Garden Expo

Emily presented at the Wisconsin Garden Expo February 8 – 10.

Good Ideas

  • Think about what your gardening style is and what you like to eat. Try something you may have never eaten before before you plant them. These can be found locally: Asian pear, chestnuts, currants, figs, gooseberries, hardy kiwi, juneberries, pawpaw, and American persimmon.
  • See what you can forage for/what your neighbors are growing before you plant. Examples: Juneberries, aronia, apples, mulberry, pears.
  • Plant a little at a time – plant 2 before 10.
  • Prep fences before planting!
  • Plant herbs and annuals close to the kitchen.
  • Plant the edges with shrubs 4 to 5 feet apart – edible hedges, windbreak, and privacy.
  • Plant tall plants to the west and north.
  • Sheet mulch in the fall and plant in the spring.
  • Host a work party to sheet mulch and/or plant.

Sheet mulching is the answer!

It improves your soil and kills the existing plants.  Supplies were collected from a variety of sources:

  • Local arborists – wood chips (for perennials)
  • Craig’s List – old hay and straw (for veggie garden)
  • Keleny’s – top soil
  • Friends – leaves and rabbit manure
  • Madison Block and Stone – compost, wood chips
  • Work/Neighbors – cardboard, newspaper, guinea pig manure

Sheet Mulching Instructions

  • Layer 1: Compost, guinea pig or rabbit manure
  • Layer 2: Old hay and a sprinkle of topsoil
  • Layer 3: Cardboard or newspaper. Overlap the edges by 6 inches so no light gets through.
  • Spray everything with water
  • Layer 4: Leaves
  • Layer 5: Straw or wood chips

While your sheet mulch is new and the perennials are growing do the following:

Plant annual transplants (not seeds). Dig through the sheet mulch and cardboard, add compost, then plant: Sweet alyssum, marigolds, pansies, verbena bonariensis, zinnias, eggplant, peppers, ground cherries, squash, kale, tomatoes, melons, etc.

After 1 – 2 years, scatter seeds of: Cilantro, cosmos, Dutch white clover, and sunflowers. Plant nasturtium seeds, and re-mulch veggie areas with straw and woody plants with wood chips as needed.

Great Plants – Highly Recommended:

Juneberry/Serviceberry, Tart Cherry, Currants/Gooseberries, Raspberries, Thornless Blackberries, Asparagus, Rhubarb

Self Seeders – Don’t plant if you like a tidy landscape! However, they are easy to remove when they are small.

  • Amaranth (Amaranthus spp.)
  • Borage (Borago officinalus)
  • Calendula (Calendula officinalus)
  • Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum)
  • Dill (Anethum graveolens)
  • Johnny jump-ups (Viola odorata)
  • Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa)
  • Salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius)

Plants for Beauty and Pollinators

  • Woodland Wildflowers under shrubs – Columbine, Wild Geranium, Virginia Bluebells, Wild Ginger
  • Prairie plants – Coreopsis, Liatris, Little Bluestem, Penstemon, Prairie Smoke, Culver’s Root
  • Amsonia spp., Nepeta spp., Sedum spp.
  • Plant daffodils, daylilies, hostas (in shadier spots) along your edges. They help keep grass from creeping into your mulched areas.


  • Sage – reseeds
  • Thyme – easy groundcover
  • Rosemary – in a pot, bring inside for winter
  • Lavender – in a protected spot, add a bit of gravel/sand, plant on a mound
  • Mint – in a pot or a corner where its roots will be restricted
  • Lemon balm is a member of the mint family and should be handled accordingly
  • Chives – reseeds
  • Chamomile – reseeds
  • No fences needed! Good for the front of borders

Eat your “Weeds”!

  • Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
  • Chickweed (Stellaria media)
  • Lamb’s quarters (Chenopodium album)
  • Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
  • Violets (Viola odorata)
  • Many more

More challenging but worth it!

  • Strawberries – grow in containers or tall raised beds
  • European Pears – need 2 for pollination, pruning, harvesting can be tricky
  • Peaches – need good soil, pruning, thinning, protect the trunk
  • Blueberries – need acid soil
  • Figs – in pots, move indoors for winter

Not Recommended

  • Aronia Berry (Aronia melanocarpa) – only plant 1 or 2
  • Perennials that are native and good for pollinators but get too large and/or self-seed everywhere: Cup Plant, Canadian Goldenrod, Ironweed, Wild Indigo
  • Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
  • Comfrey that isn’t sterile – try Russian comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum)
  • Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus)


  • Sweet Cherries – fungus, Japanese beetles
  • European Plum – fungus, plum curculio, no fruit
  • Peaches – too soon after sheet mulching, needed to plant on a mound
  • Hazelnuts – squirrels
  • Grapes – raccoons
  • Cultivated strawberries in the ground spread aggressively – could try F. virginiana or F. vesca

Worth Trying

  • Goji Berry (Lycium barbarum)
  • Honeyberry (Lonicera spp.)
  • Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)

Worth Planting if you have space

  • Mulberries (Morus spp.) – reseed
  • Elderberries (Sambucus canadensis)
  • Hardy Kiwi (Actinidia kolomikta or A. arguta – needs an extremely sturdy trellis!
  • Chinese chestnut and hybrids (Castanea mollisima)
  • Shagbark hickory (Carya ovata)
  • American persimmon (Diospiros virginiana)
  • Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) hardy to zone 5, need 3 or 4 for best results
  • Wild plum (Prunus americana)

Other Ideas

  • Polyculture – greens and brassicas all seeded together in a 4 x 4 ft. square = all the greens you need for months!
  • Edibles in pots – lettuce, peppers, tomatoes, berries, figs, herbs, etc.
  • Fill bottom half of large pots or raised beds with old logs, wood chips, leaves, straw, etc.
  • Consider mushrooms like Shitake for your shady spots.


Preparation is the Key to Your Success!

  • Research! Classes, books, experts, etc. Don’t believe everything you read online. Look for Extension/University publications.
  • More research! Soil type, slope, light levels, spacing, etc.
  • Get a soil test and improve your soil by growing a cover crop, adding compost, and/or sheet mulching. It all starts with the soil!
  • Prepare cardboard, tree and shrub cages/fences ahead of time! Fence everything when it is small – I like hardware cloth and zip ties.
  • Prepare to water perennials for 1 – 2 years after planting.
  • Collect leaves in the fall and save them in bags, add them to your garden beds, and compost them.
  • Look at the pre-planting checklist page on this website.

Plant Sources – figs, currants, peaches – native trees and shrubs – berry bushes, tart cherries – berries, other fruits – violets, wild strawberry – chestnuts, persimmons – hardy kiwi, natives – native perennials, orders due by March 20th – shrubs, natives


Edible Plants for Prairie Gardens by June Flanagan

Foodscaping by Charlie Nardozzi

The Edible Landscape by Emily Tepe

The New Food Garden by Frank Tozer

Anything by Lee Reich

Helpful Links – find or list a fruit or nut tree! – Garden Watchdog rates mail order nurseries – fruit reviews

How to grow blueberries:

Upcoming Events

Feb. 23rd Rain Garden Workshop, 8:30 – 11:30 am

Dane Co. Land and Water Resources Dept. Building, 5201 Fen Oak Drive, Room 121

Cost: $10, register at:

March 5th Food and Farms Film Festival, starts at 7 pm

High Noon Saloon

FairShare CSA Coalition event, with short films & talks. $15 ($12 adv.).