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.

Posts about Weekend chores

Shrub is surprise survivor

Posted by: Martha Buns Updated: September 9, 2014 - 8:34 AM

This spring I waited patiently for some of my shrubs to revive after the brutal winter, and had finally written off one of them when it showed no signs of life by early June. There was no life in any of the branches, either tops or bottoms, and they snapped like brittle twigs.

OK, so I decided that this was one of those opportunities that life gives you: It was a chance to try out something new in that spot, and to much more readily get at my windows to give them a good cleaning. But I didn't get around to replacing it this spring, and figured it would be a good fall task when the shrub would have its best shot at settling in. (Or at least that was my excuse to myself.)

I

had sort of noticed in August that there was some greenery showing up around the dead shrub, which we hadn't fully hacked away yet, but figured it was just the weeds that show up around the roots of that plant that usually get fairly tall before I realize they aren't part of the shrub because the leaves blend in. But this weekend I looked more closely and realized that whatever was growing was from the old wood at the base, and was indeed shoots from the shrub I'd long ago given up on.

We hacked away all the old growth around it, although we need to get a more suitable tree saw to do a more refined pruning job than one can do with a Sawzall. So it still looks fairly scruffy at this point, but better than the eyesore of a dead shrub.

It appears to be growing back with the same leaves as it had, so possibly I don't need to worry about it being a grafted variety that will regrow differently from the rootstock. At any rate, I'm willing to let it grow and see how it turns out. Only this time I've promised myself that I'll prune it back more ruthlessly. No good having a sunroom that's shaded by a 10-foot shrub. And in the meantime, it will make fall window cleaning a lot easier than trying to wrestle a stepladder through a thicket of branches.

Got any late bloomers in your garden? Sometimes procrastination is its own reward.

Time for tulips

Posted by: Lynn Underwood Updated: September 4, 2014 - 2:56 PM

No disrespect to Cub - but I’m going to grow my own tulips.

The past few springs when I hosted Easter or Mother’s Day brunches - I just picked up bunches of purple, yellow and pink tulips from the market and plopped the stems in vases to decorate the tables.

But I’ve decided to hunt down my garden trowel, get down on my knees and finally learn how to plant tulip bulbs this fall so I'll be rewarded with a colorful spring show. I want to experience that end-of-winter miracle of tulip foliage emerging from the once frozen ground. And then shoot photos and post them on Facebook like everyone else. A bonus: I’ll have clusters of blooms for my table.

I’ve already done a little research on the University of Minnesota Extension Service site. Tulip bulbs are planted 8 inches deep, 6 inches part, pointy side up in well-drained soil. Since my challenging landscape is made of hard-as-rock non-draining clay - I’ll have the extra chore of amending the soil.

I may even check out one of Gertens “How to Plant Spring Bulbs” free workshops being offered at 1 p.m. Saturdays through Oct. 4. The workshop says something about critter proofing your bulbs. Great -  something else to worry about.

After I’ve emptied my spent planters in the composter and cut down dead perennials - I can start dreaming about my first-time tulips in all their Technicolor glory. But first, I have to get those bulbs in the ground by the beginning of October.

Do you have any tulip growing tips?  What are some of your favorites?  

Gardens that are new to you

Posted by: Martha Buns Updated: September 2, 2014 - 1:42 PM

Remember your first garden, when it was all new to you? Or a new bed you carved out of the yard that was a fresh start? I was reminded of that sensation this weekend when talking to a veteran gardening friend who moved into a different house this spring and put in four generous-sized flower and vegetable beds. She remarked how easy it is to maintain and how quickly you forget how hard it is later once the beds -- and your weeds -- become more mature.

My sister is finding that one out: Along with an immaculately maintained older home, she acquired an equally pristine-looking garden. That was her first experience gardening on her own, and it was a few years ago. This last weekend she spent hours pulling weeds, filling four large bags, saying her garden had never been so out of control.

Yep. That happens. A new plot seems as though it was a blank canvas, with no preexisting conditions, be they perennials that don't quite perform as expected or weeds that stubbornly refuse to be eradicated. Freshly planted and freshly mulched, the new garden rewards our efforts and our eyes. Then with time the perenials outgrow their artfully designed spaces, self-sowing or sending out shoots at their own whims. Weeds, in ever new varities, find a haven where we water. All of a sudden, chaos theory begins to make sense.

It's the flip side to the rejuvenating aspect of gardening, and it can be hard to overcome late in the season. When that happens, I search for motivation in the promise of things new: If I weed this area thoroughly now, next year I can plant a new daylily bed here, for instance. If I weed this raised bed and tie up these vines to the trellis, I can more readily find the new squash I planted this year.

