Weed Control Made Easy

Weed Control Made Easy

It's that time of the year where weed problems start to show. Not only are they an eye sore, but they are a pain to get rid of. Whether it be in the garden bed, near pathways or even in your planters, picking weeds one by one can cause quite the headache. However when weed control is done right, it can be very effective in minimizing or eliminating weed growth altogether.

Stirrup Hoe

A stirrup hoe gets the weeding job done efficiently, effectively and with the least amount of back bending. It is a band of steel attached to a handle and is very proficient at cutting out weeds with much less effort than the conventional big "broad bladed" hoe.

Wait until the top of your soil is dry, and then simply run the stirrup hoe along the top 1-2 centimetres of the soil wherever you see weeds and it will effortlessly pull the weeds out with a gentle tilling of the soil.

The stirrup hoe is easy to manoeuvre around bushes and your perennials, annuals, and vegetables. It is good practice to use the stirrup hoe once a week, when the weeds are still small and easy to pull out of the soil. By staying on top of your weeding and getting them while they're small, you won't even need to bag most small weeds up. Most tiny, pulled-out weeds can be left on top of the soil, where they will quickly dry up and die.

Path Clear

Path Clear is an effective spray for killing annual weed seedlings. You can also use this product for control of grass and weeds on driveways, sidewalks, patios, gravel and more.

Visible effects occur after treatment, and actively growing susceptible weeds are controlled within 1-2 daysPath Clear leaves no harmful residue in the soil. Available in a 709 mL ready-to-use spray bottle, it is convenient and suitable for small problem areas.

Hemp Mulch

Hole's Hemp Mulch will allow water and nutrients into your garden soil, will help you cut down on your watering by keeping the moisture in your soil and it will act as a physical barrier to keep most weeds out of your soil.

  • Keeps your garden neat and tidy.

  • Aids in moisture retention and weed control.

  • Completely biodegradable, till into garden soil in fall.

  • Dust free, light weight and rot resistant.

  • Fast growing renewable resource grown on Canadian prairies.

Watch our video on how to use hemp mulch here.

Selective Herbicides

Selective (Broadleaf) herbicides like Weed B Gon are generally sprayed on and absorbed by the big, broad leaves of weeds like dandelions, and eventually enough herbicide is absorbed by the leaves to kill the whole plant.

This product utilizes the natural power of iron to deliver visible results within hours–tackling dandelions, English daisies and more without harming your grass. This convenient, ready-to-use format is ideal for those not wanting to mix their own weed control solutions. Simply spray, and watch your dandelions go away!

Non-Selective Herbicides

Non-selective herbicides will kill all plants, broadleaf or not. They're good for dandelions, grasses, and chickweed to name a few. While they are great for controlling chickweed or quackgrass, be careful when applying them near lawns or gardens. Because of their non-selectivity, they need to be applied carefully so that none of it drifts via air or water currents onto plants you'd rather keep alive (like your tomatoes or lawn!)

Bye Bye Weed is a great non-selective herbicide. Remember, this will kill any plant, including lawn grass, so use it away from your lawn and only where you need to.

Confusing Beauties

Confusing Beauties

By Jim Hole

If floral beauty is judged by popularity then petunias would surely wear the crown. When I look around the yards and streets of Canadian cities, petunias dominate. Today, they are grown in everything from hanging baskets to patio pots to flowerbeds, with some varieties are even used as annual, quasi-hedges.
 
There is little doubt that the ascent of petunias to the top of the bedding plant world has much to do with their beauty and diversity. But it’s the depth and richness of their genes that has allowed them to reach that lofty height.

Most of the garden petunias that we enjoy today are, primarily, the result of extensive plant breeding of two South American species: Petunia integrifolia (violet petunia) and Petunia axillaris (white moon petunia). The result was Petunia x hybrida, also known as the hybrid petunia. Plant breeders latched on to this hybrid petunia and developed a serious addiction to creating as many new and beautiful varieties as cross breeding would allow.

Part of the reason that petunias and their kin are able to display such a richness - and sometimes weirdness - of floral colours and patterns is because they possess what are known as “jumping genes”. Jumping genes are little ‘packets’ of genetic material that can jump within the plant’s DNA, resulting in some truly fascinating blotch-patterned and stripped flowers. I like to think of these genes as ‘cut and paste’ bits of genetic information that are ‘snipped’ from one variety and ‘glued’ onto another. If you’ve ever seen a flower that looks like it has been splashed with paint, you can be pretty sure that jumping genes were responsible.
 
