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Showing posts from March, 2020

Favorite Houseplants: The Easter Cactus

Outdoors is not the only place you can enjoy spring flowers. Along with cheerful bulb gardens, there is the Easter cactus (Schlumbergera gaertneri), a snazzy spring-blooming member of the Cactus family and one of about 9 species in the Schlumbergera genus. 
Most people are very familiar with the Christmas cactus (S. bridgesii) and Thanksgiving cactus (S. truncata). Both of these long-time, winter-blooming favorites set bud in response to shorter days and cooler temperatures. However, the Easter cactus sets buds as days become longer and temperatures warmer. In other words, springtime. How does it grow? A perennial native to Brazil and hardy to zones 10-12, the Easter cactus is an epiphyte - a non-parasitic plant that grows on other plants or structures and gets nutrients and water from rain, air, etc. It has branching stems comprised of segments called cladophylls.

The Easter cactus grows in light shade in nature. As a houseplant, it requires a bright window and well-drained soil.

Th…

COVID-19: Can the virus be transmitted on the food we grow and buy?

The presence of Covid-19 in the U.S. raises many questions about the food our farmers grow, and the fruits and vegetables we grow at home. Spring is coming after all, and we will soon be planting our gardens!

Here are some up-to-date answers to some of those questions from Extension's Annalisa Hultberg and our On-Farm Food Safety team. 
Can the virus be transmitted by food?Currently, there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19. Because of its low survival rate on surfaces, there is thought to be little evidence of transmission via food surfaces, packaging, cardboard, plastic, etc. 
Research recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine states that coronavirus is thought to persist on surfaces like plastic and metal for up to 3 days, cardboard up to 24 hours, and in the air for up to 3 hours. 
Again, at this time the primary transmission route is person-to-person contact via respiratory droplets. That is not to say that …

Emerald ash borer found in Rice County

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) announced today that emerald ash borer (EAB) was detected for the first time, earlier this week, in Rice County. A public works employee contacted MDA after discovering an ash in downtown Faribault showing EAB symptoms.

A live larva was found and confirmed by federal identification. Ironically, the infested tree was found a short time after the employee had attended an EAB workshop put on by MDA.

This is the 22nd county in Minnesota that has verified EAB. This was not as surprising as some EAB finds as Rice County is adjacent to five other counties with known EAB infestations. This invasive borer was first found in Minnesota in 2009. Minnesota has a lot at risk as it has one of the largest number of ash in the country, nearly one billion trees.

Since EAB was first found in North American in 2002, it has spread to 35 states and five Canadian provinces. It has killed hundreds of millions of ash trees and has cost hundreds of millio…

Ask Extension: Is it too early to cut back perennials for pollinators?

Q: Is it too early to cut back the dried stems on my perennials? I don't want to harm the bugs/bees that may have made a home in them over the winter.

A: From a plant health standpoint, it's fine to cut back perennials when the snow has melted and plants are accessible. However, from a pollinator health standpoint, leave some stems intact for use by stem nesting bees. 
Here is how to handle this task: 
Stem nesting bees can lay eggs in perennials stems. So as you're cutting perennials back, place the cut stems somewhere in your yard out of the way so any bees nesting in the stems get a chance to emerge. When these bees emerge this summer, they will need new nesting spots. Leave some stems about 8" above the ground so they can form new nests. The rest of your perennials can be cut down to the ground.  
It's a good idea to remove the rest of your plant debris. It is possible that some fungal spores may be present on the foliage that you will not want in your gardens thi…

Ask Extension: If I put down grass seed while the ground is still frozen, will it help eliminate Creeping Charlie?

Q: Would it be of any use to put down grass seed while the ground is still frozen but snow has melted?  Would the grass come up and help eliminate Creeping Charlie or do I need to spray yard with chemicals before seeding?A: It is unlikely to be productive to over seed in the spring as a way to suppress Creeping Charlie. Instead, treating with an appropriate product, maintaining a healthy lawn, using shade tolerant grasses, and choosing alternative ground covers in areas not suitable for growing lawn grasses will help manage weeds like Creeping Charlie. 

Chemical control, for example with 2-4 D can have a severe effect on bees which are already in a rapid decline. Good timing is critical.

Here's a great Yard & Garden News article for everything you need to know about managing Creeping Charlie:
Become a Smarter Gardener 2019: How to manage Creeping Charlie

Lawn flowers (Creeping Charlie, dandelions, squill etc) are often the first food after winter for our highly stressed and declin…

Smart Garden 2020: It's time to ... keep calm and garden!

Even without social distancing, Minnesota gardeners get a little stir crazy this time of year. We are teased by 60 degree days, warm sun and snow melt. We're itching to rake our grass and clean up garden beds. Spring ahead daylight savings time means it's still light out after the workday (translation: more time in the garden).
But Minnesota gardeners also know that it's safer to hold off on planting and raking until temperatures steady out and lawns dry out. Planting into cold wet soil can result in poor seed germination, and raking spongy lawns can shred grass plants. And then there is always the chance of a late frost that can nip newly emerged plants or tender annuals set out too early.
During this "watch-and-wait" time of the year, we can still do a few things that get our hands dirty and also some solid planning for the coming year. 
Create a garden plan A garden plan can be as simple or as elaborate as you wish. This time of the season is a good time to m…

Smart Garden 2020: The impact of Water Quality on Houseplant Care

Houseplants in Minnesota face a challenge with our long winters. I almost always think light is the limiting factor for growth and plant health in our state.  Water, however is a close second to what can limit plant growth. We talk a lot about when and how to water a plant, but water quality over time can be just as important.  

