Culinary flowers

IMG_3258All from the garden… blossoms of nasturtiums, borage and dill add to an already delicious salad!

Browsing through seed catalogues during an early spring thaw, it is easy to be drawn to the color of nasturtiums.  It is easy to admire the color nasturtiums bring to containers or the way they dress a salad with salad with their peppery taste.    Why stop here when there is a great online resource on the University of Minnesota’s Extension Master Gardener website.

Beyond salads, cakes and other desserts can be decorated with colorful blooms and cold drinks can be enhanced with a floral garnish.   The small test tube-like containers used at florists can be inserted in a cake to hold small blooms and provide water.

To assure  flowers come from pesticide-free plants, it is best to grow them yourself.  Several of the plants listed in the chart below grow well in containers.  Harvest blossoms the same day you plan to use them, gently wash them and allow the plants to air dry. Remove the tart internal stamens and styles of larger flowers such as tulip or squash blossoms.  If need be, store your colorful prizes in covered containers in the refrigerator.  Add the pretty posies just before serving.

Bon appetite!  Here are a few suggestions from University of Minnesota Extension Factsheet:  ( )

Alpine Strawberry Flowers and leaves often used in tea
Anise Hyssop Flowers
Apple or Plum Flowers
Beebalm Flower taste differs by cultivar; avoid ‘Panorama’ as the taste is too astringent
Begonia Flowers
Borage Flowers  and leaves
Calendula Flowers
Chamomile Flowers have an apple scent and flavor
Chives Flowers blossoms and stems
Daylilies Flowers buds are good stir-fried
Dill Flowers, seeds and foliage
English Daisy Flowers
Gladiolus Flowers
Hollyhocks Flowers
Honeysuckle Flowers
Lavender Flowers can be bitter, but wonderfully scented.
Lemon Balm Leaves and flowers are scented.
Lilac Flowers
Marjoram Flowers  and leaves
Mint Flowers  and leaves
Mustard Flowers, leaves and young seed pods
Nasturtium Fowers and leaves have a peppery taste
Pansy Flowers
Petunia Flowers
Pinks Flowers
Rose Use flower petals.
Scarlet Runner Beans Flowers  and young bean pods Note: Sweet Pea flowers NOT edible.
Sage Flowers eaves fresh or dried.
Squash Flowers can be stuffed or fried. If female blossoms are picked fruit will not develop.
Tulip Use petals.

Native Seed Collection Webinar


Eight Goodhue County Master Gardeners “went to school”  this month in the comfort of home and over a pot of soup via the University of Minnesota Continuing Education Webinar  Selecting Seed Sources to “Future Proof” Restored Plant Communities.  A description of the course from the Restoring Minnesota website:

“Selecting seed sources for restoration projects so plant communities are well-suited to both current and future conditions often seems uncertain or even arbitrary. This webinar will explain factors that give rise to plant genetic variation across landscapes, will introduce Minnesota DNR’s draft seed zone maps and guidelines, and will provide an interactive format to help answer project specific questions.” Click here to view the Native Seed Webinar

Lawn Maintenance

Healthy Turf

Pride and Pleasure in Growing a Garden of Grass

Bob Jacobus, Goodhue County Master Gardener

 A typical 1,000 square feet of lawn is made up of one million individual grass plants. This could mean that you are caring for and nurturing 3 to 10 million grass plants depending on the size of your lawn (garden of grass plants).  On a warm spring day there is just not anything as satisfying as looking over your freshly mowed lawn (your garden of grass) and marveling at a perfect job of mowing.

Yes, I know there are articles and books a plenty about lawn care and you have read most of the good ones, but let’s review just a few guidelines and tips that can help you build your pride and pleasure in a beautiful lawn.

Controlling Excess Lawn Thatch:

Thatch is a tightly interlaced layer of undecomposed plant matter located between the grass blades and the soil surface.  Lawn thatch is the result of dead organic matter (fibrous stems, leaves, and roots) accumulating on or near the surface of your lawn faster than it decomposes.  All lawns have some thatch, and a thatch layer up to ½” thick is usually beneficial.  A thatch layer over ½” thick will cause your lawn to feel spongy when you walk on it, and over ½” of thatch layer will prevent air, water, and plant food from reaching the roots of the grass plants.

