Wild Crocus

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Few in southeastern Minnesota would deny that today is the first real day of spring of 2013.  It is as if the earth danced vernal today.  Blue skies and temperatures in the mid 40’s by 8am, my mission was clear.  This morning I hiked up Barn Bluff with hopes of seeing the pasque flowers.

This being my third spring in Red Wing, the bluff did not disappoint.  I enjoyed thousands of the furry little purple gems.  Seeing the crocus on the prairie edge made me laugh out loud. Anemone patens var multifida  or wild crocus is in the family Rannunculacea and is native to the US, Europe, Russia and Mongolia.  It’s name “Pasque” comes from Old French for Easter in reference to the spring bloom – “patens” means spreading.  it is a hearty soul, often blooming through the snow.

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If you take the hike, get on your belly and enjoy their furry stems and leaves, velvet to the touch.  In the morning light the petals shine like stained glass among the dry little blue stem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium.)  

We don’t know how lucky we are to have the bluff top prairies right in our back yards.  While less the 1% of native tall grass prairie remains, short grass prairies are a little more common (see http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/habitat/grlands/grasses.htm for more information on prairies.)

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Thoreau and his companion Horace Mann delighted in the  crocus on Barn Bluff when they visited Red Wing more than 150 years ago.  They noted in their journal and letters home that “Pulsatilla still in bloom on top” on June 23, 1861.

It was an exciting hike up the bluff today.  I thought I would see if the snow had melted on the north end (it hadn’t) and while there an avalanche of basket ball-sized rocks tumbled down the wall just 100 feet in front of me.  With in a minute there were six turkey vultures circling – luckily the tumbling rocks missed me and they had nothing to discover!

Perennial Care

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Photo and article by Joyce Rapp, Goodhue County Master Gardener

Assuming you have prepared your beds with the proper soil and mulch, the following tips will help to care for your perennial plants:

  • Weed – Controlling weeds is one of your most important tasks. This prevents weed seeds from germinating. Pull them by hand or use a hoe to scuffle the surface.
  • Mulch– Spread 2-3 inches of mulch annually to prevent weed seeds from germinating, to keep soil temperature more consistent help retain moisture.
  • Water – Once established, perennials usually need very little supplemental watering. Plant your perennials in groups that use similar watering requirements. Water infrequently and deeply from below. Inspect 2 inches deep into the soil to check if watering is needed.  Morning is the best time to water to prevent fungal diseases.
  • Fertilize– Extra nutrients should not be necessary for most plants if you prepare your beds correctly. Some heavy feeders including phlox, day lilies, daisies, and hibiscus may need to be fertilized – take a soil test to know for sure.
  • Groom– Thinning, pinching or trimming, disbudding, deadheading and staking are all methods to improve the appearance of your plants. By shearing the following plants early in the season, you can produce a stronger stemmed plant: aster, Rudbeckia, catmint, coneflower, mallow, Monarda, rose mallow, Sedum ‘autumn joy’.
  • Inspect for insects –Observing insects on plants does not mean there is   a problem – many insects are beneficial.  Check with a nursery, garden book or county extension office for identification.  If needed, use the least toxic method of eradicating harmful insects.
  • Prepare for winter– Mulch only after a hard frost as mulching too early can produce new growth that will be killed by a hard freeze. Water perennials before a hard freeze.  Do not fertilize from early fall on.   Trim back foliage to prevent disease from setting in during the winter.  Ornamental grasses can be left standing and trimmed in the spring.

Remember that right planted in the right plant in the right place will result in little or no major problems.  Proper light, drainage, soil type, and zone are needed.  Native plants are adapted to the local area and are always a good choice.

This is one of three articles on perennials based on information by: Janet Macunovich: Ten Tips on Dividing Perennial Plants http://www.finegardening.com/how-to/articles/dividing-perennials.aspx and Perennials for Minnesota and Wisconsin (Don Engebretson and Willaimson.)

Know Your Roots

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Photo of Beverly Sills Iris and article by Joyce Rapp, Goodhue County Master Gardener

There are five basic plant root types. Knowing what kind of root you are dividing makes a more effective division and reduces plant stress.

  • Offset roots are found in small plants growing at the base of a larger one.  This type includes asters, coneflowers, and hostas.
  • Surface roots run on or just below the soil level, as found in Monarda, Sedum and Rudbeckia.
  • Long straight tap roots can be divided using a sharp knife to slice down the length of the root.  Each piece that has at least one eye, some of the tap root and a few side roots is a viable division. Balloon flower, butterfly weed and oriental poppies are examples here.
  • Underground running roots develop suckers as they grow beyond the shade of the mother clump. Suckers can be cut away from the main plant. Japanese anemones and ostrich fern are examples of underground roots.
  • Woody roots form when stems rest on the ground and are buried by accumulating mulch. Make a new plant simply by cutting between the rooted stem and mother plant.  This root form is found in candytuft and lavender.

Knowing what kind of root system you are dealing with, helps make a more effective division.  So enjoy dividing and multiplying your garden!

This is one of three articles on perennials based on information by: Janet Macunovich: Ten Tips on Dividing Perennial Plants http://www.finegardening.com/how-to/articles/dividing-perennials.aspx and Perennials for Minnesota and Wisconsin (Don Engebretson and Willaimson.)

