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.

It's a party -- with pollinators!

Posted by: Kim Palmer under Critters and pests, Flowers, Green gardening, Perennials Updated: July 21, 2014 - 10:25 AM

Walking along Franklin Avenue Friday after work, I was passing a tiny front-yard garden when something caught my eye. Bees, two big fat ones, were busily foraging among the coneflowers.

I paused to watch them in action, marveling at their ability to find the few flowers in an urban forest of concrete. 

Bees, their decline, and the important work they do to pollinate our food supply, are getting a lot of attention these days. If you're interested in learning more about how to protect bees, provide habitat or maybe even start keeping bees, head to Lyndale Park Gardens on Thursday evening. From 5 to 8 p.m., there will be a free " Pollinator Party" on the lawn near the Lake Harriet Peace Garden.

The event brings together scientists, educators and beekeepers, with opportunities to learn about everything from urban beekeeping to making your back yard more bee-friendly. But it's also a fun event to stop by and just hang out, with live music, activities for kids, food and beverages to purchase, and at dusk, a showing of the Disney movie "Wings of Life." 

For more information, visit: 

http://www.minneapolisparks.org/documents/activities/environmental/PollinatorParty2014Flyer.pdf

Blueberry season is here

Posted by: Martha Buns under Fruit and berries Updated: July 15, 2014 - 8:49 AM

It's blueberry season, both at the farmers market and in my back yard. It's a much shorter season in my yard, where I have three bushes still trying to get established, but it's no less sweet.

Last year I made the mistake of waiting too long to pick them, hoping for the same perfectly ripe berries that the squirrels and birds apparently were too, and they thought it was worth fighting through the netting to get them. This year I picked a tad earlier and have done my best to turn the bushes into Fort Knox once green berries showed up.

Only one of the bushes is producing fruit this year, but that's not surpising given the tough year the other two suffered last year. Before I got savvy to how much bunnies like to munch on blueberry bushes in early fall, they'd suffered a major setback.

So I've only got a small bowlful to show for it so far, but it's a start. Every time I pick them I feel like digging out more of the yard and planting a whole row, with visions of blueberry jam and pie. But the area where I'm considering putting them in is the same area I keep thinking I'll do another blanket of lilies, and so far neither vision has won out.

If you want to start a blueberry patch, keep in mind that many varieties need another compatible plant for cross-pollination, so buying two of the same kind is a good idea.Some high-bush varieties don't require companion plants, but most of them do better with a pollinator near by.

Any fellow blueberry growers out there? What's your season been like? And how long did it take to get your plants established?

Now I've just got to find out what kind a grower at the farmers market has: Best berries ever.

Endless winter vs. Endless Summer

Posted by: Kim Palmer under Flowers, Perennials, Weather Updated: July 14, 2014 - 11:04 AM

Now that it's midsummer, it's pretty clear what is and isn't going to deliver this growing season. Are some reliable blooms missing in action? Specifically, Endless Summers, the hardy hydrangeas? 

Apparently there are enough no-shows this year that Bailey Nurseries issued a press release last week. Chalk up another one to the Polar Vortex. The unusually harsh winter of 2013/14 resulted in many healthy-looking plants that have chosen not to bloom this year. They need a year of growing "in a vegetative state" to recover from the damage they suffered, according to Bailey.

You might think that Endless Summers planted near your house would have a more sheltered microclimate than those planted farther away. But actually the opposite is true, according to Bailey's release. Plants closer to houses were subjected to a more damaging freeze-thaw cycle. 

That's apparently the case at my house. I have five Endless Summers, all of which have bloomed reliably since I planted them several years ago. This year, the one closest to the house is big and green but with  nary a hint of a flower bud. The other four are blooming, although sporting fewer blooms than usual.

Is there anything we can do to coax flowers at this point? Probably not, according to Bailey. Resist the urge to fertilize, which just risks burning and damaging the roots. Just wait. And pray for a milder winter next year. 

If you have Endless Summer plants, are you seeing fewer blooms than usual this year?

First pick of the garden

Posted by: Nicole Hvidsten under Vegetables Updated: July 11, 2014 - 11:34 AM

In my world, certain foods connote certain feelings or memories.

When things are spinning out of control, a grilled cheese feels like a warm hug. Missing Grandma? Apple pie. And who doesn't turn to chocolate in a time of need? But this week, I finally got a taste of summer: The first two grape tomatoes were ripe for the picking.

The glee of seeing the first fruits of my labor never gets old. Is it wrong to get excited over a couple of grape tomatoes and bell peppers? Perhaps. But when gardening isn't second-nature, so to speak, even the small victories are worth celebrating. Now, after a confusing start to the gardening season, the herbs are being incorporated into meals (although my basil is really pale this year), tomatoes of all varieties are waiting to turn, zucchini plants are ready to take over the world and the Brussels sprouts are starting their ascent. The weeds are also doing very nicely, thank you very much. Aside from the birds always beating me to the strawberries, it's shaping up to be a good year. The key will be to hold my enthusiasm throughout the growing season. I can't be the only one who sometimes feels like quitting by the time mid-August rolls around. By then I've had plenty tastes of summer -- more BLTs than a person should ever eat, sweet corn for every other meal, cucumbers garnishing anything I can think of and zucchini, well, everything.

But come fall, the tastes of summer give way to the tastes of fall: squash, apples, pumpkins ... and the cycle continues, with little bursts of excitement with each growing milestone.

The more I think about it, gardening is like seasonal parenting -- you start out with a seed or a young plant, give it food, water and a lot of attention, and finally it blossoms. And although it seems like a lot of work, the end result makes it all worthwhile.

Are you an emotional gardener? What tastes like summer to you?


 

Lilies take center stage

Posted by: Lynn Underwood under Books and resources, Flowers, Perennials Updated: July 10, 2014 - 2:42 PM

Lily or not?
Many plants have “lily” in their name, but aren’t true lilies. Pick the real lily:
1. Daylily
2. Lily-of-the-valley
3. Asiatic lily
4. Calla lily

Lily fanatics will know the answer. Asiatic lilies are true lilies because they are members of the genus Lilium and have special characteristics such as scaly bulbs. The Tiger lily and Easter lily are also true lilies.

This graceful, easy-to-grow plant is hands-down the glam flower of the summer garden. What other perennial gives bursts of color (pure-white to deep red) from mid-June to August? And has super long stems, making it the Cadillac of cutting flowers? Ther's so many hybrids for gardeners to choose from - trumpet, oriental, martagon, Asiatic and Orienpet are the most popular.

This weekend, lilies will be adored, coveted and appreciated at the local North Star Lily Society’s show and convention from July 11-13 at the Hilton Airport/Mall of American Hotel in Bloomington. Lily Hall is free and open to the public with displays of hundreds of stems from Canada to southern U.S..There's also lily photographs, floral design ideas and lily vendors. See the latest hybrid seedlings developed by creative lily growers. Seminars, bus tour of area lily gardens, and other events are available for a fee; registration required. For more details, go to www.allstarlilies.org.

Are you a lily lover? Which ones are your faves?

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