Greengirls Helen Yarmoska, Nicole Hvidsten, Martha Buns, Connie Nelson, Kim Palmer and Mary Jane Smetanka 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.
Watching perennials emerge from the ground this late, strange spring has been like watching a very lopsided race.
Some of my plants are accelerating like Usain Bolt, while others are starting so slowly and tentatively that I'm not sure they're ever going to look like their former selves.
The difference is especially stark with my ligularias. I have two varieties, a green-leafed one with sharp serrated edges, and a darker, glossier variety with a softer-shaped leaf.
Most years, these two plants develop at about the same pace. But this year, the green plants are already full and bushy, while the dark ones are poking up just a few timid leaves.
The two types are in the same garden plot, about 15 inches from each other, so there's no difference in soil, light or moisture.
So is it the leaf color? Are dark-leafed plants more delicate, more finicky about weather?
What are you noticing in your garden this spring? Are plants growing at different paces than usual?
Yesterday my kitchen looked like a garden center. It was filled with three mandevilla vines, two big potted tomatoes (a Mother's Day gift) and a couple dozen random annuals. I had hauled them in from the deck because it was supposed to freeze Sunday night. (Freeze! In mid May! Good grief!)
Then came today, with the forecast for 90 plus. So I hauled all those pots back out to the deck this morning, to soak up the warmth and sunshine, and doused them with water to keep them from getting parched.
I don't know if I dare plant the tomatoes yet, even though it's now hot enough to sun-dry them, if I had tomatoes to sun-dry.
This year has been such a bizarre extreme, especially compared to last year, when we were warning eager gardeners not to plant tomatoes in April, even though it was consistently warm and balmy and all the perennials were pushing up weeks ahead of schedule.
My garden remains in a state of suspended animation. There are a few signs of life on some of my perennials, but not all. The coneflowers haven't budged out of the ground yet. Two of five hydrangeas have yet to emerge. Even my hostas and sedum, the toughest stuff in my garden, are only showing about an inch of growth.
Now that it's finally quit snowing and freezing (I think), I know we're all impatient to start planting and get this growing season underway already.
The U of M Extension recommends May 15 to June 1 as the optimal time for planting tomatoes. I think I'll plant mine this weekend. I haven't even gotten a chance to plant my cooler-crop stuff like lettuce. The window between frozen, snow-covered winter and baking-hot summer has been so whisker-thin that I missed it entirely.
What will you do different in the garden this year, given that spring appears to have come and gone in about a day?
We've been waiting SOOOO long for spring to arrive. I'm dying to plant things in my plot and containers and make up for lost time. But spring's very lateness is forcing me to slow down. My perennials are so poky to emerge this year, that I can't tell what's coming back and what's dead.
I took a quick inventory last night. Of my five peony plants, only the early bird, the one that gets the most sun, is showing any life at all, and that's only a couple of stubs, no longer than the tip of my pinky finger. My Endless Summer hydrangeas are even more delayed. Only one plant is showing a few hints of green near the base. The rest look like Endless Winter, brown and lifeless.
My containers are a mystery. I have moneywort and creeping sedum that I use for "spillers" in several pots. They come back year after year, and I put the showier annuals in the middle, trying not to disturb the perennials on the edges. But this year, they moneywort and sedum just look brown and crispy, with no signs yet of new growth.
We just need to be patient, said Karl Foord, educator in horticulture for the University of Minnesota's Extension Service. Because of the unseasonably cold temperatures in April and into early May, we're weeks behind "normal" for plant growth. It seems especially stark because we were weeks ahead of schedule last year.
Foord isn't worried about heavy perennial casualties this year. "It was not a severe winter in any respect," he said. "It was long." But there was adequate snow cover, and temperatures weren't lower than usual.
So go ahead and plant your cool-crop veggies, but hold off on tender ones, like tomatoes, until Memorial Day, he advised. And don't give up yet on perennials that look like they didn't make it. They'll be poking their heads up soon. "It's going to happen fast now," Foord said. (For information about what veggies to plant when, visit (http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/horticulture/dg1422.html)
What's going on in your garden? Are your perennials later to emerge than they've ever been?
What's coming up and what's not?
It's May: The magnolias are blooming, the grass is trending green and there's a chance of snow. It's like a math problem: We all know which one of these isn't like the other.
Enough already with the snow. A joke's a joke, and this spring is shaping up to be a mean one played on gardeners and other Minnesotans itching to enjoy their usual frenzy of pent-up outdoor activities once winter releases its chilly, unflinching grip.
Rationally, we know it has to end soon, that this won't be the year that the glaciers form a convoy line down I-94 from the north, never to recede. But it's tough to think spring will happen when you look out the window on May 2 and can no longer convince yourself that if you squint real hard, that's rain coming down, not snow. I braced myself to wake up to snow accumulation this moring, and was relieved we'd dodged that bullet. (Sorry, south and east-metro gardeners.)
But the 10-day forecast and our instinct tells us we'll get through this, and so will many of our plants. While I cringe when the snow falls on the nearly bursting buds of my rhododendron, I know that it will likely survive the late snow much better than the damage already done to its lower limbs up to the bunny-on-tiptoe level. The ground isn't frozen, so that will help the snow melt faster, as will the above-freezing temperatures. And our perennials and zone-hardy flowering trees have had the spring rug pulled out from under them before. Some of the early risers might have their blooms nipped in the bud, so to speak, but many of summer's perennials have been cautious.
I'm being more cautious too: With the opening of the farmers markets, I would have bought a passel of bedding plants this weekend, but I'll hold off for now on more tender herbs like basil. But I will plant pea seeds and cold weather crops like lettuce.
If we're being honest with ourselves, the late spring is only slowing us down so much in the garden. It's kept us from our rush to rake too early, our urge to plant tomatoes before the ground soil is warm enough. If it stays cold much longer, it could shorten the growing season a tad. If so, you might want to check out tomato varieties that like a shorter growing season store.tomatofest.com/Tomato_Varieties_for_Cooler_Climates_s/47.htm and the University of Minnesota Extension guide to growing veggies: www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/horticulture/dg1422.html.
Like a sports team coming back from a lockout, we'll rush to get our gardens and ourselves back in top shape. Because hope -- and springs -- spring eternal.
How is the slow spring altering your garden plans? And did you get snow, and if so, what's up (and under it)? I've got ambitious rhubarb, aggressive chives, timid hosta, and one lone, straggly tulip.
Photo credit: Richard Sennott, taken May 1 near the University of Minnesota
Everything is winding down in the garden. The bee balm is spent, the cardinal flowers are drooping, the tomato plants have withered to spindly stalks.
But I just got an October surprise: morning glories -- beautiful, blue blooms bursting forth on the vine I planted from seed back in late May.
The vine had grown big and vigorous, engulfing my trellis and twining upward to the house. But I hadn't gotten a single flower. I asked some master gardeners about my less-than-glorious morning glories, and they agreed in their assessment that I probably didn't have enough sunlight.
So I checked my vines at mid-day. They seemed to be in full, bright sun, but maybe there weren't enough hours of it to coax the plant into flowering.
I had given up on seeing flowers, at least this growing season. But, lo and behold, they finally made their appearance. Morning glories are supposed to produce flowers about 60 days after planting from seed, but they have been known to take up to 120, according to several gardening websites I checked this morning.
Mine are definitely in the late-bloomer category, but they were worth the wait -- even if I can enjoy them for only a week or two.
What's going on in your garden? Any late-summer -- or fall -- surprises?
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