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Our experts' favorite gardening books for holiday gifts

By Extension Communication Specialist Gail Hudson

December and cold weather arrives quickly in Minnesota (surprise!), and with it comes that perennial question: what gift can I buy the family member or friend with a green thumb? We’ve tapped our gardening experts for their favorite books to read over the winter months. (And please note—we’ve included links to the publishers. You’ll find them for sale in a number of places.)

Courtesy: Princeton University Press
Learn about Bees in Your Backyard
Since the “buzz” in the gardening world these days is all about pollinators, Extension Educator Elaine Evans, whose research concerns wild bee diversity, the rusty-patched bumble bee and bee conservation and is an author in her own right, has this book at the top of her list: The Bees in Your Backyard: A Guide to North America’s Bees, by Joseph S. Wilson.
Elaine says it’s a great introduction to the fascinating world of bees through beautiful photos along with accurate, accessible information.  She says once you learn what you are seeing, you’ll be able to discover the rich diversity of bees, many of which you can find in your own back yard. 

Courtesy: Wicwas Press
Want to help pollinators in your garden next year? Extension Educator and the U’s Bee Squad Associate Program Director Rebecca Masterman recommends this excellent resource: Pollinator Friendly Gardening by Minnesota author Rhonda Fleming Hayes. She says the photographs and text will help you learn about pollinators, which plants support them and what things you can do in the garden to “bee friendly”! 

Courtesy: University of Chicago Press
What’s that weed?
It’s a common question thrown at Extension Educator Julie Weisenhorn, who can be heard answering gardener’s questions during “Smart Gardens,” Saturday mornings from 8-9 a.m. on WCCO Radio AM 830.  She says Weeds of North America by Richard Dickinson and France Royer is “the ultimate in weed identification!” Organized by families, each weed is shown in various stages of growth from seed to maturity. Information about each weed includes alternative names, origin, lifecycle, descriptors, and a quick ID guide. A key to identification of weed species is in the beginning of the book for quick reference. It also has a good glossary that includes diagrams.
Courtesy: Kollath+Stensaas Publishing
In the same vein, if you are curious about those insects in your garden, Julie says Insects of the Northwoods by co-Extension Educator Jeffrey Hahn is another “must-have” for gardeners. “It’s referred to as ‘a handy field guide,’ she says, ‘and it definitely is! This sits on my desktop always and serves as a quick ID reference. Pictures are excellent and while information about the insect isn't in depth, the information Hahn provides is helpful including when not to be concerned. Part of the North Woods Naturalist series, rumor has it a new edition will be coming out in the next year or so!”
Gardening philosophy and the impact of disease
Got a fire going in your fireplace and hot chocolate at hand? Extension Educator and plant disease expert Michelle Grabowski says even though Hungry Planet: Stories of Plant Diseases written by award-winning educators Gail Schumann and Cleora D’Arcy sounds like heady stuff, she finds this book a “very readable, enjoyable look into the science and history behind how plant diseases have influenced how we grow food and even what we eat.”  The stories are told with a “passionate voice,” according to publisher American Phytopathological Society Press, and anyone interested in science, the environment, food production or sustainability will find the book “fascinating.”
Courtesy: Bloomsbury Publishing
For an interesting, philosophical look at what we do when we garden, Extension Educator Christy Marsden recommends Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education  by Michael Pollan. She likes the history it provides about humans trying to control unruly land.
Grow the perfect low-maintenance lawn
If perfect, but easy-care green grass is on your wish list, Turf Extension Educator Sam Bauer highly recommends The Turfgrass Maintenance Reduction Handbook: Sports, Lawns, and Golf by Doug Brede  for some sure-fire strategies on how to grow it.
Sam says the book is “an excellent resource for anyone interested in establishing and maintaining low maintenance lawns," he says. "The author provides comprehensive and well-researched information turfgrass species options, establishment and renovation, soils, water, and fertilizer.  If you work with turfgrass in any capacity, I highly recommend this book.”   
Courtesy: University of Minnesota Press
Perennials for cold climates
And finally, Extension Educator, author and ornamental grass expert Mary Meyer says she’s referred this book to Minnesota gardeners many, many times: Growing Perennials in Cold Climates by Mike Heger, Debbie Lonnee and John Whitman. She wonders, “Doesn't everybody have this wonderful book on perennials for us in cold climates? Mike Heger speaks from first-hand experience, tells the truth on the good and bad of perennials, and lists over 2,000 varieties or cultivars to compare performance.”  Meyer says, “It’s a winner!”

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