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The American Chestnut

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  The American Chestnut

American Chestnut with people

American Chestnut

Years ago the American Chestnut was the most important tree in eastern North America.  Supplying excellent lumber and tasty nuts that fattened calves and people alike! There are reports that the American Chestnut could grow straight for 50 feet with no other branches.  The lumber of 1 tree could fill a train car!  It was rot resistant and lighter than oak.  It was used for nearly every application from telephone poles to pulp, from fine furniture to musical instruments. But in the early 1900’s a bark eating fungus came into New York on an Asian Chestnut.  The blight spread with a vengeance and by 1950 the American Chestnut tree had all but disappeared except for the shrubby root sprouts the species continually produces.  Even those were soon attacked.

American Chestnut

American Chestnut

The U.S. Forest Service, The American Chestnut Foundation, and the University of Tennessee have been conducting research and tests to produce a blight-resistant American chestnut, with aspirations of restoring the species in its grandeur, throughout the Southeast.  Learn more at The American Chestnut Restoration Project.

There’s an American/Chinese chestnut cultivar created by Dr. Robert Dunstan, that’s proving resistance too.   Find out more Chestnut Hill Nursery and Orchards

Check my recipes tab for how to roast chestnuts.  Be sure to score the nut before it hits the heat or it will explode!


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Celestial gardening

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Celestial gardening

Celestial gardening sounds a bit mystical.  It is.  It’s also working, according to some experts. Biodynamics, it’s more scientific name, uses the movements of the moon and stars to guide planting and cultivation.

Think that’s a stretch?  Consider how the moon creates ocean tides.  Suddenly it’s not so “out there”.  Well, celestially speaking it is!  ;-)

Biodynamic gardeners plant by the lunar calendar, they also use raised beds believing that this enlivens the soil.  Herbs such as chamomile, yarrow and valerian, are added in small quantities at specific places in a compost pile to improve the conversion of garden and kitchen scraps into rich, moist humus.

Stella Natura produces a planting calendar each year as a guideline.  It is not in their philosophy to call these rules! Stella Natura – sells a calendar that tracks the passage of the moon through the 12 constellations of the zodiac, indicating optimal times to work with a plant’s roots, leaves, flowers, or fruit (a category that includes many vegetables, nuts, and seeds). A “root day” in spring, for example, is the perfect time to plant carrots or beets. But it’s not a rigid system—if rain or a busy schedule get in the way, they say just do the best you can.

Stella Natura 2015

Stella Natura 2015


The Farmer’s Almanac has also guided gardeners on planting times for years!

Farmers almanac 2015


Threefold Farm in upstate New York was the first biodynamic garden in the U.S.  The Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association has a lot more information on how to restore the health of our soil and the vitality of the food we grow.

biodynamic gardening

Mother Earth News also has an in-depth article on biodynamic gardening.

While I love that we’re starting to really think more carefully about how we treat our Earth, I’m not a fanatic.  I’m a middle of the road type of person and like to hear different ideas on the subject.  Thanks for checking it out with me.

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Evergreens of another color

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Evergreens of another color

Last year we were well over knee deep in snow!  This year, it feels like October or late March.  In other words, a lot of brown landscape!  With all that brown, we do appreciate some color in our landscape.  Evergreens generally come to mind first.  But this evergreen is yellow.    It’s an Eastern Hemlock called ‘Golden Duchess’ from Monrovia.  It’s a dwarf plant growing just 3 to 4 feet tall with a possible spread of 5 feet.  It’s arching branches give it dramatic effect.  It’s great in a woodland setting or rock garden.  It prefers morning sun and afternoon shade.

Eastern Hemlock 'Golden Duchess'

Eastern Hemlock ‘Golden duchess’

Another 4 footer is a new False Cypress called ‘Golden Mop’.  It has golden thread like foliage that will fill out all the way to the ground.   It is deer and rabbit resistant, tolerates a hot/dry site and prefers sun.

False cypress 'Golden Mop'

The Scotch Pine is a favorite of mine.  I love it’s orange flaking bark and blue/green needles.  It’s growth habit is also attractive when used as a specimen plant.   The flaking bark doesn’t happen  right away, this is a plant to be patient for.  It’s growth rate is medium.  It’s height, depending on the cultivar you buy, can be upwards of 50 feet.  There are many cultivars to provide just the look you want.

