Masterpiece Landscaping Blog

February 3, 2017

The Beauty of the Fragrance of Human Manure In the Landscape Garden

Winter is rarely  a kind season for most of our landscape gardens and their gardeners  here in Minnesota.   Winds,  killer  evening temperatures,  crushing snow layers, sunburns on bark, deer, dogs,  and then there are the rabbits.

Sixty years of rumor have told me   rabbits are hit with a vicious virus or two about every seven years which wipes out the vast majority of a settled rabbit population…,.I used to believe the rumor….until reviewing the last five to seven years of rabbits running around winter in my gardened grounds.

Last year rabbits caused more  damage in my grounds  and others our Masterpiece Landscaping company  has created,  was the worst in a decade or more.   Arborvitae shrubs chewed to pieces to the one foot high mark….some  chewings even  higher where plant foliage and snowdrifts meet.  Many of my plants’  rabbits came from neighbors’ habitats and nearby woods.   I laid out some wire fencing in areas where my  most valuable cherished plants are located.   Some young woodies disappeared entirely into rabbit poop over a single night.

There is a “friend” available at most garden centers and hardware stores you might want to meet for assistance in reducing your landscaped grounds rabbit population….It’s usually  sold in about a 25 pound bag….with the name MILORGANITE  printed on it.

Again…MILORGANITE…and it has been around these northern areas for decades, and available in eastern Wisconsin for many, many decades more.   Milwaukee is where these bags originated.  One can tell by its name…”Milwaukee organic matter”…and it used to be  found very close to home in the old days.  It may still be ‘organized’ exclusively in Milwaukee, for  the organic matter it sells originates from Milwaukee area human poop…..aged to perfection, of course!

If your garden plants have been  pestered by rabbits this  winter,  you might want to try  Milorganite  for temporary rabbit control.   It consists of countless  tiny pellets of human organic waste and is sold as a slow release garden fertilizer.   But, this fertilizer  carries an odor, which of course, doesn’t bother any plants at all…..nor does it bother Mr. or Mrs. Gardeners.   It seems to bother rabbits of all shapes and sizes for a while.

It can be spread broadly around the garden area or around any  plants at any time for normal garden soil and plant enrichment.

Before snowfall, rabbits usually have an endless supply of herbs to eat up.   After snowfall most of that rabbit food becomes unavailable forcing a change in the bunny diet….conifer foliage and bark…..young deciduous tree and shrub bark now appear on top of  the rabbit diet.

So, whenever you are in the mood to fertilize your  trees and shrubs after snowfall, you might want to think of human manure from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.    I usually wait until after the first major snowfall before I apply this unusual fertilizer.    Whatever power Milorganite has over rabbits, it weakens when its pellets are  lying under every major snowfall, so  keep that in mind.

Spread it by hand in  glove.   Throw handfuls of this “aromatic” fertilizer around the crowns of   shrubs and young tree trunks, bunnies usually  nest or chew on.   Rose shrubs, those beautiful new hybrids available to northern gardeners these days, are usually breakfast, lunch, and supper desserts  to rabbits of all ages.  Winged Euonymus bark near soil level can be ravaged by a bunny or two in a week.  Canadian plum trees of all varieties when  can be chewed to pieces by deer or rabbits  in winter or anytime if there is no protection such as tree wrap around the structural stems.

Don’t be wussy about the amount of Milwaukee manure you throw around the trunks of your susceptible cherished plants.   Toss  to ten or even  more handfuls, around each trunk  of the susceptible plants you cherish more than your  rabbits do…..ideally, each time after a heavy snowfall.   Good Luck.

Be sure to call us at Masterpiece Landscaping at 952-933-5777 when you need help creating and maintaining beauty on your home or business grounds.


January 5, 2012

Landscape Garden Life among the Coyote

I have coyote preying on my grounds.   The resident couple have produced a pup.   We seldom see these folks, but they are there and we have quicky pictures to prove their settlement.

