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  • All About Peonies | DCMGV

    < 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.

  • December - Enjoying the Winter Garden | DCMGV

    < Back December - Enjoying the Winter Garden Dawn Struble As Minnesotans, we learn to appreciate the cycle of northern gardening. The truth is, after putting the garden to bed for the season, the winter respite provides a chance to enjoy the garden in different ways. Read this article for thoughts about how to enjoy your garden in winter. Over the years I’ve often exclaimed, “I wish I lived in zone 7 or 8!” Then I wouldn’t have to say good-bye to my gardens as winter arrives. But over the same years, I’ve come to appreciate the cycle of northern gardening. The truth is, after putting the garden to bed for the season, the winter respite provides a chance to enjoy the garden in different ways. Before the snow flies, make time to move any garden art or sculptures closer to your home’s windows. This will allow you to appreciate the light, shadows and snow accumulations on your art, as well as on standing vegetation, shrubs and tree branches during the snowy months. Now is also the time to make note of plants that may need to be moved, split or removed next spring. You will thank yourself in the spring for writing it down! Watching the snow for animal tracks will help you learn more about the variety and habits of wildlife in your area ( 12 weeks of winter: The scoop on scat | UMN Extension ). You can use the cold weather downtime to read some great gardening books ( Gift Idea: Good Books for Minnesota Gardeners ( or Books that created conversation in 2021 | UMN Extension ). And nothing tastes better in the middle of winter than a warm muffin baked from the garden rhubarb you froze last June! ( Using your harvest | UMN Extension ). If you are really missing the dirt under your fingernails, try an indoor herb garden, or make a winter window box or front entry pot. Taking care of your garden tool maintenance is also a valuable task during frigid weather. ( Clean and disinfect gardening tools and containers | UMN Extension ). Get the family involved and combat the dark days by making beautiful winter luminaries. It’s a fun and rewarding project for everyone, and will brighten your yard and garden areas. As you take that winter vacation to warmer destinations, don’t forget about the reciprocal garden admission program for Minnesota Landscape Arboretum members. Reciprocal Admissions Program – American Horticultural Society ( . You’ll find the visit sparking your excitement for another season of northern gardening after the well deserved winter break. Photo credits: University of Minnesota Extension (1, 3), (2)

  • Eastern Red Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis): Springtime Coquette | DCMGV

    < Back Eastern Red Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis): Springtime Coquette James Lakin, M.D., Master Gardener The Eastern Red Columbine is an erect, branching perennial, up to 2 ft. tall, and is well known for its showy red and yellow flowers. Here are some reasons why they may be a great addition to your landscape. Columbine or Columbina was an enduring character of Italian commedia del’arte, coquettish, heavily made up, outspoken with almost always something to say. Her botanical namesake, the columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) is also an outspoken herald of spring, brightly made up, making a statement in the garden or the wild. The eastern red columbine is native to the entire Midwest. You will find this beauty in rock outcrops, rocky or sandy woodlands as well as savannas. To successfully grow columbine in the garden it is very helpful to provide extra drainage. Usually a rock, gravel or sand underlayment will do the trick although for years my columbines have spread and reseeded in my raised beds with no other preparations. They also look well in rock gardens or other stone or concrete works. Columbines can be a good choice for container gardens as well. It is important to allow for reseeding as individual columbines seldom live more than three years. They do best in full sun although they tolerate light to moderate shade well. Plant height varies from one to four feet, the taller plants often putting on a magnificent display of very showy ruby red flowers. Eastern Red Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis). A somewhat darker bloom Pollination of Columbine is primarily carried out by the ruby-throated hummingbird although an occasional swallowtail butterfly may pitch in. Aquilegia canadensis flowers in the late spring over several weeks. It then produces a fruiting capsule by midsummer which disperses small black seeds before it disintegrates. The compound leaves of the basal portion of the fruiting body remain into the fall, acting as a host for leaf mining moth larvae. You can see the results of the larvae’s feeding as scrolling markings appear on the leaves. As you might anticipate, any plant as showy as the columbine would fall into the hands of the breeder to produce even showier cultivars. A number of very attractive varieties are on the market. Two of my favorites are “Swan Mix” and “Origami Mix”. These are by no means native to anywhere and their value to pollinators is suspect. But as long as you make sure to plant plenty of the native species, I think you can admire the beauty of the cultivars with a clean conscience! Columbine “Swan Mix”, an engaging cultivar Columbine “Origami Mix”, another showy cultivar Photo Credit: Jim Lakin (1,2,3,4)

