Van Dongen's News & Tips

  1. Blog Index

    Cedar/Evergreen Privacy Hedging

    Cedar Flagging

    Lawn Fertilizing

    Long-Blooming Perennials

    Maple Gall Mite


    Pool Planting Tips

    Tree Selection

    Working in a Small Space

    Watering Newly Planted Trees

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  2. Lawn Fertilizing

    A concern that many of our home-owning clients bring to us is how they can achieve and maintain a lush green lawn, especially in the heat of the summer. The fertilizer that we stock here at Van Dongen’s is Agromart ‘Magic Carpet’ Fertilizer. We usually recommend the 25-5-10 formulation. What do these numbers mean, exactly?


    Magic Carpet is a strong slow-release fertilizer. It is not diluted, but it is a slow-release nature prevents it from burning your lawn. The strong commercial grade wax coating (XCU= 65%) on the granules allows it to break down slowly over time, usually taking 6-8 weeks to completely dissolve. This means that you can overseed simultaneously without fear of burning! 


    If you are overseeding or seeing a new lawn, good soil is very important. We have a specialty soil called Viva Lawn Repair, which is very finely screened. This soil contains peat loam, an important ingredient for germination of new seed.

    Magic Carpet fertilizer is commercial grade that should be used every 6-8 weeks, whether you have existing grass or newly placed seed. You will require about 4lbs of Magic Carpet for every 1000 square feet of lawn you hope to fertilize. Our Magic Carpet bags are 25 kilograms (approximately 55 lbs). This means that a full bag will cover about 13,750 sq. ft.

    Some spreaders use arbitrary numeric values rather than actual quantities. If this is the case, put about 0.4 lbs in the spreader (for 100 sq. ft.) and set the spreader to an estimated value. If all of the fertilizer is used up before the 100 sq. ft. has been covered, or if there is some left after you have finished the 100 sq. ft., try again until you have found an accurate setting. Then, keep note of this setting and use the previously mentioned 4lbs of fertilizer for every 1000 sq. ft.

    If you are keeping the fertilizer for future use, keep in mind it should not be left in the spreader. If it is kept in its bag and in a dry area, Magic Carpet fertilizer can last for years.

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  3. Cedar/Evergreen Privacy Hedging

    Our largest number of inquiries is in regard to the type of cedar to use as a privacy hedge.  Many new properties have been/are being developed on smaller lots thus requiring options to provide privacy while taking up as little yard space as possible. Cedars are a versatile plant that is both attractive and functional and requires relatively little maintenance.  They do well in full sun to partial shade and have a shallow, fibrous root system that makes them the ideal tree for planting around a pool or any other location with underground obstacles. The roots tend to go around objects, such as fence posts, rather than disturbing them.

    There is the common misconception that cedars attract mosquitoes. Cedars tend to grow in moist conditions, just the type of environment mosquitoes thrive in. It is the case of the environment causing the mosquitoes to breed, not the cedars.  The key to eliminating mosquitoes is to remove standing water from a property if possible. Low areas with improper drainage and rain barrels are two of the most common breeding zones.

    There are four options available that will provide the desired result and all share the same basic requirements in terms of habitat.  Average to moist soil conditions is preferred and the tree shouldn’t be allowed to dry out. No specific pH or soil type is necessary and cedars are mostly tolerant of urban conditions.  A relatively sheltered location is preferred to help limit desiccation and it is beneficial to apply mulch around the base to protect the exposed portion of the tree.  Growth over the first 2 years can be negligible as the root system gets established but from the 3rd year on can grow up to a 1’-1-1/2’ a year. All cedars take pruning well and are easy to form.

    White Cedar:

    The White Cedar is a tall pyramidal tree with a dense, strong central leader. It has an attractive reddish/brown bark and green foliage that tends to yellow in the winter months. Mature Ht. can reach 30’ with a spread of 20’ possible. Generally they are planted at an 18” spacing for trees up to 4’ tall and a 2’ spacing for trees 5’ and taller.

