Saturday, March 5, 2011 is the new home of this blog - more plant pics

I'm slowly catching up with my to-do list, which included getting a real website for the Pollinator Gardens Project. Not quite there yet, but the domain now exists, and should take you right to this blog. In the coming weeks we'll add real web pages.

Back to the increasingly fraught saga of forcing plants for our garden at the Canada Blooms show in less than two weeks time. Last post I showed you pictures of bloodroot or "Canada Puccoon", a name I still love. Today I'll show you a few more of the plants that are doing well, and talk about some of the ones that aren't and why they aren't.

York University greenhouses
But first, let me introduce you to our sponsors...or some of them. The folks at the York University Dept. of Biology (where I work) have been very kind in allowing us to put a few plants in their greenhouses to wake them up.

The greenhouses are warm, and have high-intensity lights to help deal with the weak sun at this season. This has been ideal for the Scarlet Milkweed, Asclepias curassavica.

Asclepias curassavica buds
Although the Scarlet Milkweed is not native to Ontario, it is gorgeous, easy to grow, and monarchs do encounter it at the south of their migration range. And, since there was no guarantee that I was going to be able to get the mid-summer blooming native milkweeds into flower, I thought it would be prudent to go Scarlet. I grew some plants last spring from seed that were kept in pots far too small for them, and then allowed to languish miserably in a cool window in my house from November through January. They looked terrible when I took them into the greenhouse, but began to perk up in just a few days.

Asclepias curassavica in bloom
A few weeks later, here they are in full, wonderful bloom. They tend to get scraggly, but in a warm greenhouse (thank you, York!) they can be cut back and will grow new blooming shoots in less than a month. Currently I am playing a dangerous game of cutting back lots of the plants, hoping they will recover in time for the show.

Viola canadensis bud
Meanwhile, a number of potted plants have been languishing in durance vile in our very cold, dark, unheated garage. They have been frozen solid since December. Many of our natives won't grow though unless they get a cold dormancy. So, a month ago I started taking them out and trying to get them to grow. This Canada Violet looks ready to rock so is back in my cold greenhouse, saving itself for the show.

Solomon's Seal in bud
As a rule once I get plants to show flower buds in the warm greenhouse I bring them back home and keep them cool. They will have a few days in the show garden before the public arrives to warm up and get going. This Solomon's Seal is about there, but may need a few days more of warmth before the show starts. I'm feeling a bit like a soccer or hockey mom, shuttling my "kids" back and forth between greenhouses.

At the suggestion of some kindly folk in the North American Native Plant Society (NANPS) I cut stalks of pussy willow (Salix discolor) and red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea) from a wild area in February and put them in a bucket - out of doors! We've had several warm spells, so the "pussies" are beginning to show already. They won't need any help from me before the show, but the red dogwoods will get some days in a warmer spot to liven them up.
Pussy Willow bud close up

 So, those are some of the successes. What about the others? Some native plants judge when spring has come simply by the warmth - those are my success stories. Others, to avoid being tricked into growth only to be caught in late frosts, wait until the days reach a certain length before starting. These "photoperiod-sensitive" plants are my failures, because I didn't have a warm greenhouse where I could keep the lights on for 14 hours a day. So, my jack-in-the-pulpit, columbines, and other wonderful treasures are sitting cynically below the earth in their pots, muttering "you can't fool me! I know there are going to be 5 more snowstorms still!". Sigh...I've put a few of them in a light box where the fluorescent lights do give them the magic 14 hour days, but I did it too late and will probably have to do without these plants.

Monarda didyma, Beebalm, being forced
One interesting intermediate case was the wild bergamot or bee-balm (Monarda). I had many pots of this from my own garden, and high hopes for it even though it's a summer bloomer. It started growing promptly in the greenhouse, so it doesn't require long days to get started. However, it then stalled at a few inches height, apparently waiting for long days to get  going. Alas!

It's important to talk about your failures as well as your successes, so others can learn from them. My advice to anyone planning to force native plants is to go to a greenhouse that keeps potted stock indoors at this time of year. The warmth-lovers will be up and showing green but the long-day plants will still be hidden. You can make a list and plan next winter's activities accordingly. I started this project too late last year to benefit from this, but am making notes for next time.

See you at Canada Blooms!


  1. these plants look great! does this mean you are all sorted for putting the display together?

  2. Hi Jonas....yes, I think we're going to pull it all together somehow.