  • Lettuce, the crunchy cold-loving crop! | DCMGV

    < Back Lettuce, the crunchy cold-loving crop! Jess Nguyen, Master Gardener Intern What leafy vegetable could be a more fitting staple of summer than the humble lettuce, which makes up the backbone of a refreshing salad and adds a fresh crunch to any picnic sandwich? Cultivation of lettuce dates back to the ancient Egyptians, who used the plant as an important food crop and seed oil source. Today, there are hundreds of varieties of lettuce grown across the globe. Keep reading to find out how you can grow this quick-growing crop in your own garden. What leafy vegetable could be a more fitting staple of summer than the humble lettuce, which makes up the backbone of a refreshing salad and adds a fresh crunch to any picnic sandwich? Lettuce ( Lactuca sativa ) is an annual cool-season crop that grows well in the spring and fall. Lettuce is a fantastic candidate for succession planting in your garden, as your lettuce harvest will be ready once the summer starts to warm up and can then be replaced by heat-loving plants. Lactuca sativa has hundreds of varieties (wow!) that can be categorized into different types. Some commonly-grown categories are as follows: Non-heading lettuce, which includes loose-leaf lettuce varieties; Soft-headed lettuce, which includes varieties such as butterhead lettuce; Ruffled-headed lettuce, which includes French crisp/summer crisp/Batavia lettuce; Tall and compact head lettuce such as Romaine lettuce; Dense, solid head lettuce, which includes iceberg lettuce. For beginner gardeners, loose-leaf lettuce tends to be the easiest type of lettuce to grow! Lettuce seeds are very small and require loose, well-draining, and well-tilled/non-clumpy soil to effectively germinate. Adding compost to your soil before sowing lettuce seeds will help the lettuce to produce large and well-shaped heads. Lettuce prefers cooler temperatures; a soil temperature range between 45°F and 65°F (7°C and 18°C) is ideal. Sow lettuce seeds on the surface of the soil, 1/4 to 1/2 inches deep. When choosing a spot to grow lettuce, pick an area that gets five to six hours of sunlight. In hotter temperatures, lettuce benefits from an area that gets shade in the afternoon. An easy method to control the quality of your starting soil and the growing environment would be to start lettuce plants indoors. You can start seeds when you would otherwise not be able to: when the temperature is still too cold in spring to plant and when the temperature is too hot in the summer for lettuce to thrive! Sow seeds about four weeks before you intend to transplant them. Thin seedlings to encourage the largest plants to thrive. Harden your seedlings before transplanting. In the spring, transplant lettuce about a week after the last frost, when freezing temperatures no longer persist. In the fall, transplant lettuce about two months before the first frost date. For direct sowing, sow seeds in the spring as soon as the soil is workable; this should be two to four weeks before your last frost. For fall harvest, sow lettuce seeds about three months before the first frost date, which for Minnesota tends to occur around late August. Soil in late summer can be cooled to suitable temperatures by covering with damp hay to shield the soil from the sun before planting. Rows of lettuce should be 18 to 30 inches apart. Thin seedlings to the appropriate spacing based on the variety that you’ve planted. For example, most loose-leaf varieties recommend seedlings spaced four inches apart, while Romaine lettuce should be planted eight inches apart. Lettuce has very shallow roots, so frequent watering is important for growth. Soil should remain moist but not be overly-wet, which can lead to disease. Thankfully, it is easy to see when your lettuce needs water–look for the obvious signs of wilting that tell you to water the leaves to cool down your lettuce plants. Some common pests for lettuce plants include cutworms, which can cut seedlings and lettuce plants off at the soil line, causing seedlings to die and growing plants to wilt. Cutworms should be hand-picked off of the plants, and collars that extend two inches into the soil surrounding the plants can help deter the worms from further damage. Slugs, which cause holes in lettuce leaves, should also be removed from the plants by hand. Aphids are a pest that can stunt the growth of the lettuce causing yellowed and misshapen leaves and can also cause disease. Remove aphids by blasting them with a water spray, or by introducing biological controls such as ladybugs into your garden. One common problem when growing lettuce is bolting, which is caused when lettuce plants grow in temperatures that are consistently above 75°F. Bolting is when lettuce plants produce a central stalk to flower, which causes the leaves of the lettuce plants to become very bitter and unsuitable for eating. Long days and intense sunlight can also cause bolting. Therefore, for most areas in Minnesota, the months of June, July, and August have conditions that are too hot to grow lettuce effectively. Use these months for heat-loving plants instead! Harvest lettuce when the leaves are full-sized but still young, as mature leaves tend to go bitter. In the spring, leaves will have the best flavor before the weather becomes hot and dry. In the fall when cooler temperatures benefit lettuce, beware of prolonged freezes, which can damage your harvest! You can harvest lettuce by removing outer leaves (which can also be done as the plant is still growing) or by cutting the plant at or slightly above the soil line. Store your lettuce in a loose plastic bag in the refrigerator. When you are ready to use your lettuce, rinse the lettuce thoroughly in cool water, then dry the leaves using a salad spinner or a towel. Wilted lettuce can be revived by a soak in an ice-water bath to maintain crispy, crunchy leaves all summer long. For more information about growing lettuce, see this article by the University of Minnesota’s Marissa Schuh and Jill MacKenzie. Did you know that you can grow lettuce even during the coldest winters, using indoor hydroponics systems? Learn more about hydroponic lettuce in this article by the University of Minnesota’s Natalie Hoidal, Amanda Reardon, Leah Worth, and Mary Rogers. Links Used “Growing lettuce, endive and radicchio in home gardens” “Small-scale hydroponics” Photo credits: Wikimedia (1), pxhere!d (2), flickr (3)

