Dear Master Gardener: I bought a beautiful trellis on a closeout sale last fall and would like to plant a climbing rose. Is it too cold up here for climbing roses and are they difficult to grow?

Answer: It is not too cold in the Brainerd lakes area to grow beautiful, hardy climbing roses. Agriculture Canada, and more recently the University of Minnesota, have developed many hardy roses for northern climates. Of all the climbing roses they have developed, William Baffin, of the Canadian Explorer Series, is probably the most well-known and grows 7-9 feet tall. It is very vigorous and has double, deep pink flowers with repeat blooms. John Davis has double, light pink blooms and gets 5-6 feet tall. It is slightly susceptible to powdery mildew. John Cabot is from the Canadian Explorer Series, gets 8 feet tall and has double, deep pink flowers, which blooms predominantly in June and July. Above and Beyond from the U of M is the newest and widely available hardy climber. It has shiny leaves, beautiful apricot-colored blooms that are very fragrant, and is disease resistant. Climbing roses are not difficult to grow, but unfortunately rose chafers absolutely love the flowers!

Above & Beyond climbing roses growing on a a trellis. Photo by Jackie Burkey
Above & Beyond climbing roses growing on a a trellis. Photo by Jackie Burkey

Related: Ask the Master Gardener: Reinvigorating your roses

Dear Master Gardener: When do the hummingbirds return to our area so I know when to put out my feeder? Where do they go for the winter? Are there plants I can add to my yard to attract them?

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Answer: The fascinating ruby-throated hummingbirds that dazzle us with their feats of flight should return to the Brainerd lakes area by mid-May. They typically leave by mid-September for warmer climates, mainly Central America. For hummingbird habitat, it is important to have trees and tall shrubs to provide cover for roosting. Adding plants with tubular flowers, especially red and orange ones, will attract and delight ruby-throated hummingbirds. Although cultivars are acceptable, flowers native to Minnesota are best because they produce more nectar than cultivated hybrids. Here are some native wildflowers to consider:

  • Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) blooms for about six weeks in late summer and early fall, providing nectar during migration.

  • Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) blooms in July and August, has aromatic, lavender flowers and reaches 2-3 feet. Not only do hummingbirds visit this plant, but butterflies and bees do also.

  • Eastern red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) blooms in late spring over several weeks. This plant performs best in dry sites with sandy or rocky soil.

  • Royal catchfly (Silene regia) isn’t native to Minnesota, but is native to the Midwest and does well here. This is a tall plant (3-5 feet) with bright red, five-petaled flowers and is pollinated by the ruby-throated hummingbird. It may not be easy to find, so check out nurseries that specialize in native plants.

Related: Ask the Master Gardener: Protecting your plants from spring frost

Non-native perennials that attract hummingbirds include: coral bells (Heuchera), beardtongue (Penstemon), and powdery mildew-resistant varieties of beebalm (Monarda). I frequently see hummingbirds sipping the nectar from the orange-colored flowers of my honeysuckle (Lonicera ”Dropmore Scarlet”) vine. As a general rule, hummingbirds get more nectar from the salvias that are annuals here in Minnesota and the salvias native to the Americas than the perennials. Flowering tobacco (Nicotiana) is another favorite that is an annual.

A hummingbird feeder, as long as some part of it is red, is a great supplement to a yard planted with the right flowers. You can make your own hummingbird food by mixing one part table sugar to four parts water. Do not add red food coloring because it is unnecessary and may harm the birds. Clean the feeder and change the liquid every week, especially during hot weather, to keep it safe for our feathered friends.

Dear Master Gardener: What is the difference between catmint and catnip? Are cats attracted to them?

Answer: Catmint and catnip are both in the genus Nepeta and mint family (in other words they readily spread, although catmint is better behaved). According to the University of Minnesota they both produce nepetalactone, a chemical that is structurally similar to certain feline pheromones and serves as an intoxicating treat for many members of the cat family. Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a perennial that reaches 2-3 feet tall and has whitish-colored flowers. It tends to look a little weedy. Catmints include many species in the Nepeta genus and are primarily used as ornamental plants in landscapes rather than grown for essential oil or cat toys. Catmints are a great addition to the garden as they attract pollinators — especially bees — bloom a long time and will rebloom when sheared back after the first flush of flowers. Most of the cultivars are lavender and Walker’s Low is probably the most well-known. Both perform best in well-drained soil and full sun and are deer resistant.

Related: Ask the Master Gardener: Now is a good time to prune back hydrangeas

Related: Ask the Master Gardener: Lilies add beauty and fragrance to any garden

Related: Ask the Master Gardener: Primulas provide a blast of spring color both indoors and outdoors

You may get your garden questions answered by calling the new Master Gardener Help Line at 218-824-1068 and leaving a message. A Master Gardener will return your call. Or, emailing me at and I will answer you in the column if space allows.
University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners are trained and certified volunteers for the University of Minnesota Extension. Information given in this column is based on university research.