Mark Cullen's newsletter

"90% of the success you achieve in your garden is the result of proper soil preparation". 

Perhaps you've heard me say this before.   But it's true.  The addition of compost to your soil, either before you plant or at the time of planting can make the difference between success and failure in the garden.

May 8 marks the beginning of Compost Awareness week in Canada and it's my job to raise your awareness.  You see, nothing matters more, where gardening is concerned.  Compost is alive and thriving with  beneficial bacteria, mycorrhizae, and microbes that enable plant life to grow. 

The Environmental Commissioners report (Canada) states that, (healthy soil) "is like Times Square on New Year's Eve, all of the time."  In other words, the activity below the surface of your lawn and garden is immeasurably active and alive, especially when it is healthy. 

What is healthy soil?  It is soil that makes nutrients available to plants in a variety of unique and effective ways.  It builds and enhances soil aggregation and porosity, sequesters nitrogen and other nutrients, reducing nutrient loss to pollution, it out-competes disease and pest organisms, enhancing crops yields (and blooms!).

In short, composting and adding quality compost to your garden is the ultimate Carbon Trading Scheme as plants use photosynthesis to fix carbon in an organic form from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. And no money flows through bureaucratic government sponsored hands.  


1. Brown stuff/Green stuff.   The green organic material that you add to your compost bin or pile is nitrogen-rich.  The brown stuff (fallen leaves, shredded newspaper) is carbon-rich.  

Ideally you should put one part 'green' into your compost for every 5 to 10 parts 'brown'.  This will help to prevent your compost from smelling bad. 

2. Turn it.  Oxygen is your friend.
Like starting a fire by blowing on it, you will ignite the decomposition process in your bin or compost pile when you turn it over with a garden fork every few weeks.  

It is OK if you don't do this, but you will wait much longer for results.

3. What is a visible marker that your soil is healthy?
  Earthworms.  The more the better. Odette Menard works for the Quebec Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.  She is an esteemed member of the Soil Conservation Hall of Fame (yes, there is such a thing in Canada) and she is an authority on earthworms.  "Earthworms stabilize the soil by digesting it and combining it with organic matter which leaves it less vulnerable to erosion.  They create a lot of space for roots and air, helping to provide an ideal environment for microorganisms to grow."

4.  Don't have enough compost of your own? Acquire it
at your local retailer and insist on the good stuff.

BioMax Premium Manure & Compost meets the quality guidelines of the Compost Quality Alliance (CQA) as established by the Canadian Composting Council.  

It is recognized and accepted by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) which has the most stringent standards in the industry
Speaking of Compost!  I invite you to join me at the Toronto Botanical Garden on May 12 for 'Breakfast with Mark'.  We are celebrating Compost Week and the beginning of the gardening season.  For more information and to purchase a ticket, click here.


In last month's newsletter, I took a bold step and put my Home Hardware shirt on.  This won't happen again.  Thank you for understanding that there's really just one Mark Cullen.  
'Green shirt' Mark and 'red shirt' Mark are the same guy. 

I understand that you read this newsletter primarily for honest and trustworthy gardening/birding information.  Everything you want to know about 'red shirt' (Home Hardware) Mark is on my website ( and at

You have no idea how much I value this relationship with you, my readers. 


My son, Ben, who joined me in the business in January, enjoys his first Live social media appearance, this Wednesday.   

Check him out on "Knight in the Morning" at 7:05am. 

"Knight in the Morning" is a LIVE event each weekday morning with 'a daily dose of forecast and fun', hosted by my good friend Anwar Knight (weather anchor at CTV Toronto).

"Knight in the Morning" can be found on the CTV Toronto Facebook page.

I'll be watching from Armstrong, BC where I'm doing a Home Hardware event for Shepherds Home Hardware.  Join me May 3rd from 6 to 8pm.
Keep your knees dirty,
Merchant of Beauty

  1. They last.  You can cut them and bring them indoors, cool spring weather ensures that they last longer than tulips [for the most part]
  2. Squirrels, and most other wildlife, do not like them.  They are mildly toxic so even deer avoid them.
  3. They are early blooming. And I, like every Canadian, am starving for colour right now....
  4. Fragrance.  Some are fragrant, others not so much.  Check the label when you buy bulbs come fall.
  5. They multiply.  I only plant 'suitable for naturalizing' daffodils and narcissus bulbs.  Again, check label when buying.
And finally, I love them  all!  Such a wide variety of shapes, sizes, colours [mostly yellow/orange]. 
What is not to like?  

p.s. you can cheat by planting some pre-blooming containerized bulbs this time of year.  

