Blueberry Bushes

'Reka' Highbush Blueberry Fall Color

‘Reka’ Highbush Blueberry Fall Color

Blueberry shrubs are wonderful 3-season plants. In the spring, they display lovely white blossoms. The summer brings forth weeks of plump, anti-oxidant rich, delicious berries. Finally, the cold fall weather produces glorious colors. They are well-behaved, low-maintenance bushes that attract wildlife and beneficial insects. They rarely grow larger than two metres in height or width.

A few things to remember if you want to plant blueberry shrubs:

  • Blueberry bushes need full sun to produce a good crop of berries. Yes, they will grow in shade, but you’ll miss out on the fruit and the fall colors.
  • Blueberries require cross-pollination for best results. This means you need to plant at least a couple of varieties. I’ve planted 5 varieties in my backyard: Blue Crop, Blue Gold, Chippewa, Reka, and Chandler. Each variety will have some variation with fruiting time, soil requirements, fall color, height and width, and berry size.
  • Blueberries on one bush will ripen over a period of up to 6 weeks. This wonderful feature allows you to have fresh berries for more than a month (from just one bush). Add various shrubs that produce from early to late season, and you’ll have an ample supply for most of the summer.
  • Some blueberry bushes are tolerant of heavy, wet soil (such as ‘Reka’ shown above). Most, however, like to be planted in well-drained acidic soil.
  • Different bushes color differently in the fall. ‘Blue Gold’ has bright yellow fall foliage, ‘Reka’ will color to a deep burgundy, and ‘Chandler’ turns a mix of red and orange.
  • Blueberry bushes live a long time, so chose their location wisely. Some plants have been known to live for 50 years!!
  • Some blueberry bushes take 3 or 4 years to produce a good crop of berries. Be patient and you’ll be amply rewarded.
  • Birds also like blueberries! Consider getting into the habit of picking your ripe berries first thing in morning. I always pick a bowl before breakfast and had no problems with the birds stealing my berries. They rarely touch the berries that are unripe.
  • Plant blueberry shrubs in early to mid-spring. Prune in late winter or very early spring by cutting out 1/3 of the oldest branches.
  • Choose the best type of blueberry bush for your climate. There are many different varieties of blueberry plants (Vaccinium) that produce well in British Columbia’s Pacific Northwest. Two early July producers are ‘Duke’ and ‘Reka’. Mid to late July high producers are ‘Patriot’ and ‘Blue Crop’. One late season blueberry shrub is ‘Elliot’ that will produce well into September. ‘Chandler’ is well-known for its large berries. Some of my ‘Chandler’ berries were the size of small cherries!! My ‘Blue Crop’ is also a favorite of mine because it is a vigorous shrub that produces large, juicy, flavorful berries.

I suppose you could really say that blueberry shrubs are four-season plants –  if you freeze some of your bounty to enjoy over the winter months!

Blueberries and Whipped Cream - Yumm!!

Blueberries and Whipped Cream – Yumm!!

 

 

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How to remove slugs from your garden

slugrevised

Banana Slug

 

Slugs are an unwelcome sight in the garden. They eat the leaves, flowers, vegetables, and grasses that you have painstakingly planted. Slugs have many predators such as snakes, birds, some mammals, amphibians (such as frogs), and fish. These predators, however, rarely keep the slug population under control. Are you wondering why you have so many slugs in your yard? Are you confused as to how to get rid of them naturally ?

 10 Easy Ways to Rid Your Garden of Slugs:

    1. Look under rocks, leaves, moss, logs, birdbaths, and other garden objects to find slug eggs.  These eggs are translucent or white and they look like tiny pearls. Eggs are laid regularly throughout the year (up to 700 eggs in a season). If you don’t want slugs in your yard, it is important to search for and destroy these eggs. Flush them down the toilet. Eggs can survive drought and freezing temperatures, so you can search for and destroy them throughout the year. This is the best way to humanely remove slugs – before they become adults.
    2. Place rocks, logs, or bricks around your garden to provide a place where slugs will want to hide or lay eggs. A grapefruit half-shell or a piece of old carpet will also be attractive to slugs as a hiding place. Check under these objects every day and destroy any slugs or eggs you find (as described in the following tips).
    3. Place slugs in plastic tubs or bags and freeze them.
    4. Pour salt on slugs you have collected in a bucket or can.
    5. Pour boiling water on slugs in the garden.
    6. Pour vinegar on slugs in the garden.
    7. Use bark mulch around your garden perimeter to create a natural barrier that slugs will not want to cross.
    8. Fill a deep lid or other shallow container with beer and half-bury it in an area where you see slugs. Slugs will be attracted by the smell of the beer, fall in, and drown.
    9. Plant strong-smelling herbs and other plants such as lavender, oregano, and rosemary. Slugs are less likely to eat these types of plants.
    10. Enlist the help of your children or the neighbour’s children. I paid my kids five cents per slug collected. They were extremely happy to help out with this as an incentive and they would often fill a medium-sized coffee can, which I could then place in the freezer.

