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Dig Rig – how to save your sole

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Dig Rig – how to save your sole

Wanna save your sole?  Then try the Dig Rig!  Let’s face it, digging’s tough work but two old farm boys thought up this little device to help us out.

The Dig Rig attaches to your shovel and rests on the foot rest.  Another cool tool is the Soil Scoop.   Check your local garden center to see if they sell the Soil Scoop first, there are several online places that sell it as well.   I’ve talked about both of these before but it’s always nice to have a reminder and for the new listeners!

If you’re like me, you might tend to leave your tools laying about busying yourself from one job to the next…  Consider wrapping your tool with some neon gaffers tape, it’s a vinyl cloth tape you’ll likely spot in the dark!

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Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Annuals!

Planting containers is a highlight to me.  I love having them on the deck and even scattered about the gardens.

Coleus, Guara, superbells

Coleus, Guara, superbells

Cool season annuals abound in nurseries.  You can easily plant them, so long as you still have the option of covering them or putting them in the garage during a cold snap.

Ahh, Calendula…

 The above photo is from the ‘Prince’ series of Calendula.  There’s also Pacific hybrids and ‘Touch of Red’.  They like sun to light shade.

bedpan of pansies

bedpan of pansies

Other cool season dandies:

  • pansies
  • impatiens
  • primroses
  • snapdragons
  • nasturtiums
  • petunias

                               Impatiens spilling out from a log container

chair container

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Sun/shade terms

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Sun/shade terms

What the heck is dappled sun?  Do you get confused by some of those sun/shade terms on plant tags?

Here’s an explanation:

  • Full sun is at least 6 hours of direct sunlight.  8 hours is best for tomatoes, peppers, melons.
  • Dappled sun is the lightest shade.  It’s full sun filtered through open-branched trees such as honey locust, aspen and birch.
  • Light shade/partial sun are interchangeable.  These plants need 3 to 6 hours of direct sunlight, usually in the morning or afternoon.  If the tag emphasizes shade, then plant in morning sun.  If it emphasizes sun, then plant in afternoon sun, which is hotter.
  • Medium/partial shade is 1 to 3 hours of sunlight, this could be dappled sun.
  • Full/heavy shade is could be a wooded area or on the north side of your house under eaves and generally receives no reflected light.

In the picture below, the front portion leans toward partial shade while the grasses in the background are full sun.


Sun from the west is hottest, followed by south, east and finally north.  How does your site light up?  Check the sun throughout the day, keeping in mind as the season continues, this changes.  Below is a Honey Locust tree, you can see the small leaves delivering “dappled” sun!

Dappled sun - Honeylocust is upper left

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Super Foods

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Super Foods

So called super foods are not new and neither is planting them.  But this year MORE people will be choosing to grow them.  What are they?  Here are just a few:

Kale is an amazing vegetable.  It’s part of the cruciferous family that includes broccoli and cauliflower.  Kale is easy to grow, loves cooler temps and sun to semi-shade.  Curly kale is on the left.  Red cabbage on the bottom with a purple dragon carrot.  yum.


For the best health benefits, the recommendation is to steam it for 5 minutes.  For detailed information about Kale click on the World’s Healthiest Foods or WebMD on Kale.  There are recipes too!  Ornamental red kale is also edible.

annual mums, flowering cabbage, kale

annual mums, flowering cabbage, kale

Kale types of

Talk about healthy smoothies!  The avocado really adds a nice creamy texture.



  1. Combine the apple juice, spinach, apple, and avocado in a blender and puree until smooth, about 1 minute, adding water to reach the desired consistency.



  1. Combine the coconut milk, ½ cup water, the kale, pineapple, and banana in a blender and puree until smooth, about 1 minute, adding more water to reach the desired consistency.

I interviewed Dan Buettner for another show I do called 15 with the Author.  He has traveled the world seeking out the secrets of the longest and healthiest lived peoples.  He calls them Blue Zones.  His interview will be available in May by clicking here .

Blueberries are the antioxidant superhero of the super foods!  And we can grow some dandies in Minnesota.  Thanks to the University of Minnesota.  However, blueberries need acidic soil.  In Minnesota, most of our soils are neutral having a pH of about 7 (the scale goes from 1 to 14).  Get a soil test through the University of Minnesota.  My Favorite Links tab has a link.

Lowbush Blueberry fall color

Lowbush Blueberry fall color

The above is the Fall color of blueberry!  Not only extremely nutritious (they rank the highest of any fruit for antioxidants) but beautiful!  For more on their value check out the World’s Healthiest Foods Blueberries

Blueberries grow best in full sun with amended soil with a pH between 5 and 6.  You may be able to achieve that by adding peat, but do have a soil test first.  Critters love blueberries too so you’ll want to fence them in!  For complete planting information and cultivars developed by the University of Minnesota check out Blueberries for the home landscape.