Clever plant breeders have not only exploited the use of jumping genes but they soon discovered that they could cross-breed petunias with a closely related species called ‘calibracoa’ also known as million bells. So, today not only is there is a plethora of new petunia and calibracoa varieties, there are also many hybrids resulting from crossing petunias with calibracoas.  The name for the resulting cross is ‘petchoa’ – rather unimaginative but at least it’s simple to remember.
 
The toughest job might just be selecting your favourites from the vast number of choices.  
There are four broad flower categories: grandifloras (big flowers), mutlifloras (lots of  good-sized flowers), millifloras (lots and lots of smaller flowers), minifloras (lots a and lots of tiny flowers). They are all great with each category containing some terrific varieties.
 
Once you’ve nailed down the flowers, it’s critical to choose only healthy plants whose growth habit  is best for your yard. For example, a great series called ‘Littletunias’ have a fabulous display of small flowers and a nice, short mounding growth habit making them ideal for smaller yards. At the other end of the spectrum is the ‘supertunias’ series that have lots of big flowers and a very aggressive growth and are great for large flowerbeds.
 
Whether in containers or beds - and without exception – petunias and their relatives grow best with a wet/dry water schedule. In other words, saturating the plants with water, followed by a ‘dry-down’ period, keeps the foliage tight and tough while stimulating the production of blooms. I like to let the petunias dry to the point that there is just a bit of leaf wilt before soaking them once again.
 
All of the varieties are ‘heavy feeders’ so weekly feedings of a water soluble fertilizer like 10-4-3, or a controlled-release granular fertilizer will keep the plants flowering beautifully all season long. Hanging baskets, in particular, need to be fertilized at least once per week. Adding some SeaSoil (compost comprised of fish waste and bark) to the containers keeps the plants in great shape throughout the growing season. And keep in mind that the best floral displays are found in spots where the plants receive six hours or more of direct sunlight per day.
 
Now, if you are still somewhat confused by all of the permutations and combinations of species, categories, series, and crosses, don’t worry. I share your anxiety. For me, it begins the moment that I flip to the petunia section of our stack of seed catalogues and continues as I desperately try to memorize all of the bloody names of the new varieties!
 
If I can remember half of all the new introductions each year, I consider that to be a huge personal victory.

The 'Dirt' on Hydrangeas

The 'Dirt' on Hydrangeas

By Jim Hole


Fact or Fiction?
You can change the colour of your hydrangea flowers by making the soil acidic.’

Hydrangeas are some of our most spectacular flowering shrubs. And while there are over a dozen great varieties that grow beautifully on the prairies, there are those among us who just can’t resist the challenge of changing a pink flowered hydrangea to one that flowers blue or vice versa. Today there are over a dozen varieties that we can grow here successfully.

But can one really change hydrangea flower colour? The answer is yes…well, sort of.

Changing the colour of hydrangea flowers starts with understanding a bit about soil chemistry and then choosing the right varieties. In our greenhouses, I was the guy who was in charge of adding the correct ingredients, in the right proportions to the soil half of the hydrangeas would flower blue while other half would flower pink. But I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t always get it right. More often than I care to admit, I ended up with what are known as ‘blurple’ hydrangeas – mostly blue but with enough red blended in to give the hydrangea flowers a purpley tone. Now, I thought the blurples were rather attractive but, apparently, that sentiment wasn’t shared by everyone!

So how does one get a red, blue or even a blurple hydrangea for that matter? It all begins with choosing hydrangeas that have the capacity to change colour. The vast majority of the hydrangeas that we grow here are incapable of changing colour regardless of what you do. For example, white hydrangeas will remain white regardless of what treatments you provide.

If you have responsive hydrangeas then the next step is to raise or lower the soil pH above a threshold level depending on whether you want blue flowers or pink flowers. If you want a pink hydrangea, the soil must be fairly alkaline (higher pH) but if you want a blue hydrangea the soil must be rather acidic (lower pH).

Diving into soil chemistry just a bit deeper, acidic soils make aluminum (a naturally occurring soil element) more soluble and more readily absorbed by plant roots whereas alkaline soils make aluminum less soluble and thus more difficult for roots to absorb. At the cellular level the aluminum alters the pigments in the hydrangea blooms and, voila, the flower colours change. But the caveat here is that if you don’t tweak the soil correctly, you’ll end up with my blurple colour.

Keep in mind that only a select few hydrangeas are responsive to manipulation of soil pH. In you want to experiment, a variety called Bloomstruck is one variety to have some fun with.

