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Dispelling gardening myths: The truth behind urban legends and horticultural mysteries

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In gardening, there is always tension between lore and science. We hear about it all the time.

One person will challenge something that we say based on what they learned at the knee of their grandmother, or lore. Another will question us based on what they know of science.

Poinsettia plants have long been considered poisonous. Master gardener Robert Pavlis sheds light on that rumour.
Poinsettia plants have long been considered poisonous. Master gardener Robert Pavlis sheds light on that rumour.  (Dreamstime)

We have respect for all second opinions, regardless whether they are grounded in science or anecdotes.

One person who has dedicated a lot of time to dispelling the persistent myths of gardening is Guelph writer and master gardener Robert Pavlis. He was trained in chemistry and biochemistry, and gardened for over 30 years before selling his software business to focus more on his gardening passion. Today, he applies his scientific mind to challenging garden myths through academic research and trial in his five-acre private garden, called Aspen Grove Gardens, with more than 3,000 perennials. He writes about his findings on his website www.gardenmyths.com and in his recent book Garden Myths: Learn the truth behind urban legends and horticultural mysteries.

Ben sat down with Robert to discuss some of the myths he tackles.

Make your Christmas tree go the distance: We agree that there is nothing like a real Christmas tree. We run into a lot of lore where tree preservation is concerned.

People have tried to prolong cut-tree freshness using tree preservatives, molasses, sugar, bleach, soft drinks, aspirin, honey and fertilizer. Pavlis puts it bluntly: “None of these products work. Testing has shown that none of these additives work better than just plain old water.”

So what can you do to make your tree last as long as possible — other than just adding water? According to Pavlis: “Make a fresh cut when you set it up and get it in water right away. Do not remove any of the bark. Don’t let the tree dry out. Keep the tree away from fireplaces, heat vents and other warm areas.”

A fresh cut and lots of water is the best way to make your Christmas tree last through the holidays.
A fresh cut and lots of water is the best way to make your Christmas tree last through the holidays.

Does cutting the tree on an angle, to maximize the amount of wood available for water uptake help at all? “No,” says Pavlis. “Cutting on an angle will do nothing to improve water uptake. In fact, an angled cut runs the risk of being exposed when the water level drops — which will actually make the tree dry out faster.” Noted: keep the bottom cut perpendicular.

Are poinsettias really extremely poisonous? “No,” says Pavlis, “you would have to eat an entire plant to even get a stomach ache. So, would a cat or a dog.

“The poinsettia is a Euphorbia, a genus of plants that have a white milky sap. Some people do have an allergic reaction to the sap when they get it on their skin, and it is very likely to irritate the mouth.”

We didn’t ask if it was worth allergy testing the dog.

How can I bring my Christmas cactus into full bloom for the holidays?

We’ve heard of people locking their Christmas cactuses in dark closets for 12 hours every night to try and maximize blooms.

Says Pavlis? “Myth.”

Let the cactus be free!

Shorter, cooler days ? and not a dark closet ? will encourage your Christmas cactus to grow flowers.
Shorter, cooler days ? and not a dark closet ? will encourage your Christmas cactus to grow flowers.

“A dark period of 12 hours will help, but they don’t need total darkness.” And 12 hours, let us point out, happens to be the length of night right around Christmas.

Pavlis adds: “The first thing to realize is that the most common Christmas cactus sold is a mislabelled Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncate) which blooms in midfall. The Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera x buckleyi) blooms right around Christmas. These are approximate bloom times and, in the home, they bloom when they get the conditions they need.”

The trick, then, is to make sure those conditions are met.

“The most critical requirement for setting buds is low temperatures. The typical cool fall temperatures work well. Leave them near a window or in cool porch for six weeks and they will set buds. Letting them dry out between watering will also encourage the development of buds,” Pavlis says.

So, please accept our gift: some scientific support for best practices as you meet with relatives during the holiday season.

And if that’s not enough, consider buying the book: Garden Myths, by Robert Pavlis, CreateSpace Independent Publishing, $20.

Robert Pavlis, author of Garden Myths.
Robert Pavlis, author of Garden Myths.

