be able to build a strong root structure, giving you a strong, healthy lawn in the Spring.

 

Preparing Your Trees, Plants And Bushes

Dig—Now is the perfect time to dig up any bulbs that don’t fare well in cold, like dahlias or gladiola. You can wrap them in burlap or place them in sand and store them in a dark, dry place. Don’t forget to plant your onion and garlic bulbs, so you can start harvesting next June.

Water—Until the first freeze, keep watering your garden beds, trees and shrubs. Like with people, plants are stressed if they lack moisture. Extra water will help to nourish them well into the winter.

Cut / Remove—As the first frost approaches, it’s time to remove your dead annuals and cut back your perennials and hedges. You don’t want to leave any ‘holes’ in the latter, but they should look bare. Don’t forget to remove the clippings so that airflow isn’t blocked, which can lead to rot.

Mulch—Adding mulch to your garden beds helps to protect perennials and bulbs. The danger isn’t snow or even the cold; the danger for your garden beds is the freeze / thaw / freeze cycles.

Over winter, the mulch will decompose, adding nutrients to the soil. The key is to avoid putting too much mulch, so as to prevent plants from pushing their way out in the Spring. If you’re using leaves, for example, don’t put more than four inches of cover over your plant beds. Roses need special care: insulate them by mounding at least twenty centimetres of top soil at the base of each bush.

Protect—Tie up any young trees or shrubs with stakes and garden twine, to prevent their being damaged by high winds and wet snow or ice.

A couple of layers of burlap will do the trick with cedar trees, so they aren’t impacted by icy winds. Young trees that are less than ten centimetres in diametre, particularly fruit trees, are favoured by small rodents in the winter so protect the bark with plastic protectors, on the base of the trunk.

 

Preparing Your Water And Other Hardscape Features

Drain—It’s time to drain fountains and other water features to ensure that they don’t get damaged by fluctuating thaw / freeze temperatures. Terra cotta pots are particularly prone to cracking if they have any moisture in them during the thaw / freeze cycles, so be sure they are covered or otherwise untouched by snow and ice.

Sweep and Clean—While technically not a part of your garden, keeping your downspouts and gutters clean of leaves will prevent them from overflowing or backing up. That’s good for your house and your garden! Do you have cracks in between your paving stones? Fill them up so that they don’t fill with water, which then freezes and thaws, damaging the stones in the process. Clean up BBQs—unless you’re hardy enough to use it all winter long, it can be a happy munching space for mice and other small mammals. Clean and store outdoor furniture.

 

Preparing Your Tools

Sharpen—Sharpen all your shears and other tools; clean your digging tools and have your mower blade sharpened, if it’s not something you want to undertake yourself, before you put all your gardening tools away. Gas powered tools do best if the gas is removed or run until they are out of fuel. And a little oil goes a long way to keep tools in good condition for next Spring, ready for use.

Store—Hoses and watering cans should be drained and stored in a shed or basement. Leaving them outside could leave them open to cracking open after the first freeze, if there is still water in them. Outdoor faucets should also be drained and the water shut off from the inside.

After all that is done, you can sit back with your favourite hot drink and start planning your Spring planting and outdoor projects. It’s a great time of year to check in with your local landscaper / hardscaper to make sure that your projects are ready to start work when the ground thaws!

 

 

Outdoor Projects: Hiring Qualified People Is A Must

You’re not sure whether you need a gardener or a landscaper or perhaps an arborist, for an outdoor project that you’re planning? This post will walk you through the ins and outs of each role so you can make the right choice.

In the not so distant past, if you wanted to do some work to the garden or exterior of your home that was a little bit beyond your DIY skills or just something you didn’t want to take on personally, you would call up your local ‘handyman’ contractor to take up the project. But here’s the thing: hiring a generalist for a specific project is not usually a good bet. They just don’t have the background or skills to do it right the first time. This can lead to significant downstream costs if the project needs to be repaired or re-done at a later date.

The roles of gardener, landscaper / hardscaper and arborist are actually quite different and each one is suited to very specific tasks; a well trained professional will be knowledgeable and experienced, leaving you with project results that will last. No one is an expert in everything, particularly where bylaws and regulations are concerned, so you’re always best to pick the professional, based on your needs and their training, expertise and knowledge.

What Does A Gardener Do?

A gardener is adept at planting new flowers, trees and shrubs—provided you have a plan for the design of your garden (see the landscaper role, below!)—watering, feeding, fertilizing, mulching, composting, grass cutting, hedge trimming and the like. If it involves the care and maintenance of your outdoor space, a gardener is the right person for the job. They can help you to maintain a beautiful, healthy lawn and garden throughout the seasons and prepare your garden for the winter season, including protecting sensitive plants and shrubs, raking leaves, trimming or pruning and the like.

What Does A Landscaper / Hardscaper Do?

Landscapers / hardscapers also do most gardening tasks and most landscaping companies are happy to provide you with a maintenance package for your garden, but their true talents lie in designing a garden that works for you, taking into account where you live and what plants, trees and shrubs are best suited to your climate zone, the uses of your garden, and other considerations.

If you want water features, ponds or if you have drainage issues around your home, a landscaper / hardscaper can fix these with contouring, grading and leveling of the ground and the addition of additional drainage, where necessary.

Hardscaping, which includes things like walkways, driveways, paved areas, solid water features and stairs, is done with the impermeable materials. Never hire anyone other than a qualified hardscaper to build a retaining wall or a landscaper to design the physical layout of your garden unless you really love spring floods seeping through your or your neighbour’s foundation because you’ve interrupted the run-off pattern. Without adequately planned drainage, you can find yourself with not only flooding but foundation issues, soil erosion, plant / shrub drowning, wood rot on porches and decks, pest infiltration and even sinkholes!

What Does An Arborist Do?

The technical definition is that an arborist is someone who is a professional in arboriculture: in the management and study of trees. The term trees, in this case, includes shrubs, vines and other wood perennials. An arborist is focused on individual or small groups of trees, rather than forests—which are managed through forestry and silviculture.

Arborists are knowledgeable in all things about the trees: different pests, infestations, signs of ageing and decay in a tree, best pruning methods, planting distances and so on. They should also be knowledgeable on the local bylaws in the areas within which they practice. For example, planting distances to power lines, regulations concerning the pruning or removal of trees, or the protection of trees in a construction zone. Most municipalities are very strict in the management of trees, so before you consider planting or pruning a tree on your property, make sure that your arborist is up to date on the laws.

Is There Such A Thing As An All-In One Professional?

If you’re still wondering why you wouldn’t just hire an all round landscape company to do a bit of everything or ask your arborist to trim the hedges a little while they’re dealing with an ageing tree, the reason is quite simply that it’s a waste of their time and your money. Hiring an arborist to do a little gardening is something like hiring a hazmat team to sweep your kitchen floor. A little bit of overkill, don’t you think?

In Summary:

Do you need your garden maintained, hedges trimmed, lawn fertilized, weeding and other similar tasks? You need a gardener.

Do you want a risk assessment done on a damaged / ageing tree, tree removal or the trimming of trees, including knowledge about the local bylaws on this topic? You need an arborist.

Do you want to build a retaining wall in your garden, install interlocking stone / brick, figure out drainage or ground leveling or design a garden from scratch? You need a landscaper /hardscaper.

With these roles in mind, think about the projects that you want to undertake in the next year and ask for referrals from your local garden centre and always check their references!