Gardening Forum

Welcome to the City Gardening Forum

Our grounds keeper, Sonya Runacres, has worked for the City of Fort St. John for the past 20 years and for the past 8 years has worked in developing and maintaining the City gardens and green spaces. She has a Bio Chem Tech diploma and is certified as a Master Gardener from the University of Saskatchewan. Our gardens have been recognized throughout the area and country. In 2010, The Formal Gardens and Fish Creek park both received Recognition Awards from the Communities In Bloom Judges.

The City has had many enquiries about what was planted in the various pots and baskets so this page will share some great tips on what has worked well for us. If you would like any additional information, need help or have any ideas in regards to the parks and gardens feel free to send an e-mail to us at

Click one of these links to jump to the topic you are interested in:

  1. Spring has sprung, what should I do first?

  2. Spring care of fruit trees and shrubs

  3. Recycling in the gardens

  4. How to help the garden along during those long winters

  5. Ash Plant Bug

Spring has Sprung, What do I do First?

There are so many things to do before you go out to plant. Here are a few to consider.

  1. Make sure all the garden tools, including lawn mowers and weed-eaters are clean and sharp.
  2. Plan what you are going to plant. Draw it out and count the number of plants. This will help you save money when you go to the store.
  3. Start any plants at home that you can’t get at the nurseries. There are numerous seed catalogues you can use. Some of the ones Sonya uses are:
    Heritage Harvest seeds, Veseys Seeds, Dominion Seed House, and William Dam Seeds
  4. Once the snow and mud are gone clean out the beds and add the steer (or sheep) manure and start planting.  Here’s a peek at some of the flowers the City has used in the flower beds.

Rudbekia - Cherry Brandy
Calibrachoa - Saffron
Lobelia -Trailing blue
Calibrachoa - Terra cotta
Cauliflower - Cheddar

Rudbekia-Cherry BrandyCalibrachoa - SaffronLobelia - Trailing BlueCalibrachoa - Terra CottaCauliflower - Cheddar

Did you notice the orange cauliflower? That's right! Sometimes Sonya mixes vegetables in with the flowers.

Spring Care of Fruit Trees and Shrubs

There are a few things to keep in mind when purchasing a new fruit tree or shrub.

  • Ensure that it is the right plant for this zone. Fort St. John is a zone 2b – 3. If you purchase anything over a zone 3 then you are taking chances. The winters here are unpredictable from year to year, so plant any fruit on a south face with good wind protection.
  • Only plant what you can harvest in a season. There is a small window when the fruit are ripe so ensure you have the time to pick them when they are ready. If you have too much or are not able to eat or process them, grab some freezer bags and freeze them. Do not leave fruit to rot on the ground this will just cause mould and attract wildlife, rodents and insects.
  • If you have more than one variety, try selecting them so they ripen at different times. Remember that we have a very short season for growing so planting late varieties will probably not produce fruit or the fruit will be under ripe. Plan for fruit to be ripe no later than the end of August, that way on a bad year you still have a chance to eat what you have been waiting all season for.

To successfully produce quality fruit you should do the following:

  • The selected site should provide the best environment for growing, taking into account the microclimate and soil conditions.
  • Adequate soil preparation helps the plants establish themselves by reducing competition with weeds and increasing the organic matter content. If you can, do a soil test in the area you want to plant. This will let you know what nutrients are lacking so you can supplement for optimal growth and fruit production.
  • Proper planning with respect to spacing and placement. A well thought out plan avoids competition among plants and reduces the spread of disease.
  • Proper maintenance is essential. This involves: training of young plants, weed control, mulching to ensure the organic content, proper irrigation, winter protection (if needed) and pruning.  

Now for the Pruning...
It is not as hard as you think. Just keep these few tips in mind.
Most shrubs just need to have any cross branches and dead branches removed. Fruit trees are a little different…

  1. Examine the entire tree and start from the bottom
  2. Never leave stubs. Always cut back to a side shoot or bud.
  3. Light annual pruning is better than heavy pruning every few years.
  4. The central leader should always be thicker in diameter than any other branch around it.
  5. Cut a branch so the wound is flush with the branch collar, the slight swelling at the base of the branch where it enters the trunk or the larger branch. Do not cut into the branch collar since that can interfere with wound closure.
  6. Never remove more than ¼ of the live foliage.
  7. Disinfect pruners with rubbing alcohol or a 10% bleach solution between plants to prevent the spread of disease.
  8. Do not paint wounds with tree wound dressing since this has been found to deform healing and increase rotting of the cut surface.
  9. Encourage and maintain an attractive, low-headed form with strong scaffold branches arising from the lower portion of the trunk. The lowest scaffold should be on the southwest side, about 24 inches from the ground. This will help shade the trunk and prevent sun scald.
  10. Remove narrow crotch angles. If allowed to develop they will weaken the structure of the tree.
  11. Make pruning cuts to an outward-pointing bud.

