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November 11, 2005

The Minnesota Tip versus the North Dakota Shuffle

When I was growing up in North Dakota, my mother was renown across LaMoure county for her rose garden. During late June and early August, we got used to people driving slowly past our house for a look at the two beds with formed a sort of ying-yang shape on either side of the front sidewalk.


These beds held nearly 30 hybrid tea rose bushes from shades of softest yellow to rich wine red. The most fragrant were a pink variety, probably “Peace.” My favorites were the yellow roses and still are today.

Mom was generous with her roses, and brides-to-be often came by the day before their weddings to pick up petals to throw down the church aisle. If someone actually stopped her car to take a closer look at the roses, she most likely left with a bouquet in hand, the rose stems resting in wet paper towels wrapped up in tin foil. When we visited our grandparents in west-central North Dakota and north-central South Dakota in the summer, arrangements held in quart jars always came along.


Mom was kind of a fanatic about caring for her bushes. Although she often bemoaned her lack of time to sprinkle this systemic bug killer or apply that fertilizer, she always dug her banana peels and eggshells into the ground underneath the bushes, her method of direct composting.

When fall came, we kids hated those rose bushes.

To keep roses alive through frigid North Dakota winters, they had to be covered. Not just any special covering would do, it had to be done Mom’s way. I have vivid recollections of raking leaves and leaves and leaves. I can’t remember if we bagged them or left them loose but we would mound the leaves up around the roses until they were two to three feet high.

Then Mom would throw black plastic tarps over the enormous leaf piles, would string of web of twine across them and tie them down onto wooden stakes. In spring the whole shebang would have to be untied, rolled up and disposed of leaves.

When I first started gardening, I wanted to include roses in my beds but I didn’t want to do it Mom’s way in the fall. If a rose didn’t make it through the winter, I would just replace it.

I read about the Minnesota tip method for covering roses for the winter, but the idea of digging up all the rose bushes and burying them in a trench seemed way too complicated for me. Who wants to work that hard?

I went for the other method of winter care: cutting the canes back to about 10 inches and covering them with soil and leaves. At first I used the soil left over from my pots, but that didn’t work so well as that soil was compacted and held together by roots.

Then I tried digging up soil from around the bushes but worried about damaging roots late in the season. Next I dug soil from the vegetable garden but that just seemed counterproductive.

One year Brian suggested using some leftover bags of topsoil and Eureka! it all made sense. Topsoil is cheap, easy to transport in a 40-pound bag and helps regenerate tired soil.

And then Eurkea! – another brainstorm. One summer I had a long chat with a woman who had her own landscaping business. She directed me to mulch my rose bushes only with well-rotted manure. Roses are heavy feeders, and they thrive on the manure.

I never actually got around to doing that but the light bulb clicked on that fall when it came time to cover the roses. “Wait a minute,” I thought. “Why not cover them with manure? That way the roses are ready to go in the spring when I never remember to fertilize them?”

I’ve been doing it that way ever since. I revised the leaves portion of the process as well. Now I take a bag of leaves that my neighbors have willingly donated and divide it into two bags. I fluff the leaves out to all the corners of the bag so it forms a big blanket. I throw it over the roses when the ground finally freezes.

This method would probably not get endorsed by the American Horticultural Society, but it’s fast and easy, and I have never lost a rose bush.

So to those proponents of the Minnesota Tip, I give you the North Dakota Shuffle:

1. Push all the mulch away from the base of the rose bush.
2. Cut all canes back to about 10 inches and dispose of the canes. Good sanitation is very important if you have black spot so try to pick up and throw away any diseased leaves. You don’t want the spores to remain on the ground, ready to wreak havoc next year.

Note: Cutting the canes back can hard to do if they are still producing buds that seem like they will bloom soon. You can cut the buds to see if they will bloom indoors. This year, I left the canes with buds intact but still covered their lower stems with soil. If they can make it to full bloom, great. If not, I’ll just cut them back to the soil line.

3. Mound well-rotted manure or compost up over the canes. I purchase manure at Home Depot for around a buck a bag.
4. Cover the manure with an inch or two of topsoil. This is not really necessary but it will help keep the manure in place if it rains. Again, I purchase topsoil at Home Depot for around a buck a bag.
5. When the ground finally freezes, throw a half-filled bag of leaves over the mound.

And that’s it.

