It’s nearly spring and that means my Little Free Seed Library will soon be up and running. As many of you know, I reserve the top shelf of our Little Free Library for seed sharing in the spring and fall. I will be stocking the library in mid-March with seeds from my garden, as well as several different types of seeds that people donated late in the fall. The library is located on the boulevard on the corner of 45th Street and Washburn Ave. S. in Linden Hills.
There are small, coin-sized envelopes available for those who want to take seeds, as well as pencils to write down what you’ve packaged up. Seeds that are available for the taking are either in their original packets or large envelopes that are labeled with the plants’ names. Please take what you want from those packets and large envelopes and leave the rest for others.
If you have seeds to share—and we can always use more—please bring them in their original packets or envelopes that are labeled so people can clearly see what’s available. And thank you very much to all who have helped make this seed-sharing library a success for the last several years. People stop by all the time during the summer to tell me that the sunflowers or tomatoes or cosmos in their yard came from the seed library. Sometimes they even get out their phones to show me photos of what they’re growing. It’s a joyful thing to be part of and all of us are making it possible. Way to go, us!
Help for the Bees
As you probably know, news about the health of bees continues to get worse. Just last December the rusty-patched bumblebee was declared endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service because their numbers have declined so much in the past 20 years. Other bumblebee species are also declining, as are populations of other types of bees.
Gardeners are in a unique position to help bees of all types. If you’d like some bee-friendly plant ideas, have a look at the University of Minnesota bee lab’s publication, Plants for Minnesota Bees. Plants on the list vary widely and are workable for home landscapes of many different types.
Don’t feel like buying new plants? No problem. If your lawn is chemical free, you can help pollinators by leaving some of your lawn weeds for them to feast on. White clover is everywhere is most people’s lawns, and it often blooms from mid-spring through the fall. Flowers on this not-that-bad-looking weed, which is recognizable for its three-leaved shape, are white and bees love them because they are wide enough to land on comfortably. White clover doesn’t need to be tall to bloom, so if you set your mower to 3 inches, your lawn will look reasonably neat and you’ll still leave plenty of nectar and pollen for your bee friends.
Dandelions are also a bee favorite. So while these weeds are less easy on the eyes, consider leaving a few in some area of your lawn. Those yellow flowers provide bees with nectar and pollen that they need to survive.
Again, though, be sure that areas you leave for bees are not treated with chemicals that will harm or kill them. No matter what your lawn service tells you, none of the chemicals used to treat grass are safe for pollinators—or other living things, for that matter. But that’s a separate column. For now, let’s set our sights on helping the bees. They need us now more than ever.
To help make our long winters less drab and dreary, I usually grow several different amaryllis plants so there is something colorful and blooming in the house between November and February. Normally, I toss the bulbs into the compost bins after they’re done flowering. But after talking to some master gardener friends who save and replant their amaryllis bulbs, I’ve decided to do the same. I figure, even if I didn’t pay a lot for the bulbs (they range in price), it would be nice to give the plants the opportunity to flower again if they’re able. If you’d like to try this, too, here are some tips you need to know.
Like other bulbs, amaryllis use their leaves to store up energy for next year. So once the flowers fade, cut them off so the spent blooms don’t go to seed, which uses up energy the bulb needs. Leave the long leaves intact. Yes it does look weird to have a bulb in a pot with goofy, long leaves poking out of it. But those green leaves will feed the bulb through photosynthesis if you leave the pot near a sunny window.
Keep watering and fertilizing the bulb as you did when it was flowering. I usually water once a week, which is when the soil starts to feel dry. It’s a good idea to fertilize every time you water. Use about half the amount suggested on the package of whatever type of fertilizer you use.
Once we make it past the last frost, put your amaryllis plants (in their pots) outside in a spot that’s not in direct sun. Like seedlings, they need some time to acclimate to being outdoors so over the course of a week or two, move the pots into more and more sun. Ideally, they need to end up in a place where they will get a minimum of 5 hours of sun daily. You can leave them on your patio in their pots, or bury the pots in the garden someplace for the summer. At this point the leaves may be yellowing, browning or otherwise looking awful. But even if they are still green, you can cut the foliage back to about 3 inches. Keep up the watering and fertilizing (now at full strength) during the summer and new leaves will grow.Read More»
As summer comes to an end, it’s tempting to bring tropical plants indoors for the winter. It’s not a bad idea, but as you probably already know, some of them don’t do so well in our cool, dry houses for months on end. The key is to offer the right amount of care, which sometimes means a lack of care, depending on the plant.
If you want to try to keep tropicals alive so you can bring them outdoors again in the spring, there are three ways to do it:
- Bring the plant in and let if just keep on growing in a warm sunny spot.
- Put the plant in a cool, dark place and let it go dormant.
- Take cuttings from plants you like, root them and pot them up so you can enjoy those new plants in the spring.