This spring, I launched a brand new series of exciting gardening segments on the Weather Network.  I'm really enjoying my relationship with the people there.  

Be sure to tune in regularly for weather updates and my gardening tips.


1.  Veggies.   It might surprise you that this is an excellent time of year to start a vegetable garden.  Don't wait until the May 24 weekend to get started.  By then you will have missed the best time to sow many of your favourite crops including: peas, carrots, onions, lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and garlic (though fall is better for garlic).

This is a great time of year to prep the soil of your garden by spreading 3 to 4 cm of Bio Max composted manure (or reliably high-quality compost).  You can turn this under the soil or plant right in it.  When planting, use Mark's Choice Garden Soil.

2.  Start from seed indoors.   Sow tomatoes, cucumbers, leeks, zinnias, asters and the like now.  With 5 to 6 weeks until our last frost date, your timing will be perfect.  Come late May/early June, you will be ready to plant in warm soil and your transplants will take off. 
Use a quality seed starting mix (I use 10 parts Pro Mix with one part Mark's Choice worm castings).  All seedlings need plenty of light to grow properly: sunlight or fluorescent lights work best.

3.  Lawn.  My recipe for the best lawn on the block:
a. Rake with a fan rake to remove winter debris.
b. Fertilize with Golfgreen Iron Plus.  It is the best product of its kind on the market.  Chelated iron for a fast green-up.  Slow release nitrogen for a long lasting green.

c.  Where weeds occur or thin spots exist, spread Mark's Choice quality lawn soil 4 cm thick and rake smooth.  Broadcast quality Golfgreen grass seed at the rate of one kg per 100 sq. meters.  Rake this smooth (again), step on it with flat soled shoes and water until germination.  Keep reasonably well watered until new roots are established (about 4 to 6 weeks).  Look for the new Pro-Mix Ultimate All Condition grass seed, using mycoactive technology.  It germinates in temperatures as low as 4 degrees C.

d.  When you are ready to cut your lawn, set your mower at 6 to 8 cm high.  Any lower allows weeds to establish and weakens your lawn.  Use a mulching mower.

4.  Plant trees, shrubs, evergreens and roses.   All of the 'winter hardy' stock that you find at garden retailers this time of year can be planted in the garden, unless it has already flushed new, soft growth: an indication that it was forced in a greenhouse and is now frost-tender. 
All woody plants that are dormant at the time you purchase them are ready to plant any time now.

5.  Dig and divide.   This is a great time of year to dig up perennials and divide them into sections to replant around your yard or give away to friends and neighbours.  Hosta, monarda, daylilies: you name it - any perennial with a fleshy root structure.

6.  Soil prep.   Note that 'quality' soil is the key.  Don't use 'black earth' (basically peat-muck) or cheap manures which are often not manure at all.  Producers have been known to cut corners in production to keep costs low. The results are never good.  Quality soil and compost is alive with nutrients, is safe (teeming with beneficial bacteria) and is high octane fuel for everything that grows.  Look for composted manure that is certified by the Compost Quality Alliance.  I spread 4 cm of well-composted manure over my entire garden each spring.  Yes, I use over 40 yards of the stuff.

Baltimore and Bullock's Orioles
Tiger-like flashes of orange, black, and white roar "oriole"! East of the Rockies, that's mostly the Baltimore Oriole. 

Baltimore Oriole
Photo credit: Ron Ridout

In southern parts of Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia, a similar-looking species, Bullock's Oriole, can be found.

Bullock's Oriole
Photo credit: Alan Schmierer

These two types of orioles were once considered a single species, called "Northern Oriole," and they can hybridize where their ranges overlap in the Prairies. A third species in Canada, Orchard Oriole, sports darker orange and lives mostly in southern Ontario.
Look high in trees to see orioles. Listen for a rich, loud, flute-like song - I'm sure I hear a whistling "or-ee-ole." To attract them to gardens, provide food they enjoy, particularly fruits and nectar - or perhaps a dab of jam! Try slices of orange spiked on a branch or nail, and darker-coloured varieties of mulberries, cherries, and grapes on a feeder table. 

Orioles are frequent visitors to nectar feeders. They will even drink from your hummingbird feeder if you remove the bee guards. My orange-flowered Trumpet Creeper vine sports dozens of blooms, attracting Baltimore Orioles throughout the summer. 

Steven Price

This message brought to you by 
Mark's Choice Bird Feast bird food,  exclusively at Home Hardware. 
Proud supporters of Bird Studies Canada.


My common salutation is 'keep your knees dirty', and I mean it partly in jest.  I can't count the number of blue jeans that I have worn through at the knees.  I've tried many knee pads without satisfaction, generally because they are too big and bulky, and they allow dirt in from the top.

