Just What is Plant Select and What is Happening at Zoo Montana?

Plant Select is the country’s leading brand of plants designed to thrive in high plains and inter-mountain regions, offering plants that provide more beauty with less work so gardeners of all levels can achieve smart, stunning, and successful gardens using fewer resources and with a more positive environmental impact.

Driven by the belief that the right plants in the right place matter and that cultivating plants in tougher growing environments requires smarter approaches, Plant Select leverages a uniquely collaborative model and highly selective cultivation process to find, test, and distribute plants that thrive on less water.

Plant Select’s goal is to create smart plant choices for a new American landscape inspired by the Rocky Mountain region. Plant Select is a nonprofit combining forces of Colorado State University and Denver Botanical Gardens. I (Teresa Miller Bessette) applied to Plant Select for the gardens at Zoo MT to become a test site. Sharon Wetsch and I drove to Fort Collins in August and received plant material. A new site was cut and the plants were planted. There will be meetings and more plant material in the spring!

Submitted by Teresa Miller Bessette

On Thursday March 15th from 4- 5:00 PM in the Community Room at the Billings Library, Master Gardener Teresa Bessette will be giving a presentation on the gardening activities that are going on at ZooMontana’s Botanical Garden. Make plans to attend to hear more about how the Zoo qualified as a test site for Plant Select and what it involves.



The Power of Seeds | How to Grow Broccoli Sprouts

We all know how wonderful micro greens are for our health and how they were all the rage in the culinary world the past few years. Some of us grew micro greens and others bought them at the store. There have been fewer micro greens in stores and more sprouts in their place.

Yes I said sprouts! They have made a comeback – they are off the side-lines and can be found in most produce sections. This time around broccoli sprouts are the most popular as they have incredible health benefits. Before I share how great they are with you I want to give you a little bad and some good news. The bad news is broccoli sprouts do not taste like broccoli and the good news is that broccoli sprouts do not taste like broccoli.

All kidding aside, broccoli sprouts are easy to grow and just 3 ounces of sprouts have 10-100 times more sulforaphane than mature broccoli. Sulforaphane is an anti-cancer compound found in cruciferous vegetables that helps to fight against cancer. Broccoli sprouts are rich in vitamins K, C, B6, E, and folate, dietary fiber phosphorus, potassium, and mag-nesium. They also help the heart, respiratory, immune systems and aid in digestion.

Although they are good for most of us, no more than 2 cups a day is recommended. I caution anyone that is not supposed to have cruciferous vegetables to stay away from broccoli sprouts and always consult your doctor if you have questions or concerns.

All sprouts are quick and easy to grow and require minimal equipment and time.
If you want to test the waters and do not want to invest in a bag of seeds, Montana Harvest has organic broccoli seeds in their bulk spice section for a small amount of money. There is a lot more information on the internet about growing and buying all different types of sprouting seeds. I put sprouts on my omelets with some greens, in my salads, in smoothies and my favorite is in soups. I even feed them to my dogs. If you decide to give growing sprouts a try send us some pictures and let us know what you think at ymastergardener@gmail.com.

Here are a few links for purchasing sprouts online. https://sproutpeople.org/seeds/brassica-sprouts/ Kitazawa carries a lot of Asian seeds that can also be used for sprouting. http://www.kitazawaseed.com/

Submitted by Donna Canino


Hollyhock (Alcea rosea) – Zones 3 to 9. These old- fashioned favorites unfurl richly colored single or double flowers on lanky stems that can reach 9 feet in height. They can tower above a garden, adding a lovely vertical element to your yard.

Hollyhock is a biennial, which means it grows foliage on short stems its first year but doesn’t flower until the following year. Growing hollyhocks in the garden is the goal of many gardeners who remember these impressive flowers from their youth. It is a favorite ‘cottage garden’ choice in my yard. 

Did you know, based on folklore, that hollyhocks werehollyhock 1 planted near outhouses so ladies wouldn’t have to broach the unmentionable subject of outhouses in a Victorian household? They could simply look for the hollyhocks themselves.

Hollyhocks need full sun and moist, rich, well-drained soil. The mistake many novice hollyhock growers make is to plant this flower in soil that is too dry. If you are planting seeds, sow the seeds outside about a week before last frost. If you are planting seedlings, wait about two to three weeks after last frost. Hollyhock seeds only need to be planted right below the soil, no more than 1/4- inch deep. Hollyhock plants should be about 2 feet apart to grow well. You can also plant bare root hollyhocks. 

