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Iowa State University Extension and Outreach in Polk County

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  • 14 Jul 2019 1:00 AM | Brenda Peshak

    Queen of the Prairie | Demonstration Garden

    The Queen of the Prairie, Filipendula rubra, is a herbaceous perennial that grows well in medium to wet soil, in full sun to partial shade.  Growing tall and upright, it has fragrant leaves and pale pink flowers, and is insect and disease resistant.

    Facts about Queen of the Prairie:

    Queen of the Prairie FACTS
    Scientific Name : Filipendula rubra
    Variety, cultivar, or trademark name  Queen of the Prairie
    Bloom Time? Color?: Pink blooms from June to August
    Type or Average Life Span:  herbaceous perennial
    Height:  4 to 8 feet
    Width/Spread:  3 to 4 feet

    Good things to know about Queen of the Prairie :

    Queen of the Prairie, is a native to North America and is hardy from US Zones 3 to 8.  A tall and wide pink-flowered perennial, it is tolerant of poor soil and all levels of sunlight.  Its leaves and flowers are decorative, and the plants attracts beneficial insects throughout the summer.

    You will find Queen of the Prairie in the Woodland Path at Demonstration Garden.

    Queen of the Prairie is a tall large plant, and can create impressive borders and features in native plant gardens.  It is tolerant of poor soils, provides a food source for pollinators, and is a good choice for naturalized areas, wet meadows, or cottage gardens.

  • 12 Jul 2019 1:00 AM | Brenda Peshak

    Why use mulch in your garden | Demo Garden

    To Mulch or Not to Mulch?

    Why use mulch in your garden? Because spreading a 2-inch-deep layer in your garden blankets the ground, shielding the soil from the sun. This conserves water, prevents moisture loss from evaporation and reduces weeds. Organic types can be any organic material which will contribute organic mater to your soil as it breaks down:

    • wood chips
    • bark
    • grass clippings
    • hay or straw ( make sure no seeds are present)
    • cocoa bean hulls
    • compost
    • pine needles ( adds acidity to soil)
    • old newspaper
    • sawdust or wood shavings

    Non-organic mulches also show proof of higher plant yield though they contribute nothing to soil quality. Plastic sheeting is an example of non-organic mulch.

    Why use mulch in your garden?


    1. Weed control
    2. Moisture conservation
    3. Disease control
    4. Cleaner vegetables
    5. Erosion prevention
    6. Soil organic matter increase- with organic mulches
    7. Earlier harvest -with plastic mulch

    All mulches help reduce weed growth. But different types may work differently with various plants. Therefore you may find that newspaper and straw works well with asparagus while plastic cover works well with sweet potatoes. One of the main disadvantages with organic mulch, because it keeps the soil cooler, is that it may delay the maturity of a warm season crop. Sweet potatoes like warmth, so plastic is a better choice. Blueberries like acidic soil, so for them, pine needles are an ideal selection.


    1. Expense
    2. Possible delay maturity -with organic mulches which keep soil cool
    3. Rainfall absorption
    4. Need for extra nitrogen -with high carbon mulches such as straw or wood chips if plants look deficient, add nitrogen.
    5. Environmental concern -when using plastic it requires yearly disposal
  • 10 Jul 2019 1:00 AM | Brenda Peshak

    Oxeye Daisy Native to Iowa

    The Oxeye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) is  3 foot tall perennial that has white petals and a yellow center.  It is prolific, attracting butterflies and growing in hot sunny areas of the garden with low maintenance.  Through out the country, it is used to naturalize fields, pastures and roadsides.

    Facts about Oxeye Daisy:

    Scientific Name : Leucanthemum vulgare
    Variety, cultivar, or trademark name ‘Maikonigin’ May Queen (also marguerite)
    Bloom Time? Color?: white-daisy like, blooming June to August
    Type or Average Life Span:  perennial
    Height:  1 to 3 feet
    Width/Spread:  1 to 2 feet

    Good things to know about this hearty perennial :

    The Oxeye Daisy, or marguerite, is a vigorously growing herbaceous perennial that grows well in dry, full sun areas of the garden, U.S. zones 3 to 8.  It is resistant to deer, rabbits and tolerates drought well.  Leaves are dark green and toothed oval, and blooms appearing in May to August.  Spent blooms can be removed or “deadheaded” to prolonged flowering. These perennials are hearty and prolific and clumps should be divided every 2 to 3 years.

    You will find Oxeye Daisy at Demonstration Garden in late June and July.

    The Oxeye Daisy can be seen throughout North America in fields and pastures.  In the Demonstration Garden, it blooms June to August, and attracts nectar feeders including butterflies and various insects.  It is one of the most showy perennials in our garden and they make excellent cut flowers!

