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Muscle (organic) mulch

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Muscle (organic) mulch

I believe I made myself clear yesterday about my feelings on rock mulch!  So what would I use?

I prefer wood chips.  The above are colored red to add contrast.  (Some people don’t like colored mulch as they think it’s takes away from the plants, as always, it’s your choice) I did this back in 2007 and laid down landscape fabric.  If I had to do it again, I would just cultivate and lay down the wood chips right on the ground.  The weeds find a way no matter what.  The landscape fabric ends up becoming a problem later anyway.  The below pics are more recent, I pulled weeds, incorporated compost and laid down newspaper, then mulch.

Rejuvenation of perennial garden

more perennial elements


The above is a gentle reminder to create a “donut” of mulch NOT a “volcano”!  ;-)  By the way, that’s a ‘Parker Pear’ tree that has delivered pears for a few years.  It’s at least 4 times the size now.  It’s planted next to a ‘Summer Crisp’ for pollination.  Very tasty!

There are plenty of other organic options for mulch:

  • non-chemically treated grass clippings
  • shredded leaves
  • pine needles
  • pecan shells
  • cocoa bean – some people think that this is toxic to dogs, I think they’d have to eat quite a bit of it
  • aged corncobs (I tried to find a picture for you but no such luck)

Iowa State University has a good article on Organic Mulches.

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Superstar (inorganic) mulch

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Superstar (inorganic) mulch

I think it’s time for the mulch talk.  We know it’s a good idea but what KIND of mulch should you get.  Organic vs Inorganic.  The first question to ask yourself is what do I want my mulch to do?  Do I want it to just sit and look pretty or do I want it to work for the money I put into it?   There are good reasons for both options.  Today we’ll focus on inorganic mulch or Superstar mulch as I call it.

Rock Mulch, okay, I have a bias against this stuff.  It’s a pain the b….ack.  Side.  If you’re using it as a weed suppressant than expect to have to use chemicals to kill the weeds that eventually come up through it because moving it is HARD work.

However, there are people who still want it, so if that’s you, then go ahead.  But first, take a sample home.  Most places will allow you to take a sample and see if it’s really the color you want.  Also, I would limit where you put it.

rock mulch stonescape

This isn’t a bad place to use rock, however, you’ll still be cleaning this out from blown leaves and weeds will show up.  LIFE wants to grow!  ;-)

rock mulch display

As you can see there are certainly plenty of choices.

Recycled Rubber Mulch is another inorganic choice.  It’s an idea for the childrens playground or in an area you have no plans to plant.  Rubber mulch doesn’t breathe.  No weeds will come up but getting water, nutrients and air to the plants you want to thrive, will be a problem.  There are some studies suggesting it gives off toxins and gets too hot for plants.  There are 2 schools of thought on the subject and I think it’s one you have to decide for yourself.

Recycled rubber mulch

Recycled rubber mulch

Here’s something I don’t recommend:

Rubber mulch tree ring

Rubber mulch tree ring

They claim that air, water and nutrients can get through, if that’s true, then so can weeds.  And then you’ve got the weeds coming up through rubber.  Tough to pull!  Also, rocks and rubber heat up.  That’s not a good thing for most plants, they don’t need the extra hot soil.

Here’s some information from Nature’s Way Resources.  Of course they do not recommend rubber mulch but you might want the information they offer.

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

I was talking with a friend last week who told me about a friend of hers that just planted low maintenance grass and I was intrigued!  Who doesn’t like low maintenance grass!!  This stuff is called Grassology.


The claim is that the roots of this grass grows 4 times longer than “normal” grass seed, is a dwarf variety that needs little mowing and is even insect and disease resistant.  I searched for reviews and found plenty that seemed to have a connection to the company itself.  Not really a good sign.

No where on the website did I find what types of grass seed are in the mix.  However, I did find a University of Arkansas Extension review and they posted the label:

grassology seed mixThese are cool season grasses, that’s good for us, but not for Arkansas, where it was purchased from.  I found a video review from EpicReviewGuys:

Grassology seed mix epic review

I have no idea what “Go & Grow coating” is but there’s nearly 50% in THIS mix.  This review was done in Texas.  If you read the reviews on the Youtube sight.  There are more this guy did.  But you’ll see that while it turned green, it sure looked like a lot of weeds to me.  ALSO, it’s a lot more expensive.