There is a small window that you can spray in the spring. When the buds start to swell, before the leaves come out, use Dormant Oil and Lime-Sulfur. Read the directions carefully when mixing and remember to have your PPE (personal protective equipment), gloves, long sleeves and safety glasses.
Dormant oil spray controls a wide range of pests, including aphids, whiteflies, scale, mites, mealy bug and some caterpillars. It suffocates adult insects and smothers eggs. In order for the spray to be effective you must cover the insects with the oil. Some statistics suggest that dormant oil kills 80% of insect eggs laid during the previous fall. Lime Sulfur Spray is one of the safest fungicides, and also works to control insects. It can be used to control brown rot, leaf spot, powdery mildew, rust, black spot and blight, as well as mites, scale, borers and aphids.

Recycling in the Gardens

When most people talk about recycling in the gardens, their first thought is conservation. This is always an important point and one to consider always in what ever you do. However, at the Public Works department we have been working on integrating our “leftovers” to develop a vegetable garden for our employees. Any business can do this and it does not have to look pretty. Just be functional. We started by collecting a few good crates, then using some old wire baskets that were no good for hanging baskets. Of course we made containers from sewer pipe. Then… with a little research adding self watering containers made from pails. Here is how it turned out…
We grew strawberries, cauliflower and peas in sewer pipe…

The Herbs, squash, peppers and sunflowers did great in the lined wire baskets...

The potatoes grown in crates were a big hit...

And, the tomatoes were sweet and flavourful...

We also converted some broken flower pots into self watering containers and grew corn!
Each pot had three plants and we just hoped for the best...believe it or not we actually got about 3 ears per stalk.

Anyone can create a vegetable oasis with just a little imagination and the right materials.

If you plan on developing a garden from these containers here are some points to remember.

  1. Ensure the container is free of all chemicals. Do not use wood or plastic containers that contained any type of petroleum or toxic compounds.
  2. Line all containers that have large holes in the bottom (or sides) with fabric cloth. This will hold the soil in and let the excess water drain out.
  3. Only use light soil. If you only have topsoil mix 1/3 part topsoil with 2/3 parts peat moss.
  4. You will need to add organics and fertilizer to the soil. These plants are heavy feeders and require a soil rich in nutrients. Do not add too much though...less is better when it comes to fertilizers.
  5. Keep containers moist, especially when seeds are just starting to sprout. This is why we use self watering containers. The self watering containers allow us to go without watering for 3-4 days depending on the weather. As well as maintaining a constant moisture level.

If you are interested in making your own self watering containers check out the following websites, they are a wealth of information.

How to help the garden along during those long winters.

Living here in Fort St. John creates some exciting challenges for the avid gardener. First we live in Zone 2-3. Temperatures can range from 0C one moment to -20C within hours, then there are the winter storms, freezing rain and chinooks all of which can place immense stress and injury on plants. It may be hard to predict these changes and impossible to avoid them but by knowing this we can try to minimize the effects of winter on our plants by first understanding what is going on.

Sudden severe damage forces plants to use stored reserves to replace or repair damaged parts. This damage usually occurs early spring just as the plants are using their reserves to produce new growth. This places added stress and a reduction on reserves for growth and renewal. The effect of this type of damage, especially if it occurs over several growing seasons is a weakening of the plants entire system. Our short summers and long winters can deplete reserves with little opportunity to re-establish them for the next season. Therefore it is important to learn how to deal with, identify and most of all repair and prevent the most common of these injuries.

Type of Injury: Broken Branches

Cause: Ice, Wind, Hail, Snow

How to Repair: Wait until spring and trim back all broken and dead branches. Trim back within ¼ inch to the nearest bud or branch collar. This will also help stimulate growth. Ensure that injured trees and shrubs are given adequate amounts of water during the early spring months to help with the re-growth.

Prevention: For Trees and shrubs that bloom in the spring, prune after blooming. Fruit trees should be pruned in the early spring and perennials pruned back in early spring. Remove any dead or damaged branches before winter. Refer to Spring care of Fruit trees and Shrubs on how to prune.

