• GardenBite@Facebook • GardenBite@Twitter

Houseplant heat and humidity

Click below to listen to my 2 min. Garden Bite radio show:  Houseplant heat and humidity

As we move indoors, we look to our houseplants for that “touch of green”.  While the air outside gets cooler, the air inside gets drier.

Zee plant and Spider plant

As a general rule, houseplants like night temps to be about 10 to 15 degrees cooler than day temps.  Keep your plants away from extremes.  Like sitting next to the heat register or next to an outside door.

Humidity levels are tough on tropicals, or any flowering plants.  You can help them by either lightly humidifying a room allowing for plenty of air circulation or you can group them together and set them on a tray of gravel with water.  The transpiration off the plants will help each other.  Just be sure to check for insects.

Below are some ideas for humidity trays:

humidity trays

humidity tray ice-cube tray

humidity tray bought

As far as fertilizing goes, I’m still on the side that less is more.  Read your plant tag or ask an expert where you bought the plant what they suggest.  If your plant is actively growing, then diluted fertilizer is a good idea, if it’s dormant, then leave it be.



No Comments Tags: ,

Battling Buckthorn

Click below to listen to my 2 min. Garden Bite radio show:  Battling Buckthorn

It’s that time of year!  To do battle with the bane of the botanical minded!  Buckthorn were brought over from Europe where they made terrific hedges.  But here in the United States they compete with our natives and seem to win…  Buckthorn leaves hang on late into Fall making them easy to spot especially as the surrounding foliage drops off.


Communities have Buckthorn Beatdown days to try to eradicate it. Buckthorn takes over our native plants and shrubs and is NOT good for birds. It’s not poisonous, it just doesn’t give them any nutrition as they don’t absorb it. They poop it out almost as fast as they eat it. That means they carry the seeds off somewhere and let nature do it’s thing by reseeding it elsewhere.  Buckthorn in Wisconsin.  WisDNR – click on the website for more pictures and information

Buckthorn bark

Buckthorn bark

The Minnesota DNR has some great information about Buckthorn from identifying the beast in your backyard to how to control it.  Here’s another article from the University of Minnesota Extension on Buckthorn Control.

Buckthorn berries

Buckthorn berries

The most environmentally friendly ways to deal with this invasive is with goats!  The City of Northfield did a pilot program.   The goats don’t get it all but the humans follow up with tools!

Buckthorn in Hauberg woods

Buckthorn in Hauberg woods

The woods AFTER the goats

The woods AFTER the goats

Goat Dispatch goats photo by TJ Heinricy

Goat Dispatch goats photo by TJ Heinricy


No Comments Tags: ,

Stressed plants create aspirin

Click below to listen to my 2 min. Garden Bite radio show:  Stressed plants create aspirin

Let’s talk about aspirin.  Seems like a rather odd choice for a garden show, however, I’m not talking about Bayer.  I’m talking about plants that produce their own aspirin like chemical. Researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research stumbled upon this in 2008.  They  were surprised to discover that stressed plants produce an aspirin-like chemical that can be detected in the air above the plants. The scientists speculate that the chemical may be a sort of immune response that helps protect the plants.

According to the researchers, the finding raises the possibility that farmers, forest managers and others may eventually be able to start monitoring plants for early signs of a disease, and insect infestation or other types of stress.  Right now we often don’t know if an ecosystem is unhealthy until there are visible signs such as dead leaves.


Scientist Thomas Karl, the lead researcher, says, unlike humans who are advised to take aspirin as a fever suppressant, plants have the ability to produce their own mix of aspirin-like chemicals, triggering the formation of proteins that boost their biochemical defenses and reduce injury.  Crazy, isn’t it!

Significant amounts of the chemical can be detected in the atmosphere as plants respond to drought, unseasonable temperatures or other stresses.  Co-author Alex Guenther said, “These findings show tangible proof that plant-to-plant communication occurs on the ecosystem level, and “It appears that plants have the ability to communicate through the atmosphere.”  

How Plants Secretly Talk to Each Other

TED Talk on trees talking to each other

No Comments Tags: ,

Tenacious bulb eaters

Click below to listen to my 2 min. Garden Bite radio show:  Tenacious bulb eaters

You were captivated by all those magazines with beautiful spring lawns filled with crocuses, daffodils and hyacinth.  You saw your gardens teeming with tulip color.  You plotted the area out and planted with abandon.  Then the squirrels showed up, those tenacious little bulb eaters.  ARG.


People have discussed ideas about what to do for as long as we’ve planted bulbs.  The best method so far is to sink chicken wire into the ground around your bulb bed and then cover the area with more chicken wire and mulch it.  REMOVE the wire when they start to grow…. then watch for rabbits!

That idea is great if you have a small permanent bed but rather impractical for many of us who like to pop them in here and there.  Other gardeners say that just laying the chicken wire on top along with mulching the area works for them.  I would lay down straw mulch over this to remind me that there’s chicken wire underneath.

Some folks say their dog keeps the squirrels away.  Good dog, mine chases them and has even caught a couple but it’s still not enough!  They are persistent little creatures and will eat even bulbs that they’re NOT supposed to like, such as grape hyacinth and daffodils.

