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4R advocates and why it matters

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A local farmer in my area, Dave Legvold, was named a 2017 4R advocate winner through the Fertilizer Institute.

What is THAT?  The 4R concept is to use the Right nutrient source at the Right rate at the Right time in the Right place.   It’s a little bit like the Master Gardener mantra:  Right Plant Right Place

Farmers team up with agronomists

Legvold said it helps farmers get a “cognitive hook” with what they’re doing with fertilizer.  Helping them to use it in the most effective, economical and environmentally friendly way.

Dave Legvold – photo courtesy of Star Tribune from an article April 2016

Legvold puts the fertilizer below the surface of the soil by about 2 inches in the rows rather than spread it and till it.  As I’ve told you before, that we don’t advocate tilling our home gardens every year.  In fact, the less tilling the better as the machine tends to break down the soil structure, damaging it.

Farmers team up with agronomists to determine the correct R’s with a science based approach. This is not a one size fits all approach but a thoughtful process to work for the best outcome for the farmers, the food they grow and the environment we live in.

If a particular type of fertilizer is used at the wrong time of year it has a higher chance of harming rather than helping.

Legvold said it used to be  that a farmer hopped in the truck, viewed the fields of dark green corn and it was all good, turns out, not really, it means too much nitrogen.  You can see it in the lakes that are filled with algae.  By using science based information, farmers can reduce the amount of fertilizer, saving money, the environment and producing a great crop.

Depending on what side of the fence you’re on – Organic vs chemical – there are arguments for both.  But using the 4R system with EITHER makes a lot of sense.  Too much of a “good thing” is still too much….


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Record heat and recent snowfall – what’s it mean for our plants

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Record heat and recent snowfall – what’s it mean for our plants

We’ve broken records with a heat wave that’s made it feel more like April than February, while I enjoyed it, our plants are confused.  Trees budding out, tulips popping out of the soil and the weeds already saying HELLO!  Then, snow!  The worry for us is really about heaving.

‘Hens and chicks’ heaving

Wide temperature fluctuations, with repeated cycles of freezing and thawing, cause the water in the soil to expand and contract. These repeated expansions and contractions push and turn plants and their roots. The result is heaving of the crowns. They are pushed up out of the soil breaking some roots and exposing other roots above soil level. The elevated crowns and roots are exposed to cold temperatures and drying winds. They may be seriously damaged, stunted or killed.

Snowfall is a great insulator but not everyone got it!  Take a tour of your gardens and if you see examples of frost heaving, top dress with compost or quality soil and GENTLY tamp it down.  Don’t squish it down hard and call it good.  That doesn’t work with all plants!

Perennials with shallow root systems (strawberries, heuchera, scabiosa, leucanthemum, galliardia, bergenia) or those that have been planted recently and have not had time to establish adequate root systems are prone to frost heaving.

Heuchera frost heave

Someone asked about their hostas coming up, well, honestly, you can’t hardly kill them even if you try!  They are a hardy bunch, for the most part.  And your tulips?  They should be fine.

The tough part is if they bud out and then we get a hard freeze.  That’s when we lose the flowers.  I know locally of a cherry farmer who lost his entire crop last year due to that same situation.  Unfortunately that’s a possibility this year too.  Once the plants start thinking it’s Spring, they can’t stop their process, it can be slowed, but the wheels are in motion.  What that means is that we have to carefully monitor our plants.


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Prepare to prune… or not

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Prepare to prune… or not

63 degrees in Northfield, MN on February 17th!  I even started up my motorcycle and drove around the block a few times…

But, it’s still late winter heading into the Spring home stretch.  Gardeners!  Prepare your pruners!  Or not!  With the unseasonably warm temperatures trees and shrubs are budding out.  My lilacs look nearly ready to burst.  There are reports of temperatures across the country crushing records set in the 19th century and spring arriving 3 weeks early.  While there may be some winter left, it’s a bit iffy according to global meteorologist Paul Douglas.

