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New Gardeners: A How-To Guide for Healthy Yards

Brought to you by Gardening at the U of S, the City of Saskatoon, the Saskatoon Food Bank and Learning Center Garden Patch, and the Saskatchewan Waste Reduction Council Compost Coaches!

Start with Healthy Plants

Healthy plants are stronger plants and less likely to have pest and disease issues 

When choosing garden seedlings and greenhouse perennials:

  • avoid the biggest, lushest plants, especially if they’re exploding with blooms. While flowering plants look prettier, blooming takes a lot of energy that the plant will need when it is transplanted. It’s better to choose unflowered plants—they will bloom better in your garden.
  • look for plants with the most balanced root to plant size ratio, good branching patterns, and healthy leaves.
  • Check for signs of insects or pest damage. If your plant has been affected, it could spread to other plants in your garden as well.

Zones

Check the plant tag for the recommended climate zone, which describes the coldest temperature range a specific perennial can typically survive in. Under the most recent Agriculture Canada zone maps, Saskatoon is classified as zone 3b. This means we can safely grow anything from zone 1, 2, or 3 with little risk of winter kill. However, with a warming climate and the shelter provided in urban settings, some zone 4 plants might succeed with heavy mulch though it's considerably riskier the higher away from 3 you choose. Anything marked zone 4 or higher is unlikely to survive our winter in rural areas without protection. Any plant regardless of zone can still be used as an annual - like Geraniums, which are actually perennial plants in warmer climates. Plant tags tend to underestimate plant hardiness for our area, so experiment!

Sunlight

Generally speaking, the more sunlight for plants the better. Check the plant tag for recommended sunlight requirements:

  • full sun: six to eight hours of direct, unfiltered sunlight every day.
  • partial sun: the plant will tolerate less sunlight and would prefer four to six hours of direct sunlight daily.
  • shade: these plants are more likely to burn in long periods of direct sunlight and prefer lightly filtered shade, such as near an elm tree. Most plants are unlikely to survive under a spruce tree due to lack of water and little sun.

Care

Watering

All plants need water, especially when first planted.

• Water plants immediately after planting and continue to water frequently for the first few years until root systems have been established.
• Established perennials, especially those that are drought-tolerant, may not need to be watered.
• For lawns, a good soaking of one inch per week is better than frequent shallow watering.
• Water only as needed. Over watering can decrease the health of your plants and lawn.

To learn more about water conserving garden practices, view our Rain Barrel and Low-Water Gardening How-To Guides.

Mulch

Mulch is critical for a healthy perennial bed and helps to prevent many problems.

• Add a four to six inch layer of shredded post peelings, wood chips, or fallen leaves to the top of your flowerbed soil. This will reduce weeds, lower watering needs, and provide a healthy ecosystem for ladybugs and other beneficial insects. To learn more, view our Mulch & More: A How-To Guide.

Soil

Depending on what area you live in, Saskatoon and area has a range of soil types, from sand to silt to clay. All soil types benefit by adding compost.

• If you’re planting a new bed, add a three to five inch layer of compost and mix it into the soil.
• Adding 1–2 inches of compost every year will keep your soil healthy.

To learn more, view our Compost Bins: A How-To Guide.

Troubleshooting

Preventing Problems

Pests are more likely to attack unhealthy plants. Like your body, if you naturally keep your garden fit, it can fight off all sorts of pests and diseases on its own.

  • Choose the right plant for the right space to keep stress at a minimum.
  • Healthy soil and a thick layer of natural mulch go a long way in creating a healthy garden ecosystem.
  • Ensure plants aren’t crowded to improve access to nutrients and increase airflow, which will help keep diseases at bay.
  • Avoid pesticides so that natural insect predators stay safe. These beneficial insects can take care of the harmful insects that show up. To learn more, view our Pesticide Free Gardening: A How-To Guide.
  • Rotate where you plant your vegetables each year to prevent the soil from becoming depleted of nutrients and to control soil-borne diseases.

Solving Problems

Identifying the problem is the first and most important step to finding a solution. For example, spraying pesticides to kill leafrollers is counterproductive; by the time you see rolled up leaves, the leaf rollers have probably moved on. Not only that, but a healthy tree isn’t usually damaged by leaf rollers, making the use of pesticides unnecessary. If you have a problem, please check out our Gardenline Online Diagnosis area or contact us at Gardenline to help.

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