Soil Health and Cover Crop Class – September 11, 2013

Soil Health/Cover Crops will be presented by Thomas Steger from USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service on Wednesday, September 11 at 7:00 P.M. in the Red Wing High School-Courtyard Cafe.  The class will cover soil health including discussions on “soil critters”, recognizing healthy soil and the long-term ramifications of poor soil health.  Tom will also discuss the use of cover crops, mulch and plant diversity and how they can benefit soil health.  Soil glomalin effects on soil aggregation as well as soil stability and water infiltration will be demonstrated.

This class is sponsored by Goodhue County Extension Master Gardeners and Red Wing Community Education.  The cost is $5.  To register,  call Red Wing Community Schools at 385-4565.

Keyhole Gardens

by  Karen O’Rourke,  Goodhue County Extension Master Gardener
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“Keyhole Gardening” by G. Elaine Acker in Texas Power Coop’s online magazine inspired me try a 3-D keyhole-style garden in the Spring Creek Community Garden.  This style of garden is  another “no-till” garden method.  It is built on top of existing soil on a site receiving 6-8 hours of sun per day.
I  modified the keyhole garden concept because it is in the Red Wing Sustainability Commission’s plot.  If it were at my home, the outer walls would have been made from brick, stone, recycled concrete or a more permanent material.  At the Spring Creek Community Garden,  I used 13 bales of barley straw, supposedly “weed-free”, from Sargent’s Nursery.
Bales were placed in a modified circle, two bales high to reach approximately 36″ with an inside diameter of 6′ (and, yes, I did have my trusty measuring tape out).  Wooden stakes were driven through the straw bales to help them through the summer.  A “wedge” was made into the circle for a path to easily reach into the tower.
Inside the circle, I placed a 4-foot tall and 1-foot wide chicken wire compost tower supported by three stakes.    This tower or basket, has alternating layers of wood chips, weeds, old hay, composted cow manure, (Cowsmo from Sargent’s Nursery) and will also contain kitchen waste, leaves, debris from the gardens as the summer continues.  It will be watered thoroughly throughout the summer and the plant roots will gravitate toward the tower to seek moisture and nutrients.  Little watering will be done in the area around the tower.
The inside of the straw bale circle around the tower also contains layers of old hay, shredded bark, Cowsmo, cardboard from the recycling center, weeds, etc. with several inches of compost from my composter located in the Master Gardener’s plot, and more Cowsmo – similar to the “lasagna” approach  found online and in a book by the same name available at the Red Wing Library.
What is the purpose of the keyhole garden?   This garden method can:
  • Save soil structure by avoiding tilling
  • Use recycled  materials to create new humus or soil
  • Reduce water use
  • Provide nutrients for the polyculture of vegetation  planted in the soil
 Historically, the keyhole garden came from Africa and has become popular in drier areas of the U.S.  Debra Tolman, a landscape architect from Texas, has several articles, photos and YouTube videos of  keyhole gardens –  just search online under her name or “keyhole gardens”.
Next time you are out to Spring Creek, please do wander over to the straw bale structure in the rear of the garden to view this process.  It will be as new for you as it is for me.

Trees…After the Storm

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By Katie Himanga, Goodhue County Master Gardener

Does your columnar arborvitae look like this photo as a result of the May 2 snowstorm?

Look closely to see if the stems are broken. Those need to be cut at the break or removed entirely. Arborvitae has some ability to re-sprout from broken stems, but only time will tell how a particular tree will respond. For stems that are bent but not broken, some will stand back up on their own. Others won’t do it on their own but can be supported with a splint for a few seasons until they regain strength. Use a long bamboo pole, wood dowel or flexible fiberglass pole. The latter are used for tents and for supporting netting in the garden. Strap the splint to the bent arborvitae stem at several points along the pole with Velcro tape or soft rags. Check the stems every few weeks throughout the summer and loosen the ties as the stem expands.

For other types of trees with broken limbs… If the tree has just one or two, it may be best to remove each broken branch entirely. Make the final cut just outside the branch collar. If there are many broken branches but the tree is otherwise safe to leave in the landscape, it’s best to cut off just the broken part of each branch. Use sharp tools but leave as much live tissue as possible on the broken stub. Healthy branches will re-sprout from dormant buds and it might be possible to do restorative pruning in future years. Plan to have a Certified Arborist work on the tree during the dormant season beginning in 2-3 years.

