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  • Let’s Learn About Evergreens!

    < Back Let’s Learn About Evergreens! By Valerie Rogotzke, Master Gardener December is a month when evergreens are seen everywhere—indoors and out! Wreaths and decorated trees fill homes and public spaces, and the fallen leaves on deciduous trees makes conifers even more prominent in our Minnesota forests. This is a great season for growing sprouts and older folks alike to look a little closer at the evergreens around us, to learn which details to look for, and to identify our native trees. December is a month when evergreens are seen everywhere—indoors and out! Wreaths and decorated trees fill homes and public spaces, and the fallen leaves on deciduous trees makes conifers even more prominent in our Minnesota forests. This is a great season for growing sprouts and older folks alike to look a little closer at the evergreens around us, to learn which details to look for, and to identify our native trees. It would be quite the challenge to be able to identify all 100+ different species of pine, spruce, and fir trees. For now, let’s look at the big categories and the trees native to Minnesota that we see most often. Let’s ask a series of questions to figure out which evergreen we’re looking at. Q: SINGLE NEEDLES OR BUNDLES? How are needles attached to the branch—in small bundles of 2-5 needles or as single needles? A: BUNDLES. We have a pine tree! There are a few kinds we see a lot of in Minnesota. WHITE PINES have 5 needles in a bundle and are long (3-5”). RED PINES have 2 needles in a bundle and are long (4-6”). JACK PINES have 2 needles in a bundle and are short (1-1.5”). A: SINGLES. We have either a spruce or a fir tree. Let’s ask another question. Q: FLAT OR SQUARE? Pluck off a needle and roll it between your fingers. Is it hard to roll because it’s flat, or do you feel slight ridges as it rolls in your fingers because it’s square? A: FLAT. We have a fir tree. Balsam firs are common Minnesota firs. You might remember this by thinking of Fs: firs are flat and friendly (no sharp tips on the needles). A: SQUARE. We have a spruce tree. There are a variety of spruces, but here are three. WHITE SPRUCES have hairless branches. BLACK SPRUCES have tiny red hairs between needles on their branches. BLUE SPRUCES have needles with a slight blue tinge to the color. DO: Nature Walk and Quiz Go for a nature walk and see how many different kinds of evergreens you encounter. Bring back samples of the different needles or needle bundles that you find. Once you know the trees that each needle comes from, quiz another family member or a friend by laying out all your needles on a table. Can they guess correctly? Source: Photo credits: Sarah Heidtke (1), Valerie Rogotzke (2)

  • Houseplant Pests

    < Back Houseplant Pests Jim Lakin, MD, Master Gardener Discovering and controlling pests on your indoor plants is an important step for keeping your indoor garden healthy and happy. The information in this article will help you keep these unwanted visitors off your plants and out of your home. Last month we talked about keeping your houseplants healthy, paying attention to growing requirements, fertilization, watering, hygiene and potting soil. Minding all these factors will reduce the chance of sickly plants and pest attacks. Yet, alas, in even the best of environments, insect problems sometimes rear their ugly heads. So, what to do if you suspect you have some unwelcome residents on your houseplants? As we said, inspect them for insect pests when you water, clean or fertilize. They most often congregate on the underside of leaves. You should look for insects, holes, webbing or eggs. Give an even closer inspection to any plants brought in from the store or the outside. Using a magnifying glass helps. It also impresses any bystanders. You want to look for “honeydew” which is a shiny sticky substance produced by aphids, mealybugs and scale insects. Also check plant containers for pests along the ridges and bottom of pots and saucers. It’s not a bad idea to put a new plant in quarantine, away from the rest of your collection, for a week or two. More often than not a pest problem will declare itself during this period. Honeydew on houseplant leaves. When you water the plants keep a sharp lookout for bugs like springtails and fungus gnats. They usually move with the water. If you think you might have flying insects like thrips, winged aphids, fungus gnats or whiteflies, setting up a sticky paper trap like the one illustrated can help in detection. A yellow sticky card can trap flies. If you find an infestation early on, more often than not you can manage it without pesticides. That’s good for you and for the environment. Washing the plant will remove small infestations. Use a paper towel to wipe leaves, changing the paper frequently to prevent spread. You can wash small plants in the sink and larger ones in the shower. Be one with your Ficus! You can physically remove many pests. Larger insects such as millipedes, slugs, caterpillars or earwigs can be picked off the plants. Mealybugs can be removed with a forceps (tweezers) or a cotton swab dipped in alcohol. Those hard little grey scales can be taken off the plant with a fingernail file. Pruning is another option if the critters are isolated on a few leaves, stems or branches. Be aggressive. Most plants will recover remarkably well if relieved of their insect burden and given the right growing environment. If all else fails and the plant looks like a goner, don’t hesitate to toss it. This avoids exposing other plants to the same pest problem, which will save you grief in the long run. Rather than composting the diseased plant, I prefer to wrap it in a Ziplock bag and put it in the trash. To obtain more information about specific pests as well as what to do if non-chemical methods fail to control your problem, check out Prof. Jeffery Hahn’s recommendations on the University of Minnesota Extension website: Photo credits: University of Minnesota Extension (1, 2)

