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Obnoxious weed of the month – Japanese barberry

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Obnoxious weed of the month – Japanese barberry

There are plenty of noxious weeds, invasive species that move in on our native plants like boxelder bugs march into our homes as we approach cold weather!  This month the Japanese Barberry is highlighted on the Minnesota Dept. of Agriculture’s list of OBnoxious weeds.  But this bad boy isn’t just on Minnesota’s hitlist – it’s on the USDA’s too.



The photo above is from the Minnesota Dept. of Agriculture.

Japanese barberry is a 3- 6 foot tall shrub which is covered with sharp spines. Its small, round leaves are borne in clusters along the stem. Small, yellow flowers in summer turn to reddish-orange, oblong berries which dangle from the leaf nodes. The landscaping cultivars have highly variable leaf color including purple, green, gold, and lime-green. However, no matter their provenance, the escaped, naturalized plants will always have green leaves in summer which turn red or orange only in fall.

fruits of the Japanese barberry

fruits of the Japanese barberry

Japanese barberry was introduced to the U.S. as an ornamental. Since the 1980s, it has been found naturalizing in wooded areas. The shrubs will grow in full sun to deep shade. Deer won’t eat it due to its sharp spines, but birds will, thereby facilitating its spread. Barberries have the ability to change the soil chemistry beneath the plant, making the site more favorable for further infestation. Thanks to its ability to root from stems, Japanese barberry can form thick, impenetrable thickets.

Japanese barberry thicket

Japanese barberry thicket

Like a lot of invasive shrubs, it will hold onto its leaves in fall longer than native species. Management techniques include: Cutting, pulling, or digging small infestations. When disposing of plants, make sure the roots are exposed and dry out.  You can also bag or burn the removed plants.

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Nothing like a living fence – Parkland Pillar birch

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Nothing like a living fence – ‘Parkland Pillar’ birch

There’s nothing like a living fence.  Especially if your neighbor has their motor home parked in their driveway.  I discovered a wonderful option in my Northern Gardener magazine.  It’s a birch that works wonderfully in smaller landscapes, urban lots.  The new and narrow, ‘Parkland Pillar’ birch (Betula platyphylla ‘Jefpark’ ) can be used to screen unsightly views or provide privacy for small yards.

Birch 'Parkland Pillar'

Birch ‘Parkland Pillar’

While it can grow between 30 and 40 feet, its width remains less than 7 feet.  The tree is hardy to zone 3 and is a “sport” of the North Dakota State University variety ‘Dakota Pinnacle’.  It was first introduced by Bailey Nurseries in 2006 as part of their First Editions series.

Birch 'Parkland Pillar' in Fall

Birch ‘Parkland Pillar’ in Fall

‘Parkland Pillar’ is a fast growing Japanese variety of birch that boasts white bark and dense, dark green foliage that turns golden in late fall. It’s suitable for gardens, screens or boulevards. Tolerant of heat, drought, and alkaline soils, Parkland Pillar is an excellent choice for urban landscapes. Its narrow form makes it perfect as an accent tree or it can be planted in multiples to form a privacy screen.

'Parkland Pillar' in Winter

‘Parkland Pillar’ in Winter

This birch offers dense leaf coverage with a strong central leader.   Its relatively fine texture sets it apart from other landscape plants.  It’s also relatively low maintenance.  One difference, according to a local nursery, it that it should only be pruned in summer after the leaves have fully developed, as it may ‘bleed’ sap if pruned in late winter or early spring. Deer don’t particularly care for this plant and will usually leave it alone in favor of tastier treats. It has no significant negative characteristics.

It has a low canopy with a typical clearance of 2 feet from the ground, and should not be planted underneath power lines. It grows at a fast rate, and under ideal conditions can be expected to live for 40 years or more.


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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?

Deer in Lakeville

This little darling and his/her friend 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 wanted

Does it work?  Jury’s still out…


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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 Charlie Brown tree!

Frasier fir... and the cat!

Frasier fir… and the cat!