    Field/Swamp Cedar:

    Field Cedar is the common name for an Eastern White Cedar, the difference being that field cedars are dug as bare root specimens.   White cedars in contrast are pruned, groomed and shaped as they grow to give a full, uniform and conical shape.  The field cedar tends to have more sparse foliage and a tall, thin appearance upon planting.  Generally they are planted with a spacing of 1’ between trees per row.  Should a more full appearance be desired a second row is planted 1’ apart with an offset of 6” between trunks.

    Black Cedar

    The Black Cedar is a narrow, upright tree with a col

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  4. Hydrangea Care

    Smooth Hydrangeas

    Hydrangea arborescens, also known as Smooth Hydrangea, are known for their reliable blooms. These hydrangeas bloom on “new wood”—the current season’s growth. You should prune them back in late winter or early spring. Pruning them back will encourage new growth, which helps the plant to produces flowers. Spring pruning will also result in a stronger fuller plant that is less likely to flop over under the weight of its abundant summer flowers. Cutting the stems back to one or two feet will leave a good framework to support the blooms.

    There are two new Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ which have stronger stems that won’t flop. They are:

    • Hydrangea arborescens ‘Invincibelle Spirit II’ which is the very first pink-flowering form of ‘Annabelle’. It produces new pink flowers right up to frost.
    • Hydrangea arborescens ‘Incrediball’ has the biggest flowers and has the strongest stems of any of the ‘Annabelle’ varieties.

    Panicle Hydrangeas

    Hydrangea paniculata, also known as Panicle Hydrangea also blooms on “new wood”.  Prune these flowering hydrangeas in late winter or early spring.

    Some varieties that fall into this group are:

    • Hydrangea paniculata ‘Bobo’
    • Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’
    • Hydrangea paniculata ‘Little Lime’
    • Hydrangea paniculata ‘Little Lamb’
    • Hydrangea paniculata ‘Pinky Winky’
    • Hydrangea paniculata ‘Strawberry Sundae’
    • Hydrangea paniculata ‘Quick Fire’
    • Hydrangea paniculata ‘Little Quick Fire’
    • Hydrangea paniculata ‘Zinfin Doll’

    Bigleaf Hydrangeas

    Hydrangea macrophylla, also known as Bigleaf Hydrangea, blooms on old wood. This plant requires little more than a trimming and only immediately after flowering. You should never prune it in winter or spring, because it sets flower buds the year before and if you shear it back, then you will cut off all of summer’s flowers.

    Some varieties that fall into this group are:

    • Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Blushing Bride’
    • Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Twist and Shout’
    • Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Bloomstruck’
    • Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Masja’
    • Hydrangea macrophylla ‘ Star Grazer’
    • Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Wedding Gown’

    There are a few varieties in this group that do bloom on old and new wood.  They are:

    • Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Bailm
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  5. Watering Newly Planted Trees

    Newly planted trees and shrubs should be watered at least 3X per week for the first year.  It should be a deep watering with a hose - no irrigation or sprinkler system will sufficiently reach those deeper roots!  Make sure water is cold to the touch. A hose left out in the sun will become very hot, and hot water will kill your plant material.  Deep watering should be at least a slow count to thirty seconds.  Make sure water stays near the trunk of the tree by keeping the water at a moderate flow; otherwise it will spread out further than you want and disturb soil or mulch around the tree.

    Avoid watering leaves and foliage as this can promote fungus and disease.  Plants absorb water for their leaves through their root system.

    Hydrangeas are a common plant that needs especially consistent watering.  They are the very first to show that they are in distress (you will see the droopy leaves on the plant).  Hose watering for a slow count to twenty should do the trick every night until the droopiness is gone.  Water diligently for the first year to help those roots establish!

    Watering should be done until we are hit with our first heavy frost in the fall, usually at the end of October.  This signals the trees to go dormant (“go to sleep”) for the winter, so they won’t have the same watering needs. However, in hot summer conditions we are all thirsty - our kids, pets, and even our plants and trees! They are living organisms that require attention and feel things just as we do. I’m sure we all appreciate a cool drink at the end of a hot summer day.