Scotch pine

There’s also a place in Parkers Prairie, Minnesota called Plants Beautiful Nursery, that produces extraordinary topiaries of these  wonderful specimens.  I’m going to link you to their site.  Talk about dramatic effect.  WOW.  These are not small plants.  Some are over 12 feet tall but they’ve been root pruned to help ensure survival of transplanting.  

Scotch pine topiary


Topiary Plants Beautiful Nursery

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AAS 2015 winners

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Yesterday I shared with you what the AAS designation on some plants mean.  As an All America Selection it basically it says “I’m a great plant”  “buy me”.   Today I share some of the winners.  In a brand new twist these next two winners  did not come from seeds but rather were vegetatively propagated.  And the winners are two Impatiens one from the SunPatiens series called Spreading Shell Pink and the other an Impatiens Bounce™ Pink Flame  called  ‘Balboufink’.  These are shade garden ready but will work in sun too!  Just add water and they bounce right back.

‘Balboufink’ is a relative of the New Guinea impatien which loves water.  It’s ia stunning prolific pink that can grow up to 2 feet tall..  It blooms from late Spring to Frost.

Impatien - Pink Flame Balboufink

Impatiens – Pink Flame Balboufink

Impatiens - Pink Flame Balboufink massed

Impatiens – Pink Flame Balboufink massed

Spreading Shell Pink is a softer pink that doesn’t let heat or humidity bother it.  The AAS Judges loved these vigorous spreading plants that keep their shape all summer, plus, they do just as well in full sun as in shade. These low-maintenance plants are perfect for gardeners looking for impatiens that are resistant to downy mildew.

Impatiens - Spreading shell pink

Impatiens – Spreading shell pink

Impatiens - Spreading shell pink basket

Impatiens – Spreading shell pink basket

A seed winners that I’m considering for next year’s garden is a vegetable.  In the history of AAS, Bopak F1 is the first Pak Choi to become an AAS Winner! Bopak matures early and the tender leaves with crisp sweet stalks taste great. It’s a tasty addition to Oriental recipes and the tender leaves can be eaten raw in salads or sandwiches. Swap stalks for celery sticks, add to soups and stews, or grill on the barbecue. Plant every couple of weeks for a longer harvest. Stop planting when the weather turns hot, then start new plants in late summer for fall harvest. May be harvested as a baby Pak Choi as well as grown to full size.

Pak Choi - Bopak

Pak Choi – Bopak


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AAS – what is it?

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  AAS – what is it?

All America Selections was started in 1932 by a man named Ray Hastings.  He encouraged all seed companies to set up trial grounds, cooperatively test new varieties and agree to develop marketing efforts for new vegetables and flowers. He recommended a national network of trial grounds throughout North American climates where flower and vegetable varieties would be grown and assessed by skilled impartial judges.  Today, home gardeners can feel confident when selecting these varieties knowing that they’ve been thoroughly tested.  Below is a 2014 winner

Sunflower 'Suntastic'

‘Suntastic’ is a new dwarf sunflower perfect as a cheery long-blooming potted plant or window box accent or maybe to add a burst of color to a sunny garden bed. Gardeners will love the number of flowers each plant produces: up to twenty 5-6 inch flowers per plant in three successive blooming periods. ‘Suntastic’ will bloom in less than 65 days after sowing so by starting indoors, sunflower lovers can get their favorite bloom fix early in the summer.

And new this year – After more than eighty years of trialing only seed-propagated varieties, All-America Selections (AAS) began trialing vegetatively propagated varieties early this year.  That means cuttings of the parent plants were used, not seeds.  I’ll share the winners tomorrow!

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Christmas Tree care

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Christmas Tree Care

Oh the wonderful scent of a real tree!  Before you go out to cut your tree, make sure you measure the area where you plan to place it.  You may think you’re good at eyeballing it, but really, who wants to have to cut the tree to fit the space once it’s in your home!?!

Okay, you can probably go bigger than this poor guy!  He won’t last long anyway.  Notice, no water.