Cold temperatures provide the best time to prune because the plants are dormant, their sap flowing less freely and the insects are not a bother.  With this warm up, that changes things.  Never prune spring flowering shrubs now or you’ll lose any flowers.  What you CAN prune are dead or diseased branches.



This is also a good time to really look over your plants for any pests.

To prepare your tools you’ll need steel wool, a sharpening stone or file and some machine oil.  Use the steel wool to clean up rust spots and the stone or file to smooth out any dings, dents or chips.  Use the machine oil on pivot points.

The best thing you can do is sharpen your pruners!  Good for you and good for the plant…

Taking your pruners apart is a great way to sharpen your tools, however, not everyone wants to do that.  So here’s a way to sharpen without taking them apart.

  • Use steel wool to remove any rust, resin, sap
  • For the anvil pruner, wrap a rag around the cutting blade, using a little oil use a file to smooth out any rough edges on the flat anvil blade.
  • For the cutting blade, hold the pruners away from your body, parallel to the ground, move the file across the blade in one direction away from your body and repeat.
  • Make an occasional pass on the back side to remove any tags
  • Use the same process for the bypass pruners
  • Add a little machine oil to the pivot point of your pruners

If your pruners are not cutting smoothly you’ll get splintered, crushed or torn cuts which allow an acces point for insects and disease.

When pruning shrubs, come out about 1/4 of an inch from the stem and cut at the same angle as the branch your cutting.  For larger branches come out about 1/2 inch.  Allow the plant to “heal” itself.  There’s no need for wound dressing.

pruning diagram

Here’s an article from the Minnesota DNR about Winter Pruning

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Bumblebees, butterflies and thistle

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I told you just recently how the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee was set to be on the Endangered list.  Well… it’s on a limbo list right now.  With the changing of the Presidential office, a freeze is on for a litany of actions regarding natural resources and the environment.  The bee could still get protection but it’s not clear when.

Rusty Patched Bumble Bee

In the meantime, let’s talk pollinator plants.  And, if you can, just lay off the pesticides.  A gardener’s trade-off is allowing nature’s creatures to have a few feasts from the banquet you serve in your landscape!

Don’t be frightened but I’m going to suggest a Field Thistle!  I hear shrieking…  it’s okay, this is not the nasty invasive Canada Thistle I just recently talked about!  This may not be the highlight of your home garden, in fact it’s not the prettiest thing in the world, but it’s really a great addition to the outskirts of your landscape offering a place for bumblebees, digger bees and butterflies that include painted ladies and swallowtails.

Field thistle aka pasture thistle

The other wonderful thing about the Field Thistle, aka Pasture Thistle, is that it flowers later in the season when other natives are fading out.  Colors range from purple to white.  Minnesota wildflowers

It is a biennial, which means that it grows the first year, flowers the second year and then dies.  But there’s no need to replant, this baby drops seed which sets the whole process in motion for the next years and soon, you have flowers every year from the different plants.

Field thistle with rusty patched bumble bee

You’ll want to plant pasture thistle with other natives, grasses are a wonderful choice, to hide some of it’s less attractive qualities, like dying leaves late in the season.  The pure beauty of this thistle is it’s ability to bring in a wide range of pollinators.

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Eating a rainbow

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Different colored veggies have different nutritional values!  I find that quite fascinating…  I hope I’m not alone in my fascination as I’d like to share it with you.   Nature has provided us with much of what we need.

Pepper - Thunderbolt 2
“What Color is Your Food?” [NDSU]  This article is as loaded with information as our veggies are packed with nutrition.  Here’s a quick overview of what the colors offer:
  • RED – lycopene and anthocyanins – may reduce risk of cancer and heart disease
  • ORANGE/YELLOW – carotenoids – good for your eyes, good for your heart
  • GREEN – lutein – good for your eyes, protect against some cancers
  • BLUE/PURPLE – anthocyanins – antioxidants – reduce risk of cancer, stroke, heart disease
  • WHITE – anthoxanthins – lower cholesterol, blood pressure; reduce stomach cancer and heart disease

Kaleidescope slaw!