Remember too that once an existing flower is already pink or blue, it won’t change colour. Tweaking soil acidity will only affect the coloration of flowers that have yet to develop.

Also, in the garden, pH manipulation can be very difficult particularly if you have a clay-loam soil with lots of lime in it. Acidifying this type of soil is nearly impossible so just be satisfied with growing a healthy, floriferous hydrangea and enjoy whatever colour you get!

The florist type hydrangeas (hydrangea macrophylla) are the best hydrangeas for having some fun with flower colour transformation. They are only marginally hardy outside but are great for playing around with outside in containers during the summer. They love morning sun but hate intense afternoon sun so place them in a spot where they won’t suffer from sunburn.

Remember that even if you change soil pH beyond certain threshold levels, you won’t get a rainbow colours from your hydrangea flowers. Pink and blue are your only two choices…and blurple, if you weren’t paying attention in your soil chemistry class.

Some great Hole’s Hydrangeas to grow:

  • Annabelle, Bloomstruck, Bobo, Incrediball, Limelight

Tomato 101

Tomato 101

By Jim Hole

There’s no shock as to why tomatoes are so well-loved. Whether it be salsas, sauces or salads, their versatility is unmatched by other garden vegetables. Tomatoes are actually quite simple to grow with the right technique, patience and care. This “Tomato 101” will send you on your way to producing a bountiful yield of this summer favourite.

Varieties

With the vast number of tomato varieties, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. For cherry tomatoes, some of my favourites include Sun Gold, Minimato and Rapunzel. For eating tomatoes, Primo Red, Mortgage Lifter and Stupice. And of course for cooking, be sure to try San Marzano, Mamma Mia and Sunrise Sauce. Stock up on your favourite varieties soon–as many sell out fast!

Soil

Proper soil is crucial for a successful tomato yield. It may be tempting to purchase the “cheap stuff” at your big box stores, but these brands lack the richness needed for tomatoes to thrive. Soils lose organic matter if it is not added back in regularly, so my recommendation is using a 1:1 ratio of Sea Soil and Jim’s Potting Soil. Avoid using manure in your soil as the salt content per bag is inconsistent. More often than not, you will end up scorching your plants and be forced to start over.

Fertilizer

Tomatoes are heavy feeders, which means it is important to fertilize them regularly. I recommend using Garden Pro Tomato Food (5-10-5). This granular fertilizer is also supplemented with calcium to prevent “blossom-end rot”. Simply mix Garden Pro Tomato Food in with your soil and water thoroughly. Another product I like to use on my tomatoes is Epsom Salts. Epsom Salts contain magnesium and can be applied every couple of weeks.

Watering

We often have customers come to the greenhouse with wilted leaves, brittle stems and yellowing tips. After a quick look, I know they aren’t watering enough. I use the analogy of filling up your car with gas to help explain the importance of watering. When you go to the gas station, you don’t put $5 worth in your car, drive till it’s empty, fill up $5 worth again and so on. The same goes for watering your tomato plants. When you water, ensure that you water the entire root zone completely with a good soaking.

Weed Control

There is nothing more frustrating than pouring time and energy into your garden, only to have it scattered with weeds. Not only are they an eye sore, but they also draw the essential nutrients out of your soil, leaving nothing for your tomatoes. Before you plant, I recommend encouraging the weeds to grow–watering like you would for any garden. Once they are a mature size, spray the soil with Bye Bye Weed to kill off any vegetation that is present. Wait 7 days, and plant your garden as you normally would. NEVER APPLY BYE BYE WEED TO YOUR GARDEN PLANTS. IT IS RESTRICTED TO APPLICATION ON WEEDS ONLY. Pulling weeds throughout the summer is an obvious technique for eliminating weeds, but spraying saves you the headache altogether. 

Pruning

Tomatoes come in two growth types–determinate and indeterminate. Determinate tomatoes usually grow wider, do not need pruning and grow well in a cage. Whereas indeterminate tomatoes grow tall, require staking and pruning, but usually have higher yields than determinate varieties. Pruning indeterminate tomatoes is quite easy–simply pinch off the shoots or “suckers” that grow out from the stems. This redirects energy to the fruit of the plant rather than the shoots. In turn, this produces much larger, healthier tomatoes. Watch our video on how to prune tomatoes here: www.holesonline.com/blog/how-to-prune-tomato-plants.

 

Still not feeling quite confident on growing your own tomatoes? Be sure to check out our e-book on tomatoes at www.holesonline.com/ebooks/tomato-favourites.

Q: What causes black or brown rotten spots on the bottom of my tomatoes?

