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Extension > Yard and Garden News > October 2015

Friday, October 30, 2015

Fun trivia about plants and Halloween

Julie Weisenhorn - Extension Educator - Horticulture

Going to a Halloween party? Here are some fun plant-related trivia to wow your friends ...

Halloween & the seasons
Food and the fall harvest is at the core of our traditional American Halloween. It is a combination of Christian traditions and the ancient Celtic Pagan festival Samhain (pronounced sah-win) which means “end of summer” and the harvest. It was a time to commune, put up resources for winter, and bring animals in from the summer pastures. Times of transition in the natural world were thought to be special and supernatural, creating the belief among some that Samhain was a time when spirits of the dead would cross over to the living world. However, the festival of Samhain as more about changing seasons and preparing for dormancy of nature as summer changes to winter.
Sources: History of Halloween
History of Halloween - Live Science

Pumpkins are a symbol of Halloween. The Latin name for pumpkins is Cucurbita pepo. “Pepo” means “to ripen in the sun”. Squash and zucchini are also in the Cucurbita genus and the three plants sometimes cross-pollinate resulting in some unusual fruits and a baffled gardener. Pumpkins are thought to be some of the oldest domesticated plants on Earth. The first pumpkins were small hard gourds cultivated around in 10,000 B.C. in Mexico. The winner of the 2015 Giant Pumpkin contest - a popular attraction at Minnesota State Fair - weighed in at 1,473 lbs. and was grown by Bill Foss from Buffalo, MN. The record for the largest pumpkin grown in North American was set by Gene McMullen and weighed in at 2,145 lbs. It was shown at 2015 Cedarburg Wine & Harvest Festival, Cedarburg WI.

Pumpkin carving is a tradition based on an Irish myth about an unsavory character named“Stingy Jack”. Stingy Jack's questionable dealings with the Devil during his life led to him wandering through the darkness of purgatory with only a piece of burning coal in a carved turnip to light his way. He became referred to as “Jack of the lantern” or “Jack o’lantern”. Each year at Halloween, the Irish carved turnips or potatoes and placed them in windows to ward off evil spirits including Stingy Jack. Pumpkins were used instead of turnips when the Irish brought the tradition to America. The first image of the modern jack-o-lantern appeared on the cover of Harper’s Weekly in 1867.
Source: All about pumpkins

Apples have been used for making life predictions during Halloween festivities. Bobbing for apples in a tub of water has long been a party game with the goal of grabbing an apple in one's teeth without using your hands. The first to successfully bob for an apple was destined to be the first to marry. Likewise, on Halloween, young women would peel apple in a continuous strip and throw it over their shoulder where it would supposedly land in the shape of the first letter of her future husband’s name. Imagine if that young gentleman also grabbed the first apple from the tub of water!
Source: History of Halloween - Live Science

Witches’ Broom
Witches' broom is a bushy bunch of twiggy, weak stems protruding from tree or shrub. It can be caused by environmental and pathological stresses that lead to formation of the witches' broom by the plant. Environmental stresses can damage growing points and pathogens can cause abnormal growth when they attack a host plant. Depending on the plant, environmental stresses include road salt and  herbicides. Pathogens that cause witches' broom include fungi, mites, aphids, Phytoplasmas and parasitic plants like dwarf mistletoe. Sometimes genetic mutations occur in a plant and create a witches' broom growth. Some larger growths on conifers like Norway spruce have been successfully propagated to produce new dwarf conifer cultivars. In Minnesota, witches' brooms are commonly seen on spruce and caused by the parasitic plant dwarf mistletoe. This plant lives its entire life within the canopy of the tree, stealing nutrients and water from host plant. Large witches' brooms may kill plant over time. Management of witches' brooms includes pruning out offensive branches,  removing plants with over 50% dead branches, and avoid planting spruce or other susceptible conifers near infected trees.
Sources: Witches' brooms sightings in trees
Eastern spruce Dwarf Mistletoe
Witches' broom

