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Fireflies or Lightening bugs

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Fireflies or Lightening bugs

Sitting on my screened porch in the evening, there’ve been more fireflies it seems. Or maybe I’ve just been staying up later. Hey, cut me slack, I get up at 4:20 most mornings for work! When I was little, a long time ago and in a land south of Minnesota, it seemed like the evening backyard was alive with the magical glow of the Lightening Bug. We would chase them down and capture them in jars. My dad would poke holes in the metal tops so they’d have air. And we used them like a lantern.

Fireflies in a jar

Check out the wonderful photos on Firefly Experience.

Firefly 2 Firefly

And then, the fireflies would die…  But, still, there would be more… then it seemed there weren’t. Is it because I moved? Did I just get older and not pay attention to their little glowing bellies? Or is it more sinister, like too many pesticides. Maybe the fairies took them back to the forests?

firefly with fairy

According to scientific research, that one’s probably not the answer, on the other hand, THEY don’t really know. Fireflies flash to find a partner.   The males will signal they’re available and the females then decide if they want to respond with their own flash. There are many species, how many live in Minnesota, is still a slight mystery. However, they do have their own code.

Fireflies flash in different sequences and also have different colors. They’re neither a fly or a bug, they’re a beetle. They’re bioluminescence starts right away. They glow from egg to larvae to adult. And they eat slugs. I knew I liked them!

Firefly larvae

Firefly larvae

Check in with Firefly Watch and report your sightings!   And also Gardening For Life – Fireflies


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The 2014 Great MN Glut-together

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  The Great MN Glut-together

The day Minnesotans and more gather for the beginning of the Great Minnesota Get Together, one of the largest state fairs in the country.   Every person visiting Machinery Hill becomes an honorary Minnesotan.  The adults turn into kids who stand in awe of the tractors (admit it, you’d love to jump up there and drive one)!  They don’t give up the keys though.  The kids who insist on visiting every animal barn (some with their nose and mouth covered, that would’ve been me as a kid), the hunt for  a big glass of milk at the Dairy building with Sweet Martha’s cookies and the  search for a cheese curd booth without a long line, ahh, the State Fair.

2014 mn state fair

However, I do LOVE the fair!  The people watching is awesome and of course the Hort building is one of my favorites!

There’s also the Eco-Experience.  I highly recommend you take a tour of this exhibit.  New exhibits this year include a nature adventure play yard, garden pollinators and the largest wad of paper!  Who could resist?

Check out the new foods!

blue cheese

Get your garden questions answered by Master Gardeners at the Horticulture Building!

Minnesota State Fair


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Fruit flies and other annoyances

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Fruit flies and other annoyances

We have had a bazillion fruit flies in our office kitchen.  Seriously, one of the most annoying little creatures.  They drive me crazy.  Of course, I’m not the only one.  Some of the guys hit them with power spray chemicals that smell awful and then I ponder how much has gone into the cupboards.  I found a simple solution.

fruit fly bait

fruit fly bait

The above is from a woman who used cut bananas to attract the flies and some apple cider vinegar, placed saran wrap over it and poked small holes in the saran wrap.

All I did was put a drop of dishsoap we had at work into one of those small dispense cups for watercooler, add a tablespoon or so of apple cider vinegar and then filled it with water.  The flies were attracted to the apple cider vinegar, got trapped in the soap and died!  SUCCESS!  You do have to do this repeatedly but it’s FAR better than using those chemical sprays.  Even the guys are doing it now!  ;-) 

fruit fly trap 2

Gnats and bats are other annoyances.  At least bats are great for something OUTSIDE of my home!  ;-)  They are voracious eaters of mosquitoes!  Who wouldn’t love them for that?

I also want to add today that we need to water our plants.  I have many newly planted gardens (within the last 2 years) as well as a couple new trees and shrubs.  They are most vulnerable the first few years.  In southern Minnesota we’ve had a VERY DRY July and August.  It’s important that plants get, on average, an inch of water a week.  Water your perennials and trees/shrubs thoroughly.  That means a good long drink.  Just getting the surface is not the best, their roots will then stay close to the surface.  You want them to keep reaching further into the soil so water them deeply.

Crabapple -Royal Raindrops 8-14

Crabapple -Royal Raindrops 8-14


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Planting peonies

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Planting Peonies

Peonies are a herbaceous perennial (they die back each year) and are native to Asia, Southern Europe and Western North America.  Tree peonies are different.  I’ll go into them in another Garden Bite.

It’s that time of year.  Planting peonies!

Give them full sun and good drainage. (Although I have a gorgeous red one that came with my house that’s in part shade)  Dig a hole 1 1/2 feet wide and 2 ft. deep, add organic matter such as leaf mold, peat moss or compost.  Plant the peony with it’s “eyes” up no deeper than 2 inches below the soil surface.  Water well.  You may have to let the newly dug hole settle a bit to make placement easier.