What can you do if you have a moderate amount of thatch of ½” to 1 and ½” thick?   There are several choices, but only two are most generally used.  You can mechanically rake out the thatch layer with a de-thatching machine (vertical mower) or you can use a soil aerator which punches holes into the soil and removes small cores of turf, thatch and soil which is deposited on top of the lawn.  Dethatching or aerating should be done either in early spring or fall.  If you are using a spring application, be sure the soil is dry enough to work – avoid doing the application on very wet soils.  If you are using a fall application, the operation should be completed at least one month before grass growth stops for the season.  Mechanical de-thatching is a one pass operation and you will have a lot of debris to remove from your lawn.  If using a soil aerator, you can make two to three passes or more over your lawn in different directions.  Aeration will leave cores of soil and thatch on your lawn that will reincorporate into your lawn in a week or two.  Fertilize and water your lawn soon after opening up the soil.  If you are inclined to over-seed your lawn, do it at the same time.

(Click Here for the Full Article)

Flowers, They Aint Always Pretty


What could be a pleasant spring hike could leave you very disappointed.  Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) has been found within the Red Wing city limits in the last couple years.  If you also appreciate native wildflowers and wildlife, this is one invasive species that should be “nipped in the bud” before it becomes established.  Like most invasive species it is most efficient and cost-effective to eliminate small populations before they expand and become widespread.

The good news is that the garlic mustard populations  within Red Wing are small, and if addressed now might be controlled or contained.

Garlic mustard is easy to identify.  The herbaceous biennial stems are 12 – 36 inches tall and are the only plant with four white petals blooming in wooded areas and edges in May.  The leaves are round/scalloped and the stems smell like onion or garlic when crushed.  It is critical to pull and destroy the plants before they go to seed in early to late May as garlic mustard seeds remain are viable in the soil for 5-7 years.  Small patches can be pulled by hand (be sure to get the full root) burned or chemically treated.

Garlic mustard is a Minnesota Department of Agriculture Prohibited noxious weed.  It poses and ecological threat to high quality woodlands upland and floodplain forests, not just into disturbed areas.  Invaded sites undergo an ecological decline of native herbaceous cover within 10 years – often garlic mustard is the only plant that remains.   Garlic mustard alters habitat native insects and thereby birds and mammals.  Some studies in New England found that trees did not reproduce in areas taken over by garlic mustard.

According to the Minnesota DNR website “species on the Prohibited noxious weeds listed must be controlled, meaning efforts must be made to destroy all propagating parts and prevent seed maturation and dispersal, thereby reducing established populations and preventing reproduction and spread as required by Minnesota Statutes, Section 18.78. Additionally, transportation, propagation, or sale of these plants is prohibited.”

If you see garlic mustard in your woodland  address it now.  If not, next year you will be guaranteed even more.  For more information see

Native Plant Alternatives



A great reference of native plant alternatives to plants that can become invasive.  (Source: US Forest Service Celebrating Wildflowers Website:


Traditional  Planting

Desirable Characteristics

Great Alternatives

Japanese Wisteria showy flowers, fragrance woodland phlox, Phlox divaricatus
sweet azalea, Rhododendron canescens
coast azalea, Rhododendron atlanticum
American wisteria, Wisteria frutescens
Japanese Honeysuckle fragrant flowers leatherflower, Clematis viorna
Carolina jasmine, Gelsemium sempervirens
trumpet honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens
sweetbay magnolia, Magnolia virginiana
purple passionflower, Passiflora incarnata
English Ivy Drought Tolerant Evergreen plantain-leaved sedge, Carex plantaginea
marginal woodfern, Dryopteris marginalis
woodland aster, Eurybia divaricatus
alumroot, Heuchera villosa
creeping mint, Meehania cordata
Allegheny spurge, Pachysandra procumbens
creeping phlox, Phlox stolonifera
Solomon’s seal, Polygonatum biflorum
Christmas fern, Polystichum acrostichoides
Autumn Olive Drought Tolerant strawberry bush, Euonymus americanus
wax-myrtle, Myrica cerifera
meadowsweet, Spiraea latifolia
mapleleaf viburnum, Viburnum acerifolium
Barberry Cheap/Nice Fruit strawberry bush, Euonymus americanus
shrubby St. Johnswort, Hypericum prolificum
winterberry, Ilex verticillata
deerberry, Vaccinium stamineum
mapleleaf viburnum, Viburnum acerifolium
Purple Loosestrife Long Bloom Season/Wet Tolerant swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata
sweet pepperbush, Clethra alnifolia
purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea
gayfeather, Liatris spicata
grass-leaved blazing star, Liatris pilosa
green-headed coneflower, Rudbeckia laciniata
New York ironweed, Vernonia novaboracensis
Miscanthus species Strong Vertical and Fall/Winter Interest split-beard bluestem, Andropogon ternarius
switchgrass, Panicum virgatum
sugarcane plumegrass, Saccharum giganteum
little bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium
Indiangrass, Sorghastrum nutans
Lesser Celandine Early Color spring beauty, Claytonia virginica
yellow ragwort, Senecio aureus
Other spring ephemerals, if nursery propagated
Asian Bittersweet Showy Fruits American bittersweet, Celastrus scandens
Virginia rose, Rosa virginiana
Porcelainberry Fast Grower/Colorful Fruits gray dogwood, Cornus racemosa
Virginia creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia
swamp haw viburnum, Viburnum nudum
Shrubby honeysuckle Replant after removal spicebush, Lindera benzoin
highbush blueberry, Vaccinium corymbosum
arrow-wood viburnum, Viburnum dentatum
Burning Bush Euonymus Fall Color fringed bluestar, Amsonia ciliata
Hubricht’s bluestar, Amsonia hubrichtii
witch-alder, Fothergilla gardenii
oak-leaf hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia
fetterbush, Leucothoe racemosa
swamp haw, Viburnum dentatum
arrow-wood viburnum, Viburnum nudum


