Ideas for Composting and Why Soil Carbon Matters for Climate Action


Spring is here and Lucy is planning to compost again. She has had most success with composting when it is not kept in a container, as it was easy to mix periodically. In the past, she had a great spot around the corner of the house where no-one could see it. Now, since it must go in the yard, she thinks it will need some containment. Past experience has taught her that it is not good to throw a ton of sod or grass clippings into the compost all at once, as this does not yield success. Reading up now, we are learning that a layering of compost is required to be successful, with air being one of the layers. Turn the compost every few weeks to aerate it.

Here are the two other main ingredients required for success in compost, as tips from are teaching us:

“Nitrogen or protein-rich matter-green material (manures, food scraps, green lawn clippings, kitchen waste, and green leaves) provides raw materials for making enzymes.”

“Carbon-rich matter-brown material(like branches, stems, dried leaves, peels, bits of wood, bark dust or sawdust pellets, shredded brown paper bags, corn stalks, coffee filters, coffee grounds, conifer needles, egg shells, straw, peat moss, wood ash) gives compost its light, fluffy body.” 

“A healthy compost pile should have much more carbon than nitrogen. A simple rule of thumb is to use one-third green and two-thirds brown materials. The bulkiness of the brown materials allows oxygen to penetrate and nourish the organisms that reside there. Too much nitrogen makes for a dense, smelly, slowly decomposing anaerobic mass. Good composting hygiene means covering fresh nitrogen-rich material, which can release odors if exposed to open air, with carbon-rich material, which often exudes a fresh, wonderful smell. If in doubt, add more carbon!”

The bottom layer is best  placed on the ground to allow critters like worms to get into the compost. Do not put in anything with oil or meat or bones, as that will smell and attract animals. Avoid putting in weeds too. If your compost is in the sun, it will break down faster. If you get a lot of rain, a cover will be essential as you like to have moist compost but not wet compost. You may need to water it once and awhile if it gets too dry.

One can buy compost bins of all sorts. Lucy once had a black one with a lid but could not stir it and it felt too small. She now thinks the tumbler ones that rotate are likely easier, and read somewhere that they are ideal at a 3’ by 3’ size, but can be bigger or smaller. One close to the back of the house to make dumping in the food scraps is handy. However, Lucy is putting hers farther away to avoid issues with critters, smell and any other unexpected problems.

The compost created makes for the best nutrient rich humus for your garden or lawn, and ends up costing very little.  It can divert up to 30% of household waste going into the landfill. “That’s important because when organic matter hits the landfill, it lacks the air it needs to decompose quickly. Instead, it creates harmful methane gas as it breaks down, increasing the rate of global warming and climate change.” (For more info on food waste and climate change, visit our March 5th Blog post at .)


Where you can get compost in Edmonton

If you want to pick up free compost in Edmonton, one place offering this is Green and Gold Gardens from the cow barn.

For a reasonably priced option, and one that supports community groups as a fundraiser, you can go to Clean It Green It. They have two locations, one in Strathcona and one in the west end, and you can order online for delivery too. The hours for pick up are Friday 9-6 and Saturday 9-1 for the month of May. Check out their website.

Edmonton: New Garbage Program Will Let the City Do Your Composting

Between 2020 and 2022 Edmonton will roll out the new garbage pick up system that will include separation of food waste, so if you do not want to compost, the city will do it for you. You will receive a kitchen food waste bin for under your sink. It seems slow in coming, but Lucy is very excited to be seening this program finally happen. Many other cities are already doing this. In Toronto, for example, separate compost bins have been part of weekly garbage pick up service for a number of years. Fortunately this service continues as an essential service under the COVID pandemic lockdown, and just recently spring yard waste collection was added onto the list too.

Soil Carbon & Climate Change

What is soil carbon sequestration? Is it a plus or minus for offsetting rising atmospheric carbon emissions and slowing global warming?

The short answer is, well it is a complicated matter, but holds the potential to be beneficial.  At least, this is what we are learning as we only just begin to scratch the surface on a vast and complex area of science.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), soil carbon sequestration (or storage) warrants, and recently is garnering, greater attention by scientists and policymakers for its potential as an added tool for effectively combatting global warming and climate change.

Let’s start with some basics.

What is Soil Carbon Sequestration?

We found this to be a helpful, informative answer, from the Ecological Society of America (ESA),

“Carbon is found in all living organisms and is the major building block for life on Earth. Carbon exists in many forms, predominantly as plant biomass, soil organic matter, and as the gas carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere and dissolved in seawater.  Carbon sequestration is the long-term storage of carbon in oceans, soils, vegetation (especially forests), and geologic formations. Although oceans store most of the Earth’s carbon, soils contain approximately 75% of the carbon pool on land – three times more than the amount stored in living plants and animals. Therefore, soils play a major role in maintaining a balanced global carbon cycle.’

So, just as we have been learning, sharing and putting the emphasis to-date in our our blog posts about “why trees matter,” now we are beginning to learn as well about “why soil matters”.

Why Does Soil Carbon Matter?

Like trees, soil can act as a carbon sink or carbon pool.  This is a beneficial function, as the FAO describes because – “Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide can be lowered either by reducing emissions or by taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and storing in  terrestrial, oceanic, or freshwater aquatic ecosystems. A sink is defined as a process or an activity that removes greenhouse gas from the atmosphere.

