Shade Garden – Update

Shade Garden – Update

After three years in the making, my shade garden is complete. I had thought I finished it in July of 2014, but I just had to push it a bit more! Of course I will always be “tinkering” with it! I realized that about halfway through the project that the concept was evolving.

With all of the plant varieties available to us in Zone 4, I really ended up constructing a pollinator garden as much as a shade garden. I started trending that way as I stated half way through the project, but I had no way to know the ultimate success or failure until everything was mature.

Monarch Larvae

As the summer of 2015 progressed, the bulk of the plants in this space were maturing nicely. I soon began to notice a few butterflies and some bees in the garden, but nothing too dramatic. Seemingly out of nowhere this all changed rapidly. I went for a walk on a Saturday afternoon through my gardens and noticed a couple Monarch butterflies. This was VERY exciting as I had never spotted them on my property before! Within days I was able to spot anywhere from 6-12 Monarchs in my gardens every day. By this time the volume and variety of bees had significantly increased too!

The pollinators continued to thrive the remainder of the summer season. The plants had now mostly matured so they reached new heights and filled in the space as planned. As intended, the unoccupied space was now small so weeding was down to a minimum. This alone is cause to celebrate!

Butterfly & bee

Perhaps the most rewarding part of the summer was having numerous Monarch larvae on my plants. Having finally lured them to my property and being able to watch them grow and evolve daily was amazing!

It’s a great feeling to have completed the project and realized such success! We are looking forward to many more years of great plants and growing populations of pollinators all while having it in a very low maintenance setting.

By Derek Tweten, Landscape Manager at Barrett Lawn Care

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Anyone with even a small working knowledge of gardening is aware of USDA plant hardiness zones. These 13 zones on the map are based on the average lowest winter temperature in that region. In general, these zones run from coldest (lowest number) to warmest (highest number) from north to south. This makes sense doesn’t it? After all– International Falls, Minnesota is obviously going to run much cooler than Key West, Florida. Though this logic is generally the case, there is a little more to it than just the latitude were you live.

US Hardiness Zones

In the Twin Cities, zone 4 is the area we tend to focus on when considering what to plant. Sometimes, however, there is an exception which either occurs naturally or is nudged by human intervention that pushes these “boundaries” of hardiness just a little further apart.

We all know that plants need varying amounts of sunlight in which to thrive. That Black-Eyed Susan is going to be a lot happier in a sunnier location than a Hosta would be. It would only make sense that the area with a lot of sun light is going to be warmer than that spot in the shade. Houses, walls, fences, trees, other plants, and even where you park your car, can affect how much sun an area collects. Logically, the south or south-west side of a stone wall is going to collect more sun during the day, in turn amassing more heat and slowly releasing it at night. If this same wall is protected from wind, this little microclimate can actually be as much as 8 to 10 degrees higher than other spots in your yard!

Temperature is affected by much more than just sunlight. Simple science (the kind we learned back in grade school) tells us that hot air rises. This basic principle can be applied to slopes and valleys. The higher the rise, the warmer the temperature. Down in a valley or below a hill, the thermometer is going to register a slightly cooler reading. The cooler air literally slides down the slope like water and settles at the lowest point. High on a south facing slope is going to get you warmer temps. Just watch out for the drying winds!

In an earlier blog I wrote about the benefit of berms. Even a small berm may have its’ own microclimate. Aside from the factors already discussed, these simple modifications of topography may even alter wind patterns by acting as a buffer.

Water is also a big contributor to dictating the temperature in an area. Water vapor in the air from a pond or lake can trap infrared radiation from the earth like a greenhouse. It’s a form of humidity distribution and can be observed on a large scale all over the world along bodies of water. Just look at how many zones exist in Alaska!

Alaska Hardiness Zones

Soil is often overlooked. The fact is, soil can play large roll when the other factors are taken into account. Soil in a shady location will not only be cooler, but will also hold moisture longer. Likewise, soil in a sunny location can play with the temperature a great deal. Much like concrete and pavers, clay soil can radiate heat and provide a warm island of air. Soil with air pockets can trap heat and increase the risk of frost. This is especially true in cold dips and valleys.

I’ve touched on wind before, but it needs to be addressed further. When wind hits an object like your house, it creates turbulence and higher wind speeds along the wall and around corners as it passes around the building. Just be mindful of this when considering the introduction of plants that can easily get dried out. Evergreens planted in a windy and sunny location are especially at risk since they cannot replace moisture lost through their needles or leaves when the ground is frozen.

