ASK A MASTER GARDENER
What shrubs will attract birds?
Dear Master Gardener,
Next spring I would like to plant some shrubs that will attract birds to my yard. What “bird-friendly” shrubs do you recommend?
Answer: Planting shrubs is an excellent way to attract birds to your yard. An ideal habitat includes trees and shrubs of varying heights, including ground level, that provide nesting sites, food and shelter throughout the seasons. Birds nest in medium and tall deciduous trees, evergreens and shrubs. Evergreens, such as spruce, arborvitae and junipers provide protection for birds. To create a bird-friendly border plant the tallest trees at the edge of your property or landscaped area and shorter species layered toward your home. In addition, you will want to provide water near protective shrubs in the summer. You may even go so far as to have a heated bird bath to provide water in the winter. The depth of water in a bird bath should only be one to two inches and it is important to keep it clean.
To provide food for birds plant shrubs that produce berries, such as Amelanchier (Juneberry and serviceberry), Cornus (dogwood), Sambucus (elderberry), Viburnum (nannyberry, high bush cranberry, arrowwood) and Ilex (winterberry). Sumac is a good choice for year-round feeding. Seeds from pines and spruces nourish cardinals and grosbeaks.
To attract hummingbirds to your yard you may want to consider planting Syringa (lilacs), which provide nectar early in the season when there is a limited food supply for hummingbirds. They also love the trumpet-shaped flowers of Weigela. If you are interested in adding a vine to a trellis, Lonicera (honeysuckle) “Dropmore Scarlet”, would also be a good choice for hummingbirds.
Dear Master Gardener,
I am interested in adding ferns to my garden. What types of ferns do you recommend for our area and should they be grown in the shade?
Answer: Ferns are one of the oldest plants on earth. When they are grown in favorable conditions, they are tough and vigorous. In addition they add a lovely, graceful addition to gardens. There are over one hundred ferns growing in Minnesota; however, local nurseries are a good place to find the species that are known to grow in gardens in our area. In general, ferns prefer moist, organic soil and partial to full shade. Following is a list of ferns you are likely to find in local nurseries:
• Maidenhair fern does well in bright light but no direct sunlight. It has crinkled, light green fronds and grows 12-18 inches high, spreading slowly to about 12-18 inches.
• Cinnamon Fern has large, medium green fronds and grows 30-60 inches in height spreading slowly to about 36 inches.
• Japanese painted fern has triangular-shaped, gray-green fronds with pinkish, arching stems, which grow to about 18 inches in height. They tend to have better color if they get lots of light, such as, morning sun and afternoon shade.
• Ostrich fern are easy to grow and can add some drama and height to your garden. They grow 3-4 feet in height and have upright, arching and horizontal fronds.
• Christmas fern is evergreen and reaches a height of 1-2 feet. Its fronds arch horizontally and start out a silvery color then age to a rich green.
• Lady fern are easy to grow and can grow 3-4 feet tall. They have slightly arching, lacy fronds. Lady ferns grow best in evenly moist soil in light to full shade.
Dear Master Gardener,
I like the perky look of a cyclamen and thought I’d get a red one to brighten a dark corner for Christmas. How long will it last and how should I care for it?
Answer: A cyclamen is a “perky” plant and can bloom for months every year for many years, but it is not a good choice for a dark corner. It does best in a bright, sunny window. It is sweet-scented and is sometimes called a “florist’s cyclamen.” Cyclamens come in red, pink and white and are native to Mediterranean regions, so they are not winter hardy here in zone 3, though they like spending summers outdoors. When kept in bright light and are neither over nor under-watered, they bloom from fall through spring. Then they usually turn yellow and go into dormancy until fall, at which point many people discard them. Cyclamens grow from round tubers and should be watered from the bottom or side of the pot, not on the center crown Spent flowers should be removed by giving the stalks a sharp jerk to remove them from as close to the crown as possible. Fertilize your cyclamen lightly every month as long as it is blooming, stopping when it goes dormant and resuming when new growth appears. Water sparingly when the cyclamen is dormant.
DECEMBER GARDEN TIPS
• Check stored dahlia tubers, canna bulbs and winter squash. Get rid of anything that has soft spots, is shriveled or smells funny.
• If stored potatoes are sprouting, their storage place is too warm. If they are turning green, they are getting too much light.
• Buy a fresh, Minnesota-grown Christmas tree. They are a renewable crop, grown on marginal land unsuitable for agricultural use. They reduce soil erosion and provide wildlife habitat.
• To protect dormant perennials, shrubs and lawns, use grit or sand instead of chemical de-icers. If necessary, mix a small about of de-icer with sand or grit.
• Poinsettias are not toxic when eaten. Some holiday plants, however, such as holly and mistletoe are harmful when eaten, especially by children. Ornamental peppers are not poisonous but can be so “hot’ that handling them, then rubbing the eyes can be very painful.
• Assess your landscape for winter interest. Then take note of yards with trees with interesting bark, shrubs and trees that hold berries, and conifers that add green to a winter landscape. Add ones you like to your spring planting list.
• Keep flowering holiday plants in good shape by placing them in bright, indirect light and watering them when their soil surface feels dry, usually about once a week. Remove their decorative foil and water deeply and well, preferably from the bottom by letting them sit in 2-3 inches of water in a sink or pan for 20 minutes, then returning them to their sunny spot. Do not let them stand in water.
• If you have no room for a traditional Christmas tree, a Norfolk Island pine can function as a smaller substitute. It is slow-growing house plant and can hold tiny ornaments and lights. It can last for years.