A: This condition is called “blossom-end rot” and it is caused by water stress and calcium deficiency due to heavy clay soil or irregular/inadequate watering. Watering regularly is key to preventing blossom-end rot. Even if the soil contains lots of calcium, without sufficient water, the plant cannot absorb essential minerals.

Heirloom vs. Hybrid

Heirloom vs. Hybrid

By Jim Hole

The tomato is the most popular garden vegetable just about everywhere. It can easily be grown organically and there are a huge number of outstanding varieties available. Here is what you need to know to grow juicy, delicious and nutritious tomatoes.

Heirlooms or hybrids?

I love the names of heirloom tomatoes. Mortgage Lifter, for example, conjures up such great imagery. But do awesome sounding heirloom names translate into awesome tasting fruit or are hybrid tomatoes really the best choice for our gardens? To answer that question, it helps to understand what the terms heirloom and hybrid really mean.

The way I like to think about the difference between heirloom and hybrid tomatoes is that heirlooms arose primarily through serendipity whereas hybrids arose by calculated design.

With respect to heirloom varieties the story usually goes something like this. Historically, families - or even entire communities - would grow several tomatoes in their fields or gardens and then collect the seed in the fall to provide seed to sow for the following year. Since all tomato varieties are primarily self-pollinated, the fall harvested tomato seed collected from a specific variety would be pretty much be identical to the plant from which it was harvested. But, occasionally, a tomato might be cross-pollinated by bees, as the pollen was moved from the flower of one variety to the flower of another. The resulting new variety of tomato grown from that cross was often nothing spectacular but, occasionally, a new outstanding variety would  emerge and become a cherished variety that was handed down from generation to generation. Thus a new heirloom was born.

Now, we can’t give all of the credit to the bees for great heirlooms. Some heirloom enthusiasts developed a love of the delicate and tedious task of ‘crossing’ one tomato variety with another in pursuit of the world’s next great heirloom. Today, many of our very best heirloom varieties were the result of passionate, dedicated and patient amateur breeders who crossed many varieties in their gardens before finally creating a new, delicious heirloom.

Hybrids on the other hand, are more like a designer tomato. The journey developing hybrids is one that is more purposeful and carried out by breeders who are specially trained in plant genetics. They have very specific goals in mind like breeding a variety that is resistant to a particular disease or one that has superior storage qualities. If they are successful – which often takes many years of painstaking work - the resulting hybrid tomato will express those traits and still be flavourful. 

What should you do?

Having spoken with many tomato aficionados over the years, the overwhelming majority of gardeners just want to plant great-tasting tomato varieties regardless of whether they are heirlooms or hybrids. Thankfully, there are truly outstanding tomatoes in each category.

When it comes to juicy, meaty, true tomato flavour, I’m a huge fan of heirloom tomatoes like Mortgage Lifter and Stupice. If you have a sunny spot on your deck or in your garden, you should try them.

On the other hand, there are some incredible hybrid tomatoes, particularly in the cherry category. Minimato is a small hybrid bush tomato that I like to call bulletproof. If you plunk it in any old pot, give it water and a bit of fertilizer, it will reward you with fruit all season long

Sungold is another great one. It was one of my Mom’s favourites because it is tasty, sweet and it grows like a weed. The biggest challenge with Sungold is that it is so prolific you’ll need to create some new recipes to deal with the onslaught of fruit!

So let’s go back to the heirloom versus hybrid debate. Frankly, I’ve never felt the two were diametrically opposed. I’ve grown all kinds of heirloom and hybrid varieties over the years and both categories yield some fantastic fruit and both types deserve their place in the sun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Medicinal Cannabis Blog #7

Medicinal Cannabis Blog #7

by Jim Hole

This week, I am beginning a series on CBC radio Edmonton on the life cycle of a single cannabis seed. We will follow it on its journey from sowing to maturity and see what a cannabis seed needs to grow. The seed will even have a name that will be chosen by CBC listeners!

Tune into CBC’s ‘Radioactive’ program every Tuesday at 4:30pm to see how she is doing. And yes, it’s a female seed that I will be growing and there are both female and male cannabis plants!

Keeping Your Soil Healthy

Keeping your Soil Healthy

If you're not blessed with perfect garden soil from the start—and few of us are—you will need to amend the soil and that means adding plenty of organic matter such as organic Sea Soil.

Sea Soil can be added to the soil anytime that the soil is warm enough to work, though the most convenient times are in the early spring, before you've planted your gardens, or in the fall, after the growing season is over.