As with any landscape project involving plant material, the design must take into account the different site conditions that are present. The amount of light and shade, the type of soil present, topography and drainage, are all obvious characteristics that need to be addressed. Sometimes there are other elements that need to be observed or implemented in order to successfully sustain certain plants.

I invite you to take a closer look at a plant hardiness zone map. You may be surprised at what you see when you really examine it!

By Chad Bischoff, Landscape Designer at Barrett Lawn Care

Hibiscus in Minnesota

Who doesn’t love the captivating beauty of a hibiscus plant? As most of us know, the hibiscus is a tropical plant. This fact has always meant that in order to have a hibiscus plant for our own, we had to follow some rules in order to keep it alive.

A hibiscus tree at a residential property maintained by Barrett Lawn Care.
A hibiscus tree at a residential property maintained by Barrett Lawn Care.

We had to keep it in the house, or at least for most of the year. We had to ensure that it always had enough sun through our windows. We could put it outside in the summer, but had to be very careful of the overnight temperatures in the spring and fall. Of course it always had to be inside in the winter.

Thanks to vast advances in plant propagation, this set of rules has changed. There are growers now that are consistently offering a handful of hibiscus varieties that can be grown outdoors in Minnesota! Is this too good to be true? Does this REALLY work? I have had the opportunity to get to know some of these hybrid hibiscus plants currently available in Minnesota. Let’s take a closer look.

Hibiscus vine

Most of the hibiscus plants you find are going to claim that they are hardy to Zone 5a. You should be able to find a couple that claim a hardiness of Zone 4a. The Cranberry Crush Hibiscus is a great example of a 4a variety. I will commit to the theory that if you properly care for any hybrid hibiscus classified Zone 4a-5a you CAN plant all of them as far North as Zone 4a. Now should you choose to go beyond Zone 4a, I’ll say best of luck, and if it works please email me with the details on your care to accomplish that!

A beautiful Cranberry Crush hibiscus.
A beautiful Cranberry Crush hibiscus.

There really isn’t anything too complicated to make these perennials work in Zone 4. As with all plants, they need the appropriate amount of daily sunlight. Now, I’ll often say that the photoperiods recommended by the grower can be shifted quite a bit and will still successfully grow, but it’s important to adhere closely to their guidelines on these perennials. Of course they require an appropriate amount of water and fertilizer in order to thrive. I have found that they perform best in soil that’s consistently quite moist. I apply no more than one tablespoon of a slow release fertilizer at the base of the plant once per month throughout the growing season. These, as we know, are perennials and therefore they must be cut back annually and will grow from the root again every spring. All of the growers that I’m familiar with recommend cutting the plant back late in the fall. This is where I disagree with what they say. I have found nearly a 100% success rate when I prune the dead canes off in the spring versus the fall.

Hibiscus 1
Hibiscus plants are known for their large blooms.


I won’t claim to have a bunch of scientific data to validate my theory over theirs, but here’s my reasoning: Hibiscus isn’t acclimated to grow here. It’s a delicate hybrid perennial. The enemy of the hibiscus is the cold weather. If we allow the entire plant, canes and roots, to go dormant together it stays one complete system throughout the winter not unlike a deciduous tree. There is no wound introduced in the plant right before the winter season arrives. In the spring, once the ground temperatures have reached 50°F or so, prune the dead canes a couple of inches above the crown.

Hibiscus 2
A Zone 4a hardy hibiscus.


This theory may not produce a 100% success rate forever, but how many things in the plant world are 100% guaranteed? I will say that I have yet to see a hibiscus not grow back in the spring when following my theory, but I have seen them fail to return when the canes were cut off in the fall. Is this coincidence? I guess I’ll let you decide, and if you gather evidence against my theory, feel free to provide me that information. Note that hibiscus plants are very late to grow in the spring, so don’t write them off as dead unless they haven’t returned until into the month of June! If you believe they are not going to return I recommend carefully digging around the crown looking for signs of life before disturbing the root system.

Hibiscus 3

As you venture into adding hibiscus plants to your landscape, I will recommend a provider to you. I have a tremendous amount of faith and trust in Gertens Greenhouses & Garden Center located in Inver Grove Heights, MN.


By Derek Tweten, Landscape Manager at Barrett Lawn Care