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 Weekend chores

Barberry blues

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: May 4, 2015 - 1:19 PM

For years, I took my barberry hedge for granted.

It was there when we moved in almost two decades ago -- a dense clump of dark foliage that lined our front walkway.

I had to trim it frequently, to keep the spiky branches from getting overgrown -- and stabbing people with the barbs.

But at least the 9 barberries that formed the hedge grew at a uniform rate and were a pleasing uniform shade of deep burgundy.

Sadly, my hedge has been going downhill for the last several years. First I accidentally killed the two bushes on one end after using salt to melt ice on our sidewalk.

Now the surviving bushes have gone rogue. Two of them came in thick and healthy-looking this spring, but one is burgundy and the other has turned bright green. The others are in various stunted states with a only few new branches emerging from a prickly thicket of dead wood from last season.

At this point, no amount of pruning is going to transform this hodgepodge of shrubbery back into an attractive hedge. So I'm torn. Should I dig 'em up and put in petite new barberries? Or try something else without the sharp, prickly barbs? What's your favorite shrub? And have you ever had a burgundy barberry suddenly turn bright green? 

Brown evergreens, the sequel

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: April 27, 2015 - 2:33 PM

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 junipers) 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?  

Cold weather? Time to take care of your lawn

Posted by: Helen Yarmoska Updated: April 23, 2015 - 9:07 AM

Thank goodness for the cold weather. That’s right, you heard me, I’m happy for the cool weather. Why? I want a nice looking lawn this year. Grass grows better in the cold weather. So now is the time you should be taking a good look at your turf.

Like any garden, you always need to look at the foundation – the soil. The University of Minnesota recommends you always test your soil before adding any type of fertilizer. But I’ll admit, I haven’t tested my soil for about 10 years. I have sandy soil that rinses away the nitrogen. We bag our clippings every other mowing so don’t have a thatch problem. So I wing it. (Yes, I’m a Master Gardener who wings it and admits it!)

I live by a park so I need to sprinkle lime over the dog marks (pee-patches). But other than that, I’m planning on putting down a high nitrogen granular fertilizer next week. It’s important to get that fertilizer down soon because you want to feed the grass before the weeds start growing.

Our lawn isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty good considering I live by a park that will look yellow with dandelion heads in a couple of weeks. What's up with your lawn? Let’s chat and see if we can help everyone be a little greener this year.

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? 

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!


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