Hibiscus in Minnesota – Update!

Approximately a year ago I authored a blog regarding hibiscus plants successfully growing in Minnesota. In this piece I would like to provide some continuing information on a particular hibiscus I have been working with for a couple of years.
I planted a hibiscus ‘Sultry Kiss’ in an experiment replacing a failed hibiscus ‘Fireball’ that was the beginning of said experiment. The hibiscus ‘Fireball’ is a great specimen and labeled Zone 4 hardy. However, this one failed after just one season.
After some deliberation and research I chose hibiscus ‘Sultry Kiss’ as the next candidate. I suppose the main reason this variety was picked is it has a similar bloom size to that of the ‘Fireball’.
This hibiscus was planted the end of April 2015 in a #1 container. All of the care guidelines at the beginning of this original study were followed. This was also planted in the exact same place as the hibiscus ‘Fireball’ in order to maintain consistency.
The hibiscus ‘Sultry Kiss’ turned out to be an instant winner. The root structure took hold quickly and the plant health never faltered. This plant was about 5’ tall and 4’ across at season end 2015. The average daily bloom on it was 10 new flowers and some days it would hit 18 blooms.

Hibiscus does not like to be bothered by the wind. It does not take a lot of wind loading to stress and break their canes. As the plant becomes established, I highly recommend putting a legitimate steel cage on it. Once the plant is big enough to gain the wind load, it will be too late in the season to recover the damage. This ultimately greatly reduces the bloom quantity. Gerten’s Greenhouses & Garden Center  carries a nice selection of large steel cages that are painted green. You truly don’t know that this support is even in the plant once it’s grown in late spring/early summer.

By Derek Tweten, Landscape Manager at Barrett Lawn Care

Smart Controllers – Part 2

Smart Controllers – Part 2

Today I am going to give you a little information about smart controllers. There are many benefits to using a smart controller; it saves water, money, time, and is very convenient. We have gone over some of the benefits in previous blogs, so today we will focus on the ability to use our smart phones in order to keep tabs on our irrigation controller.

Irrigation controllers are constantly being upgraded, and recently one of the upgrades is the ability to control the system through our smart phones. Most irrigation manufacturers have this technology or are developing it. There are many advantages to being able to control our systems from anywhere. Being able to change watering times due to a change in the weather can save us water and prevent under-watering. Maybe you are out of town on vacation in September and we have a stretch of unseasonably cold days. This technology allows you to tap into your irrigation system and turn the run times down or even off, saving you time, water, and especially money. The same scenario could play out during extremely hot periods of the summer. With your smart controller, forgetting to add a little time to the run times during these dry and hot periods would be an easy fix. Just log into the program, adjust your settings, and come home to lush watered lawn.

These controllers can save you up to 70% of your water consumption on your irrigation system, leaving your lawn just as healthy, and saving a lot of water in the process. As more advancements emerge with these technologies we will be sure to keep you posted!

By Bob Balgie, Irrigation Technician at Barrett Lawn Care

Understanding Plant Diseases

Understanding Plant Diseases

Everyone wants a beautiful, lush looking landscape – whether it’s your lawn, landscape, or trees. Unfortunately, pests and diseases can enter an area and start to cause problems. I’m going to focus on diseases and how they enter an area and start to infect your landscape.

Plant diseases fall into a few main categories; bacteria, virus, and fungus. While viruses and bacteria are a problem, the majority of diseases we run into in Minnesota are fungi.

Hundreds of varieties of diseases exist, but it’s the environment around you that makes an area conducive for disease development.

Mycelium - fungal spores developing and multiplying
Mycelium: fungal spores developing & multiplying

Disease development requires three things to start forming. A pathogen, a host, and the environment all have to be in the right place at the right time for any disease to start germinating. This is referred to as the Disease Triangle.

Disease Triangle

An example of this would be a common turf fungus, Brown Patch. We already know the pathogen, Brown Patch. Located in Minnesota, all of our grasses can be the host since all cool season grasses are subject to this disease. The environment is in the middle of the summer when temperatures are warm over night mixed with high humidity during the day. Also, how wet and saturated the soil is plays a part in this. When all three come together at the right time, symptoms will start to appear.