    Take care of your gardens as you would yourself, and your plants will thank you for it. We wish you happy gardening, and all the best for a beautiful summer season.

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  6. Tree Selection

    One of the most frequently asked questions we receive is “what is the best tree for my property?”. This requires a detailed discussion about potential long term considerations as the tree matures. This is a complicated question with many variables to consider.     

    Property Location

    Location of the property is the first variable to be looked at because it determines the hardiness zone. Hardiness zone tells us where specific types of plant material that will survive. This takes into account factors such as minimum winter temperature, length of frost free period, summer rainfall, maximum temperature, snow cover and maximum wind speed. For reference Milton is in Zone 6a. Other communities that share this rating are Cambridge and Carlisle. Lakeshore communities tend to be warmer therefore, having a higher rating of 6b and up. This includes Oakville, Mississauga, Burlington and Hamilton. Toronto is warmer still having a rating of 7a. Communities away from the lake tend to be cooler; Georgetown and Guelph have a rating of 5b.

    The Role of the Tree

    The next consideration is “what do you want the tree to do?”. For purposes of analysis this is generally broken down into the following three concerns:

    • Privacy

    This is probably the number one concern as many new developments have smaller properties with the homes in close proximity. Windows are often aligned requiring a view block or visual diffusion to provide the feeling of privacy. Planting space is often limited and at a premium so determining the best way to achieve this in the most efficient manner is important. Ranking the views to be blocked in order of importance is the first step as it is usually not possible to block all site lines.

    The next step is to determine the seasonality of the privacy requirements. For instance year round privacy may require evergreens (such as Norway Spruce, Eastern White Pine) or deciduous trees that may hold their leaves through the winter (English Oak). If only summer privacy is required the possibilities greatly increase as there is a large selection of deciduous trees and shrubs available.

    • Shade/Wind Protection

    Many homeowners wish to plant trees on their properties to provide more comfortable outdoor seating space or to cool indoor areas with excessive sun exposure. As with the privacy concern this can be seasonal thus utilizing a wide range of deciduous plant material or year round with evergreens.

    Often there is a need for reducing sun but not blocking it completely. Trees such as Locusts are valuable in this situation as they provide a permeable canopy that allows a certain level of sunlight to penetrate. This is often a desired characteristic around patios

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  7. Maple Gall Mite

    Maple Gall Mite (Vasates aceriscrummena)

    Maple Leaf Gall is a red bump or tiny bubble that appears on the top of some maple tree leaves. Most commonly affected maples include the families of: Acer x freemanii, Acer saccharum, and Acer saccharinum. It can also affect other trees such as Lindens. 

    A common comparison would be to consider gall like acne. Though unsightly, the good news is that gall is not detrimental to the health of your maple tree. The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) states that: “heavy infestations may completely deform leaves but seldom injure trees seriously”. Additionally, as the tree matures and establishes itself, it will outgrow this phase as the leaves become more dense and strong.

    The maple is generally affected by gall in late fall. The mite hibernates in the bud of the tree during the dormant months. When the leaf opens in the spring time, the mite lays its eggs on the surface of the leaf. By the time you see the red blister, they have long gone. Therefore, treatment must be done early.

    OMAFRA recommends dormant oil on the tree in the early spring, before the buds open, to kill the mite before it lays eggs. Another treatment option is to use an insecticidal soap when the leaf opens. However, many people choose to forego treatment due to the effort and cost associated with this course of action.

    It is worth noting that at the end of the day this is a cosmetic issue, and as such, many chemicals that once were available for commercial sale are no longer able to be purchased in Ontario under the Cosmetic Pesticide Ban. Feel free to visit us in store for the most up-to-date information and treatment options.

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  8. Nematodes

    Do you have dead patches of grass? Critters (skunks, raccoons) digging up your lawn?  Do you see grubs in your garden?

