Stacking Functions Garden

Spring in the Minnesota garden

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I can’t think of a more glorious month than May in the state of Minnesota. For the second year in a row, we had a rather chilly April and start of May, so when things finally got warmer, and then we got some much-needed rain here in the Twin Cities on the 17th, plants really took off and the end of the month has been simply glorious. There’s nothing better than planting untold numbers of seeds and transplants, only to have them well-watered in by rain. Here are some photo highlights from May in my garden.

Bee approaching a serviceberry

A mining bee (not sure of the species) approaches my Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry (Amelanchier grandiflora) in early May. Early flowering plants like this are critically important sources of nectar for all manner of queen bees who are the only ones in their colony to have overwintered, and now must feed the entire next generation.

Jacobs Laddder

Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium reptans), also blooms in May. It’s a low-growing groundcover plant that thrives even in dry shade. It deserves to be widely planted—it spreads only slowly and the foliage looks great even after blooming.

Protecting plants from squirrels

A not-so-fun spring project around here is trying to protect plants from squirrels and rabbits. Strategies for both need to evolve for different times of year. Rabbits are more of a problem in the winter, when they will eat woody shrubs and small trees down to the ground (or frustratingly, just eat the bark off them, which also kills them).

In the spring, squirrels get very excited about digging in freshly-disturbed soil, especially the friable soil in pots and containers. Happily, this behavior dies down after the pots have been around for a while and the plants in them are actively growing. So these ugly cages on nearly all of my containers can be taken down in another week or two.

Many spring garden vegetables such as lettuce and peas will need to be protected from rabbits continuously. Summer vegetables like zucchini and tomatoes require protection from squirrels. Last year I lost all but one or two zucchinis to squirrels. This year they’re in an impenetrable cage with my tomatoes.

My solution for lettuce is to grow it in a stock tank—it’s a little too high for the rabbits to jump in. We’re eating lettuce daily now and enjoying it while it lasts. The season is always over so quickly. One nice thing about being home-based now with my work is that I’ve had a little extra time to think about succession: I’ve got some romaine lettuce started already in my basement. When this lettuce seeds out in early July, I’ll replace it with some nice romaine. Hopefully.

Beans emerging

Thank goodness for an abundance of lettuce, because the rest of the vegetable garden is only just getting going. Beans are sprouted and up, along with carrots and zucchini. My tomato, kohlrabi and brussels sprouts seedlings are small but healthy, and I am growing more sweet and hot peppers this year than I ever have!

Barrel of onions

Here’s a weedy corner of my back yard. Well, weedy depending on who you ask. It’s got a giant mullein that I’m keeping my eye on—I’ll pull it as soon as it flowers to keep it from self-seeding. The area has also filled in with wild sarsparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) at the front, and it’s fine for now. I’ve got a honeycrisp apple tree in here, as well as a nice patch of Mexican sunflowers at the back (in a rabbit-proof cage for now; rabbits love to eat sunflowers when they’re little).

In the front pots are some 2020 experiments. I took an apple tree pruning and grafting course in February—one of the last social things I did before the pandemic, and it was such a pleasure. So I’m trying to get my grafts to “take” in the smaller foreground pots. We’ll see if it works. Behind them is a half barrel. We had a rain barrel for years that was not holding water very well anymore, so Adam cut it in half and now I have a new large planter. It’s going to be my barrel of onions this year. I plant onion starts thickly, then strategically thin out and harvest them green, gradually creating more room for the remaining ones to grow into bulbs.

Mini prairie in spring

Here, an early spring glimpse into what is my ultimate plan for a good-sized chunk of my backyard: a miniature tallgrass prairie! It’s honestly not that impressive in the spring. These are plants that thrive on heat, and every year I spend April and early May fretting about whether they’re actually alive or not. The answer is nearly always yes because these are seriously hardy plants. I’m trying to keep the palette fairly simple, mostly big bluestem, culver’s root, joe pye weed, and I’m trying out a couple of royal catchfly at one edge.

It’s also bordered by many other random things, including asters, showy goldenrod, rhubarb, a cherry tree, gooseberries, and a serviceberry. This part of the backyard has been really fun to sort out since my southerly neighbor cut down a very large tree that deeply shaded it until just a couple years ago. Suddenly I have so many options…

Wild Columbine

We had a very rainy Memorial Day weekend here, just perfect for sprouting carrots. It also knocked down the last of the pink crabapple petals around the neighborhood—at times it was raining pink petals in a very magical way. The main star of my gardens right now is Wild Columbine. It’s gently reseeded itself all over my yard, and it really ties everything together nicely. Repetition is such an important part of good design, and incorporating more of it in my landscape has made a big difference.

Red Lake Currants

Fruit season is right around the corner: my Red Lake and Ben Sarek currants, plus my gooseberries are nearly ready to eat. Sour cherries are coming along too. We’ll get a short breather between the madness of planting season and then jam-making season will be upon us. And thank goodness—had I not made some rhubarb sauce we would be pretty much out of jam.

Red chokeberry

I’m so happy to see one of my two red chokeberries (Aronia arbutifolia) blooming this spring. Both shrubs are alive, but barely: I piled snow a little too high next to the protective rabbit fence, and they used the snow as a jumping off point to get right inside. They nibbled off most of the bark on the bottom 1/4 of many of the branches. Fortunately enough branches survived that I think ultimately these shrubs will bounce back.

The web traffic to this blog has gone up significantly this spring—interest in gardening is at an all-time high. If you’re new here, what brought you here? Do you have gardening questions? Ask away, I am happy to help. My U of MN Extension Master Gardener activities are currently on hold, so I’m happy to answer questions virtually. Thanks for reading.

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