The top 6 Myths about Gardening in Calgary.

Gardening is relaxing and enjoyable, at least until the neighbourhood gardening guru comes by and explains all the rules you need to follow.  It usually begins with “Don’t plant anything until the May long weekend” and goes on from there.

Here are a few of my favorite gardening “truths”:

  • Nothing will grow on the north side of your yard. I’m not sure where this came about, and although I suppose it is true if your yard is on the north side of a skyscraper, however, in most cases, it is just a myth.  The sun travels from East to West across the sky, so your North facing garden should still receive some light, especially in the summer, where the sun is high in the sky and directly overhead for part of the day.  There will be shade, especially on the north side of the house or against a north facing fence or hedge.  Fortunately, there are many incredibly beautiful, shade loving plants to choose from.  One of my favorites is Ligularia “The Rocket”.
  • If you want big plants and lots of flowers, you must fertilize them. This myth is popularized by the television ads for fertilizers and garden centers.  (Not naming any names of course).  In fact, all the fertilizer in the world is not going to help your plants unless they are located in the proper location for their needs, and with healthy soil with a thriving ecosystem.  My philosophy is to feed the soil so that it can feed the plants.  Plants need more than just the NPK of chemical fertilizers.  Healthy soil can provide that, as well as micro-nutrients, enzymes and hormones that help the plant grow and resist disease, and friendly bacteria that actually help plant roots take up nutrients.  If I only had $100 to spend on a new garden; I’d likely spend $90 on compost and $10 on plants.  It’s just that important.

    showy red perennial

    Lychnis "Molton Lava" is a less common perennial related to Maltese Cross, but with larger flowers, and a neater form.

  • Shrubs are low maintenance, perennials are high maintenance. Many people are led to believe that a low maintenance garden only contains shrubs and trees.  Although there are definitely low maintenance shrubs, such as the easy care Nanking cherry, there are just as many low maintenance perennials.  Old homestead sites often have a peony on them, a perennial that survived for years and years with no human care whatsoever.  The secret is to choose perennials that are ideally suited for the specific site, and to those that don’t require much care.  My favorite low maintenance perennials include daylilies, peonies, hostas and sedums.  Generally, the only care they will require is a quick spring clean-up to remove last year’s growth, and the occasional watering, especially as they get established.
  • The only plants that will grow here are rated Zone 3. Plant zones are tricky.  Although Calgary is technically rated as Zone 3, I’m starting to feel like it is time to bump it up to Zone 4.  Many Zone 4 plants survive just fine in Calgary, and plants rated even higher can be grown in the right micro-climate.  It’s not just the minimum winter temperatures that affect plant hardiness; snow cover, chinooks and winter wet can also wreak havoc on over-wintering plants.  In my front rock garden, a California fuchsia  has survived and thrived for over 7 years, even though it is generally rated as a zone 5 or higher.  Lastly, many new perennials are rated for a higher zone by growers because they haven’t been tested enough to know how “low” they can go.
  • Only retired people can have a beautiful garden. Although many of the most beautiful gardens I’ve seen do belong to retirees, this does not mean that the rest of us can’t also have a beautiful garden to enjoy without spending all our free time maintaining it.  The secret is to create a garden that you can care for.  Create a garden with clear boundaries and good edging to avoid weeds and grass creeping in from the lawn.  Mulch to make weeds easier to pull.  Choose plants that do not need to be babied, but do not have a master plan to take over the garden.  Enrich the soil before planting.    If you aren’t sure what how to accomplish these goals, seek professional help.  A properly designed and installed garden is much easier to maintain.
  • You can get free plants from your friends. Probably not.  I’ve long had a rule that I did not accept plants from anyone unless I was absolutely sure that I knew what the plant was and that I actually wanted it.  Once, and only once, have I broken this rule and accepted a plant from a neighbour.  She was sure it was a Jacob’s ladder.  It’s a creeping vetch, and I am still struggling to remove it all these years later.  The $5-$10 a Jacob’s ladder would have cost me seems pretty small to me compared to the countess hours I’ve spent digging this weed out.  Keep this tip in mind: If your friend is giving the plant away, it’s probably because they have too much of it.  And if they have too much of it, it’s probably invasive and just looking for a chance to take over your garden too.  This also goes for plants at the garden center: read the tags, and beware of the labels “Easy-care”, “Excellent ground cover” and “Creeping habit”.  There are many lovely plants that have these labels, but they are often used to describe the garden tyrants that no one really wants to deal with.

As always, The Passionate Gardener is more than happy to advise on garden design and identify mystery plants, and categorize them as friend or foe.