  • All About Peonies

    < Back All About Peonies Tori Clark, Master Gardener Peony is a favorite flower of many northern gardens. The sweet-scented flowers are large and range in colors of pink, red, white and pale yellow with attractive stems of pink to red. Paeonia (pay-own-ee-uh) or peony is a favorite flower of many northern gardens. The sweet-scented flowers are large and range in colors of pink, red, white and pale yellow with attractive stems of pink to red. The foliage remains interesting in the garden all season. Peonies make an excellent border or small hedge but may need the support of a low wire cage to prevent flopping. They are low maintenance when established but need soil preparation and well-drained soil. Let the leaves fade before trimming to allow for the feeding of the roots that fix next years blooms. Peonies are native to China but are suited to northern United States. They need a winter chill and do not thrive in the American south where temperatures do not drop below 20 degrees F. Plant them correctly in full sun, a minimum of six hours a day, in rich soil. A layer of composted manure in the bottom of the hole will get the plant off to a good start. If planted to deep, flower buds will turn brown. Plant the eyes just below the soil surface 1 ½”-2”. The plant may not bloom the first year as it is still developing a root system. Bartzella Itoh Peony Peonies are not native to North America but have an interesting connection to Minnesota. For many years Faribault, Minnesota, was the peony capital of the world, due to the work of O.F. Brand family. O.F. Brand began planting peonies in 1868 from seed, sometimes waiting ten years for the plants to bloom. He sold bare root plants through a mail-order catalog. By 1920, Brand Peonies were the best in the country. The city of Faribault celebrated the fame with a community peony festival that featured a parade and peony queen. The depression ended the festival but Brand Peonies, later known as Tischler Peonies, continued until 1980. For many gardeners the easy maintenance, and fragrant cutting flower make peonies a favorite garden plant. Sources for this article Schier, Mary Lahr. The Northern Gardener: from apples to zinnias, 150 years of garden wisdom. 2017: Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. Heger, Mike and John Whitman. Growing Perennials in Cold Climates. 1998: John Whitman Contemporary Books, Lincolnwood, Illinois.