Knowing what each facet of the triangle does also gives you options for control of the pathogen. With Brown Patch, several options can be thought about when trying to eradicate the disease. Most companies would go with a quick fix and apply some fungicide to the infected area when that might not be necessary.

At Barrett Lawn Care we utilize the approach of Integrated Pest Management. This means that all considerations are taken into account to alter the environment or conditions before we consider a chemical application. Wind can dry the grass out, temperatures can change, less irrigation, aeration of turf, and raising the mowing height are all options we can utilize without putting any chemical on the ground.

It is very important to understand the relationship of these three when trying to diagnose and identify the problem. A person can go on for days and days on this topic, but without understanding how to approach the problem, many people will not diagnose diseases correctly.

For further information:

By Chris Reifsteck, Chemical Applicator/Emerald Ash Borer Specialist at Barrett Lawn Care

Butterfly Friendly Gardens

Butterfly Friendly Gardens

Imagine sitting outside on your patio enjoying a cup of coffee on a lazy Saturday morning, and along with the wind gently blowing the seed heads of your ornamental grasses back and forth you see movement just above the flower tops. Then you feel the joy that comes from experiencing one of earth’s most delicate creatures – the butterfly – visiting your garden. Your home just a pit stop on its life’s journey where it can linger and enjoy the food, water, and shelter you have provided for them.

Monarch Butterflies

These fascinating creatures are one of the best side benefits to having native plantings incorporated into your garden. The more habitat and food sources you create in your garden, the better the chances of having a multitude of butterflies visit throughout the warm season. There are a variety of host plants for the butterflies to lay their eggs on which provide a food source for newly hatched caterpillars that are imperative if you are looking to entice butterflies to stick around your created habitat. Some of my favorites include Symphoricarpos, Aster, Penstemon, and Asclepias. Then as these butterflies mature and start to migrate, you’ll need both early and late season bloomers in your garden to provide a nectar source to feed them on their travels. Purples, reds, oranges, and yellows attract the most butterflies as well as add a punch of color to the garden. I love seeing the purples of the Baptisia flowers in spring, the bright oranges and yellows of the Gaillardia in the summer and then the reds of the Asters come fall. Not only are these Minnesota hardy perennials native and colorful they provide a valuable nectar source for the migrating adult butterflies.

Liatris butterfly

Don’t forget to add a shallow water source for the butterflies, like a birdbath with some perching stones or sand along with basking stones so they can build up enough body heat to fly.

If you’re not sure where to start, consider having master plan created to assist you on your journey, and make it a better journey, for the butterflies.


By BLC Landscape Sales & Design



It’s a beautiful sunny day; you walk outside, go to the shed, fire up the mower, and step onto the turf. What do you notice? The ground is sopping wet – you’re sinking into the turf and your feet are getting soaked. How does this happen and what can we do to alleviate these conditions?

Over-irrigation is not a good thing for your turf. Grass doesn’t need or want to be drenched to be happy. If you find that your turf is very wet, the first thing to do is check your irrigation settings. Twenty minutes per zone, three times a week will give plenty of water for your grass. Even the hottest of summer days don’t need much more water for your lawn to stay luscious and green. If your settings fall in the region, next check if you have an automated system that turns off during storms. A big rainfall can give the grass enough water for days. No need to waste water when Mother Nature can provide it.
If your system checks out, time to look at drainage and sunlight. Is your turf facing north? Do you have lots of shade covering your grass? Both of these can contribute to damp conditions that make it difficult to get the best cut. Over-watered lawns are difficult to cut cleanly and always create clumping. These clumps should be blown apart so they don’t create dead spots on your lawn from lack of sun. Wet conditions are a breeding ground for different fungi and makes the turf very easy to mark up when turning your mower, or even just pivoting on your foot.

