The art of taking risks in the garden

The team shares their top 3 tips for how to set yourself up for success when working with delicate plants. 

Oh, there it is. The Golden Full Moon Japanese maple. This thing has haunted me for years.  I love the colour, the growth habit, the shape of the leaf - everything about this beauty sets me into daydream mode. 

But, I don't have one. I've been too scared to get it and have it die on me.  I'm usually a jump-in-with-both-feet kind of gal. But between the expense and the potential for heartbreak, I haven't been able to bring myself to taking the plunge to buy that daydream tree. Truth is, human history from the invention of agriculture onwards is a story of constructive failures with the things we try to do with plants. It's in the failure we're able to push to new frontiers. So - lean into the risk with me you guys. It'll be fun. 

Here in Ottawa we're a zone 5. We have quite a bit that we can grow here, but there's a lot of more delicate plants that you can do in Kingston or Toronto that are harder to pull off here. So I quizzed the team about some top tips about setting yourself up for success on plants you love but aren't sure if they'll live through the winter. 

Top 3 tips for setting yourself up for success with delicate plants

1. Location, location, location

One of the biggest factors to success is getting your planting location right. Wind in winter and early spring can be very hard on delicate plants. You've no doubt seen signs of dessication (winterburn).  This is where evergreens show patches of brown, dry foliage. This happens because the frozen ground prevents the plant from taking water in by its roots, while the wind is pulling moisture from the dormant foliage. This can also harm tender deciduous trees. To maximize your chances of success, look for a planting location on the East or Southeast face of a building or other solid object like a fence or dense hedge. This will give them the best shelter from damaging winds. Water your plants very well in the late fall so they are able to maximize their moisture levels, and where you can't provide excellent wind coverage, cover your plants with cloth wrapped around a wooden frame. Don't let the cloth touch the branches themselves, as that can actually wick moisture out of the plant. 

2. Maximize soil, moisture, and light conditions 

For plants on the edge of their hardiness zone, another factor to get right are the soil and light conditions. Read the growing instructions carefully. Provide the optimal sunlight, soil type and acidity, and maintain ideal moisure levels through the growing season. Following these guidelines will give your delicate plants the best conditions to thrive. You can get soil Ph test kits from most hardware stores.

3. Look out for the right cultivar

Hybrids and cultivars are being developed all the time to help extend the hardiness range of popular plants. Japanese maples are an excellent example of this. If you have your heart set on a Japanese maple and a lower risk tolerance, look to cultivars like the Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood' and Acer palmatum 'Emperor1'. Another great option for Japanese maple look is a Japanese and Korean maples Acer pseudosieboldianum x palmatum Hasselkus 'Northern Glow.' Whatever plant you're looking at, there are often gorgeous close substitutes that can work in the space. 

And last, but not least - remember, it's only gardening. Have fun and try something new. 

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