Events Calendar

Our calendar filled with yard and gardening classes, garden events and garden tours all around the southern Minnesota and Minneapolis/St. Paul area. Click the Agenda tab to get a full listing of all the current events or click each separate date for a description and map that shows you how to get there.

 

Dividing Perennials

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 Photo of Tree Peony and article by Joyce Rapp, Goodhue County Master Gardener

There are three good reasons to divide perennials: to rejuvenate and stimulate new growth, to control the size of the plant and to multiply plants for your garden or share with others.

Spring and summer blooming perennials are best divided about 4-6 weeks before the ground freezes in the fall. Fall blooming perennials are divided in the spring just as new growth emerges.

Disturbing the root system challenges a plant’s ability to feed and hydrate itself. Choose a cloudy or overcast day to divide your plants. Water the soil well a day in advance. If there is abundant top growth, cut back the leaves by a third or tie the stems together for easier handling.

Minimize root damage by first removing soil around at the drip-line and then digging a trench around the clump by cleanly severing any roots.  Remove the loose dirt around the roots and separate the plant into smaller divisions. Gently tease roots apart or cutting them with and a sharp knife or spade. Aim to keep the soil intact around the root ball.  Densely rooted plants such as day lilies can be more easily separated by placing 2 pitchforks back to back in the center of the clump and pulling them apart.

Keep your divisions shaded and moist until they can be replanted. Ideally, prepare the transplant hole before you divide your plants to reduce stress on the root system.  To avoid crowding, place a division into a hole that is at least as wide as its roots when spread out.  Fill hole with soil and organic matter. Add mulch around your plants to maintain moisture.

If you must re-plant later, keep plants in the shade, at about 50% humidity and in cool temperatures. Place divided perennials you are planting later in a container. and cover with moistened newspaper, to prevent them from drying out. Whatever method you use, treat your divisions as new seedlings and keep them well watered until new growth appears.

This is one of three articles on perennials based on information by: Janet Macunovich: Ten Tips on Dividing Perennial Plants http://www.finegardening.com/how-to/articles/dividing-perennials.aspx and Perennials for Minnesota and Wisconsin (Don Engebretson and Williamson.)

Earth Day Gardening Tips

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You know the saying: “think globally, act locally”.  Honoring the earth can be as simple as being greener in your garden.

As gardeners we get to celebrate Earth Day all year.  As Master Gardeners and educators we are fortunate to have opportunities to multiply that appreciation.

I came across an article by Jennifer Davit (Director of the Lurie Garden in Chicago’s Millennium Park) on Celebrating Earth Day by Sharing Gardening Tips  in the Chicago Sun Tribune.  Her six suggestions are as applicable for Goodhue County as they are to Millennium Park in downtown Chicago:

  • Replace annuals with perennials. There are many beautiful perennials that are native to the bluffs and hardwood forests of Goodhue County that can be integrated into  gardens and require little water and no fertilizer.
  • Don’t overfertilize. Perennials in our garden are chosen for their durability and successful growth over time. They typically don’t need supplemental nutrients through conventional fertilizers — some will actually perform poorer if they are fertilized, especially with liquid formulations. Only fertilize if the plant is showing signs of nutrient deficiencies.
  • Think beyond color: When choosing perennial plants and grasses, consider textures, movement, sound and scents. For example, the combinations of prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) and Eastern bee balm (Monarda bradburiana) provide excellent textural diversity throughout the year.
  • Attract wildlife. Choose plants, such as calamint, salvias and native milkweeds that provide nectar and pollen to attract and feed wildlife. Many beautiful gardens from Millennium Park in Chicago IL to our own Discovery Garden in Red Wing MN do not use chemicals and create habitat for all to enjoy.
  • Say no to insecticides. By tolerating a little plant damage, you will help welcome a healthy insect population to your garden. You’ll be amazed at the number of dragonflies that come to eat your mosquitoes, the number of bees that will collect pollen and nectar from your plants, and the variety of butterflies that will make your garden their home.
  • Don’t forget winter: Instead of cutting back perennials in fall, leave them up through winter and cut them back in late winter, before early spring bulbs start to grow. This will enable you to enjoy your garden despite the cold and provide a home for wildlife year-round.

We can do that!

I am sure Karen would add a seventh bullet promoting  no till gardening  to reduce weeds and protect soil.  We can do that too!

Garden Professors Blog

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It won’t be long..

One of the great things about gardening and being a Master Gardener is you never stop learning.  Have you stumbled on the Garden Professors Blog yet?  If not its worth a peruse.

The blog  is hosted by Dr. Jeff Gillman, Associate Professor of Horticulture at the University of Minnesota, and Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott, Associate Professor of Horticulture and Extension Specialist at Washington State University, Dr. Holly Scoggins, Associate Professor of Horticulture at Virginia Tech and Dr. Bert Cregg, Associate Professor of Horticulture and Forestry at Michigan State University. Washington State University.

The site even includes an “Ask an Expert” section where you can post questions to garden experts from across the country.  With these experts on our side how can we go wrong?