From here, it gets a bit more complicated, with human activity in terms of land-use practices, greatly affecting whether soil carbon is a plus or minus in terms of climate change.

It all depends on whether the carbon stays stably captured in soil (beneficial), or if it gets released into the atmosphere, making matters worse. As a article puts it succinctly, “Soil carbon storage is a vital ecosystem service, resulting from interactions of ecological processes. Human activities affecting these processes can lead to carbon loss or improved storage.”

The FAO explains that, “The long-term conversion of grassland and forestland to cropland (and grazing lands) has resulted in historic losses of soil carbon worldwide but there is a major potential for increasing soil carbon through restoration of degraded soils and widespread adoption of soil conservation practices.”

“FAO is concerned with the effect of agriculture on climate change, the impact of climate change on agriculture and with the role that agriculture can play in mitigating climate change. Historically, land-use conversion and soil cultivation have been an important source of greenhouse gases (GHGs) to the atmosphere. It is estimated that they are still responsible for about one-third of GHG emissions.” (concerning)

“However, improved agricultural practices can help mitigate climate change by reducing emissions from agriculture and other sources and by storing carbon in plant biomass and soils….The development of agriculture during the past centuries and particularly in last decades has entailed depletion of substantive soil carbon stocks. Agricultural soils are among the planet’s largest reservoirs of carbon and hold potential for expanded carbon sequestration (CS), and thus provide a prospective way of mitigating the increasing atmospheric concentration of CO2. It is estimated that soils can sequester around 20 Pg C in 25 years, more than 10 % of the anthropogenic emissions. (Better news and promising potential)

Other articles and reports help to quantify the potential of soil carbon sequestration in the efforts to combat global warming and climate change. For example, excerpts below from this Yale University article, “Soil as Carbon Storehouse: New Weapon in Climate Fight?” help us to understand the scale of either the threat (if soil carbon keeps being released) or potential benefit to help curb global warming (via changing behaviours toward greater carbon storage in soils). It also points out some promising shifts in land use practices for strengthening soil carbon capture.  Turns out there is more to soil than simply the brown stuff we put plants and trees into!

“Scientists say that more carbon resides in soil than in the atmosphere and all plant life combined; there are 2,500 billion tons of carbon in soil, compared with 800 billion tons in the atmosphere and 560 billion tons in plant and animal life. And compared to many proposed geoengineering fixes, storing carbon in soil is simple: It’s a matter of returning carbon where it belongs….”

“According to Rattan Lal, director of Ohio State University’s Carbon Management and Sequestration Center, the world’s cultivated soils have lost between 50 and 70 percent of their original carbon stock, much of which has oxidized upon exposure to air to become CO2. Now, armed with rapidly expanding knowledge about carbon sequestration in soils, researchers are studying how land restoration programs in places like the former North American prairie, the North China Plain, and even the parched interior of Australia might help put carbon back into the soil.”

“Absent carbon and critical microbes, soil becomes mere dirt, a process of deterioration that’s been rampant around the globe. Many scientists say that regenerative agricultural practices can turn back the carbon clock, reducing atmospheric CO2 while also boosting soil productivity and increasing resilience to floods and drought. Such regenerative techniques include planting fields year-round in crops or other cover, and agroforestry that combines crops, trees, and animal husbandry….”

Lal argues that soil carbon could (should) play a vital role in efforts to combat global warming, shifting the current focus on efforts to curb emissions of fossil fuels, to include a sharper focus to add soil carbon sequestration into the toolkit.

“The top priorities, he says, are restoring degraded and eroded lands, as well as avoiding deforestation and the farming of peatlands, which are a major reservoir of carbon and are easily decomposed upon drainage and cultivation. 

He adds that bringing carbon back into soils has to be done not only to offset fossil fuels, but also to feed our growing global population. ‘We cannot feed people if soil is degraded,’ he says…. According to Lal, some pools of carbon housed in soil aggregates are so stable that they can last thousands of years. This is in contrast to “active” soil carbon, which resides in topsoil and is in continual flux between microbial hosts and the atmosphere. ”

Promising Agricultural and Agroforestry Practices

“As basic as soil carbon is, there’s much scientists are just learning about it, including how to make the most of its CO2 sequestration capacity. One promising strategy, says Goreau, is bolstering soil microbiology by adding beneficial microbes to stimulate the soil cycles where they have been interrupted by use of insecticides, herbicides, or fertilizers. As for agroforestry, programs with greater species diversity are better able to maximize the storage of carbon than monocultures. Many researchers are looking to biochar — produced when plant matter, manure, or other organic material is heated in a zero- or low-oxygen environment — for its ability to turn problem areas into productive sites while building soil carbon. Says Goreau, “Vast areas of deforested land that have been abandoned after soil degradation are excellent candidates for replanting and reforestation using biochar from the weeds now growing there.” 

“Our understanding of soil microbiology and how soil life affects the carbon cycle is poised for tremendous growth, says Goreau. This, he says, is thanks to the burgeoning field of metagenomics, the study of genetic material from specimens taken directly from the environment rather than cultured in a lab. “For the first time,” says Goreau, “we can identify all major soil biogeochemical pathways from the genetic information in the microbes.” 