    Lawn grubs are the larval stage of June bugs, Japanese Beetles, European Chafer, Craneflies, etc.  Nematodes are living organisms—natural parasites which are microscopic worms that occur naturally in the soil. Nematodes kill off grubs. It is 100% safe for people, pets, plants and earthworms.

    Grubs start feeding on your lawn in April and then again in August.  Application of the Nematodes are generally done in May or when the soil temperature is 10°C or higher. A second application should be applied in the fall (between August to October) to eliminate new grubs that may have hatched in the summer.

    Nematodes generally control over 250 insect pests.

    Most Nematodes are applied as follows:

    • Nematodes are susceptible to the UV rays. Do not apply in direct sunlight (in the evening or on cloudy days are best).
    • Water the lawn deeply (its best when it’s raining). Nematodes move easier through the soil when it’s moist.
    • Keep your lawn moist for 10 days after application.

    Nematodes have a cycle.  We recommend that you do three applications as follows to get rid of your grubs:

    • 1st application = May or June
    • 2nd application= August or September or October
    • 3rd application = Following year in May or June
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  9. Pool Planting Tips

    Landscaping around swimming pools has a unique set of challenges due to the specific set of requirements associated with a pool.  Swimming pools often create their own microclimates such as raised humidity levels and intense sunlight reflected from concrete paving.  Plant material can be splashed with chlorine, salt water and other chemicals.  The key is to understand the micro climate and find the plant material that can withstand it while looking good and being easy to maintain.

    Selecting the appropriate plant material can be broken down using the following factors:

    • Privacy:

    This tends to be the primary issue for many clients as pool areas are often viewed as sanctuaries, places where someone can escape from the outside world.  It may be desirable to block a neighbor’s view, limit noise or hide an ugly view adjacent to the property.  The two primary elements to achieve this are trees and hedges.  A properly placed tree can block an intrusive deck or upper window.  Hot tubs are often incorporated as poolside elements and see use throughout the winter months, thus requiring evergreen screening.  Cedar hedges provide a natural fence to enclose the planted space and can provide shade as well as privacy. Emerald Cedars are a popular choice.  Vines should not be overlooked as elements for privacy as they can climb walls, weave through wire fences and wind around trellises.  They grow quickly and can be easily trained.  Honeysuckle, Wisteria and Trumpet Vine are three such specimens.


    • Plant Material as Scenic Elements:

    The aesthetic appeal of a species comes in a close second in terms of desirability and can be further broken down into the 3 major traits of form, colour and texture. 


    The mature shape of the plant is a major consideration as space is often at a premium when a pool is present.  Too often a garden is a secondary consideration and occupies only the space that is left over, thus limiting the size of the possible plantings.  This leads to the desirability of columnar trees that have limited lateral growth while preserving living space.  Dawyck Beech, Sweetgum and European Columnar Hornbeams are trees that fill this r

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  10. Long-Blooming Perennials

    Common Name:  Lenten Rose, Christmas Rose, Hellebore

    Latin Name: Helleborus

    Likes: Hellebores will tolerate most soils, but do best in semi-shade. They won’t tolerate drying out in full sun and need a protected location from wind damage.

    Fun Fact: The Hellebore's 'flowers' aren’t petals but sepals which are leaves that have grown to look like petals of a flower. Their job is to protect the actual flower, which is at the center the actual petals are those weird hollow things on the outer rim of the flower.

    Why we recommend it: Very early bloomer that thrives in the cold temperatures when gardeners are impatient for spring but other flowers are still dormant. Looks great with early spring bulbs

    Watch out for: Aphids


    Common Name:  Columbine

    Latin Name: Aquilegia

    Likes: Columbine plants aren’t too picky about soil as long it’s well draining and not too dry. While they enjoy full sun in most areas if it’s a hot area they would probably appreciate some mulch to keep their roots cool.

    Fun Fact: its Latin name comes from ‘Aquila’ which means eagle, as the petals resemble an eagle’s claw. The common name is Columbine, which means Dove.

    Why we recommend it: It blooms in a variety of colors for a long time during spring. It's absolutely gorgeous and it’s a hummingbird magnet!