Type of Injury: Frost Heave

Cause: Alternating periods of thawing and freezing

How to Repair: Replant as soon as the ground is workable

Prevention: Mulch, Mulch and more mulch. It will act as a buffer and reduce the effects of the thaw-freeze cycles

Type of Injury: Damage To tree bases

Cause: Mice, voles, shrews, rabbits; these animals will chew the bark off trees and shrubs for winter food. Sometimes completely removing bark or ringing trees and shrub bases. This will cause certain death for most trees and shrubs.

Repair: Unfortunately there is not much that can be done if the tree or shrub is completely rung. Sometimes if the damage is not to wide or only partially chewed the tree/ shrub will heal itself. Sometimes a grafting technique called bridge and inarching can be done. But this is an advanced technique that requires some skill. Refer to this PDF from PennState for grafting advice.

Prevention: The best way to prevent this type of damage is to place a guard around the tree. There are some you can buy commercially or you can wrap a fine wire mesh around the tree to prevent chewing.

Type of Injury: Salt Burn

Cause: The spray from road salt can damage plants as well as change the soil structure causing compaction. This will restrict nutrient, water and oxygen flow to the plants placing them under severe stress. Symptoms of salt burn are dried, burnt leaf edges.

Repair: Unfortunately this far north means that this is going to be an ongoing concern. However there are things that can be done to reduce the effects of road salt on our flower beds. In the spring flush areas that have had severe salt spray with 2 inches of water over a 2-3 hour period, then again in 3 days. If it is raining this is not necessary. Nature will do this for you. Just keep track of the amount of rain and supplement if necessary. By doing this excess salts will be leached out of the soil and away from plant roots.

Prevention: The best way to prevent this is to plant flower beds away from areas that are going to have salt sprayed on them in the winter. This can be difficult for beds already established but if you place spruce boughs or fabric cloth over the beds in the fall, just before the first snow this will help keep out some of the salt as well as protecting plants from rocks, etc., that are splashed onto boulevards during the winter.
Another method for prevention is to select species that are salt tolerant and install a low wall or hedge of salt tolerant evergreens which can help deflect salt spray away from sensitive plants. Refer to for a list of salt tolerant plants.
Just remember that we can still grow beautiful gardens it just might take a bit more work.

Ash Plant Bug

Some Ashe trees have been affected by the Ash Plant Bug. We have been assured that the bugs will not kill the trees so there is no need to panic about Fort St. John having to lose their trees and we are working on a solution to try to alleviate any future outbreaks. Below is some information on the topic so that you can take care of your own trees.

About Ash Plant Bugs

Adults are slightly smaller than 1⁄4 inch long, varying in colour from pale yellow marked with brown to almost black. They are extremely active insects which scurry undercover or fly away when disturbed. Because of their shyness and quickness, plant bugs are often overlooked, but their feeding damage always signals their presence.

Ash trees grown in open, sunny sites are the most susceptible to plant bug attack. Small or newly transplanted trees are particularly prone to severe damage. The spring generation does the most noticeable tree damage because the insects prefer feeding on young succulent tissue. The leaves appear distorted, burned, and stippled even before they are fully expanded. In addition, egg-laying punctures may permit diseases to enter the tree. Because populations tend to build on a given tree over time, a recurring problem may require remedial action.

Life cycle: Although a number of different plant bug species are involved, their life cycles are similar. Ash plant bug eggs winter in small twigs and branches on the tree. The eggs hatch shortly after the buds open in the spring. Immature plant bugs (called nymphs) begin feeding immediately on the new shoots, petioles, and developing leaves. Within 3 to 4 weeks (by mid-June) the nymphs mature and mate. Adult females lay eggs by drilling holes into small twigs with their beaks and then inserting their egg-laying ovipositor into the woody tissue. These eggs hatch in 7–10 days. The second generation feeds from early summer until the first heavy frost. Eggs laid in July and August don’t hatch until the following spring.

Controlling Ash Plant Bugs

Cultural: Keep trees in a vigorous growing condition. Supply adequate moisture and fertilizer to help trees withstand plant bug damage. For small trees, a forceful stream of water will remove and kill many nymphs. However, adult plant bugs can return to the tree.

Chemical: Control ash plant bugs with an insecticide, making the first application in early to mid-May when the leaves are expanding, or when damage first appears. Treat only if insects are present. Treatment is most effective when temperatures are between 55° and 85°F. Organic growers consider insecticidal soaps and Pyrellin acceptable for use. Large trees are difficult to spray; however, they are less likely to require treatment. If treatment is necessary, consider consulting a professional tree care service or arborist for assistance.

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Questions or Comments?

Contact: Grounds Keeper