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?

Tiptoe into Spring with “Winter” Sowing

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Looking at my 2012 garden calendar, by this date last year I had planted radishes, raddichio and spinach in my community garden. The crocus, early daffodils, forsythia and cherry leaves were sprouting in my backyard.    While its not to soon for spring, a post today (March 22) on the MN Master Gardener Listserve, reminds us we can be planting vegetables, even with the foot of snow on the ground:

"I've cold-sown all kinds of seeds in many types of containers 
in the last 7'ish years.  I've gotten the best results from:   
1. Seeds of perennials , especially natives (Stands to reason, 
eh?)  

2. Seeds of self-seeding annuals, including tomatoes (Again, 
this makes perfect sense) 
3.  Seeds of cold-hardy annuals like kale, lettuce, 
snapdragon, pansies, broccoli, etc. While a gardener can 
try cold sowing with any seed, in my experience the lowest
 germination rates come from the least cold-tolerant plants,
e.g., peppers.  

As for timing, I am doing my cold-sowing this week.  

While I've done it earlier in the season, I've found no  
advantage in doing so and maybe a slight reduction in 
germination rates in the more cold-sensitive plants.  

When is it too late to cold-sow?  When you can sow seed
directly into your garden! For cold-tolerant seed, that  
means as soon as the soil is workable.  For heat-loving seed,
that means when the soil has warmed to ~60 degrees (F) and
the danger of frost has passed.    

The beauty of cold-sowing
is that the seedlings emerge and grow in concert with Mother
Nature.  Only "she" decides when the seed will germinate and
how fast the seedlings should grow.  And when the time comes
to transplant the seedlings into the garden, they experience
no temp-related transplant shock.  (Sue Schiess Hennepin County
Master Gardener)"

Also don’t forget Terry Yockey’s great link on Winter Sowing.

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:  (http://www.extension.umn.edu/yardandgarden/ygbriefs/h104edibleflowers.html )

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

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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

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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 http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/invasives/terrestrialplants/herbaceous/garlicmustard.html