However, they’re not big on onions, so Alliums are a good choice, as are Pinkbells, Squill and Summer Snowflake.


blue squill

Summer snowflake

There’s a product called Tree Guard that you can spray your bulbs with before you plant.  It’s main ingredient is called Bitrex and is quite bitter tasting to animals.  It’s safe for the environment and contains latex which makes it stick to the bulb.

I thought I’d share some pretty bulbs for a large planting I found from White Flower Farm.





No Comments

Grab bag of gardening – more October to-do’s

Click below to listen to my 2 min. Garden Bite radio show:  Grab bag of gardening – more October to-do’s

Today we’re revisiting some emails I’ve received as they continue to pop into my inbox!   Have you gone plant sale shopping recently and now you don’t have time to plant?  Don’t panic.  Find a spot in your landscape and plant those perennials still in their pots.  Sink them into the ground up to the pot level, keep watered till the ground freezes and mulch.

Then come spring, after you’ve decided where you want to plant them, dig them up carefully and they should be just fine.

Folks have asked about using landscape fabric versus newspaper or office paper.  I’ve found that landscape fabric doesn’t always work the best.  Weeds find a way of growing on top off the fabric and crab grass seems to come up right through it.   Shredded newspaper or office paper that’s been wet down, works quite well.  It’s cheap, it mats down better than the fabric, breaks down eventually and adds organic matter to the soil.  Some businesses are more than happy to give you their shredded paper.  For larger areas use dampened cardboard.  Of course, cover all of these with mulch, or it just won’t look pretty!

Someone asked about pruning shrubs and trees.  Do NOT do general pruning right now.  ONLY prune out diseased branches.

The next question was then whether they needed to disinfect the pruner after each cut since it’s the same tree?  Yes, disinfect it by dipping it into a 10 percent bleach solution, rubbing alcohol or you can use Lysol spray.  Paper towels to wipe are just fine, or a rag.  Clorox sells a bleach free disposable wipe that works as well.  Remember that your hands will also have the bacteria on them.  Wear garden gloves.


No Comments Tags:

Feeders are for the birds

Click below to listen to my  2 min. Garden Bite radio show:  Feeders are for the birds

Yesterday we were all about the food, today it’s about the feeder…

There are numerous feeders out there.  Which ones work?  Well, they all do but which ones keep the squirrels at bay?  Ha!  None of them forever, unless you have them rigged for an electric shock when they touch it.  Someone I know actually did that!  He had fashioned a shocker that he could operate by remote control when the blackbirds would flock to the feeders.  Pretty soon, they’d get a jolt, fly away and then hover and try it again!  By the 3rd shock, they decided to go somewhere else…  I admit, it was entertaining!



However, this was an attempt to keep the squirrels away.  Notice in the picture the flashing on the sides and bottom of the feeder.  Makes it slippery for squirrels.

Hopper feeder with flashing

Hopper feeder with flashing


The above is a hopper feeder, you fill the top and can adjust the perch for weight.  If you want to make sure the smaller birds get a bite, then lighten the weight limit.  It also keeps the food fairly dry.  Hopper feeders hold a lot of seed.

Dome feeders are also a good choice for keeping the feed drier.  Cardinals and Blue Jays like this style.

Dome feeder

Dome feeder

Tube feeders are good for finches, chickadees and other smaller birds.  You can snip the perches back to keep the bigger birds from eating it all.  Tube feeders have different size holes for different size seeds, in fact, you may see the smaller size feeders called “Thistle” feeders.

Thistle feeder

Thistle feeder

Suet feeders hold the suet cakes, Woodpeckers love these, so do squirrels.

suet feeder

suet feeder

Window feeders are another option.  I’ve not tried these yet but might give them a go.  I’m just not sure how clean your window will stay!  They attach by suction cups.  This is a link to a place with a number of different styles.  I’ve never bought from them but they appear reputable.  birds-n-gardens.com

window feeder

window feeder

window feeder 2



No Comments Tags:

Feed it to the birds

Click below to listen to my 2 min. Garden Bite radio show:  Feed it to the birds

Winter winds will be blowin’ soon!  There’s nothing like calming your spirit after a slushy, bumper to bumper ride home than watching the brilliant Red Cardinal feasting on birdfood out your window.   Contrary to what some people think, feeding the birds in winter is a good idea.

Cardinals larger

How many Cardinals can you count?  These are male and female.  Be sure to place your feeders where you can see them but where predators can’t get to them.  When choosing feed, think about what kind of birds you want to attract.

To attract the biggest variety of birds choose Black Sunflower Seed.

Goldfinches love Niger seeds, they’re a little more expensive.



Safflower seeds, which squirrels, starlings and blue jays don’t like, are great attracters for Cardinals, Chickadees and Downy Woodpeckers.

Suet is favored by Woodpeckers, Blue Jays, Purple Finches and Nuthatches.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

Keep your feeders clean, nobody likes moldy seed!