  • 9 Jul 2019 1:00 AM | Brenda Peshak

    Best Watering Practices | Demonstration Garden

    Using the best watering practices can increase the success of your garden. Know when and how to water will make a difference in getting new transplants started as well as caring for them during the hot summer months.

    What time should I water my garden?

    It’s best to water your garden in the morning or early day (6-9 a.m.). This reduces water loss due to evaporation. It allows absorption by the roots so plants can better handle the heat of the day.  In addition, it leaves them dry before nightfall which helps prevent fungal diseases.

    How often should I water my garden?

    Most garden plants (specifically vegetables) do best if they get 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week. Native plants are more drought resistant so amount varies also based on plant material. When rainfall is lacking or when extreme heat is forecast you will want to provide supplemental water based on each plant’s needs. First check the soil before watering for moisture level. Watch weather forecasts to determine if watering will be needed. Watering deeply and infrequently encourages deeper root systems which will better withstand heat and drought conditions. In contrast, frequent shallow watering can encourage surface roots which dry out quickly.

    Best Watering Practices for Your GardenSprinkler, Hose or Irrigation Systems?

    Exactly how you will want to water will depend on the scale of your garden, budget, and resources. Sprinkler systems require little time but can lose as much as half their water to evaporation on hot, windy days. Watering by garden hose is effective when done as needed. It is best to water plants near the soil as some plants dislike water laying on their leaves. Downside to watering with a hose is that it can be time consuming if you have a large garden. Drip irrigation lines run along the ground next to each plant bed or row.  They provide watering as needed and can be set on a timer or according to need which can be a big time saver.

    Consider spreading a 2-inch-deep layer of mulch in your garden. The mulch blankets the ground, shielding the soil from the sun. This conserves water, prevents moisture loss from evaporation and reduces weeds.

  • 13 Jun 2019 1:00 AM | Brenda Peshak

    Best Ways to Stake Garden Tomatoes

    By mid-June it is time to stake your garden tomatoes for support.  This post will explain how to stake garden tomatoes in your home garden. It also offers other alternatives to staking and why tomatoes need training in the first place.

    How to Stake Garden Tomatoes

    You should stake tomatoes two to three weeks after planting. If you plant your tomatoes just after the last frost or around Mother’s Day,  you should stake them by early to mid June. Drive a 6 to 8 foot stake 1 to 2 feet into the ground a few inches from the center of the tomato plant. You want to do this before the tomatoes are too mature so that you do not damage the roots.

    Tie each tomato using stretch ties (other loose ties with some give) up 12 inches from the base. You can use a loose figure eight to tie the stem to the stake. As the plant grows, you can tie the stem to the stake about every 12 inches or so. Pinch suckers which grow as new shoots out of the axils of the leaf and stem.

    How to Stake Tomato Plants

    Pinch suckers which grow as new shoots out of the axils of the leaf and stem.

    Pros and Cons of Staking Tomatoes

    Staking tomatoes usually brings a quicker crop. However, the yield will be less. Blossom end rot and sunscald are also more common.  This happens due to removal of suckers, which reduces the leaf canopy. You can leave a few suckers to reduce likelihood of sunscald.

    Additional Methods of Support

    Staking is not recommended for determinate cultivars. There are other methods for supporting tomatoes as well. Cages are very easy and require less attention. Areas open enough to harvest through them is all that is required. Plant’s grown in cages do not require pruning. As the plants grow, tuck stems poking out back in the cage.

    Another method is a weave system. Using this system, stakes are placed between tomato plants. Twine is tied at the end post and then around the first stake. This is continued down the row of tomatoes keeping twine tight. When you reach the end you go back down in the same manner with the twine on the opposite side of the tomatoes. This method encloses the tomatoes between two  strings of twine- one on each side.  As the plants grow you do this again 12 inches higher.

    At Demonstration Garden we trellis the tomatoes in the raised vegetable garden. This method trains tomatoes to grow on a trellis. Please visit the garden in May to see us demonstrate this method. In addition, we use cages in the food pantry garden as well.

    Reasons to Train or Support Garden Tomatoes:

    • Training up with supports saves space
    • Easier to cultivate and harvest
    • Produce better quality fruit
    • Provides better air circulation resulting in less disease
  • 7 Jun 2019 1:00 AM | Brenda Peshak

    Niagara Falls White Pine | Demonstration Garden

    Niagara Falls White Pine has long, bluish green needles that add color and texture contrast in the home landscape garden.  Growing 4 to 6 inches at its terminals per year, it creates a waterfall-like shape in the garden, which gives it its name.  At 10 years, it can be from 1 to 5 feet tall.

