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Peppers! Sweet, hot and everything in between

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Peppers!  Sweet, hot and everything in between

I love bell peppers and hot peppers and everyone in between!  However, I’m always amazed at the price difference in the grocery store between green bell peppers and red ones, those picked green are sometimes not yet ripe (it depends on the variety), the colored ones have reached maturity.

Pepper – Flavorburst 8-16-15 – These were good but not quite as flavorful as I remembered them. 

The green bells make for great stuffed peppers while the fully ripened colorful bells look and taste great in salads or on skewers waiting to be grilled.  Peppers are usually the last to go into the ground.  They require warm soil.  If our weekend isn’t going to be warm, then wait another week.  You folks in Zone 3 should wait a couple more weeks anyway.  Don’t be in a hurry, the peppers prefer to wait it out in the warmth of your home or a local nursery’s greenhouse!

Pepper ‘Cherry Bomb’

‘Cherry Bomb’ has about the same heat as Jalapenos.  They were tasty!  Jalapenos are pretty plants and fantastic producers.  Keep in mind, the SEEDS are hotter than the flesh of any pepper.  Remember that when slicing and dicing!

I’ve grown habanero peppers but they’re just too much for me!  I grew them to make a pepper spray for rabbits.  It took my breath away cutting them up!

habanero pepper

This year I ordered ‘Hot Lemon’ – a smoky flavored little hottie, and 2 sweet bells,  ‘Candy Apple’ and ‘Cabernet’.  I’ve not tried any of them before but my taste buds were piqued!   I’ll pick up another hot one for a container.

Peppers like hot weather but also get thirsty.  Hot, drying winds and dry soil can prevent fruit set, be sure to water them during dry periods.   I’ll keep you posted on my peppers and some new tomato varieties I’m trying too!


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Clay soil

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Clay soil

Who hasn’t had THIS dilemma somewhere in the midwest?  Clay soil!  When people ask how they can change their clay soil, I tell them the real question is WHAT can I plant in clay soil?

It’s always a great idea to add compost or manure to your soil but to try to change the basic soil structure is nearly impossible and a lot of work.  So….

Clay soil tolerant perennials:

  • Daylilies offer loads of choices with differing bloom color, heights and bloom time
  • Russian Sage
  • Columbine – lovely in part shady areas
  • Liatris prefers full sun
  • Sedum with a large selection of choices too
  • Purple Coneflower
  • Black-eyed Susan
  • Monarda aka Bee Balm
  • New England aster
  • wild cranesbill
  • Grasses include ‘Karl Forester’ and ‘Little Bluestem’

Clay tolerant shrubs:

  • lilacs
  • Dogwood ‘Redosier’
  • Black Chokeberry
  • Dwarf bush honeysuckle

Lilac ‘Bloomerang’

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Japanese honeysuckle

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Japanese Honeysuckle

Last week I told you about my mystery plant.  A vine that was labeled Lonicera aka Honeysuckle ‘Major Wheeler’.  Which it clearly was not after I let it grow like crazy last year, with no flowering, and then came up this year looking completely different.   The picture below doesn’t show how wide this plant grew.  This is ONE year of growth

labeled Lonicera ‘Major Wheeler’ – never flowered

I believe that it is actually a Japanese honeysuckle.  That’s a problem.  The leaves of a honeysuckle are oval but these grew back from the ground as lobed.

Mystery vine – could it be Japanese honeysuckle?

The root system was unbelievable.  I dug down and was amazed at the strength of the roots after just one year.  I was maniacal in removing it!

root system after 1 season

I think the neighbors that I was nuts!  I know there are more roots in the ground…  I tried to get as much as possible but they were a foot deep!  My fear is that it would take out my other plants….

 In North America, Japanese honeysuckle has few natural enemies which allows it to spread widely and out-compete native plant species. Its evergreen to semi-evergreen nature gives it an added advantage over native species in many areas. Shrubs and young trees can be killed by girdling when vines twist tightly around stems and trunks, cutting off the flow of water through the plant. Dense growths of honeysuckle covering vegetation can gradually kill plants by blocking sunlight from reaching their leaves. Vigorous root competition also helps Japanese honeysuckle spread and displace neighboring native vegetation.  Can you see why I wanted it out!

When I spoke with 3 different nurseries, most of them didn’t know what is was from the pictures I showed due to it’s lobed young leaves.  When I bought it on sale last year, it’s leaves were NOT lobed.  They looked like a native honeysuckle.  It grew very quickly.  The vine was at least 8 feet from July to September.

Likely it was grafted stock and a Japanese honeysuckle snuck into the mix somehow.  What I love about this is that it’s a “teaching moment”!  For me for sure… and hopefully for you too.  I also love the mystery.  I’m still not absolutely positive that it IS a Japanese honeysuckle, it’s my best estimate!

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Hardening off warm season plants

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Hardening off warm season plants

Cold…  wet…. Spring.  The recent cooler temperatures reinforce waiting to plant those warm season vegetables like peppers and tomatoes (some would call them fruit!).  They like the soil temps over 60 degrees, in fact, for peppers they appreciate 70 degrees (as do I).    IF you’ve already sunk them into the soil, they’ll be fine but they’ll be slow to grow.

If you started tomatoes and/or peppers indoors, it’s time to begin the  hardening off process if you haven’t already.  You need to take your seedlings outdoors for a few hours at a time.  Start them out in a shady area, with a little wind.  Then begin to set them out in the sun and breeze for longer periods.  BTW, you should harden off any seedlings you start indoors.

Think of this as body builder training!

It really helps to strengthen their stems and acclimatize them so they aren’t shocked when you shove their tender roots in the ground and leave them alone.  Well, sort of.  You still have to weed, water and watch for pests.  Oh a parents job is never done!