Amending the soil can take a lot of Sea Soil; generally, you need enough to cover your beds to a thickness of 5-8 cm (or more if your soil is particularly dense with too much clay). Till in the Sea Soil with a rake or rototiller, and you're on your way to a healthier garden!

You can also boost your soil’s health by applying earthalive™ Soil Activator. Composed of a blend of naturally-occurring soil microorganisms, Soil Activator boosts plant health by increasing the availability of nutrients in the soil and also improves soil moisture retention.

Note that amending your soil isn't a one-time affair; since your garden uses the soil year after year, it's only natural that the soil's quality will erode over time. Adding soil amendments such as Sea Soil and Soil Activator once a year is an excellent way to keep your soil fertile.

Medicinal Cannabis Blog #6

Medicinal Cannabis Blog #6

by Jim Hole

For the past number of weeks, the team at Atlas has been aggressively pruning cannabis plants.

Cannabis branches aggressively and unless it’s brought under control, entire grow rooms can become dense jungles of foliage. And foliage that is not exposed to direct sunlight becomes a ‘sink’ rather than a ‘source’ of sugars.

In other words, sink leaves take sugars away from the plants rather than contributing sugars to developing buds. Pruning is simply a way of removing the freeloaders!

Medicinal Cannabis Blog #5

Medicinal Cannabis Blog #5

by Jim Hole

Some plants are weak rooters and some are strong rooters. Cannabis falls into the latter category. In fact, cannabis is one of the most vigorous rooters of any plant that I’ve seen.

As a result, cannabis can easily outgrow a pot unless there is sufficient root space, so to err on the side of a larger container and greater soil volume is the best strategy. A good target is about a 10 litre pot size.

Early Seeding Directly Outdoors

The most common question that I hear at this time of year is: "When is it safe to plant outside?" And the answer is... "It depends."

The first thing to understand is that plants vary in their susceptibility to cold and freezing temperatures. Our hardy trees, shrubs and perennials are, obviously, very cold tolerant—otherwise we would have nothing but something akin to a moonscape in our yards.

So it’s really the bedding plants that most people are concerned about for a safe planting date. But within this category, there is a tremendous variation in cold and frost tolerance.

For example, pansies and parsnips can easily tolerate frost and sub-zero temperatures but watermelon and sweet potatoes are so frost and cold sensitive that they will be damaged if they see you carrying a frosty drink to your deck chair!

On the farm, we usually had our first round of vegetables sown in our fields by the 2nd or 3rd week of April provided the soil was not to wet to work. The first round of vegetables included: peas, beets, lettuce, parsnips, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, onions and a few potatoes. If it snowed after we sowed we knew that we would have fabulous, even germination as the snow slowly and gently melted into the soil.

Today, I always sow my carrots, beets and other frost tolerant vegetables into my containers in April so that I am eating them in June.

As my mother always said,"For a few dollars-worth of seed, take a chance, sow early and live dangerously!"

Medicinal Cannabis Blog #4

Medicinal Cannabis Blog #4

by Jim Hole

Cannabis has two distinct phases in its lifecycle. The first is the vegetative phase which involves a proliferation of leafy growth followed by the flowering phase.

The trick with growing excellent quality cannabis is to fertilize the crop with the correct quantity of leaf-inducing nitrogen fertilizer and then knowing when to back-off with it so that the plants don’t a mass of dense foliage at the expense of flowers.

Failure to get the formula correct means a lot of extra work trying to prune and train the cannabis plants into a manageable size which is costly and tedious. Given that cannabis can grow 15cm per day at its growth peek means that staying tuned into the best fertilizer formulas for both stages of growth is critical!

Medicinal Cannabis Blog #3

Medicinal Cannabis Blog #3

by Jim Hole

Last week, an entire grow room of cannabis was harvested and, literally, hung-up to dry. Drying is undertaken in a special room that is tightly controlled for humidity and temperature. Cool and slightly humid air is the best environment for proper cannabis drying and curing and it’s a process that can’t be rushed.

Proper drying is critical for two main reasons. The first is to preserve the important ‘phytochemicals’ contained within the leaf and flower tissue. And the second is to provide a poor environment for the growth of mold and bacteria. Both are equally important and tightly managing the drying room environment is critical for top quality medicinal product!

Medicinal Cannabis Blog #2

Medicinal Cannabis Blog #2

by Jim Hole

Cannabis is referred to as a ‘short day’ plant. What this means is that most cannabis varieties require day lengths that are equal to - or shorter than – nights, before they are capable of flowering.