Blueberry 'North County'

Check out all these Raw Food smoothie recipes.   I’m already making  blueberry smoothies!  I’m using frozen berries for now.

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Rain barrels and compost bins

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Rain barrels and compost bins

 April Showers bring May flowers.  At least that’s the hope and that moisture isn’t in the solid form of snow!
snowfall on March 22nd

snowfall on March 22nd

That object in the middle of the photo is my rain barrel which was supposed to be thawing out!  That’s another thing to remember – empty your rain barrel before it freezes or the bottom bows out.  Luckily, I think it’s going to be okay.  ;-)

Rain barrels are always a good idea for several reasons.  Rainwater is the best kind of water for your lawn and flower gardens and capturing it is a good thing for several reasons.  First, it’s free!  It’s also a good storm water management practice.  Corralling that precious water before it rushes down the storm drain and carries with it phosphorous that is a major contributor to unwanted algae growth in our lakes and ponds.  

Rain barrel

The University of Minnesota Extension Rain Barrels – a way of collecting and using rain water.

I’ll be picking up my Rain Barrel from the Cannon River Watershed Partnership next week.  They offer the barrels and a quick class.  Where I live, my City offers a $20 rebate off my utility bill for verification of installation of a Rain Barrel.  Not a bad idea!

All Minnesota Counties have an online presence now. Albeit some better than others.  Nonetheless, here is a LIST of counties.  Check with them, your Master Gardeners and/or your City to find out what may be available to you.  Of course you can always just buy one or build one and place it.  Here are just a few ideas from TreeHugger.

One more thing, a rain barrel can save most homeowners 1300 gallons of water in one season!  Another good idea are compost bins.   They can be nearly any structure that can hold debris while allowing for air circulation, water and heat (as in some sunlight) to get to the pile. 

Compost bins The Self Sufficient Living

The above photo is from The Self Sufficient Living.  The University of Minnesota Extension offers homeowners a comprehensive Composting Guide.

Portable compost bin drawing

Portable compost bin with dimensions

The above compost is made from a garbage can and can be bungeed to a dolly for portability.

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EAB in Anoka County

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  EAB in Anoka County

Emerald Ash Borer aka EAB

Dateline March 2015:  the Minnesota Department of Agriculture confirmed Emerald Ash Borer in Anoka county.   EAB was found in an ash tree on private property in the city of Ham Lake.  The infested tree was detected through a call to the MDA’s Arrest the Pest Hotline, which I’ll list again on gardenbite dot com. The hotline allows concerned residents to report suspicious invasive plants and insects, like emerald ash borer. Based on the call, MDA staff was able to visit the site and determine the ash tree in question was infested with EAB.  Anoka County will be put under an emergency quarantine and eventually join Dakota, Hennepin, Houston, Olmsted, Ramsey, and Winona counties in a state and federal quarantine.

EAB damage under bark

EAB damage under bark

MDA Entomologist Mark Abrahamson says the spread of EAB in Minnesota has been slower but it’s still presenting itself.  Emerald ash borer larvae kill ash trees by tunneling into the wood and feeding on the tree’s nutrients. Since its accidental introduction into North America, EAB has killed tens of millions of ash trees in 24 states. The invasive insect was first discovered in Minnesota in 2009. The last county to be quarantined for EAB was Dakota County in December 2014.

EAB larvae

EAB larvae

EAB tree die back

EAB tree die back

The biggest risk of spreading EAB comes from people unknowingly moving firewood or other ash products harboring larvae. There are three easy steps Minnesotans can take to keep EAB from spreading:

  • Don’t transport firewood.
  • Be aware of the quarantine restrictions.
  • Watch your ash trees for infestation.

For more information on the pest and what you can do check out the Minnesota Department of Agriculture EAB

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Best planting practices for trees and shrubs

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Best planting practices for trees and shrubs

Remember how you’ve heard that you should plant trees and shrubs at the same level they came in in their container?  Well, now you need to take a look at those plants.  Turns out that some of those plants come with too much soil on top of their graft of trunk flare.

So, what does that mean?  It means you need to remove that soil and plant the tree or shrub level with where the root flare starts.  The most important roots, those that take up the water, oxygen and nutrients, are in the top 6 inches of soil.

SULIS - Sustainable Urban Landscape Information Series, comes from the University of Minnesota.  Click on the link I’ve given you and you’ll have a lot of information about tree planting.  A lot of the info can be used for shrubs too.

I recently learned an interesting trick in planting these trees and shrubs.  The hole you dig should be about 3 to even 4 times as wide at the top of the hole tapering down to twice as wide further down.  But here’s the other piece to that - using a mallet take a pole and tap holes into the sides of your hole about 4 inches down and about 6 inches apart, especially if you have compacted soil.  The roots will find the easier way to stretch out into the soil. 