Barrett Lawn Care has a full service irrigation department that can help you get your sprinkler system running at its best. With the right amount of water, your grass will look gorgeous and will be a joy to walk through, sit on, and your numerous summer activities will not damage your grass!

By Eric Mitchell, Lawn Care Specialist at Barrett Lawn Care

Into the Fire

Into the Fire

Since the dawn of humankind, fire has played an important role in society. It has provided warmth and a certain level of protection from wild inhabitants. Its use by industrial and culinary applications is well documented. But consider the fact that it has also served as a center piece for social interaction and relaxation. In essence, fire was nature’s first television. The flickering warm light, the hiss of the wood, and the crackle and pop of the embers served as a nice background to leisure or meaningful conversation, as it still does.

Today, a property owner has a lot of options when it comes to outdoor fire features. There is something for every personality and use.
The traditional pit has long held reign as the most popular way to enjoy a fire. Having one dedicated spot to sit around and enjoy some marshmallows on a clear evening was the only way to go. As a result, the landscape industry easily found ways to integrate this type of arrangement into patios.
A few years ago, portable fire pits became very popular. The versatility of these units was quickly apparent and attractive to people with very little space or who liked to have a multi-use area.


Then came the popularity of the outdoor living room. Seat walls, beautiful all-season furniture with wooden arbors and pergolas could extend the existing comforts of the inside out into the yard. Why not add a fireplace as well? Why stop there – along with an outdoor kitchen, pizza ovens could be placed alongside to compliment built-in grills.

Grand Fireplace

Once the idea of creating spaces that were extensions of the interior was established, gas seemed to be a no-brainer. Imagine, at the flip-of-a-switch, one could bypass the collection of wood. They could altogether avoid the dirty soot and smoke and get straight to the entertainment! Heck, when the night was over – with the flip of a switch you’re done! – No dousing with water or worry about a stray ember lighting the house on fire!
The subject of fire in the landscape for both recreational and useful purposes could be discussed and dove into even further. There are plenty of other applications not even touched upon. The sky is the limit – though the price may be too for that matter!

Then there are the municipality restrictions and permits that need to be addressed. Fire is serious business and the government takes it very seriously, as they should. Both you and your install company should be aware of how things need to be implemented in your area.

Barrett Lawn Care has the resources and knowledge to point you in the right direction and realize your dream of an outdoor fire feature. Whether it is something small like a fire table, or an outdoor den complete with hearth and TV, we can get you to where you want to be. If you can dream it, chances are, we know how to do it!


By Chad Bischoff, Landscape Designer at Barrett Lawn Care

Understanding Plant Nutrients and the Use of Fertilizer

Understanding Plant Nutrients and the Use of Fertilizer

There are many options when deciding what fertilizer to use on your lawn. Whether it is for commercial or residential use, what your turf needs is solely dependent on the texture of the soil and what nutrients are available for the plant to absorb.

Soil texture is the percentage of sand, silt, and clay you have in your soil. To fully understand what type of soil is present on a property, a soil test is required to determine texture, pH, and available nutrients. This is recommended every 5-10 years to preserve accurate nutrient levels to keep your turf growing at its full potential.

Choosing the right fertilizer for your lawn is as easy as understanding one basic concept. This concept is called Law of the Minimum. Justus von Liebig came up with this theory that states, “Growth and development of a plant can be no greater than that allowed by the nutrient in least supply”. Basically, you can put on all the nitrogen you want, but if there is a very low supply of iron for the plant all that nitrogen will leach through the soil and the plant will not use it.




Think of this theory as a whiskey barrel. The staves in the barrel represent all the nutrients that a plant needs. When one nutrient is low, the plant cannot utilize the rest of the nutrients.

With growing concerns for the protection of the environment, having a soil test done on an individual property basis will be a growing trend. Permitting waste and runoff of nutrients needs to be minimized to the best of our efforts. Understanding how the turf works with the soil and surrounding environment, we can ensure that the appropriate fertilizer will be utilized to its full potential.