Hollyhocks are a short lived perennial. This means that most varieties will only live two to three years. Their lifespan can be extended some by removing growing hollyhock flowers as soon as they fade. By living in a non-tropical region, cutting them
back to the ground and mulching them will also help.

The one benefit that comes from growing hollyhock flowers is that they easily reseed themselves. While they may be short-lived, in their proper growing conditions they will continually grow more, which will keep the hollyhock flowers consistent in years to come.

Few diseases affect hollyhocks; however, hollyhock rust is a problem. Rust is a common and serious disease that is found in hollyhock gardens and is spread by mallow, which is a weed that acts as a disease reservoir. The rust disease is a fungus that spreads by rain droplets splashing on leaves and through air transfer. If not treated, the disease intensifies through summer and will eventually kill the plant. Rust will overwinter and infect the crowns of sprouting plants in spring.

The rust disease in hollyhocks appears as rust-colored bumps on the underside of the leaves and stems of the plant. The disease starts as small rust flecks and grows into raised bumps or pustules that will spread to all parts of the plant greens. An infected plant will appear limp and ragged. Does hollyhock rust spread to other plants? Yes, it does! It only spreads to other members of the Alcea family, so most of your other garden plants are safe.

There are a few pests that affect hollyhocks: hollyhock pest 1The Hollyhock weevil (Apion longirostre) is one of them. The hollyhock weevil is commonly responsible for damaged foliage and thinned-out stands of hollyhock. Another is the Japanese beetle (Popillia japonica) hollyhock pest 2which feed on hollyhock leaves as adults, causing the foliage to turn brown from the top of the plant down. The Hollyhock Sawfly larvae (Neoptilia malvacearum) feed extensively on leaves, eventually skeletonizing hollyhock foliage. Spider mites such as the Two-Spotted spider mite (Tetranychus urticae) feed on hollyhocks. Spider mite feeding damage appears as stippling or flecking on leaves, leaf yellowing and premature leaf drop. Mites are small, barely visible to the naked eye, and they prefer hot, dry conditions; the presence of fine webbing indicates a severe infestation.

Some additional possible pests: multiple species of thrips including gladiolius thrips can affect hollyhocks. These small, flying insects pierce flowers, buds, leaves and stems, causing the appearance of silvery, necrotic lines and sometimes dieback. Avoid the use of broad-spectrum insecticides that could harm natural thrips predators. Leafhoppers and aphids may also occasionally act as hollyhock pests. Aphids are soft-bodied insects that tend to feed on vulnerable new growth. There are plenty of resources available to learn more about the various pests that can affect hollyhocks. I would encourage you to further your research if you find you are having issues with your hollyhocks!

If anyone would like some seeds I have some single-flower black, white, red and Crème de Cassis seeds I’d love to share with fellow gardeners. I am looking for single-flower variety in a bright yellow, if anyone has them growing in their yards! I can leave some at Amy’s office if there is an interest.

Resources and further reading: https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/flowers/hollyhock/tips-on-hollyhocksgrowing-hollyhocks-successfully.htm

Submitted by Tracy Livingston


When I think of grapes and vineyards, I think of California, France or the Mediterranean. I don’t really imagine grapes growing in our climate. Yet over 30 years ago we planted two grape vines near the entrance to my garden and they are still going strong all these years later!

Every year the stick-like canes sprout beautiful green grape leaves, then little grape buds, and in early to mid-August beautiful dark blue-black grapes. I know the grapes are ready to harvest when the wasps and robins begin hanging around the ripening grapes. I do little to tend the vines except trim them back some after the leaves have fallen in the fall and give them some of my home-made fertilizer in the spring.

The variety we planted is called “Valiant.” It is a cross between native and concord grapes. It was originally bred in South Dakota but the same wild grapes in this cross also grow here in Montana. This variety may still be available from a landscape contractor. I’m not sure you would be able to find it in a retail store. I suspect having the wild genes in these plants helps them survive our harsh conditions, resist diseases, and produce fruit in our short growing season. Perhaps there are other such crosses out there now if you cannot find “Valiant.”Grapes 2017

My grapes are not eating grapes. They are not sweet enough. I make grape juice from them every year. I think they would make a fine wine but I have not tried that. When they are ready, I harvest enough to make a few quarts of juice, then leave plenty of fruit for the birds and wasps (though for a few days I have to use the back entrance to my garden to avoid the wasps!).

