Lawns, Gardens & Trees



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Invite Songbirds to Your Yard

Birds are wonderful to watch, especially in winter. Our feathered friends provide bright flashes of color, wonderful songs and curious movements. It’s a fun activity for everyone in the family. Learn how to set up a bird feeding station.

Goldfinch at feeder
Goldfinches and other songbirds may brighten your day with bright flashes of color, wonderful songs and curious movements.

Would you like to get closer to nature? Put up a bird feeder.

Birds are wonderful to watch, especially in winter. Our feathered friends provide bright flashes of color, wonderful songs and curious movements. It’s a fun activity for everyone in the family.

Now is the time to take action. The weather is getting cold outside and birds are looking for a place to stay warm. Here are a few tips:

Provide good food. This is the most critical factor. Birds won’t visit your station if they do not like the food you offer. Black-oil sunflower and white proso millet seeds are highly desired by most birds. These seeds are rich in calories, which birds need to stay warm, and provide the best value.

Cracked corn and safflowers are useful additions to a seed mix. Niger thistle is preferred by goldfinches and house finches. Blue jays love peanuts.

Avoid seed mixes with wheat, millet, oats and rice. Birds pick through these inexpensive mixes, making a mess on the ground below.

Feeding songbirds can get expensive. Make a commitment to feed birds all winter or don’t feed them at all. Birds are especially vulnerable to hunger in late winter, when food sources in nature are most lacking. Buy seed in bulk to save money.

Get a variety of feeder boxes. A traditional wooden feeder mounted on a pole (see photo) will attract most birds. This feeder typically has a wooden roof and a clear plastic hopper that sits upon a shelf used by hungry birds for perching. The seeds drop down to the birds by gravity. This popular feeder is the best feeder to select if you use only one.

You can attract a wider variety of birds by adding other feeders. Nylon-covered wire cages filled with suet will attract woodpeckers and chickadees. Hanging tube feeders will attract finches.

Keep it safe. Birds won’t come to your station if they feel it is a dangerous place. Mount your feeders at least 5 feet high to discourage cats and other predators. Some type of cover, such as trees or shrubs, should be within 5 feet. This cover will provide a place of sanctuary for birds when threatened by predators.

Get a front-row seat. Place the feeder near a window where you can comfortably sit and watch the birds.

Millions of birds die from flying into windows every year. Place the feeder within 3 feet of a window or more than 30 feet away from a window. Birds that strike a window from a short distance are less likely to get harmed.

Give them water. All creatures need water to survive. Choose a bath with a rough surface and gentle slope, and one that is no more than 2 to 3 inches deep. Add branches or stones that emerge from the water to let birds drink without getting wet. Keep the bath full. Thermostatically controlled heaters will keep water from freezing.

Invite songbirds to your yard this winter. You and the birds will feel warm and happy.

To learn more about establishing a successful bird feeding station, go to

Written by Tom Kalb, Extension Horticulturist, NDSU. Edited by Ellen Crawford, NDSU Agriculture Communication. Photo courtesy of Ian SaneSource: Bird feeding - Tips for beginners and veterans. University of Wisconsin: Madison. 

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How to Select a Crabapple

Crabapple is the most popular small tree in North Dakota. Lots of cultivars are available. Here is how to select the best one for you!

One of the most beautiful sights in spring is a blooming crabapple. They are spectacular!

It’s no wonder the crabapple is the favorite small tree in North Dakota. If you go to a garden center, you will find lots of different crabapple cultivars available.

Which one is best for you? Here are some tips to help you make a choice.

Hardiness. This is always the first consideration when selecting a tree. It makes no sense to buy a tree that will die over winter. All crabapple cultivars discussed in this article are hardy to Zone 4. If you live in the far northern area of the state, focus on cultivars hardy to Zone 3.