  • The Short-lived Beauty of Blooming Cactus

    < Back The Short-lived Beauty of Blooming Cactus Joy Johnson, Master Gardener Various cacti can provide gardening pleasure in Minnesota both outside in the summer and inside during the cold weather. There are thousands of varieties of cacti, many of which are different and exotic, in other words, pretty cool. But there are some tricks to growing cacti successfully. Here are some tips on growing healthy cacti and getting them to re-bloom. A long time ago, I thought growing cactus would be a piece of cake. Just set the little cactus I’d picked up at Home Depot on the window sill, ignore it for six months and then give it a little water. I thought I would be extravagantly rewarded for all my effort. NOT! Within a month the cactus had shriveled up and died. I did some research, mostly to convince myself that it really wasn’t all my fault it had died, but I found out it was. Short and sweet, here is what I’ve learned about growing cactus over the years. First, they need a growing medium that is 60% sand/small gravel and 40% cactus potting soil. Second, it is best to grow them in a traditional, non-glazed clay pot with a clay saucer underneath the hole in the bottom of the pot. This allows them to dry out thoroughly between waterings. Third, they should be watered once a week, not flooded, but enough to get the soil thoroughly wet. Don’t water them if they are not all the way dry. Fourth, they need light. In the winter my cacti (all 52 of them) are in my house in front of south and west facing windows. They go semi dormant in the cool basement and only need ¼ cup of water every two weeks. This allows them to rest. In the spring, I bring them upstairs, where there is more light, and give them a little cactus fertilizer (half the recommended dose) with every other watering. When outdoor day time temperatures are above 65 degrees and all chance of frost is past, I move them all outdoors. If possible, a week in a shaded area is a good transition before placing them in full sun. Because I have so many, they don’t all get treated to shade before being placed in the full sun, I simply don’t have the space. A few have gotten sunburned spots on them, but all have survived. It doesn’t matter if they get poured on by a summer thunderstorm. They seem to love the extra moisture, as long as they are in pots that drain and can dry out. I occasionally fertilize them during the summer, but not too often. It’s important to place them out of harm’s way, where they won’t get blown over, or bumped by passersby. In June and July, you may be rewarded by these stunning blooms. They only last 24 hours, but they are simply breath taking. This year, we had one cactus that bloomed in both June and July (usually they only bloom once a year). Christmas and Thanksgiving cactus also enjoy being outside in the summertime. Make sure they aren’t in full sun, they definitely like it a little shady. We have one large cactus that I call a dragon’s head cactus because it’s flowers really look like a dragon head with its mouth wide open. Every summer I’ve put it outside, it gets tiny brown spots all over it. I bring it in before the first frost and it rewards me with blooms in January. The brown spots fade once it’s been in the house for a month or so. I’m thinking it doesn’t like being outdoors, even in the shade. But I like the extra space I have in the house during the summer once all 52 cactuses have been moved to their outdoor summer homes! I don’t know the scientific names for all our cactuses, many seem to have been mislabeled, simple called “Euphorbia” or my favorite, “cactus”. We just enjoy them, after all a cactus by any other name will still look stunning. Photo credits: Joy Johnson (1, 2, 3)

  • Fall Planting Tips

    < Back Fall Planting Tips Connie Kotke, Master Gardener Fall is a great time for planting! Fall is a great time for planting! As long as you water consistently until the ground freezes–and continue to water again in early spring–your new trees, shrubs and perennials will take hold nicely. Planting in the fall avoids risks of mid-summer drought and heat stress that can decimate young or transplanted foliage. You can also find some great bargains at your local garden centers. Check out these tips for successful fall planting. Enjoy the fruits of your labor next spring by enhancing your landscapes and garden beds this fall. The key to success is consistently watering these plants until the ground freezes in mid- to late November. Step 1: Walk through your yard with a critical eye. Take notes and photos of areas that would benefit from moving things around or adding some fresh new plant material. Are there holes to be filled? Are there weeks when nothing is blooming? Are there overgrown or declining shrubs and plants that should be replaced? Step 2: Fall is a great time to dig and divide most perennials. And it’s the only time to divide peonies and other spring bloomers. Make a list of plants that are too large for their current space. Decide where to place them based on light, water and soil requirements. Remember, some perennials will take several years to return to full bloom and size after you transplant or split them. Step 3: Aim for early fall to plant new Zone 4 perennials, shrubs and trees (it’s best to avoid pushing to Zone 5 in fall). This allows plenty of time for roots to become established before winter, and they’ll be ready to grow early next spring. How about some instant gratification with new fall color from sugar maples, ginkgoes, burning bushes or other fall-blooming plants? Adding a thick layer (at least 4 inches) of mulch under new trees and shrubs will hold moisture and reduce winter injury. Step 4: Consider planting some spring-blooming bulbs–any time until the ground is frozen. Pair the bulbs with perennials that will fill in the space by late spring or early summer. That way, your bulbs can die back without becoming an eyesore in the garden. Step 5: If you have a vegetable garden, fall is the time to harvest and then direct seed a fall cover crop like ryegrass, rye, rapeseed, oats winter wheat or winter rye. Cover crops improve soil fertility and reduce erosion from winds and rain. Finally, visit your local nursery or garden center for great deals on trees, shrubs and perennials for fall planting. Enjoy! For more information, check out these University of Minnesota resources: Upper Midwest home garden care calendar | UMN Extension How and when to divide perennials | UMN Extension Photo credits: Connie Kotke (1, 2, 3)

  • Contact Us | DCMGV

    Contact Dakota County Master Gardeners Volunteers We would love to hear from you! Visit our Speakers Bureau page if you are interested in having a Master Gardener speak to your group. Use the contact form on this page or send us an email at : Submit Thank you for contacting Dakota County Master Gardener Volunteers. One of our volunteers will respond soon. Contact Information Dakota County Master Gardener Voluteers c/o Ann Liberty Western Service Center – Dakota County 14955 Galaxie Ave., Suite 286 Apple Valley, MN 55124 Tel: 651-480-7700 Email:

  • Where Do Monarch Butterflies Go in the Winter?

