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Poison Ivy proliferates

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Poison Ivy proliferates

Poison Ivy is prolific this year.  As storms moved through parts of our area, friends had some downed trees.  While helping them, our chainsaw wielder had to stop  – as he got deeper into the small wooded area, the poison ivy got thick.  His skin was just clearing up after a major brush with the toxic sap earlier.  Did I mention he’s allergic to the stuff?  He noted that this year the poisonous plant is worse than he’s ever seen it.

Western poison ivy

Western poison ivy

There are 2 kinds of poison ivy, Eastern and  Western.  In Minnesota we have both!  They also intermingle…  Very basically, the western poison ivy is more shrub like while the eastern is more vine like.

Western poison ivy is a smallish, nonclimbing shrub usually about knee high, with a single stem and only a few stubby branches or no branches at all.  It always has 3 leaves.  The sap carries the toxin.  If any portion of the plant is bruised or broken, the poison may exude onto the surface, which is how people typically come in contact with it. It is initially a clear liquid, but it turns into a black gummy substance in a few hours and can remain toxic for an indefinite period, reportedly for several hundred years.  While it’s not catchy if you touch the rash, the toxin can be carried on the fur of an animal or clothing.

Click on this LINK for maps of what states have which kind!  Heads up Wisconsin – you have poison sumac too!

Poison ivy berries

Poison ivy berries in June

the rash!

the rash!

Rash Help from Poison-ivy.org.  The above photo is from the same website.  You’ll find a LOT of information there.

The smoke of poison ivy burning is dangerous to inhale.  Click HERE for plant control


The plant is often mixed up with other 3-leafed plants including Virginia Creeper, woodbine and fragrant sumac.  While my chainsaw wielding friend recovered, as a boy he had no issue with poison ivy but as an adult he must take extra precautions and was on prednisone for over a week due to the toxic plant.  Poison Ivy is found in just about any type of soil and sun/shade conditions.


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Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Hummingbirds

The little garden jewel, the hummingbird, the bestower of Joy…

Hummingbirds have long been a part of traditional western cultures.  They represent joy and tenacity.   The hummingbird’s wing movement, which uses the up stroke as well as the down stroke for power,  appears to be the sign for infinity.  They also symbolize eternity.   In Caribbean cultures, it is believed that hummingbirds represent those we love who have passed on.  So if you see a hummingbird, perhaps that’s a loved one saying hello.

Attract hummingbirds with:

  • Clethra
  • Azaleas
  • Cardinal flower
  • Heuchera
  • Helitrope
  • Salvia
  • Petunias
  • Bleeding Heart
  • Bee Balm aka Monarda
  • Honeysuckle vines
  • Trumpet Vine
Lonicera 2016 - honeysuckle vine

Lonicera 2016 – honeysuckle vine

Along with a myriad of other flowers, be sure to give them sugar water.  Use table sugar NOT koolaid, sugar substitute, jello or honey.  There’s no need to color the sugar water.

Ruby-throated hummingbird

Ruby-throated hummingbird

Sugar water:  Mix 4 parts water to 1 part table sugar.  Boil it, cover it and let it cool.  It should last for 4 days before changing it.  You don’t want it to get moldy!

And then there’s this one!  This is my tattoo cover up.  The first one was in 1980 – the cover up was done in 2010…



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Weed blocking superheroes

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Weed blocking superheroes

Weeding not your bag?  Me either!  Although occasionally I find it cathartic, I prefer not to HAVE to do it.  How about some weed-blocking plants!  They pack a punch to knock out weeds, but they are invasive.

The samurai of weed blockers do so by shading weed seeds and not allowing them to germinate.  Here are just a few to get you started:

Lady’s Mantle is a great part shade plant and grows to about 18 inches tall.  Try a variety called ‘Thriller’.

Moss phlox ‘Emerald Blue’

Creeping phlox

Creeping phlox

This pretty groundcover, moss phlox,  likes full sun and is zone 2 hardy!  wow…

Liriope handles nearly any condition.  Plant in part shade in zone 4.

Creeping Jenny is another weed blocker that appreciates sun but will do fine in part shade. The caveat to this plant is that it can get brown edges.  I just cut it back then.

Creeping Jenny

Creeping Jenny



Sedum can be grown in sun to part shade and offers several cultivars.  I have green with red stems and little yellow flowers and also ‘red dragon’

sedum red dragon

a couple of sedum varieties and creeping jenny

a couple of sedum varieties and creeping jenny

Snow-on-the-Mountain is a great weed blocker for shade.  This stuff can’t hardly be killed.

