Green Tea Conversations
Taking Landscaping to the Next Level with Russ Henry
August 30, 2020
Meet Russ Henry, landscaper, naturalist, gardener, soil health expert, and the founder of Minnehaha Falls Landscaping. Henry talks about the importance of soil, lawn cutbacks, and the concept of pollinator gardens. Learn about the significance of supporting the ecosystem and the trend of the low-maintenance bee lawn. He also discusses the various kinds of plants that will attract bees and butterflies and make your lawn and garden a visual treat. To become a backyard hero and to schedule an appointment, visit

[00:00:13.010] - Candi Broeffle, Host
Welcome back to Green Tea Conversations, where we delve into the pages of Natural Awakenings magazine and talk to the professionals who share their expertise on natural health with you. I'm your host, Candi Broeffle. And now we are going to talk with Russ Henry, who is the owner of Minnehaha Falls Landscaping. We're so glad you could be with us today, Russ.
[00:00:34.180] - Russ Henry, Guest
Hi, Candi. Thanks so much for having me on.
[00:00:36.350] - Candi Broeffle, Host
Yes, it's great that you're here. Now. I was really excited to have you on the show because you have just written an article for the October issue of Natural Awakenings magazine. And it was such a great article. You submitted it to us, and we were able to get it into the magazine and you had such good information in it. And I knew if I could get you on the show, we could get even more good information from you.

[00:01:03.110] - Russ Henry, Guest
Oh, fine. Thank. Thank you.

[00:01:04.850] - Candi Broeffle, Host
One of the things that you did talk about in the article is the importance of under. Well, first of all, why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself? So people know why I'm going into this. So tell us a little bit about Minnehaha Falls Landscaping in the work you do.
[00:01:22.090] - Russ Henry, Guest
Thanks, Candi. Absolutely. Well, I'm really honored to be here. I love Natural Awakenings and Minnehaha Falls Landscaping is a business that's rooted in healthy soil. And so as the owner of the business, I happen to also be a self professed soil nerd. And I have spent many years studying soil health, especially microbial health, and learning about soil fungi and bacteria and the that the creatures in the soil of play. And I've used that in our business. And so we use that to manage organic lands, to grow a very healthy perennial at native gardens, rain gardens, bee lawns all sorts of exciting landscapes that we manage without the use of any pesticides or fertilizers, and using natural fertility from compost.
[00:02:14.770] - Candi Broeffle, Host
That is really great. Now, as our listeners can tell you, do a lot of different things. And that's why I was so excited to get you on the show today. But before we get started with that, let's talk about soil and why it's so important for us to understand our soil and how we can care for it.
[00:02:31.780] - Russ Henry, Guest
Yes. Well, soil is the life support system for planet Earth, and soil processes our waste for us, it produces our food forest for us, it produces all of our oxygen. It handles all of the carbon dioxides in the atmosphere. Soil is absolutely fundamental to life on Earth, and without it, we'd all be in a lot of trouble. So it's very important that we manage our landscapes at home and our farm landscapes, the agricultural spaces with keeping in mind towards healthy soil. And there are some things that we can do even this fall, that can really help out growing healthy soil in our own backyards.
[00:03:16.680] - Candi Broeffle, Host
And now is the perfect time to take a look at that, because we're all kind of getting ready for winter and taking a look at maybe doing some cutting down and that type of thing. So what can we do in particular for our soil to prepare it for winter?
[00:03:31.360] - Russ Henry, Guest
Well, thanks so much for asking. When I think about soil health, we're really thinking about all of the creatures that live in and around the soil and so caring for them. So let's see, starting with caring for the plants oftentimes do a lot of cut back in the fall time. And one of the things I like to focus on is cutting back the plants that will turn to mush by springtime. So that's hostas and day lilies, sometimes some of our food produce plants, tomatoes and these kind of things, they'll turn into lettuce and those kind of things, they'll turn into mush before spring come.