  • Planting for a Fall Harvest | DCMGV

    < Back Planting for a Fall Harvest Late summer doesn’t always come to mind as planting time. But Late July and early August are great times to plant vegetables that grow quickly and mature better in cooler temperatures. Read on to discover which plants you can plant now that will grow successfully well into fall. Tori Clark, Master Gardener Late summer doesn’t always come to mind as planting time. Some crops like lettuce and spinach can be bitter and hard to grow in the heat of the summer. Late July and early August are great times to plant vegetables that grow quickly and mature better in cooler temperatures. After harvesting veggies like lettuces, radishes, peas and spinach you can easily grow more if you have the inclination for more fresh, garden-grown produce into fall. Before replanting an area remove any remaining plants and allow the area to rest for a couple of weeks. Roots and debris from some plants can cause seeds to not germinate so it is best to wait. Next, remove any weeds, loosen the soil, and add a balanced fertilizer or some compost to replace the nutrients the earlier crop used. Some plants like peas, salad greens, spinach, and herbs such as cilantro and basil grow in as few as 30-50 days and have plenty of time to grow before the first frost. Other vegetables like kale are frost tolerant and continue to grow well into October while being tender and sweet. Whatever you decide to try growing as a late crop be sure to check the seed packages for the number of days to maturity to ensure plants have enough time to grow. The University of Minnesota Extension also has a handy planting chart that shows the types of vegetables best suited to late planting. Photo Credit: University of Minnesota Extension (1)

  • Mendota Heights Pollinator Partnership | DCMGV

    < Back Mendota Heights Pollinator Partnership By Sarah Heidtke, Sue Light and Cindy Johnson, Dakota County Master Gardeners Master Gardeners are working with city government and residents to promote pollinator friendly gardens. Dakota County hosts a unique native garden in the boulevard alongside Victoria Road, between Marie Avenue and Douglas Road in Mendota Heights. Not only is it a beautiful sight to drive, bike or stroll alongside throughout the year, but the garden hosts a number of native pollinators - read on to find out how Mendota Heights staff and Master Gardeners got together with community members in order to create this special place and more! In 2016, the city of Mendota Heights took the admirable step of declaring itself a “pollinator friendly city.” That means that the city is encouraging residents to become more pollinator-friendly by avoiding the use of insecticides and adopting more environmentally friendly landscaping practices; avoiding planting plants that are treated with systemic insecticides; and planting more pollinator-supporting plants. Since then, Dakota County Master Gardeners Sue Light and Cindy Johnson have been working with city staff to identify ways to enhance pollinator habitats. One of their first and most successful projects was the reformation of the Victoria Road boulevard (Victoria Road between Marie Ave. and Douglas Rd. At the time, this area was a ditch filled with rip rap and, unfortunately, a lot of trash. By June of the same year, Sue, Cindy and a team of Dakota County Master Gardeners, seeded grasses and forbs on the Victoria Road boulevard. To be exact, they used Minnesota State Mix 35-621 Dry Prairie SE mix. This selection was based on the soil, water and light conditions. In order to maintain driver visibility, only species under two feet in height were seeded within thirty feet of the corners at each end. Within 2 years, the garden looked like this: Within that time, water retention improved - instead of gushing down the slope over rip rap and into the storm drains, much of the rain water is now slowed and absorbed by the native plants and their deep roots. In fact, rainwater and snowmelt are the only sources of water these plants receive. Every week brings something new to the City Partnership native planting along Victoria Road. Depending on the time of year, the Minnesota native plants you may see include - gorgeous swaths of Little Blue Stem, Wild Petunia, White and Purple Prairie Clover, Monarda, different Milkweeds, Rudbeckia, Goldenrod, Ironweed, Prairie Dropseed and Blue Vervain, to name a few. That “ditch” on Victoria Road has become a native plant treasure. 2024 marks the ninth year of the City Partnership Project. If you pass through in July, you will find Monarda (native Bee Balm) with full lavender colored blooms topping shoulder-high stems, complemented by Asclepias Tuberose (bright orange Butterfly Milkweed). Many insects, including the Rusty Patch Bumblebee and several Black and Gold Bumblebees, are attracted to the pollinator plants in the garden. Even though all of the intentional plants are native to Minnesota, regular management of this garden is done and required. During the growing season, three or four Master Gardeners at a time will weed the roadside twice a month. Weed pressure comes from invasive plants such as Siberian Elm, Crown Vetch, Thistle, Japanese Hedge Parsley and others. Some curious neighbors have come out to help weed and learn more about the plants. Walkers on the path frequently comment on the beauty of the plants as they walk by. Garden management also includes cutting back the vegetation in the spring so the new growth isn’t smothered by the matted plant material from the season before. The City of Mendota Heights and Dakota County Master Gardeners have also partnered to install and maintain the native plantings at City Hall. In addition, they have worked with Mendota Heights residents to install rain gardens. Master Gardeners have also hosted education nights for the public on the value and use of pollinator plants. All of these efforts are intended to improve water quality and welcome pollinators to Mendota Heights. Take the time to visit the extraordinary native garden on Victoria Road and at City Hall. And, keep an eye out for announcements from Dakota County Master Gardeners for public education nights to learn more about this partnership and the plantings. Photo credits: Sue Light (1,2,3,5,7,8), Sarah Heidtke (4,6), Robert Hatlivig (9)