Snow on the Mountain for soundcloud

Snow on the Mountain


Creeping Thyme

Creeping Thyme


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Perennial weed whipping

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Perennial weed whipping

I enjoy an occasional weeding session, it’s cathartic.

Okay, he's actually trying to pull a beet out of the ground but you catch my drift

Okay, he’s actually trying to pull a beet out of the ground but you catch my drift


Annual weeds tend to be easier to pull out, it’s the perennial weeds that drive us crazy!  Those roots that break off in the soil will spread and make more!  In the vegetable garden, it’s tougher because you really don’t want this stuff on your food!!!!  I have Milkweed in my vegetable garden that I don’t want to get rid of as I’m hoping to host some Monarch butterflies!

This was taken before I planted this year

This was taken before I planted this year – the milkweed is in the middle of my veggie garden!

When the weeds start winning, it’s time to break out the heavy artillery, HOWEVER, please use extreme caution and don’t over use.  [personally I don’t use Roundup or anything with glyphosate]

Choose a windless day, using a cheap sponge paint brush and a cool whip container of weed killer, paint the weeds leaves on both sides.  This will send the chemical through the plant into the root system killing the weed.

paint sponge

The other method is to use a gallon milk jug with the top and bottom cut out, place the jug over the offending weed and spray it with weed killer.

milk jug to spray weed

Major thing to remember – SAFETY first!  Use protective gear as indicated on the package and be very careful not to get the chemical on any plant you want to keep!

What is a weed


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Diagnostics or Ewww what’s THAT?

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Diagnostics or Ewww, what’s THAT?

We’ve officially crossed into summer!  Wahoo for that.  Of course, that means bugs (be it insect or disease) and weeds are coming in with abandon.  I think the toughest part of gardening is trying to figure out why a plant isn’t thriving!  Is it an insect, is it a disease, are my plants getting the nutrients they need?  Enough water, too much water?  Maybe this particular plant doesn’t like afternoon sun or one day you’re looking down on something that makes you go “eeewww, what’s that?”  I know enough to know that I will be forever learning.  Especially when it comes to diagnostics.

Rose sawfly damage

Rose sawfly damage

Here are some questions that a Master Gardener might ask of you to find out what’s wrong with your plant?

  • Exactly what kind of plant is it? (may sound easy but some folks don’t know)
  • Is it growing in the right conditions?  Are it’s requirements being met?
  • Compared to a healthy plant, what is wrong with yours?
  • If the leaves are brown or yellowed, are they crispy or flexible?
  • Do you see signs of insects?
  • Are there brown spots on the leaves?  If so, are they round or random?
Rose sawfly

Rose sawfly

Oftentimes there is more than 1 reason a plant is not doing well.  In trees, it can take years to show decline.  Weather conditions play a huge role in issues with large plants!

winter damage on pine

winter damage on pine

What’s Wrong With My Plant [University of MN Extension diagnostics]

Plant Disease diagnostic clinic [Cornell University]

And here’s a twist for you:

I had planted 3 lilacs in a row.  Two were doing great but the third one had 2 branches dying.  I could not figure out what was wrong.  Upon further research (getting down on the ground and crawling underneath it) I found that a white wire with flag used to identify a new planting (so you don’t mow it over) killed 2 branches of one of my lilacs.  Apparently “someone” got too close to the shrub with the weed whip and wound that wire completely around 2 branches essentially choking them to death.  It took about a year and a half to kill them.

Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of it!  This happened years ago when I wasn’t documenting so much!  ;-)

Chemical damage can also kill:

Imprelis damage on White Pine

Imprelis damage on White Pine


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Summer Solstice

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Summer Solstice

Happy Summer Solstice!

Sun comic

You would think that since it is summer in the Northern Hemisphere, the Earth is closest to the Sun right now, but it’s the opposite – the Earth is actually farthest from the Sun during this time of the year.  The longest day and shortest night brings us full blown into summer heat, although we’ve already experienced the heat and humidity!  My herbs, tomatoes and peppers are rejoicing.  And the roses this year….

Carpet roses

Carpet roses

Rose 'Music Box'

Rose ‘Music Box’

The Celts and Slavs celebrated the first day of summer with dancing, so cut loose and do the Happy Dance!