This year's new squash, by the way, is a delicata. And like all things new, it comes with the usual learning curve of figuring out when to harvest it. Like everything one looks up on the Internet, views differ widely. Some sites indicate it's probably ready now; others would have me wait until the vines wither. Some say it needs a week of curing; others say it's ready to eat straight from the garden. So like all things new in the garden, the only way you'll find something out for certain is to try it for yourself. I think that's why I'll never really master my garden, just the art of learning, because gardens old and new teach us fresh lessons each year.

What's your garden taught you this year? Got any new beds in the works?

Photos credit: Rick Nelson took this photo of delicata at a farmers market, where they know when to harvest them.

5 ways to get out of a gardening funk

Posted by: Martha Buns Updated: August 12, 2014 - 11:47 AM

It strikes every year, afflicting thousands of once-earnest gardeners: midsummer malaise. We start the year with a pent-up need to plant, to bring fresh life from a landscape that was buried under deep snow for so very, very long.

And then: August. Ooof. Our gardens turn muggy, buggy, weedy and wilty. Even the produce that thrilled us with its first onset starts to seem like a chore, and we secretly hope that the peas peter out so we don’t have to shell one more batch.

For me, vacation plays a role. I have one blissful, cool week on the North Shore, but my weeds and produce didn’t take the week off. When I come back, the garden seems overwhelming, and I start to avert my eyes from offending parts of the yard.

If you’ve been bitten by the garden flu, here are five strategies I use to fight back:

1. Count to 10. Pull 10 weeds from one plot each day. Or spend just 10 minutes weeding – you’ll have given enough blood by that time. I have to squelch my mistaken idea that it’s not worth gardening unless you can spend at least an hour. Six days of 10 minutes each adds up to that same hour, and if it’s really super hot, I’m not going to want to spend an hour out in it.

2. Garden by the sun: Unless your garden enjoys complete sun, chances are good there’s shade somewhere in your yard in the morning or late afternoon.Chase it, and move the minute the sun catches up with you.

3. Start fresh: Give up on beleaguered early season crops like lettuce and peas, and plant some late-season offerings so you restore some novelty. Some fall-loving kale, spinach or colorful Swiss chard will take off where your arugula bolted. A colorful annual on clearance sale at the garden center can perk up a lackluster window box or planter.

4. It’s never too late to mulch. Get off the weeding treadmill by putting down mulch. You’ll get a boost of enthusiasm from having a tidy area of your yard where you don’t mind looking. And any area you get under control this year will make next spring that much easier.

5. Make something tasty. I always get a boost of enthusiasm when I try a good new recipe using my garden produce. Clearly my basil needs topping. Usually I just make a bunch of pesto to deal with the excess, but this time I think I might give this basil aioli a try.

How about you? What are your strategies for getting out of a garden funk? And what's your favorite way to use up basil? (As if there could be too much of that good a thing.)

In defense of zucchini

Posted by: Nicole Hvidsten Updated: August 1, 2014 - 8:04 AM

I admit it, tomatoes are at the top of my list when planning my vegetable garden. Two-thirds of my tiny plot is dedicated to several varities of the fruit. Roma, Big Boy, cherry, grape, heirloom -- I've never met a tomato I didn't like.

But as much as I love tomatoes, I love vegetables even more. And I have my dad to thank for that. Throughout my childhood I groaned at the parade of fresh vegetables coming into the house (really, I didn't know any better), but it laid the foundation for my vegetable-loving adulthood.

Although I didn't appreciate some of his gardening choices at the time (I can still take or leave a parsnip), I now appreciate the fact that he was exposing me to many different vegetables and teaching me to love the ones many cast aside.

Enter zucchini.

Zucchini never looked better!

Zucchini never looked better!

Because we had a large garden, there were multiple zucchini plants. We were inundated, and so were the neighbors. We'd have stuffed zucchini, fried zucchini, zucchini bread, zucchini cake -- you get the idea. So when I plopped in zucchini plants this season, I went in eyes wide open. And those plants did not disappoint! My biggest challenge thus far is to teach my children that there's so much more to zucchini than bread, muffins and the dreaded "vegetable medley." It can add a fresh taste to pasta, a fine addition to a stir-fry, looks good in a tart and can be pickled. Such versatility!

This year I went even further off the vegetable grid and am growing Brussels sprouts, one of my favorites. Admittedly they're a tough sell -- you either love them or hate them -- but I'm hoping that as my kids see them mature and help harvest them, they'll give them another chance.

Next year I'll add more space and vegetables to the mix. And although I don't have the time or talent to garden like my dad did years ago, I do hope that I am giving my kids at least a taste of the vegetable-loving culture that my dad gave me. And if they have an affinity for zucchini, all the better.

What are your favorite vegetables to grow? How about favorite gardening memories?

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