By Chris Reifsteck, Chemical Applicator/Emerald Ash Borer Specialist at Barrett Lawn Care

SureCut Lawn Mower Blades

SureCut™ Lawn Mower Blades

I saw an interesting product this year at the Northern Green Expo that I would like to experiment with. This will be an on-going blog each step of the way of the experimentation. The product: SureCut™ Lawn Mower Blades. The premise of this product is that you never have to sharpen your lawn mower blades again. How it works: there are plastic sleeves with a hardened steel cutting edge that you take out of the main blade when it’s dull and install a fresh unit. The company states both residential and commercial applications. I can understand residential application, but I am hesitant about commercial applications. The blades on our commercial equipment go through hell and we can only get two days’ worth of cutting out of them – after that they need to be sharpened.

I am going to purchase a set for one our Exmark Lazer Z machines and send it out into the field without the operator knowing anything is different. We will run it for a few days and see what happens. I will include before and after pictures, facts, cost analysis, and my overall opinion of the product. I will leave the regular blades on during our spring clean ups and put on the SureCut™ blades once the clean-ups are complete. Expect to hear from me around June 1, 2016 with the results.
Stay tuned!
By Mike Fritsche, Lawn Manager at Barrett Lawn Care

Weather Sensors

Weather Sensors

What are weather sensors? In regards to irrigation, they are a device that takes into account the weather to decide if your sprinkler system should run on its scheduled time. There are many different versions of these sensors and many different manufacturers that provide them. The most common version is the rain sensor, but there are also sensors that measure wind, temperature, and ET (evaporation and transpiration). Using a sensor that takes into account these factors can significantly reduce your water usage.

In order to use one of these new sensors, the first thing we would want to do is make sure that your current controller is compatible with the weatheWeather Sensorr sensor. For almost all controllers there is a weather sensor that will be compatible. The more bells and whistles that the sensor has, the more advanced the controller will need to be to work properly. The more advanced sensors take into account all weather factors, including temperature, wind, and precipitation. These sensors can also adjust run-times on your zones to put the appropriate amount of water depending on the weather conditions. Utilizing these sensors can decrease the amount of water your sprinkler system uses by 70%. That’s a lot of water and money savings!



You can upgrade your system and install one of these sensors and start saving money. Some of these sensors have a warranty of ten years, so once it is installed you shouldn’t have to worry about anything for a decade. If your current weather sensor is malfunctioning or it’s time for an upgrade, installing a new weather sensor to improve your sprinkler system and lawn is a great idea.

By Bob Balgie, Irrigation Technician at Barrett Lawn Care

Emerald Ash Borer Update

Emerald Ash Borer Update

The past few years the state of Minnesota has seen a slow spread of Emerald Ash Borer (EAB). In the next two years this invasive insect is expected to spread through the state faster, with populations continuing to grow and the insect starting to move north from a heavily populated Iowa. The southern half of the state should see more of this problem than the north half, just with the abundance of Ash trees in the south compared to Pine in the north.

2014 EAB Infested Areas

There are still several approaches to consider when controlling this pest. First, is your Ash tree worth saving? Many trees in a home landscape can provide up to $10,000 worth of property value plus hundreds of dollars in heating and cooling costs. If the tree is worth saving, the next step is what to do about it.

2015 EAB Infested Areas

Injecting your trees with an insecticide is still the best method with efficacy and safety to the surrounding environment. Planting Ash trees that show resistance to EAB is an option; the Blue Ash and Mantana Manchurian variety of Ash have shown resistance to the insect. Soil applications of chemical can be used with a 50/50 chance of results. Biological controls are limited at the moment but in the next few years I expect that to change with a few wasp species that have been found to feed on Emerald Ash Borer. The other option is cutting down your Ash tree. Most people don’t like this as an option, but if nothing is done, you will lose your Ash tree eventually.

Symptoms include: thinning of the canopy, an absurd amount of woodpecker holes, branching from the base of the tree, and small D-shaped holes in the bark. By the time most of these symptoms are occurring, it could be too late for treatment. For more information follow the links below.

By Chris Reifsteck, Chemical Applicator/Emerald Ash Borer Specialist at Barrett Lawn Care