Who is Joe?
Joe Baltrukonis has been a member of the University of Minnesota Extension Ramsey County Master Gardener Program since 2000. He frequently publishes articles on sustainable and eco-friendly horticultural topics for not only our members, but for other gardening organizations as well. His wife Jennifer, edits and proofs Joe's articles- her eye for detail keeps Joe's information accurate and timely. Jennifer also writes articles for us. We hope you enjoy perusing this website for gardening topics that interest you, the home gardener.

As I write this, at least a half foot of late-fallen snow covers my garden. Judging from the green grass of last fall, my wife and I have a serious quackgrass problem this spring. So, I investigated what I should do to control the stuff now and in future years.

Integrated weed management of quackgrass begins with the proper identification of the weed. Roots of quackgrass have long, white, wiry, slender, branching rhizomes that can spread up to 10 feet. Small, clasping ear-like projections (auricles) at the base of each leaf circles the stem. Once you start digging out the numerous wiry roots of this grass, identification will never be a problem.

A friend had trouble growing a good crop of peppers here in Minnesota. I wondered why. Here is what I found out:

Peppers are perennial, tropical plants, but here in MN we grow them as warm season annuals. Flavor is improved in warm weather and is lessened when it is cool or cloudy. Hot peppers often can withstand higher temperatures, while many small fruited varieties tolerate both cool and very warm weather. Check the days to maturity; some hotter peppers require long growing seasons. Days to maturity is measured from the time that the young plant is put into the ground until the first fruits are ready to eat.

A new year of gardening has opened. Masses of garden catalogs signal the early arrival of spring. What does the new year hold for me and other gardeners? Here are some of my resolutions and those of others for your consideration:

  • Redesign the front yard: Jennifer and I have eliminated all grass and now have a miscellaneous collection of native and non-native perennials in a hodge-podge mess. It is more decoration than design. We are putting a lot of thought to planning, color, and design principles like balance, repetition, focal points, simplicity, rhythm and line, proportion, unity.

I am looking at catalogs and catalogs of all sorts of new and old and exciting perennial plants. Wow, they are all beautiful, but they are expensive! 

There is another way to cure plant deprivation needs: seeds. With seeds, you can grow as many little plants as you want, plus have plenty left over to donate to support your local plant sales, or to share with fellow gardeners. Some of these seed-sown plants may require a year of more before they are large enough to bloom, but seed prices are economical for filling your garden. Some plants, especially beautiful wildflower species and exotic tropicals, are not readily available in nurseries as plants. A google search for perennial seeds will provide hundreds of choices. Checking Dave’s Garden Watchdog will find plenty of reliable vendors. When purchasing, be sure that the plants will be winter hardy here (anything rated Zone 4 or lower for hardiness will be fine). Tender perennials will have to be brought indoors during the winter. 

Japanese Barberry

The Japanese Barberry came to the United States in 1875. Since then, this beautiful plant has been widely used in our landscapes. Deer will not eat it, because of the very thorny stems. Used as a hedge, children will not pass through it, because of the very thorny stems. It is insect, disease, and drought resistant. It grows well in full sun and in shade. It has been extensively hybridized and provides different sized cultivars with wonderful summer and fall colors. For years, it has been a best seller in the nursery trade.