In the thirty eight years of my residency here in suburban Minneapolis , I have been able to create and maintain a beautiful  classic landscape garden.   We live in a climate in which winter is the major landscape season, as long as all of the other landscape seasons combined.   

As a boy I noticed that.   I delivered papers both morning and after school.  It was an outdoor job…..Although I hated delivering papers in the winter, I loved  the early mornings throughout the year….the 5 AM mornings  before anyone but paper boys were prowling the streets…..except once in a long while  when a coyote came to view.      Fox at 5AM were fairly common, but not coyote.   Fearless through ignorance, I’d drop my paper boy’s delivery bag and try to follow the creature.

We haven’t noticed coyotes anywhere in my neighborhood until  three or four years ago.   I had seen one in the center of Minneapolis about ten years back  in the garden of a good friend of mine.   It was dark winter and I had just  turned into the driveway.   Suddenly a coyote I distrubed  looked up at me.  ”He”  had  torn something apart which was drooping from its jaws…..and it wasn’t a plant.   “He” was mangy-looking (all coyotes in my vocabulary are male unless proved otherwise), and “he,” coyote-like,  grabbed his kill and ran off into the dark.

My grounds are filled with evergreen conifers……the plants of good memory when I needed them as a news delivery boy  to hide behind during the wild blizzards  50 plus years ago before these wonderful days of global warming in our Northland.

Conifers  come in many  sizes and shapes these days.   Those sizes and shapes are well displayed in my ‘paradise’.   So is snow in winter…..except for this winter thus  far.   

Rabbits and squirrels, birds and voles used to love these conifers-of-all-sizes winter garden.   Until about three years ago.  

Today, only the birds still  do.  Actually, there are more of them of all kinds than in the past.    

No longer do the rabbits and voles eat up all of the lower foliage of the arborvitaes.   No longer are squirrels fighting to burrow into my house eaves to mooch off of  my expensive winter heating and escape the winter winds.

Instead, I  see replacement  foot prints in the winter snow as I walk  along my garden paths.   They are dog-like, but I allow no dogs to enter my space whereever I think I rule.  

My lovely garden now houses new visitors,  ’Canis latrans’ the coyote,  into my space, whether I like it or not.   They are about the only footprints etched in the snow these days.    New prints arrive with each new snow dusting or snowfall.

While searching for television something or another a few days ago, I came across an hour’s worth on the expansion of the coyote population  throughout America……the America that still includes Arizona, New York , California, and Florida.

“Although assaults upon humans are rare, they do happen…..” the narrators admitted more than once.   The deaths are more  frequent in PARKS  the Northeast….Massachusetts and New York, for instance.    They noted an example of an ourdoor type gal who was a regular hiker  in an urban public park.   Two  coyote had stalked her, had run her down and destroyed her as others in the park who had heard  her screams arrived to the scene  too late to save her…….and fended off the two coyote killers.

We live in a time where equality among mankind and ’other’ animals  is required by some politicians and university instructors…..we must live ‘as one’ with nature.   I accept  this dogma, but I do believe I must add, “barely”.    

I still believe the human being is sacred, out of fashioned as that may be.  I am  not the equal of the coyote or squirrel.    I prefer me to rule in my landscape garden rather than  coyote.   If I have to put up with something of a lower order than I am  in my paradise, I’ll go for the hungry  mink, who have happened to drop by upon occasion.

The equality people, the stars of this  television program on coyote, that is, the park rangers, the animal huggers who work for the state to protect wild life, and their similars, (isn’t English a terrific language) who love coyote, seem quite sincere in their warnings to the general public reminding  them that coyote can be our killers.  

“Don’t feed them”, they advise…..and then they move on to their coyote loving.   I admit.   Their ‘chicks’ ARE cute.

“Coyote have naturalized nearly everywhere throughout the United States, even on Manhattan Island in New York City”. 