The website also claims that it’s “scientific”.  I found no evidence of that on their website or anywhere else.  I DID find how they suggest to seed.  The exact same way you would with any other seed mixture.  Make sure the weeds are gone, there’s good seed to soil contact and water every day for about 30 days and then baby it while it grows roots.  BTW, the best time to seed your lawn in Minnesota is about August 20th or so into the middle of September.  Here’s a link to the University of Minnesota Extension about seeding lawns.  This includes the type of seed mix for sun/shade conditions and how to do it.  Buying your seed from your local nursery and talking with their professionals makes a lot more sense to me.

Honestly, if it sounds too good to be true…  well, you know how that goes!

Below is a picture of a patch of lawn that was done at my previous home with grass seed from a local nursery:

lawn prep

lawn prep

repaired lawn

repaired lawn

This area was kept moist every day for a few weeks until it started to sprout and then it was kept watered periodically.  It still looks this nice after a few years.

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Deer resistant plants

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While I admire the brown-eyed beauty of the white tail deer, I do NOT admire their munching on my plants!

These 2 delightful deer were on their way to my Hosta Cafe.  There are deer “resistant” plants.  Notice I said “resistant” not “proof”!

Well, short of not feeding them, there are some plants that deer don’t particularly care for.  They include:

  • Columbine
  • Coneflower
  • Sage
  • Yarrow
  • Lily of the Valley
  • Lenten Rose
  • Bleeding Heart
  • Foxglove
  • Heliopsis
  • Beebalm aka Monarda
  • Boxwood
  • Barberry
  • Juniper
  • Mint

Think plants that are hairy, thorny, prickly, sticky, poisonous.  Really the things that bother us, bother them.  They don’t care for the intense scent of mint.  Personally, I love it but it IS invasive.

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New plant labeling to protect pollinators



FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  Tuesday, July 15, 2014


New plant labeling law is in effect to protect pollinators


ST. PAUL, Minn. – A new plant labeling law is now in effect in Minnesota to protect pollinators, such as honeybees, from expose to toxic levels of insecticides. The new law become effective July 1 and requires that plants advertised as “beneficial to pollinators” must be free of detectable levels of certain systemic insecticides.


The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) will enforce the law. MDA Director of Plant Protection Geir Friisoe says the law is meant to protect plant pollinators from exposure to detectable levels of insecticide residues that may persist in flowering plants sold in Minnesota nurseries.


“The new law does not allow labeling or advertising of plants as “beneficial to pollinators” if the plants have been treated with certain systemic insecticides. Systemic insecticides are compounds that move within the tissues of a plant which means they can potentially reach the plant flowers where pollinators may be feeding or collecting pollen,” said Friisoe.


The MDA has developed a fact sheet about the new law that is posted on the agency’s website at www.mda.state.mn.us/labelfactsheet. In addition, Minnesota business owners and residents with questions about the new law can send an email to mda.nursery@state.mn.us for information about the law, compliance, and labeling options.

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Blossom end rot

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Blossom end rot

I had one red tomato so far…  yup, I ate it!  ;-)  It wasn’t quite ripe but still tastier than any store bought!

Homegrown tomatoes are the BEST!  But blossom end rot is not!

A calcium deficiency will bring about blossom end rot.  Uneven watering is one of the biggest culprits.  There are foliar sprays but they only help BEFORE the tomato has blossom end rot, and, as you’ll see from the University of Minnesota, there’s disagreement on how well they work.

If you start to see this problem, remove the affected fruit, spray the rest of the plant.

Give your plants plenty of room.  Best Practice is to give a good 4 feet for each plant.  Keep as evenly moist as you can.  The hardest thing on a tomato plant is to let them dry out like the Sahara and then douse them with water like a Fargo flood.

Here’s a bit more information from the University of Minnesota Extension on Tomato Blossom End Rot

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Cover crops and groundcovers

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Cover crops and groundcovers

Your lettuce is probably looking limp now.  This heat is ridiculous and it’s taking it’s toll on our cooler climate veggies.  Well then, perhaps you should take advantage of that bare spot and plant buckwheat!

Buckwheat is a fast growing crop that will enrich your soil. When tilled in, the buckwheat adds organic matter and makes soil nutrients, like phosphorus and calcium, more accessible to fall crops.  Buckwheat’s dense foliage also blocks out sun to weed seeds.

Scatter seeds to about 1 inch apart, lightly rake into the soil and water.  Keep watered until germination, then water as needed.  Approx. an inch of water a week.  In 4 to 6 weeks they’ll start to flower, cut them down a week after the flowering starts or you’ll have another crop in the Spring when you don’t want it!

Are you tired of wood chip mulch?  Want to try a living mulch for your plants?  One of the best is Canadian Ginger.

