Swenson Gardens

Monthly Archive: March 2016

Peony field jottings…

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The peonies are coming! For those of you who have learned this from us before, bear with me as I go over the proverbial question; ‘when should I remove my mulch on my new peonies’? This will be an all encompassing answer for USDA Zones 2-5 that we suggest mulching all first year peony plants. The short answer is ‘when the tulips are 6-10 inches high’. I’m not an agronomist or soil chemist or weather person, but I always look for tulips, period. Over many decades of growing peonies as a hobby and commercially, tulips have never failed me. If yours or your neighbors tulips are this height, start removing and discarding your mulch!

We also receive questions on ‘why do I have to mulch my new peonies’? Well, the only time we lost significant amount of newly planted peonies was when we did NOT mulch in our 4b zone. That was the last year we did that! Here’s my dissertation, I’m not so much concerned with winter ambient temperatures, unless they get down to -40F actual for herbaceous, -30F for intersectionals and -20F actual for Japanese tree peonies. (By the way, our Roger Anderson’s tree peony seedlings are still a few years away so will leave those out of this conversation for now.) What I am concerned with is the depth of frost in the ground.

When the ground warms up in the spring, the frost is pushed to the surface as the lower levels begin to warm. In a year with less frost depth, no problem, but here and other lower zones, frost can be 4 feet or more especially if there is not adequate snow depths. Because the bare-root peonies were planted in their dormancy phase, they have not developed their root structure to hold them in place. As the frost layer is pushed higher quickly with the warming sunlight, we need to allow the ground to warm up slower. Thus mulching is the key to allow the ground to warm up slower and prevent the roots from heaving. So back to our tulips, they are truly the sign to let us mere peony gardeners know when mulch removal is appropriate.

So this is the earliest we have ever removed mulch and I’m sure we may see colder temps before the peony soldiers start growing their stems. So what happens if below 32F degree temps return? For us anyways, it is what it is and the good Lord has watched over peonies longer than any of us have. I’m not too concerned unless day AND nighttime temps are below 19F degrees for 3-days in a row. Again, the frost is out of the ground and if the ground refreezes, will it go down inches or feet? My guess is inches. If this spring does turn out to be the wackiest ever, I will post updates to these what if’s as the days of spring 2016 continue. In the mean time if you have removed your mulch and take into account my prior sentence on temps, I would leave the peonies alone.

For those of you in USDA Zones 6-8a, see how easy it is to grow your peonies? Would we ever move to a higher zone? Absolutely not! We love change…I think! You enjoy your zones no matter what happens as we look forward to the 2016 peony growing season!

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Take Redd’s advice, remove your peony mulch like he instructed us to do!

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The first sign of herbaceous peony soldiers appearing!

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Ok don’t forget about us Japanese tree peonies! We too like to show off our peony soldier buds!

Peony Composting New Team Member

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Thought I’d give you some fun pics of our new peony composting team member. Our herd is very protective of any new calf as shown here in our barn. This was his first night and when Becky went up to the barn to check on him, here is the pic she took. Pretty cool!

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Some of you may have seen ‘Daisy’ on our Facebook site so I was out this evening shooting and she presented this shot. Daisy is a short legged Dexter and we’re not sure if she is as tall as she is wide! She is also our oldest cow of which we do not even know her actual age. Dexter’s can live for, on average, 25 years and are wonderful mothers. She is finally warming up to me as this photo was taken about 3 feet in front of her. Daisy is also the first one to let us know when its time to put out a new bale of hay. Her voice can be heard all the way down in the peony fields.

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Over the last week or so, Becky was running a contest on Facebook for the new bull calf’s name. The winner of the contest also received a nice gift certificate for a peony. Make sure to like us on Facebook for our next naming contest as we have more calves to this spring. The winning name is ‘Murphy’. Since this is our son’s cow and calf, he was the judge and picked this name. 126 names were submitted so thank you to all who participated.

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Murphy is quite photogenic. And yes the white specs against his black coat are snow flurries. Its funny to watch Daisy chase him around as he is a runner and leaper. Poor Daisy at her age and weight can hardly keep up but the ever watchful herd has him in their sights at all times.

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This is by far one of my favorite pics. Daisy was trying so hard to teach Murphy to eat some hay, but moments later he scampered off with his mom in tow AND a mouthful of food. Sound familiar moms?


My how things have changed in the past couple of days in the peony fields. When Redd and I checked the fields on Saturday, the ground was partially frozen under the mulch and no tulips were showing around here. Yesterday morning, no tulips were showing but then with the rain and mild temps, the tulips shot up about 6″ by 3 o’clock in the afternoon. A quick call to the team and by 8 PM last evening, they had removed some of the mulch from the fields. So for those of you in zones 4 and possibly 3, might be a good time to start your mulch removal steps. If your tulips are up and/or peaking through the ground in any of zones 2 -5, remove your mulch. What’s strange here is the fact that our crocus are not showing yet the tulips are? This is the earliest we have ever removed mulch so who knows what this year will be like. Hang on for the 2016 peony growing season!

