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Growing Things: Gardening can help battle the COVID-19 blues


I refuse to let this COVID-19 stuff get me down.

Gardening is one of the best things you can do during the downtime associated with this period of self-isolation. I plan on getting things done that I have put off for far too long. I plan on reorganizing my shed, for one.

Once we are ready to work in the garden I am planning a full-scale assault on amending the soil in all my beds. Compost, compost and more compost, with maybe a little well-rotted manure thrown into the mix.

That first foray into the garden in the spring requires some preparation. Cleaning and sharpening your tools is a very good idea before you start this year’s work.

If you did not clean up your tools last fall now is a good time to do it. Take your spades, hoes, cultivators, etc. and clean off any soil that may be stuck to them, give them a good wash, and I like to spray mine with a little WD-40 to protect them from the rust.

I also sharpen my spades, hoes and cultivators. I use a medium-grade file to do this sharpening. Clamping the tools into a shop vise is very helpful while you sharpen. This technique frees up both hands, allowing you to hold the file correctly and apply even pressure. I also make sure that my pruners are sharp and clean.

People often ask what pruners are best, the anvil or the bypass type? Personally, I have both but the anvil type has always been my favourites for a few reasons.

First, I like the way the anvil pruners cut. I find the bypass types shred larger branches and the blades tend to want to separate when using them on a larger branch. I find the anvil type much better for the larger jobs. In fact, I have a pair of large loppers that I bought because they are the anvil type. I got rid of the bypass loppers I used to have because they just did a poor job.

Now, having said this, I do like the bypass types for the smaller jobs such as cutting flowers or thin branches. The bypass pruners do a much better job on thin branches or stems than the anvil type, which crush the smaller stems more often when cutting. The moral of the story is having both types is a good idea.

While we are on this topic of things to do, let me get you thinking about some new perennials that All-America Selections (AAS) has introduced this year. Two varieties that have grabbed my attention are:

Echinacea Sombrero Baja Burgundy – 2020 AAS Herbaceous Perennial Winner

Sombrero Baja Burgundy will add a bold accent to sunny gardens with its vibrant, deep violet-red blossoms. The beautiful flower colour is without equal among coneflowers and is perfect for cut flowers.

After being trialed over three tough winters, the AAS judges noted this standout’s hardiness, sturdy branching, and floriferous blooming habit. Birds and pollinators certainly flock to this deer-resistant beauty, making it a dual-purpose plant. Gardeners will enjoy prolific blooms from mid-summer until the first frost.

Rudbeckia x American Gold Rush – 2020 AAS Herbaceous Perennial Winner

American Gold Rush’s bright, golden-yellow flowers with black centres and arched petals is a gorgeous addition to any garden. This compact, upright domed-shaped beauty has two-inch-wide hairy foliage bred for its resistance to Septoria leaf spot. This hybrid shows no signs of the fungus even in wet, humid conditions.

Blooming from July to September, with some colour up until frost, this cultivar has smaller foliage and shorter height compared to other Rudbeckia varieties. It’s incredibly easy to grow and pollinators love it. I believe it’s destined to be the new Rudbeckia staple for gardens and landscapes.

Q: I remember reading your talking about overwintering begonias before, but I cannot find where I put the article. Can you please run the information again? I am hoping I did the right things in trying to overwinter my begonias.

A: We did discuss your question but it was four years ago, so let’s revisit the topic now. I assume we are talking about tuberous begonias. With these begonias, leave the plant in the ground until the tops blacken. When this happens, dig them up and cut off the dead foliage and shake off any dirt that is attached to the roots and tuber.

Place the tubers in a box filled with peat moss or vermiculite, ensuring that they don’t touch. Keep the tubers stored in a cool, dry place. The ideal storage temperature is between 7 and 12 degrees Celsius. A cool corner in a basement would work well.

Q: I have written to you before with problems concerning cedar trees and a mountain ash tree. You helped both times. We live in Devon but winter in Yuma, Arizona. Here is a good problem for you. I have bees swarming around my hummingbird feeder. Do you know what I can do to make them stay away?

A: I don’t get many hummingbird questions but they are one of my favourite birds so I do have a few ideas about your feeder. There are insect-proof feeders available. Some of the feeders even have bee guards to keep the bees out but the hummingbirds in.

Yellow also attracts bees, so if your ‘flowers’ are yellow they will attract bees. Also, I wipe mine regularly. The hummers are sloppy little things and drip nectar on the feeders. That also attracts the bees.

Thanks for sending in your questions, and please keep them coming during this period of self-isolation. Let’s all stay positive during these trying times. Gardening is one way to get the mind on a much more pleasant task. Stay well and happy gardening!

Gerald Filipski is the author of Just Ask Jerry. E-mail your questions to filipskigerald@gmail.com . To read previous columns, go to edmontonjournal.com/filipski

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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