 At the Atlas Controlled Environment facility, plants are grown under long days (18 hrs or more) until they reach sufficient size and then the lighting program is switched to 12 hours of light and 12 hours of continuous darkness right through until harvest.

 When cannabis plants experience short days, flowers are initiated and buds swell, producing a rich mix of medicinal ‘phytochemicals’. The science of short days and flowering is pretty straightforward but the art of knowing the best timing for switching the lighting is variety dependant.

 Switch too early and yield is compromised. But switch too late and cannabis earns its nickname ‘weed’ because the plants become giant masses of stem and foliage and extremely hard to control even with diligent pruning.

 Cannabis varieties remind me of tomato varieties. Some grow slowly and have more of a ‘mounding’ habit while others would grow to the ceiling if you let them!

Medicinal Cannabis Blog #1

Medicinal Cannabis Blog #1

by Jim Hole

As many of you know, I wear two hats when it comes to horticulture.

The first is overseeing ornamental and edible plant production at Hole’s and the second is being in charge of medicinal cannabis cultivation at Atlas Biotechnologies in Lac Ste. Anne county, Alberta.

Naturally, many people are curious about cannabis and how it grows so I thought that it would be great to give some insight into the world of medicinal cannabis and what it takes to get from seed to sale. With this first blog on medicinal cannabis the first place to start is with the Atlas Biotechnologies facility itself.

The requirements for growing medicinal cannabis are very strict with sanitation being at the top of the list. Hallways and grow rooms are spotless and “gowning-up” to enter any grow space becomes second nature. Putting on suits, hair nets, beard nets, booties and gloves are just the minimum standard attire that each employee and visitor must don inside the grow facilities at Atlas.

 Grow rooms are sanitized after each harvest and tested for bacteria and fungi. To say that the facility is more like a hospital than grow space for plants is an understatement. Every plant has its own unique identification number and every bit of plant material is accounted for and documented.

 Medicinal cannabis production is a fascinating endeavour!

Controlling Fungus Gnats with Biochar

Controlling Fungus Gnats with Biochar

by Jim Hole


Fungus gnats are one of the most annoying insect pests of houseplants. 

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with fungus gnats, they are tiny, delicate, black flies that inhabit potting soils. Female fungus gnats can lay anywhere from 50 to 300 eggs during their short one week lifespan. 

The eggs are laid in moist areas that have a high percentage of organic matter and high microbial activity because the larvae (worms) feed on fungi (thus the name fungus gnats) and decaying plant material. Now, because peatmoss and compost are so common in potting soils, fungus gnats do extremely well in these mixtures provided the soil surface remains reasonably moist.

Once fungus gnats have become established, they are difficult to control. Today, there are no registered pesticides for use on domestic houseplants to control fungus gnats and other control methods like yellow sticky traps help but won’t eradicate these annoying pests.

Purelife-Bamboo-Biochar-close-up_email.jpg

However, finally there is one non-chemical fungus gnat control - available for the first time this year - that does an excellent job. It’s called, Pure Life Biochar and it’s a rich, black, charred bamboo that is spread on the surface of potting soils to eliminate fungus gnats. 

Because Biochar is inert and doesn’t degrade like organic matter, fungus gnats hate it and won’t lay eggs on or in it. Not only that, but biochar looks fabulous as a ‘top dressing’ on potting soils.

It also absorbs fluoride from tap water, reducing tip burning on those tropical plants that are susceptible to fluoride toxicity. A layer that is spread out on the soil surface and about 2 cm deep for small pots and 5 cm deep for big pots is all that you need.

So if you are fed-up with fungus gnats give Pure Life Biochar a try!

Jim's 10 Point Check List for Buying Houseplants

Here is my 10 point checklist for novices and seasoned houseplant aficionados alike!

1. Choose plants that you like. This seems rather obvious but sometimes in the haste to buy an indoor plant, it really wasn’t the right match for you. Fortunately, there are many choices in houseplants. Do a little shopping before you settle on a plant or plants.

2. Know your sunlight. Sunlight duration and intensity declines from summer to winter in different spots in your home. Some plants can endure the change while others can’t. For example, an orange tree might look great in the living room during the summer only to, literally, fall apart in the same spot in the winter.

3. Keep grow lights handy. Grow lights are the great equalizer if you have very little sunlight. They are also great for getting houseplants through the short, dark days of winter. Good grow lights are one of the best investments you can make.

4. Select the best potting soils. The additional few dollars spent on high quality potting soils are worth it. The correct blend of coarse-fibred peatmoss, coarse perlite, lime, wetting agent and fertilizer will help to keep the plants in great shape. Never skimp on potting soils.