Canadian Ginger is hardy to zone 3, shade tolerant and smells wonderful.  It is NOT for eating.  It’s large leaves will form a nice cover to shade weed seeds preventing them from sprouting.

Other possible living mulches include:

  • Wild geranium aka cranesbill
  • Ajuga
  • Wild violets – some people find these annoying, I think they’re cute.
Wild Cranesbill

Wild Cranesbill

Ajuga Reptans 'Burgundy Glow'

Ajuga Reptans ‘Burgundy Glow’

wild violets

wild violets



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A second season

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  A Second Season

If you’re still hankering for some lettuce, more beets, some carrots or kale – you can plant a second season.  We’ve got about 10 more weeks of growing.  Maybe more, maybe less.  Check on the days to maturity of certain vegetables that you might want to give a second planting too.



The seeds will sprout quicker with the soil so warm.  You will want to keep the seeds moist but not wet!  Once you’re vegetable seeds get about an inch, you can usually tell if there’s 8 seeds in one spot!  Thin out the seeds as the instructions say on the packet.

Detroit dark red beets 7-6-14

Detroit dark red beets 7-6-14

Some plantings will taste even better after a light frost – kale for instance, and carrots and beets.  Lettuce and cilantro bolt in the heat, with cooler temperatures as they grow, that will slow down their bolting.  Bolting is when the plants flower and then become bitter.

Red Russian kale

Red Russian kale

Second season veggies and herbs:

  • beets
  • carrots
  • radishes
  • kale
  • peas
  • swiss chard
  • kohlrabi
  • lettuce
  • dill
  • cilantro
  • anything that has a maturity date up to about 65 days  except for tomatoes and peppers – they likely won’t grow well or ripen as quickly with cooler temps
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Water saving tips

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Water saving tips

Over watering is one of the most destructive things we do to our plants.  If they go limp, we automatically reach for the hose.  Many times, that’s a mistake.   PLEASE NOTE:  we don’t normally endure days of over 100 degree temps without moisture.  Plants as a general rule, need an inch of water a week.  Supplement if you have to. MOST plants don’t like sitting in water, unless they’re water plants!  Think about you sitting in a bathtub, you get wrinkly!  The roots of our plants don’t like it either.

  • Water early in the morning.  Less chance of evaporation, so your plants get what you gave them.  This also allows leaves to dry throughout the day avoiding mold and mildew problem.
  • If you have a soaker hose, good for you.
  • Rule of thumb for plants in the ground is an inch of water a week
  • Planted in containers, your plants need to be watered at least once a day in this heat, twice a day if they’re in porous pots like terra cotta.
  • If you have clay soil, water less often as clay soil doesn’t drain as well.
  • On the other hand, sandy soil drains too quickly so water more.
  • Wind also dries out container plantings quicker

gnome grass

grasses in crock

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Small trees for the landscape

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I spied a great article in the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum newsletter.  There’s a beautiful tree with a rather ugly name, Bladdernut.  It’s a native forest-edge species that has great fall color and brown bladders (which are the fruit) filled with seed.  The tree is suckering so it can be a multi-trunked shrub or pruned as a small tree that grows to 15 tall.  It can be as wide as 15’.  The creamy white droopy flowers show up in April and May.  The bark is textured green with white cracks. It does prefer a moist soil.

Prairie Moon Nursery carries this interesting tree/shrub

American Bladdernut

American Bladdernut flowers

I’ve told you about the White Fringetree before.   It’s worth another mention.  It’s often grown as a medium to large shrub, again with multiple trunks.  I look I really like.  The plant has cascades of white flowers in early summer.  Be warned, it’s one of the last trees to grow leaves so it can look dead at first.   Both photos came from northscaping.com

White Fringe Tree courtesy of northscaping.com

White Fringe Tree flowers courtesy of northscaping.com

The 3 flowered maple, acer triflorum is another recommendation that has multi season interest and hasn’t been shown to send out those annoying helicopters, also known as seeds.  The tree’s bark exfoliates and it has great orange/red fall color.  Growing to just 30 feet at most with no pest or disease issues, it’s recommended for small landscapes and boulevards.

3 flowered maple

To get a great look at these trees check out the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chanhassen.  It’s worth a drive to see ALL they have to offer.  These trees are in the Small Tree Collection.

Below is my ‘Royal Raindrops’ crabapple. This was taken 2013, just after planting.

Crabapple 'Royal Raindrops'

Crabapple ‘Royal Raindrops’

This was taken July 6th, 2014:

Royal Raindrops 2014

Royal Raindrops 2014

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