If you keep houseplants for many years or if you grow plants sensitive to chemicals in the water, it is important to understand how water quality can affect your plants over time. 
What do we mean by water ‘quality’?Water quality can refer to chemical, microbial or physical properties. If you have a private well or spring water, you need to be concerned about all three of these, but for most of us using municipal water in growing plants, it is the chemical issues that are the major concern. 

Check your municipal website for what treatment is done to your water. In Plymouth, where I live, tap water is treated with sodium hypochlorite, a form of chlorine to minimiz…

It's time to Start Your Seeds!

Spring is just around the corner and now is the time to start seed indoors, especially if you want a specific kind of tomato, pepper, or impatiens flowers for your garden. Some seeds grow slowly, and others are quite rapid to germinate. 
Get ready, set, go!How do you know when to start which kind of seed?  Here are some tips for new and experienced gardeners:  
Read the information on the seed packet for when to start the seed indoors. If the packet says sow directly outdoors and gives no info on starting seed indoors, those seeds grow quickly outdoors and likely do not need a head start indoors.Minnesota’s spring last frost date is from May 10-31 depending on where you live. Current weather records 1991-2010 shows a 10% probability of 32°F as of May 10th in the Twin Cities. The last frost date is a guideline for moving your seedlings outdoors. These are suggested starting dates for some of the most popular vegetables and flowers: 
Late February or early March:  impatiens petunias leekson…

Season of Trees: Get to know the 'Tree of Life'

The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum is all about trees.  We would like to introduce you to one of our favorites, though you have certainly met it before.  From its tall, wild form, to the new introductions the size of beach balls, you are certain to find a white cedar to fit your space and your needs.  

Plus, we’ll show you a group you can find at the Arboretum the next time you’re here!
White CedarWhite cedar (Thuja occidentalis), also called eastern arborvitae or American arborvitae, is a small, slow- to medium-growing evergreen conifer.  It is commonly grown as a tree or shrub, depending on the variety, and is native to the eastern half of North America, from Manitoba to North Carolina.
In its native range, it is found in bogs, ravines, and other areas with high humidity and soil moisture levels, which is perfect for the higher levels of rainfall Minnesota has recently seen.  What is white cedar?
Evergreen conifer, scale-like leaves remain throughout the year.Height: 3 to 50 feet, depend…

Big Ideas for Small Spaces: Rotation!

Rotating crops is important for gardeners, but it can be tricky in a small space. Here are a few tips and tricks for optimizing rotations in your small garden.

What is rotation? It's the process of planting different plant families in a different location each year. By rotating your tomatoes to a new spot each year rather than planting them in the same place (and everything else in the Solanaceae family such as peppers and potatoes), you can help to prevent problems in your garden. Why rotate?Rotation is is critical in vegetable gardens. Rotating helps to reduce disease pressure, and also helps to balance nutrients. 

Tomatoes have one set of pathogens and uptake specific nutrients; cucumbers have a different set of diseases, and they take up nutrients in different ratios. Rotating your veggies helps to balance your garden system. 
Rotating in a small spaceIf you have a very small garden, simply moving plants down a few feet is a good start, but it might not give you the full benefits…

Smart Garden 2020: Master Gardeners share their plans for their own gardens

Long before I got this sweet job as an Extension educator in Horticulture here at the University of Minnesota, I trained and volunteered as an Master Gardener in Hennepin County. In addition to my mother's encouragement, I credit being a Master Gardener with propelling me from a marketing communications career into an incredibly satisfying and fun horticulture career.

Extension Master Gardener is a volunteer program of the University of Minnesota. Volunteers use research-based horticultural knowledge and practices to promote healthy people, healthy communities and a healthy planet. Learn what we do: Master Gardener Program

So when I need Smart Garden ideas for my landscape, who better to ask than my fellow Master Gardeners? With about 2,400 volunteers in Minnesota, interest levels run the gamut and I always learn about something new.

I received many great responses from all over the state about what Master Gardeners are planning for their own, personal yards and gardens. Read on …

Try Day Neutral Strawberries for a Full Season of Berries

Have you thought about growing strawberries but don't want to commit to a perennial crop? Are you discouraged by the short 3-week harvest season of most strawberries? Try day neutral strawberries, which are an annual crop that keeps producing sweet, flavorful berries from late June to mid-fall.

Unlike June-bearing strawberries, which produce a burst of fruit for 3-4 weeks starting in mid-late June, day neutral strawberries continue producing new flowers and fruit throughout the season. They will produce fruit as long as temperatures stay between 40-90 degrees F, with production tapering off toward the end of the season.

Pretty neat, huh?

It gets better: Unlike June-bearing strawberries, day-neutral varieties are meant to be grown as annuals, meaning they are re-planted each year just like vegetable plants are. For vegetable gardeners, container gardeners, or those renting community plots, this is a good thing.
How do day-neutrals compare to June-bearing strawberries in terms of y…

Ask Extension: Can I landscape my yard with perennials in containers?

Q: I want to landscape my yard with perennials in containers. I live in the Brainerd Lakes area. I wonder if you have articles about what perennials would be successful in containers, how to plant and care for them, and how to winter them. I have both sunny and shady spots in my yard. 

A:  It can certainly be done, and it's a great option for gardeners who don't have the space, or the physical capability to garden in the traditional sense.

But let's talk about overwintering your containers first--because this will have a big impact on how you going about creating a container garden like this. Brainerd is a 3b-4a growing zone but this can be misleading for container perennials because the roots get colder than if they were in ground. 

Water transport can be impaired and plants are more susceptible to drying out with cold winter winds. The major risk you have for each of these is that:
The soil dries out around the roots over the winter.The air is much colder above ground than u…