Basil Basics


What’s not to love about basil?  If I had to pick just one plant to grow, basil would take the prize.  True, I have a love affair with pesto, but nothing can top a caprese salad and even the scent of brushing against the plant as you walk by can be intoxicating.

Native to SE Asia and the South Pacific, basil is in the mint family.  There are thirty different species but the most commonly cultivated in the U.S. is Ocimum basilicum.   Its genus name Ocimum is a Greek verb meaning, “to be fragrant” and species basilicum means “king or prince.”   I rest my case, oh king of herbs!

Basil is easy to grow, garden pesky wildlife avoid it, and the 1-3 foot plants look great in ornamental, vegetable and container gardens.  There are varieties with interesting leaf shapes and flavors such as cinnamon, lemon or anise as well as the beautiful color of purple leafed basils.  My favorite for its large tender leaves is Genovese Basil.  (For a broader list of basil varieties and more cultural details see the University of Minnesota Basil Fact Sheet at or )

Basil needs at least 6-8 hours of sunlight and well-drained soil, ideally with a pH of 6-7.5.  Seeds can be planted outdoors after spring frosts are history and temperatures range between 55-60F.  Alternatively,  you can start basil seeds  indoors about 4-6 weeks earlier.   If you shop early, basil seedlings can be found at most nurseries.  Depending on your desire for pesto, two to eight basil plants will yield plenty of pesto if you treat them right.

Once established outdoors, add a couple of inches of mulch such as grass clippings, compost or ground up leaves around the base of each plant to maintain the moisture provided by weekly watering.  Container plants may need to be watered more frequently.

You can begin snipping leaves and stems once the plant is established, leaving at least two-thirds of the plant for future growth.  By pinching off the flowering ends first you will send energy to the rest of the plant and keep the leaves tender and flavorful.  This pruning also encourages an attractive form and keep your basil plants from becoming woody.

Now, the best part.  Basil is delicious fresh in a sandwich, in salads, sauces, pasta, pizza or scrambled eggs.  It can be dried, or the true prize, in my mind is Pesto:

Basil Pesto

2 cups fresh basil leaves

1/3 cups pine nuts (also good with walnuts)

2 medium garlic cloves

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/3-1/2 cup olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Make a paste of the first four ingredients in a food processor and then slowly add the olive oil.  Season to taste.  Stores well for a week or freeze in ice-cube trays and then transfer to an airtight container in your freezer for later use.

Soil Tests


It all starts with the soil, so getting to know yours is an important first step.

The University of Minnesota Soil Lab will give you recommendations to make your lawn or garden more productive for just $17. Download the form at and follow the instructions. You simply collect five trowels of soil from throughout your lawn or garden, mix it together and mail one pint of your sample to the University of Minnesota Soils Lab with the form and a check.

Two or three weeks later you will receive a summary of your soil texture, percent organic matter, pH, nutrients and suggested fertilization needs. With this information you are on your way to improving your garden soil.

Become a Goodhue County Master Gardener


If you have gardening talents you would like to share with other residents of Goodhue County, consider becoming a Master Gardener!  Applications for this University of Minnesota Extension sponsored program are accepted each fall.

The Master Gardener program is an educational program designed to train volunteers to help others in their communities with horticulture. The  Master Gardener Core Course is held at either the University of Minnesota (St Paul MN) or the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum (Chaska MN) or online. A total of 48 hours of education, this class is taught by University of Minnesota extension educators and faculty. Some of the topics included in the core course are: entomology, herbaceous plants, trees and shrubs, indoor plants, integrated pest management, lawn care, fruits and vegetables.

Upon completion of the Master Gardener program, each Master Gardener is required to complete an internship of 50 hours of volunteer time the first year, and 25 hours of volunteer time in following years. These volunteer hours can be achieved in a variety of ways including presentations and community service projects.

For more information, please contact U of MN Extension Goodhue County, 651-385-3100 or 1-800-385-3101.