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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.

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.


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!


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.


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.


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. 


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:


Still not feeling quite confident on growing your own tomatoes? Be sure to check out our e-book on tomatoes at

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.

The Scoop on Soil

The Scoop on Soil

A Beginner's Guide to Soil

Good soil is the foundation of a great garden. Without the right soil, whether in the garden or in containers, plants will wither. Sometimes the right soil is untouched clay loam; sometimes it's not soil at all, but a soilless mix. Tilling soil, adding organic matter, testing and adjusting the pH level—all of these actions give your plants the solid and nurturing earth they need to prosper.

A Simple Test

Reach down and gather up a handful of soil. Then, give it a squeeze. Does the soil hold together, or fall apart? If it does hold together, is it soft and springy or does it feel like a lump of clay?

What colour is it?If you have a nice, dark clump of earth that crumbles easily between your fingers, you're well on your way. Otherwise, your first step should be to improve your soil quality. Loam is the ultimate goal: a perfectly balanced blend of sand, silt, clay, and organic matter.

Soil's Job

Good soil must perform a number of functions. First, it should contain all the nutrients your
plants require. And good soil helps, rather than hinders, root absorption of plant nutrients. It
anchors plant roots firmly, but is loose and porous enough to allow them to grow and branch out.
Good soil retains moisture, but at the same time has adequate drainage to prevent waterlogged roots. Finally, good soil is neither too acidic nor too alkaline. All this is also true of soil in containers.

Amending the Soil

If you're not blessed with perfect soil from the start—and few of us are—you will need to amend the soil. That means adding plenty of organic matter: peat moss, well-rotted manure, or compost. Organic matter can be added to the soil anytime that the soil is warm enough to work, though the most convenient times tend to be 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 organic matter; generally, you need enough to cover your
beds to a thickness of 5-8 cm, or more if your soil is particularly dense (too much clay). Till in
the organic matter with a rake or rototiller, and you're on your way to a healthier garden!
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 once a year is an excellent way to keep your soil fertile.

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