  • Mindfulness in the Garden with Kids | DCMGV

    < Back Mindfulness in the Garden with Kids Sarah Heidtke, Master Gardener Winter is a lovely time to experience and appreciate nature. The muted colors and slower gardening pace allow us the opportunity to take in and observe our natural environment more closely. Observing nature in winter with the children in your life enhances the experience. Watch your children, not only learn, but interact joyfully with the peaceful winter world around them. Read this article for tips about how to experience mindfulness in our natural spaces with children. We have heard about the mental and physical benefits of time spent in nature. Winter is a time when many of the colors of the warmer seasons are muted, and there is a hush as snow covers the garden and landscape. Mindfulness speaks to an intentional approach to experiencing our natural spaces - both outdoors and inside. We can do this in all seasons, but winter is a great time to slow down and focus before the explosion of sensory stimuli we anxiously await in spring. DO Here are five ways to practice mindfulness in the garden with kids. 1. Get up close to different textures and take some time to really look. Ask your child partner what they see once the leaves have fallen and we can find the contrasts between the bark, stems, and other organic materials against the snow on the ground. 2. Continue on a walk to visit dormant perennials and bulbs you may have planted last summer and fall. Ask your child partner what they think is going on with the plants underground. 3. Calmly look around your garden. Do you see or hear signs of the creatures that spend the winter there, such as nests or tracks in the snow? What do you think it feels like for those creatures in their winter homes? 4. Find a quiet place to sit - on the ground or on a garden bench perhaps. Close your eyes and listen to the garden while taking some slow breaths in - counting 1, 2, 3 - and out - 1, 2, 3. Do this a few more times before continuing your mindful garden walk. 5. Color awareness: take some time to observe colors in your winter garden - maybe some red branches of a dogwood, or brown leaves, or even some faded yellow flowers. Can you see why some plants and trees are called evergreens? How do you feel when you look at the plants around you? Winter weather making it difficult to get outside? We can practice mindfulness in our indoor gardens too. Take a slow tour of house plants, and pause to breathe deeply at each one. Ask your child partner for their observations of color, shape, or even what they would call the plant Plant a few seeds in a pot or tray and place in a warm, bright spot. Make a practice of visiting the seeds and any sprouts, and just taking time to observe what you see. Take some cuttings of plants - such as Trandescantia - and place in a clear glass or vase of water. Pay attention to any roots that grow and ask the child how this helps the plant. Most importantly, mindfulness in our gardens and other natural spaces allows our children of all ages to slow down and practice awareness in a busy world. It’s okay if they find treasures or want to make a drawing along the way, but the focus is on the present - a good skill for gardeners of all ages! READ And here are some books to read with your child gardener: Sing a Season Song , written by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Lisel Jane Ashlock At Dakota County Library: On Amazon: If I Were a Tree , written by Andrea Zimmerman and illustrated by Jing Jing Tsong At Dakota County Library: On Amazon: (Making Tracks) Park by Cocoretto (Board Book) At Dakota County Library: On Amazon: Photo Credit: Sarah Heidtke