My peony at home

My peony at home

For the first winter only, mulch your new peonies with straw or some other mulch AFTER the ground has frozen.  In the spring, pull the mulch up.

There are so many beautiful choices.  Be sure to check with your local garden center first!

And this is why peonies are not my favorite plants despite their pretty petals!  I could’ve staked it but, alas, I did not.

And now for a shorter, sturdier Peony ‘Big Ben’…

For a list and a looksee at peonies that don’t need staking click on this link to The Plant Expert.

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Sunflowers, seeds and harvesting

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Sunflowers, seeds and harvesting

I’m a person whose cup is half full but sometimes the world is wrought with sorrow and I need a pick-me-up.  Enter the sunflower…

I just love sunflowers.  They’re so cheery and the fact that they turn their “faces” to catch the sun just makes them more special.  The local farmers market are filled with these beauties and they last a lovely long time!

Harvesting:  When the backs of your sunflower heads turn from banana yellow to brown and are droopy, cut the seed head off leaving about 12 to 18 inches of stem.

Hang the heads in a warm, dry, ventilated area until the seeds loosen and dry.  Then rub the heads together or use a wire mesh screen to remove the seeds from the head.  Store in an airtight container until you’re ready to roast.

For an easy roasting method check out the National Sunflower Association and get ALL kinds of great info!


Recipes from the National Sunflower Association

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Overseeding your lawn

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Overseeding your lawn

Wanna really make an impact on busting those weeds out of your lawn?  The best defense against weeds is a lush lawn and now’s the time to overseed.  Mid to late August, is the BEST time to overseed your lawn.  The soil is warm, so seeds germinate quickly, The temps, in theory, should be starting to cool and getting perfect for growing grass.

stressed/weedy lawn

stressed/weedy lawn

Mine lawn is now even drier than this!  The weeds are even crunchy!

Cut the grass as short as possible.  It will act like a living mulch.  If the thatch layer, that brown dead stuff, is thicker than a half inch, remove it.  Use a vertical mower (you can rent one) and set the blades to cut the top half inch of soil.  This will remove the thatch while creating grooves or slits in the soil surface, making it a great seedbed.  Rake up the mess and compost the debris.  You might also choose to core aerate your lawn.  Again, these machines can be rented.  The goal of a core aerator is to take plugs of soil out of your lawn to literally give it some oxygen!

Lawn thatch

Lawn thatch

There are numerous types of dethatchers.  Here’s a look at a rental unit.


And another…

dethacher 2

Core aerator

Core aerator

core aerator soil chunks

core aerator soil chunks

Looks a little like something the family dog has left behind!  There are spike shoes too but they don’t pull out the soil like the aerator does - at that’s the point, to pull the chunks out and let them decompose back.

Core aeration

RESEEDING:  Spread grass seed over the renovated area using a broadcast or drop-type spreader.  Use 3 to 4 pounds per one thousand square feet of sunny grass-seed mixes or 4 to 5 pounds per thousand square feet of shady mixes.  Apply half the amount in one direction and the rest at right angles to the first.  Rake it in for good seed-to-soil contact.  The seed has to be touching soil to germinate.  Just tossing the seed over your grass is really a waste of time and money as odds are it won’t settle down far enough to make soil contact.   You could think of it as bird food.  My lawn is crispy right now and mostly weeds.  I suggest that you buy seed from a local nursery, tell them your sun/shade conditions.  Should you reseed, be sure to keep those seeds moist.  That may mean watering twice a day.  Check out this comprehensive guide to Lawn Renovation by the University of Minnesota Extension

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Preserving/drying herbs

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Preserving/drying herbs

Did you know that many of the dried herbs you buy in a regular grocery store are at least 3 years old when you buy them?  Why not dry your own!?  The easiest method, and the one that I use, is a dehydrator.

I’ve dried lots of herbs including basil, rosemary and thyme as well as mint.  But I also dry tomatoes.  It’s a bit messy and putzy but the taste of a dried cherry tomato that you grew is just outstanding!  They’re fantastic on salads.  I dry them and then freeze them or put them in an airtight container such as a jar.

Leave plenty of room for air circulation around what your drying.  Leave the dehydrator in a sunless, dry room.  You can also dry long stemmed items like peppermint with a paper bag and some twine.  Cut the bottom of the bag and poke holes in the side.  Hang upside down in a sunless, dry room.

For the best results, cut your herbs just before they flower, that’s when their essential oils at at their peak.  Cut in the morning just after the dew has lifted on a hot, dry day.

Leave your herbs alone for at least 24 hours before checking back!  Then just keep checking back.  The time varies depending on how much moisture is in the plant when you cut it.