    < Back Where Do Monarch Butterflies Go in the Winter? Julie Harris, Master Gardener Isn’t it fun to watch colorful butterflies fly from one plant to another in our summer gardens? But what happens to butterflies when the weather gets cold? Read about where Monarch butterflies live in the winter and why they choose that spot. Enjoy fun activities with the child in your life and butterflies. Isn’t it fun to watch colorful butterflies fly from one plant to another in our summer gardens? But what happens to butterflies when the weather gets cold? Well, many butterflies migrate or move from Minnesota to warmer places. In those warmer places, butterflies can also find their food sources – flowers. Since flowers in Minnesota don’t bloom in the winter, butterflies need to fly to areas of the world where they do. Some butterflies who already live in warm climates, will move to a different location because if they stay in one place, butterfly caterpillars will eat all of the available food. Butterflies usually start to migrate in September or October, depending on the weather. Monarch butterflies spend their winter in Mexico and Southern California. (Can you find these places on a map?) Monarch butterflies are the only butterflies to migrate so far away (2,500 miles) each year. In Mexico, the butterflies live in oyamel fir trees and return to the same trees every year. What is really strange, is that these butterflies are not the same butterflies who migrated to these Mexican trees in the prior year. These butterflies were born around mid-August and are the great-great-grandchildren of the butterflies who migrated in the earlier year. So, how do the younger monarchs know which trees to fly to? Scientists think that Monarch butterflies rely on instinct, the sun and magnetic compasses to know where to go. In the spring, the Monarch butterflies fly back to Minnesota because the type of food that they eat is not available to them in Mexico. One sad fact is that the winter homes of the Monarch butterfly are endangered because people are cutting down their favorite trees to build things like roads and houses. In Minnesota, we can help Monarch butterflies to survive by planting milkweed plants and not using poisonous sprays on our plants. References: Activity Help your little one appreciate beautiful butterflies by choosing one or more of these activities: Plant a milkweed plant in your garden Go out into the garden and look for butterflies; take a picture and try to identify the type Draw a picture of the life cycle of a butterfly Cut out and decorate paper butterflies Make a butterfly mask Read Gotta Go! Gotta Go! by Sam Swope. This book tells the story of a caterpillar who knew she had to get to Mexico but didn’t know how she would get there. She crawled on her way until she began to grow tired, and hung from a branch, tucked into her chrysalis. When she woke up, she continued her journey until she finally came across a valley with millions of butterflies just like her. Amazon: Monarch Butterfly by Gail Gibbons. This is a non-fiction book that is clearly written, beautiful illustrated, and packed with scientific facts for kids. This book touches on the life cycle, habitat, migration, body parts, and behavior of monarch butterflies. Dakota County Library Amazon: Photo credits: (1), Creative Commons (2)