  • Tomatoes the Ubiquitous Summer Vegetable | DCMGV

    < Back Tomatoes the Ubiquitous Summer Vegetable BeeJ Hansell It’s not too late to plant tomatoes in Minnesota this summer. But, how do you choose from the many, many brands of tomatoes that are out there. Read this article for very useful information about choosing the right variety of tomato to grow in your garden. It’s June, so likely you have already chosen and planted garden tomatoes. If you’re still debating, you’re at the right place. Let’s review of one of the most popular vegetables raised in home gardens. The tomato, s olanum lycopersicum, Lycopersicon lycopersicum is a member of the nightshade family of plants; most of the family are poisonous. Thank goodness for this tasty, safe to consume relative. World-wide there are 10,000 varieties of these delicious orbs. A small percentage perform very well in Minnesota. Our growing season is challenging given the potential for late frosts, and the wide range of temperatures (hot to hotter) over a short period. Tomatoes are almost any color of the rainbow. Sizes range from cherry, about the size of a thumb tip; to beefsteak, regularly at seven inches in diameter with some weighing nearly a pound or more. So many tomatoes, so little time! To help with choosing the optimal for your garden take a look at the results of 2022 tomato seeds trial of six varieties: Brandywine Marriage Tomatoes Below are some general considerations when choosing varietals. To Heirloom or not to Heirloom An Heirloom tomato carries the best characteristics of tomatoes and have been grown for decades. They have been grown without crossbreeding for at least 40-50 years or more. When you choose heirloom varieties you consistently get what you expect. Heirlooms are reportedly easy for the beginner gardener to grow. They are also often considered to be more flavorful. Hybrid, “normal” tomatoes are carefully bred (human intervention) to have particular characteristics. For example, hybrids have larger yields. They also may be bred to be more resistant to pests and disease. Determinate versus Indeterminate Determinate tomatoes grow to a certain point, then stop. They are bushy, compact, of shorter stature, and generally 2-4 feet tall. They still require some support, like tomato cages. They produce all of their tomatoes at once. The fruits develop on the ends of the branches. Determinate tomatoes are usually labeled as “bush,” “patio,” or “container” - perfect for smaller spaces. There are also dwarf types. Since all the tomatoes on the plant mature simultaneously, they tend to have a shorter growing season. In order to have tomatoes throughout the summer, one must either stagger start dates, or consider planting additional indeterminate tomatoes. Indeterminate plants grow and grow. They are the vine tomatoes most recognized and envisioned when people talk about growing tomatoes. They can grow to lengths of 10-12 feet, therefore, require vertical supports, and lots of them. Indeterminate tomatoes produce fruit throughout the season. The fruit grows all along the stems, ripening at different times. This results in a longer growing season and and greater yield than determinate varieties. Regardless of your choices, enjoy the sun-happy tomatoes until the Minnesota frost sweeps them away. Here are two recipes that are often overlooked. First, more than a movie, welcome: Fried Green Tomatoes! Second, the “Southern Tomato Sandwich.” NOTE, Duke’s Mayo is what makes it perfect. Ingredients 2 (½-inch-thick) slices beefsteak tomato ¼ tsp. kosher salt or ⅛ tsp. table salt ¼ tsp. freshly, coarsely ground black pepper 2 slices soft, white sandwich bread 3 Tbsp. mayonnaise, or more!! Directions Arrange tomato slices on a paper towel, sprinkle evenly with salt and pepper. Let stand until tops of slices are beaded up with juices, 3 to 5 minutes. Spread one side of each bread slice with 1½ tablespoons mayonnaise. Arrange tomato slices on mayo side of one bread slice: top with other bread slice, mayo slice down. Enjoy the messy, juicy goodness immediately!! I leave you with this final thought in the form of Haiku: Beautiful and firm Sweet summer fruit soaks up sun Delicious to eat Photo Credit: (1,2)