I use this method with my hybrid tea roses and miniature roses. I also cover my “Nearly Wild” and “William Baffin” roses, even though they are hardy to Zone 4. The “Carefree Wonders” I leave to their own devices.

With an organized plan of attack, it should only take me about an hour to cover a little over 15 rose bushes.

Click on Jackie to to see how she does it.

The Other Potato Harvest

Remember the “Yukon Gold” potatoes that I harvested from my compost bin? Well, I found these big beauties in some of my containers when I was dumping them out. The sweet potato vines set tubers, some of them enormous. Does anyone have any experience overwintering sweet potato tubers to use in next year’s pots? Let me know by leaving a Comment at the end of this entry.

The biggest of the sweet potatoes came from a pot that was nearly two feet tall. I’m almost tempted to try to grow an eating variety in a big pot to see if it would produce anything fit for the table. I’ll have to ponder that over the winter....

Canna Harvest

These canna tubers came from a single tuber that had been grown in that same two-foot pot. I have five more cannas to dig up yet. I’d like to overwinter these tubers for next year as well. I’ll have to do some research on how to do this. I don’t have a cold cellar, would the refrigerator work?

Magnolia Magic

November 004 small.jpg

Our “Merriill” magnolia trees are five years old now, and they have begun to produce a lavish display in early spring. The tips of this tree outside our back door are plump with buds for next spring.

Phormium Provide Fall Container Interest

I have been very pleased with the phormium that I put in the copper pots in front of the pergola. They added color, structure and height to the containers. The added bonus has been how well they’ve stood up in the fall. They have maintained their structure even as the days have gotten colder, and we’ve had one cold snap. I’ll bet if we lived in Zone 5, I could leave them out all winter. I’d even consider bringing them for the winter to try as houseplants, but I really am not interested in caring for plants during the cold months. I need a break!

Timing is Everything

Some of my plants are a little confused.

Last March I was given a bulb garden as a birthday gift. After it finished blooming, I stuck it outside next to the house and promptly forgot about it.

As I was clearing out the gardens last weekend, I noticed that one of the hyacinths was attempting to bloom. I’m going to bring it in and start watering. Who knows what could happen?

November 007 small.jpg

Christmas Cactus

I have never had much success with Christmas cactus. Brian gave me one more than 10 years ago, and it has struggled along, never doing very well. The past two years, however, somehow I figured out the right care regime, and it has grown tremendously. I had noticed lots of buds on it in September, and by mid-October, it had hit full bloom.

The plant is looking a bit sad now and I’m concerned about the color and texture of its stems. I hope this wasn’t its last hurrah!

What I’m Reading

In the middle of: “Funny in Farsi: Growing up Iranian in America” by Firoozeh Dumas, a humorous tale of a young girl’s Americanization.

Still in the queue: “Sahara” by Michael Palin. The former Monty Python member has written a number of delightful travel tales.

Listening to: A variety of Christmas CDs, from big band and bluegrass to B.B. King and Celtic.

Graham’s current favorite: “Hungry, Hungry Sharks” by Joanna Cole.

Here’s What’s Blooming Now

Not much since we finally had a killing frost. Here are the hardy gang who still remain:

Toad Lily
Lavender “Hidcote”
Nicotiana – all shapes, colors and sizes
Verbena bonariensis
Alpine strawberry – and fruiting, too

Garden Chores for the Week

Repot the amaryllis.

Finish cutting back the dead stuff.

Power wash all the containers before putting them away.

Harvest any runner bean seed that may still be clinging on the teepee.

Dig canna tubers, wash and store them.

Divide bags of leaves into two in preparation for putting them over roses and tender perennials when the ground freezes.

Water all gardens with newly planted bulbs if we don’t get rain this week. The ground is very dry.

Today’s Grahamism

"Were there spiders back long ago when only the presidents were alive?"

"Did you know that some people think that the Chinese and the Japanese are the same because they both end in “ese”?"

Posted by maasx003 at November 11, 2005 6:32 PM | Books | Gardens | Videocast


Can't believe you are having trouble with Christmas Cactus. I still have two very large pots in my home that I took home from the MIA over 10 years ago. For years they bloomed every Thanksgiving and again about six months later. They are just beginning to bloom and nothing I do to them keeps them from blooming twice a year in bright pink and red. We have another Christmas Cactus from a clipping from Dave's Dad's Mom which is really taking off. Good Luck with them!!! Carol

Posted by: Carol T at November 13, 2005 8:41 PM