Langley Gardening: Bitter chard reddened by heat, drought


Dear Anne,

“When I pruned hydrangeas I stuck several stalks with healthy buds into pots. The four lace ones grew enormous this summer, but not a bloom on one. The one mophead grew very modestly but produced a huge white bloom. Can you give me a tip on being more successful?”

Beryl Wilson, Vancouver

The fact the lacecap hydrangeas grew very large indicates they were concentrating on vegetative growth. Did you put them in very rich soil or soil with high-nitrogen fertilizer?

Nitrogen stimulates leaf and stem growth, but not flowers. In fact, such fertilizer can reduce bloom even in shrubs that have bloomed quite well in the past. Nitrogen is the first number listed on soil enhancers.

Light may be another issue. Hydrangeas like very bright light, but not direct sun. Also, some hydrangeas tend to hold back flowers until they are closer to their maximum height. 

If the soil you gave yours is very rich, you could repot them in less fertile soil, but add a little bonemeal.

Dear Anne,

“Is it still alright to eat my chard that has turned dark red? These leaves were green this summer. Will it be bitter? Why did it turn red? Should I just pull them all for this year, or just cut the tops off, leaving the roots?”

Koko, Coquitlam

The heat and perhaps drought associated with heat has turned your chard red. Also, it’s quite old at this point and chard doesn’t improve with age. It could be bitter, possibly even too bitter to eat.

Even if you have to leave your chard unpicked in summer because you have so many other vegetables, it can be good to pick the older leaves anyway. That keeps young, sweet, tender leaves coming.

You could take a cautious nibble of your chard and see for yourself if it’s edible. 

But it’s likely best to cut the tops right away. 

Do leave the roots – there may be some good chard-growing weather between now and Christmas.

Dear Anne,

“Last May, we put ground cover plants in our front yard instead of grass. They have done very well. We planted wooly thyme, white thyme, Veronica Whitley, and golden birds foot. We think it will turn out amazing, but it was quite costly.

“Now winter is here, much earlier than expected, and the green leaves on the trees in our yard haven’t fallen yet. We expect the snow to melt over the next while, which will allow us to remove the leaves.

“What should we do with the leaves? Should we leave them on top of the ground-cover plants as protection, or could you offer us an alternative?”

David and Paulette Smith, Calgary

You should leave the leaves on top of your ground-cover plants. 

I’m sure your plants will spend some of the winter buried under insulating snow. 

But Calgary also gets Chinooks which remove snow and winds that redistribute it.

If you get a major Chinook, you could get frost heaves which are very hard on plant roots when freezing returns. In case you get high winds, you should hold in your leaves with prunings or wire.

Next spring, you could rake the leaves off your ground covers and dig them into a vegetable garden or mulch around shrubs.

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