Victor Kallos, Landscape Architect with BKDI Architects shares some insight on making the most of Calgary’s short growing season.
Yes it’s hard to believe but spring will be back and as we have an extremely short growing season it is important to dream, plan and prepare for the event. In Calgary, with our wonderful Chinooks, we are often fooled into thinking spring has arrived especially at this time of year when the days get longer and the sun warms up. However we know that we are never safe from that late snowfall, even in April and May. Spring can be a real challenge, as we often need to cope with frigid soil, plunging nighttime temperatures, and the risk of frost.
As we look outside, our gardens are still barren or mantled in fresh snow, and the only green things in sight are the evergreen spruce, pine, or juniper but many of us have been preparing and dreaming of our gardens throughout the cold winter months.
Some things to do before spring arrives:
FEBRUARY & MARCH
Order seed catalogues, take out your gardening books, visit the library or go to the bookstore. There's nothing like a good garden catalog or book to get the gardener’s hearts pumping. All those beautiful plants! All the possibilities! Spring, surely, must be just around the corner!
There is a ton of information specific to Calgary that may be helpful to you.
Found at bookstores, the public library, or the Calgary Horticultural Society library:
- Perennials for Prairies, Edgar W. Toop & Sara Williams
- Prairie Xeriscape, Sara Williams
- Annuals for Prairies, Edgar W. Toop
- Woody Ornamentals for Prairies, Hugh Knowles
- Prairie Rose Garden, Jan Mather
- Lois Hole's books and Spring magazine on almost every aspect of gardening in Alberta
- 101 Best Plants for Prairies, Leatherbarrow & Reynolds
- Prairie Rock Garden, Donna Balzer
- Gardening for Goofs, Donna Balzer
- The Calgary Gardener Series, Calgary Horticultural Society
- Trees & Shrubs for the Prairie, Landscape Alberta Nursery Trades Association
Found via the Alberta Agriculture website, http://www.agric.gov.ab.ca/navigation/publications/freepublications/index.html
- Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development Publications
- Alberta Yards & Gardens: What to Grow
- Pruning in Alberta
- Growing Native Plants of Western Canada Common Grasses and Wildflowers
- Landscaping Alberta Yards
- Weeds of the Prairies
You can also surf the web for information, listen to QR 77 Sunday morning radio show ‘Let' s Talk Gardening’, or join the Calgary Horticultural Society who puts on a series of gardening talks, as does the Calgary Zoo. In summer to see what works in Calgary and what can be achieved, visit the Zoo’s incredible gardens and take in the Calgary Horticultural Society’s fabulous Garden Tours. These should inspire you and provide many new ideas.
Survey the Yard
One of the most important parts of being ready for spring is planning. To help us prepare we should all have some form of plan of our yard and an idea of how we use the spaces and what we want to achieve in the coming growing season. Sketch your ideas on paper. It's easier to make changes on paper than with a shovel. This is the time to consider garden views from inside the house, traffic patterns throughout the yard, and ways your family uses the yard. You should have a plan showing the yard/garden as it is now with notes showing the different growing conditions and finally a plan with your ideas and changes or areas that don’t work. The plan of the growing conditions will help you select plants that will flourish and complement those already in place.
MARCH & APRIL
- As the weather improves it is tempting to try and get a jump on spring and get plants to grow quicker by watering or raking away mulch but this is a mistake in our climate. The longer roots and leaves stay dormant the better chance they have of surviving the inevitable late cold snaps. However there are things to do, weather permitting: pruning, tidying up plant tops and vines, poking around in the mulch, and doing some belated organizing in the garden shed or garage. Now is a very good time to check the condition of garden tools and hoses, and to make sure lattices are in good repair and securely attached to walls or fences.
- There is still time to prune some woody plants before the flowerbeds thaw to avoid damaging plants and compacting soil. Do not prune birch or maple or any of the spring shrubs such as lilac until flowering is finished.
- If you did not do so in the fall you can cut the perennial tops back to about 40mm, leaving some protection for any late cold snaps.
- Clean your birdbaths and welcome the birds that are returning to Calgary.
- Transplant earlier started seedlings into flats or bigger pots.
- This is also the time to start shopping for plants, as the garden centres will soon be receiving their forced bulbs and some bedding plants. You can start seeds like sweet peas and some summer bulbs such as begonias and dahlias.
In May the grass finally turns green and the Mayday trees leaf out, and we begin to see the daffodils, crocuses, snowdrops, as well the flowering bulbs appear. We also see early-blooming perennials and vines and spring-flowering shrubs and fresh green trees.
It is the start of the real Spring in Calgary!