So I will cut them back. So I don't have to deal with that Mushies, whereas plants that native plants so Pilate, milkweed, echinacea, and black eyed Susan, all of these types of plants. I think it's very important to try to leave some of those standing throughout the winter season. Not only because they're beautiful to look at is they catch the first few snowfalls in the season, but also the pollinators really require the use of those grasses and dead plant material to make their nests in the spring.
So ground nesting bees, 60% of these in Minnesota nest in the ground, and they use they chew up the dead plant material and they spit it out, making it a form of paper that they make their nests from underground. So very important that we leave some of that material up. So that's kind of the first part. Do you do cutbacks in your garden?
[00:05:07.580] - Candi Broeffle, Host
I do. And actually, when I read the article, I started thinking maybe I'm cutting back too much. I came from the home that I came from before I moved down here. We had a lot of gardens, and we kind of cut back everything. And I think I probably cut back too much, but it's good to know. And I know there are certain plants that get really, really mushy, and I don't want to deal with them in the spring, so it's good to know that because I'll be more careful with it.
This year, I haven't started cutting back. We only cut back our hostas in day Lilies so far so I'm safe.
[00:05:45.730] - Russ Henry, Guest
Yes. Well, cutbacks are one part of all maintenance. And then, of course, there's dealing with leaves and raking their leaves. And so I always like to say that it's important to get the leaves off of the lawn spaces. So if we're trying to manage an organic lawn, we really want to make sure that we're not overwhelming it with leaves. Every fall, they will map down on the line. They'll kind of smush ground covers, including grow and other ground covers in our garden so very low plants I'll keep the leaves off of and I'll rake the leaves off of those.
But I'll use the leaves and I'll rake them underneath the shrubs. I'll put them up around trees for mulch all kinds of great ways to use the leaves in the garden. You can put them in your compost bin thinking them as a free ground cover. Free mulch is really kind of the essential there. And one thing I get asked quite a lot and I think it's kind of an important point is Russ, should I be . And I always say no, let's don't chop up our leaves.
And here's the reason why a lot of moths and butterflies will make their cocoons in the leaves in the fall time before the leaves fall to the ground. And so they're actually relying on the leaves for protection all throughout the growing season. And so it's important that we go ahead and scoop those leaves off of our ground covers, but keep them intact and put them use them as the free mulch that they can be.
[00:07:19.700] - Candi Broeffle, Host
It is amazing how much they do mulch down during the wintertime. I know we used to always put ours underneath or throughout our raspberries. So we would take almost all the leaves in the yard and just kind of put them in our raspberry patches over our strawberries and that type of thing. And they do. I mean, by the time spring comes and early summer, it just is nice to have those leaves their and you really don't have to do a lot with them then in the spring.
[00:07:48.530] - Russ Henry, Guest
Right. And another great use for leaves comes to mind is folks who have kind of dogs in the backyard that lift to run along the fence line back and forth, back and forth. And they're asking me all the time, what do I do here because the grass won't grow. I said put the free leaves there every year as the leaves fall. Just rake them all on top of that dog run area and let the dogs run back and forth and they can trample it down. It will also catch the dog's leavings and compost.
[00:08:18.700] - Candi Broeffle, Host
Oh, that's a great idea. Alright. So one of the things that I know you really are known for and that you're really passionate about is having the native perennial gardens. This is something that you do a lot for your customers here in the Twin Cities.
[00:08:39.250] - Russ Henry, Guest
Yes. We make pollinator gardens all over the place and we just love it. It's one of our favorite things to do. And so a pollinator garden is going to have something blooming in it at all different times of the growing season. So we're having early-season blooms like past flower and sila and crocus and moving into mid-season blooms like wild blue Indigo and colony turtlehead, and then moving further down into the season into Joe Pi Weed and all of our summer blooming plants. And then even in the fall with asters and such.
So we really keep the blooms going. That's important to be able to provide provide food for the pollinators off season. And then we'd like to think about the gardens as. And this is something that really helps with all types of gardens, especially if you're looking at low maintenance. Spreading plants are our friends. And a lot of times we thought of spreading plants as being the enemy. But if we start thinking about blending multiple canopy layers of spreading plants throughout our garden spaces, that is what actually keeps weeds out on the long term.
And it acts as a living mulch covering the ground in green, creating more of a system living ecosystem as opposed to the kind of plant mulch that we see in a lot of gardens where there's a lot of space between the mulch or between the plants. And so what we like to do is put fill our gardens with an abundance of spreading plants that will grow and form an ecosystem that actually goes through a bit of ecosystem succession as the homeowner enjoys it over the years.
[00:10:29.430] - Candi Broeffle, Host
So what are some of the plants that you use for that?
[00:10:32.820] - Russ Henry, Guest
Well, you know, our favorites for bringing in, for instance, the monarch butterflies we like to call the mega monarch magnets. And that is swamp milkweed. And any kind of milkweed is good. But we do see more caterpillars on the swamp milkweed than any other kind of milkweed. Joe Pigweed, Absolutely essential. The early returning butterflies as they're flying back down from Canada, going back down towards Mexico again. They love that. Joe Pigweed, Then the absolute favorite of all monarchs is the Meadow blazing star and meadow blazing star.
Liatris Wiggy Stylus is a plant set. I have about 20 of these plants liatris plants in my Boulevard. They're kind of a tall, narrow plant. And I'll have one or two monarch butterflies per plant at all different times of they're migrating through. And so as people are walking down the sidewalk in front of my house, they always stop and wonder in amazement at the butterfly. It's just going to circle them as they're going past.
[00:11:39.080] - Candi Broeffle, Host
That is so cool. So are there any kinds of ground cover plants that you try to stay away from your shy away from a little bit?
[00:11:48.700] - Russ Henry, Guest
That's a good question. I think the highest maintenance form of ground cover is Kentucky Bluegrass, our standard issue lawns. And I always love to say that the best lawn is a garden. Now we do care for lawns, and we do so in an organic manner. So we never use any herbicides or pesticides on our lawns. And instead we focus on soil health. And oftentimes we encourage folks to grow bee lawns. And that's where you actually intentionally blend in things like white Clover, and you can get many different native bees coming around and getting food living from your lawn.
[00:12:28.320] - Candi Broeffle, Host
Oh, that is really cool. So we're going to talk a little bit more about that when we come back from the break, because I want to get into that a little bit more about what types of plans you want to put into those beans in order to attract the bees and still have a beautiful looking lawn that you can enjoy every year. For people who want to learn more about about Russ and the work he does, visit or call 612-724-5454. You're listening to Green Tea Conversations on AM950, the Progressive Voice of Minnesota. And we will be back in just a moment.
Welcome back to Green Tea Conversations, where we delve into the pages of Natural Awakenings magazine and talk to the professionals who share their expertise on natural health with you. I'm your host, Candi Broeffle. And today we're visiting with Russ Henry, owner of Minnehaha Falls and Landscaping. So, Russ, just before the break, we were starting to talk about beans, and you just gave us a little hint of what we might be discussing within that. But I know that you have certain plants that you like to include in bee lawn.
So first of all, help us understand what a bee lawn is.
[00:14:18.480] - Russ Henry, Guest
Yeah, thanks so much for asking. As a lifelong landscaper, bee lawns are one of the most exciting nutrient new trends in landscaping that has come about that I've ever seen. A bee lawn isessentially it's a lawn that you don't have to mow and that is filled with blooming plants that you can walk on, but that also attracts bees and butterflies and other pollinators so that your lawn is actually participating in the ecosystem in a beneficial way. So a few of the plants that go into a bee lawn already, most people probably already have White Clover.
Most people probably already have white Clover in the lawn. But White Clover what a lot of folks don't know  White Clover will feed over 50 different species of Minnesota native bees. Not right as the Dutch white Clover. And then you've got self-heal, Puno Vulgaris that's also included in the Bee lawn mix. That's a purple bloomer and a member of the Mint family spreads out, makes a wonderful low growing, walkable lawn type plant. And as a purple bloomer, I love it because it helps us kind of take the burden of fighting creeping Charlie away from us because it's the same color as Charlie.
So if you have Charlie in the lawn, which is also great for bees, you can stop worrying about it. If you plant this bee lawn on mix that will help blend in that Charlie with other bloomers. Another bloomer in the mix is Creeping Time, and that one in the sunny lawns is so beautiful. It smells so nice. And altogether, you're feeding over 75 species of Minnesota native bees with that bee lawn mix. Now, the bee lawn also has a grass component and the grass and the bee lawn mix is a no-mow grass.
So that's fescue grass and that's already been popularized quite a bit as a no-mow lawn mix on its own. But when you mix the rest of these plants in with it, then you get the bee lawn.
[00:16:34.660] - Candi Broeffle, Host
So why do they call it a no-mow? Do you? Absolutely. You don't have to mow the lawn with it. Does it just seem very low?
[00:16:44.700] - Russ Henry, Guest
No, it doesn't stay very low. It stays about ankle height, and it kind of waves over. It grows kind of in these beautiful waves, and it looks kind of like a low-growing Meadow as it's growing through the lawn. You can mow it. So it's kind of interesting to note that almost the entire University of Minnesota campus is made out of fescue. Oh, yeah. All of their lawns are grown with fescue, but they mow them once a week, and so you can mow if you want to.