“Even at our current level of knowledge, many see great potential for storing carbon in soil. Lal of Ohio State says that restoring soils of degraded and desertified ecosystems has the potential to store in world soils an additional 1 billion to 3 billion tons of carbon annually, equivalent to roughly 3.5 billion to 11 billion tons of CO2 emissions. (Annual CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning are roughly 32 billion tons.) “

Source: Yale University article

Soil Carbon and Climate Change

We are learning from scientists that, “Approximately two-thirds of the total increase in atmospheric CO2 is a result of the burning of fossil fuels, with the remainder coming from SOC loss due to land use change (Lal 2004), such as the clearing of forests and the cultivation of land for food production….”

“Despite the much larger size of the oceanic carbon pool relative to the soil carbon pool, the rate of exchange between the atmosphere and the soil is estimated to be higher than that between the atmosphere and the ocean. …Although there is interest in increasing oceanic carbon storage rates through large-scale nutrient additions, there is skepticism towards this approach due to the unknown consequences on global nutrient cycles and marine ecosystems (Cullen & Boyd 2008). The goal of increased storage of carbon in soil has received much wider acceptance due to a better understanding of the processes involved in SOC storage, more direct control of these processes through human activities, and the other known ecosystem benefits to be obtained by increasing SOC, including benefits to water quality and increased food security.”

This summary chart points the way forward for how changes in land-use practices can contribute positive benefits in reducing harmful carbon release into the atmosphere or increasing soil carbon sinks or both.

Source: The Nature Education Knowledge Project web-page on Soil Carbon Storage at:

Soil Control in Tanzania – Video

We close with this 10-minute video clip by the UN on Soil Control in Tanzania. It offers glimpses of a majestic Mount Kilimanjaro in the background, while providing further enrichment for our understanding of the complex ecological-human inter-connections and many balancing factors and needs in addressing climate action and food and water security.

Celebrating Earth Day 2020

Happy Earth Day 2020!

Today is a day to celebrate our human spirit and capacity to imagine a brighter, better future, and our ability to apply collective ingenuity, energy and determination to pursue what’s required to “make it so.”

It is also a special day and testament to what we humans are capable of accomplishing, “for people and planet”. Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of Earth Day – an event that has grown from the actions of a few to raise environmental consciousness about pollution in 1970, to become a global phenomenon where, in the words of its event organizers, “Today, Earth Day is widely recognized as the largest secular observance in the world, marked by more than a billion people every year as a day of action to change human behavior and create global, national and local policy changes.”

We find cause for optimism as we reflect on how much has been accomplished over the decades since April 22, 1970. It is inspiring for us to learn about how the spontaneous actions of a small handful of citizens in one country sparked a movement worldwide toward a common vision for a brighter, safer and sustainable human habitat.

Earth Day History

“In 1970, as a 25-year-old graduate student, Denis Hayes organized the first Earth Day. The resounding success of that event, which brought out 20 million Americans — 10 percent of the United States population at the time — helped spark the modern environmental movement.” 

“The decade that followed saw some of America’s most popular and powerful environmental legislation: updates to the Clean Air Act and the creation of the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency.”

Legacies for Building Forward Upon

To learn more about the legacies of Earth Day 1970 for global transformational change, read this interview with Earth Day founder Denis Hayes

In his view, Earth Day 1970’s legacy resulted in “a fundamental restructuring of the American economy. The legislation of the 1970s was possibly the biggest change in how American industry operates in the nation’s history. Folks who had no concern whatsoever for pollution, for toxics disposal, for resource extraction, suddenly had to operate within ways that were benefiting public health and benefiting the environment.” 

A Fun Project You can Do With Your Kids

While the context is very different from 1970, we find his words resonate and take on an even deeper meaning today as we witness the kinds of transformational changes citizens are learning to make (rather abruptly admittedly), as we all shelter in place during the global pandemic, for the benefit of public health, to keep safe and to save lives.

You can learn more about how in 1990, “Earth Day went global, mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries and lifting environmental issues onto the world stage. Earth Day 1990 gave a huge boost to recycling efforts worldwide and helped pave the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.”

And how, thirty years on, “Earth Day 2000 sent world leaders a loud and clear message: Citizens around the world wanted quick and decisive action on global warming and clean energy.” Today’s Earth Day Network is “…. creating opportunities for civic engagement and volunteerism in 193 countries.”

In 2015, the Paris Accord for international action on climate change was signed by signatory countries on Earth Day, April 22, 2015.

Emily age 6

We Are The Change We Need

Today, as proud Canadians, we salute and thank our Readers and fellow citizens for doing the right thing, hard as it may be, to shelter in place, stay strong and safe, and save lives. Each one of us is truly making a real difference for the health and well being of others.

We could not be more proud to learn that this week’s COVID-19 data is showing that the collective actions by Canadians means that our country is on a path toward the ‘best case scenario” and the lowest projected number of confirmed virus cases, literally saving thousands and thousands of lives. We are all part of this amazing history-making accomplishment. In our books, this is real cause for (mini) celebration, and strong motivation to keep strong and stay the course. Our sincere thanks to all, with a special shout out and deep gratitude to our heroic health care and emergency services workers.

This evidence, together with the legacy  built by and since Earth Day 1970, gives us both all the more cause for optimism on Earth Day 2020. It attests to what is possible to accomplish with our proven individual and collective capacity to make the kinds of transformational changes needed ahead to slow global warming and climate change, for the benefit of all species.

