Mark and Ben Cullen's newsletter

"Autumn repays the earth the leaves which summer lent it." 
~Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799), translated by Norman Alliston, 1908

Ok, we know that the centre of the universe is not in Central Canada.
We also know that many parts of the prairies have experienced snow already, some areas in September. 

With that in mind, we offer some advice about 'battening down the hatches' of your garden as we approach the winter months.  Enjoy it.  Hard to do, we know, when the bite of late fall is in the air.  But we find the harder we rake (leaves, for instance), the warmer we feel.  Which is just one reason, of many, why we choose to rake rather than wave a power leaf blower around, like a magician making leaves disappear.
Mark recently appeared on The Morning Show on Global national with Carolyn Mackenzie.  

They were talking about pumpkins, gourds and the like and Mark asked her, "What will you do with all of your outdoor fall décor items when you are done with them?" 
The answer is to re-purpose  them elsewhere in the garden or compost them.

Carolyn's answer was different: something about using the straw from her front door as furniture in her daughter's play house?? Ok.   

Not everyone has a daughter with a play house needing straw-bale furniture.  As much as we like Carolyn's idea, to be more practical, we have this to suggest:

Straw is a great mulch for strawberries. Thus, the name STRAWberry.   Pile it 30cm thick over your existing plants.
Straw is a great mulch for garlic. Plant garlic bulbs now and mulch with 30cm of straw before winter.  
Also, straw is a great insulator: use it to insulate your carrot crop and slow the progression of frost into the ground.  Just move it off your carrots every time you want to dig some fresh ones. And there is nothing like a freshly dug carrot.

And, just in case you didn't click through and watch our amazing gardening segment, your pumpkin deserves special mention.  It is 99% water so please, don't throw it out or even leave it for the 'green bin' people to cart away.  Just let it melt into your garden soil by leaving it on the surface of the garden.  Cut it up into pieces with a spade or shovel if you like, but don't kick it to the curb.  Would you put a bucket of water out for pick up? 

Plant spring flowering bulbs
.  It is getting late, in most parts of Canada, to plant daffodils and narcissus as they need about 6 weeks free of ground frost to put down roots before winter. Tulips, crocus and hyacinths, on the other hand, are very happy planted in the ground at this time of year.  Grandpa Cullen often planted his tulips the day before Christmas and enjoyed a wonderful show the next spring.  This may be late in the bulb-planting season, but you will get some great deals at your local retailer, who is blowing bulbs out of the store before they get stuck with them over the winter.

Christmas wrap.  The first gifts that you should wrap for the Christmas season are your evergreens.   We wrap two layers of burlap around upright evergreens, especially our junipers and cedars (which are very susceptible to salt burn).  One layer prevents wind damage, the other snow and ice.  The yew hedge gets wrapped with a double layered piece of burlap, supported by 2" x 2" stakes hammered into the ground.  This is a gift to yourself. 


Lawn mower.  We put our power mower to bed by cleaning the cutting deck and spraying it with lubricating oil.  We empty the gas from the tank as it can go gummy in the carburetor next spring when we start the machine: after removing gas from the tank, let the motor run until it runs out of gas.  Remove the connection from the spark plug and wipe the exterior down with an oiled cloth. 


Fertilize the lawn.  What? With the leaves off the trees and a cold bite in the air, this is not what you will feel like doing.  We don't always feel like walking the dog either.  But it must be done.  

Feeding your lawn now, builds up natural sugars at the root zone which will help keep your lawn healthy and green next spring.  You will minimize snow mould, white powdery mildew and brown spot during the thaw by fertilizing this time of year.  Truth is, this is the most useful application you will make all year.  We use a 12-0-18 formula, to ensure the best performance come spring. 


spiral guard

Hungry vermin.  Rabbits, mice, rats and other vermin love to chow down on the bark of young fruit trees.  Well, they don't LOVE it, they do this out of desperation and hunger.  

The solution is simple and inexpensive.  Wrap a spiral shaped plastic protector around each fruit tree in your yard this weekend.  Do this for the first 5 or 6 years of its life.  After that, the bark is so tough, even a sharp-toothed rabbit will have lost interest in it.


