Skip to main content


Showing posts from January, 2020

Smart Gardening 2020: How to Prepare Your Soil for Planting Blueberries

Blueberries ripening. Photo: Annie Klodd. Did you know? Blueberries are unique from many common garden plants, because they require acidic soil in order to grow and produce fruit. That means that before planting new blueberry plants, you must check your soil pH and then amend it prior to planting your blueberries. This article outlines how to do that. Blueberry soil requirements Blueberries require the soil to have a pH between  4.3 to 5.5 pH . This is unique, because most fruit and vegetable plants do best in a relatively neutral pH soil between about 6.5-7.5. Growing blueberries between 6.5-7.5 would cause them to have slow, weak growth, yellowish leaves, and little to no fruit. Reducing the pH prior to planting and keeping it low for the lifespan of the plants, will help ensure strong fruit yields and healthy plants. The pH is amended by adding sulfur to the soil in the form of sphagnum peat moss, elemental sulfur, or another widely available sulfur amendment found at garden

Be on the watch for brown marmorated stink bugs

Winter is a time when you assume you get a respite from the insects of summer. While that is true most of the time, you may still cross paths with a few insects. A variety of insects use buildings to hide in when it gets cold and can be seen walking around your home even in the dead of winter. One of these opportunistic insects is the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB). Brown marmorated stink bug. Photo: Jeff Hahn, U of MN Extension Sometimes confused as a beetle, BMSB is ½ inch long and a mottled brown and gray color (marmorated means marbled). They are stout, shaped like a shield or a badge.  There is a large triangular plate, known as scutellum, on their back. If you flip a stink bug over, you can see its needle-like mouthparts. Ask an expert if you suspect you have found a BMSB. If you are thinking you have not seen BMSB before, that’s probably true. This invasive insect is relatively new in Minnesota; it was first discovered here in 2010. Originally from Asia. BM

Smart Gardening Tool: An LED flashlight

My indoor gardening "toolbox" Photo: Julie Weisenhorn, UMN Extension There are a lot of tools in my indoor gardening "toolbox" - rubber-coated ties, lighters for sterilizing, pruners, snips, meters, hooks, stakes, cotton swabs. I recently added another tool: an LED flashlight. Mealybug lit up in leaf fold As I've mentioned on the WCCO 830 AM Smart Garden radio show, like many of my fellow gardeners, I have been challenged recently with pests on a few of my indoor plants. Specifically, an orchid I added a year ago came with extra baggage: mealybugs. Shine a light on the problem! Shining a very bright LED light really helps spot mealybugs and other pests. Adult mealybugs are pretty easy to spot, but it's tough to see the young immature insects. Using a light to examine a plant helps to light up even young pests. Mealybugs of all ages hide under at the base of buds and blossoms, undersides of leaves, and near the growing point of the plant wh

Smart Gardening 2020: Saying 'Good-bye' to a plant

Scale on a lemon stem Sometimes, a plant challenges even the best of our efforts as gardeners. I recently bid farewell to my five year-old Meyer lemon tree. I love Meyer lemons, and this tree had produced some fruit, and the beautiful fragrant flowers that bloomed in winter were almost as good. The small tree (about 5 ft tall) resided outside on my deck in the summer and indoors under a grow light in the winter. This tree has also been the subject of many WCCO Smart Garden discussions and text messages. What happened to my Meyer lemon tree A few years ago, I discovered scale on the lemon tree. Scale reside on all parts of the plant and are very hard to see - especially on a large plant like a citrus tree. Scale suck the plant juices and produce a sticky, clear excrement kindly referred to as "honeydew" (I called it "honey glue" as it is impossible to remove off of the plant, the pot, the floor, furniture). I pursued the scale first by hand-picking the in

Ask Extension: How do I know if my old seed packets are any good?

Photo: Julie Weisenhorn, UMN Extension Q:   I have a number of seed packets (annual flowers and easy vegetables) that are partially full but are out of date. Is there a way to predict what percentage of seeds will sprout? Or should I just toss them in the compost and buy fresh seeds? A:   Seed viability period can vary depending on the plant, how the seeds are stored and even on their treatment (pelletized, etc.) prior to packaging. Ideally, they should be stored in well sealed, water-tight containers in a cool (50 degrees F.), dark location. If you have not stored them like this, you might want to consider buying new seeds. You can test the seeds yourself by using what's called the "ragdoll method," an inexpensive and easy way to test seed viability. In fact, we have a how-to video that can walk you through the steps, and it's a great activity to do with kids!  It's also a good way to start warm season plants like tomatoes and peppers.  How to do

Startle your neighbors--Here's why you should plant your poinsettia on Father's Day!