The Ghost Pepper (Bhut Jolokia)
The ghost pepper originated in Assam, located in northeast India, and was introduced in the Western world in 2000. Bhut is translated as "ghost" due to fact the heat sneaks up on the consumer. The key agent in peppers - what gives them their "heat" - is called Capsaicin, a neuropeptide releasing agent.   Peppers are rated in scoville heat units (SHU) determined by how much sugar syrup it takes to completely offset the heat of the capsaicin. For example, a green bell pepper rates at zero SHU. On the other end of the spectrum pure capsaicin rates at 15 million SHU. The ghost pepper is rated at 1,041,427 SHU - three times the former winner, the Red Savina habanero pepper and certifying the ghost pepper by the Guinness Book of World Records as the hottest chili pepper on Earth. CAUTION: This is a seriously hot pepper and while it is an interesting plant, I am not recommending its consumption. It apparently can cause severe pain and intestinal distress, resulting the medical attention.
Sources: Ghost Pepper

The gut-wrenching science behind the world's hottest peppers 

Update 11-02-15: Just heard about two peppers that rank hotter (!) than the Ghost Pepper on the Scoville scale: Naga Viper (1.38 million) and Carolina Reaper (1.56 million SHU and noted as the hottest pepper in the world).

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

EAB found in Duluth

 Jeffrey Hahn, Extension Entomologist

(The following information is taken from an October 23, 2015 news release from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture)

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) last Friday identified emerald ash borer (EAB) in the city of Duluth (St. Louis County). Finding EAB in Duluth is not a surprise as Superior, Wisconsin, just across the state border from Duluth, confirmed EAB in August, 2013.

MDA staff found EAB larvae in an ash trees on Park Point. The find was discovered as part of a three-year
EAB was found in Duluth by sampling branches by
bark peeling.  Photo - Jeff Hahn, UMN Extension
study the MDA is conducting in partnership with the city. The study is evaluating different methods for finding EAB, and one of those methods is removing samples of branches from ash trees to peel back the bark and look for signs of the insect. MDA staff found evidence of EAB in four of 35 trees sampled in this way.

Because this is the first time that EAB has been identified in St. Louis County, the specimen have been sent to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for confirmation, which is expected within days.

MDA will be implementing an emergency state quarantine of Park Point in Duluth. A quarantine is designed to help prevent EAB from spreading outside of a known infested area by limiting the movement of any items that may harbor EAB, including ash trees and ash tree limbs, as well as all hardwood firewood.

St. Louis County becomes the 12th county in Minnesota to verify EAB. EAB was also confirmed in 2015 for the first time in Scott, Chisago, Fillmore, Anoka, and Washington Counties. This invasive beetle has also been found in Hennepin, Houston, Olmstead, Ramsey, and Winona counties. These counties are all under quarantine.

The biggest risk of spreading EAB comes from people unknowingly moving firewood or other ash products harboring larvae. Take these steps to minimize spreading EAB: 
  • Don’t transport firewood.  Buy firewood locally from approved vendors, and burn it where you buy it. 
  • Be aware of the quarantine restrictions. If you live in a quarantined county, be aware of the restrictions on movement of products such as ash trees, wood chips, and firewood. 
  • Watch your ash trees for infestation. If you think your ash tree is infested, go to and use the “Do I Have Emerald Ash Borer?” guide.
For more information about EAB, see Emerald ash borer in Minnesota. See also the MDA news release, MDA identified emerald ash borer in the city of Duluth.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Q&A: Fall lawn care

Sam Bauer, Extension Educator - Horticulture
Lawn care is a hot topic even as we move into cooler weather! Here are some answers to common questions from WCCO Smart Gardens listeners and Yard & Garden News readers.

Q: What mowing height should I keep my lawn at before winter?
Cool season grasses still
need care in the fall.
A: Generally we suggest to keep your lawn at the same height as you've had in the fall.  Cutting the lawn short prior to winter has been commonly suggested in the past as a means of reducing spring damage from snow molds and voles, but cutting the lawn too short will be more of a stress to the grass than the injury you may experience from diseases or critters.  If the standard mowing height for your lawn is 2.5 to 3 inches, we suggest to keep it at that.  If the height is 3+ inches, then we would recommending bringing it down to 3 inches before winter.  If you do plan to lower the mowing height, be sure to mow several times at this height, not just the final mow.  The goal is to condition the grass to this new height with several mowings prior to winter.  Again, we may only suggest this if you have had snow mold issues in the past of if you maintain your grass at a long height in the fall.  Also, be sure to continue mowing until the grass stops growing, this will help reduce snow molds and winter damage.  You can use a bagging attachment on the last mow of the year to help remove any excess organic matter and leaf litter. 