Flower Color. This is usually the key factor. Pink or white? Besides your personal color preference, keep in mind where the tree will be planted. What is the background? For example, a white-blossomed tree will be less showy if the background is a white building. Likewise, a tree with dark pink flowers may not contrast well against a red brick building.

Fruit Persistence. This is very important! Why do we focus so much on flower color? The flowers will remain on the tree for only a couple weeks. I encourage you to consider how long the fruits persist on the tree. Some cultivars have fruit that persist on the tree through much of the fall and winter, adding color to our landscapes for several months. Cultivars known for their persistent fruits include ‘Adams’, ‘Adirondack’, ‘Donald Wyman’, Harvest Gold®, ‘Prairifire’, ‘Profusion’, Red Jewel®, ‘Red Splendor’, Royal Raindrops®, ‘Sargent’ and Sugar Tyme®.

Fruit Size. Smaller is better. Larger fruits generally create bigger messes when they drop. Avoid cultivars with fruits that are 2/3 inch or larger in diameter. Pea-sized fruits are much less messy and often stay on the tree longer.

Lack of Fruit. For gardeners who hate the mess created by dropping fruits, sterile cultivars are available, namely Marilee® and ‘Spring Snow’. Sterile trees are most useful in patios and courtyards.

Fruit Color. We automatically think crabapple fruits are red, but some cultivars produce golden yellow fruits. That’s special. These cultivars include Cinderella®, Harvest Gold®, Lollipop® and ‘Louisa’.

Not all red fruits are the same. Some red fruits are dark and dull. Others are brilliant. Cultivars with the brightest fruits include ‘Adirondack’, ‘Donald Wyman’, Red Jewel® and ‘Sargent’.

Foliage Color. Trees with purple or bronze foliage will stand out and make an eye-catching statement in the landscape. These cultivars include ‘Cardinal’, Gladiator™, ‘Prairifire’, ‘Purple Prince’, ‘Royal Beauty’ and ‘Royal Raindrops®’.

On the other hand, a crabapple with green foliage can provide a more natural, relaxing effect in landscapes.

Tree Shape. Many cultivars have a rounded canopy, but some have upright to columnar canopies suitable for tight spaces. These include ‘Adirondack’, Gladiator™, Ivory Spear™ and ‘Marilee®’.

A few cultivars (‘Louisa’, ‘Royal Beauty’ and Ruby Tears™) have graceful, weeping habits; this can make a statement as a specimen tree in your landscape.

‘Sargent’ is a great choice if you are looking for a dwarf (8-foot-high) tree with a horizontal habit.

Resistance to Disease. Look for trees that resist diseases. It’s heart-breaking to have a crabapple tree that drops its leaves in mid-summer due to scab disease or dies prematurely from fire blight. Scab is more of a problem in the eastern part of our state because of its higher humidity.

More Information. Look over the online charts of Johnson’s and J. Frank Schmidt nurseries. Most local nurseries get their products from Bailey Nursery. Go to their website, type in “crabapple”; and learn about their selections.

Crabapple cultivars have been reviewed by NDSU researchers for decades. The authoritative publication that describes their work is Choice Flowering Crabapple Cultivars for the Northern Plains.

The following chart is a summary of the some of the finest crabapple cultivars for North Dakota. Available as PDF.