  • Black Chokeberry: Showy but Well-Behaved | DCMGV

    < Back Black Chokeberry: Showy but Well-Behaved Jim Lakin MD, Master Gardener ​ As the snow starts to melt and a few green tufts of grass peak out, it’s a great time to start thinking about planting native shrubs. If you have an area that needs screening for privacy, a walkway or border to delineate, a property line that needs a hedge, you would do well to think about a native shrub. Over the next three months we’ll talk about some great options. One very attractive choice is black chokeberry ( Aronia melanocarpa ). A. melanocarpa has been quite popular with the dietetically conscious in that it is rich in antioxidants and, even better, will not make you choke. Although it does have a distinct aftertaste which some find bracing and others, not so much. With the right recipe, the berries can make a tasty jam or jelly. In any event, you don’t need to eat the plant to enjoy it. It is an attractive woody perennial which is well behaved. It makes a great ornamental shrub, especially for a traditional garden. May flowers Black chokeberry grows in the wild from eastern Minnesota and northeastern Iowa eastwards across the Midwest. It is cold tolerant from Zone 3 to 8. Although it grows naturally on sandy soils it can easily be transplanted to a variety of environments ranging from sand to clay. It does well in full sun to light shade. Once established, black chokeberry produces, in May, clusters of attractive, showy white flowers with pink stamens that rise above the petals. They go on to form inky, glossy black fruit in late summer. The berries remain on the shrub through the winter providing interest against the snow. The leaves are usually a deep shimmering green which transforms into bright red in fall, setting off the glossy black fruit. Black chokeberry usually grows 3 to 6 feet tall. Although it is a well-behaved shrub, it will send off root suckers to form colonies. If you are going for a more formal look they can be easily removed. Ripe Fruit Black chokeberry is usually a very low maintenance plant once established. It is disease resistant to most blights although occasional leaf spot is sometimes seen. It is a versatile landscape plant which can be used in formal gardens although it also does well for naturalizing where suckering is not an issue. Its tolerance of boggy soils makes it a great addition to pond or stream margins. There are several cultivars available in nurseries. “Professor Ed” is one notable. Often , on-line sites specializing in native perennials of the Midwest can provide hearty specimens. black chokeberry in a naturalized setting Photo Credit: Missouri Botanical Garden (1,2,3)

  • Companion Gardening | DCMGV

    < Back Companion Gardening Linda Stein, Master Gardener It’s April and we are starting or continuing to plan our gardens for the new season. Most of us consider the amount of sunlight we need, flower size and color and, probably, our favorite plants. But many of us do not take into account how various plants interact with each other - “companion planting.” Companion planting considers how to enhance the garden or impact plants by growing them in close proximity to each other. Companion planting has the potential to enhance your garden, reduce the need for pesticides, promote stronger plants and take maximum advantage of the space available. Read this article to learn more about why and how to use companion planting in your garden. As plans are being prepared for our gardens, most of us think about the layout, considering each plant type separately. The planning generally looks at the amount of space needed and the amount of sunlight required by the plant as decisions are made about where to position plants. However, many of us do not take into account how various plants interact with each other, a concept referred to as “companion planting.” Companion planting considers how to enhance the garden or impact plants by growing them in close proximity to each other. Companion planting has the potential to enhance your garden, reduce the need for pesticides, promote stronger plants and take maximum advantage of the space available. Companion planting is not a new concept. It is a tool used in organic gardening and has been used historically by indigenous people. Research has identified varying results regarding the benefits of specific companion plantings. There is only anecdotal evidence of the benefits of overall companion planting. But there are numerous reputable articles on how to incorporate the concept into our gardens. In this article I will identify six potential benefits of companion gardening, using a relatively broad definition of companion gardening. 1. Repelling Pests Consider planting plants that repel pests next to plants that the pests target. According to an article in the University of Arizona Agriculture and Life Sciences Cooperative Extension site: One of the most accepted wisdoms of companion planting is the use of repellant plants to keep bothersome insects away from their favorite vegetable plants. Insects locate their favorite plants through smell and many repellant plants work by masking the scent of their neighbor plants. That is why strong-smelling plants such as basil, onions, garlic, and marigolds are good reliant plants. [1] 2. Attracting Beneficial Insects Conversely, companion planting might be used to attract beneficial insects. The best example of this is the suggestion that a gardener plant flowers that will attract pollinators next to vegetable that will benefit from these insects. Companion planting can also be used to attract insects that will feed on destructive insects. For example one might grow plants, such as carrots, to attract lady bugs that will feed on aphids that might attack your plants. 3. Growing Sacrificial Plants A sacrificial crop is a plant that you add to your garden to attract pests away from the main crop you are growing. The reasoning is that garden pests have preferences for what they like to live on or eat. By planting rows of sacrificial plants near your preferred vegetables, the pests will be attracted to these plants and leave your “preferred plants” alone. 4. Enhancing the Taste of Edible Plants Many people believe that planting herbs such as basil, dill, oregano or marjoram next to tomatoes and peppers may enhance the sweetness of these vegetables . . . and they also add beauty to your garden. 5. Supporting the Growing Needs of Surrounding Plants The growing characteristics of one plant can be used to benefit surrounding plants. For example, plants that grow tall or are supported by trellises can provide shade to plants that prefer limited sunlight. Vining plants and plants with large leaves that cover the ground can reduce weed growth and help retain soil moisture. 6. Promoting Maximum Use of Garden Space In this example of companion planting, you’re considering how to enhance the production of your garden as a whole. By intercropping plants in spaces left when one crop is done producing you can increase the production from a limited space. Radishes mature quickly and do well in cooler weather so they can be planted in the spring. When they are harvested, plants that prefer warmer weather can be planted. And when those plants are done producing, another crop of radishes can be planted in late summer. This is a link to a chart developed by Todd Weinmann of North Dakota State University Agriculture Extension that provides an extensive list of plants that you might consider growing near each other and plants that have the potential to negatively impact the growth of certain plants and therefore should not be planted in close proximity. [1] The Best of Enemies: A Brief Guide to Companion Planting - Part 2, Photo credits: (1), Linda Stein (2), University of Minnesota Extension (3)