Going with option one means you need to have a sunny window where temperatures are between 60 and 75 degrees during the day and not below 45 at night. Jasmine, hibiscus, bougainvillea and small citrus trees are just a few of the plants that can survive the winter this way. If you don’t have that sort of sunny spot, you can always put plants under fluorescent lights or grow lights, but make sure you set a timer so they get about 12 hours of light daily.
If plants grow enough to get leggy, prune them back at least once. And do worry about a few dropped and/or yellowed leaves because that’s bound to happen, particularly right after you brings plants indoors. Water as needed, but don’t fertilize plants until spring. And be sure to inspect plants regularly for pests. If you find some they can usually be controlled by plopping the plants in the sink or shower and giving it a good blast with water.
Letting plants go dormant takes more of an understanding of plants’ individual needs. Good information on that can be found in the book, Bulbs in the Basement Geraniums on the Windowsill: How to Grow & Overwinter 165 Tender Plants by Alice and Brian McGowan. Basically, it all depends on whether the plants are woody, soft-stemmed or bulb-like. For example, elephant ears and caladiums should get a little bit frost nipped before they come inside so they understand that the season is over and it’s time to go dormant. They can either be stored in a cool, dark place right in their pots and your job is to keep the soil slightly moist until spring. Or, you can take them out of their pots, remove the stems and foliage and store only the bulbs. Read up on how to do that: everyone seems to have a way they like to do it.
Taking cuttings from plants that are difficult to overwinter, like coleus and geraniums, is easier than it sounds. If you’re going to do this, take the cuttings in the fall and toss the main plant (sometimes called the “mother” plant) in the compost bin. Instructions for taking cuttings and rooting them can be found in books, online and of course there are YouTube videos.
Well gardener friends, at this dark time when we are up to our eyeballs in bad news about pretty much everything and politicians are compounding our worries by behaving like raised-by-wolves toddlers, let me offer a spot of sunshine. In case you haven’t heard, two positive things have happened for the planet—or at least our local slice of it—in recent weeks.
Good thing number 1: At long last, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture has confirmed that neonicotinoids, a commonly used group of pesticides, are highly toxic to honeybees—even when they are used in accordance with the law. How is this good news? You ask. Well, despite mounting evidence, the suggestion that neonics are likely one of many things contributing to the decline of honeybees remains heatedly disputed.
Now, investigators from the state Department of Agriculture have found that in fact the hives of two beekeepers were decimated by toxic dust that drifted from the cornfield of a neighbor. The seeds the neighbor planted had been coated with clothianidin, a neonicotinoid that is routinely used to coat agriculturally grown corn and soybeans in the United States. The insecticide protects the seeds from insects in the soil. It also protects the plants themselves because all parts contain the toxin, making the whole corn or soybean plant poisonous.
According to a Star Tribune story on March 20, Bayer CropScience, the maker of neonic pesticides, has acknowledged that toxic drift from cornfields planted with treated seeds can be harmful to bees and other pollinators. However, they say the problem is rare. Beekeepers and bee researchers beg to differ, countering that drift is a common and ongoing issue.
Both beekeepers will be compensated for the loss of their hives under a 2014 law that enables beekeepers to collect damages even though, technically, no law was broken because seed treating is not currently considered a pesticide application. What? Anyway, yes there is much to be done on this issue, but the Department of Agriculture’s action makes Minnesota the first state to declare, as a finding of fact, that neonics are harmful to bees.
Fellow gardeners, the seeds available to us are not coated with neonics, but we can continue to do out part to help bees and the Earth by saying NO to plants that are sprayed and/or soil-drenched with the neonicotinoid pesticides. Ask before you buy. Together we can make a change.
Good Thing Number 2
On March 16, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) voted to stop using glyphosate (the active ingredient in the weed killer, Roundup) in neighborhood parks. Activists have been calling on the park board to ban chemical use in Minneapolis parks for several months. (See the Southwest Journal story I wrote on the issue in October for more information.) Little progress has been made so far. But during a park board meeting on the 16th, more than 40 people showed up to voice their opposition to the use of pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals in public parks. Many others called and emailed.
This public outpouring of concern about the health effects of glyphosate and other chemicals, in addition to a recent update board members received on when and where staff use chemicals, seems to have sparked the move to stop using Roundup. But eliminating the use of one chemical in neighborhood parks is a long way from the shift to chemical-free, organic park management that activists would like to see.
In the absence of glyphosate, which has been increasingly linked to health and environmental problems, the board is free to continue using many other pesticides and herbicides that could potentially cause harm. The vote also allows them to continue using Roundup in regional parks at Lake Calhoun and Minnehaha Falls, as well as on ball fields and golf courses.