Here’s a link to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and their Winter Bird Feeding Tips


No Comments Tags:

Late blight on tomato plants

Click below to listen to my 2 min. Garden Bite radio show:  Late blight on tomato plants

To say it’s been a wet summer and into Fall seems an understatement.  With that is the appearance of late blight on tomatoes.  Many folks are reporting this fungal disease.  Late blight is caused by the pathogen Phytophthora infestans, a fungus like organism that thrives in wet conditions. The scientific name translates to ‘plant destroyer’ and it is.

Late blight

So what does it look like?  First it starts with leaves that have large, dark brown blotches with a green gray edge.  The stems can become firm and dark brown.  The disease progresses rapidly in cool wet weather and the entire plant MAY turn brown and collapse in a few days.

Fruits have firm dark brown blotches. If the tomato is cut open, dry brown rot can be seen extending into it.  Fruit will become soft and mushy when bacteria invade after the initial infection. In high humidity, thin powdery white fungal growth appears on infected leaves, fruit, and stems.

Late blight with mold in high humidity

Once late blight has been found in a garden, there is little that can be done to help the plant. The disease simply moves too quickly.

Harvest what you can and be sure to keep checking to see if the fruit starts to show the disease in storage, if it does, get rid of it.

More information from the University of Wisconsin Extension.

Infected plants should be removed or destroyed as soon as possible to prevent the thousands of airborne spores forming on the leaves from spreading to neighboring plants.  Infected plants can be placed in a plastic bag or under a plastic tarp and left to cook in the sun for several days. Once all of the plant material is killed, the plant can be composted or buried.  Plants can also be shallowly buried in soil, as the freezing winter temperatures will kill both the plant and pathogen.




No Comments Tags: ,

What’s up with JB?

Click below to listen to my 2 min. Garden Bite radio show:  What’s up with JB?

The last of the Japanese Beetles have gone to warmer pastures and we’re left with the devastation of many of our roses, hibiscus, virginia creeper vines…. And that’s must in MY landscape!

On roses

I just recently read an article from a U of MN entomologist, Jeff Hahn.  He said 2017 was a year of above average numbers of JB.  Although it might appear that JB occur in cycles (like forest tent caterpillars), in fact their numbers are driven by weather. The most important factor influencing their abundance is a lack of soil moisture.

JB eggs and newly emerged grubs are very susceptible to dry soils so during years when we experience drought we typically see relatively fewer Japanese beetles. This was true about three to five years ago when we had some very dry summers.  Since then, we’ve started receiving more normal rainfall and JB numbers have become numerous. Hahn says, that while their feeding definitely affects the appearance of plants, as long as (deciduous) trees and shrubs are healthy and mature, they can tolerate severe, even complete, defoliation.

If trees and shrubs are severely damaged for several consecutive years, they can sustain more lasting injury.  Check out the normal care for trees and shrubs .

Overall, look for most plants to rebound and be fine next spring.  Here’s more information on the Japanese beetle, it’s life cycle and… should you choose, how to deal with the grubs with chemicals.

We do NOT recommend JB traps – the information now coming out indicates it only attracts MORE…

The question now is… what about next year?  Well, with the rains, we will likely see similar numbers next year… or we’ll have a drought.  Stay tuned.

On my hardy hibiscus

Their death in soapy water


No Comments Tags:

Marmorated stink bugs want in and barberry want it all

Click below to listen to my 2 min. Garden Bite radio show:  Marmorated stink bugs want in

Introducing, again, the marmorated stink bug…

This stinker has hitched rides all over the country and is more than just an irritant.  It’s working on coming into your house for the winter.

In fact, I just had one inside my screened porch.

When disturbed or crushed, the brown marmorated stink bug emits an awful, pungent odor!  GREAT!.  It feeds on fruit trees, vegetables and soybeans and seems to believe that all parts are edible!  Originally from China, Korea and Japan it was first spotted in the United States in 2001.  Eastern states first reported this stink bug as having quite an impact on crops, especially in orchards where it creates necrotic, or dead, spots on leaves and deforms the fruit.  It’s cost millions of dollars in damages.  University of Maryland Extension on Stink bugs

stink bug damage

WisContext had more info and pictures too.

inside an apple

Officially  the bug arrived in Minnesota in 2011, although unofficially some gardeners say they saw it before then.  Wisconsin has seen the stink bug since about 2010 although they’ve not suffered wide spread crop damage.

Another invasive is the Japanese barberry, a shrub commonly planted in landscapes.

A 7 year study conducted by the University of Connecticut found several cultivars of barberry are invading our native ecosystems. The Japanese barberries tend to alter the soil’s pH, nitrogen levels and biological activity.  Once established, this plant will displace our natives and form dense stands.

Here’s a little fact to help you understand the difference between a cultivar and a variety.  A cultivar is created by humans while a variety is created by nature.  This study suggests that the cultivars are able to cross pollinate with the varieties creating the invasive problem.

Japanese barberry thicket

I did a whole Garden Bite on this bad boy.  Find it HERE.  It’s on the USDA’s hit list!  It’s everywhere…



No Comments Tags: , , ,