  • Propagating House Plants

    < Back Propagating House Plants Gail Baxter and Marie Stolte, Master Gardeners Winter blahs got you down? Bring more green into your home by propagating your houseplants. It’s easier than you think for many plant varieties, and it’s a fun way to spend part of a gray day. January blahs got you down? Bring more green into your home by propagating your houseplants. It’s easier than you think for many plant varieties, and it’s a fun way to spend part of a gray day. Each plant species has its own preferred way to be propagated. Some prefer division (see list below) where a single plant is separated into two or more. Other plants start easily from cuttings (think philodendrons; stem pieces of 6” or so root easily in a glass of water). Some cuttings, like jade plant, can be started in seedless potting medium instead of water. And then, there are the cuttings that can be propagated from a single leaf, or even part of a leaf. Propagate from cuttings: Jade plant, aloe, hoya, Christmas cactus, snake plant, croton, Philodendron, Rex begonias, dragon wing begonias, kalanchoe, English ivy, dracaena, hen and chicks, pothos, African violet Propagate by division: Anthurium, peace lily, snake plant, pilea, dracaena, ZZ plant, spider plant (or plant the baby offsets) Fun with Rex Begonias By January, I am usually ready to propagate more Rex begonias . They come in many colors, and every year, I seem to buy a new variety to fill my summer containers. I bring them indoors in the fall and overwinter them as houseplants. To propagate them, I gather my materials: soil-less seed starting mix (or, you can use a 50-50 mix of perlite and vermiculite), cutting board, pruning shears and a razor blade (both sterilized with rubbing alcohol or bleach water), pins (I used quilter’s pins and T-pins), and a take-out container with a lid (punch several holes in the bottom). Step 1: Fill the nursery tray with the seed starting mix. Wet it well; when you gather a handful of soil and squeeze it, the soil should hold together but not be dripping. Step 2: Cut a healthy leaf with your pruners. Middle aged leaves work well, rather than very old or very young leaves. Cut off the stem so all that is left is the leaf. Step 3: Turn the leaf over so you can see the veins. Make a perpendicular cut across each of the largest veins with the razor blade. Step 4: With the leaf vein cuts facing down, press the leaf onto the soil and pin to hold the cuts firmly against the soil. Cover the container with the clear plastic lid, and put on a windowsill that receives indirect light—not direct sunlight, which can bake the tiny plants that emerge. Check the soil every few days and water if it starts to dry out. Within 6 to 8 weeks, baby leaves should appear near the site of each vein cut. Remove the plastic lid at this point. When the leaves are about a half-inch across, carefully separate the baby plants from each other and pot them individually in 3-inch pots. Look up your plant, and get propagating! Each plant type will have specific instructions for the type of soil to use for propagation, lighting, and other requirements. Look to the U of M Extension library or other trusted source for your specific plant. For instance, if you have cacti and Succulents or holiday cacti to propagate, the University offers tips on the environment these plants need to thrive. Propagating can become your creative outlet, too. Learn more about how to display your cuttings of 22 indoor plants and 17 more plants you can propagate from Planteria on YouTube. Propagating plants is fun to do. You can keep and raise the new plants, or share them with others so they can enjoy a little green, too. And remember: your houseplants could even become the next stars in your summer planters. Photo credits: Marie Stolte (1, 2, 3, 4)