Peony field jottings…

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Redd and I ventured into one of our new planted peony fields this morning to check on the mulching. At least for us he said not to remove mulch in our fields. Normally we equate mulch removal to the growth of tulips. Checking our tulip gardens, no sign of life as of yet. When Redd and I checked under the mulch, the ground was still frozen. As a reminder, the reason for mulching first year peonies in zones 2-5 is to prevent heaving of the roots during the freeze/thaw cycles. Of course looking at the thermometer yesterday and today reading 60+ degrees, we are going to leave our mulch on and wait for the tulips to appear. I will update blog once we remove mulch for zone 4B. If you are in zone 5, I’m assuming that your tulips are up so make sure to remove 1/2 the mulch now and 7-10 days later remove and discard the remaining mulch.

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Ok so I have to leave you with this picture of Redd and his new found friend, yes a snake, How this guy finds all these friends is beyond me. The snake is doing fine and slithered away into the rock wall. If we could only train him to pull out weeds in the peony fields!

Peony composting team update…

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At 8:30 this morning, Daisy delivered a healthy son! Mom, dad and son are doing great. Check our Facebook page for more on Daisy’s son. We are so thankful for our peony composting team. All made it through the winter in great shape. For those of you who may not know, we mainly raise Dexter cattle. Daisy is a short-legged Dexter and some of the other moms are long-legged Dexter’s.

Hank and Hilda have arrived!

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Some of you may have met Hank and Hilda at last years Peony Field Days. They are back and have taken up their usual residency between our pond and one of our peony fields. Over the course of this spring and summer, I’m hoping to bring you updates of their weekly adventures.

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I don’t know if Hank remembers me, but he had no qualms about walking in front of me on his short jaunt to the pond.

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Here are our lovely couple enjoying themselves on the waning ice remaining. Don’t they make a lovely couple?

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Some migrating friends stopped by to greet them. I don’t think Hank and Hilda were too interested in meeting them as they already claimed this pond as their own.

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Of course more visitors arrived for this gorgeous shot. Hank and Hilda finally had had enough so soon thereafter the visitors left. Happy nesting Hank and Hilda! Check back for more updates as spring progresses.

Welcome our new cat!

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Please extend a warm welcome to ‘Matilda’, yes aka ‘Maddy Mae’ and ‘Matilda Lynn’. She came to us last fall and has overwhelmed our hearts. She will be one of the animal stars on our farm. Though she is somewhat shy, her loud purring is ever present once we can catch her and she loves to have her belly scratched.

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Though she hasn’t made it into the peony fields, she did tag along with me while using my 70-400 F4-5.6 G SSM lens. Again using a b&w circular polarizer really makes her colors pop.


2016 Photography jottings…

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Oh the joys of an ultra wide lens.

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This was one of the last days on our pond where dreams of hockey and skating are soon to be over until next winter.

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I couldn’t pass this shot of some bulrushes last stand before the shades of green are replaced later this spring.

2016 Photography

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Greetings friends for the first blog posts of 2016! Finally got the camera out to try out my new ultra wide lens. This was the first photo taken with a Tokina 11-16mm F2.8. Adding a B&W circular polorizer filter really makes the dogwoods and sky pop. I can’t wait to use this in the peony fields for some dramatic landscape pictures.

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Walking down our windrow, ran into an American highbush cranberry. Most of the fruit has already been taken by the songbirds, but just happened upon one that had some remaining.

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Further down the windrow, one of my favorite shrubs called a ‘Flame Willow’ presented this shot. Soon their winter orange colored stems will turn back to a greenish hue.

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What is a windrow? Because we are an oasis of chemical free growing, these rows were planted 8-years ago as a buffer to our fields. Little did Becky know how many were planted as a pull behind planter came in tow after picking these up from Wright County Soil and Water. Every spring they offer Wright County, MN residents the chance to pick up various conifers, trees and shrubs to afford all the chance to plant a wide assortment of quality plants. My, my how much faster the planting goes when pulling this behind our tractor. Needless to say thoughts ran through my mind about using this same planter for a few raspberry plants. Well, maybe a few hundred plants. Man does this planter work great when we put in 1,200 raspberry plants but now in the spring I am banned from ever pulling a tree planter back to our farm. Oh well there’s always black currants to add to the fields and with more land available, maybe they will change their mind? Nope, I’m done. When the letter came a month or so ago, I only order 75 more conifers and shrubs to plant by hand. That way I can sneak them in the ground by hand because…I didn’t bring the planter home!

Back to my new lens, I just love the effects and composition this new lens offers. If you don’t have one in your camera bag, give it a try this year for those special shots! Happy shooting!