Q: Should leaves be raked off of the lawn or mulched with a mower?
A: It depends.  For homeowners with numerous trees, it may be impractical to mulch all of them into the lawn without smothering the grass at some point.  In that case we would suggest mulching a majority of the leaves into the lawn and raking up the rest.  Be sure you can see at least 80-90% grass after mulching leaves, this will ensure that the leaves aren't smothering the grass.  To practically mulch all of your tree leaves, you may need to be out with a mower more often than your grass needs to be cut, because if too many leaves fall you may not be able to mulch them into the the lawn.

Tree leaves contain organic matter and many nutrients that can be beneficial to your lawn.  For example, a study conducted in New Jersey on 100 municipal trees demonstrates nutrient content of 1% nitrogen, 0.1% phosphorus, 0.38% potassium, also secondary macro nutrients and micronutrients (1).  The organic matter will also benefit the lawn my increasing moisture holding capacity and improving aeration.  Standard mowers will work, and we suggest to close the side discharge for mowers that have one.  Closing the side discharge will contain leaves in the mower so they get chopped up better before they fall into the grass canopy.  Mulching blades can be purchased as well.
Here are some resources that help to further explain leaf mulching:
WCCO Good Question: Do we really need to rake?
Minnpost: Leaf bagging under scrutiny as a wasteful expense and pointless chore

Q: Is it too late to fertilize my lawn?
A: Yes.  New research on late-fall fertilization demonstrates that a majority of the fertilizer applied in late-fall (late-October or early-November) can be lost to the environment because lawn grasses are not able to absorb fertilizer as well when temperatures are low.  For Twin Cities residents, we suggest to not apply fertilizer past mid-October. Here is more information on this research and our recommendations:
Apply lawn fertilizer by mid-October
Upper Midwest Lawn Care Calendar for Cool Season Grasses

Q: What is dormant seeding and when should that be conducted?
A: Dormant seeding is a practice that involves seeding when temperatures are too low for the seed to germinate prior to winter, and it is expected that the seed will germinate in the spring. This can give you a jump on spring seeding.  Germination prior to winter is bad and seedlings will generally die if they haven’t matured. Sometimes it is a bit of a waiting game at this time of year. The trick is to find the time when soils are unfrozen so that seed can be worked in slightly, yet air temperatures must be cold enough so the seed won’t germinate. Wait for high daytime temperatures of 35-40 degrees before seeding.

Q: Is there an advantage to dormant seeding versus spring seeding? A: Yes and no. A dormant seeded lawn could mature as much as one month faster in the spring than a spring seeded lawn. This is because some of the germination process actually starts prior to winter in a dormant seeded situation, although the shoots still haven’t emerged from the seed. When temperatures are adequate in the spring, complete germination occurs. In this case the seed actually dictates when temperatures are warm enough to grow. Just like late-fall, temperatures and weather patterns can be unpredictable in the spring. For this reason, the best timing for spring seeding is difficult to predict, which can delay the timing to actually sow seed. Still, there some negative aspects of dormant seeding to consider. First, because of the spring temperature fluctuations, it is possible to have good seedling establishment initially, but a cold spell during this time will injure these seedlings. Also, there is a greater potential for seed loss over the winter due to erosion and water movement, predation, and decay. These positive and negative aspects should always be considered during this process. Here is more information on dormant seeding lawns:
Dormant Seeding Lawns: Last chore of the season

Monday, October 19, 2015

Timely questions about fall gardening

Julie Weisenhorn, Extension Educator - Horticulture

A Minnesota fall landscape
Even though the weather is cooling down, days are getting shorter, and plants are moving into dormancy, Minnesota gardeners are still concerned about employing best practices for healthy landscapes. Here are a few common questions that might help you put your garden to bed (and get ready for next year's growing season!)

Keep watering your trees and shrubs too - especially evergreens!

