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Small space garden plants

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Small space garden plants

A small space doesn’t mean you can’t have a garden!  I have a raised bed for my vegetables but I also plant in pots.

Tomato 'Power pops' in container

Tomato ‘Power pops’ in container

I like cucumbers but I don’t like the space they take up in my raised bed.

raised vegetable bed

Cucumber ‘Patio Snacker’ is the perfect size to plant in a 15 inch pot with a trellis for the 3 to 5 foot vines to grow on.  It’s fruits are 6 to 8 inches with non-bitter skin.  And they mature in 50 days!

Cucumber 'Patio Snacker' Territorial Seed

Cucumber ‘Patio Snacker’ Territorial Seed

For fruit trees in a small space, I recommend trying the “getting ever more popular” columnar apples.  ‘Blushing Delight’ produces abundant green apples blushed with red – ripening in September.  It grows to just 8 feet tall and only needs 3 feet spacing between.

Columnar apple 'Blushing Delight'

Columnar apple ‘Blushing Delight’

Apple trees need another variety for cross pollination.  Might I suggest ‘Tangy Green’ or Columnar Red?  These trees can also be planted in containers.  If you’re in zone 4, give them protection if planted in a container.  Plants in the soil only need mulch.

Columnar Red apple

Columnar Red apple

These are also called Colonnade apples.

Colonnade Flamenco

Colonnade Flamenco

Loose leaf lettuce can be packed tight and because you can harvest it early, you can interplant it with tomatoes and other later season vegetables.  There are a LOT of different varieties.  One of my favorites is a mesclun mix.

Mesclun mix

Mesclun mix

loose leaf lettuce

Or maybe you’d like swiss chard, packed with phytonutrients.

Swiss chard 'Bright Lights'

Swiss chard ‘Bright Lights’

Patio or cherry tomatoes are a great choice for small spaces.  ‘Sweetheart of the Patio’ cherry toms are the perfect choice for delicious flavor, disease resistance and they’re determinate.  That means they’ll grow to 3 feet and stop yet deliver plenty of tasty fruit.  It matures in 68 days. ‘Bush Early Girl II’ is meatier yet very tasty and delivers in 54 days.  It’s also disease resistant and determinate.

Tomato 'Bush Early Girl' hybrid

Tomato ‘Bush Early Girl’ hybrid

Tomato 'Sweetheart of the Patio'

Tomato ‘Sweetheart of the Patio’

Most determinate varieties of tomatoes are the ticket for your small space.  Also consider bush or dwarf type plants, such as bush beans for containers or in the garden.  Dwarf bean ‘Speedy’.

Remember too, that you can take advantage of the time it takes for your tomatoes to grow and plant things like radishes and lettuce in that same area.  When they’re done is when your tomatoes are really starting to grow.

Going vertical is a great way to save space.  I used an old mattress spring secured into my raised bed with bamboo poles to grow squash on.

squash hanging in nylon

squash hanging in nylon


Grapes on trellis

Grapes on trellis




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Something old, something new

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Something old, something new

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 as my resource, Fine Gardening pronunciation guide website, is currently being updated! It’s called Lilium auratum var. platyphyllum, it’s from the golden rayed species and it’s a stunner.

Lilium auratum platyphyllum

Lilium auratum platyphyllum

Lilium auratum platyphyllum 2

Lilium auratum platyphyllum 3

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 Cranesbill aka geraniums

Wild Cranesbill aka geraniums

Now for something new for mass consumption, 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’

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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More money for Monarchs

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Monarchs in my backyard

Monarchs in my backyard

The photos were taken in 2007 in Lakeville, MN.  There were hundreds in the trees…  that was the only time that happened.

In a move this month to save the Monarch butterfly, the U.S. government has pledged $3.2 million.  As we’ve talked about before, the plight of the Monarch has plunged ever more quickly to the endangered species list.  The iconic orange-and-black butterfly that can migrate thousands of miles between the U.S. and Mexico each year is but a mere shadow of it’s former glory.  The numbers show a 90% decline in recent years.  YIKES

Monarchs in Lakeville

About $2 million will restore more than 200,000 acres of habitat from California to the Corn Belt, including more than 750 schoolyard habitats and pollinator gardens. The rest will be used to start a conservation fund — the first dedicated solely to monarchs — that will provide grants to farmers and other landowners to conserve habitat.


The monarch lays its eggs exclusively on the milkweed plant. Conversion of prairies into cropland and the increasing use of weed killer-resistant crops have greatly reduced the extent of milkweed.

Monarch caterpillar

Monarch caterpillar

Common Milkweed

Common Milkweed

The conservation projects will be focused on the I-35 corridor from Texas to Minnesota, areas that provide important spring and summer habitat along the butterfly’s migration path. The species also faces challenges in Mexico, where its primary wintering grounds are being threatened by logging and climate change.

