3 Garden Success Secrets

3 Secrets Guaranteed to Grow Garden Success this growing season:Secret # 1: Double Dig

Double digging is the best way to turn a tiny yard into a year round gourmet delight for your family and the ecosystem as a whole.


To double dig is simply to mix compost deep into the ground before you plant.  Typically I’ve seen landscapers and gardeners mixing compost in soil to a depth of between six inches and one foot when installing a new garden.  This is fine if you have plenty of space to produce your food in, but anybody who’s grown a healthy zucchini in a city yard knows that every inch of space can count.  In order to double dig, mix your compost into the ground to a depth of between two and three feet.  The deeper you dig in the compost, the more room there is for the roots to grow down deep instead of outward along the surface.  When roots have room to grow deep, plants can be placed closer together, thus making your yard able to produce more food! 

Once you have mixed your soil, you’ll never need or want to turn it again, instead you can add compost as a top dressing for your gardens every spring.  Trash to compost, compost to earth, and earth to dinner plate, now that’s a cycle we can all live with.  The hops vines shown in right side of this picture grew 12 feet in a single season due to the 4 foot double dig we did before we planted.

 Secret #2:  Save Your Seeds 


Seeds are like currency.  You can’t get food without them.  So it makes sense that the more variety and volume of seeds that you have the more solid the guarantee you have that your shelves will be stocked.  We need to make sure that We The People are in charge of our seeds.  We need to grow independent of big seed producing companies, so that we get to choose our local food selection.  Store your seeds in clearly marked envelopes inside of plastic zip lock bags, air tight containers, or mason jars with tight fitting lids and place them in cool, dark, dry cupboards or boxes.

Secret # 3:  A Little Clay Goes A Long Way


Secret #3 is perfect for gardeners with sandy soil.  There is an old farmers rhyme that comes handed down from generations before to help us remember:  "Sand into clay is money thrown away, but clay into sand is money in the hand".

What these wise farmers of old would have us understand is that while you won’t get any benefit from adding sand into clay soil,  you will get benefits from adding clay into sand.  Clay will help retain moisture in a sandy or loamy soil.  If you mix clay soil with a little of your compost before spreading the compost you will give your garden all it needs to grow up healthy and strong right from the start.   Clay soil is fairly easy to procure in small amounts throughout the twin cities area, if you don’t know a farmer or developer who will let you scoop enough for your sandy gardens, than I’d recommend consulting with Craigslist. 

Compost Is Heating Up!

Organic gardening and farming are based on the notion that when we build our soil’s natural fertility through composting we strengthen our environment and grow the land’s capacity to provide us with health.

It’s a pretty good system when you think of it. We throw out scraps, and the scraps become our food. So simple, so elegant, so effective.

At Giving Tree Gardens, we’re such big fans of compost because we’ve seen it’s powerful results. Our gardens and lawns have all quickly filled in and grown with health and beauty using nothing but good healthy compost for fertility.

Last spring Giving Tree Gardens began working with farm partners to build Grow! Twin Cities Urban Farm. At this 12 acre city farm growers with various talents ranging from tomato and potato farming to bee keeping and mushrooming have come together to grow food for urban eaters. This farm space has been the perfect place for us to launch our composting operations.

With consultation from local composting experts Peter Kern, owner of Kern Landscape Resources, and Professor Tom Halbach, from the University of Minnesota, we designed an 85 feet long compost pile. Friends of the farm and Giving Tree Gardens employees set to work transforming our greenhouse and hauling in the compost pile’s base layers of wood chips and landscaping waste.

We now bring in 2 tons of Minneapolis’ finest coffee shop, vegetarian eatery, and beer brewery waste per week to compost inside our largest greenhouse. Composting takes place inside the greenhouse for two reasons. First, composting in the greenhouse means that our pile doesn’t stop cooking all year long.  Second, and more importantly, the fact that we’re heating our greenhouse without any petroleum products means a huge environmental win for everyone involved.

If you’ve purchased food, beer, or coffee from Peace Coffee, Caffetto Coffee Shop, Tao Foods, or Second Moon Coffee Shop, then you are contributing to healthy soils, and local food production at our Grow! Twin Cities Farm.

If you’d like to support more of our farming and composting efforts, there are great ways to get involved. You can sign up to volunteer, donate to the farm, or sign up to follow our newsletter.

Many thanks to all the hard working compost helpers!

Gardening At School, Growing Healthy Kids

Whenever a young person learns to garden, the future grows a little more green and healthy. When an entire school learns to garden together, sustainability sprouts in the imaginations of tomorrows community.  This spring, Giving Tree Gardens worked with the Anoka-Hennepin School District to teach some of the basics of Earth- friendly food gardening to students at two schools in the district.  We had so much fun working with students and staff that we’ve just got to share the good times with the rest of the world.

Imagine what our communities would look like today, if all of us as kids had the opportunity to learn to grow our own food at school.  Instead of learning to grow food, the daily school lunch is the most engaging and oft repeated lesson that our kids get about food.  What is that lesson?

