As many northern gardeners will agree there are challenges to gardening in the highlands. The impulse to keep trying speaks to the doggedness and persistence of the type of character who make this region their home or cottage.
As a gardener you’ll be up against:
- Long, cold winters with drying winds
- Variable summers of hot dry or cool wet weather
- Short growing season and cool nights
- Blackflies and mosquitoes
- Nutrient poor and thin soils
- No municipal water or limited well water
- Pests like deer, bear, beaver, and turtles
- Fewer sources of information for northern gardeners
There are benefits of gardening in the Highlands. There are the spectacular views and the ready-made stunning natural backdrop to one’s garden. You’re certain to have an upper story of native trees, an understory of native shrubs and herbaceous plants, and the contrast of a glittering lake, a burbling creek or an imposing rocky outcrop.
The Highlands are part of the Algonquin dome with the contour of the land sloping from a high point downwards to the east, west and south. The northern part of the county, often called the Algonquin Park Region is marginally cooler, dominated by coniferous forests, and poorer soils. The central and southern parts of the county called the Haliburton Slopes benefit from areas of underlying sedimentary limestone. Limestone contains calcium which can neutralize acid and benefit plants. If you happen to garden in one of these areas you have a bit of an edge. In general however Haliburton soils are acidic with a ph. of 6 or less and that’s because the subsoil is composed of ground-up granite rock of the Precambrian shield.
For information about growing zones please click here.
Canada’s most recent Plant Hardiness Zone map takes a wide range of climate variables into account, like minimum winter temperatures, maximum temperatures, rainfall, snow cover, wind, and elevation. In Canada, there are 10 zones, which are numbered from 0 to 9. The higher the zone number, the warmer the climate. Haliburton County is generally considered to be zone 4.
There may also be areas of exception or ‘micro climates’. Factors that contribute to microclimates may be nearby bodies of water, presence of concrete or stone, slopes, soil type, vegetation, or structures. For example, plantings close to a house that are sheltered from northern winds will do well so you might experiment with a plant rated for a warmer zone, like a zone 5. Read the plant tags when you are buying new plants to ensure they will survive year after year.
Beware of imported plants that have the US hardiness zone information on the tags. This is not equivalent to Canadian hardiness zones. As a general rule of thumb gardeners can simply add one zone to the designated USDA zone. For example, USDA zone 4 is roughly comparable to zone 5 in Canada. Buying locally and asking questions at your local garden centre will help alleviate this confusion.
If you want to overwinter perennials outdoors in containers, it’s best to sink them into the ground. This will protect your planter and the plants.