Lawns, Gardens & Trees


Lawns, Gardens & Trees

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What is a blue raspberry?

The ultimate in artificial fruits

Blue raspberryHow was your Halloween? Our Halloween was great—the kids had a fun time and collected lots of candy from our neighbors. Then I saw something weird—my boy had a blue tongue!

His blue tongue were caused by blue raspberry candy. There are lots of blue raspberry snacks and juices on the market now.

Many of us are familiar with red, purple and even yellow raspberries, but what is a blue raspberry?

The blue raspberry originated in a laboratory, not on a farm. It started when makers of ice pops had more red flavors (cherry, strawberry, raspberry and watermelon) than shades of red dye. Kids who wanted a cherry ice pop, for example, could not figure out which red ice pop to select.

Raspberry pops originally used a dark red dye (FD&C Red No. 2) but it was later banned by the FDA as a possible carcinogen. The ice pop makers found Brilliant Blue dye (FD& C Blue No. 1) sitting on the laboratory shelves and the blue raspberry was created—along with blue tongues.

Its flavor mimics the flavor of blackcap raspberry Rubus leucodermis, a wild berry most of us have never seen or eaten (bottom left photo).

There is no such thing in nature as a blue raspberry. Even if you find a blue raspberry product with natural flavors it probably doesn’t have any actual raspberry flavor. Less expensive juices such as apple and orange are more commonly used in these products.

Source: Matt Soniak. What the heck is blue raspberry? Accessed online on November 10, 2015, Photos courtesy of Tom Kalb, arbyreed and Zoya Akulova.

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Growing tulips indoors

Enjoy the bright colors of spring during winter!

Forcing tulipsWinter is coming and the first snowflakes are already falling. Humbug! I’m thinking about SPRING today!

Have you ever grown tulips indoors? It’s easy! This is a process called forcing. We are literally forcing the bulbs to bloom under unnatural conditions. 

Start by selecting the finest, biggest bulbs you can find. Partially fill pots with potting soil and set the bulbs close together (see top left photo). Bulbs should not touch each other but be no more than two inches apart. Fill each pot with soil so the tips of the bulbs are exposed at the soil surface. 

Each tulip bulb has a curved side and a flat side. The largest leaf grows from the flat side. Set that side of the bulb against the inner rim of the pot and the leaf will arch over the rim—beautiful!

Label the pot with the variety name and planting date. Water the bulbs and keep them at around 40 degrees. Set the pots in a cool cellar, unheated garage or in the basement refrigerator. This will be their “winter” (much milder than the winter we will face, that’s for sure!).

After 12–14 weeks, the bulbs will start sprouting. Bring them to a cool (50–65°F) spot with bright, indirect sunlight for 1–2 weeks. Many gardeners take only a few pots out of storage at a time. This will extend the spring show.

Move the pots to a sunny window after the sprouts have reached two inches tall. The plants will bloom in two weeks.

Try forcing daffodil, crocus and hyacinth bulbs too! Enjoy the bright colors of spring—in winter! 

Photos courtesy of Tom Kalb, Thomas Knox and Lori L. Stalteri

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Pumpkins: Think PINK

Sales of pink pumpkins support the fight against breast cancer

Williston High School FFA Pink Pumpkin ProjectOctober is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Pink ribbons are on display everywhere to promote early detection of the disease. 

We can fight breast cancer by purchasing or growing PINK PUMPKINS.

Breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer in women. About 1 in 8 women born today in the United States will get breast cancer at some point (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2015).

The Pink Pumpkin Patch Foundation was established in 2012 to supports organizations involved in breast cancer research. Farmers and community groups grow and sell pink pumpkins with a portion of the proceeds going to raise money for the foundation.

Local groups include the Williston High School Future Farmers of America (FFA). Kimberly Holloway of NDSU and Carrie Bolstad of FFA coordinate this project, which is supported by the NDSU Junior Master Gardener Program (see left photo). "I enjoy the energy these kids bring to this endeavor," Holloway said. So many of them have someone in their family who is fighting or has fought cancer, that it becomes a very personal thing for them."

A special variety, ‘Porcelain Doll’ was developed to support these projects. Besides its distinctive pink rind, the pumpkins have a sweet, dark orange flesh. This flesh is great for pies, soups and treats. It’s very nutritious and full of cancer-fighting antioxidants. ‘Porcelain Doll’ is offered by many seed companies.

Look for pink pumpkins at your local farmers market. Next year, grow your own pink pumpkins and join the battle against breast cancer. For more information, go to

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2015. October: Breast cancer awareness month. Photo at right courtesy of University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources

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Boxelder bugs are swarming

Boxelder bugs swarmingThe redcoats are coming! The redcoats are coming!

With apologies to Paul Revere, swarms of red-coated boxelder bugs are marching toward our homes.  

