Photo credit: Daniel Hjalmarsson via

Northern Green is an annual conference “Where Outdoor Pros Connect + Grow” held every January at the Minneapolis Convention Center. This year’s conference runs from January 15th through 17th. Attendees are owners of plant and tree nurseries, landscaping businesses, golf courses, and green-field entrepreneurs. Given I have been working with environmental non-profits, providing creative+web services and diving deep into their subject matter, I was really curious about the educational sessions being offered. Would presenters talk about climate change, weather extremes, the virtues of native plants, what a bee lawn is, methods to protect our waterways, solving pollinator decline, keeping soil healthy, and the biggie — resiliency?

I decided to download this year’s program and read it through with an environmental lens. What I found was encouraging. I also had to remind myself that attendees, for the most part, are business owners and they are looking for up-to-date ways to fulfill the wants and needs of their customers and to increase their bottom line. Aesthetes, low-maintenance yards and gardens, pests issues, new plants possibilities, best-performing plants and trees, pruning best practices, the best turfgrasses out there – these are things green business owners want to know about. However, without interviewing any of them, I would suspect they are all conscious of climate change and understand they need to adapt their businesses and in turn help their customers’ yards and gardens adapt. In other words, green business owners can be a part of the solution in dealing with the effects of climate change.

young hipster walking through public urban garden

Photo credit: Joshua Ness via


Here’s a sample preview/review of the educational sessions being offered at this year’s Northern Green. Below are my brief synopses and comments on each. Full disclosure: I am not a Northern Green member or affiliated with the Northern Green conference.

Weather and the Urban Landscape

A Master Class presented by Lee Frelich and Dominic Petrella from the University of Minnesota; John Ball, South Dakota State University; and Sven Sundgaard, KARE 11 Meteorologist

This class educates landscape managers on how extreme weather (heat, drought, rain events, high winds) impacts plants and trees and how to manage plants, grasses, and trees during stressful weather.

Turf Research Update from the University of Minnesota

Presented by Brian Horgan & Eric Watkins, University of Minnesota

Everything from low-input species, breeding grasses for winter hardiness, bee lawns, improving shade tolerance, research findings on roadside turfgrasses and the fate of transport of nutrients and pesticides. (Yes, turfgrass is one word, according to the University of Minnesota. As an alum, I’ll take their word for it).

The Color of the Native Plant Palette and Other Related Thoughts

Presented by Bob Lyons, University of Delaware

This addresses the desire for aesthetically beautiful, low maintenance gardens and Lyons will discuss the wide array of suitable native species and the decisions that go into plant selection. I’m encouraged that he’ll cover native plants — the hero of raingardens. Native plants have long root systems that filter dirty water runoff, provide food for pollinators, stabilize shorelines and maintain soil health. I am a bit alarmed by the attention that will be given to aggressive natives plants as I don’t wish to demonize any of them. However, it’s often a gardener’s intent is to keep things tidy with variety.

red fox green tree frog owl at night

Photo credits: Fox: Nathan Anderson; Tree Frog: Deb Raschella; Owl: Andre Mouton via

Managing Public Spaces for Wildlife

Presented by Erica Hoaglund, MN Dept. of Natural Resources

Everything we plant, trees, shrubs, and gardens, creates a home for animals. We have encroached on wildlife habitat to such an extent it’s only right to be conscientious in designing urban landscapes. In return, we create a more balanced and healthier ecosystem.

close up of healthy green grass after rain

Photo credit: Sylwia Pietruszka via

Top 10 Grasses for Minnesota and Drought Resistant Turfgrasses and Management

Presented by Mary Meyer, University of Minnesota and Andrew Hollman, University of Minnesota

Two separate sessions (Meyer on Top 10 Grasses and Hollman on Drought Resistant Turfgrasses) but both talk about turfgrasses. While people love their big sprawling lawns, keep in mind turf is the single largest mono-crop we have in our country that does not provide a tangible benefit, like food. However, this is likely changing. Knowing what grasses are drought and shade resistant could mean they can hold more moisture in the ground and help keep soil healthy. The more grasses that are able to survive climate change means soil stability and while I don’t know the carbon uptake in grasses, that might be a tangible benefit.