Vegetable lentil minestrone soup


There’s red cabbage, carrots, spinach, zucchini, onion, garlic, chickpeas and red and green lentils in this soup!  Stir in tomato sauce and V8 juice, I also added some vegetable broth.  Add basil, oregano, salt and pepper to taste.  I also added some sirachi sauce.  I like a little heat.  Throw it all in the crockpot for about 6 hours, add pasta for the last hour.

Consuming whole foods is really what our bodies were made to eat.  That’s not to say I’m a freak about it but adding more whole foods to your diet and ditching some of the fried foods and sodas isn’t a bad thing!!  ?

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What’s old is new again

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  What’s old is new again

As I pondered what to talk about today, I was struck by a gorgeous lily I just have to share with you.  White Flower Farm sends me emails enticing me to purchase their plants.  I rarely do, not because they don’t have a good reputation but because I try to buy locally.  However, this beauty has me thinking…  It’s a rare find of an old lily that I likely didn’t pronounce correctly in my podcast!  It’s called Lilium auratum var. platyphyllum ‘Gold Band’, it’s from the golden rayed species and it’s a stunner.

Lilium auratum var. platyphyllum

‘Gold band’

Touted as  intensely fragrant, this Species Lily has huge, 10? bowl-shaped blooms with broad gold stripes and a light sprinkling of crimson spots.  It would appear that the crimson spots vary but the bold gold stripe does not.  This plant grows up to 4 feet and blooms in July and August.  It is zone 5 hardy, so you’ll need to give it some protection.  Underplanting to keep it’s roots cool is a good idea too.  Wild geraniums would work well.

Wild geranium aka Cranesbill come in shades of purples and white

Now for something newish, an Astilbe that hails from Japan.  An award-winner, this native of Japan is easily distinguished by its dark foliage. The rich chocolate-maroon leaves provide a high contrast background for the blushed pink, white flower spikes. It’s called ‘Chocolate Shogun’ and it thrives in part shade.

Astilbe ‘Chocolate Shogun’

Astilbe 'Chocolate Shogun'

Astilbe ‘Chocolate Shogun’

The leaves are reminiscent of a ninebark shrub but it’s a herbaceous perennial hardy to zone 4.  It really is grown for it’s deep burgundy foliage, the flowers are more of an afterthought.  With all astilbes, it needs moisture.  Make sure it doesn’t suffer through a drought or you won’t have a plant left.

Astilbe 'Chocolate Shogun' flowers

Astilbe ‘Chocolate Shogun’ flowers

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Zone 5 coreopsis and chrysanthemum

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With the ridiculously warm weather recently, in fact, one the warmest overall winters we’ve seen, I’m getting a little giddy about perennial plant possibilities, although slightly nervous as I see trees and shrubs budding out already!  I live in zone 4b but with this warmth, I thought I’d take us through a little stroll around zone 5 perennials.

I love coreopsis for their carefree-blooming from early summer into fall.  Just give them some sun and let them produce!  The “Big Bang” series offers some great choices, such as ‘Cosmic Eye’ – gold centers are surrounded with a band of deep burgundy that reaches toward the sunny yellow tips.  This plant reaches 12 to 15 inches and would be a great border plant.

Coreopsis ‘Cosmic Eye’

‘Full Moon’ is a medium size plant at 18 to 24 inches with large canary yellow flowers that can reach 3 inches across.  ‘Full Moon’ is heat tolerant and would make a lovely compliment to ‘Cosmic Eye’.

Coreopsis ‘Full Moon’

‘Star Cluster’ is a stunner with Creamy white flowers with a gold button center but in cool weather, flowers have a deep purple eye and are faintly dusted on the edges with purple.