Learn More About British Columbian Slugs:

Some of the many slug species seen in British Columbia are the Banana Slug, Black Arion (or Black Slug), Meadow Slug, Warty-jumping Slug, European Great Gray Slug (or Giant Garden Slug), Longneck Field Slug, and the Gray Slug. The Banana Slug is the second largest species in the world and can grow to more than 20 cm long. The European Great Gray Slug is the fastest slug in British Columbia. It can move four times faster than a Banana Slug.

Slugs do not only eat flowers, leaves, and grasses; they also eat lichens, mushrooms, dead animals, other slugs, snails, and earthworms. They even eat animal feces. If you have ever wondered if slugs are edible, they are not. This is because they can harbour dangerous parasites that are contracted from eating the feces of infected rodents. If humans eat the raw slug, the parasites can produce a toxic reaction called eosinophilic meningitis.

A slug must be able to produce mucus to survive. A slug slowly moves by making regular muscular contractions with its foot while secreting a layer of mucus to travel on. This slimy mucus helps to protect its foot and is what we typically see trailing behind the path of a slug. A slug’s slimy, shell-less body is susceptible to desiccation (drying out), so slugs usually live in moist areas and must move to damp, cool places (such as under rocks or logs) when the weather is hot and dry. This means they are more likely to be seen when the weather is damp.

Slugs are hermaphrodites. A hermaphrodite is a person or an animal that has both male and female sex organs. In humans, this would be a birth defect. In some animals, this is normal. Even though they are hermaphrodites, they still require a mate. The two slugs wrap around each other and exchange sperm. After just a few days, both slugs produce up to 75 eggs  which are laid in a hole in the soil or under an object like a log. These eggs are translucent or white and they look like tiny pearls. Eggs are laid regularly throughout the year (up to 700 eggs in a season). This is why it is so important to remove slug eggs if you want to have fewer slugs in your garden.

slug2

Giant Garden Slug

American Robins

Robin in Birdbath

Robin in Birdbath

The American robin is actually a thrush; it is the largest thrush in North America. American robins were called robins by early settlers because they look very similar to European robins (which also have reddish-orange breasts). Robins are popular birds because they make a cheerful, pleasant sound and they are fun to watch.

In the summer, robins are common in all North American cities and suburbs, but they are also found in wilderness areas such as forests and mountains. Robins are migratory birds. This means they will travel to warmer areas in the winter (although if food is plentiful, they may not migrate). Robins have been known to migrate as far south as southern Mexico and Guatemala.

Robins eat invertebrates and fruit. (Remember that invertebrates are animals lacking backbones such as earthworms, caterpillars, and beetles.) Robins like to eat fruit such as viburnum berries, chokeberries, blueberries, and even holly berries. Baby robins are fed grubs and earthworms by their parents. Robins use their senses of hearing, sight, and smell to find prey, but sight is the most used sense for finding food. Robins are well-known for running across lawns and then quickly stopping to pull up an earthworm. They also cock their heads to one side to listen or to look for the worms moving in the earth.

A female robin chooses a nest site usually in April or May. Then she will take a few days to build the nest out of mud, twigs, paper, feathers, and grass. She will lay three to four pretty little blue eggs in the nest – although there might rarely be a white or brown-spotted egg. These eggs are called a “clutch”. Robins may have two, or even three, clutches of eggs throughout the summer. It takes about 12 days for the eggs to hatch. The babies (chicks) stay in the nest for about 13 to 16 days and are fed by their parents (sometimes 35 to 40 meals per day). Young robins are paler in colour than the adults and they have dark spots on their breasts. Males sing more than females and they are also a bit larger and more brightly coloured.

American robins have many predators. Robins’ eggs and babies are common prey for raccoons, crows, ravens, blue jays, snakes, squirrels, cats, owls and hawks. This is probably why American robins only live for an average of two years.