But the beauty of the fescue grass is that you can take your summer to read some books and maybe smoke some veggies out on the grill and enjoy a glass of wine. It's something that gives folks their time. Back. When we stop fighting the lawn at growing every week and transition towards a bee lawn, we can really get some of our rest and relaxation back.
[00:17:45.560] - Candi Broeffle, Host
And how nice is it to think about just being able to walk out into your yard and having all the different bees and butterflies and different things that you're going to attract? But not only that, you have the softness of the grass, you have the smell of the time you have the smell of the different plans that are there. I mean, what a great opportunity for to do something a little bit different instead of just having a plain green line.
[00:18:14.420] - Russ Henry, Guest
Yeah. And I understand a lot of neighbors have the plain green lawn, and there's still that aesthetic that is dominant. And one of the things we help our clients kind of figuring that kind of cultural component out is we offer a really nice looking sign that you can put in your bee lawn. It's got a beautiful picture of a bee lawn on it. It says bee lawn, and it just makes the whole thing look much more intentional. Like that's not just a bee lawn on. They're doing that on purpose. It's a bee lawn.
And hopefully these kind of signs will maybe drive a little bit more of the culture around it.
[00:18:53.080] - Candi Broeffle, Host
And the understanding. Well, that's awesome. So one of the things that I know you do and I don't want to lose track of this because so many people are now spending more time in our yard more than ever, as we have been kind of staying home more and getting more in touch with our actual home lines that you guys do hardscaping as well.
[00:19:16.450] - Russ Henry, Guest
Oh, yes, absolutely. And your experience to what you tell me, it just resonates entirely. We've been inundated with folks this year, coming to us to look at their space, to deal with their space, to design their space because they're sitting at home now, not able to go on vacation, not able to go out to eat, spending a lot a lot more time in the yard. And they're looking at these projects that they've always had in the back of their mind, and they're wanting to get them done, or they're wanting to find out what can we do with this space.
So we have a landscape architect, very talented man named Tom Kirby on staff, and he designs full landscapes for folks, including patios and walkways, retaining walls. And we spend all spring, summer and fall installing all of these things. We love making natural stone retaining walls and walkways and patios, as well as cement paver patio. And we tailor it to meet our clients needs and their desires for the design.

