Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Pruning The Palms

This past week three horticulturists spent a day pruning some of the largest palms in the palm dome. We have a geni lift that can extend our reach to over 20 feet. We then can use pole saws to extend up to another 20 feet.

The first palm we pruned was the Desert Fan Palm, Washingtonia filifera. The leaves can grow as large as 3-6 feet across. The petioles which connect the leaf to the trunk can be up to 6 feet. So the entire frond can be up to 12 feet long.

Another palm we pruned was the Princess Palm, Dictyosperma album. The feather shaped leaves on this palm can be as long as 8-12 feet long.

The last palm we pruned was the Queen Palm, Syqgrus romanzoffiana. This is the tallest of all the palms we have in the Palm Dome. The Queen Palm can grow as tall as 50 feet. The fronds can grow to over 15 feet.

We needed to groom the older fronds for both cultural and aesthetic reasons. This also gives us an opportunity to evaluate our insect populations.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Triangle Palm

This past week the Horticulture staff transplanted a Triangle Palm, Dypsis decaryi into the Palm Dome. There is currently an older Triangle Palm in a nearby location which is almost touching the ceiling. Triangle Palms can grow to about 50 feet in height. At some point the older Triangle Palm will need to be cut down because of it's height. We want to get this younger palm established so that we can continue to have this variety of palm on display. It has a very unique shape. This palm doesn't transplant well but is a fast grower once it is established.

The Trianle Palm in native to the Madagascan rainforest. The fruits are high in nutritional value. This is an attractive plant and we hope you get a chance to see this palm in it's new location.

Friday, December 10, 2010


It has been a couple of years since the Inga Tree has been pruned in Tropical Encounters. Pruning is an involved process because we have to bring out tall ladders and extendable pruning tools. It is sometimes difficult to maneuver ladders in the plant beds because of plant material in the beds and the unlevel soil in the beds. The Inga in a very vigorous growing plant so we did prune it back quite hard. It well grow back quickly. There were also vines growing in the Inga which we wanted to remove.

Ice Cream Bean is another name for this plant because the seed pod looks like a bean and parts of the pod tastes like vanilla ice cream. Inga is a companion plant for shade grown coffee because it grows so tall. Birds like to sit on this tree because it is such a tall plant in the Tropical Encounters exhibit.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Sunken Garden Holiday Show

This week horticulture staff have been busily creating the Sunken Garden Holiday Flower Show. The mums and accent plants that made up the Fall Flower Show were removed Monday morning with the help of 10 volunteers. After that the beds were prepped and the poinsettias came rolling in. Staff worked from a hand-drawn plan to place the plant material. The poinsettia pallette is a very traditional red and ivory, with accents of multicolered coleus, purple alyssum, and juncus.

The conservatory received its poisettia crop as rooted cuttings in June, and staff have diligently grown them in the greenhouse. Poinsettias are subjected to shortened day lengths to stimulate the growth of their characteristic brightly colored bracts. Despite their popularity during the coldest time period in our climate, poinsettias are actually native to Central America and love warm temperatures. When you visit the Sunken Garden during the Holiday Flower Show, you will surely enjoy a warm, festive retreat.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Well, in case you didn't notice, it seems as though winter is here to stay! We had a wet heavy snow move through on the 13th that caused quite a bit of damage to some mature trees around campus. We filled 5 or 6 dump trucks full of debris to be hauled away to compost. We also had our cities forestry crew come in to take care of broken and damaged branches that we could not reach up in the canopy of many trees. A lot of the branches were buried by the icy heavy snow, and will have to be cleaned up in the spring once all of the snow melts.

In addition to storm cleanup, our outside crew is putting some final touches on grounds before they leave for the winter. One easy way to spruce up a somewhat dismal landscape is to put out some winter display containers. Using only materials found on grounds (most from that storm damage), and using cut-back perennial materials, we have put together some pots in front of our office building on the zoo. We used cuttings from evergreens including white pine, Chamaecyparis, and a Douglas Fir with interesting pine cones. We also used cuttings of red-twigged dogwood, miscanthus flame grass (silver plumes), and chasmanthium (oat-like seed heads). Using all of this material, we arranged the cuttings in a pot of soil, and then watered it in. These plants are no longer alive, and don't need water, but the cold temperatures will cause all of that water to freeze, and hold everything right in its place. The best part about these displays are that they are free! You might not have all of these materials in your yard, but think about what you do have. Any everygreen branches will provide color and structure all winter. Grasses add a flowing look, and many hold up all winter long. Colorful branches, such as the dogwoods are a great added touch. Also, any plant with berries adds that extra pop (if the birds don't eat them all!). You can also find some interesting curly willow, or branches with a unique form and structure to add interest. Hopefully this will inspire some of you to try out a beautiful winter display of your own!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What's happening with hydrangeas?