“Earth Day Mural” by Elizabeth age 11 and Brady age 10

Here’s what Brady and Elizabeth hope you will notice in their above mural:

1. there is no air pollution or smoke (no factories) or water pollution

2. there are lots of birds which indicates clean air and lots of food to eat

3. there are lots of sea creatures since there is no garbage in the water

4.  we have a water cycle, clean river 

5. there are lots of trees to create oxygen and remove carbon dioxide

6.  we added lots of bees and butterflies to pollinate fruit trees and flowers

7. there are lots of earthworms creating soil

8. the river leads to a marsh-a habitat for frogs, plants and insects

9.  the marsh plants prevent erosion

10. farms to grow crops for human consumption, with mice and squirrels

11.  the coral in the ocean shows it’s a healthy ocean , home for much sealife

The Theme for Earth Day 2020-Climate Action

This thought from the organizers of Earth Day 2020 really resonates with us in expressing how each and every one of us makes a difference —

“That’s where you come in: As an individual, you yield real power and influence as a consumer, a voter, and a member of a community that can unite for change.”

Karis age 7 “Rainbow”

Plant a Tree-For Free

OneTreePlanted invites people to create a short 10-second video clip on the topic of “My Vision for a Better World….”  They will plant a tree for each submission.

A Moment of Gratitude

We invite ourselves and our Readers to take a moment today to reflect on what brings meaning and joy in our lives, what we are grateful for, and our aspirations and personal visions for a better world (whether or not we make a video clip for OneTreePlanted).

Claire age 7 “The Earth Smiling”

Some Other Earth Day Climate Actions

If Readers feel inclined and inspired to do more, we offer these action ideas as possibilities for consideration:


Watch the free film, Anthropocene showing tonight, April 22nd, on TVOntario at 9 pm EST. “Anthropocene: The Human Epoch. A stunning cinematic meditation on humanity’s massive reengineering of the planet, Anthropocene: The Human Epoch is the final film in an award-winning trilogy that includes Manufactured Landscapes and Watermark.”

Connor age 5 “Tree”

Germinate Seedlings for Your Spring Garden

Research and Get Ready to Plant Your Favourite Tree (see ideas and resources in April 16th’s blog, for example)

Create and Display Your Own Earth Day Art in the Front Window

A Fun Project You Can Do With Your Kids

Read the Official Earth Day Organizers’ Challenge

Learn more about and watch this short video clip on the History of Earth Day

Calculate Your Carbon Footprint

Donate a Tree – For example, we have made donations with OneTreePlanted and Tree Canada

Read Tree Canada’s Blog – Keeping the trees close in a time of social distancing

Get Inspired by Toronto Master Gardeners – Spring Clean Up Resource

Read Forest Ontario’s magazine – Our Forest Spring 2020 issue

Hot Docs

Check for listings at CBC GEM as it Hosts Hot Docs online International Film Festival Documentaries Watch for free online screenings of climate action relevant films:

POWER TRIP (solar energy)


Emily age 6

Power Trip description — “Jonathan Scott rose to celebrity status through his HGTV show Property Brothers, where he and his twin tackle ambitious renovation projects and help homeowners see the potential in their homes. When looking to improve his Las Vegas home, he decided to take advantage of the area’s sunny natural resource and install a solar array. Scott was keen to reduce his carbon footprint and become a green energy advocate—only to encounter an entrenched utilities system that was built to sustain fossil fuel industries. In Power Trip, Scott travels throughout the USA, encountering one state after another that has suppressed incentive programs and promoted misinformation campaigns about the benefits of net metering. Featuring interviews with Al Gore and Bernie Sanders, this film makes it clear that there is a growing movement that is ready to capitalize on sustainable solar energy—but first the monopolies that control the electrical grid need to see the light.” by Alexander Rogalski

Borealis descriptor – “The boreal forest is the largest terrestrial biome on Earth, covering 10 countries and approximately 17 million square kilometres. Home to tens of thousands of species, it is a wonder of the natural world. Majestic aerial footage and hyper-detailed macro photography allow for an immersive experience of this incredibly diverse ecosystem. From fragile seedlings to devastating forest fires, the life cycle of this ever-changing landscape is both resilient and under constant threat. As black spruce, pine and birch communicate with each other, this coniferous community ensures its survival by burning itself. Scientists, hunters, loggers and Indigenous inhabitants share their knowledge of and experience with the wide range of flora and fauna that benefit each other to ensure the forest’s natural renewal. Serving as a meditation on our own survival as a species, the breathtaking cinematography enhances the epic scale of this expansive region and our relationship to it.” by Alexander Rogalski

Charlie age 3 “Abstract”

Read Earth Day.Org’s 11 Ideas for Actions for the Planet During a Pandemic

Read this Toronto Star article on “Fifty Firms that Made the Earth Move” since the first Earth Day in 1970, such as Patagonia – US, as the ‘first major clothing company to put protecting the planet at core of its brand (1973),’ Ballard Power Systems – Canada, as a “trailblazing developer of hydrogen fuel-cell technology (1983),’ Unilever – UK/Netherlands, for “launch of the Marine Stewardship Council-certified seafood program with the WWF (1997),’ Plastics Bank – Canada, ‘develops concept of turning plastic waste into currency, paying plastic waste-collectors in developing countries a living wage (2013),’ Alipay – China, which ‘launched the Alipay Ant Forest app, which has planted 122 million trees and counting and inspired similar models in other countries (2016),’ Google – US, which ‘has become the world’s largest corporate buyer of renewable power (2017),’ Maple Leaf Foods – Canada, as the ‘first major meat company to bet big on plant protein (2019),’ to Microsoft – US, for its 2020 “…..groundbreaking pledge commits to removing all the carbon it has emitted directly or through electricity production since its foundation in 1975.’

