Helen Chesnut's Garden Notes: New property hosts invasive plant

Dear Helen: We purchased a property with an established garden. A friend pointed out a plant to get rid of because it is invasive. Can you tell from the attached photo whether this is true?

J.H.

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The plant is spurge laurel (Daphne laureola), an evergreen shrub native to Britain. It grows up to 1.5 metres high. The glossy, dark green leaves are arranged in an attractive whorl formation. Yellowish green spring flowers give way to black berries in late summer.

Spurge laurel plants have escaped to natural areas of coastal British Columbia via the seeds carried mainly by birds. The plants establish easily and grow rapidly, to colonize entire areas and take over native vegetation. It is an invasive species.

The plants also pose a serious health risk to people and pets from toxins in the bark, sap and berries.

Contact with the sap is known to cause skin rashes and nausea. The berries are poisonous to people and pets, but not to birds.

For effective eradication or the shrubs, hand pull smaller plants and dig up larger ones.

Wear gloves for protection against the caustic sap. Following removal of the plants, keep the area monitored for emerging seedlings.

Questions about possibly invasive plants found in gardens can be directed to the Invasive Species Council of B.C. (bcinvasives.ca).

Dear Helen: My tree fuchsia did not survive last winter. I wrapped it carefully and placed it in a protected spot outdoors, but the plant died.

I would like to know what I did wrong before acquiring another one next spring.

S.M.

Tree fuchsias over-winter successfully in a cool but frost-free environment, such as cool basement rooms, attics, or greenhouses kept frost free in winter.

Tree fuchsias can also be enclosed in sawdust, preferably in boxes, in an outdoor storage room or shed, or laid carefully in a 30-cm (12-inch) deep trench in the garden where the ground stays fairly dry in winter. Such locations are often found alongside house walls. Cushion the trunk and cover the plants with straw or sawdust, topped with soil.

If you winter the fuchsias in a cool place indoors, water them sparingly, only enough to keep the soil from drying completely, until late February or early March, when the plants can be pruned, watered and spray-misted as they start producing new leaves.

Trim the heads of the trees back severely at this time, to force the production of many new flowering stems. Repot, or replace a top layer of soil mix with fresh. Retain the tree form by removing any growth that appears at the plant bases, if possible by pulling the unwanted stems downward to help remove more potential growth buds.

Dear Helen: I have tulip bulbs that I want to plant in pots for a floral display on the deck in the spring. At what depth and how close together should the bulbs be planted? Where should I locate the containers for the winter?

S.F.

Position the bulbs at around the midway point of a container’s height and close together, without touching. Place the pots against a house wall or in some other location where they will be protected from rain.

Water occasionally, just enough to keep the soil from drying.

If squirrels are an issue in your garden, secure wire mesh or chicken wire over the pots or place them in a location that squirrels cannot access.

Garden events

Floral arts. The Mid Island Floral Art Club will meet on Thursday at 2 p.m. in St. Stephen's Church Hall, 150 Village Way in Qualicum Beach. The theme of the meeting is “Create a design with a dominant shape.” For information call 250-752-1858.

Nanaimo meeting. The Nanaimo Horticultural Society will meet on Saturday at 1 p.m. in First Unitarian Fellowship Hall, 595 Townsite Rd. Margot Moser will speak about Heavenly Hellebores. There will be a parlour show with judging of flowers, fruit and vegetables. Information at 250-758-6783.

Plant identification and cultivation. The Horticulture Centre of the Pacific, 505 Quayle Rd. in Saanich, will host the next session of Plant identification & Culture, an ongoing, monthly course (it can be joined at any time), on Sat. Oct. 20, from 1 to 4 p.m. In each session, Diane Pierce introduces 25 new plants, with descriptions, preferred growing conditions, landscape uses and maintenance. Cost to HCP members per session is $35, others $45. Cost for 12 sessions: members $350, others $450. To register call 250-479-6162. hcp.ca.

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