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Tool attention

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Tool attention

One of the last tasks of the gardening season is tool attention. You’ve been abusing your trowels, shovels, pruners and hoes all season, leaving them scattered about your yard and gardens to let mother nature do what she will to them, or maybe that’s just me. Regardless of who’s been naughty or nice to their tools, it’s time to clean them up and get them ready for storage.

First things first, wash as much of the dirt off as you can.  For the tough stuff, like clay soil, you may need to use a stiff wire brush.  This will also help remove some rust.  You can use steel wool to really get at that rust.  For pruners, axes and knives that may have some sap on them, use just a little paint thinner on a cotton cloth to clean up the gummy stuff. Be sure to wipe all your tools dry. Then apply a coat of oil.  I use a little WD-40, LPS or plain old cooking spray.

Check out my Tool Care segment on Dig In Minnesota!

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Fall journaling

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Fall journaling

Oh, quit your groanin’!  ;-)   It’s not the chore you think it is!  Seriously, journaling what’s happened in your landscape is the best way to track what you like or don’t like in your gardens.  It’s also a great way to keep track of weather and to help diagnose issues that may pop up.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve thought, “oh I’ll remember that”, and promptly forgot it.  Annual flower combinations that I love, I try to write down in my journal what I did.  How long did certain flowers actually bloom rather than what the catalog or tag said?  What were those tomatoes I loved?  Which ones just didn’t produce the way I thought they would?  What was the weather like?  What insects invaded?  What diseases showed up?

The list goes on….  Grab a hot beverage, sit by the outdoor fire and write!  You’ll find that you may write other notations that talk about how you felt, what bird delighted you, how the trees sounded in the wind.  I love those memories.


I know there are all kinds of digital ways to keep track of your “stuff” but, I still enjoy actually writing it out in a journal.  Although I admit my hand gets a little tired!  ;-)

I won’t be planting any other carrot but ‘Purple Dragon’.  The ‘Mighty Sweet’ cherry tomatoes were very prolific, tasty and wonderful roasted too.  I’ll plant those again.  I planted Burpees ‘Butterbush’ squash and while I got squash vine borer, I still had 2 little squashes and they were delicious.

carrot tomatoe pepper squash

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The Myth of Peat Moss

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  The Myth of Peat Moss

I do the twitter thing for Garden Bite, although I admit I’m not super active, I did get a message to sign a petition to call for a ban on using peat moss.  Hmmm, I decided to look into it and found some very conflicting ideas on the use of peat and it’s sustainability.  On one blog I read: As a soil amendment, which is what the baled product is mostly sold for, peat moss is a poor choice.  It breaks down too fast, compressing and squeezing air out of the soil.

Organic Gardening “Questioning Peat Moss”

On the other hand…  Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss



Cornell University [scroll down the list of fact sheets for this link to reach peat moss] explains that Canada, where we get most of our peat moss in the United States, has 25% of the world’s peatlands and only .02% of them is being harvested. The industry is regulated and practices restoration and reclamation to attempt to keep peat a sustainable resource. Environmental assessments are conducted before opening a virgin bog to harvest.  They do suggest that perhaps we should consider using peat in growing mixes for starting seeds and cuttings but use compost and manure as soil amendments.

University of Vermont Extension – Peat moss or compost?

peat moss mined

peat moss mined

peat moss mined in Ireland

peat moss mined in Ireland

peat moss chunk

peat moss chunk

Do NOT just lay peat moss on top as a mulch, it will absorb moisture and block it from getting to your plants roots.

peat moss

peat moss


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Falling for shrubs

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Falling for shrubs

Fall is just a spectacular time of year with the colors of trees changing and the nip in the air (which seems rather cold this week!)  As I mentioned in my radio show, I had tried to book a B&B and found them all filled up around the state throughout October.   At least the ones I could reasonably afford!

My mind had been on the fall colors which got me thinking about other sources of color besides Maples and Burning Bush, which I have in my front yard.

Maple and Burning bush

Maple and Burning bush

A new zone 5 Viburnum that’s worth a look see is called ‘Brandywine’ from Proven Winners.  The green berries turn vivid shades of pink and blue while the glossy leaves become a dark maroon-red.  It grows to 6 feet tall and prefers full sun.

Viburnum 'Brandywine' berries

Viburnum 'Brandywine' fall foliage

Consider the Itea virginica ‘Little Henry’.  This shrub is normally rather large but ‘Little Henry’ grows to only 3 feet tall, has abundant lightly scented unusual white flowers that remind me of sparklers in the summer and foliage that turns fiery in the Fall.

Itea virginica 'Little Henry' fall

Itea virginica 'Little Henry' spring

Another Fall beauty is either loved or hated.  Virginia Creeper – maligned or marveled over – it’s foliage is definitely a statement.  The vine is a, shall we say, vigorous grower.

Virginia creeper

It’s a fast grower, hardy to zone 3 and salt tolerant.  Don’t let the unnamed native cultivar grow on your specimen trees.  It will climb them, casting shade on their leaves, depriving them of needed sunlight.  However, this is stunning growing on old homes and arbors!  It also tolerates shade.  It also can be mistaken for poison ivy!  The difference is that Virginia Creeper has 5 leaflets while poison ivy has 3 and IT gives you a rash, the creeper won’t.

maple 2014


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Box elder bugmania

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Box elder bugmania

Box elder bugs may be benign but it sure doesn’t feel that way when they fly in your hair!  EW, it’s like a scene from a horror movie as I approach my garage and have to bat away the bugs.  I’d scream but I don’t want to open my mouth – what if they fly in?!?  Egad.


