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Tomato and pepper planting

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Tomato and pepper planting

I’m so excited!  It’s time to put those peppers and tomatoes in the ground!  We had a bit of a cold stretch there and that lowered the temperature of the soil.  As we talked about a few weeks ago, soil temperature is the best barometer for planting.   The ground temp should be at least 60 degrees for tomatoes and about 70 degrees for peppers.  They like it hot!

Last year I was disappointed in my ‘Fresh Salsa’ which, in the past, was a great roma tomato.  This year I’m going to try ‘Super Sauce’.  One tomato is 2 lbs.  This tomato is about 5 inches across!  My plan is for roasting this red delicious beast.

Tomato 'Super Sauce'

Tomato ‘Super Sauce’

Last year I planted ‘Sungold’ because of all the good things I’d heard about it.  They were true, it was everyone’s favorite for popping off the vine and into your mouth.

Tomato 'Sungold' 8-16-15

Tomato ‘Sungold’ 8-16-15

Be sure to stake or cage your tomato plants.  They’ll get better air circulation, have fewer pest problems and allows the fruit to totally ripen.  If you stake them, you need a 1 inch by 1 inch stake placed a foot into the ground with 5 feet above ground.  You can use old nylons to tie the stem to the stake, you’ll need to prune the weak side stems.  You’re growing the plant up not out.  Caging is the easiest method and the one that I use.  Get them into the ground right away or before you know it, the plant has gone crazy and you’re out there trying to delicately place a cage over them.  It really doesn’t work!

Tom McKusick

Tom McKusick aka Tomato Man – He started all of these heirlooms with seed!

Take a look at the video below:

This year I plan to try a couple of new pepper varieties, at least new to me.  Sweet ‘California Wonder’ and a hot pepper called ‘Fish’.

Pepper 'Fish'

Pepper ‘Fish’


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In memory – Memorial Day and the Poppy

flag and eagle

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  In Memorial Day and the Poppy

Garden Bite would like to thank all those who serve in the United States Military and their families.  We honor those who gave everything.

Today is the day we reflect and remember our Soldiers.  Memorial Day, which is celebrated every year on the final Monday of May was formerly known as Decoration Day and originated after the American Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died.  By the 20th century, Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who have died while in the military. corn poppy 3

The red poppy came to symbolize our war veterans in 1921.  It is a wildflower poppy.  During World war one, the fields of Flanders in western Belgium saw 4 years of unrelenting battle.  These fields had been filled with poppies but due to the trampling and bombing, there were no flowers during those years.  After the war ended, these tough annual red poppies came back and in a most spectacular fashion.  A seed count was taken with 2500 seeds found per square foot of that field.

In Flanders Fields by John McCrae

Written in Flanders on May 3, 1915

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead.  Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved, and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.


Obviously, the post-war, blood red bloom from the fields of battle had a huge impact on all who saw or heard about it. But surely the most lasting memorial is the famous poem by Canadian battle surgeon/poet, John McCrae. Like the Star Spangled Banner, written in Baltimore Harbor during the bombardment, this poem was written on the spot, as McCrae gazed at fresh graves of his friends and comrades, and poppies “blowing” in the wind.

The Corn Poppy can be found at Millington seed company and Texas Bluebonnet seeds .  I’m sure you can find other places if you do a google search.  This will get you started.


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The 3 ers for container planting

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  The 3 ers for container planting

The 3 ers are: Thrillers, fillers and spillers.

Container combo a

Thriller – big, bold and beautiful.  This plant is the tallest and is your main accent.  Could be outstanding foliage, fantastic flowers or both.  btw, you can cut the flowers off of coleus… they don’t really add much!

Filler – complimentary to your thriller, these plants are generally smaller flowers that can be monochromatic or contrasting flowers.

Spiller – the trailing plants that tumble over your container to soften it.  Great trailers include sweet potato vines, vincas and ivies.

Container comb b

Below is a recipe I created for a 14 inch pot at Wagners Greenhouse in Minneapolis.  (unfortunately I didn’t get a photo)

  • 1 Purple Millet
  • 2 orange (purple eye) Osteospermum
  • 1 purple Osteospermum
  • 1 purple sweet potato vine
  • 1 swedish ivy
  • 1 lamium (a perennial you can plant in the fall) ‘White Nancy’

Choose plants with the same cultural requirements.

Container combo 2

Spike, ivy, Kong coleus, sweet potato vine, impatiens

Don’t be afraid to squish those plants in the container!  Just be sure to leave room for watering.  In other words, don’t place plants all the way to the top of the container.  For my burlap containers I made, I placed a piece of plastic bag on the bottom only to hold a little more moisture.  As you can see, this one is newly planted and has no Tall plant, it’s just simply pretty…  So rules are meant to be broken and guidelines are just that…  to guide.  The rest is up to YOU!  ?  Enjoy!

burlap basket 2014

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Trees: Plant this not that

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Trees: Plant this not that

My favorite arborist, Faith Appelquist, owner of Treequality, recently shared her thoughts on the worst trees for planting. Tree selection is a big deal, they’re an investment in dollars and time.  There are lots of considerations, one of those is the mature size of the tree you select.

This might be a tad extreme!

This might be a tad extreme!

Oftentimes, homeowners just envision this little sapling becoming a 40 foot tree you planted 4 feet from the foundation of your home.  Okay, that said, let’s take a look at some offending trees and why we shouldn’t plant them.