Mark and Ben Cullen are expert gardeners and contributors for the Star. Follow Mark on Twitter: @MarkCullen4

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Victoria real estate agent disciplined for false advertising, encouraging cash deal to avoid taxes

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A Victoria real estate agent is facing $9,000 in fines and a 60-day licence suspension after breaking several professional rules during the sale of her father’s half-million-dollar property, according to a decision by the Real Estate Council of B.C. 

Whitney Garside’s missteps — outlined this week in a disciplinary decision posted on the council’s website — included falsely advertising the property as being almost twice its actual size and advising the buyer they could avoid the property transfer tax if they paid cash directly to the seller.

The property on Burnett Road in Victoria was being sold in 2016 by the real estate agent’s father. That relationship was disclosed and isn’t among the reasons she has been disciplined.

According to the disciplinary consent order, Garside told the buyer — whose name is redacted — that by paying $42,000 cash on the side, the value of the property could be reduced to avoid paying the property transfer tax.

That cash arrangement was not shared with Garside’s brokerage, Re/Max Camosun, a failure that contravened the Real Estate Services Act.

The council also ruled that she “failed to act honestly and with reasonable care and skill” when she advised the buyer the property transfer tax could be avoided by paying cash directly to the seller. 

The council’s discipline committee also found that Garside committed professional misconduct when she failed to recommend the seller and buyer seek independent legal advice, specifically regarding the property transfer tax and the cash agreement.

Another issue the council considered professional misconduct involved the size of the property in question.

The council ruled that Garside published false and misleading advertising and failed to act with reasonable care and skill when the property was advertised as 8,712 square feet, when in fact a portion of the lot belonged to the Ministry of Transportation, and the actual size was just 4,711 square feet.

The discipline committee ordered Garside’s licence be suspended for 60 days, which will be completed Jan. 3, 2021.

She has also been ordered to complete real estate ethics and remedial classes at her own expense.

Garside was also fined $7,500 as a disciplinary penalty and $1,500 in enforcement expenses.

She agreed to waive her right to appeal the council’s discipline committee’s decision in September.

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Frisco apartment community sells to Canadian investor

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A Canada-based investor has purchased a Frisco apartment community as part of a larger Texas deal.

The 330-unit Satori Frisco apartments opened last year on Research Road in Frisco.

BSR Real Estate Investment Trust bought the four-story rental community that was built by Atlanta-based Davis Development.

Satori Frisco was more than 90% leased at the time of sale. The property includes a two-story fitness center, a car care center, a dog park and a resort-style swimming pool.

The Frisco property sold along with Houston’s Vale luxury apartments in a deal valued at $129 million.

“BSR recently exited the smaller Beaumont and Longview, Texas, markets and also sold noncore properties in other markets,” John Bailey, BSR’s chief executive officer, said in a statement. “We are now using our strong liquidity position to invest in Vale and Satori Frisco, modern communities in core growth markets with the amenities our residents desire.”

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House prices on Prince Edward Island continue steady climb

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Residential real estate prices on Prince Edward Island continue to climb at a rate higher than the national average, according to the latest report from a national organization. 

The Canadian Real Estate Association released monthly figures for November 2020 on Tuesday.

They show that the average price for a resale home on P.E.I. is about 21 per cent higher than it was a year earlier. 

Only Quebec had a bigger year-over-year increase, at about 23 per cent. Overall across Canada, prices were up 13.8 per cent year over year in the ninth month of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For the fifth straight month, year-over-year sales activity was up in almost all Canadian housing markets compared to the same month in 2019,” the report noted.

“Meanwhile, an ongoing shortage of supply of homes available for purchase across most of Ontario, Quebec and the Maritime provinces means sellers there hold the upper hand in sales negotiations.”

That lack of houses coming onto the market compared to the demand means that in those provinces, there is “increased competition among buyers for listings and … fertile ground for price gains.”

There have been anecdotal reports for months that Prince Edward Island’s low rate of COVID-19 infection and looser rules around social activities have been encouraging people to buy homes on the Island. 

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