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Helen Chesnut's Garden Notes: Get ready to sow hardy cold-season lettuces

Gardening expert Helen Chesnut answers questions from readers on when to sow lettuces for fall, composting oak leaves, and reviving flower dogwood trees.

Dear Helen: When do you sow hardy lettuces for harvesting in the fall and winter?


The date that works well in my garden is Aug. 10. In more open, earlier gardens, the seeding could be done a little later.

Seed packets and catalogue descriptions indicate varieties suited for cold season harvesting. Often the variety name indicates its suitability. Winter Density is an example. For fall and winter lettuces, West Coast Seeds recommends Rouge d’hiver, a romaine whose name means “red of winter,” and Cimmaron, a red heirloom romaine lettuce.

Seed into a space that will be convenient to cover with plastic tunnelling during periods of extreme cold and/or heavy snow. Thin the plants well to give each lettuce space to develop properly.

Transplants of lettuces for late summer planting are commonly available at local garden centres — a useful option for some.

Dear Helen: Can oak leaves be composted? I hear they don’t break down well.


Their tough texture does make the leaves slow to break down, but decomposition can be accelerated by shredding them or going over them with a lawn mower before composting. Mixing or layering them with high-nitrogen (soft, green) materials in a compost helps too.

Dear Helen: Our flowering dogwood trees, planted last year, were thriving until now. They look very stressed, with wilted and discooured leaves. Is there a way to revive them?


The symptoms you describe are common to flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) trees under stress.

Though flowering dogwoods can, theoretically, be grown in sun or shade, they are susceptible to heat stress where they are exposed to the hottest summer afternoon sun. One of my neighbours was delighted to acquire a pink flowering dogwood, which she planted in a prominent space in her front garden, in full sun, where it did not take long to turn crispy.

A tree in part shade or light shade has some protection from heat stress. This type of stress was a particular danger this year, with sun and high heat arriving fairly quickly following a wet and chilly spring

Another common cause of distress in flowering dogwoods is over-watering. This often happens to trees within the range of an automatic watering system. Once a tree is well established, that is after at least one year in a garden, it needs a slow, deep watering just once a week.

The best way I’ve found to perk up plants that are flagging is to spread a mulch layer of the most nourishing compost I can find under and around them. For me, that is usually fish compost. The mulch, as it is slowly watered, in, helps to boost health and vigour in plants. Take care not to apply any mulch at the base of a tree trunk.


Plant sale. The Compost Education Centre (CEC), 1216 North Park St. in Victoria, is hosting its annual August Plant Sale and celebrating its 30th anniversary on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The event will feature local farmers offering a wide variety of organically grown annual overwintering vegetables and perennials to keep you eating through the winter. And to celebrate the centre’s 30th birthday as an organization there will be live music, cake, artisan vendors, an e-bike raffle, an unusual vegetable contest, and a Parent-Child “Composting 101” workshop.

The sale will take place for the first time in Haegert Park, one block from the centre. Bring a blanket or a picnic so you can enjoy the music under the giant Sequoia tree. Entry by donation or free for CEC members. Dogs are welcome.

Fundraising from this event will support CEC educational programming initiatives for children, youth, and adults in the community. To learn more about the centre’s work, visit their website:

Arts and Music at HCP. The Horticulture Centre of the Pacific, 505 Quayle Rd. in Saanich, is hosting Arts and Music in the Gardens on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. There will be artists in the gardens, along with three music stages, up to 50 vendors, a book sale, food trucks, a plant sale and more. Admission is $10 per person, with HCP members and those under 15 admitted free. Proceeds go toward maintaining the gardens. Free parking off Beaver Rd. Details on vendors and more at