Despite our long cold winters there are many lovely options for both perennials and annuals in our northern gardens. Annuals that reach maturity within 90 days do best, and perennials adapted to our zones 3-4 growing area can be some of the easiest plants to care for. Native perennials require minimal maintenance once you have them established, offering a bonus in attracting pollinators and wildlife. Native plants do well in our growing conditions, and some have adapted to the pressures of hungry deer and rodents. Fuzzy leaves, heavily scented foliage, and fine (think grass blades) or fern like leaves show some resilience against deer and other hungry critters. Keep those sorts of tips in mind when planning new gardening spaces. Some of my favorite natives like Jacob’s ladder, cup plant, and milkweed are rarely browsed by deer or rabbits. Be cautious with any plants you value however. It is true that no plant is safe from a hungry deer. When it comes to fool proof deer protection your best option really is fencing. We have deer, so we also have fence. Having to fence my gardens is not what I originally had envisioned, but I tested every other option to no avail. I have come to accept that the fence has its benefits, and I have taken advantage of the vertical element by using the fence as a trellis for plants like grapes, peas, cucumbers, and morning glories. It also acts as a support for tall plants such as sunflowers, and cup plant. Some types of fencing can be lethal to birds if it isn’t well marked. I’ve learned that growing vines or other plants on or next to the fence helps to reduce bird deaths. Depending on the fencing, the birds sometimes are unable to see the metal sections while flying. Modifying our landscape always comes with a bit of trial and error, so I hope to help others discover ways to do this more sustainably.
If you have favorite plants that need longer growing periods then our climate allows, it’s easy to start annuals from seed in a sunny window, and it certainly helps to boost your energy at the end of a long winter. There are some perennial options to start from seed too. Keep in mind some perennials may not bloom until their second growing season. Starting your own seedlings or transplants can save you money and when done right it can give you that head start we often need for growing many plants here. Flowers such as zinnias, cosmos and bachelor’s buttons are some of my favorite go-to annuals. Starting some early for transplants, as well as seeding them directly in the garden will give you successions of blooms providing a longer time to enjoy their beauty. Sunflowers are one of my very favorites and proving to be a healthy resource for bees. They certainly make lovely giant accents in any garden. If you are a bird watcher, they too appreciate sunflowers when leaving them to seed in the fall. A snack of sunflowers to fuel them before a long migration or a long cold winter certainly can’t hurt. Watch for a variety called Lemon Queen, as this particular sunflower provides both pollen and nectar for the bees. Most sunflowers will provide pollen in the fall, but heritage and heirloom varieties are usually the best. Something I learned the hard way; multiheaded varieties do grow flowers back after being chomped on by deer, so just give them time.
Day lilies are a perennial that is very forgiving to grow, and there are so many varieties on the market now you could find almost every color and flower pattern you wish. I currently have only 5 varieties, but I look each spring for something new. They are easy to divide once they grow large enough giving you several more plants over time. It’s important to have multiple varieties of plants to help ensure there is always a blooming flower throughout the growing season if you’re hoping to attract pollinators. Don’t forget spring and fall bulbs for those first available blooms, and allowing some no mowing spaces especially later into the fall really helps pollinators prior to their migrations. Those first spring crocus and the last of the fall asters are important food sources for many pollinators. I love to incorporate herbs throughout the gardens and letting them go to flower also adds a unique and lovely addition. Herb flowers are another great foraging source for pollinators, and again, fragrant plants are more often avoided by deer or rabbits. Trying different plants in different spaces always reveals more about the plant then any book will tell you- A favorite gardening trait of mine. Gardening is mostly experimentation. The successes are so worth it, but there will always be lessons to learn. It can be easy to get discouraged if you are looking for no maintenance gardening. There’s just no such thing. Gardens will always require some form of attention. Knowing what your limitations are and what sort of plants will tolerate your management style is the best recipe for success. You can do a lot in a little space, and being able to see how plants work for us and the environment can help you get started in growing your own.
If you are interested in learning more about gardening in our northern climate, please check out the education tab above for available classes and outreach opportunities I offer. During growing season, tours of the farm by appointment are a great way to see a variety of growing methods, beekeeping demonstrations and the amazing flora and fauna of our region. Below I have provided links for some great regional resources. Keep in mind we can vary by a zone or 2 from the middle of Minnesota to the north. This can change dates suggested for planting and maintenance on plants and trees.
Great Minnesota Gardening Resources:
Minnesota State Horticultural Society; http://www.northerngardener.org
University of Minnesota Extension Yard and Garden; http://extension.umn.edu/yard-and-garden
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