Based on what has been said about the issue, only commissioner Brad Bourn is openly in favor of moving to an organic approach to managing Minneapolis parks. Commissioner John Erwin strongly supports reducing the use of chemicals. The rest of the board—all of them elected by the public—don’t seem to see chemical-free parks in our future. Do you? If so, now is the time to email the commissioners, particularly Scott Vreeland, who has repeatedly said this is an issue that only activists care about. From what I hear from neighbors and readers who frequent our parks with their children and dogs, I am certain he is mistaken.
Hello dear readers. It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted a blog. Life gets too busy sometimes and you have to let go of at least a few things or you’ll go batty. (At least that’s how I work.) Now that the load has lightened up a bit, I’m back and I’ll try to post much more regularly going forward—at least during the growing season.
First off, happy spring! If you live nearby I want to let you know that the Little Free Seed Library is up and running again at my house, so please come on over and leave some seeds to share with others. Or take some home for yourself. This season, I’m happy to say that we have a few more items to share thanks to Do It Green! Minnesota.
The Minneapolis-based non-profit has long been committed to sustainability and promoting healthy communities, and with support from the Gannett Foundation they started up their own Do It Green! Seed, which provides free native and organic seeds to Twin Cities residents. They also distribute educational information about seed saving and other topics, and when they heard about my seed library, they kindly gave me a variety of seeds to share with you. They also gave me many copies of two handouts: One explains how to choose quality seeds and save seeds, and the other covers the different types of milkweeds home gardeners can plant to help monarch butterflies.
Both handouts will be in the library as long as supplies last. Or, you can print your own copy of Do It Green!’s Seed Saving handout by clicking on a link you’ll find on their website. Their site also offers a link to a very nice seed label that you can print and use on your own envelopes when saving seeds at home. Those of you who visit the library at my house will see that label on the seed packets donated by Do It Green!, which include swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) and organic China rose radish, garlic chives and cilantro.Read More»
I love gardening, but once September comes, I admit I’m ready to start packing things up and settling in for winter when I can get back to other things I enjoy like reading. That being the case, I tend to get an early start on doing things like tossing spent annuals and vegetables in the compost bin. While I’m doing that, I try to give away plants I’ve got too many of or don’t like anymore—I finally gave away that dreadful Vanilla Strawberry hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata ‘Renhy’) I’ve been complaining about forever. Honestly, it’s a gorgeous plant in many ways, but the huge flower heads spend most of their time hanging down like the noggins of pouting children. Not. For. Me.
The other thing I do, which I’m sure looks kind of strange, is talk to my plants. Yes, it’s true that scientific studies have produced mixed results on whether talking to and/or playing music for plants has beneficial effects. But I don’t care. I enjoy crawling around on my hands and knees talking with my garden. ‘You don’t look very happy here, so how about we move you over there,” I’ll say to perennials that clearly aren’t blooming well because they need more sun now that the honey locust has gotten taller. Or, ‘I’m sorry, but I simply can’t let every single goatsbeard seedling grow up into a giant 4-foot-tall shrub, so you’ve just got to go.’ Neighbors joke: “Talking to yourself again?” I laugh, ha, ha, ha, knowing that no, I’m doing something so much weirder. I’m talking to (or maybe with) my plants.
I wouldn’t try to explain this to non-plant people, but I figure you wouldn’t be reading this blog if you didn’t love plants. So you probably understand what I mean when I say that I think of my gardens as a living creature, maybe even a friend in some ways. That being the case, when my husband, Mike, kindly offers to help with fall cleanup by using the hedge trimmer to more efficiently cut back plants, I cringe. “The hedge trimmer!” I can almost hear the plants scream. Still, I let him have at it on a couple of areas full of hostas. And then I just can’t bear it, so I go on working with my hand pruner, cutting to the ground leafy things while leaving perennials with seeds for the birds like black-eyed Susan, grey-headed coneflower, globe thistle, Joe Pye weed and golden rod.
As I move slowly from bed to bed in the fall, I take the time to do things like pull weeds along with stray maple and oak seedlings, dig up and toss out plants that are diseased and take note of sparse or overgrown spots. Like you probably do, I have a plant wish list and I’m always looking for an opportunity to squeeze something new in somewhere. Topping the list right now is Persicaria, not the variety with white flowers that you may think of as knotweed. I’d like to get ‘Firetail’, which is commonly known as mountain fleece. Hardy to our frigid Zone 4, ‘Firetail’ has pretty pink/red blooms that last from June to October. Plants are bushy, loved by butterflies, and grow 3 to 4 feet wide and tall in full sun to part shade. But I digress.
Let’s get back to plant whispering. Even if you don’t believe that talking to plants is helpful to them, it probably will be to you. Kneeling in the dirt, thanking plants for their brilliant fall leaves and interesting seedpods while apologizing for my role in their powdery mildew problem and other troubles, I feel calm and happy. Hours go by and it seems like only minutes. And all of the list making, teeth grinding, rush, rush, rush of life slips away as I enjoy the breeze, the sun on my face and watching the butterflies and bees taking the last sips of the season. Everyone should be so lucky to have a love they can get lost in.