Milkweed seeds

Milkweed seeds

Monarchs are pollinators and indicators of broader environmental problems.  Gardeners don’t have to feel helpless, we can help by planting milkweed.  Little patches matter.  Learn more at monarchwatch.org

Common milkweed

Common milkweed

monarch butterflies 1

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Bewitching Witch Hazel

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From my Northern Gardener magazine to my plethora of plant catalogs, Witch hazel seems to be the bewitching shrub for 2015.  And why not?  It’s flowers are fragrant and unique, it’s easy to grow and some our native…

Witch hazel 'Jelena'

Witch hazel ‘Jelena’

Witch hazel has never been a shrub I’ve thought of but after seeing ‘Jelena’ advertised in one of my catalogs, I had to further investigate.  While this particular cultivar is listed as zone 5, some are hardy to zone 3.  Those would be the Common Witch hazel or ham-ah-MAY-lis ver-jin-ee-AY-nah.  It’s ribbon-like flowers are yellow and bloom in Fall.  ‘Jelena’ is a late winter/early spring bloomer with coppery petals all bunched up around a red center.

These shrubs prefer part shade to full sun and moist but well-drained, acidic to neutral soil.  If you live in a colder climate and plant the zone 5 cultivar, then place it in a more protected spot.  As always, keep in mind it’s mature measurements as you plant!  If the soil is deep and rich enough, Hamamelis, it’s Latin name, can take alkaline soils. Pruning is minimal, if any.

Witch hazel - common

Witch hazel – common

It’s foliage is often hairy.  The leaves scalloped or toothed.  There are 4 species of witch hazel – two are native to the United States.  Common and Spring witch hazel.  Then there’s Chinese and Japanese.  ‘Jelena’ is a 5th hybrid that happened accidently when Chinese and Japanese were crossed.  All of them are fragrant but the Chinese are more intense.

The Chicago Botanic Garden has a great article too, Which witch hazel should be in your yard?

Witch hazel 'Diane'

Witch hazel ‘Diane’

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GMO vs Hybrids

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  GMO vs Hybrids

Hybridizing, genetically modified and genetically engineered.  Hmm, is there a difference?  Hooo, boy, this is a big topic and it won’t be answered here but there are distinctions on HOW plants are modified.

Modifications aka genetic mutations take place in every living thing naturally.  When 2 people have a baby, there’s some mutation going on.  Not sure that’s real romantic but, I hope, you catch my drift.

This tomato ‘Sun gold’ was bred for disease resistance and flavor.  It is an F1 hybrid.

Tomato 'Sun Gold'

Hybridizers have been modifying plants since agriculture began, it used to take 6 to 10 generations to change characteristics.  Modern hybridization speeds up that process considerably. Using a method of controlled crossing devised by Charles Darwin and Gregor Mendel in the mid-19th century, plant breeders can now produce seed that combines the desired traits of two pure parent lines in the first generation. This creates a new variety known as an “F1 hybrid.” To create F1 seed, seed companies grow two parent lines in the field each year, designate the male and female parents, carry out pollination under controlled conditions such as hand-pollination under row cover and then harvest seed from the females.  Click HERE for a great article from Mother Earth News explaining this form of plant breeding much more fully.  Here’s another pdf from a website called nongmoproject.  I found it interesting.  GMO Myths and TruthsFarmAid on GM or GE

Petunia 'Sophistica Lime Bicolor' new from Burpee for 2014 F1hybrid

I just have to add this close-up.  This petunia lasted all season, even in heat.  Again, it’s an F1 hybrid.

Petunia - Sophistica

Genetically Modified (GMO) varieties are created in a lab using highly complex technology, such as gene splicing. These high-tech GM varieties can include genes from several species?—?a phenomenon that almost never occurs in nature.  It includes the introduction of a bacteria into a plant for specific pest resistance.  Another way to explain this is to say that a GMO could cross a plant with a fish.  Two completely different species.  Click HERE for an article from Pacific Standard The Science of Society saying that scientists say GMO’s are safe.   From US News and World Report:  GMO’s are nothing to fear and the FDA on GMO’s


GMO top 10Here’s the caveat to most of the proponents of GMO’s.  They are likely associated with major corporations that are pumping millions of dollars into this technology.  I’m not going to say ALL GMO’s are bad, frankly, I don’t know.  But the scary part is, neither does anyone else.  It takes years and years of research to discover the ramifications of what we do.  As we’ve all witnessed through the years, here are a couple of minor ones.  Butter’s bad, no it’s not.  High cholesterol is bad, well unless it’s HDL. Or how about tobacco? Or sugar substitutes?

There’s a lot of money at stake here and each side can go to extremes to make their point, and they do.  It would be great to have a conversation without politics, money or fear involved.