Coreopsis ‘Star Cluster’

You’re set for summer bloom, now what about the Fall!  Nothing says fall like Chrysanthemums.  There are lots of varieties for cool climates and now, you have even more choices!  A unique option is called ‘Matchsticks’,  The quilled petals are golden yellow with red  and they sparkle like matchsticks. The plants grow in neat, tightly branched clumps and need no staking. They’re easy to grow and look great with other fall bloomers like asters and sedums. Great patio planter too!

Chrysanthemum ‘Matchsticks’

Leucanthemum superbum ‘Aglaya’  it’s also labeled a chrysanthemum in some catalogs.  It is zone 4 but worth a mention for it’s double filled center with frilly snow white petals.  It grows to 28 inches tall with strong stems and has a mounding habit.




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To soil or not to soil

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  To soil or not to soil

There are so many soils and soilless mixes on the market, which do you choose for repotting or potting your new plants?

soil, perlite, fish emulsion

What’s the function of soil aka potting media?

  • to anchor the roots
  • provide nutrients to your plant
  • offer good drainage

Ideally your mix will be part pasteurized soil, organic matter like compost or peat moss and drainage material like perlite or coarse sand.  This mix works for MOST plants.  There are variations to this mix depending on the plant.  The cactus needs better drainage, so the mix would have more perlite or coarse sand in it.

Soilless mixes are lighter and almost always used for seed starting.  Seeds need no nutrients from soil to sprout, they carry all they need within them.  Orchids are an example of plants that use a soilless mix.  Be sure to check your plants preferences or ask the staff at your local nursery what would work best!

Don’t use soil from your garden for houseplants, it doesn’t drain as well.

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Reduce, reuse, recycle, REPOT!

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Reduce, reuse, recycle, repot

Now’s a good time of year to repot those houseplants that have outgrown themselves.  If their roots are coming out the bottom, or have circled around so many times they’ve formed their OWN pot, it’s time!

As you can see from the above picture taken from dummies.com, those roots have circled around themselves and are of no benefit to the plant.  They’re actually strangling it.  They can either be cut off carefully or unwind what you can.  Remove any mushy roots as well.  They will look yellowish or brownish.

Repot in a container that is just one size bigger than the one it’s in.  That means 1 to 2 inches.  Thoroughly water your plant 24 hours before you repot, carefully remove your plant.  Place a coffee filter at the bottom of your new container, this will let the water drain out but the soil will stay.  Fill your new pot with just enough soil to center your plant at the same depth it had been in.  Fill in the sides, tamping the soil and watering.  The fern below could be sliced up (divided) into at least 4 plants!

Water well and keep your plant out of direct sunlight for a few days while your plant gets used to it’s new digs.  For more information and pictures check out Our Garden Gang, this website has some other great information as well.

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Size does matter

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Size does matter

Vegetable garden size, that is!  It’s very easy to get excited about all the veggies and herbs you want to plant but it’s best to ask yourself some questions FIRST.

Raised bed out of control

This is my raised bed 10 years ago!  The nasturtiums went CRAZY from seed.  I planted too much and, although I did several things right, there’s always that last question you might forget to ask yourself!  Such as, in this instance, HOW much can I eat?!?

Keep these things in mind:

  • you need (mostly) Full sun.  As I’ve talked about before, there are vegetables that grow in part shade but if you want tomatoes/peppers, then you need full sun
  • close water source
  • close to your home for quick access and ease of maintenance
  • how much can you REALISTICALLY handle in regard to weeding, watering, harvesting
  • do you want to share your food?
  • do you want to have enough to freeze, can, preserve?
  • how much are you willing to let animals have?!?
  • how will you prevent critters from munching?  Bunnies love beet tops!  One year they ate 2 separate plantings till I bought Plantskydd (granules are best, they don’t smell as much, it lasts for 3 months)

You can see in the photo below that the loose leaf lettuce in the bottom right corner took over the little nasturtium seed… however THAT changed as the season went on!

raised vegetable bed

If you have left over produce, check with your local food shelf about donating!

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