Hannah age 4

Take a Walk and Notice and Appreciate Signs of Spring Life and Renewal.

Happy Earth Day 2020!

Suggestions for Yard Trees

Crab apple Tree

Edmonton is in the zone 3 area, so trees from Zone 0-3 can survive the cold weather here. Toronto is zone 5-6, and Victoria is zone 8-9 . What a diverse country we share! When landscaping a new yard, one needs various types of trees, some fast-growing that can more quickly create privacy or shade, some flowering and/or fruit /nut trees, some trees to attract birds, if you like, some evergreen, and some accent or smaller ornamental trees. Listed below is information on some of our favourite yard trees. We happened to find great information on all these trees on the user-friendly and informative local Edmonton Salisbury Nursery site. We are sure there are many great sites for our Readers to do more tree research on personal favourites. Please feel free to share additional resources that you find helpful and/or to share stories and photos about your favourite trees – we welcome guest Bloggers, too!

It occurs to us that like everything else, there are trends with plants and trees. Lucy loves the incredible scent of the MayDay Tree, but senses it was more popular in days gone by, although luckily it remains still all around us. Hydrangeas have become very popular as a flowering plant in both Edmonton and Toronto, especially now that they have created varieties that survive colder winters, and we imagine it is true that there are more varieties of each tree all the time too, through genetic modification and adaptations. That can be a topic for another Blog. Currently there are many narrow or “columnar” trees designed for our trend towards smaller  and narrower properties. In general, there is great abundance of varieties for each type of tree, and that is where the local garden centre can help you choose the one best for you. (Salisbury Nursery website:

Privacy Trees

Faster Growing Privacy Trees

Poplar Tree (Trembling Aspen)

Vireo in Poplar Tree

“This tall narrow tree is a great tree to plant to block wind and to create privacy between you and your neighbour, as well as being a great tree to plant in  narrow yards. A Hybrid popular can grow eight (8) feet a year if you want privacy sooner than later. There are more than a dozen varieties of Poplar to choose from. Most trees have a down side and with poplars it is that they create a lot of leaves in the fall, they have very extensive roots and they can spend a week in June shedding poplar fluff.”  

Slower Growing Privacy Tree

Purple Spire (Columnar) Crabapple 

Matchcode: MAXPSPIR. Height: 5m (16 FT.). Spread: 1.85m (6 FT.)

“The Purple Spire Crabapple is a narrow, columnar, slow growing screen, border or specimen tree. It has compact burgundy-purple foliage and pink blooms in mid-spring which mature to sparse ornamental fruit. This tree is perfect for placing close to decks and driveways and prefers a moist, well-drained soil.”

Flowering Trees

Spring Snow Flowering Crabapple (fruitless)

We are learning from the very helpful Salisbury Nursery site that this tree is a highly regarded ornamental tree just covered in snowy white flowers in spring, a hardy fruitless variety with a tightly oval habit of growth. It makes a beautiful accent in the front yard, very clean and tidy, and needs well-drained soil and full sun. Lucy has this tree in her back yard and knows first hand that it is wonderful for birds, bees and butterflies too.

Ornamental Features – “The Spring Snow Flowering Crab is blanketed in stunning clusters of fragrant white flowers along the branches in mid-spring, which emerge from distinctive shell pink flower buds before the leaves. It has dark green foliage throughout the season. The pointy leaves turn yellow in fall. The fruit is not ornamentally significant.”

Landscape Attributes and Design Tip – “The Spring Snow Flowering Crab is a deciduous tree with a narrowly upright and columnar growth habit. Its average texture blends into the landscape, but can be balanced by one or two finer or coarser trees or shrubs for an effective composition.”

Planting & Growing – “Spring Snow Flowering Crabs will grow to be about 25 feet tall at maturity, with a spread of 15 feet. The tree has a low canopy with a typical clearance of four (4) feet from the ground, and is suitable for planting under power lines. It grows at a medium rate, and under ideal conditions can be expected to live for 50 years or more.”

“This tree should only be grown in full sunlight. It prefers to grow in average to moist conditions, and shouldn’t be allowed to dry out. It is not particular as to soil type or pH. It is highly tolerant of urban pollution and will even thrive in inner city environments. This particular variety is an interspecific hybrid.” (Source: Salisbury Nursery:

Fruit/Nut Bearing Tree

Evans Cherry Tree

Evans Cherries

This is a sour cherry tree that grows well in Zone 3, created at the University of Alberta.  Its bright red cherries are excellent for pies and jams. It is self pollinating, and reliably produces a ton of fruit and grows 15 feet tall and 10 feet wide. Lucy gifted one to her sister in Toronto, however, she has not had the quantity of fruit that it bears in Alberta.