Rangers who keep an eye on these exploding coyote populations mark the  ’cute’ beasts in their youth  to follow  their roamings henceforth…..your tax money at work.      “They lack competition from bigger predators.”  the experts  announce, hinting that the timber wolf once roamed our streets  widely before we had streets.

Besides “Don’t feed the animals”, here is the official message from these state officials representing urban  American  visits from the ever larger coyote flocks……

“When taking  your nature  hikes in your local parks, suburban or urban, or your landscape gardens, you should take a stick along with you……just in case.” concluding that the coyote is our human equal in the eyes of the modern educated park bureaucrats.   “We must learn to live along side ‘nature’.

There was a moment the narrators offered a degree of  politico-social-religious  ’balance’, a brief one for sure, but an effort nevertheless.   I think the setting  was in Colorado, in a suburb of Denver. where a  park ranger being interviewed by the coyote huggers,  glanced with a hint of a wink at his power rifle when he was asked about his recommentdations  for coyote control.

I enjoyed the program as you, dear readers, might have noticed from the rhythms and a embellishments of this writing.

The American has become and indoor population despite their occasional bicycle and hiking jaunts from their bureaucratic life  into the great outdoors.    When I was a kid most Americans worked outdoors for their living.    Most  owned a rifle for their outdoor business…..controlling wolves and coyote, puma and wild this or  that which decimated their food supply and not infrequently some of these outdoor people as well.

Today indoor people look at animal life romantically.   I do too.   One of the most beautiful sites Mother Nature can cook up for me  is to see the beautiful sleak cougar eyeing and plotting the kill of its prey….as long as one doesn’t romance too much  of the prey’s immediate future.   

I think it a tragedy  that  ”lions, tigers and bears”…..well not bears, yet…..are disappearing from Earth due to mankind’s ‘interference’.   

In the meantime I guess I’ll  have to  position a few sticks  for self defense, artistically placed , of course, blending them  into the lines and curves of my lovely  landscape garden.





October 19, 2010

Autumn Duties for the Landscape Gardener

What are the regular routines for the Landscape Gardener to maintain the home grounds in the best condition going into winter?

Watering:   There is much debate over what the autumn to late autumn watering schedule should be for the Twin City area landscaped grounds.  Some ‘professors’ profess continued regular watering until the hard frosts; others suggest withholding water gradually to assist the plants hardening off for the cold misery of winter.  Plants here usually mean woody plants.

Not all plants are equal.  Herbaceous perennials are much more ephemeral in the grounds than cold tolerant trees and shrubs.  Not all autumns are equal either.  This passing October was wet at first and then decided to move into a beautiful season of cool, sunny, colorful, gorgeous and DRY Minnesota autumn…..going waterless  on almost three weeks now….and I think it is great even though I have had to use the sprinkler since I had my irrigation system winterized early this year.

In this case I believe watering the shrubs and trees about every fourth day at twenty minutes or so a spot, during such a period would be enough.  Soil type can be a factor if you are unlucky enough to garden over soil of heavy clay.   Sandy soils are much easier to manage with watering……less intensity but more frequency than normal.   Clay soils which have not dried out during the heat of summer to brick, don’t need to be watered much in the autumn regardless of the temperatures.  Hot, dry October winds might cause some reconsiderations.

October temperatures are cool.  Heavy watering can be damaging to some conifers which become shaded with the sun ”falling’ toward the horizon here in our Northland.  Foliar disease are especially ravaging on Colorado Blue Spruce.  Others damage tree yews.   Symptoms most observed are the withering of the interior older foliage.   Yews begin to lose their yellowing needles in late Spring.  Blue spruce will show a gray to brown sickly dried up crop of old needles and be dropping them about now.    One of my white pines has a foliar disease similar to these.

Shade, moisture, and lack of air movement to dry off the foliage reliably, are the collective causes of the unsightly disfuguration to many of our conifers.