  • 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 an appropriate 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.
  • Check your local nurseries or tree farms for fresh Christmas trees

Christmas trees grouped






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Propagating holiday cacti

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Propagating holiday cacti

To propagate a holiday cactus wait till your plant has stopped blooming.  Prune your cactus to encourage branching out and, while you’re at it, remove a few sections or segments by pinching your your fingers.

Propagating cacti

Using a 4 inch pot with a soil-less mix, place your segment into the mix no deeper than half way up the first segment.  Your piece should be about 3 or 4 segments in length.  To speed up the rooting process, place the whole pot in a gallon ziplock bag, sealing in ALMOST shut to increase humidity.  Place in a sunny window and keep moist NOT wet.  You do NOT have to put it in a ziplock bag, only if you want to speed up the process.

Once you see growth on the tips of the lobes (this will probably look reddish in color) take your plant out of the bag.  You can transplant it into another pot with a light soil mix, adding compost.  Give it a 20-10-20 fertilizer every other watering.

If you’re lobes are flabby, you’ve overwatered.  If your lobes look wrinkled, you’ve under watered.

Holiday cactus - U of MN

Christmas cactus – U of MN

More on Holiday cactus from the University of Minnesota Extension




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Christmas cactus or … not

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Christmas cactus or… not

Christmas cactus or not?  Did you know there’s a Thanksgiving Cactus?  I didn’t until a few years ago!  I had a cactus from my mom for YEARS and always thought it was a Christmas cactus with extreme flowering capability!   Finding out there’s a difference and it has to do with the lobes, was, well, somewhat embarrassing.  My powers of observation were not apparently keen!

You can clearly see the difference in LOBES!  The Christmas cactus (rounded lobes) blooms about 5 to 6 weeks later than Thanksgiving cactus (pointy lobes).

The anthers, the pollen-bearing parts of flowers, are purplish-brown for the Christmas cactus while the Thanksgiving cactus anthers are yellow.  Also, the ovaries in the flower of Christmas cacti are ribbed while Thanksgiving cacti have a smoother appearance.

These succulents should be allowed to dry out half way, then water thoroughly, allowing the water to run out the bottom of the pot, then empty the saucer.  They both like it cool, so don’t worry about drafts.  Keep in bright, indirect light.  While they’re flowering, fertilize them with a weak all-purpose fertilizer every 2 to 3 weeks.

Christmas cactus

Christmas cactus


Christmas cactus - Torrey Pines

Christmas cactus – anthers

Thanksgiving cactus - notice the white anthers

Thanksgiving cactus – notice the white anthers

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House mice – an unwanted guest

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  House mice – an unwanted guest

From bats to mice, every creature wants a warm place to hang out and your home is a haven.  It’s the time of year when you may hear the pitter patter of small creatures about your house.  I don’t mean the kids!

Oh sure, he looks cute but the destruction and, egad!, waste left behind by these little creatures is NOT something you want in your home.  Some facts about mice:

  • as cold seeps in, so do mice
  • gestation period is just 19 days
  • they can have 6 or more babies per litter
  • they can have 13 litters a year
  • that’s a minimum of 78 mice
  • where you find one, there are more
  • they will eat whatever you have on hand and use glue, paper, soap, anything to make nests
  • they can jump, swim and run up to 8 mph

The best way to catch them is with a snap trap using peanut butter, just make sure you don’t have curious pets or children that could have access to the traps!!

If you do, you can use a live trap – for those, sunflower seeds are the best bait.  Just remember, you’re going to have to dispose of them once caught!  I’m one of those who can “dispatch” them.  I don’t like to but releasing them will just mean they’ll get back in or go to your neighbors…

There’s always getting a cat!  Introducing “Dino Valentino”.  I will say we haven’t had mice in 4 years…  so maybe he’s doing something.  ?  Besides being adorable.

Dino V

Hard at work!

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The benefits of bats and birds

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  The benefits of bats and birds

While some may scoff, bats have benefits.  You may not feel that way as you battle one inside your bedroom, however, before killing it, capture it and set it free.  Then look for the place in the bats are coming in and seal it up!

Is this you????

Is this you????

Take a look at this site, eXtension, to find great information on finding the bat in your house and how to release them.