Posted Wednesday, May 25th, 2011 under Uncategorized.


  1. Sam Youssef says:

    what are nice ground cover that can grow in Calgary other than evergreens?

    • katekennedy says:

      There are so many lovely ground covers that we can grow in Calgary. Some of my favorites include: creeping thyme for hot and dry sites, Sweet woodruff for shady sites, and Ajuga species for partially shady locations. Keep checking back, I plan to post my top ten favorite ground covers soon. Thanks! Kate

  2. Thanks, these are great tips. Having moved from South Africa a couple of years ago, I have battled with what to grow here. It was too easy to have a beautiful garden 12 months a year. Miss my towering bougainvilleas!

    • katekennedy says:

      I can imagine! I love bougainvilleas! I hope my blog can help you create a garden you can be proud of.

  3. Hi. I want to plant a nice eating apple tree. What type do you recommend for the North Calgary area. I was thnking about Norland.

    • katekennedy says:

      I really enjoy my Goodland apple tree, and other great apple trees include: Hardi-mac, Norland and Fall red.

  4. What do you think of snow-on-the-mountain? I like the look but people seem to hate it because it’s a weed I guess. I have the chance to plan from scratch an affordable front yard. I’m just so happy to have gotten rid of creeping junipers, but now I don’t know where to start!

    • katekennedy says:

      I’m not a fan of Snow on the Mountain/Variegated Goutweed, because it is so hard to get rid of. I have seen one good use for it: surrounded by poured concrete patio near a swimming pool. It looked nice there, and there was no possibility of it spreading, provided the flower heads are cut off before they go to seed. There are other hardy creepers that are much less invasive. (Check out my ground covers post)

  5. Hello,
    I just bought some gallon size Weigela
    “Verweig” variety. Its a pretty plant.
    Will it grow for me in Calgary and survive our winters?? Any tips greatly appreciated.
    Thanks ( I bought 6 Containers of them)

    • katekennedy says:

      Hi Sylvia,
      I love these Weigelas! They are so pretty. I find they do pretty well in a protected spot with good soil. They may die back to the ground in harsh winters, but they usually re-grow easily.

  6. Is there any way to grow hydrangeas in Calgary?

    • katekennedy says:

      Hi Sharon,
      Yes, you can grow hydrangeas in Calgary, but maybe not the ones you are hoping for. Hydrangea macrophylla is the most popular, and comes in blues and pinks. (The colour is actually dependent on the soil acidity.) It does not grow well here in Calgary, and often dies to the ground. It usually re-grows, but if it’s a type that blooms on old wood only, then it can’t bloom. There is a new variety called “Endless Summer” which is one that blooms on new wood. I have grown it, but the performance was not worth me keeping it.
      Fortunately, there are two types of hydrangeas that grow very well in Calgary: Hydrangea arborescens and Hydrangea paniculata. Both of these are being developed into a variety of pretty cultivars such as “Incrediball” and “Quick Fire”. They are generally white, but pink and green varieties are available.

  7. Is there any way to grow Magnolia in Calgary? If yes, which type?

    • katekennedy says:

      In a sheltered location, you may have luck with the Star Magnolia. Generally they survive, although the blooms may not.

  8. Hi, a cousin in law who lives in Calgary wants to plant cherry blossom. I stumbled into your site and perhaps you will be able to tell me if you know of anyone who has tried to plant a cherry blossom tree in Calgary. I found on the net that there is a Cherry blossom variety that is good for Zone 4 but, yes, Calgary is Zone 3. Her son is driving over and wants him to look for a cherry blossom seedling here. I live in Vancouver. Thank you

    • katekennedy says:

      Hi Lilian, It depends what you want for a cherry. Most ornamental cherries are not hardy here, but the sour cherries are (The University of Saskatchewan bred them) They have white flowers in spring. Other hardy blooming trees/shrubs for Calgary are ornamental crabapples, double flowering plums, and Mayday.
      Also, Calgary has been upgraded to Zone 4 now, so you may want to try the one you’ve researched.

  9. I live in a North facing town house with a small patio. We get afternoon and evening sun even through the winter. I have an onion from Manitoba that has Survived 3 winters I’m a cheap plastic pot. I would like to do some container gardening but can’t afford to start fresh each year.
    Do you have any suggestions?
    Anything edible would be tops, but so far I have no idea where to start.

    • katekennedy says:

      Hi Elyse,
      In Calgary, it is hard to get things to survive over the winter in a container. Most edibles are annuals anyway, so things like salad greens, potatoes, carrots, beets, and other veggies will grow in semi-shaded containers. The best luck I’ve had with perennials in containers are daylilies and hostas. They seem to survive our freeze thaw winter conditions.