5. Choose only pest free plants. A $10 “bargain” plant that requires $40 worth of sprays to control insect pests really isn’t much of a bargain. In fact, some of the nastier pests are not only extremely difficult to control on the bargain plant, but they can often spread to others in your home.

6. Choose the right pot. Pot sizes and shape have a large impact on plant health. Shallow pots drain poorly. Tall pots drain best. It’s pure science. Water is held in shallow pots due to capillary action of the mix on water whereas water in tall pots is less affected by capillary action and is pulled down and out of the pot by gravity.

7. Ensure pots have drainage. Water must move out of the soil mixture to prevent roots from drowning and to allow movement of excessive salts out of the root zone.

8. Pick an attractive pot. There’s no point in buying an expensive dress and then wearing rubber boots to the ball. A gorgeous houseplant in a poor-quality plastic pot is no different so always choose attractive pots to complement your plants.

9. Fertilize—but only when necessary. A little fertilizer is great but more is not better. I use nothing but Nature’s Source 10-4-3 on all of my houseplants. It’s oilseed based and won’t burn provided the soil is not really overdosed. Fertilizer should only be applied when houseplants are actively producing new foliage.

10. Don’t expect a houseplant to last forever. You don’t expect your car to last forever so don’t expect every houseplant to last forever. I know of one person who has a Christmas cacti that is over 100 years old but each plant is different and when they lose their aesthetic value, it’s time to replace them. When your fig tree is down to a handful of leaves, it’s time for it to hit the compost heap.

Origins of Cannabis

Origins of Cannabis

by Jim Hole

I’ve always been fascinated by the science of plants. It’s the main reason why I studied plant science at university.

But during those university days, I didn’t believe that cannabis would ever become legal in Canada. Cannabis was, basically, just fodder for a lot of jokes with my friends. I spent a lot of time on the science of how to kill weeds grow rather than how to grow weed!

Well, fast forward to 2018 and the legalization of adult-use cannabis has come and gone. Now a lot of my time is spent talking about the science of cannabis and answering questions about this fascinating plant. And the people who want to know more about cannabis are in one of two camps: those who use it—or plan on using it—and those who just want to know more about it.

So, whether you are pro-cannabis, anti-cannabis or cannabis “neutral”, here is a little bit of a primer on the heritage and character of this fascinating plant.

Species of Cannabis

When it comes to the cannabis family, plant scientists aren’t unanimous on its region of origin, nor the number of species that are under the cannabis umbrella. However, evidence suggests that a somewhat scrawny central Asian plant called Cannabis ruderalis was the ancestor of modern cannabis. And likely, it gave rise to two species: Cannabis sativa and Cannabis Indica.

C. sativa, generally, has thinner leaves and is taller than C. indica, and takes longer to reach full maturity while C.indica has rather broad leaves and has a squatty-er stature.

To make things a bit more complicated many plant taxonomists argue that there really is only one species of cannabis, not two or three. And to take the family story a bit further, both C. indica and C. sativa have been so highly interbred that just about every cannabis plant is a genetic blend of the two species. Often the best one could say about most individual cannabis plants is that they are either “sativa dominant” or “indica dominant.”

Still, I suspect that most people really don’t care much about botanical classifications and prefer a more pragmatic division: Psychoactive Drug containing cannabis and non-psychoactive drug containing cannabis. Therefore, any cannabis plant that is very low in psychoactive compounds (less than 0.3% of the plants weight here in Canada) is just referred to as hemp. Everything else is cannabis!

Now, that the classification is somewhat clearer, I’d be remiss if I didn’t explore the fascinating sex life of cannabis! It’s not just interesting but also essential for growers to understand how they reproduce.

Cannabis Reproduction

Many people are surprised to learn that there are male and female cannabis plants. Plant species that have both male and female plants aren’t all that common in the plant world but it obviously works well for cannabis. While the vast majority of plants generate “perfect” flowers with both male and female reproductive structures contained within each flower, cannabis is dioecious, meaning that it produces separate female and male plants. And in the world of cannabis, it’s the female plants that are prized for their high concentrations of psychoactive and medicinal compounds.

Male plants are strictly used for breeding and although they synthesize the same compounds as the female plants, their yield is dramatically lower. Male plants are removed from production facilities the moment they can be identified. Of course, male plants are critical for pollinating females—if a superior seed variety is the goal—but beyond reproduction requirements males are not wanted anywhere near female plants… pollen is not welcome!

