Greengirls Helen Yarmoska, Nicole Hvidsten, Martha Buns, Connie Nelson and Kim Palmer are dishin' the dirt from the back-yard garden and beyond. Whether you're a greenthumb or greenhorn, they're eager to learn from your mishaps, mistakes - and most importantly, your sweet successes - all growing season long.

Posts about Perennials

Brown evergreens, the sequel

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: April 27, 2015 - 10:22 AM

It was deja vu all over again as I surveyed my landscape over the weekend.

This time last year, we were puzzling over our polar vortex souvenirs -- reliably hardy evergreens that emerged in the spring with crispy brown needles, the result of dessication or winter burn, from all those bone-chilling temperatures and harsh winds.

Most of us probably dug up the evergreens that were clearly toast, with no healthy green needles. But there were a lot of half-and-half evergreens. with a patchwork of brown and green. The plants were clearly alive, although no longer contributing much to the landscape. 

I'm an optimist, so I gave my glass-half-full junipers the benefit of the doubt last year. Even though there were more brown branches than green ones, I didn't dig them up, but waited to see how they'd look this year.

Well, guess what. They look pretty darn awful.

And they occupy a high-profile spot in my front yard, so clearly I'm going to have to admit defeat this year, and replace them with something else.

But what?

How about a Black Hills spruce, a Sky High or Medora (both upright junpiers) or Techny arborvitae? Those were the replacement evergreens suggested by Deb Lonnee, a horticulturist with Bailey Nurseries ( 

Planting is crucial when adding a new evergreen to the landscape, according Lew Gerten, part owner and general manager of greenhouse production for Gertens ( He advised digging a cone-shaped hole, very wide at the top but tapering down to a narrow bottom for optimal drainage. Without the tapering, water will settle at the bottom and invite root rot. 

Once the hole is dug, blend the soil with 30 to 40 percent peat moss or potting soil, which enhances pH balance and drainage.

So what's going on with your evergreens? Do you still have some polar vortex souvenirs lingering in your landscape?  

It's time for a little mulch envy

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: April 20, 2015 - 9:02 AM

It was a beautiful spring weekend but much too early to plant msot things here in the Twin Cities.

So what's a Minnesotan to do? Mulch.

Spreading mulch was the outdoor chore du jour, judging from the people I saw working outside in my neighborhood and around town over the weekend. Gardeners were even talking about mulch at church and posting photos of their freshly spread mulch on Facebook.

Wood-chip mulch is a good thing in garden beds for a whole host of reasons:

1. It conserves moisture, helping plants stay hydrated in the heat of summer.

2. It improves the health and fertility of your soil as it breaks down.

3. It inhibits weed growth.

4. And it greatly enhances the visual appeal of most landscapes. 

I always feel left out of the whole mulch conversation because my current yard doesn't have anywhere to put it. Whoever landscaped our place around 1990, the year the house was built, spread a layer of golfball-sized rocks around all the front-yard trees and shrubs. 

Sure, I've tweaked the landscape over the years. I've chopped down aging scraggly junipers and planted a few Endless Summer hydrangeas. But I've never done a major refresh of the original landscape. And after 25 years, it's definitely time.

I'd love to dig out a few more ugly overgrown shrubs and replace them with some charming little specimen trees. And I'd really love to surround them with mulch, not rocks.

So here's my dilemma: Can I take the easier way out and cover those rocks with a thick layer of mulch? Or do I have to remove all the rocks first and start from scratch? Anyone out there undertaken the rocks-to-mulch transformation? 

Rain garden recipes

Posted by: Lynn Underwood Updated: April 17, 2015 - 1:33 PM

Eco-friendly rain gardens are smart for the environment - but aren’t always pretty.  They can turn into an overgrown mishmash of out-of-control foliage and flowers if you don’t know what you’re doing.