Adult boxelder bugs are large black insects with reddish-orange markings on their wings (see photo). The immature nymphs have red as their dominant color.

These bugs spent summer sipping on the sap of soft-wooded maples, including silver and boxelder maples. They didn’t damage the trees and most of us did not notice them.

But the warm, carefree days of summer are over and the bugs are desperately looking for heat. You can find them sunning themselves on the south- and west-facing sides of homes.

Boxelder bugs are fairly harmless. They don’t breed indoors and they won’t eat your food. They won’t bite your toes and they won’t eat your furniture. They are just looking for a warm place to spend the winter.

You can leave them alone and after a few hard frosts the problem is over.

If the bugs are causing you a major nuisance, consider spraying them with detergent. Mix three to five tablespoons of liquid detergent per gallon of water. Detergent sprays kill bugs that are sprayed upon and have no residual effect. Repeated detergent sprays will be necessary.

For severe infestations, toxic insecticides can be sprayed on and around the foundation of the home. Insecticides with synthetic pyrethroids are recommended since they work under cool temperatures. These include permethrin, cyfluthrin, and esfenvalerate.

The best defense is to “pest-proof” your home. Caulk any cracks along the foundation, doors or windows. Seal openings where utility cables enter the home. Screen any vents, and apply weather stripping on doors.

Any boxelder bugs that enter your home can be swept outside or vacuumed. Avoid squishing the bugs because their “juices” can stain fabrics. If vacuuming, empty the dust bag immediately to prevent bugs from escaping out of the vacuum.

Photo courtesy of William M. Ciesla, Forest Health Management International,

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Normal fall needle drop in conifers

Conifers - pines, spruces and others - sometimes lose older needles during the fall. This is normal, and does not indicate a pest problem.

During autumn, deciduous trees like green ash and linden change color and lose their leaves. This is normal and expected. It happens every year and people are used to it. When evergreen needles turn brown and die, it’s definitely unexpected, but not necessarily abnormal. 

There are several species of evergreens or conifers that grow in North Dakota. Pines and spruces are most common. Pines have relatively long needles (two to nine inches), which are held in clusters called fascicles. These needles live for two to seven years and then die and drop during the fall. These are the older needles toward the center of the tree. Needles that are going to drop start turning yellow as early as late August. By mid-September these needles turn brown and begin falling from the tree.

Another common group of conifers are the spruces such as Colorado blue spruce and Black Hills spruce. These trees have shorter needles, about three-quarter to an inch long, and are attached to the stem individually, not in bundles. Spruce needles usually live longer than pine needles and may persist for up to 10 years. Just like pines, those spruce needles which are older and more shaded, will turn color and drop during autumn. In the photo, the ponderosa pine (background) is showing normal fall coloration, while the Colorado blue spruce (foreground) is not shedding any of its needles.

Ponderosa pine tree (background) that is showing normal fall needle drop.  Colorado blue spruce (foreground) is not shedding needles in this photo.

Some needle drop by conifers during the fall is normal. The exception occurs with larch trees (also called tamarack). Larch trees lose all of their needles every year because they are deciduous evergreens. Larch needles are one to two inches long and borne in clusters on short shoots or individually on long shoots. The needles are also very soft. Some larch trees are native to the swamps and bogs of northern Minnesota. A common larch that has been widely planted in North Dakota is the Siberian larch. Larch needles turn bright yellow and provide a golden rain during autumn.

Evergreen needles don’t last forever. Some needle loss toward the center of the tree during autumn is normal. Needle loss at other times of the year is not normal and may be due to an insect or fungal pest or the result of severe environmental stress. Larch trees, the exception to the rule, lose all of their needles every year. Enjoy the colors this fall.

-Joe Zeleznik

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Discover diervilla

A tough shrub with striking beauty

First Editions® Cool Splash® diervillaKodiak™ Orange diervilla

There is a new plant appearing in North Dakota landscapes and it is grabbing a lot of attention. It's diervilla (Diervilla sessilifolia). I've never heard of it before—have you?

Originally considered nothing more than a tough shrub for riverbanks and roadsides, new selections of diervilla are generating excitement across the nation.

Michael Dirr, one of the most respected woody ornamentals experts in the USA, originally dismissed diervilla but now admits he was wrong. Start with First Editions® Cool Splash® (top photo). Dirr states Cool Splash® definitely has the “wow factor!” The creamy white and green variegated leaves are bright, clean and do not burn. Cool Splash® is hardy to Zone 3.

Proven Winners Kodiak™Orange diervilla is just as special but in a much different way. Its orange-red hues glow in fall (bottom photo) and rival the beauty of burning bush. It is hardy to Zone 4.

