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The dirt on plant shopping

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  The dirt on plant shopping

When plant shopping, bigger is not always better.  Tis better to bloom in your garden than in the garden center.

If you see a little wilting it could be a sign of a root problem.  Look for plants with good color on the leaves.  Look under the leaves for any possible insects.  If you have a plant loupe, bring it with you!  You’ll look ultra cool, I promise.  ;-)

Plant loupe

Seriously, in some of the big box stores where plants are shipped in from all over, it’s not a bad idea.

Your local garden nurseries are generally more reliable but always do a look see.  I had a horticulturist from the U of MN tell me that, if she sees any sign of wilting, she’ll tip the plant out of it’s pot to see the roots.  They should look white and plump.  No yellowing or mushy spots and no wrapped roots.

Take a look at these root systems!  Obviously you want the one on the right.  The roots on the left are wrapped around and around and you can see the plant is not doing well.  You CAN do some root pruning.  Take an exacto knife and slice those roots!  If you’re feeling like that’s too brutal, then shake the plant out.  Just remember that it’s important those winding roots are NOT planted that way.

Root systems

If you’re looking for rare plants, check out the smaller local nurseries.  And check the paper for Charity Plant Sales.  By the way, know what your needs are.  Sun?  Shade?  Height?  Color?  Bloom time.  In other words, make a list!

plant purchases 1

More plant purchases

More plant purchases

Just getting started with planting those purchases!

Just getting started with planting those purchases!

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Blueberry – the antioxidant Superhero

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Blueberry – the antioxidant Superhero

The Blueberry is the antioxidant  superhero and Minnesota’s state muffin.  Growing blueberries in Minnesota DOES offer it’s challenges if only that the soil likely needs amending.  Ideally the pH is 5 or 6 to grow this delicious fruit.  In Minnesota, most of us have alkaline soil which has a pH level of 7.

Blueberry Patriot Hybrid

Blueberry Patriot Hybrid

But the University of Minnesota has created some delectable varieties for Northern Gardeners everywhere.  Just get a soil test and make amendments!  For complete information go to Blueberries in the Home Landscape.

Select  what’s called a “half high” variety, a clever name for a cross between a high bush and a low bush blueberry.  “Polaris” is a U of M introduction that has good flavor and ripens early.  For a mid season blueberry, “Northblue” is a great option and one of the most popular varieties.  “St. Cloud” is the tallest half-high at 4 ft. and delivers up to 7 pounds of blueberries in a season.  You’ll need to plant more than one variety of blueberry bush for pollination.   Below is ‘North Country’.

Blueberry 'North County'

Blueberry - St. Cloud

Blueberry – St. Cloud

Fall coloration is outstanding with blueberries!

Lowbush Blueberry fall color

Once you’ve modified your soil, you should only need to make one application of an acid-producing fertilizer each year.  An azalea fertilizer that’s formulated for acid-loving plants works well for the backyard gardener.  For information on Chelated Iron to amend soil.

One more piece of information you may not want to hear, you should pinch off the flowers the first couple of years and let the blueberries roots and vegetation grow.  You’ll build a better blueberry for great harvests for years to come!  Let me know and I’ll be over for pie… or a muffin!

blueberry muffins

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Pollinator plants

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Pollinator plants

Whatever all the reasons are for the bee decline or colony collapse, we can still plant for pollinators.  That includes butterflies and hummingbirds!

butterfly and hummingbird

Planting native species is a good thing and there are plenty of nurseries that offer good native stock.   Check out my Favorite Links tab.

I talked this week about Monarda and it’s attraction to bees (as well as butterflies and hummingbirds).  Today let’s talk Echinacea.

Echinacea - native purple coneflower

Echinacea – native purple coneflower

I also enjoy  new cultivars.  The one thing we have to understand is that there is always a trade-off of some sort.  While you can have a spectacular rose, you may lose some of it’s fragrance.  Or perhaps you get a disease resistant tomato that lacks that full flavor you love.