American Elm 'Jefferson'

American Elm ‘Jefferson’

The Siberian Elm is, likely, one of the worst to plant in North America.  People choose it because it’s a fast grower, it can exceed 50 feet in 20 to 30 years.  That also means it’s branches are weak leaving messy, broken appendages.  Faith suggests planting the American Elm ‘Jefferson’ instead.

Siberian Elm

Siberian Elm








Flowering crabapples are such a welcome site until July.  While their flowers, foliage and fruit are lovely, the diseases these beauties are prone to make it one to watch out for.  Faith’s list of disease-resistant varieties include ‘Royal Raindrops’ which I have in my  front yard. Crabapple - Royal Raindrops 2015



Faith’s list of best crabapple choices:

  • Adirondack 
  • Beverly 
  • Calocarpa 
  • Dolgo
  • Harvest Gold
  • Lancelot
  • Molten Lava
  • Prairifire 
  • Professor Sprenger 
  • Royal Raindrops 
  • Tina
  • Sugar Tyme





Another tree that I planted many years ago, ‘Autumn Blaze’ maple, Faith calls ‘Autumn Disaster’.  Ouch!  It grows fast, has gorgeous fall color and is weak in the crotch.  The first big storm could take it out.So far mine is standing.  Faith says, don’t take it out if it’s healthy, but don’t plant another!  Instead plant gingko biloba.

Gingko Biloba

Gingko Biloba

Maple - Autumn Blaze

Maple – Autumn Blaze






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Deer resistant plants

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Deer resistant plants

While I admire the brown-eyed beauty of the white tail deer, I do NOT admire their munching on my plants!

deer busted

This delightful deer was on it’s way to my Hosta Cafe.  There are deer “resistant” plants.  Notice I said “resistant” not “proof”!

deer double


Due to their toxicity, fragrance or texture, deer seem to be repelled by these plants:

  • Columbine
  • Coneflower
  • Sage
  • Yarrow
  • Lily of the Valley
  • Lenten Rose
  • Bleeding Heart
  • Foxglove
  • Heliopsis
  • Beebalm aka Monarda
  • Boxwood
  • Barberry
  • Juniper
  • Mint

Think plants that are hairy, thorny, prickly, sticky, poisonous.  Really the things that bother us, bother them.  They don’t care for the intense scent of mint.  Personally, I love it but it IS invasive.



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Some like it wet, some like it dry

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Some like it wet, some like it dry

We talk a lot about sun/shade conditions and soil types but one thing we don’t always check on when pursuing our favorite plants is whether they like dry feet or wet feet.  Some really have a penchant for moist soil.

Siberian Iris are graceful yet tough perennials that thrive in moist to wet soil, and they’ll form large clumps that bloom heavily after the first year.   For most prolific bloom, Siberian Iris should be planted in full sun. Siberian irises flourish in rich, slightly acidic (pH 5.5-6.5), high organic matter soil.  For more on planting iris click HERE.

siberian Iris clump

A gorgeous shrub that appreciates extra moisture is Sambucus ‘Lemony Lace’.  Hardy from zone 3 to 7, this chartreuse beauty will turn heads.  Keep in mind, it doesn’t like herbicides of any kind!

Sambucus Elderberry - Lemony LaceAn annual for the pond edge or in a container you can keep watered, try Cyperus Papyrus ‘King Tut’.  It looks like a bunch of tall green sparklers!

Cyperus Papyrus ‘King Tut’ 2For dry gardens you can’t hardly beat Russian Sage and there’s now a shorter variety called ‘Peek a Blue’.

Russian Sage 'Peek a Blue'

Verbascum and Lambs Ears are also wonderful perennials for sunny dry spots.  In the shade, check out Lamium.  This plant will grow in up to full shade, with it’s variegated leaves it’ll brighten up a dark spot in the garden.



Lamb's Ear

Lamb’s Ear

Lamb's Ear

Lamb’s Ear

Lamium 'Orchid Frost'

Lamium ‘Orchid Frost’

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Watering newly planted trees and shrubs

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Watering newly planted trees and shrubs

I’d bet there are a bunch of you who’ve been plant shopping!  Perhaps you’ve purchased new trees and shrubs.  If so, then click on wise watering practices.

Root systems of bare root, containerized, and balled and burlapped trees and shrubs have been severely reduced or restricted by nursery management practices.  Once you get them home…  Newly planted trees and shrubs need regular and consistent watering until root systems establish.

water resevoir for plant

After planting, those systems will grow and establish until they are much wider than the above ground portion of the plant. During this establishment time, they need consistent watering to prevent water stress.  Some nurseries will give you a watering schedule.  I know my local nursery does.  Follow THEIR directions.  If they didn’t give that to you – ask.  If you bought at a big box store or another type of outlet, then follow my lead.

For the first 2 weeks, water daily.  Depending on the size of your new purchase your water VOLUME will vary.  For trees, apply 1-1 1/2 gallons per inch of stem diameter at each watering.  Measure the diameter at 6 inches above the root flare.

tree caliper

When watering newly planted shrubs, apply a volume of water that is 1/4 – 1/3 of the volume of the container that the shrub was purchased in. As roots grow and spread, irrigation volume will need to be increased.

Barberry and Buttonbush

Barberry and Buttonbush planted in 2015



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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’, which I inadvertantly called ‘Blue Harmony’ on the podcast.  Oops!  Anyway, it’s hardiness is disputed so consider it NOT hardy to Minnesota.  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 superhero

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

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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