Adams 4 20 20 Rounded Green Pink Red; 5/8"; persistent Good Excel.
Adirondack 4 18 12 Upright Green White Bright red; 1/2"; abundant; persistent Excel. Exc.
Cardinal 4 15 20 Spreading Dark red, glossy Deep pink-red Deep red; 1/2" Excel. Good
Cinderella® 4 8 5 Oval Dark green, cut White Yellow; 1/4"; persistent Fair Excel.
Donald Wyman 4 20 25 Rounded Green, glossy White Bright red; 3/8"; abundant; persistent Good Fair
Firebird® 4 10 10 Rounded Dark green White Bright red; 3/8"; persistent Excel. Excel.
Gladiator 2 20 9 Upright Bronze-purple Bright pink Red-purple; small Good Good
Harvest Gold® 4 20 20 Rounded Dark green White Gold; 1/2"; persistent Fair Fair
Ivory Spear 4 18 7 Narrow Dark green White Bright red; 1/2" Excel. Excel.
Lollipop® 4 10 10 Rounded Green White Gold-yellow; 3/8" Good Good
Louisa 4 10 12 Weeping Dark green, glossy Pink Gold-yellow; 3/8" Good Good
Marilee® 4 24 10 Narrow Green Double white Nearly sterile Good Good
Perfect Purple 4 20 20 Rounded Deep purple Deep pink-rose Purple-red Fair Fair
Prairifire 4 20 20 Rounded Ages to red-green Bright magenta Maroon; 1/2"; persistent Excel. Good
Profusion 4 20 20 Upright Ages to bronze Red-purple Maroon; 1/2"; persistent Fair Good
Purple Prince 4 20 20 Rounded Ages to bronze-green Rose-red Maroon; 1/2" Excel. Good
Red Jewel® 4 15 12 Upright Dark green White Bright red; 1/2"; persistent Good Fair
Red Splendor 3 23 20 Upright Ages to green Bright pink Bright red; 1/2"; persistent Good Fair
Royal Beauty 3 10 8 Weeping Purple Dark pink Dark red; 1/2"; persistent Good Excel.
Royal Raindrops® 4 20 15 Upright Purple, cutleaf Bright pink-red Red; 1/4"; persistent Excel. Good
Ruby Dayze® 4 22 16 Upright Ages to bronze Bright magenta Deep red; 1/4" Excel. Excel.
Ruby Tears 4 8 13 Weeping Burgundy-green Pink Dark red; 3/8" Good Excel.
Sargent 4 8 12 Horizontal Dark green White Bright red; 1/4; abundant; persistent Excel. Excel.
Show Time 3 22 20 Rounded Bronze-green Bright pink-red Red; 1/2" Fair Good
Spring Snow 4 25 20 Oval Bright green White Nearly sterile Poor Fair
Sugar Tyme® 4 18 15 Oval Green White Red; 1/2"; persistent Excel. Good
Tina 4 6 8 Rounded Dark green, small White Bright red; 1/4" Excel. Good


Written by Tom Kalb, Extension Horticulturist, North Dakota State University. Photos courtesy of keeva999 (home page), Bailey Nursery and Plant Image Library

Information from the above chart was obtained from similar charts from Johnson's Nursery and J. Frank Schmidt and information from Bailey Nursery.

Most local nurseries get their products from Bailey Nursery. Learn about all of their selections

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Easy Ways to Improve Your Landscape

Tips on creating a beautiful yard

Home landscapeDon Kinzler, Horticulture Educator in Cass County, recently shared his insights on how to turn existing plantings into eye-catching landscapes.

Don's discussed how to create a focal point near the front entry, rejuvenate old shrubs, widen plant beds, use curved edges for beds, add low-growing trees along the perimeter, and much more. 

Download his full list of tips.

Watch his video

Photo courtesy of .



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The Toughest Shrubs

Are you looking for a tough shrub? Consider these "gas station" plants!

Japanese barberry
Japanese barberry

Do you need to select a tough shrub for your yard? Don’t go to your local garden center for inspiration. Go to the nearest gas station.

Gas stations are where plants go to die. Shrubs at gas stations are totally neglected. They are never watered and are surrounded by heat-trapping rock mulch. The air is polluted, and the soil is soaked with gas and salt. Shrubs at gas stations are never pruned—usually they die first.

Any shrub that can survive at a gas station can survive in your landscape. The next time you fill up your car’s gas tank, take a moment to see if any of the plants nearby are surviving. You likely will see one of these rugged shrubs:

The toughest shrub may be Japanese barberry (shown). These durable plants come in a wide range of colors including purple, yellow and green. Barberry can withstand heat, drought and poor soil. Its stems have sharp spines that make it deer-proof. Some scientists classify barberry as an invasive "weed," but that is not always a bad quality. It's hardy to Zone 4.