Mark's Choice Nylon Knee Pads have been torture tested on my own knees for many hours. I recommend them for people who want to protect their knees from injury and their pants from wearing out prematurely. These pads don't have any excess padding because there is enough natural padding from the soil and the lawn. And, as requested, the top of the pad seals out dirt. They are light, easy to put on and take off while wearing gloves and they are washable!

Exclusive to Home Hardware. 
Home Hardware #1010-270


For the May contest, show me your favourite spring blooms!
Send one photo to  
I will post all photos on my facebook page.

The photo with the most 'likes' will win the Grand Prize:
A signed copy of my book The New Canadian Garden + A $50 gift card for Home Hardware, a copy of the Harrowmsith 2017 Almanac + 4 packs of Mark's Choice vegetable seeds.

The next 5 photos to receive the most 'likes' will win: a copy of my book The New Canadian Garden + a copy of the Harrowsmith 2017 Almanac + 4 packs of Mark's Choice Vegetable seeds.

I will post all of the photos on my Facebook page.   Vote for your favourite photo!

Deadline for entry: May 8, 2017. 
Deadline for voting is May 11, 2017.

Enter today!


Photo by Julie Campbell
In the April issue of Gardening with Mark, I invited you to 'take a photo in your yard that shows a 'Sign of Spring'.  Thank you to all who entered their photos. 
The photo with the most 'likes' won the Grand Prize: A signed copy of my book The New Canadian Garden + A $50 gift card for Home Hardware, a copy of the Harrowmsith Garden Guide + 4 packs of Mark's Choice vegetable seeds.
The next 5 photos with the most 'likes' won: a copy of my book The New Canadian Garden + a copy of the 2016 Harrowsmith Garden Guide + 4 packs of Mark's Choice Vegetable seeds.
The next 5 photos with the most 'likes' won: a copy of the 2016 Harrowsmith Garden Guide + 4 packs of Mark's Choice Vegetable seeds.

Congratulations to these Winners: Julie Campbell, Deb Sanderson, Charles Berry, Mair Hughes, Serena Foisy, Connie Zeran, Christine Savage, Madelaine Doucette, Mary-Jane Parent, Gary De Bock, Vicky Penner, Jessica Lockhart
You can view all of the photos here: 

You can view all of the photos here.
Join Me for a Day of Golf
in Support of the Highway of Heroes Living Tribute

Date: Thursday, August 24, 2017
Location: Port Hope Golf & Country Club

Mark Cullen and Dr. James Clubine host this golf tournament in support of The Highway of Heroes Living Tribute.

The Highway of Heroes Living Tribute is planting 117,000 trees along the Highway of Heroes, one tree for each of Canada's war dead since Confederation.  A living, breathing memorial.

Sign up today!  Space is limited to 92 golfers.

Cost: $150/golfer includes: 18 holes of golf/cart, prize table & dinner

Visit for more information.

Harrowsmith 2017 Fall Almanac 

At Harrowsmith magazine, we strive to be timeless. There's a term for this in the industry--it's all about creating "evergreen" material. 

Evergreen stories remain relevant long past their publication date. That's why we want to offer you a free issue of our coveted 2017 Fall Almanac (coincidentally, the 40th-anniversary issue!). 

You'll find over 75 pages of weather tidbits and night sky events, our must-have seed guide and killer recipes like Beer + Nova Scotia Cheddar Cheese Soup or Brie + Pesto Grilled Cheese sandwiches.

Find your digital issue here.

Love us? You can subscribe at and "Like" our Facebook page while you're at it.
There's lots of evergreen there too!

May 3 - Shepherds HH, Armstrong BC - Spring Hoedown

May 4 - Castlegar, BC - Communities in Bloom winner of the Heritage Conservation Award 2016

May 5,6 - Trail, BC - Communities in Bloom winner of the Community Involvement award 2016

May 12 - Celebrate Compost Week at the Toronto Botanical Garden - Join me for breakfast

May 12 - Academy Theatre, Lindsay, ON

May 16 - Orillia Home Hardware Ladies' Night
Stay in Touch 
Mark's Gardening Connections  

Home Hardware

Gardening Events
Event Schedule

My monthly Event Listings are so popular we were running out of room in the newsletter.  All event listings have moved to .
Event lists are organized by Province and accessible through these links:
Do you have a 'gardening' event you would like to promote?  I would be happy to include your event listing on my website.

Send your info to with the subject line 'Event Listing'.  Please provide a brief description of the event, along with a website for further information.