This week horticulture staff are begining to remove all the leaves from next spring's hydrangea crop. You may be wondering why we would remove all the leaves from perfectly healthy plants. Hydrangea plants need to undergo a dormancy in order to flower. Outside, they would go dormant in the winter when temperatures drop. In the greenhouse we have to fake that seasonal change. When they go into dormancy, hydrangeas lose most of their leaves, so taking them off ahead of time reduces the mess later. Not doing so could result in old, dead leaves accumulating and harboring disease.

Hydrangeas are a major feature of the Conservatory's Spring Flower Show and require nearly 10 months of care before they go on display. The conservatory starts all of our hydrangeas from unrooted cuttings we receive in the middle of June. We grow them up through the summer and let them set buds before providing the dormancy the will need to flower. The hydrangeas will be dormant in a cold area of the greenhouse for approximately eight weeks. Then they are moved to a warmer spot where they can begin actively growing again and flowering. Horticulture staff use specially timed "feedings" of ammonium sulfate to ensure the development of blue flowers. This year we are growing mostly a variety called 'Oregon Pride.' This is a variety we have used successfully in past years. We are also experimenting with eight new varieties to see if they perform as well (or better!) than our traditional selections. Look for these hydrangeas in the Sunken Garden next spring.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Planning Annuals

This is the time of year for raking leaves, cleaning up garden beds, and believe it or not, planning and ordering our plants for next year. Right now our outside gardening staff is hard at work, planning, designing planters and beds, and picking out fun and exciting plants for next years displays. We aquire many different catalogs from various growers and suppliers around the country, which is where we get ideas for great combinations and new varieties that have been released.

Some of the areas that we plan for include: the double sidewalk in front of the visitors center, the Skipper and Enchanted butterfly gardens, and various container plantings all over conservatory and zoo garden areas. Along with planning for our areas, we also grow plants for other gardens in the city, inluding some of the City of St. Paul golf courses. For those areas we grow about 75 flats of plants, and about 100 4-1/2" plant material. We probably grow about 2.5 times that number for our gardens alone.

We then put together a large list of plants to order, and then our indoor staff recieves shipments throughout the winter and spring. They then take care of planting the seeds. Sometimes we also get plugs of plants, which then need to be transplanted into larger containers. By careful timing with seeding, and different greenhouse conditions, the plants are all rooted in and ready to be planted in the ground or a container in the spring!

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Marjorie McNeely Conservatory recently was awarded a $400 grant from the Mid-America Orchid Congress (MAOC). The receipt of this grant is based on our active efforts to promote orchid conservation and awareness. The classes, talks, and displays we offer provide examples of primarily neo-tropical (Central and South American) specimens. Our weekly Gardener Talks on orchids are also an opportunity for the public to ask questions, see our plants up-close and learn more about the Conservatory's collection. Since 2003, The Conservatory has been a designated Plant Rescue Center through a program administered by the U.S. Fish and Willdlife Service. In doing so, we provide a site for the care and conservation of illegally imported orchids, among other tropical plants. These plants remain a part of our collection, and will not be sold for profit. Our participation in this conservation effort, combined with our non-profit status and the educational experiences we offer has made us eligible for this grant. The MAOC is an organization of orchid societies and works to promote worldwide orchid conservation. We appreciate their consideration of our institution and are honored to receive their grant. This money will be used for the purchase of additional orchid species that enhance the diversity of our orchid collection.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Saving Echeveria

This time of year many of our plants outside are either being cut back to the ground for winter, or some tender, non-hardy plants are taken inside to be saved for next year. One example of a plant we save is our Echeveria. Echevaria is a large genus of succulents with many drought tolerant species. These plants form rosettes of succulent leaves on a fleshy stem.

We use about 50 flats of these Echeveria in our display at Gates Ajar every year. These plants work great to form the detailed symbols on the Gates. When we plant them in the wall we cut all of the roots off and just stick a little stub of the stem into the soil. These plants quickly form new roots and attach themselves to the wall.

We harvest the Echeveria off of the wall by simply pulling them out. Once back to the greenhouse, staff and volunteers clean up the old leaves, cut the roots off, and stick them in flats of soil to grow in the greenhouse until we need them outside next spring!