A rugged shrub with beautiful flowers is potentilla (shown). Its bright golden flowers adorn the shrub all summer long. Native to our area, it thrives in our harsh climate.

Japanese spirea
Japanese spirea
Pink-flowering spireas (shown) are tough plants. Some spireas have green leaves while others have gold leaves. The most vigorous varieties have dark green leaves. These leaves are packed full of chlorophyll, which produces energy for plants. Keep in mind that gold-leaf spirea and other gold-leaf shrubs don’t have as much chlorophyll and are naturally weaker. Spireas are hardy to Zone 4.

If you need a hardy shrub with purple leaves, a great choice is ‘Diabolo’ ninebark. It’s tough as nails.

Aronia (chokeberry)
If fruits are important to you, consider aronia (a.k.a. chokeberry) (shown). It is pest-free, grows quickly, bears blueberry-like fruits (unfortunately they taste bitter), and has radiant red fall color.

Rugosa rose
Rugosa rose
Everyone loves roses, but most roses require lots of maintenance. Consider the rugosa rose (shown). These plants tolerate heat, drought, salt and wind—hey, that makes them perfect for us in North Dakota! Some varieties bloom all summer and have scarlet rose hips in winter. Popular selections include Blanc Double de Coubert (white), Therese Bugnet (pink), Lotty’s Love (purple) and Fru Dagmar Hartopp (light pink).

If you need an evergreen, nothing is tougher than junipers (shown). These rugged shrubs are hardy, tolerate drought and will survive in saline soils.

These “gas station plants” can survive the most brutal conditions your landscape can offer. But don’t treat your landscape like a gas station. Show a bit of love to your plants and they’ll reward you many times over.

Written by Tom Kalb, Extension Horticulturist, North Dakota State University. Photos courtesy of Proven Winners,; Joanna Dubaj from Pixabay; and Jan Haerer from Pixabay.


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Tough Tree Gains Popularity

Japanese tree lilac has become one of the most popular trees in North Dakota.

Japanese tree lilac
Figs. 1–3. Japanese tree lilac is becoming one of the most popular trees in North Dakota. The trouble-free tree blooms in June and features glistening copper bark. ‘Golden Eclipse’ has variegated foliage in spring.
The Japanese tree lilac (Syringa reticulata) is one of the toughest and most trouble-free trees for landscapes. It offers year-round beauty with its showy blooms, emerald leaves and glossy bark.

Japanese tree lilac is hardy throughout the state and adapts well to our soils. It is one of the finest trees to grow along boulevards. The rounded canopy grows 25 feet tall and fits neatly under power lines.

When the spring blooms of crabapples and lilacs have faded, the Japanese tree lilac takes center stage with its late display of cream-colored flowers. The fragrance of the flowers is not very pleasing; but not stinky either. Some gardeners feel the flowers smell like privet. Less critical gardeners say the blooms smell like vanilla.

The glossy copper bark is a great feature that provides winter interest.

‘Ivory Silk’ has been the top variety since its introduction from Ontario in 1973. It is a sturdy tree with deep green leaves. It blooms at a young age and is known for its heavy set of blooms. First Editions Snowdance™ has similar features (Fig. 1), and it has sterile flowers that won’t create messy seedheads.

‘Golden Eclipse’ offers variegated foliage in spring, making this remarkable tree even more special. Its variegation fades over summer.


Written by , Extension Horticulturist, North Dakota State University. Photos were made available under Creative Commons licenses specified by the photographers: Bailey Nurseries, Inc.; Minnesota Tree Resources; and Mark Dwyer.

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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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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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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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First impressions

The first fall colors are on display. A look at Hot Wings® tatarian maple.