Should hostas and other perennials be pruned back in fall or spring?   I grow hostas because they offer an artistic plus to my grounds, not because I am a hosta guru.  My entire grounds is a landscape garden.   Not all hostas are equal.  Some hold attractive foliage into very late autumn and others don’t.   Some are less hardy than others.   I cut back foliage on those whose foliage no longer please me IF I have time to do this clean up. 

However, there is one note which must stand firm and deeply in the Minnesota landscape gardener’s understanding of the onslaught of winter upon cherished garden plants, woody or not…..

The greatest threat to Minnesota landscape garden plants is the autumn disaster of temperatures dropping below ten below zero or more, Fahrenheit,  before Thanksgiving, and anything around twenty below zero before Christmas WITHOUT  snow. 

Snow is nature’s best insulator for outdoor plants.  The second best is certain kinds of leaf cover…..namely the kind called oak leaves.   Others may work or may cause additional troubles to garden plants.  I let oak leaves go where they may in my autumn garden.

Oak leaves are crinkly and don’t break down rapidly even despite wet weather.  They create air pockets over whatever ground the manage to cover.   If the gardener waits till Spring to cut back dead perennial foliage, the plant will be somewhat better protected through  a snowless frigid spell when  leaves of any kind are captured by any plant  “stalks”. 

I am the only  groundskeeper of my landscape grounds.  Time available usually dictates my scheduling for manicuring the fall garden. 

Two years ago I lost four spreading yews and one twenty foot upright yew to winter kill.   The plants were in the garden for over fifteen years.   There was plenty of snow cover.  However, sometime in January over a weekend when the temperature had dropped to minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit, there was a steady thirty mile an hour wind from the North for two days.   A good friend in Waseca, Marian Fischer,  was certain her similar losses were due to that January windstorm.  

There is always the unexpected.

Major pruning of woody plants should wait until Spring, the earlier, usually the better.  The more one knows about pruning, the more one can safely disobey this recommendation, however.

Ideally, pruning  of apple, crabapple and pear trees should be done in late February or early March, to avoid the spread of  the bacterial disease called “Fireblight”.

So many special plants now growing in our more up-to-date landscaped grounds may require exceptional treatment for winter care for which we have no reliable information except for our own observations.

Those of you who live in the center Twin Cities and the immediate suburbs are now living in horticultural zone FIVE……. My ideal garden zone.  Where I live, west of Minneapolis, I can grow many zone five plants but I have be call my area, zone four and a half. 

Zone Five Japanese Beetles visited my grounds for the first time in known history this past summer.  One has to take the bad with the good if one is a devoted Landscape Gardener……And Japanese beetles are not good…..but if that is what it takes to get a little Global Warming to reach Zone five, I’ll accept it.

Many who live in the city have a serious rabbit and mouse problem…..especially in grounds surrounded by entrapping fencing.   Trap and kill, most serious landscape gardeners recommend.  Chicken wire fencing around the most susceptible plants such as Winged Euonumous or some of the Viburnums.     Some tender gardeners trap and relocate…..but that can go on for weeks and months.

I will recommend nothing here.  It is your call, dear fellow landscape gardener.

January 30, 2010

The February Minnesota Lanscape….Rabbits, Deer and Pruning

Filed under: Rodent Control — glenn @ 2:57 pm

It is  now the February landscape in Minnesota ….thank God, I have often remarked, February is a short month.

The big  Christmas snowfall  is still with us.  The normal January thaw was so brief it went by unnoticed.  This winter of 2009-2010 is so far a real winter, but so far without the minus 20-25 degrees F temperatures which used to be commonplace here during my childhood.

In the city, rabbits are chewing up many of our favorite shrubs….not at the ground level….there is no ground level this year……it’s all under a foot and a half of more of that Christmas snow.  Since the rabbits aren’t burrowers they won’t be chewing around the base of your shrubs yet….that will come later.  Bunnies, so warmly venerated in some gardens with cutsie reproductions the ladies  buy at the local boutiques, are hopping around the top of the snow eating and stripping buds and twigs off of deciduous and evergreen plant alike….making some almost disappear as the winter ages.