  • keep your tree away from heat sources like registers, tv sets, computers, fireplaces and space heaters.  This will speed up evaporation, cause moisture loss, needle drop and a major fire hazard!
  • before bringing your tree indoors, cut a half inch slice off the bottom of the trunk to reopen the tree to take up water.  They tend to seal back up when exposed to air.
  • have a gallon size water stand ready and waiting with warm tap water.  No need to add anything to it.
  • keep an eye on the water level and never let it get below the cut of the tree or it will seal up again and you’ll lose the tree much quicker.   Click here for a place to Pick Your Own Christmas Tree

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National Poinsettia Day – caring for them

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  National Poinsettia Day –  Caring for your poinsettia

Happy National Poinsettia Day to you!  Pronunciation is however you’re used to it!


The Poinsettia is a native of Mexico, where it grows like a weed and can reach 10 feet tall.  Mexican legend holds that the leaves, shaped like the star of Bethlehem, first bloomed red for a poor girl who wanted to bring a gift to the manger scene at the local church but had no money.  Her cousin, who walked to the church with her, said “even the most humble gift, if given in love, would be acceptable to Jesus”.  So the girl picked the weed and when she laid it at the altar it turned a beautiful bright red.  And so the red flowers were called ‘flowers of the Holy Night”. Technically they’re not flowers but what’s called bracts or modified leaves.  

How to select and care for your poinsettia – First up – choose a good looking specimen!  That means nice dark green leaves throughout, no yellowing or wilting leaves.  Turn the plant around to see that it’s full all the way around.  Once you make your choice, make sure it’s wrapped well before taking it outside.  Poinsettias don’t like real cold temps, after all, they’re a native of Mexico.

Once home, unwrap your Poinsettia and make sure there are drain holes in the foil it’s in.  It’s important not to let water sit at the plants roots, they’ll rot.  Place your poinsettia on a tray of some sort.

Poinsettia ‘Ice Punch’

Place your poinsettia in indirect light.  (They need about 6 hours worth).  Out of cold or warm drafts.  Water when the top is dry to your second knuckle and water till it drains out of the bottom, then empty the saucer/tray.

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Knock it off?

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Should I knock it off or not?  That is the question some folks in the northland ask when faced with snow and ice covering their conifers and other shrubs and trees.  When our timbers are shivering, our first instinct is to knock that stuff off, set the branches free, however, you might do more harm than good.  And put your own safety at risk.

Snow laden conifer

Snow laden conifer

Ice on Spirea

Ice on Spirea

Always proceed with caution as you head out after a wintry mix.  I’ve seen trees that literally sparkle in the sun as the ice has frozen like cicles after a snowstorm.  It’s beautiful but is it harmful?  Depends…  is it harmful to YOU, who might be trying to knock it off and instead, knock yourself out with a brittle branch OR is it harmful to the tree?  Some light ice is not a problem but heavy ice and snow weighing down branches could be.  Never mess with a tree where there are downed wires, don’t walk underneath heavily laden branches.

An excellent video from my friend Glenn Switzer of Switzer’s Nursery & Landscaping:  Removing snow from trees and shrubs:


Ice on tree with man


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Potbound plants

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Potbound roots of a tree, courtesy of U of MN Ext.

Professor Gillman, who’s written several books and one I’ve recommended to you in the past, says that SOME trees and shrubs come with nearly 3 inches of soil on top of the uppermost roots.  That’s a problem.  You want to plant your purchase with the uppermost root at the soil level.   I’ve linked the article for you, “What to do about potbound plants”.  Within the article is also the technique to box cutting.

Watch the video from last season’s Dig In Minnesota with tree expert Leif Knecht of Knecht’s Nursery and Landscaping!

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Oh deer!

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Oh deer!

Are those beautiful bambis browsing your perennials, trees and shrubs?

These guys eventually headed to my Serviceberry and then the hosta and then the clethra and then….

Liquid Fence and Plantskydd get the most kudos for keeping the deer at bay.   Liquid Fence is easy to find but you’ll most likely have to buy Plantskydd online.  The granular form is less odoriferous.

If you believe you have a surefire way to keep the deer from munching, send me an email and I’ll share it.

Deer headed toward my hosta

Deer headed toward my hosta

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