Q: Can I prune my shrubs roses now? How far should I cut them back? 
A: You can cut back your roses now. Remove 1/3 of the plant as a rule of thumb, but of course, if the plant is blocking a window, walkway, etc., then you may cut more back. Here is an Extension publication on caring for roses that includes winter protection for roses. Enclosing roses in fencing stuffed with leaves will protect the plant from winter desiccation and start the next growing season with more live tissue. The fencing can also help protect your roses from browsing animals.

Q: Is it OK to cut down my perennials before they turn brown? Also, is it still OK to transplant them this late in the year? 
A: You should leave perennials alone until they die back (turn brown and dry). As long as they are green, they continue to photosynthesize and build up carbohydrates in their roots for better growth next year. Best too to hold off transplanting till spring. Plants need more time to re-establish their roots after transplanting and it is easier to handle the plants prior to leafing out. Hint: If your perennials have sturdy stems with interesting seed heads (like roses, asters, coneflowers, black-eyed susan, etc.) consider leaving them in place to provide winter interest in your landscape.

Q: Is it too late to seed my lawn? 
A: It is too late for normal seeding. However, you could wait till mid-November and do dormant seeding. This is seed that will germinate in the spring. Here's an article on dormant seeding. Also, here is an excellent calendar for the upper Midwest that takes the mystery out of lawn care. There's still time to treat for broadleaf weeds too - especially creeping charlie. (for managing creeping charlie, look for a product with glyphosate and triclopyr). Always read and follow all instructions on the product label. The label is the law.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

What's That Fungus?

Have you ever wondered what mushrooms are growing in your yard or wanted to learn more about the fungi you saw on trees, logs or growing through the leaves last time you hiked in the woods? A great resource for those who would like to learn more about the fungi in our world has been created by the University of Minnesota Mycology Club. Free downloadable flash cards contain color photos, scientific and common names, habitat and descriptions of common Minnesota fungi. Check them out today!

Bacterial Canker of Tomato found in MN Gardens

M. Grabowski, UMN Extension

Bacterial Canker of Tomato - Heinz USA ,
Bacterial canker of tomato caused by the bacteria Clavibacter michiganensis sbsp. michiganensis (CMM), is an  emerging plant disease in Minnesota. Although this disease occurs regularly in other states, the first reported incidence of bacterial canker in Minnesota occurred just a few years ago. Bacterial canker can be a serious problem for vegetable farmers, especially tomato growers that use high tunnels or greenhouses to grow their crop. In addition, the bacteria can infect tomato seed under the seed coat and result in spread of the pathogen to new areas.

To determine just how wide spread this disease is in Minnesota, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture has been looking for CMM as part of their pathways survey for new and emerging invasive plant pests. In 2015, the MDA surveyed 90 community gardens, small vegetable farms and community supported agriculture farms. The pathogen that causes bacterial canker was found in Blue Earth, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Nicollet, Ramsey, Todd, Waseca and Washington counties.

What do plants infected with bacterial canker look like and how do I distinguish this disease from other common tomato disease problems?
The best way to determine if a plant is infected with bacterial canker is to send a sample to the UMN Plant Disease Clinic. The symptoms of the disease can vary greatly and it is easy to confuse symptoms of this disease with other problems.

M.A. Hansen, VA Polytech. Institute,
Infected seedlings may have few or no symptoms or may completely wilt and die. Older infected tomato plants have tan to yellow patches between veins on leaves and dark sunken streaks along leaf veins and petioles. If tomato leaves become infected from the edge of the leaf, the leaf edge turns dark brown and a yellow border often separates the killed leaf tissue from healthy green tissue.  Infected peppers have yellowing of the leaves that fades gradually into the green healthy tissue.

In severely infected tomatoes, the bacteria enter the main stem and a dark discoloration can be seen inside the stem if it is cut in half lengthwise. The stem often cracks and splits, creating a dark brown streak along the stem that may ooze sticky yellow liquid in wet weather. As the stem becomes more severely infected, leaves wilt, often first on one side, and eventually the entire plant collapses.

Fruit may develop a bird’s eye spot - a small raised spot with a white ring around it.

Where did bacterial canker come from and how does it spread?
The most common way that CMM enters a garden is through contaminated seed and transplants. It takes only one infected seed to bring in the pathogen. Once in the garden, CMM can be spread on hands and tools, and in splashing rain or irrigation water. The pathogen can survive in debris from infected plants and on weeds in the tomato family (solanaceae) for several years. It can also survive on contaminated tools and equipment for several months. Once established in a garden, CMM can be a difficult pathogen to eradicate and may be found in the garden again next year.