  • Caring for Indoor Plants with Young Children

    < Back Caring for Indoor Plants with Young Children Kristin Beardsley Even as the weather gets cold, we can still enjoy plants with our little ones. Click here to discover how to help your young child be successful in caring for indoor plants independently. You will learn how to set up the materials needed and show your young child how to dust, prune, identify, and water indoor plants Even as the weather gets cold, we can still enjoy plants with our little ones. In this article, discover how to help your young child be successful in caring for indoor plants independently. You will learn how to set up the materials needed and show your young child how to dust, prune, identify, and water indoor plants. DO Materials: Place to work, can be a child-sized table, coffee table, plant stand, or the floor. Child sized apron (optional) Mat/waterproof cloth to work on (optional) Tray to carry materials, materials should be arranged from left to right in order of use Atomizer or spray bottle Cloth to catch drips Small watering can Several indoor plants Small brush and dustpan for clean-up (optional) Presentation Invite the child when they are well rested and feeling good. Show them where the materials are located and invite them to help carry the materials to where you will work. (If you are right-handed, sit to your child’s right, opposite for left-handed. This will allow the child to see what your hands are doing.) Name each material as you take it off the tray (this is a great embedded language/vocabulary opportunity) Choose a plant and bring it to the workspace. It’s nice to tell the child what the plant is called or look at the tag if the plant is labeled. “Let’s mist the leaves. First, I will mist, then you can.” Pick up the atomizer, rest the atomizer on your non-dominant hand as you slowly place your fingers to mist. Hold the handle with your thumb and middle finger, then place your pointer finger on the top. Your pointer finger will push down to mist, keep your hands in this position to show your child a way they can be successful. This grip will help your child to strengthen their hand for holding pencils for writing. I model this, but my daughter isn’t able to do it yet, so she puts the atomizer on the table and pushes down with her palm. A spray bottle is also an easier option for younger children. Discuss how much water the plant needs and decide if it needs to be watered by feeling for moisture in the soil with a finger. Go fill the watering can. Show the child how to carry the watering can with one hand on the handle and one holding the cloth on the spout to decrease spills. When you go to water the cloth can be lowered and then can come back up to catch drips. Look for any spills and dry with the cloth and invite the child to water. Invite the child to water as many plants as they like and show them how to put everything away when they are done. You might need a small brush and dustpan to pick up any spilled soil. Extension for a Younger Child: Leaf Dusting It might be nice to introduce leaf dusting first as an introduction to caring for indoor plants, and it is accessible for a younger child. It feels great to see a dusty leaf look clean and shiny again. Choose a special cloth to be the designated leaf duster or make a leaf duster out of wool with a little handle, and choose a dish for the duster to sit in. When you go to present leaf dusting to your child bring the duster and plant to a workspace. Place one hand under the leaf and show how to dust the leaf from base to tip with 2-3 strokes. Dust a few leaves and then invite the child to dust. Only plants with smooth leaves can be dusted. Extension for an Older Child: Pruning Older children can also prune dead leaves while caring for indoor plants. Keep a small child size pruner in a dish. Show how to safely open the pruner and explain how we never touch the blade; it is very sharp. Locate and prune dead leaves and place them in the dish. Safely close the pruner before setting it down. Discard the leaves in the dish. Things to Consider when Presenting Young children are creatures of process not product. They benefit from simply doing the activity or even a part of the activity as opposed to the finished product. Plants may be overwatered and over pruned. Have a big towel ready for spills and only offer plants that you are okay getting a fun new look. Limit language and distractions during the presentation and while the child is working. If you want to point out something additional or add more language or sensorial opportunities, try these at a different time. Focusing on your hands will help the child to be successful. Avoid praising the child and instead use phrases that acknowledge what they have achieved, like “You watered the plant,” when appropriate. Read Create a book for your child with all the plants in your home. Include the plants common name, scientific name, and how much water and light it needs. To assist a child who is not yet reading include a photo of each plant along with symbols to represent water and sun needs. Then place a sweet little tag with each plant including the name and symbols for how much water and sun it needs. This will allow your developing child to find a proper location for the plant to thrive and water it appropriately.

  • Poinsettias – A Home in Mexico and Dr. Poinsett

    < Back Poinsettias – A Home in Mexico and Dr. Poinsett Gail Maifeld, Master Gardener The Poinsettia is a weed in its native Mexico. It is called lobster plant or Mexican Flame Leaf and has become an essential part of North America’s Christmas décor. The poinsettia that adorns mantles, coffee tables, and bookcases across North America is a descendant of a 6-foot shrub from which growers in Scandinavia and California developed the scaled-down varieties that bloom indoors. All poinsettias are winter-flowering shrubs that are noted for the bright red bracts or leaves. Modern plants have bracts that measure 12-15 inches with green leaves. The real flowers are the insignificant, greenish-yellow center clusters. Today plants can be purchased in many colors from white, peppermint (red & white,) pink and others. Keep a Poinsettia at normal room temperature (60-80 degrees) in a bright filtered location such as opposite light filtering blinds. Water only when the foliage droops slightly: the potting soil should then be totally saturated. No fertilization is necessary. Most individuals discard the plant soon after the holidays but with care you can have bright red bracts until April. Some enthusiasts will attempt to follow the strict schedule of taking cuttings or allow the cut back stump to develop new growth. Commercial producers follow a strict routine that is difficult for the home grower to mimic. Poinsettias are short-day plants; the flower and bract formation is prompted by an eight-week period of 14 hours total uninterrupted darkness and 10 hours of light daily. Plants are treated with a dwarfing chemical that reduces stem length, which results in the Poinsettia plant we know today. Poinsettias are readily available so this procedure is not needed to enjoy this beautiful plant. The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie dePaola tells the story of a young Mexican girl who had nothing for the manger scene on Christmas Eve. She picked tall green weeds to place around the stable and as the congregation prayed bright red star flowers burst open on the weed tips, casting a warm glow around the manger scene. The people named the plant la Flor de Nochebuena or Flower of the Holy Night. Dr. Joel Roberts Poinsett, the US ambassador to Mexico from 1825-1830, brought the shrub to the United States in 1830 because the bright red leaves, which he thought to be the flower, fascinated him. He took cuttings from shrubs growing near his Mexican residence to his home in South Carolina. The plant was named for Dr. Poinsett as the Poinsettia. Nothing says Merry Christmas like a bright red Poinsettia. Remember to thank Dr. Poinsett for this cheerful holiday plant! For more details on caring for poinsettia, visit this UMN Extension link. Additional sources: Tomie dePaola. The Legend of the Poinsettia. G.P. Putmans & Sons, 1994. Huxley Anthony, Editor. Success with House Plants, Readers Digest,1979.