Attracting robins to your backyard is very easy. Supply even a few of the things listed below and robins should come:

  • trees and shrubs for finding grubs and nesting sites
  • birdbaths for washing (robins love to bath)
  • berry bushes (robins in my backyard love my blueberry bushes and my black chokeberry shrubs)
  • unpaved dirt or lawn where earthworms can be found
  • safety from cats and other predators
Robin in Black Chokeberry Bush

Robin in Black Chokeberry Bush

How to Purchase a Tree

Trees are an Investment

Trees are an Investment

Choosing and purchasing a tree for your garden is one of the most important garden decisions you will make. Most garden plants can be removed fairly easily – but not trees! Choose wisely, and your property will go up in value. Choose unwisely, and you will surely regret it in the future. Some trees can be extremely expensive. To ensure you don’t waste your money, or have future grief, consider the following.

  • When buying a tree, it is better to choose a young specimen, rather than an older and larger one. It is tempting to think that a large tree will give you an instant head-start on growth. Rarely is this the case. A small tree will easily catch up to its larger counterpart and quickly surpass it. A small tree will grow and adapt to its new location quickly and with less stress on the plant. An older tree could take years to recover from the transplant and may never thrive.
  • Try to pick a tree grown in a large, plastic pot – not a balled and burlap-wrapped tree. The roots will be disturbed less when you take it out to plant.
  • Look up before you plant! Are there wires overhead? If so, don’t plant the tree there. This is not rocket science, yet I cringe to think how often I have seen “professional landscapers” plant Sequoias or other massive trees directly under overhead wires.
  • Don’t plant the tree too deeply. This is another advantage to planting a potted tree. Keep the soil surface at the same level it was in the pot.
  • Don’t plant your tree too close to any buildings, fences, or decks.
  • Think about leaf litter (and fruit debris) if you plant near your patio. Even a “tidy” tree requires sweeping and cleaning underneath it.
  • Don’t plant fruit trees if you have bears or rats in your area. I prefer going to the farmer’s market to get my fruit rather than deal with bears and rats.
  • Try to choose smaller trees over larger trees. Large, dense foliage can become depressing.
  • Be careful not to plant trees that “sucker”. You will be forever “weeding” around the base of the tree.
  • Choose a tree that will live a long time. Some trees have very short lives (less than 15 years) and others will outlive your grandchildren. Planting a tree can be an investment for future generations.

I hope these tips will provide you with the information you need to purchase and plant a tree that you will be happy with for decades to come.

Carolina Silverbell (Halesia Tetraptera)

Carolina Silverbell (Halesia Tetraptera)

Tree Peonies

Tree Peony Blossom

Tree Peony Blossom

A tree peony is any member of the Paeonia family that has a woody stem. The species, Paeonia suffruticosa, is probably the most well-known. Paeonia suffruticosa is also called the moutan peony. Most tree peonies are low-maintenance woodland plants that grow well in the Pacific Northwest. Their blossoms, though fleeting, are spectacular.

Tree peonies should be planted in a location with sun or part-sun. Flowers will hold their colour better and last longer if you choose a site with part-sun. Soil should be moist, not boggy, and fertile. Tree peonies will grow to about 1 to 1 ½ meters high and wide. This makes them ideal for foundation planting. Pruning is not necessary except to remove dead or damaged branches. Try not to move them when planted, as this may kill them or stunt their growth.

The blossoms of tree peonies are their main attraction. These blossoms are truly magnificent. They can often reach 30 cm in diameter (think almost the size of a Frisbee!) Below is my hand in front of a neighbour’s tree peony blossom. Blossoms come in an amazing variety of colours and shades: pinks, purples, reds, yellows, whites. The center blotches can also be different colours. There is also a great choice of blossom type: single, anemone, double, semi-double, and bomb-double. The petals are delicate like tissue and soft to touch.

Tree Peony Blossom Size

Tree Peony Blossom Size

Tree peonies can be fairly expensive, but note that they can live up to 100 years. This makes them a good investment if you don’t plan on moving for a while. Perhaps your great grandchildren will enjoy a tree peony that you planted!

Red Tree Peony with Camas

Red Tree Peony with Camas

How to Propagate Red Flowering Currant

Red Flowering Currant (Ribes sanguineum)

Red Flowering Currant (Ribes sanguineum)

Red Flowering Currants are easy shrubs to propagate. You can quickly produce numerous shrubs from softwood cuttings in early summer. Red Flowering Currants are early spring bloomers and the dangling flowers attract hummingbirds. Visit my blog, How to Make a Hummingbird Garden, for other plants that will bring hummingbirds to your garden.