  • Strawberry Asparagus Salad and a Challenge! | DCMGV

    < Back Strawberry Asparagus Salad and a Challenge! Joy Johnson, Master Gardener It’s July and some of your vegetables and fruit are ripe for picking – yay! Two of these early products are asparagus and strawberries. And, luckily, they go together in a delicious salad. Read Joy Johnson’s article for an easy recipe. And, keep reading for a more difficult recipe for Strawberry Cucumber bread. If you’re up for the challenge, you will be rewarded with a delicious treat! Did you know that asparagus and strawberries go well together in two ways? One way is to do companion plantings with groups of asparagus inter-mixed with strawberry plants. Because the asparagus grows tall and starts sprouting out of the ground ahead of the strawberry plants, you can grow them together and harvest them at nearly the same time. The second way is to eat them together. Their flavors are complimentary and make a fresh summer salad. Here is a very simple recipe that pulls together in no time. You can jazz it up by adding sliced almonds, poppy seeds, goat cheese or crumbled feta or blue cheese. I didn’t have those ingredients on hand, so I’m keeping it simple tonight! Strawberry Asparagus Salad Ingredients: 2 cups asparagus, cut in pieces and blanched 2 cups strawberries, sliced Dressing: ¼ cup lemon juice 2 TBSP vegetable oil. 2 TBSP honey Directions: Toss the asparagus and strawberries together in a bowl. Set aside. In a small bowl, combine the dressing ingredients and mix well. Pour dressing over salad and toss. Chill before serving. Strawberry Cucumber Bread – If You Like a Challenge! This colorful bread can be served at breakfast or as a dessert or in the middle of the day with a cup of tea or coffee. I came across this recipe when I googled “spring breads”. It has two of my favorite foods in it: strawberries and cucumbers, which I thought was an interesting combination for a quick bread. It was very challenging to make! First, I had to clarify butter. I didn’t start with a small enough pan, so when I had to scrape off the butter foam without dipping my spoon into the clear layer underneath, that wasn’t going to work. So, I dumped it into a smaller pan, which completely negated the instruction to not stir it or disturb the layers in any way. I gently scraped off the foam after waiting an extra hour with the pan over really low heat, and I figured it would re-layer itself if I waited long enough. Then I was supposed to separate the clarified butter from the water, which I could do by pouring it off. Hmm, it all looked the same to me. So, I went back to my computer to get some work done (that I get paid for) and left the pot on very low heat for another hour. When I came back into the kitchen, there was the butter - thick and smooth, but definitely not clear. I scooped it out of the pot so I could measure it and discovered about a teaspoon of water underneath. I did pour that off. I used this butter in the recipe, but I can’t say if it met the definition of ‘clarified’. The next challenge was the baking. It flowed over my bread pan and all over the oven floor. I scraped the bottom rack and the bottom of the oven clean as soon as I discovered it, so it wouldn’t start on fire, which was after about an hour of baking. The bread should have been done at that point. But it wasn’t even close with the hot batter still running over the side of the pan. So, I covered it with a tent of foil in an effort to get the inside baked and not brown the outside any further. I checked it every 15 minutes. It still wasn’t done and was still volcano-ing onto the oven floor. It ended up in the oven for an extra 40 minutes (at least, I went out to rake the lawn!) and then I gave up and took it out. I put it in the microwave for 2 ½ minutes on high to get the inside cooked. The next challenge was getting it out of the bread pan. I let it cool on a cooling rack until it was just warm. I had greased and floured the pan before filling it. I gently went around the edge with a butter knife, sawing through the dark parts where the batter had flowed over the pan. Tipped it over - no movement. I went around the pan with the knife again, twice, then turned it on one side and worked on that side, turned it over to the other side and worked on that side. It finally came free in one piece! Of course, I sliced it and ate a piece right away. It was delicious , especially when I hit a pocket of the strawberry preserves, but I’m not sure it was worth all the effort! Strawberry Cucumber Bread (from Bon Appetite Magazine) modified slightly by me Ingredients: ½ cup strawberry preserves 1 T cornstarch 1T fresh lemon juice ½ c sort of clarified butter, room temp 1 c sugar 2 large eggs 1t vanilla extract ¼ t almond extract 2c all -purpose flour 1 t baking powder ½ t baking soda ½ t salt 2 cups grated and well drained cucumber ½ c chopped walnuts ½ c sliced fresh strawberries, divided Instructions: In a small saucepan, cook strawberry preserves, cornstarch, and lemon juice over medium heat until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Let cool completely. Preheat oven to 325°F (170°C). Spray a 9x5-inch loaf pan with baking spray and sprinkle with flour. In a bowl, beat clarified butter and sugar at medium speed until fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes, stopping to scrape sides of bowl. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in extracts. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture, beating just until combined. Stir in cucumber, walnuts, and ¼ cup (42.5 grams) sliced strawberries. Spoon half of batter into prepared pan; top with strawberry preserve mixture. Add remaining batter, and top with remaining ¼ cup (42.5 grams) strawberry slices. Bake until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool completely on a wire rack. Wrap and store at room temperature for up to 1 week. Photo Credit: Joy Johnson (1,2,3,4)

