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 offer minimal maintenance once you have them established, offering a bonus in attracting native pollinators and wildlife. These plants can often tolerate a grazing deer or rabbit having some resilience. Native plants have adapted to our growing conditions, and some even have evolved to deter those critters looking for a free meal. Fuzzy leaves, heavily scented foliage, and fine or fern like leaves show some resilience against deer. 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 or rodent. 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. If you are looking to attract wildlife, try your best to not discriminate. I find so often situations were people are feeding one particular animal, but are upset when other animals find the source too. 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 grapes, peas, cucumbers, and morning glories. It also acts as a support for tall plants like sunflowers, and cup plant. 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, they sometimes are unable to see the metal sections until its too late. Modifying our landscape always comes with a bit of trial and error. Each season brings new challenges and lessons, and every year there are new plants to discover.
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. 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. Sunflowers are proving to be a healthy resource for bees, and they certainly make lovely giant accents in any garden. If you are a bird watcher, they too appreciate sunflowers. Watch for a variety called Lemon Queen, as this particular sunflower provides both pollen and nectar for the bees. Having something in bloom all growing season will help to ensure there is always a source of food for your garden visitors, so planting annuals and perennials allows you to have more variety. 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. Don’t forget your spring and fall bulbs for those first and last foods for other garden inhabitants. Those first spring crocus and the last of the fall asters are important food sources for many pollinators. I love to incorporate herbs and letting them go to flower also adds a unique and lovely addition to any garden. Herb flowers are another favorite 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 than any book will tell you- A favorite gardening trait of mine. Experiences are different for each person, in each landscape, and in each season. 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 a recipe for success.
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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