Another really interesting trait that cannabis shares with a number of plants is day length sensitivity. Cannabis is an “obligate short day” plant which means that it requires a number of consecutive days where the hours of uninterrupted darkness is equal to or longer that the hours of daylight.

If cannabis plants are exposed to days that are longer than the nights, they will continue to grow bigger, but not flower. Once the nights are longer than the days, the flowering cycle is “triggered” and flowers will form in a few days. A familiar plant that shares this trait day length sensitivity is the poinsettia.

This is just a taste of what I will be exploring with cannabis in the weeks to come and I’ll do my best to “weed out” the facts and the fiction about cannabis (sorry, couldn’t resist!)

Boxing Week Sale

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Boxing Week Sale
30% off Store Wide*

From December 26 to December 31, 2018


All items are FINAL SALE. *Excludes gift cards, seeds, services & custom made arrangements. Other exclusions may apply. Can not be combined with any other discount or offer. Subject to change without notice.

Poinsettias Are For the Birds

Poinsettias Are For the Birds

by Jim Hole

No question, poinsettias are incredibly showy plants. The poinsettia’s Latin name Euphorbia pulcherrima alludes to its gorgeous display, pulcherrima means beautiful in Latin.

But the truth is that the flowers really aren’t all that spectacular. Instead, it’s the large colourful leaves called bracts that catch our eye and get us in the Christmas spirit. The poinsettia’s real flowers are the tiny, yellow structures located at the central hub of each cluster of bracts—nice, but I wouldn’t describe them as spectacular.

Still, beauty is in the eye of he beholder, and from a poinsettia’s perspective our judgment of its flowers is irrelevant. The only judges poinsettias really care about are birds—hummingbirds to be specific.

In the wild (i.e. the regions of Central America and Mexico) hummingbirds seek out poinsettias. These tiny birds feed on the sugar-rich nectar produced by the flowers and inadvertently spread poinsettia pollen when flitting from plant to plant. This dispersal of pollen transfers each individual plant’s genes far and wide, ensuring that there will be future generations of poinsettias (some insects do transfer pollen but they play a much smaller role).

A White-bellied Sunbird (a relative of hummingbirds) perches on a wild poinsettia

A White-bellied Sunbird (a relative of hummingbirds) perches on a wild poinsettia

However, before hummingbirds will deign to visit poinsettias, the plants must undertake a splashy advertising campaign. Since the flowers are small they don’t catch the bird’s eyes, so poinsettias have cleverly adapted and modified some of their upper leaves to display bright-red pigments.

This advertising strategy works because all birds have a keen sense of colour; not that far removed from our own. Also, since birds, including hummingbirds, don’t have much of a sense of smell, poinsettias don’t waste their time producing aromatic compounds. In fact, most bird-pollinated flowers have little fragrance for this vary reason.

But if poinsettias depend on their bright red bracts to attract hummingbirds, one might ask “why do white poinsettias exist then?” Even though a poinsettia’s normal bract colouration is red, occasionally, a plant will mutate and produce pigment-deficient bracts. Normally, this would spell doom, reproductively speaking, since hummingbirds tend to ignore white bracts. But whenever a poinsettia sprouts a mutation—white or otherwise—we humans find the beauty of these new types irresistible and begin propagating them.

So while hummingbirds might find white poinsettias uninspiring, there are a lot of people who love them—me included. White poinsettias don’t last too long in the wild but they do just fine with the help of amateur and professional plant breeders.

— Jim Hole

Houseplants: Energy-Free Humidifiers

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During the dry, cold months of winter, you can easily and naturally improve your indoor air and climate with houseplants! 

Not only do houseplants clean the air, but they also emit more than 90% of their water into the air via the stomata in their leaves. Plants that need a lot of water—such as fig trees, azaleas and hydrangeas—are particularly effective humidifiers. That said, all houseplants will add humidity, so fill your home or office with your favourites!

Increasing the humidity level in your home with plants also decreases the number of dust particles floating around in your home.

Dust particles are frequent carriers of pollutants; with an increase in humidity levels, the dust particles become heavier and settle onto surfaces, making them easier to clean up. This is extra important in offices where the ventilation fans of computers constantly blow dust into the air. 

When you have a proper humidity level in your home or office, you not only live healthier and feel more comfortable but you can also save on heating costs! How? Well, studies show that we unconsciously perceive living and working areas as warmer and cosier when the humidity levels are higher.

In summary, houseplants are not just for looks: they are important additions to making your home or workplace a healthy environment.