Fall Flower Show Featured on Fox-9 With Dale K.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Fall Leaves are Falling

If you haven't already noticed, the leaves are changing into their beautiful fall colors, and many have already fallen to the ground. Do you know why the leaves change color in the fall? There are a couple of things happening as the days shorten, and the fall nights get cooler. The production of the large amounts of food, or sugars the plant was making throughout the summer begins to slow down. The chloroplasts that make this food are what gives plants their green color. Once these cells shut down, the green color on the leaves slowly fades away. What is left are some other pigments that have likely been in the plant the whole time, but masked by the powerful chlorophyll. These pigments called anthocyanins, and give a nice red or purple color. Other pigments form other common fall colors. The orange colors come from carotene and the yellows from xanthophyll, other common plant pigments. This year we have had perfect weather for brilliant fall colors. Dry weather with warm sunny days, and cool nights enhance this process, and therefore enhance the colorful pigments we see.

The leaf 'stem', or petiole is also going through a change this time of the year. There are certain cells that are found where the leaf attaches to the tree that start to break down, and eventually the leaf falls off. That's when our job begins (after we enjoy the color of course), and raking and bagging leaves become a big part of our fall clean up. Hopefully you have had the chance to get out and enjoy the beautiful fall we have had!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Results Are In!

Horticulture staff have happily represented the Conservatory's collections of bonsai and orchids at the Minnesota State Fair. We displayed 63 orchids in the Orchid Society of Minnesota's annual room exhibit, and three bonsai trees in the Minnesota Bonsai Society exhibit. The Orchids garnered 13 first-place ribbons, including a "Best Exhibit" of greater than 26 plants. Of the bonsai trees displayed, the Korean beech received an "Award of Merit."

Though the State Fair is over, visitors can still see parts of the conservatory's orchid collection displayed on a rotating basis, as well as our Sunken Garden Flower Shows, and lush tropical collections in the North Garden, Fern Room, Palm Dome, and Tropical Encounters.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Orchids and bonsai at the state fair!

Over the past week, Conservatory staff have been diligently preparing for the showing of our plants in the Horticulture Building (near the food building) at the State Fair. All day Friday, September 3rd and Saturday, September 4th several orchids from our award winning neotropical orchid collection, and a few of the best bonsai from our bonsai collection, will be displayed. The orchids will be judged by peer judges including three horticulture staff from the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory and an American Orchid Society Judge. In order to prepare for the show, orchid leaves are cleaned to remove superficial defects that could impact appearance such as residues on the leaves from watering or fertilizing. The display for the orchids is also set up in the greenhouse so staff can preview and perfect the display before it is disassembled and moved to the Horticulture Building. Horticulture staff always have to keep in mind how much space is available in the vehicle that will transport our plants, that means limiting the number and size of plants that we send to the Fair as some of the bonsai are quite large. The bonsai also take some preparation. Some of the pots are oiled so that they do not look too dull and the trees receive some final pruning to maintain a finished look. In the end all that work is worth it! All you have to do is show up at the Fair to see them on display!

Friday, August 20, 2010

2010 Lantern Lighting Festival

On Sunday, August 15th the 12th Annual Japanese Lantern Lighting Festival took place in front of the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory (MMC) & the Como Ordway Memorial Japanese Garden. This year Bonsai and Ikebana were featured as the theme of the festival. Eight bonsai from the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory's collection were on display at the historic entrance to the conservatory. Bonsai demonstrations were given throughout the evening and the junipers used in the demonstrations were then given away to audience members thru a raffle. If you have not yet been to this festival, mark it on your calendar for next August 21st! Regular attendees look forward to the food, music, dancing, exhibitors, martial arts demonstrations, and the view of the 300 white paper lanterns floating on the water in the Frog Pond & Japanese Garden pool at the end of the evening.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


The dog days of summer are officially here. We are on day 15 of temperatures 90 degrees and higher for the year. Staff and visitors should be very aware of the heat wave we are in. Everyone should drink plenty of water, wear loose fitting clothing, wear sunscreen, and take frequent breaks in the shade. Outlook for next week is predicting mid 70's, that will be very refreshing! Stay safe and cool everyone!

What would you rather have right now?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Gardeners working in exhibits

As horticulture staff, we get to experience what its like to work in an animals home and beautify their surroundings. We start with contacting zookeepers and letting them know that we would like to get into the exhibits to do work. The morning of our scheduled work day we call zookeepers so they can secure animals and unlock gates for us.

