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March 2009 Archives

What's Up With That?!

Michelle Grabowski

Salt is a common sight in Minnesota this time of year. Unfortunately sodium chloride from deicing salt can be very toxic to garden plants when in high concentrations. Evergreen needles, tree buds, tree roots and turfgrass can all be damaged or killed by deicing salt splashing onto above ground plant parts or washing into the soil around plant roots. In addition when de icing salt washes into our lakes and rivers with spring snow melt, it reduces water quality and could harm aquatic wildlife.

What can a Minnesotan do?

Prevent future problems by reducing use of deicing salt

  • Shovel snow soon after snowfall to avoid compaction and ice formation.
  • Redirect downspouts so that water flows away from walkways.
  • Use the least amount of salt necessary to break up the ice. Then use a shovel to clear the sidewalk.
  • Reduce the amount of salt needed by mixing sand or gravel with a small amount of salt to provide traction on ice.
  • Use non sodium chloride deicing salts like CMA or other acetate de-icers which are less toxic to plants.

If plant damage does occur, water plants liberally in the spring to flush the salt out of the soil. Next year use the steps above to prevent future damage.

In the Rhododendron Fairyland: The Fantasy of Alpines


The prominent 19th century English botanist, Francis Kingdon-Ward, wrote manuscripts in great detail profiling his lifelong collection of high-altitude ornamental plants. Throughout his lifetime, Kingdon-Ward scavenged the Namcha Barwa Mountain crevices and the Tsangpo River Gorge for these select alpine plants during his some 65 explorations through the southeast of Tibet. These rare plants became the gems of his world-famous collection and ultimately, became his lasting legacy. Perhaps, the modern gardener's intrigue for alpine plants can be traced back to Kingdon-Ward's evocative descriptions of these beautifully rare plants. In any case, the botanical world has developed a great fascination for these charming ornamentals. Our fascination is firmly rooted in the marvel of botanical life that is capable of inhabiting and thriving on the so-called "Rooftop of the World."

Michelle Grabowski, University of Minnesota Extension Educator


Photo 1: Fusarium wilt resistant and susceptible tomato seedlings. Michelle Grabowski

Although winter still holds Minnesota in its icy grasp, smart gardeners are already pouring over seed catalogs and preparing for the season ahead. There are many factors to consider when choosing which vegetable variety to grow this season. One option available to gardeners is disease resistant varieties. These are varieties that have been specially bred or selected for their ability to remain healthy in the presence of a pathogen. Choosing disease resistant vegetable varieties can save the gardener time and money since they will likely not require fungicide sprays or other control measures to prevent the development of fruit rot, leaf spots or other disease problems.

David C. Zlesak, University of Minnesota Extension Educator


Photo 1: Carefree Spirit™ shrub rose. David Zlesak

Carefree Spirit™ (shrub rose), Pink Promise™ (hybrid tea rose), and Cinco de Mayo™ (floribunda rose) are the three new All-America Rose Selections (AARS) winners for 2009. These roses have proven themselves as top performers among dozens of entries over two seasons of evaluation at over 20 official test gardens across the country.

David C. Zlesak, Elizabeth Spedaliere, Kathy Bonnett; University of Minnesota Extension Educator and Master Gardeners, respectively

Bird-Nest Wasps

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Jeffrey Hahn, University of Minnesota Asst. Extension Entomologist


Photo 1: Birds-nest wasp. Jeff Hahn

Several people have complained of insects damaging their windows and have either described or sent me samples of grass that they found in it.  When asked when they first encountered this, I was told that this was not new from the winter but had occurred last summer or fall.  When the samples were carefully examined, tree crickets were found amongst the grass.  People never noticed any other insects.

Garden Calendar for March

David C. Zlesak


Photo 1: Spring flowering shrubs like forsythia have flowers that are ready to open once placed in a warm environment. Cut stems harvested now are easy to force into flower indoors.  David Zlesak

Are you ready for some spring blooms?  Consider cutting and brining in some stems for forcing of early spring flowering shrubs like forsythia, pussy willow, and flowering almond.  Stems of these shrubs have flower buds already developed and they are ready to quickly grow and develop in a warm environment after receiving their chilling requirement over winter.  Treat cut stems like standard cut flowers by changing the water frequently and using floral preservative.  Once the flowers begin to appear, their life can be extended by keeping them in a cooler portion of the house, out of direct sunlight, and away from drafts.

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