Crabapple 'Royal Raindrops' Check out this video with tree expert Leif Knecht:

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Planting bare root stock

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Planting bare root stock

What’s bare root?  These are shrubs, trees and some perennials that you buy with no soil around the roots.  They’re smaller, cheaper and easy to plant.  However they do need immediate attention.

You can see, some can look pretty puny.  Give these little guys a chance!

bare root tree roots soaking in water

bare root tree roots soaking in water

When you get your bare root stock of trees and/or shrubs, let the roots soak overnight.  For perennials, you can let them soak a couple of hours.   Dig your hole at least twice as wide as the root system but only as deep as the plant was grown at the nursery.  You don’t want the plant too deep, just up to the point where the crown and roots connect.

Mound some soil in the middle of the hole to place your plant on top of.  Spread the roots out horizontally, this is where those roots will get their water, oxygen and nutrients.  (eventually they will grow deeper on their own).  Fill the hole with soil, gently work the soil around the roots while holding your plant steady.  I know, you need 3 hands for this!

bare root planting

bare root planting

Gently pack the soil down with your feet, hands, and/or water.  You want your bareroot stock watered thoroughly and not let it dry out.  Water often during the first year.  Do NOT fertilize right away.  Bareroot roots are more vulnerable to fertilizer burn.  You can fertilize with a weak solution in 4 weeks.

Bareroot stock CAN be kept for a week IF you place the roots in soil, keeping them moist and out of direct sunlight.

Alpine currant from bareroot

The above picture is of Alpine Currant that I bought bareroot.  This was about 4 years later.  I never cut them back, they were about 4 1/2 feet tall and made a great friendly fence.


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Planting cool season crops

Click below to listen to my  Garden Bite radio show:  Planting cool season crops

Now’s the time!  It was crazy warm and now’s cooled off but those cole crops can take it!

If you prepared your veggie bed last year, all you have to do now is plant!  OR you could certainly add organic matter.  If you tilled your garden last year, do NOT till it again.  This has a tendancy to break down the soil structure, this is not a desireable outcome.

Plant seeds of:

  • lettuce
  • chard
  • carrots
  • kale
  • radishes
  • peas
  • kohlrabi
  • parsnip
  • turnip

Read the packet directions on how to plant.  (lettuce I just throw down and thin later, no rows)  Onion sets can also go in the ground now.  I don’t recommend planting seeds as they just don’t turn out as well as onion sets, which are just tiny onions that grow into bigger ones.

Potato tubers (with eyes) can also be planted now either in the ground or in a container.  Soil temperature should be at least 40 degrees.  Cornell University Potato growing guide

red potatoes cut and ready to plant

Red potatoes cut and ready to plant

Transplants of broccoli, brussel sprouts and cabbage can be planted in another week or so.

NEVER plant in wet soil, moist is okay.

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Tomato and pepper seed start time

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Tomato and pepper seed start time

Nothing’s better than a homegrown tomato.  You can make that experience even better by starting your own from seed.  Because tomatoes and peppers are warm season vegetables they aren’t planted in the soil till the soil is 60 to 70 degrees.  Usually that’s Memorial weekend in zone 4 and a week or so later in zone 3.  If you start these seeds too early you run the risk of them becoming leggy which can translate to weaker plants.

Choosing the type of tomatoes you want is part of the fun.  Oh so many choices!  Romas and slicers, cherries and grape, heirlooms and hybrids.  Decide what you want to use the tomatoes for and then make your choices.  ‘Fresh Salsa’  is one of my favorites for salsa making.  The flesh is firm yet the taste is great.

Then there are peppers!  Bell and hot, banana and Italian.  Again, it depends on what you use them for.  I happen to love the Italian pepper ‘Godfather’.  They’re prolific producers and very tasty.  They grill up well too.

Now how to start seeds.  Use a sterile starting mix.  I like using the peat pots rather than other containers, they’re simple, ready to roll and you can plant the whole thing in the ground once it’s time.  Plant your seeds according to directions on the packet.  I have a heating mat that keeps a steady 70 degrees.  Place your plants in a tray under a shoplight.

Once the seeds sprout, keep the light at 6 inches above the plants, leave it on for 16 hours a day.  I use a fan to gently blow across the plants for about an hour a day.  A pulley system works well to move the light as the plants grow.

Keep the seeds moist while germinating, a spray bottle to water the soil surface without blowing out the soil is useful.  There’s no need to fertilize until the plants have several true leaves.  Then use a weak solution of all purpose fertilizer once a weak.  Less is better.

There are certainly other ways to start seeds indoors.  Here’s a great article from the University of MN Extension.

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