Best Garden Tips from 2021 Northern Gardener

Each issue of Northern Gardener is packed with tips for those of us who grow food and flowers in the North. It's hard to pick our favorite tips of each year, but here are 18 that we really like.

Growing Food

two red apples on tree1. Writer Meg Cowden recommends espalier for growing apples and other tree fruits in our September/October issue. Her advice: Start with dwarf root stock that will mature to a tree about 8 feet tall and wide and get out your pruners to shape it properly.

2. Kitchen Garden columnist Samantha Johnson grows lots of things in containers, including corn. The key is in picking the correct variety, she says in our May/June issue. For her, Blue Jade corn “is an exquisite variety that is compact and perfect for life in a container.”

3. If you like to grow herbs for tea like our writer Jennifer Rensenbrink, pick the leaves young for best flavor and brew herbal teas for 10 minutes before drinking.

4. We often think of greenhouses as great places to start seedlings, and they are. But writer Jenn Hovland says that’s just the beginning. She uses her unheated greenhouse to help container plantings of warm season crops, such as melons, peppers and tomatoes, ripen in late summer and as a place to relax on sunny days in January, where the temperatures reach a comfortable 60 degrees.

purple beans dried in pod

If you want to start saving seeds, beans are one of the easiest to go with.

5. Are you ready to start saving your own seeds? Jessika Greendeer of Dream of Wild Health, which was profiled in the September/October issue, recommends beginning with beans. Just let the bean pods dry on the vine, harvest and shell the beans. There is less than 1 percent chance that seeds will be cross-pollinated, she says, so you can be confident your beans will grow true to type in the next season.

Garden Design and Care

6. For a super neat and impressive look to your lawn, edge your flower beds with an edger, says gardener Doug Lake, who was profiled in our January/February 2021 issue. The cut edge will keep grass from entering the bed, too.

7. Design tip: during the season, take photos of your garden beds every couple of weeks. This will help you remember which areas need some extra oomph as you plan for the next year, says our By Design columnist Diane McGann.

8. If you are redesigning part of your garden, the temptation is to start with the plants. In our November/December 2021 issue author Gail Hudson says that’s backwards—begin your design with the bones of your landscape, such as sidewalks, paths, structures, drainage and all the basics that make a landscape function well.

squirrel on sunflower eating

Squirrels can cause gardeners a multitude of problems.

9. Squirrels love to digJennifer Rensenbrink reminded us in her article on tactics for keeping squirrels from ruining your garden in the May/June 2021 issue. To prevent them from digging the freshly planted containers you’ve put out, place sharp sticks around your plants. This will discourage them enough for the soil in your pots to lose the fresh-dirt scent squirrels love and become less attractive.

10. Overwintering tropical plants can be tricky. Steve Danielson, whose Maplewood garden was profiled in the July/August 2021 Northern Gardener, cuts plants back in fall to just 4 to 6 inches tall. He digs up the root ball and after letting it dry for 24 hours, replants it in a 5-gallon container of potting mix. He stores the container in a cool (65 degrees), dark location, watering it every few weeks. In late winter, he moves the dormant plant to a sunny window, watering it weekly to encourage growth. By the time the danger of frost is past, the plant is growing strong.

11. Want tulips but the bunnies keep eating them? Use containers! Jenn Hovland chooses containers that are 24 inches wide and 18 inches deep, plants the bulbs about halfway up, covers with soil and a deep later of mulch, then sets aside until spring. To make sure the bulbs don’t freeze, place them at least 2 inches from the side of the container. She offered more tips for tulips in the September/October issue.

Plant, Indoors and Out

12. As more cultivars of native plants are being introduced, gardeners are wondering if they hold the same benefits for pollinators as straight species plants do. Editor Mary Schier explored nativars in the September/October issue and suggested you consult research results from North Dakota State University and the Mt. Cuba Center. As a rule, plants with double flowers are less (or not at all) useful to pollinators.

12. To bring spring blooms into your house in April or March, columnist Diane McGann suggest you try forcing branches. She cuts branches from shrubs such as forsythia, dogwood, honeysuckle and lilacs and brings them indoors. Set the branches in water and in one to five weeks, you’ll have indoors blooms.

monstera houseplant

Monsteras need bright light if you want the split-leaf look.

13. Monstera is the plant houseplant aficionados love. To get the characteristic split in the leaves, houseplant maven Shayla Owodunni recommended in our January/February 2021 issue that you place it where it gets bright, indirect light for six to eight hours a day.

14. Lavender can overwinter in the North, but writer Rhonda Fleming Hayes thinks of it as an annual herb, not a difficult perennial. For a Mediterranean look, she grows lavender in attractive containers in a sunny spot on her patio. Surround the lavender with containers of other heat-loving herbs such as thyme, oregano and mint. This and more tips were in the July/August issue of Northern Gardener.

15. Succulents are a great container plant, indoors and outdoors. But remember this: while they tolerate dry conditions, succulents thrive on water. But they cannot stand wet feet (roots).  Make sure the drainage on all your succulents is excellent, says DIY columnist Eric Johnson.

16. Want to attract hummingbirds? Plant vines. Pollinator columnist Rhonda Fleming Hayes recommends grow hyacinth bean vine, cypress vine and others to bring in more hummers. We tried hyacinth vine this summer and agree—it was gorgeous and the hummingbirds were big fans.

17. If you grow hybrid tea roses in Minnesota, you know the difficulty of getting them through the winter. In an article in our November/December issue, rose grower Maggie Lofboom suggested a new method: covering the roses with concrete curing blankets, a special insulated tarp used to help concrete set when the temps are low. It also keeps roses cozy in winter

Worth Noting

18. Hort has jobs! Gail Hudson alerted readers of Northern Gardener to the need for more young people to go into horticulture in our July/August issue. If you know someone with a green thumb, let them know there are jobs in all sectors for horticulture—from doing installations to studying plants in the lab.

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