Archive for May, 2009


Library board chair Margit Johnson deals with some winter damage on shrub.

IMG_5066This afternoon about a dozen Friends of the Northfield Public Library spent a few hours weeding the flower beds, planting, trimming shrubs, raking, and just plain sprucing up the area outside of the library. This comes on top of a pile of planting and designing of landscaped areas that has already been done by Judy Code and the folks from Northfield in Bloom. The big pot at right features the Northfield in Bloom colors — kind of a retro-60s look — outside the library’s Washington Street door. It was a little windy and all the gardeners were hoping for rain tonight, but all in all a great time gardening in public.

By the way, if you still want to order seeds, the Friends’ seed fundraiser is an ongoing event. Just click the Botanical Interests box in the right sidebar to help the Friends.


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Eastern Tent Caterpillars

Caterpillars on their way into or out of the nest.

Caterpillars on their way into or out of the nest.

Nearly every spring, I have to remove a nest or two of Eastern Tent Caterpillars (Malacosoma americanum) from the apple trees in our yard. This year appears to be a good year for the caterpillars as I’ve pulled four nests out so far. Eastern tent caterpillars build their silky, web-like nests in the crotches of cherry and apple trees. The caterpillars feed on the tree foliage for a few weeks before pupating into a moth.

While most sources say the caterpillars will not kill a tree, they can defoliate one pretty thoroughly, so I’ve generally tried to get rid of them. These caterpillars nest in groups and the nests themselves are interesting to watch as the caterpillars move in and out several times a day to feed. I don’t like to use pesticides, so I remove the nests (the best time is right before dawn or dusk when most of the caterpillars are at home) by cutting off the branch where the nest is and burning the nest.  For more information on caterpillars, check this site out.

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Before mulch


After mulch

I spent part of Saturday cleaning up around my raised vegetable beds and adding mulched-paths. Because the beds are at the edge of my property and are sitting in/near a meadow, it can get pretty overgrown by the end of the season. For the paths, I put down cardboard and covered it with mulch. I’m hoping this will reduce the amount of weeding necessary, but it also gives the garden a much neater (and for some reason, larger) appearance.

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IMG_5038Yesterday I noticed my tree peony has started to bloom already — in fact, it went from just slightly open to fully in bloom in a few hours Saturday afternoon.  My other peonies — all the herbaceous type — have a few tight balls on them, but no sign of bloom.  I bought this one (sorry, I don’t have a record of its name) a few years ago at the very end of the peony season (fall), planted it in the cold and hoped for the best.  It made it through its first winter and seems to like the moderately sunny spot where it is planted.

Unlike herbaceous peonies, tree peonies develop a trunk-like stem and do not die to the ground each winter. They bloom on old wood and can get as tall as 5 feet. They also have a more striking foliage than herbaceous peonies. Each of the leaves is edged in purple. While my plant has been in the ground two (or maybe three) years, it is still dainty.

An article on tree peonies is in the current issue of  Northern Gardener and in it, writer Margaret Haapoja says most experts recommend some winter protection for tree peonies this far north (oops, I better do that this fall!) but otherwise they are not difficult to grow. They need four to six hours of sunlight and a moderate amount of fertilizer.  It takes them five or more years to reach full size. That’s OK, though, because like other peonies they are long-lived. Most peonies will out-live the person who plants them by several decades.

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EABcolumnMay08You may want to check out the attached PDF of an article written by plant pathologist Katharine D. Widin in the May/June 2008 issue of Northern Gardener. As you may know, the presence of EAB  in St. Paul was confirmed last week. Experts like Kathy, who is the magazine’s regular contributor on plant health issues and runs her own company helping individuals and organizations deal with pests, rots, diseases and other plant issues, have been expecting to find the borer here for awhile. The article describes the history of the EAB infestation in North America, tells how to spot an infestation and what to do about it, and includes pictures of both the borer and the galleries that it leaves in trees that have been infested.

For more information on this issue, check out the state site on Emerald Ash Borer.

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Lasagna gardening is a no-till method of starting a garden — usually one for vegetables — that produces humus-rich soil, the ideal environment for “heavy feeders” such as tomatoes. The basic idea is that you layer materials that normally would go into compost to create your garden bed. Like lasagna, the garden has several types of layers and, after it cooks, the layers shrink and blend into each other.


Bottom layer: Wet cardboard


Rough compost stuff on bottom

For my newest raised bed, I decided to try the lasagna gardening method. In a perfect world, the bed would have been installed and filled last fall, so it would have all winter to sit and percolate. Since that didn’t happen, I added some black dirt and plenty of finished compost to the lasagna.  I followed the instructions from the organic gardening columnist at About.com. I mowed the area where the bed was going to go — it’s near a meadow at the rear of my yard — then set the raised bed in place. Next, I covered the inside of the bed with brown cardboard and wet it thoroughly. On top of that, I added a bunch of partially finished compost from my pile, then a layer of finished compost from the city compost pile, then a layer of leaves, spent perennials, and other material I collected during garden clean-up this spring. In between each layer, I hosed it down more. So far, I have not spent a cent.

First layer of finished compost

First layer of finished compost

Because I will be planting this bed shortly, I added a few bags of garden soil. This cost about $15. On top of that, I added another few inches of compost from the city compost pile. I built the bed off-and-on over two weeks starting in mid-April and have been letting it sit since then. Yesterday, I added some marigold starts around the edge of the bed for color and to encourage good pollinators to frequent my garden. Around June 1, I will plant my tomatoes in the bed. At the end of this season, I’ll add some additional layers to continue to build the soil in the bed.

Will tomatoes grow as well here as they have in my regular garden beds? I’ll let you know.

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IMG_4890If you come across a plant that looks like this…do not plant it right away.

The specimen at left is the root ball of a Mammoth™ mum I purchased at a grocery store recently. Mammoth mums are a newish variety out of the University of Minnesota that reach a size of 3 feet tall and 5 feet wide by the end of their second season. I’ve had visions of a row of Mammoth mums along one side of my driveway for a couple of years but have never found them in the stores in spring — which is when this variety is best planted.  So, when I saw the grocery store had Mammoth mums — and at a pretty good price — I bought one with the idea of trying it in a back garden before investing in a row of them.

After buying the plant, I got involved in a rather mammoth move of my college-age daughter, which required two trips to Chicago within two weeks of each other and way more stairs than I want to count. (Note to self: Discourage young adult child from renting fourth-floor walk-up apartment, unless professional movers or strong men are involved.) As a result, the plant sat in my holding area for longer than it should have.  The root ball was probably bad enough when I bought it, but after two additional weeks in the pot, even with regular watering, it was a tight, dry mess and clearly needed some work before planting. I’m not sure that this is the official method for loosening a super tight root ball, but it’s what I’ve done in the past.

After removing the plant from the pot, I set it in a wheelbarrow with water up to the top of its dirt. I added a little fish emulsion and let it sit for about 30 minutes. Longer probably would have been better. While the root ball soaked, I dug a hole wider and slightly deeper than the plant and its dirt. With the root ball thoroughly sodden, I ripped the tight half-inch or so of roots from the bottom and discarded the clump. Then I plucked at the roots that were left, pulling as many out and away from the plant core as possible.  After this root pruning, I planted the mum, firmed dirt around it and poured some of the fish emulsion water in the area.

Mammoth mums have had a somewhat tumultuous history on the plant market, but I’m hoping that this one will grow well and in a couple of years, I can plant my driveway row.

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