While Lucy has moved from the home where she had this cherry tree, luckily one of her new neighbours has a few and invites her to pick the fruit. Even so, Lucy is thinking she may have to plant one again as it is surely her favorite tree. A sour cherry tree usually needs to be four-to-five years old before it bears fruit, so when it comes time to purchase a new tree, Lucy will be sure again to look for one that is three-to-four years old years old. The sooner to begin making her sour cherry pies again!

If Readers can recommend any specific apple or other fruit trees that produce great fruit, please let us know and we will feature these trees in our upcoming blog(s).  For that matter, we would love to learn about any and all the trees you love/have loved in your yard – please let us know so we can feature them. Don’t be shy!

Trees to Attract Birds

Crab apple Tree

Shrubs and trees that hold seed and fruit into the fall, such as crab apple (robin, cedar waxwing), honeysuckle (robin, catbird), cherry, chokecherry, dogwood, spruce (pine siskin, nuthatch, crossbill), birch (pine siskin, american goldfinch), and mountain ash (see birds below) will tempt migrating birds on their way south.

Russian Mountain Ash

Height:  30 feet Spread:  20 feet Sunlight:  Full Sun  Hardiness Zone:  2b

“The Russian Mountain Ash is a stunning pyramidal accent tree, and shade tree featuring clusters of white flowers in spring followed by orange-red berries into winter; shiny grey bark, attractive compound leaves that turn orange and yellow in fall. It needs well drained soil and is resistant to fireblight. This is a relatively low maintenance tree, and is best pruned in late winter once the threat of extreme cold has passed. It is a good choice for attracting birds to your yard.” 

From our research we see there are at least 10 varieties of Mountain Ash. Lucy recently saw a number of cedar wax wings, house finch, robins and bluejays in her neighbour’s Mountain Ash. Birds also like and find shelter from predators and the wind, such as in the fine tangles of her ornamental lilac and cedar trees.


Even though evergreen are colourful year round, and require less maintenance, with no raking of leaves and less trimming, it is important to know they should not be planted close to walkways, streets, or buildings, as their base can grow very wide and roots may become a nuisance. Evergreen trees have branches very close to the ground and work well for blocking wind, so they’re a good choice if you live in a windy area.

The City of Edmonton no longer plants spruce or pine on residential boulevards because their broad base will become an obstruction as the tree matures.  Of course, if you have a large property, these trees will fit in well, as will large shade trees. Here is one evergreen Lucy has the privilege to look at everyday out the front window, as it is in her neighbour’s yard. It is a stunningly narrow evergreen called the Weeping White Spruce.

Weeping White Spruce Picea glauca ‘Pendula’ 

Height:  50 feet. Spread:  10 feet. Sunlight:  Partial to Full Sun Hardiness Zone:  2a

Description: “This stately evergreen has nice blue-green foliage that hugs the trunk, sweeping downward to create a fantastic impression; it prefers sun or light shade and rich moist soil but is adaptable; and, offers the perfect accent tree for defining lawn areas or walkways.”

Ornamental Features: “Weeping White Spruce has bluish-green foliage which emerges light green in spring. The needles remain bluish-green throughout the winter. Neither the flowers nor the fruit are ornamentally significant.”

Accent and Ornamental Trees

Amur Maple. Acer ginnala

Height:  20 feet. Spread:  20 feet. Sunlight: Partial to Full Sun  Hardiness Zone:  2a

Description: “This is a choice small tree, among the hardiest of all maples with incredible fall colors ranging from orange to scarlet and burgundy red, with colorful seeds in late summer. It is  one of the best accent trees for small home landscapes.”

Landscape Attributes: “Amur Maple is a deciduous tree with a more or less rounded form. Its relatively fine texture sets it apart from other landscape plants with less refined foliage. This is a relatively low maintenance tree, and should only be pruned in summer after the leaves have fully developed, as it may ‘bleed’ sap if pruned in late winter or early spring. It has no significant negative characteristics.”

Planting & Growing – “The Amur Maple will grow to be about 20 feet tall at maturity, with a spread of 20 feet. It has a low canopy with a typical clearance of four (4) feet from the ground, and is suitable for planting under power lines. It grows at a medium rate, and under ideal conditions can be expected to live for 60 years or more. This tree does best in full sun to partial shade. It is very adaptable to both dry and moist locations, and should do just fine under average home landscape conditions. It is not particular as to soil type or pH. It is highly tolerant of urban pollution and will even thrive in inner city environments. This species is not originally from North America.” Other popular maple trees are Sugar Maple, American Maple, and Japanese Maple of which Salisbury Nursery featured seven (7) varieties in its November 14, 2019 blog.

Russian Olive Tree

Height:  25 feetSpread:  20 feetSunlight:  Full Sun Hardiness Zone:  3a

Description: “An excellent small tree for color contrast use, with true silver foliage all season long; also features subtle yellow flowers with an overwhelming fragrance and small silver berries; an excellent choice for dry, windy sites or alkaline soils.”

Ornamental Features: “The Russian Olive has attractive silver foliage throughout the season. The fuzzy narrow leaves are highly ornamental but do not develop any appreciable fall colour. It features subtle fragrant lemon yellow bell-shaped flowers along the branches in late spring. The fruit is not ornamentally significant. The peeling brown bark and silver branches add an interesting dimension to the landscape.”