Check out this quickie on Drying Herbs [Purdue University]

Some fresh herbs don’t dry well.  They are chives, parsley, chervil and sweet basil.  You can freeze these in water.  Just harvest the leaves, chop them, place them in ice cube trays and fill the trays with water.  Once frozen, pop the cubes out of the tray and store them in freezer bags in the fridge.  They’ll work well in soups and stews!

As soon as the leaves are crackly dry and crumble easily, remove them from the stems and store in an airtight jar or you could put them in freezer bags (making sure you get the air out).  They’ll store well for up to 18 months.

Some fresh herbs don’t dry well.  They are chives, parsley, chervil and sweet basil.  You can freeze these in water.  Just harvest the leaves, chop them, place them in ice cube trays and fill the trays with water.  Once frozen, pop the cubes out of the tray and store them in freezer bags in the fridge.  They’ll work well in soups and stews!  Organic Gardening magazine has snapshots of how to freeze your herbs.

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Dividing bearded iris

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Dividing garden iris

Get out the garden shaver it’s time to divide your Bearded Iris.  Early August is prime time for digging, dividing and planting Bearded Iris.  You can cut the foliage back to about 3 or 4 inches.  This makes division easier, helps send moisture to the roots rather than wasting it on the leaves and it generally looks better to get rid of the yellowed foliage!  Speaking of moisture, it’s been very dry so moisten the area well after dividing and replanting.

Iris should be divided every 3 to 4 years.  First cut the foliage fans back to about 3 to 6 inches.  Remove any yellow or dead leaves.  Gently dig out the rhizomes.  Remove any mushy parts, hollow tubers or those that may have grubs.  If you’ve had fungal issues, treat the rhizomes with a fungicidal powder before replanting.  Use a 10% bleach solution after each cut.

To replant loosen the soil to about 8 inches, leave about 2 inches of roots and give them room…  plant the rhizomes so that they are just barely under the soil.  Don’t mulch!  This sounds counter-intuitive but irises need a dry period.  AFTER the ground has frozen you can mulch to prevent heaving.


Dwarf Bearded Iris ‘Lady in Red’

If your irises are just fine, then leave them alone.  Let them die back on their own.  Have you tried Reblooming Iris?  They will bloom intermittently from midsummer to frost.   Check your local garden center in the Fall for rebloomers!

Reblooming Iris collection from Spring Hill

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

When a tree gets popular, everyone plants it.  Then along comes some insect or disease and we all lose those popular trees.  Dutch Elm disease culled many an Elm in the 70’s while the dreaded Emerald Ash Borer is now threatening to destroy our 9 million Ash trees in Minnesota alone!

There are always ideas on chemical use to take out the beetles that transport disease, which can be tricky in determining amount and timing; or using some folklore method like pounding copper nails into your tree to save it.  By the way, copper nails are toxic to your Elm.  The easiest and most important thing we can do is diversify our plantings.  I read an article on the Katsura tree in Organic Gardening magazine.

Katsura tree

Katsura tree

This beauty caught my eye so I decided to do a little more research.  Could we grow this lovely tree in Minnesota?  It’s rated hardy to Zone 4a, grows in full sun reaching a height of 40 to 60 feet with a spread of 20 to 40 feet.  Katsura is a deciduous shade tree whose delicate heart-shaped leaves emerge reddish purple in Spring, turn a blue/green summer color and then in Fall expect vivid shades of yellow and apricot.  Now if that’s not enough for you, when you rake the leaves in Fall, the scent is said to be a combination of ginger cookies, caramel and cotton candy!

Katsura in fall

Katsura in fall

Katsura needs full sun and well drained soil.  It does not like drought so the first few years it’s essential to supplement during dry spells.   Here’s a link to the Holden Arboretum in Ohio on the Katsura.

Katsura leaves

Katsura leaves


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Edible weeds

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Edible weeds

Your yard weeds MIGHT be edible! The lazy gardeners veggie garden right in your backyard or coming up through your sidewalk cracks! We all have plenty of weeds in our lawns, well, MOST of us anyway.

I just found out that Purslane is edible. Who’d thunk it? Apparently a professor at the U of MN and another guy who’s just wild about wild edibles: Wild Man Steve Brill Steve lists a number of weeds and wild plants that are edible. He also has pictures, which I highly recommend you examine carefully before just eating something, and explains how to fix them.


You can eat the stems and leaves of purslane!

Now for another edible, I suggest Lamb’s Quarters. But please take a look at Wild Steve’s website, I’m going to link you directly to the Lamb’s Quarter page so that you can get a good look at what this plant looks like. It’s a member of the spinach and beet family and is loaded with good stuff for you!


Burdock looks like rhubarb but it is most definitely not. The root is an enormous taproot that you can eat like a potato. Check out Wild Man Steve Brill’s website! He’s a rather interesting character.

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