Diervilla has light yellow flowers that attract bees and butterflies in summer. It is a thick, suckering shrub that grows 3–4 feet high and spreads 4–5 feet wide. Diervilla seems well-suited to grow in masses in low-maintenance, naturalized settings. It is resistant to deer.

Dirr reports diervilla is a “tremendously tough” plant that is tolerant to winds and drought. This sounds great for us in North Dakota!

Cool Splash® can be planted in sun but is often used as an understory plant in partial shade, where its white leaf tones are bright and dramatic. It makes sense to plant Kodiak™Orange in full sun where it develops its optimal fall color. 

Diervilla is a tough shrub with striking beauty. Look for these and other hardy selections of diervilla in the future.

Written by Tom Kalb, Extension Horticulturist, North Dakota State University. Photos courtesy of Bailey Nurseries, Inc. and Proven Winners. This article was originally published in the NDSU Yard & Garden Report, September 2, 2015. Source used for this article: Dirr, M.A, 2009. Manual of woody landscape plants. 6th ed. Stipes Publishing: Champaign, IL.

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Bee friendly

Bees in ND are threatened by economic development and mites. Learn how to promote bee activity in your yard.

Bee on asterThe undisturbed prairies of North Dakota were once a haven for bees, but the landscape of our state is changing. The oil boom, increased pesticide use and an onslaught of mites are threatening bees. We can no longer take these insects for granted. 

Bees are vital for a productive garden. We need them for cucumbers, melons and squash. We need them for berries, apples, cherries and other popular fruits.

We can take steps to make our landscapes bee friendly. Bees are just like every other creature on earth. They need food, water and a safe shelter.

Bees need food. Grow lots of different flowers. Bees will forage on flowers from the first crocus in spring until the last aster in fall (photo). Native plants are especially well suited for attracting native bees and other pollinators.

Preferred perennials include beebalm, blazing star, blanketflower, goldenrod and aster. Useful annuals include sunflower, salvia and snapdragon. Herbs such as borage, basil and chives are welcome.

Bees need water. Bees will drink from rims of bird baths. A piece of wood in the bath can serve as a landing platform for bees. You can make a bee bath by placing a shallow plate on the ground, lining it with rocks.

Bees need a safe shelter. Bees generally do not need help in constructing nests, but bee houses are easy to construct. Many bees nest in soil so allow some bare patches in the garden. 

Avoid insecticides. Dust and wettable powder formulations are especially dangerous because they collect in the hair of bees. Insecticides that are relatively safe for bees include Bacillus thuringiensis, neem and horticultural oils. Chemicals should be applied in the evening when bees are not active. Avoid products with long residual activity such as soil drenches of imidacloprid.

The Xerces Society is a good source of information on attracting pollinators.

Written by Tom Kalb, Extension Horticulturist, North Dakota State University. Information was taken from an article published in the NDSU Yard & Garden Report, July 31, 2015. The photo was made available under a Creative Commons license specified by the photographer: Michael Frank Franz. Source used for this article: Stack, L.B., F. Drummond and A.C. Dibble. 2000. How to create a bee-friendly landscape.Univ. of Maine: Orono.

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Radiant and reliable

Sedum is a fall-blooming perennial that thrives in North Dakota.

Autumn Charm™ sedumChrysanthemum is the superstar of autumn—no other flower can match its brilliance in the late season.

That said, there is nothing brilliant about a perennial that blooms for only one year. Many mums planted this fall will not survive our winter.

Why not grow a fall bloomer that thrives in North Dakota? Something that will bloom this fall—and next fall.

Sedum is one of the most drought-tolerant, low-maintenance, hardy plants available. It’s perfect for North Dakota and is especially well-suited for harsh, rocky soils. It’s no wonder it is nicknamed stonecrop.

Sedum has year-round appeal. In spring and summer, its thick leaves provide an attractive foil to other flowers. Once autumn arrives, its pink flowers command our attention while other flowers in the garden fade. You will notice that bees and butterflies are drawn to sedum blooms. In winter, birds hop on top of the flower clusters and poke at the seeds.

Sedum is a staple plant of every rock garden but it will grow in any well-drained spot. They are effective when planted in groups, along borders or as a large groundcover.

‘Neon’ is a very popular sedum. Its magenta blooms are absolutely brilliant. ‘Autumn Joy’ has been an attractive and consistent performer for decades. Autumn Charm™ is a sport of ‘Autumn Joy’ with variegated leaves (shown). Wow!

The latest series of sedum are the Sunsparklers®. These compact plants come in vivid shades of red, purple and green. The creeping, 8-inch-tall plants are adorned with deep pink flowers in autumn. They are hardy to Zone 4.

Fall is coming and chrysanthemums will soon be appearing at garden centers. Enjoy them, but also keep in mind there are more reliable fall-blooming perennials for us in North Dakota: sedums.