Water.  You will soon shut off the outdoor faucets to prevent freezing, but before you do, be sure that established plants in your yard are well watered.  We have had reasonable amounts of rain this fall, but the evergreens and shrubs under the eve and soffit of your home are protected from most rain.  Be sure to soak all permanent plants deeply before the freeze up.  Truth is, being frozen in ice is better insulation than dry soil.  Who knew?


Rake leaves onto your garden.  Off your lawn, on to your garden.  Or into your compost pile.  Either way, they will rot down over the winter and provide needed nourishment to all plants that grow.  Do not put them to the curb.


Turn your attention indoors. There are a lot of outdoor annuals which are worth adding to your indoor plant collection for the winter. 

By now, you should have brought in frost-tender plants such as spider plants or tropical hibiscus. Make sure they are free from insects and diseases that could spread to your other houseplants, and treat or repot if necessary.

There is little more to do out of doors after you have completed these tasks.  Other than to gloat over the fact that you have done it all and deserve a rest through our long Canadian winter.
For more information on 'what to do in the garden' be sure to follow our updates on Facebook, the Toronto Star, and our 31 other syndicated newspapers.
A special announcement about Friday, November 3, 2017

The Highway of Heroes Living Tribute team has put together a special, ceremonial tree planting featuring special guest Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell.

To celebrate its two-year anniversary, the Highway of Heroes Living Tribute will hold a special planting event in Toronto on Friday, November 3. Dignitaries will address community volunteers, followed by the planting of a ceremonial tree and photo opportunities. Afterwards, the 200 attendees will be guided to plant another 500 trees on the land next to the highway. With Remembrance Day the following week, this event has special significance. 

Date: Friday, November 3rd 
Location: Meadowvale Rd. & Hwy 401, Scarborough 
Time: 10:00am - 10:30am speaking, 10:30am-noon planting 
Special Guest Speakers to Include: 
The Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario 
Mark Cullen, Project Leader and Co-Founder, Highway of Heroes Living Tribute
More details about this and other events at

Look for our messages coming up in the Globe and Mail, Global National News, The Weather Network, 680 News in Toronto and more.  

Please help us spread the word that we are honouring Canada's fallen Heroes by planting a tree for each one on the Highway of Heroes.  117,000 in all. 
Have a great November: in the garden and wherever you choose to reflect on the sacrifice made by so many, Remembrance Day November 11. 
Mark and Ben
Merchants of beauty

Cooper's Hawk
Not all backyard birds are brightly-coloured songbirds that visit your feeders. Some larger birds are just as interested in your bird feeders, but not for the seeds. These predators are looking to catch and eat small songbirds in your yard. I'm talking of course about hawks. One hawk species is a true backyard bird feeding specialist: the Cooper's Hawk.
Cooper's Hawks can be found across southern Canada, from BC to the Maritime provinces. They are acrobatic flyers that can easily negotiate any obstacle, from thick forests to buildings and even cars. Watching one of these incredible raptors fly through a neighbourhood at high speed is impressive to say the least.
Cooper's Hawks are medium-sized hawks that have long banded tails, rounded wings, and a rather large head. Adults are steel-blue in colouration on their upper parts, with dark orange-coloured barring on the underparts. Immature Cooper's Hawks are brown above and pale below with distinct brown streaking. These hawks have a distinctive flight pattern that includes a couple stiff wing beats followed by extended periods of gliding, and much of it takes place fairly close to the ground.

Photo credit: Ron Ridout

The Cooper's Hawk is a species of forest-dwelling raptor known as an Accipiter. These closely-related hawks are very similar in appearance - particularly Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawks. Size is one of the key features to help separate these two species. Cooper's Hawks are typically larger (crow-sized) with a more pronounced head and rounded tail, compared to the smaller Sharp-shinned Hawk (American Robin-sized) with a smaller head and sharply squared-off tail. Interestingly, all Accipiters show significant sexual dimorphism, with females being much larger than males.
Getting the opportunity to view a raptor up close and personal in your own yard is a real treat. Over the past 20 years, Cooper's Hawks have become more regular visitors in backyards across southern Canada. But if you're someone who is not too keen on having some of your backyard songbirds become hawk food, just take down your feeders for a few days and the Cooper's Hawk will move on.
Jody Allair
Bird Studies Canada
Twitter: @JodyAllair

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

Birdseed Storage Bin

I feed the birds year-round in my yard.  Many people wait until winter to fill their birdfeeders. 
I really enjoy watching birds visit my yard throughout the winter.  It's time stock up on birdseed. 
I keep bags of birdseed in these storage bins to make sure mice are not a problem.