That’s what happened to my compact backyard bed. I planted a combination of deep-rooted perennials like rudbeckia and purple coneflowers in a super low part of my yard. Most of them absorbed and survived the rain water - and stream from my neighbor’s sump pump hose - that rushed down to the garden.  Each summer, I mindlessly added plants - not paying much attention to creating an appealing cohesive design   - and hardly ever divided them.

True rain gardens capture and filter rainwater runoff  before it can pollute our lakes and streams. The garden is bowl-shaped and composed of deep-rooted hardy wildflower and prairie plants that can handle rainy and dry spells. If you’re digging a rain garden  - there’s plenty of step-by-step instructions and long plant lists all over the Internet.

But make sure to check out the city of Maplewood’s website. That community has been at the forefront of promoting rain gardens. And they’ve done us well-meaning, but challenged rain gardeners a huge favor. Posted on the website ( are ten fool-proof color-coded rain garden designs that show exactly what plants to pick and where to place them. Have a sunny spot? There’s a layout for a sunny border garden. Like prairie plants?  Follow the “Minnesota Prairie garden” diagram.  When I dig a real rain garden - hopefully this summer - it’s going to look exactly like one of the designs

.Have you planted a rain garden and does it still look pretty? What plants do you like the best?

Designs from the City of Maplewood and Bonestroo.

Parting is such sweet sorrow, or is it?

Posted by: Nicole Hvidsten Updated: September 19, 2014 - 7:48 AM

With fall in the air and the growing season past its prime, the tomato vines are tired, and to be honest, so am I.

Each season I plant gardens with greater ambition than I can seem to maintain. And each season ends the same way: I tell myself next year will be better. I love to garden, I really do. But I've found that part of gardening is learning your limits. Or at least what's important to you as a gardener. Some people flourish with flowers; others find more beauty and satisfaction with vegetables. Many of us are firmly planted somewhere inbetween. I've learned that since summer always seems to slip away from me -- and therefore my gardens -- I need to make things a little easier.

The front flower bed that's usually filled with annuals is now mulched in wi

th room for a couple of perennials. I'm going to plant brown-eyed Susans. Not only do I like the look of them, but they remind me of my grandma. Now I walk by with happy thoughts instead of cringing because yet another weekend passed without weeding getting done.

Then there's the vegetable garden. It's my favorite part of gardening, but one that causes the most angst. Why does one zucchini plant feed the world, but eight tomato plants never seem to be enough? And could tomatoes just ripen on weekends, so I can always get to them on time? Will the Brussels sprouts yield anything? And was I out of my mind for trying to grow them in the first place? Why were the cucumbers an epic fail?

And then I remember: I have limits, and my garden does too.

As we prepare to put our gardens to bed -- look for an article in Wednesday's Home and Garden section -- the Greengirls also are calling it a season. We'll be back in the spring with fresh ideas and enthusiasm. Because many of those lessons we learned this summer will be long forgotten, and the sky will be the limit.

Share with us your favorite lessons this growing season, and what you're planning for next season. Happy harvest and happy planning!

The long goodbye in the garden

Posted by: Martha Buns Updated: September 16, 2014 - 8:05 AM

First the bleeding hearts turn spindly and yellow. The squash leaves start to wilt. Then there's a cool night that turns my once-lush basil into spotty-leafed waifs.

The life is slow to completely ebb from my garden, but it's definitely starting to wave the white flag. The coneflowers hang on at one-quarter intensity and the summer bloomers start to look straggly.

There are a few welcome spots of color left: The asters are still bee magnets and the sedum Autumn Joy are putting on their reliable pompoms.

The veggies, too, are about to call it quits. Once I harvest that mega tomato weighing down a vine in the back row, I can go ahead and yank out the otherwise empty vine it's on. Four squash plants to pick and I can rip out all the vines sprawled over one raised bed.

Where there's no frost there's always hope. So I and the red cabbages and kale will hold on until the bitter end. But the kale will always outlast me.

So before your lawn turns crunchy from frost and leaves, make sure to take time to tour your garden to savor the long goodbye. You never know -- there might be some long-green tomatoes that finally ripened.


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