What should I do if bacterial canker is found in my garden?
CMM may be confirmed in your garden by the UMN Plant Disease Clinic. If the disease is identified early in the growing season, completely remove infected plants to prevent spread of the disease to nearby healthy plants. Infected plants should be buried or composted on site in a compost pile that heats up and results in complete breakdown of the plant material.

Bird's eye fruit spot of Bacterial Canker - Heinz USA ,
At this time, it is NOT recommended to bring infected plants to municipal compost sites. This is to prevent movement of the pathogen to areas of the state where it is not currently found. It should be noted that not all compost facilities achieve the heat necessary to completely kill the pathogen.

Tools should be soaked in a 1:9 solution of germicidal bleach in water for at least 5 minutes after working with infected plants. Gardeners should avoid working in plants when they are wet as the bacteria are easily spread at this time. Sprinkler irrigation should be avoided as splashing water will spread the pathogen. Use drip irrigation or soaker hose whenever possible.

At the end of the season, any infected plants should be buried at the site or composted on site. Cutting the plants into smaller pieces will speed up the breakdown process. Expect the bacteria to survive 2-3 years in this infected plant debris. Tillers and tractors can move infected plant debris through the garden or to new areas. To avoid spreading CMM, use equipment in known infected areas only after other areas have been tilled. Clean all soil and plant debris from the equipment and wash with a 1:9 solution of germicidal bleach in water before using the equipment in a new area.

G. Holmes, CA Polytech. State Univ.,
Avoid planting tomatoes or peppers in the area where CMM was found for 3 years. During this period, remove all weeds from the tomato family, like nightshade, as well as any pepper or tomato plants that grow from previous season’s fallen fruit.

Throw away wooden stakes, twine, bamboo or other structures made of natural material used in the garden. These are difficult to clean because they are extremely porous, making it difficult for disinfectants to reach the bacteria inside.

Tools, metal tomato cages or other equipment made out of metal or smooth material can be cleaned with a 1 to 9 solution of germicidal bleach and water.

  • Remove all soil and plant debris from tools and trellises. 
  • Wearing water proof gloves, mix 1 cup bleach with 9 cups water.
  • Soak all tools, tomato cages and other equipment in the bleach solution for at least 5 minutes.
  • Rinse all tools and equipment with clean water and dry before storing.

Do not save seed from infected plants or from tomatoes or peppers grown in a CMM-positive garden.

Are fruit from plants infected with bacterial canker safe to eat?
There is no record of CMM causing direct harm to a human. Gardeners should talk to their doctor if they have any concerns related to their health as many factors affect how individuals respond to microorganisms in the environment.

The major concern with plant pathogens infecting tomato fruit is that the infection can change the pH (acidity) of the fruit. This means that diseased fruit should never be used for canning because the pH plays an important role in keeping out other harmful microorganisms. The fruit can be cooked and eaten, cooked and stored, or frozen, cooked and eaten. The change in pH can let other harmful microorganisms enter the fruit so cooking is a best practice to kill microorganism that might be present prior to eating.

What can I do to prevent bacterial canker in my garden?
CMM is most commonly introduced on infected seed or transplants. Purchase seed from a reputable supplier. Do not save seed from infected plants. Seed from unknown sources should be avoided. If questionable seed is unavoidable, seed should be soaked in 1:4 solution of bleach in water for 1 minute and then rinse in water for 5 minutes prior to planting.

Purchase healthy transplants from a reputable grower. Avoid transplants that have been pruned or cut back as this procedure easily spreads CMM.   