I admit it’s a guy thing, but I root for fox and owls, hawks and coyote, feral cats and more feral cats to visit my garden to help  clean out the unwanted…….the most unwanted being the varmints which ruin my garden’s beauty…..I prefer beautiful landscapes to ugly and dying ones.  Besides feeding varmints increases the varmint population.

I have a deer problem haunting my grounds.  I have opposed deer eating my beautiful plants for the past 25 years.  Before that there was no deer problem so I didn’t know what all the fuss was about….they weren’t displaced west of my residence where there were vast eating grounds not yet developed by suburban building.

Deer do not like to stroll over the snow crusted countryside when there are paths available.  Like humans they can figure out that the beaten path is more comfortable place to walk than over 30 inches of snow covered with a thin coat of icy crust.

I like to walk along my garden paths throughout the winter to see the  beauty of the garden I have created and sculpted.  So do the deer apparently……I lose…..I don’t eat the buds and stems along the way…but they do.

The rabbits munch on viburnum bark, viburnum stems, viburnum buds, azalea stems and buds, and most delicious of all apparently,  winged euonymus “flesh” whereever it can be found.  They will eat young Norway spruce cultivars to nothing…..those more expensive, quicker and more completely than the cheaper.    They seem to recognize a “good steak” when they smell one.

Many years ago I watched one fat rabbit tending my young Scotch pine.  I saw it was nibbling at the foliage, but I had confidence nothing bad would happen…for I had read from a university handout that such pine were exempt from this rodent’s menu.  I lost interest watching for it was February, and I was indoors observing Nature in action…..When I returned to the view the next day, the Scotch pine had been reduced to a single stick one foot tall….one quarter of its yesterday size, and sans foliage.    Important note:    The Scotch pine recovered sending out countless new shoots by June first.  The next winter I surrounded it with chicken wire.  It died 20 years later, a victim of the Halloween blizzard of the early 1990s.

Rabbit trimming is very easy to recognize.  Their  big teeth make very precise clean cuts if it is the stem that’s eaten….as if pruned with your pruning shears except at a slight angle.  This damage isn’t as life -threatening as rabbit chewing around the base trunk of the shrub or small tree  will be.

I have a temporary unattractive fence surrounding my entire landscape this winter. It keeps the rabbits in which is a disaster, and the deer for the most part, out.   It seems to be  a trade off, but not really if you compare the size between these two species.  Have you  had over a half dozen deer together browsing  your garden lately?

Those of you living in the central cities have fewer wild carnivores nearby.  Your rabbit population will be even greater  than mine and probably already is.  Deer damage is something else.

Dogs are also forbidden from my grounds.  They are supposed to be leashed.

Feral cats get into my garden.  So do owls and fox.  This past week from my kitchen window my son and I saw a large coyote  hunting, alas outside my fenced in grounds but clearly visible on the naked hill just beyond.  What a treat for the eye even without  a caught rabbit or squirrel.

In the spring and summer I do spray with Liquid Fence regularly…mostly around cherished perennials such as  hostas and stonecrops and rose shrubs, all  dessert for deer.   I let them eat the crab apples in the late fall.

By late February many of your ornamental trees may need pruning…..those susceptible to fire blight bacterial disease, such as crabapples, mountain ash, pears, plums and apples as well.

Home owners usually don’t prune leaving the trees to grow ugly on their own as most will.

Artistic pruning is an art form.  There is a definite skill to develop a beautiful tree sculpture.  Even if you are not interested in such a sculpture, your rose family tree will need pruning to maintain its health.

If you are going to attempt this needed  pruning, artistic or otherwise, you best call us at Masterpiece Landscaping. 952-933-5777 to schedule a time to join us when we prune your  trees.  If you cannot find time, call us anyway so we can keep these trees beautiful and healthy.  All pruning of rose family trees should ideally be done about a month before spring rains…….that is, before March 15….”the ides of March”.