It was an honor for us at Giving Tree to be invited to garden with the students at Mississippi Elementary and Northdale Middle School in Coon Rapids.  Composting, edible weeds, the importance of avoiding chemicals, soil preparation, seed planting, native plants, habitat creation, and companion planting were the subjects of 3 all day gardening classes.  School staff and teachers brought the students out in shifts.  Over 400 students were able to get their hands dirty digging in to learn how to grow healthy food and habitat.

At Mississippi Elementary we built on a theme that we had started last year when we extended the garden installation within the schools Nature Center to include 6 crescent moon shaped garden beds.  Every grade came out to plant, and each got their own garden bed to prepare and plant with different companion planting arrangements.  Within each bed we also planted one native butterfly attracting plant so that we made sure to grow habitat for our winged friends along the way.

At Northdale Middle school we worked with 7th and 8th grade students in the schools AVID program to plant a highly accessible veggie garden and two fruit trees right out the back door.  Plants were all arranged in companionship groupings, and both the apple and pear tree that were planted were given their best friend plants of dill and mint to grow by.  Some of the students were very impressive with their strong knowledge about organic vegetable gardening!

Both of these school projects were funded by SHIP grants (State Health Improvement Program) from the State of Minnesota Health Department.  These grants are designed to “help Minnesotans live longer, healthier lives.” Gardening for medicinal and edible plants as well as sustainable habitat development are among the most effective long term strategies we have available for increasing health in our communities.

Imagine how healthy our children would be if all of our schools had organic student led gardens to grow even half of the food the kids eat for lunch.  Thanks to the SHIP grants, and the imaginative staff in the Anoka-Hennepin Schools and school district, we have planted the seeds of healthy change in a couple of local schools.

Community Design Forum

Is your block club, church group, or office place ready to go green? In this time of shrinking budgets we need to recognize the assets in our communities and help them grow into a sustainable future! Community Design Forums are meetings where folks come together to create action plans for moving forward with changes that positively affect their community's environment. By sharing needs, knowledge, and ideas communities get to know the power within their ranks and discover ways to help grow their green ideas.

Facilitated by Giving Tree Gardens owner Russ Henry, these forums bring together his skills as a professional Earth-Friendly Landscaper and a volunteer Restorative Justice Facilitator. Russ sits down with consultation attendees and asks them to share their concerns, ideas, efforts, and knowledge with each other so that communities can not only draw from his experience in the garden and landscape, but more importantly, attendees learn about each other's skills and abilities.


Giving Tree Gardens landscaping department offers year round garden and landscape maintenance services. Our landscaping maintenance crews are out maintaining our client's organic gardens and landscapes from the time the last snow melts in the spring till the ground freezes again in the fall.

We'll maintain your landscape through the winter months with our trusted Snow Removal Service.   Our landscape maintenance services include composting, weeding, perennial division, tree and shrub pruning, and mulching.  In addition our maintenance crews plant annuals in the spring and bulbs in the fall.  Giving Tree Gardens landscaping  maintenance crew makes sure your organic gardens grow more lovely with each passing season.

Garden Installation

Giving Tree Gardens professional landscape and garden installation service crew work closely with our clients and with our garden designer Russ Henry to install award winning organic gardens.

The landscape installation services team at Giving Tree Gardens aim to make as little negative impact on the land as they can while landscaping installations take place

We use hand tools whenever possible and we keep our foot traffic to a minimum.  Our organic gardens and landscapes are installed so that they will have all they need to grow healthy and full, and our organic garden installation services are designed around our clients needs and dreams.

Organic Landscape Design

As owner of Giving Tree Gardens, Russ Henry works closely with each of his Landscape Design clients to create organic gardens that fulfill the needs and desires of each client. Giving Tree Gardens designs and services are each individually crafted to create functional enchanting spaces. We take the time to get to know how our clients will use their outdoor spaces, so that we can design their gardens to enhance the livability and pleasure they find just outside their doors.  Giving Tree Gardens are designed to preserve nature, and provide all year-long beauty.   "We aim for 100% client satisfaction" explains Russ Henry, "I want my clients to love the work I do for them, so I pay close attention to what they want to find when they step into the landscape."

Local Links

Here you’ll find links to some of our business, non-profit, and community partners in growing a more beautiful and bountiful Twin Cities for ourselves and future generations.

Comgar Listserv: Gardeners Unite, Connect, Grow!

The Seed Newsletter Archives: All Your Favorite Garden Reading

Giving Tree Gardens YouTube!: Garden Videos

Yards To Gardens: Connecting Gardeners With Places to Plant

Friends School Plant Sale: Best Plant Selection In MN and a Great Cause

Landscape Alternatives: Great Resource for Native Plants

Outback Nursery: Great Resource for Native Plants

Kern Landscaping: Got Compost?

Applied Energy Innovations: Solar, Wind, Geothermal?

Midtown Farmers Market: Local, Fresh, Delicious!

Capitol Region Watershed District: St. Paul Rain Gardens

Diamond Stone Oriental Medicine: Your First Wealth Is Health

Sue Hensel Designs: Communicate, Change, Share

Minneapolis Rain Barrel: Decorative and Useful

Reddy Rents: Huge Selection of Hand Tools For Sale and Rent!

Diamond Stone: Oriental Medicine, real healing.