Echinacea - Salsa Red

Echinacea – Salsa Red

Salvia is another standout for pollinators.  It’s a standup plant that grows to 2 feet tall and again that wide.  ‘Lyrical Blues’ is one I planted 2 years ago and really love it.

Salvia - Lyrical Blues

Salvia – Lyrical Blues

I also want to share with you a new rose by Minnesota breeder David Zlesak.  It’s called ‘Above and Beyond’ and is rated to zone 3b.  Incredible cold hardiness.  This 10 to 14 foot climbing rose has a beautiful yellowy apricot that blooms early in the season and then sporadically throughout summer.  Bailey Nurseries, who I talked about earlier this week, introduced it last year but it is now more available.  ‘Above and Beyond’ is a vigorous grower and disease resistant.  You can train it to climb or let it arch.  Plant in full sun and you’ve got yourself a lovely semi-double to double apricot rose with light green foliage.  It has a lightly spiced scent.

Rose - Above and Beyond

Rose – Above and Beyond


List of Plants for Pollinators from the University of Minnesota Extension

daylilies, sneezeweed, monarda, salvia

daylilies, sneezeweed, monarda, salvia

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

There are likely several factors for the Colony Collapse or bee decline.  That is my unscientific yet, I believe, common sense belief.

Neonicotinoids, also called neonics, are a large part of the discussion. This type of insecticide is a systemic, meaning that it is taken up into the plant itself making the entire plant toxic to insects such as aphids, and by the looks of things, bees.  Neonics attack the Central nervous system causing paralysis and death.


They were the first new insecticides introduced to the market in the last 50 years with high hopes due to it’s lower toxicity to mammals, however European countries have linked the bee colony collapse to the insecticide and are now banning them in some cases.

Honey bees

Recent research states that neonics disrupt the immune system of bees because they have a unique system.  Bees pollinate 45% of the world’s crops. The very real challenge is that large agricultural companies have used neonics to treat approximately 80% of their seed. While intentions were good, there’s much more to learn.   Click on the below links for more information…

The Canadian Press

Christian Science Monitor May ’15 article on colony collapse

Penn State University

University of Minnesota – scientific – Forbes article

The Xerces Society

Ontario Beekeepers Association

neonics 2


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Bee friendly gardening

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Bee friendly gardening

The bee decline or colony collapse continues to make headlines.  Just recently it was reported that beekeepers lost 42% of their colonies.  They do reproduce but that loss is the 2nd highest in 9 years.  Scientists, while continuing to debate all they “Whys” are actively researching more ways to counteract the collapse.

In the meantime, we can do our small part and plant to attract bees.

Monarda aka Bee Balm (I know, makes sense doesn’t it?!) is one of the top bee attractors and beautiful to boot!

Monarda 'Jacob's Cline'

The above picture is my Monarda ‘Jacob Cline’.  It’s a gorgeous red that smells marvelous and, although it was supposed to stay put, does not.  That’s very typical.  I don’t mind because this beauty did not get powdery mildew!

Last year I planted some trial plants from Ball Horticulture including the new ‘Balmy Purple’ monarda.  It did not do well for me, I won’t plant it again.  What has done well and the bees like is Purple flowering onion or Allium ‘Globemaster’.  It’s gorgeous.

Allium - Globemaster

Allium – Globemaster

As promised, here’s a list of neonicotinoids and their brand names from Honey Love.

The native Purple Prairie Clover (Prairie Nursery is out of Wisconsin) has a lot to offer.  A bee attractor that also delivers nitrogen back into the soil and has sweet little purple and yellow flowers that bloom in July and August on 1 to 2 foot stalks.

Purple Prairie Clover from Prairie Nursery

The Cup Plant is also a great native that the birds love too.  It does prefer moister soils and can grow up to 5 feet.

Cup Plant

I’ll have more on pollinator plants coming up this week.

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Mud pies for the kids AND you!