Written by Tom Kalb, Extension Horticulturist, North Dakota State University. Photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries, Inc. Additional photos are available in the August 23, 2015 edition of the NDSU Yard & Garden Report

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Grow your own gold

Fall-sown cover crops will add organic matter ("black gold") to your garden soil.

Healthy soilDo you want to improve the soil in your garden? Add organic matter. Organic matter is so valuable it is sometimes called “black gold” by gardeners.

The addition of organic matter will improve nearly every soil. In clay soils, organic matter breaks open the ground, allowing for better drainage and aeration. In sandy soils, organic matter helps soil to hold onto nutrients and water. Organic matter adds nutrients too.

You can add organic matter to your soil by sowing a cover crop now. These crops will blanket the soil and protect it from eroding over winter. Cover crops will capture nutrients deep in the soil and bring the nutrients near the surface for next year’s crop. Cover crops can collect snow, improve drainage and reduce weeds in the future.

Cover crops can be sown in any area of the garden that is finished producing vegetables. You can also sow between the rows of crops that are still producing.

At this time of year there are two strategies for growing cover crops:

Oats (Avena sativa) should be sown now. The oats will put on good growth this fall and die over winter. It will be easily tilled into the soil in spring or mowed and left as a mulch. This is a good option for land where you plan on growing early spring crops such as carrot, spinach and pea. Annual ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum) is an alternative to oats.

Winter rye (Secale cereale) can be planted anytime in September (the sooner, the better). Winter rye will grow vigorously this fall and begin growing again in spring. This is a good strategy for land that will be planted late in spring with warm-season crops (tomato, cucumber and squash). Mow and then cultivate the rye into the soil in early May. No-till gardeners can spray it with glyphosate in spring to kill it. Give it a couple weeks to break down and then plant your crops at the end of the month. Winter wheat (Triticum aestivum) is an alternative to winter rye.

Seeds are available from catalogs and farm supply stores. Sow oats at 4 oz., winter rye and winter wheat at 3 oz., and annual ryegrass at 2 oz. per 100 square feet.

Written by Tom Kalb, Extension Horticulturist, North Dakota State University. The photo was made available under a Creative Commons license specified by the photographer: Natural Resources Conservation Service. This article was originally published in the NDSU Yard & Garden Report. Sources used for this article: Cornell University. 2013. Improve your soil with cover crops. Ithaca, NY; and Johnny's Selected Seeds. 2015. Cover crops comparison. Albion, ME.

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Our state tree is making a comeback

elmThe grand tree of North Dakota is making a comeback.

The arching branches of elms once lined our city streets like columns in a cathedral. The majestic trees provided rapid and comforting shade over our neighborhoods.

The invasion of Dutch elm disease (DED) changed everything. Discovered in Mandan in 1969, the disease has killed thousands of elms throughout our state.

What a great loss—and these losses continue as DED spreads.

There is hope. We’ve learned how to manage DED. Trained arborists can identify infected trees quickly and dispose of the wood before the pathogen spreads.

There has been amazing progress in the introduction of new elms that resist Dutch elm disease. Dutch elm disease actually came from Asia, and some Asian elms have developed genetic resistance to it. This includes the Japanese elm cultivar ‘Discovery’. It is hardy, drought tolerant, relatively short (35–40 feet) and has an upright habit.

The University of Wisconsin and Morton Arboretum (Chicago) have incorporated the DED-resistance of Asian elms into American elms and released ‘Cathedral’ and Triumph™, respectively. These trees retain the arching habit of American elms and the disease resistance of Asian elms.

Researchers estimate that less than 1 out of every 100,000 American elms is resistant to DED. In spite of those dismal odds, a few gems that resist the pathogen have been discovered.

Dutch elm disease destroyed a group of elms along the Wild Rice River near Fargo. In this grove of death, one tree stood tall and healthy. Today we call that tree Prairie Expedition® elm, with proven resistance to the disease. Look for this tree in your nursery (municipalities are buying as many as possible). Other American elms with exceptional resistance to DED are St. Croix™ and ‘Jefferson’.

No elm is immune to DED. Use varieties that resist DED and keep them growing vigorously. Vigorous trees fight disease better than weak trees. Train elm trees when young to prevent weak, narrow crotches.

For more information on growing elms in North Dakota, watch NDSU Researcher Greg Morgenson’s 2014 talk on new elm cultivars.

Written by Tom Kalb, Extension Horticulturist, North Dakota State University. The photo was made available under a Creative Commons license specified by the photographer: Dendroica cerulea. This article was originally published in the NDSU Yard & Garden Report. Source used for this article: Gillman, J., C. Giblin, G. Johnson, E. Sagor, M. Reichenbach and G. Wyatt. 2014. Elm trees – Dutch elm disease resistant varieties. Univ. of Minnesota: Twin Cities.

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