Bats won’t suck your blood, but most North American species do prefer to dine on insect pests, particularly bloodsucking mosquitoes.  A single bat can eat up to 1,000 mosquito-sized insects every hour, usually eating 6,000 to 8,000 insects each night.  One bat house can hold 25 bats. That’s more than 150,000 insects eaten every night!  How awesome is that!  While the zika virus isn’t here in our northern climes, still, having a mosquito eating machine sounds like a pretty good idea to me.


How about building a bat house.  Here’s a link Free.Woodworking-Plans to several free plans on building one.  Give them a home of their own!  And another site:  Endangered Species Coalition


Oh and there’s another benefit, they’re great nighttime pollinators for your garden.  Since bats are threatened with extinction, adding them to your garden is good environmental stewardship.  While bats eat thousands of mosquitoes, many birds will eat mosquitoes, too.

Other voracious ‘squiter eaters:

  • barn swallows
  • purple martins
  • robins
  • chickadees
  • nuthatches
  • woodpeckers
  • mockingbirds
Purple martins breed during the summer months in much of the country

Purple martins breed during the summer months in much of the country

Attract more bug eaters by installing bird houses, filling feeders with a variety of seed, supplying a clean source of water and planting flowers and trees that supply food and shelter.  And stop using chemicals.  Hmmm, great gift ideas!


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It’s Shopping Day

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  It’s Shopping Day!

Yesterday we packed in the food like squirrels cache their nuts.  We’re fueled up and ready for the challenge of the hunt!  The hunt for the perfect gift at the perfect price.  Wahoo, let the season begin!

While I always encourage local shopping – you may not always find exactly what you want.  This is a link to Gardeners Supply that has a lot of ideas!

I’ve told you before that nothing beats a really good pair of pruners,

Felco Bypass Pruner

Felco Bypass Pruner

Fiskars Bypass Pruner

Fiskars Bypass Pruner

Fiskars Powergear 2

Fiskars Powergear 2

gloves that don’t immediately fall apart

garden gloves

and a garden fork.

Garden Fork

Garden Fork

However, there are some other fun garden gadgets to consider!  I love rain chains.   Consider making your own!

rain chain in a barrel

rain chain

The Hori Hori knife comes highly recommended as a must have.  A Japanese knife, it’s blade is razor sharp and is serrated for cutting through roots and tough soil.  It’s used as a knife, a saw, a digging tool, or as a measuring device for planting bulbs.  You can weed with it to.

Hori Hori knife

hori hori knife 2

I’d never turn down mid-calf rain boots or a counter compost crock.    Books are another great gift for the gardener.  I recommend anything by Jeff Gillman. Another book I recommend  is  “Turn Here Sweet Corn” by Atina Diffley.  If you’re gardener is a novice, I recommend “Tough Plants for Northern Gardens” by Felder Rushing and  “Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest” by C.E. Voigt and J. S. Vandemark.

Compost pails from Gardener's Supply

Compost pails from Gardener’s Supply

Turn Here - Sweet Corn



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Happy Thanksgiving

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Happy Thanksgiving

May your home and your belly be full today!  And your heart too!

This is my contribution to Thanksgiving dinner…

Mom's pumpkin cake dessert

Mom’s pumpkin cake dessert

The recipe is in my Recipe tab.

If you grew ornamental grasses, now’s the time to bring them indoors, put them in a vase with some red-twigged dogwood.  If you have berries still clinging to your trees or shrubs, use them as part of a centerpiece.  Just don’t eat them!!

3rd year!


Mountain Ash berries - some are more orange

Mountain Ash berries – some are more orange

Lay some pinecones and gourds in a ceramic dish and you’ve got a centerpiece.  We’re not Martha Stewarts, at least I’m not!, but we can still create some fun stuff right out of our own back yards.

pinecones-gourds-berriesWhatever you do, enjoy each moment, there won’t be another exactly like it.  If you have an abundance, perhaps you could give to a local foodshelf.

Despite any political leanings, there’s much to be thankful for when we look for it.  God bless you and yours from me and mine.


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