[00:20:20.040] - Candi Broeffle, Host
It just gives you so much more space to your home as well. And so many of us are feeling kind of trapped in our homes. But this allows you to have that more space, to really be able to take advantage of what you have. So what a great opportunity. And now is the perfect time for people to really call on you, because this winter, you spend kind of planning out all of those projects that you have next spring.

Yes. We'll be designing some really fun projects, and we'd love to get your projects on the roster right now. We do that. We know this winter we'll be working on designs for some outdoor kitchens, some outdoor play spaces, an adventure scape in someone's backyard, some very fun stuff, so we can have all kinds of fun in the landscape. And I'd love to talk to the AM950 listeners about their landscape.
Well, great. And I know you also have rain gardens and other things I wish we could have gotten into in this show. But for people who want to learn more, simply go to Minnehaha Falls, landscape dot com or call 612-724-5454 again. That's 612-724-5454. Well, thank you Rest for being with us today. We certainly appreciate our time together.

Thank you, Candi. It was a pleasure.
And thank you for joining the conversation as we awaken a natural health. To read the online edition of Natural Awakenings magazine or to check out our complete online calendar of events, visit Natural Twin Cities com. You can find a podcast of this show on or Apple and Google Podcast. You've been listening to Green Tea conversations on AM950, the Progressive Voice of Minnesota. And I am wishing for you a lovely day.