Olive Tree

Landscape Attributes: “Russian Olive is an open deciduous tree with a more or less rounded form. Its relatively fine texture sets it apart from other landscape plants with less refined foliage.”

“This tree will require occasional maintenance and upkeep, and is best pruned in late winter once the threat of extreme cold has passed. Deer don’t particularly care for this plant and will usually leave it alone in favor of tastier treats. Gardeners should be aware of the following characteristic(s) that may warrant special consideration: disease and becoming spiny.”

Planting & Growing – “Russian Olives will grow to be about 25 feet tall at maturity, with a spread of 20 feet. This tree has a low canopy with a typical clearance of four (4) feet from the ground, and is suitable for planting under power lines. It grows at a medium rate, and under ideal conditions can be expected to live for 50 years or more.”

“This tree should only be grown in full sunlight. It is very adaptable to both dry and moist locations, and should do just fine under average home landscape conditions. It is considered to be drought-tolerant, and thus makes an ideal choice for xeriscaping or the moisture-conserving landscape. It is particular about its soil conditions, with a strong preference for clay, alkaline soils, and is able to handle environmental salt. It is highly tolerant of urban pollution and will even thrive in inner city environments. This species is not originally from North America.”

Urban Trees

We are learning about the trees that are best suited to Canadian / North American climate zones, and, in this Blog post we profile many trees that thrive in Edmonton’s Zone 3 and Toronto’s Zone 5-6 climatic regions. Tree information sources like the Salisbury Nursery site that we have drawn from for our post, also identify trees like the Amur Maple and Russian Olive as being tolerant of urban pollution. Unfortunately, this is now a necessary consideration when choosing for tree planting success if, like us, you are a city dweller.

We will investigate this aspect further and the challenges of fostering a healthy environment for trees within the complex urban ecosystem in a future Blog post. And, we will continue to profile tips from landscaping and tree experts to help you in choosing and caring for the perfect tree in your planting quest and tree success.

For now, thanks to Reader Maureen for this book recommendation, we close with one potential information source and way to begin exploring this topic together with the young people in your circle – anyone home schooling these days?

Toronto author, Andrea Curtis, recently published, A Forest in the City,” which Quill and Quire rates as suitable for the 8-12 year old age range. You can read more about what to expect from this beautifully illustrated book in this Good Reads review and this piece by CBC Books

In honour of Earth Day, we will post on Wednesday next week – April 22nd.

Spring is the Best Time for Tree Planting

Our recent posts have focused on paying tribute, visually, to the healing energy of nature thanks to photos of a stunning spring symphony in Wanda’s west coast garden blooms, and, courtesy of Lucy’s incredible and staggering collection of beautiful bird photos. Our contribution of calming positivity as we all do our part to stay safe, shelter in place, and save lives.

Earlier in March, we made the case for why birds matter to humans, including their vital role as pollinators of one-third of our food supply, and in turn, for why increasing healthy, native tree habitats is essential for both bird survival and for humanity, in the race to combat the global warming and climate changes which threaten all species.

We are reminded of the full multitude of reasons for Why Trees Matter–from being bird habitats, to serving as vital carbon sinks, to the life giving oxygen trees create, for flood protection, medicine and so much more–through this compelling piece on the Virtue of Trees, by Lorraine Johnson, posted on Landscape Ontario’s website –

Are you inspired to plant a tree (or garden) this spring?

If you are and do have the space and inclination, here are some tips we’ve found from tree and landscape experts to help in your tree success.

Step One for Tree Survival

“Choosing the right tree, for the right spot, is perhaps the most important factor that will determine whether or not the tree will survive and thrive,” according to a six-page guide on Planting a Tree, by the Master Gardeners of Toronto.

They advise on starting by choosing your site first, and then assessing for available “space, light, soil, water and wind conditions.” (We will explore the topic of tree planting and soil conditions in future.)

Next, narrowing the wide choice of hardy trees available for your region and site will depend on factors such as “what function the tree will perform in your landscape.” Examples of potential tree functions include privacy, cooling shade, wind screening, aesthetics (including fall leaf colour, winter berry colour), fruit-bearing, bird shelter, attractiveness for pollinators (bees, birds, butterflies), and of course, for carbon capture.

Fun fact – Did you know that you can help honey bee pollinators find your garden source of nectar and pollen by avoiding the colour red and instead choosing bushes, trees and flowers with white, yellow, blue or purple-coloured flowers? To learn why and more about pollinator friendly garden design, check this fact sheet by Landscape Ontario They also offer three Pollinator flower posters by region, suitable for National,, Ontario,, and Western Canada gardens

Think Beyond Spring to Summer, Fall and Winter Colour

When doing research to find hardy trees (and/or shrubs and bushes) that fit your landscape design and your location’s soil, light and climate conditions, landscape experts suggest we think beyond the spring flowering season, to consider summer, fall and even winter colours that your tree might offer too, for year-long beauty in your garden.