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Mud pies for the kids AND you!

Finally, research confirms dirt’s good for you…  even eating it is okay.  Well, so long as you don’t over indulge!

good dirt!

There’s a certain bacteria in soil that reportedly raises serotonin levels in the brain leading to a more relaxed and happy kid (or adult).

The National Wildlife Federation reports that bacteria along with parasites and viruses help build strong immune systems.  Kids that are kept in an ultraclean environment are more likely to suffer from asthma and allergies.

Let's have fun!

Let’s have fun!

The Garden is no place to stress for success but to soak up some sun and renew your Spirit” by Teri Knight

SO, get out there and GET DIRTY!!

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Vegetables in the flower bed

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Vegetables in the flower bed

With the upsurge in vegetable gardening there are a lot of folks with flower gardens that want to give some room over to veggies.   I’ve always loved the idea of mixing my flowers and veggies.  Then I got to thinking, there are some people who spray their flowers with a near nuclear combination of chemicals to assure complete submission of any disease or insect.  To those people I say NO, don’t mix your flowers with veggies if you plan on eating them!

nasturtiums in veggies

nasturtiums in veggies

If you’re serious about mixing the two, then I want you to be very careful about chemical usage.  You can expect some damage from insects, that’s just life.  If it gets out of hand, then you need to find out what’s going on before you treat with chemicals.

flowers with  veggies

Blue and yellow flowers attract insects, the good kind like bees and lacewings.  Cilantro is a great herb to plant with flowers for it’s airy foliage, scent and ability to repel aphids.  Kale is multi-talented.  It can be a great ornamental and a fabulous addition to soups.  I love it lightly steamed and stuffed into my sweet potato or regular potato.

fall display3There’s ornamental cabbage and flowering kale in that group above!  While it’s a display, it’s also edible!

Detroit dark red beets 7-6-14

Detroit dark red beets 7-6-14

I know folks plant their marigolds with tomatoes and it’s supposed to keep the bunnies at bay.  I have not found that to be the case, but it looks pretty.  Rosemary is another herb that looks very pretty in the sunny flower bed, a bushy plant that eases the transition from one bloom period to the next.  Added bonus is it’s many uses in cooking!

Rosemary bush - photo by Ryan McVay

Rosemary bush – photo by Ryan McVay

I just planted spearmint in my front perennial garden.  I know it’s invasive but I’m hoping to keep it in check as it’s part shade too.  Wish me luck!  ;-)  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.  I hadn’t placed the spearmint yet.  I’m building onto my perennial bed!

spearmint in the bottom right - not planted yet

spearmint in the bottom right – not planted yet

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Bats on the threatened list

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Bats on the threatened list

Bats are being threatened and not just by tennis rackets or pots and pans from a freaked out homeowner who catches them indoors!  The picture below was the cutest I could find.  The others really kinda freaked me out!

Northern long-eared bat

Northern long-eared bat

The Northern Long-eared bat was just placed on the threatened list.  While they are not the cutest things, they serve a great purpose by eating ½ their body weight in insects each night and work to keep our ecosystem in balance.

According to the University of Minnesota, recent studies estimate that bats deliver $6 billion in insect control services to agriculture, forest industries and the public each year! bats

The Northern Long-eared has been the most affected by a disease called White Nose syndrome which has killed more than 6 million bats.  WNS is a fungus that appears on a bat’s muzzle and other parts.  It was first discovered in New York in 2007 and has spread very quickly moving west, south and north.  Bats with WNS act strangely during cold winter months, including flying outside during the day and clustering near the entrances of caves and other hibernation areas.

Bat with white nose syndrome

Bat with white nose syndrome

Scientists are still trying to figure out exactly what’s going on and how they might control it.  The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned in 2010 to have this bat placed on the endangered list.

Bat wing wtih white nose fungus

Bat wing wtih white nose fungus

In the meantime, the northern long-eared has been dying out in our forested hillsides and ridgelines where it likes to live.  What can we do?  Build a bat house.  More interesting bat facts and a how-to on building a bat house from the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service.