We’re beginning to enjoy some harvests from our vegetable gardens and taking advantage of Farmers Markets all over the state.  How DO they get those veggies so soon?  Well, some have greenhouses, others use what’s called High Hoops [University of MN].  They’re not very practical for most home gardeners but I’m sure thankful for the delightful veggies they produce!


Grilled summer lettuces recipe from Organic Life magazine:

A little char gives greens a complex, steak-like flavor.  For the liveliest salad, choose head lettuces in a variety of colors and textures.

  • 5 mixed heads of lettuce (such as romaine, escarole, radicchio, kale and butter) halved or quartered with cores intact
  • 1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for brushing
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. minced shallot
  • 1 1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard

Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for indirect grilling or place a grate over a campfire.  Brush lettuces on all sides with oil as needed.  Season with salt and pepper.  Grill, turning frequently, until wilted and lightly charred on all sides, 2 to 10 minutes, depending on lettuce and heat.  Transer to a serving plate.

In a small, lidded jar, add the ingredients for the dressing, shake well and drizzle over lettuces.


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Transporting your purchases

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Transporting your purchases

Most dogs love the wind in their fur, motorcyclists like the wind in their hair, bugs in their teeth.  I see lots of people driving down the road with new trees and shrubs hanging out of their trunks, trailers and truck beds.  Branches bent beyond normal as they’re whisked away in highway winds.  Leaves being beaten to a pulp.  There are so many reasons this is not good.  Let’s say the leaves actually survive the trip, that wind has just sucked out any moisture they may have had from the nursery and they’re now in a weakened state and will be even more stressed when they arrive in their new home.

Ahhh, this would be a NO

Ahhh, this would be a NO

plant sale purchase 2016My plant sale purchases above fit nicely in my old CRV but I also have plastic available to keep it at least somewhat clean!  Any larger shrubs, I’ll lay down.  If I can’t fit them in my vehicle, I’ll make sure they’re wrapped for transport.

wrapped plants

Tips to live by:

First, always buy healthy plants to begin with.  Look it over carefully.  Check for yellowed or spotted leaves, dead branches and overall health.

Smaller purchases may take longer to grow to the size you want but they will adjust to their new home much quicker, have a better chance of survival and are usually cheaper.

You’ve selected the best of the best, now you need to wrap it.  Some local nurseries are very good about wrapping twine around new trees.  I would suggest going further.  If you have some old sheets or tarp, bring them with you.

Wrap each purchase with a layer of sheet or the tarp, secure with twine and make sure the trunk of the tree or shrub isn’t going to rub on anything when you go over bumps.  If you can’t plant right away, then store your new trees or shrubs in a shaded area and water enough to keep the roots and soil moist till you can get them planted.

Just like a fresh Christmas tree, wrap that tree!

And finally… it’s Fathers Day on Sunday.  Is dad a gadget guy?  Into gardening?  Gardeners Supply has a hori hori knife from Barebones, a company that partners with organizations and individuals around the world in relief projects to help those in need obtain the modern “barebones” needs of life — food, water, shelter and power..  I’ll link you to them from gardenbite dot com.  The hori hori knife is a multipurpose tool that’s been used for centuries and originated in Japan.  Hori Hori is the plural of to dig.

Barebones hori horiBarebones hori hori with sheath





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Plant sale tips

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Plant sale tips

Wahoo, plant sale time already!  And we’ve only just begun…

Maybe I’m a little out of control!  Here are some tips for touring the plant sales:

  • buy healthy stock
  • check the roots, if you can.  Pull the plant, gently, out of it’s container and check for yellowed or mushy roots.  If you see that, put the plant back and tell the nursery.  They don’t want to sell plants that will fail on you
  • look for insect damage as well
  • leaves should be healthy, if you see a few yellowed leaves, don’t worry about it but don’t buy a dying plant
  • make the nursery your last stop of the day.
  • plant your purchases asap.
  • give them extra tlc by digging the hole twice as wide and spreading those roots out.  If the roots are wrapped around itself, loosen them.
  • Water your purchase while in the hole before you start adding more soil

plant sale purchase 2016

My plant sale purchases!  As always, I carry plastic sheets to place my precious cargo on!!  😉  Here’s the Gerbera Daisy’s home… the pot is an old steel bucket.

Gerbera daisy 2016

And some other purchases just newly planted…

other purchases


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Clematis – no matter how you say it, they’re beautiful

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Clematis – no matter how you say it, they’re beautiful

CLEM a tis or cle MAT is?  Technically, it’s the first one, but any way you say it, Clematis are beautiful.  They also require a little knowledge before purchasing.  When do you want to see the flowers and when would you like to prune?