Follow these simple instructions to propagate your own Red Flowering Currant bushes:

  1. Start these tasks early in the morning on a cool day in June or July. Early morning ensures shrub stems are full of moisture. The branch shoots on the parent plant should be in the softwood stage – not green but not woody. They should bend and snap. (If they are too green, they will bend but not break. If they are too woody, they will snap without bending.)
  2. Have pruning scissors, a sharp knife, and a small shovel handy.
  3. Dig a small hole in good soil where you want your new shrub to grow; alternatively, have a pot ready for planting the cutting in. Moisten the soil.
  4. Take a 20cm cutting from the parent Red Flowering Currant shrub.
  5. Remove the foliage from the lowest half of the cutting.
  6. Using a knife, carefully slice the bottom of the cutting on a diagonal, slicing away a small segment of bark.
  7. Dip the bottom of the cutting in hormone rooting powder. This step is not required!
  8. Plant the cutting in moist rich soil and ensure it does not dry out. (Alternatively, you could place the cutting in a soil-filled pot and then set it inside a plastic bag. Move this to a sun-dappled area of your yard. Ensure it does not dry out. Remove when roots have started to grow.)
  9. You should have a small, flowering shrub by next spring!

These instructions work equally well for Ribes Sanguineum ‘White Icicle’ and the following deciduous shrubs:

Butterfly Bush
Deciduous Azalea
Elder
Forsythia
Hydrangea
Japanese Maple
Fothergilla
Lilac
Magnolia
Mock Orange
Rugosa Rose
Serviceberry
Stewartia
Viburnum
Weigela
Witch Hazel
Ribes Sanguineum 'White Icicle'

Ribes Sanguineum ‘White Icicle’

How to Make a Hummingbird Garden

Hummingbirds are easy to attract to your garden

Hummingbirds are easy to attract to your garden

Hummingbirds are among the tiniest bird species living in the Pacific Northwest. Hummingbird’s tiny wings move so quickly that they often make a humming noise – hence the name. Hummingbirds are not social birds and the males can be very aggressive when defending their territory against other males. Females can be aggressive when defending their nests. Even with this unsocial behavior, they are lovely to observe and most gardeners want to attract them.

Many gardens are devoted entirely to attracting hummingbirds. Hummingbirds have excellent memories. If you provide a welcoming hummingbird garden, they will return year after year.

Follow these easy steps to create your own hummingbird garden:

  1. Incorporate plants that attract hummingbirds into your garden. Hummingbirds have a poorly developed sense of smell; they rely on their eyesight. Plants that attract them have bright flowers and red is probably the most popular. Some common plants that are attractive to hummingbirds include:
    • Red Flowering Currant (Hummingbirds arrive in my garden as soon as this shrub’s flowers open. Please visit my blog, How to Propagate a Red Flowering Currant, for information on how to easily increase these shrubs at no cost.)
    • Azalea
    • Boxwood (Boxwood’s little flowers may not be noticeable to humans, but hummingbirds in my garden flock to them.)
    • Butterfly Bush
    • Coral Bells
    • Foxglove
    • Honeysuckle
    • Lilac
    • Rhododendron
    • Trumpet Creeper
    • Weigela
  2. Plant dense shrubs and trees for hummingbirds to build nests in. Hummingbirds also eat tree sap and insects so planting trees and shrubs provides natural sources of these important dietary elements.
  3. Install a water fountain. Hummingbirds are attracted to spraying water, not birdbaths.
  4. Offer perching opportunities with clotheslines or string. Hummingbirds spend about 80% of their time perching, not flying. Hummingbirds cannot walk; their feet are designed only for perching.
  5. Provide a hummingbird feeder.
  6. Hang fluorescent ribbon in your garden. Hummingbirds are attracted to bright colours and will visit these ribbons to check them out. My father has a hot-pink nylon belt that he wears hiking and the hummingbirds will fly right up to his waist believing the belt is a flower!

Interesting fact: The smallest bird on earth is the Bee Hummingbird native to Cuba. It is only about 5.7cm long so it truly is not much larger than a bee.
The Canadian Wildlife Federation is a good source of information on hummingbirds and other BC bird species.

Hummingbirds love lilacs

Hummingbirds love lilacs