Foodscaping for Sustainability

Presented by Brie Arthur, Brie Grows

This is one session would love to sit in on. Managing landscapes in a sustainable manner is an important aspect for the future of the green industry. Soil science is at the heart of this discussion and Arthur will talk about the amazing microbial activity in soil that boosts plants’ “immune systems” by reducing insect and disease pressure. Immune systems is my term but I felt the analogy fitting. (By the way, healthy soil is home to 10 billion living organisms per tablespoon!) Using bio and organic solutions can create a balanced, sustainable, purposeful, and dare I say, resilient landscape.

The Importance of Tree Diversity

Presented by Kris Bachtell, Morton Arboretum 

With climate change, there will come catastrophic tree loss due to pandemic disease and/or invasive insects. The best way to combat this threat is to have more tree species diversity in our urban landscapes. Bachtell will discuss which species offer the best defense in increasing urban tree diversity. Climate change also creates numerous stresses on trees and if the stress is too great, trees can’t easily fight off diseases or pests. On a side note, as the weather gets warmer, there are Minnesota trees, like balsam fir, quaking aspen, and red spruce that are most vulnerable to warmer temperatures and warmer temperatures will make certain tree species “move out” of state. Even more reason for tree species diversity.

Stormwater BMPs: Keys to Successful Installation and Maintenance

Presented by Bryan Pynn, Washington County Conservation District

Stormwater runoff from our infrastructure is the No. 1 threat to our waterways according to the EPA. Installing and maintaining stormwater best management practices is simple on paper but complicated in arriving at success. I would think successful stormwater BMPs are vital in preventing flooding and erosion of our green infrastructure as well, e.g. golf courses and urban parks.

park oak trees in autumn near urban river

Photo credit: Fred Russo via

Tree Planting Best Practices

Presented by Gary Johnson, University of Minnesota

Planting a tree sounds simple enough. Dig a hole, plop tree in hole, cover tree roots with dirt, (Oops! I meant soil), and call it a day. Not so fast! Poor tree planting is why many trees die prematurely. Johnson will dispel tree planting myths along with providing time-tested best practices to ensure healthy tree growth. We need more trees to sequester carbon, filter stormwater runoff, cool the immediate surrounding environment, stabilize soil, provide habitat for wildlife and for our overall health and wellbeing. With benefits like that, it takes proper tree planting to a whole new level.

Horticultural Therapy

Presented by Heidi Heiland, Heidi’s Lifestyle Gardens Heidi’s GrowHaus 

At first, this sounded “new-age woo” but it makes sense. We all benefit from touching soil and plants and Heidi promises to take this to a healing level. It’s well documented that we are all suffering from a nature deficiency. Knowing the health benefits of our gardens (just like trees) we can become in tune with our own internal and external environments.

honeybee hovers over yellow daisy-like flower

Photo credit: Tarik Zekraoui

Managing Landscapes from a Pollinator’s Standpoint

Presented by Elaine Evans, University of Minnesota

Bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and bats get their say! By now, everyone has heard of honey bee population declines and devastating bee colony collapses. The scary thing is knowing over half of our produce isles will be empty if pollinators die off. Bees and other pollinators need many more flowering oases to balance the vast agricultural food deserts they regularly encounter. Approaching landscaping and gardening with pollinators in mind can provide food, nesting habitat and protect their health as well as our own.

woman smiling in her flower nursery

Photo credit: Shelby Miller via

So how green is Northern Green?

Without being able to attend and sit in on all the above-mentioned sessions, I can’t give a concrete opinion. However, reading through the program, it gives me hope. Running a green business can’t be easy. I would hypothesize it has many of the vulnerabilities agriculture has. I have to believe green business owners care deeply about the environment, not just for their own businesses’ sake, but for the health and well being of every living thing. Facing the many issues surrounding climate change, I hope they, too, believe they are part of the solution.

Kristin Maija Peterson is passionate about the environment, promoting positive action in light of climate change, and serving as an advocate on behalf of environmental non-profits. She creates compelling, educational, visual campaigns and communications for environmental organizations.

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