Stop Oriental Bittersweet in MN

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Goodhue County Extension Master Gardener Genella Mussell
answering questions about invasive Oriental Bittersweet

by Genella Mussell, Goodhue County Extension Master Gardener

As leaves, trees and undergrowth begin to fill out and eventually paint our world green I want to remind folks to be on the lookout for invasive species. We have heard the awful news about the Emerald Ash Borer for our Ash trees. How many of us as gardeners are aware of Oriental Bittersweet?

Bittersweet? That beautiful berry and vine used to make those fall wreaths often seen at craft fairs and stores? Well, yes and no. The bittersweet that should be used in these wreaths is the American Bittersweet. Unfortunately there may be wreaths made with a variety named Oriental Bittersweet.

The bittersweet causing concern for the Minnesota DNR is the Oriental Bittersweet. Unfortunately it was introduced to the US as an ornamental vine. It is a climbing woody perennial vine. It has proven to be very aggressive. It can grow to heights of 66’. Because of this aggressive growth it can smother trees, shrubs and other vegetation. It had been known to cover entire trees and pull them down due to the heaviness of the growth. The vines can girdle and kill grown trees.

The Oriental Bittersweet looks very similar to the American. Differences that can be noted are in how the fruit and flowers grow and the color of the berries. The Oriental Bittersweet has fruit and flowers located in the leaf axils along the length of the stem. American bittersweet, however, only has fruit and flowers in terminal clusters. The berries of the American Bittersweet are orange and those of the Oriental yellow. These are best seen in the fall.

Why the warning? As stated, this vine is very aggressive. The Oriental Bittersweet has at present a limited distribution in Minnesota, which is why we need to stop it now.  As gardeners we should be on the lookout for it or at least aware of it. Because it is a favorite in ornamental wreaths it may be unintentionally introduced. So as a warning, when attending craft fairs or shows, take a careful look at the wreath and make sure they are not compromised of the Oriental Bittersweet.

Sadly, we have any number of invasive species of which we must be aware. If we take a moment to familiarize ourselves with the plants around us or those with which we may come in contact, we can perhaps slow the spread of some of these species. We should remember the old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.

Online Resources:

The Soil is Alive!

by Karen O’Rourke, Goodhue County Extension Master Gardener
“A bare plowed field is hungry, thirsty and running a fever.”  That statement sure caught my attention when I read the handout called “Soil Health/Soil Quality”  by Peter Hartman, NRCS Soil Scientist  – Rochester, Minnesota.  A few other things to consider:
  • There are 9 billion living organisms in just a tablespoon of soil.
  • Keep soil covered with living plants or plant residues to avoid erosion.
  • Minimize disturbance of the soil to limit weed seeds.
  • Maximize diversity of plants in rotation, using plants from many different groupings such as flowers, herbs, vegetables, ground covers for visual interest and to limit disease that can spread in monocultures.
  • Keep living roots in the soil to hold the soil in place as much as possible.  Consider cover crops off-season.
“Tillage is bad for the soil, tillage plants weed seeds” notes Hartman.  Community gardeners, lets keep the soil food web working!  Ruth’s Stouts book:  Gardening Without Work: for the Aging, the Busy, and the Indolent is a great reference for no till gardening and can be found at the Red Wing Public Library.  If you would like to see these methods in action, stop by the demonstration plots at Spring Creek Community Garden or email me at korourke3348@gmail.com .
Do you want to learn more about soil?  Check out the Soil Primer by the Natural Resource Conservation Service.

Garlic Mustard Videos

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TOO MUCH SNOW TO GARDEN? WATCH THESE VIDEOS :

Perfect timing! An upside of our new snow – it buys us time to get the word out. We have just a few weeks until garlic mustard goes to seed in Goodhue and surrounding counties. It is important for us as  to take action with best practices in our own back yards and through education – watch the video to find out how.

Sorry about the first attempt to post this and the accompanying message that lead to nowhere – something glitched when trying to embed the  first video, but as a result I found a second.  Hence, just the links now. Your humble blogger, nlb

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.)