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Farm Forum

I thought I would change things up a bit and talk about a tree for this week, Gymnocladus dioicus, Kentucky Coffeetree. This is a medium sized tree that will fit into many landscapes and provide interest all year with its bark, leaves, flowers, fruit and even great fall color, if weather conditions are right. The tree develops a rather open crown with rather coarse branches and can live to about 100+ years old. But the tree looks great when it is small too and just keeps getting better as it ages. It will grow best in moist, well-drained soils so is a great choice for the eastern areas of South Dakota and southeastern North Dakota but will not do well out in a hot, dry site out west, unless it has supplemental irrigation.

Coffeetrees have very distinctive grayish-brown bark with large rough scales that are great to see and feel all year. The tree has very large leaves that may be up to 1′ long and nearly as wide. But the leaves are pinnately compound, so they are made up of many leaflets about 2” long. In the fall, when the leaves fall, people are sometimes alarmed that small branches are falling off the tree, but it really is just the leaves.

Trees are either male or female but all produce interesting greenish flower clusters that can be 12” long and have a nice fragrance. Later, the female trees produce large pods that are 5” to 10” long and about 1.5” wide. They contain large dark brown seeds, when mature. While many people will shy away from a tree that produces fruit, the large pods of this tree are actually quite ornamental while on the tree and are not produced in large numbers that they make a big mess in your yard when they fall. The common name of coffeetree comes from the practice of early settlers roasting them and using them as a (poor) coffee substitute. The seeds can also be harvested in the fall of the year and planted to start new trees. The seed coat is very hard though so you will need to scarify the seed by rubbing the seed with sand paper to make an opening for the seed to take on moisture and germinate.

So, you can use buckets or other similar item to cover the flowers but let as much of the brome grass exposed as possible. Then carefully apply the herbicide to the leaves of the brome. There are spray foams that are available that will not drift like a spray. You can also carefully apply the herbicide to the leaves with a paint brush or wear a protective vinyl or rubber glove inside a cloth glove. Moisten the glove with the herbicide solution then run your gloved fingers through the grass blades. In an extreme infestation the best option is to dig out the plants you want to keep, temporarily transplant them to a new spot, spray on the herbicide then a week later replants the flowers back in place. Once you complete all of that, I would recommend that you install some sort of edging to keep the brome and other weeds from creeping back into the bed.

A Question from Roberts County, S.D.

Q For three years I have tried to attract butterflies and bumblebees to my flower garden. I have grown flowers for butterflies. Can I purchase monarch butterflies and if so, where? Thank you.

A Attracting bees and butterflies to your garden is more than just planting the right plants. Having native perennials that are good sources of nectar and pollen is a great start on the path to a successful butterfly and pollinator garden!

Bees need to have a source of water and also nesting sites in order to maintain a local population. For butterflies, you need to provide the host plant for the caterpillars otherwise the females will never stop by to lay eggs. Monarchs lay eggs on many species of milkweed, and that is what the caterpillars eat. Species like Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed), Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed), and Asclepias syriaca (common milkweed) are some to consider. A good start for more information is here:

It is also important to arrange your plants in groups or drifts. This increases the visual signal of the plant and makes it easier for the bees and butterflies to spot it.

If you use any pesticides on your lawn and garden this may be negatively impacting the bees and butterflies. It is important to avoid spraying when flowers are in bloom and to also follow the label directions carefully. Many pesticides include information on the label on how to avoid exposing beneficial insects to their effects.

I do not recommend purchasing insects because they do not generally stay in the yard where they are released. If you purchased Monarch caterpillars, you would need a good stand of milkweed plants for them to feed on.

You may have more bees and butterflies in your garden than you realize. There are many species of native bees and some of them are only active close to dawn or dusk. Some are also very small, so you may be creating a great habitat for bees that you didn’t know were there. This is an excellent publication on native bees to check out:

Amanda Bachman – Extension Horticulture Field Specialist

Do You Have Gardening Questions?

You can submit your gardening questions to the Ask-an-Expert section of the website in the “Gardens – Gardening”. There you will be able to type in your own question on the Ask-an-Expert portion. An Extension horticulture professional or a Master Gardener will reply to the question, in most cases, within 48 hours. Then an email alert is sent to you, with a link to the personalized answer. I personally check this website for incoming questions and provide answers when I can. If you would like one of your questions to be included in this iGrow Gardens column, just include “Farm Forum” at the beginning of your question so that I will be able to see that you might like to see your question show up in the column. I will check the site and use some selected questions and answers in upcoming columns.