    Facts about Pinus strobus ‘Niagara Falls’:

    Scientific Name : Pinus strobus ‘Niagara Falls’
    Cultivar  Eastern White Pine ‘Niagara Falls’
    Color: bluish green, weeping, evergreen foliage
    Type or Average Life Span:  conifer, 10 years
    Height:  1 tp 5 feet at 10 years
    Width/Spread:  4 feet

    Good things to know about Pinus strobus ‘Niagara Falls’ :

    Niagara Falls is a dense, bluish green needle pine, with gently weeping branches providing a cascading landscape accent in rock gardens or a mass planting.  It must be grown in full sunlight, in moist or dry slightly acidic soil, and is tolerant of urban pollution.  Native to North America, Pinus strobus ‘Niagara Falls’ is hardy to Zone 3.

    You will find ‘Niagara Falls’ White Pine in the conifer bed at Demonstration Garden.

    With an unusual bluish green needle color and cascading form, the Pinus strobus ‘Niagara Falls’ provides a delightful accent to home landscapes.  It is a fast grower under optimal conditions, and is sturdy in cold and crowded environments.

  • 7 Jun 2019 1:00 AM | Brenda Peshak

    Green lacewing is a beneficial insect for your garden Green lacewing is a beneficial insect. If you see this insect preserve it!


    Pollinators are hands down the most helpful insects in your garden. They transfer pollen from an anther to a stigma. Important to our ecosystem, they are helpful insects for your garden. Although not all pollinators are insects, many are.   Bees and butterflies are likely the most well thought of pollinators. But many wasps, flies and the insects also pollinate. Birds and bats are examples of non- insect pollinators.

    Vegetables and fruits which rely on pollination to produce fruit are tomatoes, peppers, squash, peas, beans, eggplant, melons, apples, cucumbers and many, many more. Without pollinators these foods plants would not produce.

    Green lacewing is a beneficial insect for your gardenGreen lacewing is a beneficial insect. If you see this insect preserve it!

    Conservation and Preservation of Natural Enemies

    There are many natural enemies out there. These are helpful insects for your garden. They prey on aphids and other plant damaging insects such as scale insects.

    • Ladybugs– eat aphids, mites, small insects and insect eggs. They prey on unwanted insects in both the larvae and adult stages.
    • Green lacewing– ( pictured above) is a very beneficial insect.
    • Dragonflies– dragonflies are beneficial as they eat flying insects such as mosquitoes.
    • Praying mantis– eat a wide range and size of insect.
    • Spiders- not true insects themselves, but spiders eat many harmful insects. Try to preserve any spiders you see in your garden. They do not eat plants.
    • Parasitic Wasps and Fleas– less noticeable but worth mentioning, parasitic wasps and fleas live on or in their host during the larva stage.

    Native plants are a good way to attract beneficial insects, both pollinators and natural enemies.

    Insect trouble?

    Think before using over the counter pesticides. They can have an effect on helpful insects as well as the ones that are not being helpful.

  • 6 Jun 2019 1:00 AM | Brenda Peshak

    Clematis 'Jackmanii' | Demonstration Garden

    Clematis ‘Jackmanii’ along with a few additional varieties can be found trellising the well known arbors at Demonstration Garden.  The Clematis ‘Jackmanii’ is a deciduous climbing shrub with 3 inch wide blooms of deep purple flowers fading to violet overtime with a lime green anther.  Disease resistant and vigorous, this climber needs a supporting structure to grow properly and can reach 8 to 10 feet high at full maturity. It is a very good choice for Iowa home gardens.

    Facts about this popular variety:

    Scientific Name : Clematis
    Variety, cultivar, or trademark name  ‘Jackmanii’
    Bloom Time? Color?: Mid June to September, Deep purple  to blue-violet flowers
    Type or Average Life Span:   perennial
    Height:  8 to 10 feet at maturity
    Width/Spread:  3 to 4 feet at maturity

    Good things to know about planting and caring for Clematis x jackmanii.

    Clematis x jackmanii will thrive in a well drained soil, slightly acidic to neutral PH soil. It will require at least 6 hours of full sun and an inch of water weekly. Clematis varieties which develop flowers on new growth with do best in Iowa. Each spring it should be pruned well. When planting, bury the crown two inches under the soil surface. Water well and trim to 12 inches or low buds to encourage multiple branching. Clematis likes the roots to stay cool while the top is warn in the sunshine. Therefore, they are well complimented by annuals or other pants around the root base to keep cool but not so close as to crowd. Blooms will be continuous from June as long as into September.

    Mulch can provide winter protection for the crowns and will also keep summer roots cool. Clematis makes good cut flowers living up t o 4 days if cut when just beginning to open but may require some support with wire or other floral design materials.

