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Top 10 Garden Tips from 2019 Northern Gardener

With each new issue of Northern Gardener, my garden knowledge increases — and I hope it does for our readers as well. This year, there were many great tips for northern gardeners in the six issues of the magazine but these 10 stood out as especially interesting whether your are a new gardener, and experienced pro or someone in the middle. Here are the top 10 garden tips from 2019, in no particular order:

top 10 garden tips blooms all season

For blooms every week of the year, pick a color palette, the choose perennials throughout the season to plant.

1. For blooms every week, visit your farmers’ market often. In our November/December issue, Gail Brown Hudson profiled the garden of lakeside garden of Mark Addicks and Tom Hoch. To ensure they had blooms every week, the couple used a technique Mark learned from a perennial plant seller at a farmers’ market. First, decide your basic color scheme for blooms (all pinks, purple and yellow, hot colors, creams and gold, whatever you like), then each week during the growing season go to the farmers’ market and select a perennial that is blooming! You’ll need to think about foliage, plant size, form and other design considerations, but if you stick to the same color palette, your plants should all go together. Another tip: don’t buy just one of everything — for impact, plant three, five, seven or nine of your perennials.

plant big beds

This is about half of one of Cathy Hoban’s pollinator-attracting garden beds.

2. To attract pollinators, go big. In our September/October issue, Ariel Emery Butler profiled the country garden of Cathy Hoban. The article is filled with great advice, but one of Cathy’s tips is to go big for pollinators—plant the biggest garden beds you can in your property to encourage a diversity of pollinator life. Cathy uses a lot of annuals in her beds, but perennials, shrubs and trees are vital as well.

3. Choose right-sized plants for tiny gardens. That same issue included Meleah Maynard’s profile of two urban gardeners in Minneapolis. While much smaller, these spaces were beautifully designed and heavily planted. Choosing varieties of trees and shrubs that are smaller—such as native understory trees like serviceberries or dwarf varieties of larger species—allows gardeners to have more trees in a small space. Another option is to plant one or two big trees—and make them the centerpiece of your tiny haven.

4. To reduce pests, bring in insects. In July/August, pollinator columnist Rhonda Fleming Hayes wrote about insectary gardens—spaces set aside to encourage insect life. The idea is that the vast majority of insects are not pests — and if you let the bugs battle it out by providing great habitat and not using insecticides, the good bugs will win the war. I tried it out in my own garden, and the result has been a pretty space buzzing with life! Here’s a video I made of the process.

5. Fence in small areas to save plants from deer. Kent Scheer, who owns Green Island Preserve in Wadena, MN, has a new way to keep deer from prized plants. His “deer micro-enclosure” is basically a small fenced area—his is 16 by 16 feet. The fence around it must be at least 4 feet tall. Deer fear being trapped, so they will pass by the small garden, which could contain vegetables or prized perennials, rather than risk getting stuck inside.

buffalo grass

Legacy buffalo grass is an alternative to traditional turf that’s lower maintenance.

6. Buffalo grass as a turf alternative. In the July/August issue, I profiled a remarkable Japanese garden in St. Paul. The owners wanted to evoke a lake within the garden and used a turf-grass alternative called ‘Legacy’ buffalo grass. The grass requires less water than typical bluegrass and it greens up slightly later, so it’s easy to see weeds and pick them. For those seeking a lower maintenance alternative to turf, this is an option to consider.

7. Monarch caterpillars want to be alone. Lots of folks have been harvesting monarch eggs and raising caterpillars indoors to help increase butterfly numbers. But, as Rhonda Hayes pointed out in her November/December Pollinators column, scientists are figuring out that monarchs raised in captivity don’t have the same instincts as those in the wild. A couple of take-aways from this research: 1) Grow lots of milkweed and other native plants to help pollinators overall; 2) if you do raise monarch caterpillars, keep one per container. In the wild, caterpillars do not set up a crysalis in groups. High density habitats may promote disease. Here’s a more in-depth discussion of the issues.

dahlia bloom

To keep your dahlia blooms fresh in the face of Japanese beetle pressure, cover them with organza fabric bags before picking — a top 10 garden tip from a cut flower farmer.

8. Cover dahlia blooms with organza bags. In our March/April issue, Laura Schwarz profiled cut-flower farmer Molly Gaeckle. Molly had lots of great ideas for growing and arranging blooms (clean your buckets and clippers always!) but one of her more unusual strategies was to cover dahlias with organza bags, similar to those used for wedding party favors, to prevent Japanese beetles from getting to the bloom before you cut it.

9. Micro-dose your houseplants. In a column on fertilizer basics in the March/April issue, Eric Johnson said that figuring out how much to feed houseplants is one of the trickier fertilizer questions. (I agree!) Eric recommends micro-dosing your plants by adding one-eighth to one-quarter the recommended amount of liquid fertilizer to every watering. Check out these five easy houseplants, if you are a newbie.

10. Take garden photos in low-light. In our January/February issue, By Design columnist Don Engebretson offered strategies for home gardeners to take great photos of their landscapes. One of the best is to shoot garden photos in low light—generally at the beginning or end of the day. The so-called “golden hour” after sunrise or before sunset gives plants a glow and removes the harsh shadows that mar photos taken midday. A cloudy but bright day is another good time to take pictures. Here are some more tips for taking better garden photos.

So, there’s my pick of our top 10 garden tips from 2019. Did you have a favorite story or tip you saw? I’m looking forward to more great garden ideas in 2020!

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