25 inch handle for easy lifting

Handle locks lid to prevent accidental spilling

Extra grip under base for easy tipping

Sturdy enough for bird seed, pet food, ice melt and more


item# 5453-005

Exclusive to Home Hardware

Here's your opportunity to win the ultimate bragging rights! Does everyone pull you aside and beg for your holiday cookie recipe? Have you noticed your hazelnut shortbread disappears long before Aunt Brenda's flapper pie? Share your coveted recipe with us and tell us a little about the history behind your cookie. Has the recipe card made its way down through generations? Is it your own invention? Or, accident?
Send your recipe and a high-resolution photo to our winter edition editor, Catalina, at by November 30th, 2017. The sweetest contenders will have their recipes published in the Harrowsmith's Winter 2018-2019 issue and receive a copy of Dan Needles' funny and affectionate chronicle of rural life, True Confessions from the Ninth Concession. The perfect pairing for a plate of just-baked cookies!
Look for Dan's article in our upcoming, inaugural magazine-size winter issue!

Photo by Liz P.
In the October issue of Gardening With Mark, I invited you to share a photo of your fall decor. This was a fun contest.  Thank you all for sharing your wonderful ideas.
The 5 winners, who had the most 'likes' each received a signed copy of my book 'The New Canadian Garden' and 4 packets of Mark's Choice garden seeds [$28 value].  
The Grand Prize winner, with the most 'likes' of all, received a $50 Home Hardware gift card, plus the New Canadian Garden and 4 packets of Mark's Choice garden seeds. 
Congratulations to: Liz P. (grand prize winner), Connie Z., Kerri R., Jim and Terri R., Willemina B.
This month I encourage you to share a photo of 'your garden today'.  While most plants have finished blooming, and your annuals are enriching your compost pile, there is still beauty to be found in the fall garden.
Send one photo to
I will post all the photos on my Facebook page.
The 5 winners, who get the most 'likes' will receive a signed copy of my book 'The New Canadian Garden' and 4 packets of Mark's Choice garden seeds ($28 value).  
The #1 winner will have the most 'likes' of all!  And will receive a $50 Home Hardware gift card, plus The New Canadian Garden and 4 packets of Mark's Choice garden seeds. 
Encourage your friends and family to 'vote' for your photo to increase your chance of winning.
(deadline for entry is November 8, 2017.  Voting closes November 13, 2017)
Let's Go To The Movies, Let's Go To Canada Blooms

Canada's largest horticultural festival returns to the Enercare Centre March 9-18

Calling all movie buffs and garden lovers alike. Get ready to be inspired at Canada Blooms 2018 with an array of floral and landscape designs influenced by some of Hollywood's greatest blockbusters.

"We are very excited for our 2018 theme, 'Let's Go To The Movies,'" says Terry Caddo, General Manager of Canada Blooms. "We cannot wait to see what our award-winning florist artists, garden builders and designers have up their sleeves and how they will incorporate the theme into their creations."

Also being presented at Canada Blooms will be not one, but three Plants of the Year which come from Proven Winner's National Plant of the Year Program.
"We're thrilled that Canada Blooms has graciously agreed to feature our three 2018 National Plants of the Year at their spring festival," says Marshall Dirks, Director of Marketing and Public Relations for Proven Winners. "In just our second year of building this effort, we've been pleased that growers and retailers have embraced the National Plant of the Year program, making it easier for gardeners to experience these wonderful varieties."

The Supertunia® Bordeaux™ is the 2018 Annual of the Year™ - a petunia developed by Canadian Ken Lander of Sunrise Greenhouses in Pugwash, Nova Scotia. The other honourees for 2018 include the Primo "Black Pearl," a heuchera named Perennial of the Year and Spilled Wine, a weigela recognized as Landscape Plant of the Year.

For more than 20 years, Canada Blooms has inspired thousands of festival-goers and the 2018 festival is shaping up to be no exception.  

Co-located with the National Home Show, Canada Blooms will take place March 9th to 18th, 2017, at the Enercare Centre at Exhibition Place in Toronto. For more information, please visit Follow Canada Blooms on Twitter and Instagram, and Like it on Facebook
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