Hot Wings® tatarian mapleThe first colors of autumn are beginning to show and they are brilliant! The seed pods of Hot Wings® tatarian maple are blazing.

Selecting trees for fall color is a challenge for us in North Dakota. The finest trees in autumn, including most maples, struggle here. Our soils are too dry and alkaline.

Tatarian maple is an exception.  It tolerates even our harsh soils and is hardy throughout the state.

Its seed pods (samaras) appear as fiery red wings. These wings contrast beautifully against the deep green foliage. Magnificent!

Tatarian maple is a small tree, growing only about 20 feet tall and wide. Its upright, spreading habit makes it an outstanding accent tree in small yards. Hot Wings® is a selection of tatarian maple noted for its radiant seed pods, vivid fall color, and strong tree structure.

If you love maples, get an analysis of your soil. If your pH is acidic to near neutral (approx. 7.2 or below), you can grow the superstars of autumn: red and sugar maples.

Superior red maples include Northfire® and ‘Northwood’. Fall Fiesta® and Northern Flare® are great sugar maples admired for their gold and orange colors. Autumn Blaze® has red maple heritage and is the leading Freeman maple.

For more information, watch the presentation on Hardy Maples for North Dakota Landscapes by NDSU Woody Plants Researcher Greg Morgenson. 

Written by Tom Kalb, Extension Horticulturist, North Dakota State University. Photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries, Inc. Article was originally published in the NDSU Yard & Garden Report

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Wrapping Trees for Winter

Trees are not wrapped in winter to keep them warm. Actually, it is the opposite. We wrap trees to keep the trunks cool. We want to protect the trunks from the scalding rays of the winter sun.


I’ll never forget an autumn afternoon spent with my father wrapping trees. He took a roll of brown Kraft paper and wound it around the trunk. Then my father asked me to hold the paper in place while he secured it with twine.

The air was cool and crisp. The golden sun was resting low on the horizon. I was a boy working with my Dad. It was a perfect afternoon.

I thought we were wrapping the trees to keep them warmer during winter. But I was wrong. I later learned we were wrapping the trees to keep them cooler during winter. 

More specifically, we wrapped trees to protect the trunk from getting scalded by the sun.

A tree trunk receives no shade in winter. Its branches are leafless and the trunk is exposed. On a sunny afternoon, the sun casts its rays upon the trunk and heats it up. Temperatures on the sunny southwest side of the tree can be as much as 77°F warmer than on the north side. This heat causes the dormant cells beneath the bark to become active.

When the sun sets, the trunk rapidly cools. The activated cells freeze and burst, causing the bark to crack. 

Look at maples in town (see top photo). On the southwest side you often see a vertical crack on the trunk. Other sensitive trees include linden, mountainash, honeylocust, plum, cherry, crabapple and apple.

Wrap trees for at least their first two winters, until their bark develops texture. The sensitive trees mentioned above will benefit from protection for their first five winters.

Wrap your trees using Kraft paper, starting at the base and winding the paper up to the first major branch. Or, place white plastic tree guards around the trunks (see photo). This protection will reflect the rays of the sun off the trunk, keeping it cool. 

As a bonus, the tree wrapping/guard can help to protect against wildlife damage.

Unwrap the tree after the last frost in spring to let the trunk expand and prevent insect infestation.

Don’t use black tree guards. This absorbs heat, which is the last thing you want to do in winter.


Written by , Extension Horticulturist, North Dakota State University. This is an updated article from an earlier version published in the NDSU Yard & Garden Report for September 22, 2014.

Source: K. Wagner and M. Kuhns. 2011. Sunscald injury or southwest injury on deciduous trees. Utah State University: Logan.

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Ornamental Crabapples for North Dakota

A listing of recommended ornamental crabapple cultivars for landscapes in North Dakota.

PDF document icon crabapple-chart.pdf — PDF document, 62 KB (63964 bytes)

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