I hope others will try grape vines in their gardens and will get the same pleasure and good juice from them that I have enjoyed all these many years!


Submitted by Ann Guthals

So you have all the Christmas decorations stored, the income tax information compiled in a folder and now without any other interruptions, let’s get the seed catalogs all spread out and start making plans. You probably have a list of your standard vegetables and varieties. Have you ever thought about trying something entirely different just to see if it would grow well? Try two variety types to see which one produced more? How much space do you have for how many vegetables? When I look through catalogs, it’s like a kid in a candy store – I’d like one of each item.

What do we believe and expect from catalog products? Keep in mind as you swoon over all the pretty pictures that their purpose is to entice you to buy first-most, and to educate you last-most. Those pretty silver Artemesia that are “hardy and easy to grow” could barge into your property like a band of evil pixies, then float over the fence on the wind and take over your neighbor’s lawn, the back alley, and the cracks in the sidewalk out front! What the catalog might not tell you is that your Montana climate will turn those hardy annual plants into perennials that come from seed and from all the root bits, and if you aren’t ready for that it could be a three-year weed-pulling seed experiment gone bad.

When buying seeds it’s important to do your homework. Some seeds need special care to sprout. If you are preparing to pay $5 for a packet of 5 geranium seeds, for example, you should be aware that they are that expensive for a reason. That doesn’t mean to avoid them, it means you will want to know all you can about geranium seeds before they arrive in your mailbox. You won’t want to waste them because you didn’t know they want warm feet until they come up, and then watered from the bottom to avoid any extra moisture at the base of the seedling to avoid damping off. Pansies, on the other hand, better not be on that heat mat – they like it cool. And some seeds will want to be dark when others need to be exposed to the light! They won’t tell you those things in the catalog. Avoid preventable failures by having at hand (hard copy or online) a good seed identification guide that includes germination information (light requirements, moisture preferences, temperature, scarification, etc.), pictures of seedlings and first true leaves, time to germination, susceptibility to fungus or rots, and other helpful facts. [Park’s Success With Seeds is Corinna’s favorite reference.] You will want specific germination information on every seed you plan to buy for the best success.

If you find something you want to try that needs to be seeded indoors, assemble any
lights, heat mats or cables, and watering supplies before they arrive so you know what kind of space you’ll need. It can be a very enjoyable thing to have seedlings in the house on those dreary February days! The same diligence can be done for buying plant material. Know as much as you can about the plant, its best condition before planting, best time to plant, and best initial care requirements before you buy. Know what it is susceptible to, and what it wants for light, water, and soil. If you always have a reliable secondary source of information, you increase your rate of success and can spot ‘creative marketing’
before you fall for it.

It should be pointed out that if you are looking for specialty potatoes Montana has a Premier Seed Potato production that supplies seed potatoes to Idaho, Washington and other states that are famous for their potatoes. (http://www.montana.edu/news/11804/montana-certified-seed-potatoes-available-at-local-nurseries-garden-centers-and-extension-offices) Nina Zidack of the MT Potato Lab “wants to encourage home gardeners to plant Montana-certified seed potatoes.” One reason is that certified seed potatoes grow better potatoes than potatoes bought in a grocery store or potatoes left over from previous seasons. Potatoes sold in grocery stores are often treated to restrict the sprouting of tubers, Zidack said, “and more importantly they may come from other states and carry virus diseases and tuber and soil-borne pests, or come from areas that have frequent outbreaks of Late Blight.” The Irish potato famine was caused by Late Blight, the most destructive disease of potatoes, which can also infect tomato, eggplant, pepper and petunia. Spores from the fungus may be wind borne and carried 50 miles or more. “Increased planting of Montana-certified seed in gardens will reduce the risk of introducing pathogens or other pests which would cause serious disease outbreaks resulting in monetary losses to [home and professional] growers,” Zidack said. If you have questions about sources for certified seed potatoes, contact your local extension agent or Nina Zidack at (406) 994-3150, potato-cert@montana.edu.

Don’t forget that your Master Gardener Association and Extension is a great source of information when you are trying new things. Use the online resources and your personal relationships through Master Gardeners to help you be a successful seed planter!

Submitted By: Sheri Kisch and Corinna Sinclair