    Watch out for: Leaf miners


    Common Name: Moss Phlox, Creeping Phlox

    Latin Name: Phlox subulata

    Likes: grows best in full sun & well-drained soil

    Fun Fact: The name is derived from the Greek word phlox meaning flame in reference to the intense flower colors of some varieties

    Why we recommend it: Creeping phlox has beautiful masses of color in the early spring. It’s hard to beat the stunning display of color in early spring. Looks incredible draped over rocks

    Watch out for: Powdery Mildew, Aphids


    Common Name: Thrift, Sea Thrift or Sea Pink

    Latin Name: Armeria

    Likes: Thrift prefers well-drained soil in full sun. The best type of soil for this plant is sandy or well-draining as soil that is too wet may cause the plant to rot.

    Fun Fact: In Gaelic thrift is known as tonna chladaich, meaning 'beach wave’ I think because it gr

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  11. National Tree Day - Wednesday, Sept. 27

    National Tree Day will serve as a celebration for all Canadians to appreciate the great benefits that trees provide us - clean air, wildlife habitat, reducing energy demand and connecting with nature.

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  12. Working in a Small Space

    Working in a Small Space

    This small backyard design incorporates useable space with a modern feel. A flagstone pathway leads from the side gate towards an interlock patio and a small gazebo. A mix of smaller trees fills the space vertically while shrubs and perennials fill the lower areas with different colours, textures, and bloom times. This design was developed to satisfy the client’s desires for many features while maximizing the amount of space in the yard. Simple displays of reliable, colourful shrubs and perennials give the rear fence a modern feel, as a the garden bed closer to the home features some of the client’s favourite plants. Here, a yard of approximately 60’ x 30’ is split into sections for a large entertainment area, turf for play-space, and a private enclave for evening enjoyment. This design plays off of some existing elements in other nearby yards and offers strategically placed deciduous and evergreen trees to create a more private environment. Some features include an interlock pathway with Armourstone steps, an interlock patio with an Armourstone wall for a garden edge border, and a colourful mix of shrubs, perennials, and small trees. Trees in this design were chosen for space requirements, visual screening for privacy, and an interesting mix of fall colour display.

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  13. Cedar Flagging

    It is common for cedars to “flag” – usually in late summer to early autumn. Cedar flagging is when tiny parts of the cedar’s foliage turn yellow, orange, or slightly brown – often in a very spotty or patchy fashion. This is very different than when a cedar actually dies. In that case, the tree would be almost completely brown from top to bottom.

    To compare, cedar flagging can be thought of as the equivalent to leaves changing colour and falling off of deciduous trees in the fall. It’s perfectly natural and in most cases it is not indicative of any health concerns for your tree. All evergreens lose foliage. If you walk through a local park that has mature evergreens, you will most certainly see evidence of needle/foliage loss at the base.

    The cause of this is generally attributed to a bit of stress on the tree. This makes cedar flagging especially common after:

    • Hot/dry summers
    • Cold but sunny winters (lack of overcast conditions)
    • The year following transplant

    This foliage affected generally dies off during the winter months. By the spring, the melting snow and rain have typically knocked it off to the base of the tree. If you notice this is not the case with your cedar, you can run your hands through the cedar in the spring to assist with knocking off the discoloured foliage. Then, rake it up from around the base to ensure the foliage doesn’t accumulate at the collar of the tree and pile up against the bark (which can cause it to rot). Also, be sure to keep the cedar watered and apply a slow-release fertilizer in the spring.

    It’s important to remember that it is natural for cedars to go through this process. Cedar flagging is most commonly found in White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis), Pyramid Cedar (Thuja occidentalis ‘Fastigiata’), Black Cedar (Thuja occidentalis ‘Nigra’) and Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata). It is also especially true of field/swap cedars, as they don’t really have defined inner or outer foliage for the first couple of years. Cedar flagging stretches across young and old specimens, newly planted or well established, and cedars planted in either exposed or sheltered locations.

    For further information please feel free to visit us in store.


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