This Better Homes and Gardens article on matching trees for your house profiles the spring blooms of the Japanese Maple, Callery Pear, Crabapple, Chinese Dogwood, Saucer Magnolia and Wheeping Cherry, among others, including fruit trees

We found that the Mountain Ash tree checks multiple boxes – offering orange, red and yellow fall leaf colours, winter red berry colour, plus, berry food for birds. It is also a tree that is suited to Edmonton (Lucy) and Toronto (Catherine), where we live. Another pollinator tree that is identified by Landscape Ontario as suitable to North American climate zones is the shapely (apparently) Aesculus Flava Yellow Buckeye

What Can Happen Without Enough Planning

At a friend’s home in Phoenix, all the trees on the street died and they were told by the neighbourhood association to plant two new trees in the front yard. Three tree choices were given. Knowing very little they chose the Palo Verde tree, ordered one up, and had it planted. Even in the desert, this tree grew so very large in the span of just three years, as shown above, and then grew more. Later, this family realized that there are two types of Palo Verde, and they could have chosen the smaller variety, had they known.

This huge tree interfered with the garbage trucks, needed constant trimming, and even then it twice broke off huge limbs during wind storms. They were told, “if you do not thin it, nature will!” inspite of arborists (online) saying that trimming this tree weakens it. The tree ended up costing a lot of money with regular trimming and emergency limb removal after the storms. It has so many blossoms, it is much like shovelling snow on a daily basis during blooming season.

The moral of the story is to spend the upfront time to research your tree choices carefully, especially if you are new to an area. Research can include talking with neighbours, or asking what might be the downside of a particular tree. Does it shed unwanted berries, kill the lawn, grow too slowly or quickly, or have a short life span? How extensive will its underground root system become at maturity? How much maintenance will it require? (Tree tip: We are learning that coniferous trees typically need less maintenance after planting than do deciduous or fruit trees.)

Choosing the Right Tree

With that cautionary tale in mind, we certainly still want to encourage and support you in your tree planting quest, and growing success!

Here are some additional tree resources to help you choose a perfect tree to meet your goals:

Tree Canada – Trees of Canada Resource

Plant Hardiness Zones – Government of Canada

Landscape Ontario – Plant Encyclopedia

Trees Native to Toronto

Common Trees of Edmonton

Tree Planting Guides

Once you’ve chosen your perfect tree, and prepared the planting site, the tree planting guides that follow offer advice on a wide range of topics, including – soil amendment, preparing the tree for planting, determining planting depth, checking and repositioning roots, staking the tree, water and fertilizer, minimizing stress on your tree, taking care of your tree, how young a tree to plant, how often to water a tree, tree planting myths and urban legends, species selection, planting techniques, bareroot planting, checklist for new tree planting, mulching, insects and diseases, aeration, tree maintenance timetable, and more!

Master Gardeners Toronto – Planting a Tree

Master Gardeners Toronto – Tips for Planting Japanese Maples

Tree Canada – Tree Planting Guide

US Department of Agriculture – How to Plant Trees Successfully

Virginia Lawncare – Newly Planted Trees – Survival Tips

Master Gardeners Toronto – Organic Fruit Garden Guide

Growing Trees and Shrubs Organically – Toronto Master Gardeners

Blooming Deciduous Trees and Shrubs – Toronto Master Gardeners

Pollinators – Guides

Here are some resources on creating pollinator friendly gardens, plus three resources created by the City of Toronto about actual local pollinators – bees, butterflies and spiders of Toronto.

Brochure – How to Create a Pollinator Friendly Garden

Pollinator Garden – Master Gardener Fact Sheet

Bees of Toronto

Butterflies of Toronto

Spiders of Toronto


Ontario Rock Garden and Hardy Plant Society

Master Gardener Resource List

Toronto Master Gardeners – Qs and As

Tree Problem? – Consult with an Aborist

International Society of Aboriculture – Ontario Chapter

Gardening Problem? – Ask a Master Gardener

Toronto Master Gardeners are happy to answer gardening questions. They offer an online form and a commitment to respond within five (5) days to questions submitted to their Ask a Master Gardener web-page, at,

Earth Day 2020 – April 22, 2020

The countdown is on to the fiftieth anniversary of Earth Day – just 13 days and one more Blog post – on April 22, 2020

Please consider planting or donating a tree to mark this important milestone. Help reach the event organizers’ goal of Seven Billion Trees – one tree for every person on our Beautiful Home of Planet Earth.

We are all doing our part to stay safe, stay home, save lives and flatten the pandemic’s curve. We are grateful for these sacrifices and efforts by individuals for the collective good.

In the same way, we believe each one of us makes a difference to slowing global warming and climate change, saving species and creating a healthy livable habitat for all. We are the change we need.

Gentle Spring Blooms

Today’s post shares soothing spring photos taken by Reader Wanda in Victoria. This is a virtual tour of her stunning Japanese garden, taken on March 30, 2020. Some parts of Canada are still blanketed in white, and others are in full bloom.

Thank you, Wanda, for sharing and enabling us to offer our Readers a follow-up to last week’s “Positive Energy from Nature” post, with our ongoing intentions to foster positivity in challenging times and help keep our collective spirits strong.

Japanese Hydrangea
Flowering Currant
Grape Hyacinth
White Narcissi

This Blog post is not an Infomercial for Tourism Victoria – but it could be!

For now, please stay home, stay safe and healthy, and please keep spreading smiles, gratitude and generosity (…from 2 metres afar – thank you).

Closing by offering a smile, courtesy of our feathered friends (did we mention that Lucy is an avid birder!), in this three-minute video re-composition of Mozart’s Magic Flute, by ShakeUp Music. Enjoy!