  10. Elisabeth says:

    I appreciate any feedback. I will be putting in a 66′ long fence along our lane which is in the east. I want to plant a row of trees on the west side of the fence but only want them to grow 15′ high at the most, so it doesn’t impede our view. I would be willing to trim them, should you have a suitable option for northern Calgary.

    Thank you,

    • katekennedy says:

      Hi Elisabeth,
      If you’re looking for a tree that only grows to 15 feet, you may want to look at a shrubby tree. My suggestion would be the Amur Maple. It can be found in tree form, and is very pretty, with red fall colour.

  11. Kim McClinton says:

    Thank you for honesty, giving great advice. I am a long lived Calgary, Langdon, now on an acerage north of Strathmore. Microclimates cqn be so different for every part of ones’ yard. Know your yards and make your soil beds r good enough to sleep in your plants will love you and pay u back 10 fold.Any advice on walnut variety that might survive in my sandy full sun west facing area

    • katekennedy says:

      Hi Kim, I agree. Microclimates are really important when trying those new things. Unfortunately, I have not come across a walnut in Calgary, so I can’t recommend one. The sandy soil shouldn’t be an issue, but the cold and wind will be. (My sister was married under a huge old walnut tree in Texas. They are beautiful trees and make great pre-wedding snacks too.)

  12. Hi….moved onto new property. ?.no gardens or yard clean up when I got here. Love flowers and want gardens…3 acres to work with. Where do I start? Suggestions appreciated

    • katekennedy says:

      Hi Melora, Wow! 3 acres is a great size! I would suggest starting small, and take your time to establish each garden area properly. Good soil and healthy plantings are a deterrent to weeds.

  13. Tracy Lima says:

    Hi there!

    We just moved into a new home in NW Calgary late last summer and didn’t get a chance to do any garden prep. I was hoping I could start putting some perennial bulbs in around mid-late April with the hopes of summer blooms. I will be sticking to hardiness zone 4 for the most part, have you ever done bulbs in spring? Do you recommend it? It’s a predominantly shaded area.

    • katekennedy says:

      Hi Tracy, Perennial bulbs in our area (tulips, daffodils, etc.) are planted in the fall for spring blooms. You can purchase bare root perennials at this time of year, such as German irises, liatris, hosta, and peonies. This is an inexpensive way to get a large number of perennials. Check out my post on dahlias to see how to treat these bare root perennials. (They are best planted indoors and then transplanted outside after the risk of frost.
      Also: Sometimes it is worth it to have a professional come in and do a consultation to help you get started. Please email me at if you are interested.

  14. My ground is very claye and I have mostly sun all day. What is some of the best plants that makes flowers to plant in Calgary?

    • katekennedy says:

      Hi Lydia,
      First of all: improving your soil is key. I use zeolite to break up the clay, and then top with a few inches of compost to add nutrients and protect the clay from baking in the sun. Once that’s done, there are a wide variety of plants that will grow well. I’ll give you three favourites, one for each season.
      Early spring: Pulsatilla vulgaris
      Summer: Delphinium belladonna
      Late Summer/Fall: Sedum “Autumn Joy”
      These plants are all very hardy and colourful. If you are in need or more assistance: consultations start at $60.

  15. We are considering an Ambrosia apple tree for our west facing backyard in Bridgeland. The Golden Acres has them and show a hardiness zone of 3b/4. Do you think this would be suitable? We have a small backyard, so were attracted to the smaller mature dimensions of the tree.

    • katekennedy says:

      Hi Sean, I think it’s worth a try. I haven’t seen an Ambrosia growing in Calgary yet, but it’s a new variety. Bridgeland is inner city, so therefore a bit warmer than outlying areas. Be sure to buy MYKE’s fungal supplement to rub on the roots when you plant the tree.

  16. katekennedy says:

    Hi Melanie, I can believe it! We got a new puppy 2 years ago, and she ate several branches off our apple tree. Fortunately, they’ve both grown since then. It’s not too late, and in fact, fall is a great time to plant.

  17. Hi! I’m considering planting Korean Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis brachytricha) which is zone 4. My landscape designer hadn’t heard of it or seen any in Calgary. Have you seen any in or think it might survive? I love the giant feathers it gets so I suppose I could always plant and see!

    • katekennedy says:

      Hi Brooke, Many of the Calamagrostis species grow well in Calgary. Perennials aren’t available yet, but I noticed several garden centres carried it last year.
      Happy Gardening!

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