Tasks we usually perform in the exhibit are; pulling toxic weeds to prevent the chance of an animal eating them, mowing, pulling weeds, pruning, planting, trimming and mulching. We finish before 10am so the animals have a chance to get on exhibit for the visitors to view them.

When we do exhibit work its nice to see the animals come out for the first time. Sometimes they seem curious about the changes we made. In the Polar Bear exhibits, after we mow, it is very fragrant, the polar bears seem to really enjoy that too.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Flowers blooming in the greenhouse

Most visitors don't get to see much of what is inside the greenhouses at the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory. Here are a few of the flowers that were seen blooming inside the greenhouse today.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Is that a bonsai?

Frequently horticulture staff and volunteers hear visitors ask a lot of the same questions. Today we will answer one of the questions heard frequently in the Japanese garden.

A lot of visitors ask if the short scotch pine in the Japanese garden are bonsai. Although the conservatory houses a large collection of bonsai, there are no bonsai in the Japanese garden. The trees in the Japanese garden have some similarities to bonsai but one obvious difference. Bonsai trees are grown in pots, whereas Japanese garden trees are grown in the landscape. Trees in Japanese gardens are pruned similar to bonsai but the root growth is not restricted resulting in larger trees of a similar style to bonsai.

The scotch pine and mugho pine in the Japanese garden are pruned similarly. In spring the new growth or candles on the trees are shortened to reduce growth and stimulate the development of buds on the trees for future growth. The trees are otherwise pruned to remove verticle growth within the pads of foliage to maintain definition between each branch or foliage pad. The branches at the tops of the trees tend to be shorter so that lower branches should have more foliage than the top of the tree. The resulting branches could be reminiscent of steps toward the top of the tree. The shorter branches have a functional purpose in addition to the aesthetic appearance. Shorter branches at the tops of trees allow more sunlight to get to lower branches. In pine trees, when lower branches do not get enough sunlight they die. Again evergreen trees and shrubs grown as bonsai can be pruned similarly but are grown on a different scale.

Japanese garden trees are grown on a human scale. The trees tend to be shorter but not so small as to compare to bonsai.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Keeping cool in the greenhouse

In hot weather like this the horticulture staff is trying to stay cool. Greenhouse crops can also suffer from heat stress. The greenhouse is equipped with a pad and fan cooling system to mitigate the heat in the greenhouse. Pad and fan cooling is an evaporative cooling process. Fans on one end of the greenhouse pull the greenhouse air outside while on the opposite end of the greenhouse, water pours through the pads. Air coming into the greenhouse through these wet pads evaporates the water in the pads and cools the greenhouse. Other circulating fans and vents in the top of the greenhouse called ridge vents are also used to cool the greenhouse.

In this hot weather the greenhouse staff will try to stay cool by caring for ourselves, as well as the plants.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Skipper Garden

The Skipper Garden was created by horticulture staff in 2005. It is an AZA Zoo Conservation Project that was created to raise awareness of endangered and threatened butterfly species. The Dakota Skipper was once widely distributed across Midwestern United States. It has experienced significant declines in the last 150 years.

The Skipper's primary reason for decline is the conversion of native prairie to cropland as well as urban development. The Dakota Skipper depends on high quality prairie habitat for survival, and is an important indicator of prairie health. The last remaining stronghold of the Dakota Skipper is in western Minnesota, northeast South Dakota, and most of North Dakota. We have not specifically seen any Dakota skippers in our garden. Minnesota does have more then two dozen other skipper varieties that are native.

Specific plants attract certain kinds of butterflies and moth species. Adult butterflies choose their favorite nectar plants to feed at, and along with the caterpillars that also eat their favorites. Shelter is important to butterflies too. They like a sunny location and away from prevailing winds. Color is a factor to attract them to the garden also. An example, Monarchs use milkweed as a caterpillar food as well as a nectar source when they are adults, they also lay their eggs on underside of the milkweed leaf. Swallowtail larva feed on parsley and lay their eggs on carrots, parsley and dill.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A little bit of winter in the summer

Over the past week, the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory has received its annual shipments of poinsettia plugs and chrysanthemum cuttings for our Fall and Holiday shows. The horticulture staff have planted the chrysanthemum cuttings and will soon plant the poinsettias. We will be patiently awaiting their successful growth into the mature plants they will become this fall and winter. Suprised that we start them so early? These rooted and unrooted plants come in at a miniscule two to four inches tall!