Photo: Julie Weisenhorn, UMN Extension “How can I make my poinsettia rebloom?” is a common question we hear in January. Poinsettias can be grown as attractive green plants, but most people are interested in making their green poinsettia colorful again and ready for the holidays. Can I make my poinsettia re-bloom? It is not an easy task, as it requires excluding light from the plant for a period of time while keeping the plant healthy.  The reduction in light prevents the plant from producing chlorophyll, the pigment that makes plant parts green. This changes the bracts to red, pink or white, depending on the poinsettia variety. An E-Z to follow system of care Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension professor emeritus at the University of Vermont and author of  Caring for Your Poinsettia Year-Round , developed an easy-to-follow poinsettia care calendar based on the holidays of the year!  For more info, read this article on our Extension web page--be sure to scroll to the bottom of t

New Year's Resolutions for Gardeners in 2020

Photo: Julie Weisenhorn, UMN Extension  As ever in Minnesota, New Year's brings a cold, crisp dawn to the next year. And in this case, it's a new decade--the twenty-twenties (...which sounded so far out into the future when I was little)! We've gathered together some New Year's resolutions that will help take us all into the next 10 years as gardeners, plant lovers, eco-fans, and as those who honor and respect the natural world around us.  In some of these resolutions, you'll discover the nugget of a new trend that will help shape our evolving landscapes as we strive to become better, smarter gardeners.  We are resolved to look at plants as something much more than just a pretty flower or tree: use our lawns to benefit pollinators, grow a popular ornamental shrub that's now being studied as a biofuel alternative, and of course, garden more sustainably than we ever have before.  It's a lot to take in--but we have the whole decade! Happy New Year eve

Smart Gardening in 2020: Choose plants with more than one purpose

Quick Fire ®  hydrangea. Photo: Winter came early this year with lots of snow and cold temps, but it's never too early to start thinking about new plants for your garden and yard. Maybe you've had a shrub that has not lived up to expectations and you are ready to replace it. Or you have lost a tree lately and suddenly have a large sunny spot for planting. Got a fence that needs screening? A vine is a good option. Some favorites Regent serviceberry Whatever your reason, a smart gardening good goal for 2020 is to choose plants that serve more than one purpose. Here are some favorite multi-purpose plants in my yard: The Regent serviceberry shrub ( Amelanchier alnifolia 'Regent') has lovely white flowers, edible fruit and provides pollen and nectar for bees. Multi-purpose Grasses Grasses can create waves of texture and show off other plants. Some, like our native prairie dropseed ( Sporobolus heterolepis ) and blue grama ( Bouteloua grac

Smart Gardening in 2020: Plant pussy willows, a pollinator-friendly, powerhouse of a shrub!

Pussy willows ( Salix discolor ), a large 15-20 foot shrub native to Minnesota and much of northern U.S. is one of the first plants to bloom in the spring. Pussy willows provide some of the earliest flowers and pollen for honey and other native bees. The foliage also supports native butterfly caterpillars. This fast growing shrub prefers wet sites but will tolerate a wide variety of soils. What is a pussy willow? "YouBetcha" Stick Sculpture made out of willows by artist Patrick Dougherty, Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Photo: Jim Douglas Willows are dioecious with only male flowers on 1 plant and only female flowers on another plant. The male flowers are showier and what we think of a pussy willow flowers.  The female flowers can disperse and move with the wind….similar to cottonwood flowers, and may be a nuisance. Male flowering plants are usually what is sold in the garden centers. You do not need plants of both sexes to get flowers…planting one male plant

Smart Gardening in 2020: Quick Tips for Safe Produce

Cantaloupe plant with fruit blossoms. Photo: Gail Hudson, UMN Extension Communications In 2020 and Beyond: Food Safety is becoming a priority All you have to do is look at: The bad: Another year, another E. coli outbreak in romaine lettuce . Bad news! The good: Most farmers have excellent food safety practices, and the vast majority of our food supply - including fresh produce - is quite safe to eat. The ugly: It's not only "big farms" that make food safety mistakes. Did you know that even in your own garden, you could still make someone sick by using poor food safety practices? It's true! So, in 2020 and the new decade onward, take a few basic steps that will reduce the risk that nasty pathogens - bacteria, viruses and parasites that can make people sick - will hitch a ride on your fresh produce. 1) Wash your hands before harvesting fresh produce. Many of us remember to wash our hands before preparing food in our kitchens, but what about touching