  • Boxelder Bugs

    < Back Boxelder Bugs Julie Harris, Master Gardener It’s cool but sunny outside and I would like to walk into my front door but the door and wall are covered with black and orange bugs! They are boxelder bugs and they are looking for a warm home for the winter. Read how to manage these nonharmful but annoying pests. As the weather is growing cooler, have you wondered what are those black and orange (or red), half-inch long bugs clinging in swarms to the sunny side of your house or door? Most likely, they are boxelder bugs. These bugs may not be noticeable in the summer when they live and feed in boxelder and maple trees. As the weather grows cold, however, they look for ways to get into your warm house. Boxelder bugs belong to the same family as stink bugs, cicadas and insects with “piercing and sucking mouthparts.” They release a bad odor when crushed. They emerge, bright red, in the spring and feed on female boxelder trees; although they may also feed on maple or ash trees. Boxelder bugs are most prolific during hot, dry summers following warm springs. This year may have produced the right conditions for them to be quite plentiful. In the fall, the bugs look for cracks and spaces around doors and windows to sneak into your house. They are not generally harmful but they can be an annoyance. Other than removing your female boxelder trees, the best way to manage boxelder bugs is to seal cracks and holes around windows, doors and foundations. If you have large invasions, you can treat the outside of your home with an insecticide treatment. The best time to spray is late summer and early fall. Once inside, your best option is to remove them with a vacuum or broom. Boxelder bugs do not live for more than a few days inside your home when they are active but they can be a nuisance, staining surfaces with their excrement. Some boxelder bugs remain inactive in your home over the winter. If you see them inside in the spring, they are waking up and trying to go outside. References: Photo credits: University of Minnesota Extenison (1, 2), CooperPest (3)

  • Dividing Bearded Iris

    < Back Dividing Bearded Iris Janelle Rietz-Kamenar, Master Gardener Your spectacular bearded iris have finished blooming. What do you to keep them coming back just as gorgeous next year? Irises need to be divided every 2 to 5 years in order to maintain full, healthy blooms and avoid insects such as the iris borer or diseases such as soft rot. The good news is that it is relatively easy to do! The night before, water the iris to insure moist soil when digging them up. And decide where you are going to put the extra bulbs in your garden after you do divide them. Remember that iris prefer well drained soil and full sun. Use a shovel/pitch fork to dig around the iris being careful to lift clumps while maintaining roots attached to the rhizomes. Gently remove soil from the rhizomes. You can use a garden hose if necessary. Divide the iris rhizomes with a pruning shears or a sharp knife using natural divisions. Make sure that you include part of the rhizome, some roots, and a fan of leaves. Cut the foliage back approximately 6 inches. If the foliage is yellow or you see dark streaks, inspect for iris borer and either discard those rhizomes with the borer or if limited damage, eliminate the borers and save the rhizomes being careful to cut out any damaged parts. Disinfect the cutting tools between cuts to prevent the spread of disease. Remove any older spongy growth. To prevent infection, the rhizome can be soaked for about half an hour in a 10% bleach solution, if desired. They can also be treated with sulfur dust or an insecticide/fungicide if pest problems are severe. These steps are usually not needed. Soaked rhizomes, however, would need to dry in a shady place prior to re-planting. It is also recommended that you allow the cut rhizomes to cure for a few hours before replanting in a cool place. When replanting, give the rhizomes space to grow by planting 12 to 18 inches apart. Make sure the rhizome is planted shallowly on a mound and just cover the rhizome. Avoid planting too deeply. Iris are often planted in groups of three arranged in a triangle, with each fan of leaves pointing away from the other irises in the group. Additional information and step by step pictures are provided on the following websites: Dividing Bearded Iris or Divide Peonies and Iris in August. Photo credits: Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin Extension (1, 2, 3)

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