When planting your tomatoes, this is one of those plants who will not argue with you if you plant it too deep.  Tomato plants will start growing roots from any point that touches the soil.  In fact, many folks plant them quite deep, this leads to a more sturdy plant.

Take a look at the video below:

Tom grows dozens of varieties he starts from seed.

You may find this little fact interesting, many moons ago, tomatoes were called ‘love apples’ and were thought to be poisonous so they were grown only for their ornamental value.  Now, the tomato is usually the first vegetable folks talk about when planning a vegetable garden.

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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.  Take notice of the bottom of both plants, see how the roots have bunched up?  Cut them! 

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

Just getting started with planting those purchases!

Just getting started with planting those purchases!

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Annual bulbs

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Annual bulbs

You thought bulb planting season was over?  No!  In pops the Caladium with some real pizzazz.  I love these plants.  They’re wonderful in the part shade garden but must be planted after the soil has warmed.  Do NOT plant these guys until the end of May, beginning of June.  Add peat moss to the planting hole, they like their soil a little more acidic.

Caladium ‘Fanny Munson’


Caladium ‘White Christmas’

Caladium 'Frieda Hemple'

Caladium ‘Frieda Hemple’

Plant the bulbs knobby side up about 2 inches deep and 8 to 12 inches apart depending on their mature size.  For more drama in the part shade garden consider Elephant Ears.  All I can say is “WOW”…

Elephant Ear ‘Mojito’

One more darling for the semi-shade garden is the anemone ‘Harmony Blue’.  It’s hardiness is disputed so consider it NOT hardy to zone 4.  You can dig up the bulbs in the Fall and overwinter them indoors the same as you would caladiums and cannas.  You can do that with Elephant Ears as well.

Anemone ‘Harmony Blue’

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Blueberry – the antioxidant Super Hero

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

The Blueberry is the antioxidant  superhero!   Growing blueberries in soils that are more alkaline 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, where I live, 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.

Like I told you on my radio show….  I filmed this quite some time ago, so please, cut me some slack!  ?

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 and hummingbird attractors

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

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

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 just planted Prairie Smoke last year.  It’s just a baby…

Prairie Smoke

Prairie Smoke

What it will look like…

prairie smoke 2

Echinacea purpurea is a great attractor.

Echinacea - native purple coneflower

Echinacea – native purple coneflower

Another wonderful native is Aquilegia Canadensis aka Columbine.  The one pictured below is our native American Columbine.  It will grow nearly anywhere!

Aquilegia canadensis

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

Hummingbirds love the color red but they’ll be attracted to most tubular shaped flowers.  They also like petunias and fuchsias.  Oh, and for a perennial – try honeysuckle vine!

Lonicera 2016 – honeysuckle vine ‘Dropmore Scarlet’

List of Plants for Pollinators from the University of Minnesota Extension

Grasses are places for pollinators to take refuge, coneflower, monarda, salvia, cannas are growing in the background

Coneflowers, heliopsis, prairie dropseed, daylilies

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

Neonicotinoids are the most widely used insecticides in both the U.S. and globally. A 2016 nationwide water-quality study on streams found them in 63 percent of the waterways tested. In 2014, they were detected in every stream sampled in a high corn and soybean-producing region in the Midwest reports the United States Geological Survey.  Study on Treatment method to get the neonics out.

Maryland bans neonics for consumers

Legislators are drafting legislation to ban neonics in California, while the European Union’s temporary ban is set to lift, even as they work to make it permanent.  The battle rages on as to the use of these chemicals but it won’t be fought here on Garden Bite. I would, however, like to share with you HOW a neonic works.  This type of insecticide is a systemic,it’s taken up into the plant itself making the entire plant toxic to insects.  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 their lower toxicity to mammals, however, research states that neonics disrupt the immune system of bees because it’s unique.  Bees have pollinated about every 3rd bite of food you eat.

The Xerces Society on Bees and neonics

Some local garden centers and nurseries are taking their own precautions and asking their local growers about insecticide use.  Growers like Bailey Nursery, out of Newport, Minnesota, who supply plant material to many nurseries around the country have chosen to err on the side of caution and eliminate or sharply reduce their use of neonics.  They created “Endless Summer” hydrangea and “Easy Elegance” roses plus a lot more!

Rose ‘Music Box’ from Bailey Nurseries


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Mom’s Day – Roses and chocolate in the garden

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Mom’s Day – roses and chocolate in the garden

Happy Moms day to you who will celebrate on Sunday! It’s a little late this year.  My mom’s birthday was on May 8th and we often celebrated the two together.  his was when my mom and I would go shopping to fill her whiskey barrels with annuals.  It’s a splendid day to spend time taking in the sights and scents of your local garden center.  Strolling with mom down memory lane while taking in aisles of plants.  You might also think about offering a day of free labor.

Certainly roses and chocolates are always appropriate but what about being just a bit more creative.  Pick up a hardy rose for mom and plant it.

Rose ‘Music box’

As for chocolates… ahh, there are some plants that are just as special and rare as your mom!  Consider ‘Chocolate Soldier’ columbine.  This is a sweet-scented rare heirloom that was introduced in 1902.  It has unusual, nodding, purplish brown petals with yellow-green sepals and chartreuse anthers.  It grows to just 12 inches.  Available online at Thompson Morgan

Columbine ‘Chocolate Soldier’

There’s a shrub whose blooms look like chocolate magnolias and scent is perfect for planting near an entrance to your home.  ‘Carolina Allspice’ is hardy to zone 4, grows from 6 to 9 feet, shorter in full sun.  It prefers some shade.  The best cultivar is ‘Michael Lindsey’ due to it’s fragrance and compact size.  It also has a lovely yellow fall color.  Check gardensupplycompany

Carolina allspice ‘Michael Lindsey’

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