Clematis - Niobe 2 yrs old

Clematis – Niobe 2 yrs old

The color of this clematis is deeper than the photo shows.  It’s amazing!  This is said to be a Group 3 clematis but it started flowering, as you can see, already…  I would call this early summer.  It’s this plant’s 2nd year and the first time it’s bloomed!  This can be pruned in early Spring.  It climbs on it’s own with tendrils that wrap around.

Group 1 aka A – sets flower buds in July for flowers in Spring the following year. They flower on old wood (new wood is the first year growth). That means any pruning should be done AFTER they flower but before July. They have the smallest size flowers.

Clematis ‘Freckles’ – Group 1


Group 2 aka B – there are 2 subgroups B1 which flowers twice a year in May/June and in September. B2 flowers continuously from June into September. They both flower on old and new wood so pruning should happen late in Spring after the first flush of growth to take out dead or weak wood.

Clematis ‘Crystal Fountain’ – Group 2


My garage clematis which is a Group 2

My garage clematis which is a Group 2

Group 3 aka C – this group is the latest clematis to flower starting in July to September. They flower on new wood only. Prune out all the old wood in early spring so the energy goes to growing new wood which means more flowers.

Clematis that came with my home.

Clematis that came with my home.

The above clematis was buried behind some old arborvitae that HAD to be pulled out!!  I THINK this might be Clematis Etoile Violette but I’m not certain.  I’ve done nothing to it, no pruning, no nothing except give it some structure to climb on.  It’s been 4 years!  [just goes to show that sometimes you can just leave well enough alone!]

Clematis 'Barbara Harrington'

Clematis ‘Barbara Harrington’ 1st year

The Barbara Harrington is just starting to bloom this year.

Clematis ‘Avant Garde’ Group 3

There are MANY choices of Clematis.  Be sure to plant so that you can keep the roots cool.  Mulch the roots or you could plant a groundcover right over the planting.  The flowers like sun.  Clematis really are stunning on trellises, fences and arbors.

The clematis durandii (group 3) doesn’t climb but lays across shrubs, trees or whatever you have it near.  This plant was laying over some arborvitae when we moved into the house.  I took out those evergreens (they did NOT look good anymore) and found an extra piece of plastic lattice.  The flowers are so beautiful that I didn’t want to lose it so I secured the lattice and wound the vine up through it.  Planted some hosta around it and there ya have it!

Clematis - durandii

Clematis – durandii



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Vines for trellises

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Vines for trellises

A trellis cries out for a vine!  But there are some considerations to think about before you buy your vines.

  • What are the sun/shade conditions
  • Do you want flowers or foliage or both
  • If you love a vine that must be pruned, how MUCH do you love it
  • Do you want quick coverage or can you wait
  • How heavy is the vine, will your trellis be sturdy enough to hold it

One of the prettiest vines for sun is the ‘William Baffin’ rose.  The one pictured below was planted in early 2009 and is now about 7 feet tall.  You do need to train this one onto the trellis.

Honeysuckle vines offer lots of choices and tolerate some shade.  Check out Pahl’s Market for a look at the different varieties of honeysuckle and more, then go to your local nursery and see what they have to offer.

Honeysuckle vine -

Honeysuckle vine 'dropmore scarlet'

Honeysuckle vine ‘dropmore scarlet’



Wisteria is an option if you have patience!  Full sun and a sturdy trellis.  ‘Blue Moon’ is the variety for we northern gardeners.  It’s good to zone 5.   A stunning, fragrant vine that may take years to flower.

Wisteria 'Blue Moon'

Wisteria ‘Blue Moon’

American Bittersweet is a native that best displays in Autumn with it’s fruit.  Birds LOVE the fruit.  For best production, plant in sun with male and female plants.  Do NOT buy the Oriental Bittersweet, it’s an invasive.  The native American Bittersweet is becoming rare as the Oriental is very invasive.  Be sure you’re buying from a reliable source.  They look very similar.  American Beauties Native Plants

American Bittersweet

American Bittersweet

I just planted Woodbine and Silver Lace – not much to look at YET!  The Woodbine Parthenocissus inserta is related to Virginia Creeper which is not well liked by many.  Read more about it’s cousin above.

Polygonum aubertii ‘Silver Lace Vine’ is the other one I chose.

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