  • 5 Jun 2019 1:00 AM | Brenda Peshak

    Why are there ants on my peonies? While ants are commonly found on peonies they are not required for them to bloom.

    Wondering what to do about those ants crawling all over your peony buds and flowers? The answer is simple: do nothing! The ants are not harmful—in fact, according to multiple sources, they’re beneficial. Ants are attracted to the buds because they secrete a sweet, sugary substance that provides nectar for them. Once the nectar is gone, the ants disappear, no harm done.

    How are they beneficial? They protect the buds from aphids, thrips, and other harmful predators that would suck juices from the buds and from the rest of the plant. How? If you’ve ever seen films of ants fighting one another, you know they can be fierce competitors. So ants protect their territory by stinging, biting, or spraying invaders with acid. So leave them alone! No need for insecticide.

    Two other ideas should be laid to rest—the myth that peonies need ants to “tickle” the buds open by crawling over them. Not true. With or without the ants, peonies will open into the gorgeous flowers we all love. Nor do the ants eat the buds. They simply want the nectar.

    Of course, when you bring bouquets into the house you might want to ensure there are no ants in the blossoms. To do this, one source suggests inverting each cut blossom in a shallow bowl of cold water. The ants should float out. Gently shake the blossom to see that no others remain then pour water and ant onto the soil.

    In all, let the ants do their thing; they do no harm and, in fact, quite a bit of good.

    Then, why aren’t my peonies blooming?

    There are, however, other real reasons why your peonies may not be blooming. One reason may be because they are planted in too much shade. Another possibility is that the eyes are planted too deep.  There may be other causes too; those tend to be the most common.

    Peonies at Demonstration Garden

    There are 4 main types of peonies.

    There are 4 main types of peonies: Standard, ITOH, tree peony and the fern peony. Peonies bloom in late May to early June and make a sensational cut flower for their beauty and fragrance. Just be sure to shake them before bringing them into the house in order to remove ants and insects.

    Standard peonies are herbaceous peonies. Fern peonies are also herbaceous while tree peonies have woody stems. Intersectional Hybrids are a cross between herbaceous and tree peonies.

    Tree peonies have woody stems so they do not die back in the fall after the first frost. They may require winter protection, especially in northern Iowa. They can be grown in hardiness zones 4-8.

    ITOH peonies are named for the hybridizer, Toichi Itoh, who first successfully crossbred a tree peony with a herbaceous peony. These have huge beautiful blooms and tend to look like tree peonies.

    Fern peonies are easy to identify by their fern like feathery leaves and impressive crimson bloom. They are sometimes called Mother’s Day Peonies because they bloom a few weeks earlier than other peonies.

    Care of peonies.

    After Peonies finish blooming in the spring deadhead (removing the flowers that are spent) them but keep the leaves. They will produce and store food for the next season resulting in more blooms next year. Large peonies can be divided and transplanted in September and their foliage can be cut back after they die back from the first frost, in late October or November. The most common diseases to watch for are Botrytis blight, Leaf blotch and Powdery mildew. These fungal diseases are visible on the leaves. Powdery mildew is a fungal disease that appears as light gray or whitish powder on the leaves. Copper fungicide can be used but powdery mildew rarely damages the plant permanently.

    Learn More About Growing Garden Peonies from Iowa State Extension.

  • 31 May 2019 1:00 AM | Brenda Peshak

    Allium | Demonstration Garden

    Alliums are beautiful and impressive ornamental bulbs that belong to the onion family, Though the fragrance of the leaves and stems give away their relation to onion, garlic, leeks, scallions and chives, these beauties are grown as ornamentals. They are a perfect stand out and quite impressive at 3-5 feet in height.

    Facts about the ORNAMENTAL ONION:

    Scientific Name : Allium giganteum
    Cultivar/ Trade Mark  Persian Blue
    Bloom Time, Color: May, Purple
    Type: Perennial
    Height: 3-5′
    Width/Spread:  1.5-2′
    Ornamental Onion at Demonstration GardenAllium can be found in the bulb bed at Demonstration Garden.

    Good things to know about Allium:

    Allium are rabbit and deer resistant and can tolerate black walnut as well. Medium watering and full sun is recommended. They are hardy for zones 5-8. Allium make an excellent cut flower while in bloom or even after the have dried.They were originally native to Asia.

    You will find Ornamental Onion in the Bulb Bed at Demonstration Garden.

    Located behind the bench (pictured above) Allium can be found in the bulb bed at Demonstration Garden.  ‘Persian Blue’ is the cultivar located at Demo Garden. Other cultivars are ‘Globemaster’ and ‘White Giant’. Plant allium bulbs 5-6” deep and 9-12” apart in fall.

    All About Alliums – How to plant and where to buy.

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