Lawns, Gardens & Trees



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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. For more information, read Bee-utiful Landscapes: Building a Pollinator Garden

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

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Restore the monarchy

Gardeners can support the restoration of monarchs in North Dakota by growing milkweed.

monarch on milkweedMonarchs in North Dakota are happy today. They are feeding and breeding in our flower-filled prairies and gardens.

Everyone loves monarchs for their bright orange wings and gentle habits. I invite you to take a closer look at this insect and you will find a true marvel of nature:

No other insect on earth can match the migration of the monarch. In late August, the monarchs of North Dakota begin a round-trip pilgrimage to Mexico covering over 5,000 miles. They will soar in the skies like hawks, gliding 25 miles or more a day. Remarkably, they will arrive to the same villages and even the same trees their great-grandparents visited the year before.   

Did you know monarchs can scare away predators that are over 100 times their size? Imagine that! They gain these powers by eating and storing toxins from milkweed in their bodies. Many birds, lizards and other predators have evolved to avoid monarchs due to these toxins.  

Monarchs are amazing creatures but also very fragile. Their populations have declined by 80% over the last 20 years. This is due to many factors including the loss of overwintering sites in Mexico. In the USA they have lost breeding habitats due to agricultural expansion. The development of herbicide-tolerant crops has led to major increases in herbicide use and eliminated milkweed patches growing in pockets of farm fields where it once grew abundantly.

We can restore populations of monarchs by growing ornamental milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) in our gardens. Swamp milkweed is shown above. Monarchs cannot survive without milkweed. They lay eggs in milkweed, eat milkweed as caterpillars for its nourishment and protective toxins, and consume milkweed nectar as butterflies. 

Besides growing a few milkweeds, try to reduce the unnecessary use of poisonous insecticides. These chemicals threaten monarchs, pollinators and other beneficial insects.

Written by Tom Kalb, Extension Horticulturist, North Dakota State University. The photo was made available under a Creative Commons license specified by the photographer: Brad Smith. This article was originally published in the NDSU Yard & Garden Report. Source used for this article: Oberhauser, K. 2015. University of Minnesota Monarch Lab. Univ. of Minnesota: Twin Cities.

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Perfect perennials

Ornamental grasses are easy to grow and look attractive all year

'Karl Foerster' feather reed grassNorth Dakota is a land of prairie grasses. Our soils and climate are made for growing grasses. That’s one reason why ornamental grasses are perfect for us. They are loaded with other great features too:

Ornamental grasses are easy to maintain. They rarely need watering or fertilizing. Just cut the plants back every spring—that’s it!

They have almost no pest problems. Insects or diseases rarely bother ornamental grasses. Believe it or not, deer don’t like them! That’s too good to be true!

They grow fast. Many grasses will grow up to their mature height, even up to 8 feet, within two growing seasons.

They look good all year. You’ll enjoy a changing canvas of color from the emergence of tender grass in the spring to a display of roughened textures and brilliant colors in fall and winter. As a bonus, their seed heads attract lively and colorful birds to our yards.

‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grass is one of the most popular perennials grown today (see photo). Plants grow 5 feet tall and provide a striking vertical dimension to flower beds. Its carefree habit has made it a staple in low-maintenance landscapes. Other popular feather reed grasses include ‘Overdam’ and ‘Avalanche’, each with eye-catching variegated leaves.

‘Northwind’ switchgrass was awarded the prestigious Perennial Plant of the Year award in 2014 (‘Karl Foerster’ won in 2001). ‘Northwind’ has olive-green foliage and a sturdy, upright habit. Another showy switchgrass is ‘Shenandoah’, noted for its stunning burgundy leaves and plumes in autumn.

Written by Tom Kalb, Extension Horticulturist, North Dakota State University. The photo was made available under a Creative Commons license specified by the photographer: daryl_mitchell. More photos are available in the NDSU Yard & Garden Report

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Gift ideas for gardeners

These gifts will bring happiness to your friends and family.

'Appleblossom' amaryllisThe holidays are here and so are the busiest shopping days of the year! Gardening is America’s #1 hobby and you can bring happiness to others by giving gardening presents. 

Amaryllis is a great holiday gift. It is showy and one of the easiest plants to grow. A quality bulb company can offer extra large bulbs that will bloom this year and in future years too. Always remember: the bigger the bulb, the better.

The following is a brief description of more gift ideas:

Lightweight gardening hoses are getting popular. Good pruning tools are always appreciated. A pocket knife is a handy gift. Solar-powered gardening pots are popular—they glow at night!

A new shovel, spading fork or hoe will be appreciated by a true gardener. A garden cart can help your friend move plants and tools around their yard.

Nitrile garden gloves are very popular. Hand scrubbing lotions will clean and moisturize our hands (the most important gardening tools). 

We all need to eat more veggies. A juicing machine can help us to get all the servings we need for a healthy diet. A dehydrator can convert our garden produce into nutritious snacks.

Thermometers, soil thermometers and rain gauges provide valuable information to a gardener.

Gnomes and other garden statuary are risky gifts, but sometimes these gifts bring the biggest smiles!

When all else fails, a gift certificate to a local garden center or a gardening catalog will put a smile on your friend’s face.

Happy holidays!

Written by Tom Kalb, Extension Horticulturist, North Dakota State University. This article is an excerpt of a story published in the NDSU Yard & Garden Report, November 15, 2014. The photo was made available under a Creative Commons license specified by the photographer: Liz West.

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