Sunday, October 11, 2015

EAB now confirmed in Washington County

Jeffrey Hahn, Extension Entomologist

(The following information is taken from an October 8, 2015 news release from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture)

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) today identified emerald ash borer (EAB) in Washington County. An adult EAB was found on a survey trap that had been placed at the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s St. Croix Rest Area on Interstate 94. During a follow-up visit, staff discovered a nearby tree had tunneling consistent with the invasive pest.
Emerald ash borer stuck on a purple sticky trap. 
Photo: Jeff Hahn, UMN Extension

Washington County becomes the 11th county in Minnesota to verify EAB. EAB was also confirmed in 2015 for the first time in Scott, Chisago, Fillmore, and Anoka Counties. This invasive beetle has also been found in Hennepin, Houston, Olmstead, Ramsey, and Winona counties

Because this is the first time that EAB has been identified in Washington County, the specimen has been sent to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for confirmation, which is expected later this week. Pending confirmation, the MDA and USDA will work closely to determine appropriate follow-up actions.

One of the likely actions will place Washington County under an emergency quarantine, joining the other ten counties where EAB has been confirmed in a state and federal quarantine. The quarantine is in place to help prevent EAB from spreading outside of a known infested area. It is designed to limit the movement of any items that may be infested with EAB, including ash trees and ash tree limbs, as well as all hardwood firewood.

The biggest risk of spreading EAB comes from people unknowingly moving firewood or other ash products harboring larvae. There are several easy steps Minnesotans can take to keep EAB from spreading:
  • Don’t transport firewood. Buy firewood locally from approved vendors, and burn it where you buy it 
  • Be aware of the quarantine restrictions. If you live in a quarantined county, be aware of the restrictions on movement of products such as ash trees, wood chips, and firewood.
  • Watch your ash trees for infestation. If you think your ash tree is infested, go to and use the “Do I Have Emerald Ash Borer?” guide.
  • If you feel your ash tree may be infested with EAB, contact a tree care professional, your city forester, or the MDA at or 888-545-6684.
For more information about EAB, see Emerald ash borer in Minnesota. See also the MDA news release, MDA identified emerald ash borer in Washington County.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Cleaning Up after Plant Disease

M. Grabowski, UMN Extension Educator

By the end of the gardening season many plants are looking less than their best. At this point leaf spots, blights, fruit rots or other disease problems can easily be found in the yard and garden. An important piece of information about disease biology is that plant pathogens often survive from one season to the next in infected plant debris. As a result, a good garden clean up in the fall can reduce the number of pathogens that survive the winter and cause problems next year. Below are a few clean up strategies that can reduce disease in following growing seasons.

Trees and Shrubs
Crabapple leaves infected with apple scab
If leaf spot diseases are present, wait until leaf drop, mow leaves into the soil with a mulching lawn mower to speed up breakdown of infected plant material or rake up and remove all leaves from the site. Inspect branches for cracked or discolored bark that might indicate a branch canker or unusual tumor like growths known as galls. Flag these branches and mark your calendar to prune out diseased branches in February or March.

Perennial Flower Gardens
If leaf spot or blights are present, cut stems at the soil level and remove all infected plant material from the area. This is only necessary for diseased plants. Stems of healthy plants can be left until spring for winter interest and wildlife habitat.

Vegetable Garden
Early blight infected tomato plant
For large gardens, bury all plant debris as soon as possible after harvest to begin the break down process. Do not plant the same family of plants at that same location for 2-4 years. Next year, plants of the same family need to be a minimum of 10 feet away from the location of this year’s diseased crop.

For small gardens, which do not have space to rotate to a new location, remove all infected plant debris including leaves, stems, roots and fruit.

Do not save seed from infected plants.

What to do with Diseased Plant Material
In Minnesota, it is illegal to put yard waste in with your household garbage. The good news is that the majority of plant pathogens will be killed in a compost pile that heats up. Unless you are an avid back yard composter and know your pile heats up, consider bringing diseased plant material to your city or county compost sites. If this is not available in your area, find a commercial composter ( that takes yard waste. Hot composting is the best way to dispose of green plant material like leaves, fruit and green stems.

Woody plant tissue can be chipped and composted, or burned. Check local regulations about burning in your area. Some yard waste drop off sites also accept woody plant material.

Clean up Tools and Equipment
Tools, trellis, stakes or other equipment used with diseased plant material can be cleaned with a 1 to 9 solution of bleach and water.
  • Remove all soil and plant debris from tools and trellises.
  • Mix 1 cup bleach with 9 cups water.
  • Wearing water proof gloves wash all tools and equipment with the bleach solution.
  • Rinse with clean water and dry before storing.
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