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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.

garden out of control!  The nasturtiums went CRAZY.  They're in the lower left.

garden out of control! The nasturtiums went CRAZY. They’re in the lower left.


This is my raised bed 6 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 you heard on yesterday’s Garden Bite 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

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Vegetables that grow in part shade

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Most people believe you must have full sun (about 8 hours) to plant all veggies.  And while I agree that full sun is optimal, it’s not necessary.  So says Jeff Gillman in his book ‘Decoding Gardening Advice’.

I highly recommend this book!  In fact, I interviewed Jeff on another show I do called “15 with the Author” on KYMN radio on another of his books called ‘How the Government got in your backyard”.  Click HERE to listen to the podcast.

Gillman says these vegetables/herbs need as little as 2 hours of direct sunlight (I would encourage dappled sun too):

  • Arugula
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Endive
  • Kale
  • Leaf lettuce
  • Mustard greens
  • Spinach
  • Swiss Chard

Swiss chard 'Bright Lights'

Swiss Chard ‘Bright Lights’

Worth a try in light shade – 4 to 6 hours of sunlight:

  • Beans
  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Carrot
  • Cauliflower
  • Coriander aka Cilantro
  • Leek
  • Onions
  • Pea
  • Radish
  • Rutabaga
  • Turnip

Carrots 'Purple Dragon'

Carrots ‘Purple Dragon’

MUST have full sun 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight:

  • Cucumber
  • Egglplant
  • Peppers
  • Squash
  • Tomatoes

dried cherry tomatoes, pepper, heirloom tomato

dried cherry tomatoes, pepper, heirloom tomato

The plants that tolerate less sun also tolerate some light frost.  The warm season veggies shouldn’t be planted in soil temperatures any colder than 60 degrees, some books say 70!  I don’t plant my tomatoes or peppers before Memorial Day.

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Rainbow of veggies

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Different colored veggies have different nutrional 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

Vegetable Minestrone - just look at that color!

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.

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Winter seed sowing in 2 ways

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Winter seed sowing in 2 ways

Prairie Moon Nursery sells native seeds and plants in Minnesota.  They also offer a wealth of knowledge on planting.  Now is the time for winter seed sowing.  I know, sounds a bit counterintuitive.  However, planting now gives Mother Nature time to stratify seeds and work them into the ground through freeze-thaw cycles.

winter seed sowing

winter seed sowing 2

Any day from late October through early March, when you can walk around your planting site with relative ease is potentially a great day to broadcast seed.  This is also called dormant seeding.  I’m talking about native grass and prairie areas, not your flower seeds, most won’t make it.

Now for another type of winter seed sowing.

Terry Yockey's winter sown plants

Terry Yockey’s winter sown plants

Read Terry Yockey’s article in Northern Gardener magazine for a lot more on this subject and a great video.  The pictures below are captured from his video.

milk jug cut

milk jug with soil and seed

For those who want to start seeds early but don’t have the room indoors, this may be an option for you.  Also, when it works, it’s much less expensive to start your own perennials.  Yockey says you have until early March to start seeds outdoors.

We’ll talk about starting seeds indoors for tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables coming up.  Something I know more about! ;-)

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Pruning shrubs and small trees

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Pruning shrubs and small trees

Timing is everything! Do NOT prune any spring blooming shrubs now, however, it IS a good time to prune any summer or fall flowering shrubs. First rule of pruning – THINK TWICE, PRUNE SECOND

Dogwood ‘Redosier’

Dogwoods, Alpine Currants, Viburnums and Honeysuckle, to name a few, can benefit from pruning right now. Maintenance pruning is taking out the dead and diseased wood which you can easily see since there are no leaves. pruning treePrune out any branches that are crossed inside the shrub or tree and also those that rub against each other. These can create wounds in the branches and, possibly, attract pests or disease.  Notice in the picture below how the branch being cut is crossing over others?

pruning cross branch

Clean your pruners after each cut by wiping with rubbing alcohol, which is less corrosive than bleach, or using Lysol or even Dawn dishwashing liquid. Mix a few drops in a gallon of water.

Prune above a healthy bud, where a branch joins another branch or where a branch joins the trunk. Come out about 1/4 of an inch from the stem and cut at the same angle as the branch. No need for wound dressing, the plants will scar up on their own without our help.

pruning diagram

The idea of maintenance pruning is to clean out the dead/diseased stuff and to open up the shrub or tree to more air circulation and light. Again, it’s important for you to think carefully about pruning. Once that cut’s made, there’s no turning back so… THINK TWICE, PRUNE SECOND

As I mentioned in my show, there are several types of pruning depending on what results you’re looking for. This article “Pruning Trees and Shrubs” by the University of Minnesota Extension is a comprehensive look at pruning and worth a read through.  I highly recommend it.

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