Boxelder bugs on Boxelder tree!

Use caulk, expandable foam, fine mesh screens or steel wool to secure all your windows and doors.  Even those areas you don’t think they can get into, they can!

Mix a 1/2 cup of laundry detergent with a gallon of water and spray the daylights out of them!  They tend to cover the south side of homes during a day of sunshine.

There’s a Minnesota company with a non-toxic insecticide that I’ve heard good things about.  Boxelder B Gone

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Feeders are for the birds

Click below to listen to my 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.

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.

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

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Feed – it’s for the Birds

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Feed – it’s for the Birds

Winter winds will be blowin’ soon!  There’s nothing more calming to your spirit after a slushy, bumper to bumper ride home than watching the brilliant Red Cardinal feasting on birdfood out your window.

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.

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


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Battling buckthorn

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

The bane of the backyard gardener! And everyone else that tends our parks! This beast just won’t die! Buckthorn came to the U.S. via some well meaning people in the 1800?s to create hedges. They were wonderful in Europe. Not so much here. They are invasive!!

Buckthorn has not been sold in the United States since the 1930?s and yet we are STILL trying to get rid of it.  There are discrepancies about whether some places still sold Buckthorn into the 1970?s.  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 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

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Landscapes and N,P,K

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Landscapes and N,P,K

Earlier this year I built a new garden bed in front of our home, on one side.  All summer I looked at the other side and thought, hmmm, I should get after that, but then the weather would be nice enough to ride motorcycle and, well, that’s what I chose instead!  So last week, with windy conditions and temps in the low 50’s, it was perfect to tackle the OTHER side.

siberian iris GONE

won't get finished this year

won’t get finished this year

But it’s a start!  I’ve got some grasses, cimicifuga and a First Edition Rose ‘Campfire’ in there right now.  Also a golden barberry that was looking pretty tough.  Good sales at this time of year!

I received my soil test results from the University of Minnesota extension on my vegetable garden.  Wow, I had no idea there was that much phosphorus and potassium in my soil and so little nitrogen.  (I spoke with a local organic grower who said that’s fairly typical for our area in southeastern MN)

On fertilizer bags N or Nitrogen is listed first, P or phosphorus is listed 2nd and then K which is potassium.   It would appear I was overzealous in adding manure to my soil and that’s what likely raised the P level.  Only time and not adding P or K, to the soil will lower those levels.  The U suggested I add a 33-0-0 fertilizer next Spring.  As nitrogen leaches out of the soil more quickly, there’s no point in adding N this year.



I could plant a cover crop but it’s getting a little late in the season for that.  Cover crops or green manure keep your bed weed-free, prevent soil erosion, and add organic matter to the soil.  Peas, beans and soybeans are nitrogen fixers.  I’m going to add cow manure and/or compost.  I buy it from our local nurseries as this will go into my vegetable garden  I want it to be organic.  The U recommends 3 to 5 bushels per 100 sq. feet.

I’ve tried scanning the Soil test document but can’t figure out how to convert it to a pdf to put here.  There’s no way you could read it as a picture…  I need a techy!





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MDA October weed of the month – Giant hogweed

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  MDA October weed of the month – Giant hogweed

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has been highlighting a weed each month.  This month, they’re being proactive as this weed has not YET been found in Minnesota but is in neighboring Wisconsin. The Giant hogweed – Heracleum mantegazzianum  [Now you know why I didn't even ATTEMPT to say this on my show!]  Native to Central Asia, Giant hogweed, was introduced to Britain as an ornamental in the 19th century, and it has also spread to many other parts of Europe, the United States and Canada.

Giant hogweed flower

Giant hogweed flower

Giant hogweed with person

It’s a stunningly tall plant with a serious public health risk. When the sap comes in contact with skin and is exposed to sunlight, it can cause painful blisters and scarring. Additionally, the sap in contact with eyes can result in blindness.

Giant hogweed burn and this is MILD

Giant hogweed burn and this is MILD

I didn’t want to put some of the other pictures here because it’s really kinda gross…  you can google it on your own!

This thing is HUGE!  Giant hogweed has many identifiable characteristics including deeply cut massive leaves up to five feet across.  The plant flowers on a 10-15 foot stalk. The tiny white flowers form clusters that reach up to two and a half feet across. The stalks are two inches in diameter and hollow with purple mottling. Both the stems and undersides of the leaves are covered in coarse white hairs. It can be mistaken for Cow Parsnip (Heracleum maximum), a native plant that is common throughout much of Minnesota, has similar leaves and flowers, and reaches 3-10 feet tall with 4-8 inch flowers. However, giant hogweed has much larger, strongly dissected leaves and huge flowers.

Giant hogweed leaf

Giant hogweed leaf

Giant hogweed bud

Giant hogweed bud\

Not only is giant hogweed a serious public health hazard, it can also negatively impact soil dynamics, fisheries, and outcompete native plants. In states where it has been confirmed, it can be found growing in yards, ditches, along stream banks, in disturbed areas, open wooded areas, and thrives in sunny locations. Giant hogweed spreads by seed that can be moved by wind, water, wildlife, and humans.

Giant hogweed with haz mat suits

Even though this plant has not yet been discovered in Minnesota, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture regulates giant hogweed as a prohibited noxious weed on the eradicate list because of its close proximity of establishment in Wisconsin.  It is also a Federal Noxious Weed regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. By law, all above and below ground plant parts must be destroyed, and no transportation, propagation, or sale of the plants is allowed. If you suspect you have seen giant hogweed, please contact the MDA’s Arrest the Pest voicemail at 888-545-6684 or email arrest.the.pest@state.mn.us.



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