After all that I had to give you a CUTE bat eating a grape!  Enjoy!


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Dwarf Trout Lily

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Dwarf Trout Lily

A couple of weeks ago I was treated to a fantastical site.  A literal floor of dwarf trout lilies in the Big Woods park in Nerstrand, Minnesota.  This delicate little beauty is a federally endangered wildflower.   Because it lives in just 3 counties in southeast Minnesota, the dwarf trout lily is considered a Minnesota “endemic”.  That means it grows only there and nowhere else on Earth.  Wow!  Colonies of flowers range from a few to hundreds.  This year was particularly prolific.

Dwarf trout lily flower

Dwarf trout lily flower

The Minnesota dwarf trout lily is distinguished from others by its underground vegetative runner. The blooming plant is identified by the very small size of its flowers of just 4 petals and it’s mottled leaves that add some drama.  You can see in the picture above the brown mottled look.  There is nothing wrong with the leaves they just have that coloring.  It’s really pretty.

Dwarf trout lily 1

Dwarf trout lily 1

Like spring beauties and Dutchman’s breeches, trout lilies are “spring ephemerals,” adapted to flower and grow before the deciduous trees develop their leaves.

Dwarf Trout lily field

Dwarf Trout lily field

The rarity of this wildflower is likely due to its unusual mode of reproduction. The dwarf trout lily almost never produces seed. Instead it grows from an underground bulb that renews itself annually and only from a flowering plant that produces a single offshoot runner bearing a new bulb.  And because not all of the plants flower each year, only about 1/10 of all plants produce new offspring.

Dwarf Trout lily facing down

Dwarf Trout lily facing down

For more fascinating facts on this little beauty check this out:  Minnesota Dwarf Trout Lily – An endangered MN Wildflower [MN DNR]

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Fertilizing annuals and perennials

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Fertilizing annuals and perennials

Yes, there’s a difference.  Because annuals live their entire life cycle in one season, they do well with more fertilizer treatments.  Also, if they’re in containers, the fertilizer runs out much quicker.  Perennials have the advantage of establishing their roots deeper in the soil and the fertilizer lingers longer.

There are a LOT of plants packed in that wagon!

There are a LOT of plants packed in that wagon!

Not my best picture!  I went to the Friends School plant sale, it’s a fundraiser for the school and is unbelievable!  It’s held at the MN State Fairgrounds once a year at Mother’s Day weekend.

Gerbera daisies

Gerbera daisies

Always follow package directions OR use less!  Never use more.  For great blooms, use a 10-20-10 fertilizer.  The middle number is phosphorus and is responsible for fruits, blooms and roots.

N = Nitrogen – foliage

P = Phosphorus – blooms/fruits and roots

K = Potassium – overall plant health

If it’s fantastic foliage then go for a 20-10-10 fertilizer.  You can rarely go wrong with an all-purpose fertilizer such as 10-10-10.  Perennials could use a little power boost each Spring, so now would be a good time to fertilize them.  You can always top dress your plants as well.  Adding compost right on top of the soil works for water retention and gives them some macro and micro nutrients.  I just purchased some fish fertilizer that I bought at the Friends School called Two Mikes.  These guys bow hunt invasive Asian carp and turn their catch into fish fertilizer!  I’m keeping tabs on it to see how well it works and will let you know.

daylilies, sneezeweed, monarda, salvia

daylilies, sneezeweed, monarda, salvia

more perennial elements

If you’re perennials look pooped they may just need some fertilizer.  They could be overcrowded too.  Typically MOST perennials need to be divided every 3 years.

NOTE:  the WAVE petunias and pansies could do with a little more fertilizer because they grow so fast, and to such beautiful lengths.   Plant them with slow release fertilizer and give them an extra boost every couple of weeks, especially if they’re in containers.

Cool Wave 'frost'

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