  • Pruning Hydrangeas and Clematis | DCMGV

    < Back Pruning Hydrangeas and Clematis Carolyn Plank, Master Gardener Ever wonder when is the best time to prune hydrangeas and clematis? This article will help clear up the pruning mystery for these beautiful blooming plants. Ever wonder when is the best time to prune hydrangeas and clematis? In this article I’ll help clear up the pruning mystery for these beautiful blooming plants. HYDRANGEAS When to prune hydrangeas depends on when it blooms. If the hydrangea blooms in late summer on new growth, pruning should take place in late winter or early spring before the shrub begins active growth. Some of the hydrangeas in this category include Limelight, Burgundy Lace and classic snowball types. Most other hydrangeas that bloom on old wood (growth from the previous year) should be pruned in summer after they’re done blooming. Pruning too soon increases the risk of cutting off dormant buds. Oakleaf, Big Leaf, Nikko Blue and other pink and blue flowering hydrangeas bloom from the previous year’s buds. If you want to maintain their size or shape, prune in summer before August. Ever-blooming hydrangeas such as Endless Summer also bloom on old and new wood and should also be pruned the same way. CLEMATIS Clematis pruning made simple. There are three groups of clematis. Group I is in the Red Category (red means stop) and blooms in early spring set on old wood from the previous year’s wood and doesn’t die back in winter. Pruning should be done sparingly. This category includes Pink Perfection, Spooneri and Pink Swing. Group II is in the Yellow Category (yellow means go slow) and grows on old wood in late spring/early summer, and on new wood in late summer or fall. This group should be given a light trim in March before it begins blooming. Remove dead wood and cut back remaining stems to 6-8”. This category includes Horn of Plenty, Patricia Ann Fretwell and Beautiful Bride. Group III is in the green category (green means go) and blooms on new wood in summer and dies off to the ground over winter. In March, prune all stems back to a strong set of buds 12” from the ground. This category includes Summer Snow, Prince William and Mississippi River. Stems of live and dead wood look alike. The leafy growth from the bud indicates a live vine. Always prune from the top down. Work down each vine until you find a live bud or growth and then stop once you find it. You can cut off all of last season’s growth to the ground; however, this results in a shorter plant, a few less flowers, and will bloom a little later. Happy pruning!! Below are a few great sites to visit for further information: University of Maryland Extension Guide to Pruning Hydrangeas | University of Maryland Extension ( Wayside Gardens Tips for Pruning Clematis l Wayside Gardens Spring Valley Nurseries Clematis Pruning Guide | Easy Clematis Care | Spring Hill Nurseries ( Photo credits: Pat Cox (1), University of Maryland Extension (2), Kansas State Johnson County Research & Extension (3, 4)

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