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 Green gardening

It’s dinnertime for deer

Posted by: Lynn Underwood Updated: April 24, 2015 - 2:19 PM

Oh deer! It’s only April and deer have already chomped on three hydrangea bushes I just planted last summer. The young shrubs were about two feet tall and the hungry critters devoured the branches clear to the ground. I hope adversity makes hydrangeas stronger and they come back in May.

I checked the University of Minnesota Extension Service, and as expected, hydrangeas are on the list of deer “Generally Preferred Plants.” And keep an eye on your sprouting hostas -  they love to feast on those, too.

A couple of summers ago, I was checking on the progress of my lilies -also a deer preferred plant - and discovered clumps of empty stems The tender buds were cleanly bitten off like a lollipop by deer - or maybe rabbits. So last year, I took a bar of Irish Spring soap and used a potato peeler to scatter soap shavings around the base of the lilies. It kind of worked - they only chewed off some of the buds. I guess deer only find certain lily varieties tasty.

Deodorant soap is one of the repellents suggested by the U of M Extension Service article “Coping with Deer in Home Landscapes” ( There are two types of repellents -  one applied to the plants, causing them to taste bad. The other type is a repellent placed in the problem area, which keep deer out because of a foul odor. Someone even did a study and tested six different repellents - with Deer Away, an egg-based product, the most effective.

But I like the homemade remedies - like eggs blended with cold water and sprayed on  foliage or hanging mesh bags of human hair in the garden. They’re organic - and cheaper.

Have deer or rabbits munched on emerging plants in your yard and garden? What repellents have worked for you?

Photos by and

5 green gardening ways for Earth Day

Posted by: Martha Buns Updated: April 22, 2015 - 8:21 AM

Happy Earth Day. Here are five ways to incorporate earth-friendly garden practices, many of which also save you some green:

  1. Compost. Not only does it avoid stuffing pricy landfills, it makes a nearly magical mixture to augment your garden soil, all with very little effort other than occasional stirring. Plus, you may no longer feel the need to buy composted manure at the garden center. You can buy all manner of compost bins at local garden centers, or build your own. Just make sure to follow your city’s rules for proper siting. Here’s a link to build a minimalist one yourself:
  2. Install a rain barrel. The standard size rain barrel can capture 55 gallons. Connect one to a downspout to maximize the amount it collects. Use the water for your perennials and flowering annuals. Best to avoid using it on herbs and veggies since the water passed over asphalt roof shingles. (If you’re buying an old wine barrel, check that it doesn’t leak.)
  3. Go native: Native plants are less likely to be resource hogs than some more exotic non-natives, needing less water or fertilizer to thrive. As a bonus, they’re zone hardy, so you run into less winter kill. And many help attract birds, bees and other pollinators/bug eaters, so all your plants fare better . The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has a guide for using native plants for landscaping and a list of suppliers on its site:
  4. Cut back on the spray dope: Start with the least nasty remedy you can find to tackle an insect invasion. Instead of automatically dowsing cabbages with powder as a preventative as my mother's generation often did, I've found a simple daily walk-through, pick-off during the brief cabbage worm season takes care of the problem. Insecticidal soaps will tackle many garden ills, so reserve the heavy artillery for invaders that only respond to sterner stuff.  Here’s a link to making your own natural pesticide:
  5. Reuse household cast-offs in the garden. Repurpose newsprint as mulch, compost fodder, or seed-starting pots. Turn plastic bottles into mini cloches for spring seedlings ( Consider whether your would-be castoffs could make good garden art. :

That’s just a handful of ideas to get you started. What are your favorite ways to “green up” your garden? While I’m certainly not greener-than-thou, a few simple steps can make you feel better about your place in the world. And even if you're not about saving the Earth, it can help you save on your wallet. So happy Earth Day, and go out and play in the dirt!

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.

Inviting pollinators into your yard

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: August 25, 2014 - 12:21 PM

If you plant them, they will come.

I'm talking about pollinators and the native plants that attract them and provide nectar and habitat. 

The best thing in my inbox this morning was a short simple e-mail and two beautiful pictures. They were sent by Rich Erstad of St. Paul, a gardener I don't know, who just wanted to share the fluttering clouds of Monarch butterflies that started congegrating in his urban yard after he planted a cluster of native liatris.

It doesn't even have to be a cluster. Just a few plants can bring a noticeable increase in pollinator visits. Last summer, I planted one swamp milkweed plant in my garden. ONE! It quickly became a bee and butterfly magnet.     

If you're heading to the State Fair this week, stop by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture booth in the Ag/Hort building. The department has launched a public awareness campaign to protect pollinating insects, and has developed best practices for homeowners and other land owners. Here are a few simple things you can do to protect pollinators and invite more of them into your landscape:

1. Plant more flowers in your yard or on your balcony.

2. Let early dandelions flower -- they have nectar.

3. Leave areas of your lawn un-mowed.

4. Reduce pesticide use.

5. Find pollinator protection information on pesticide labels.

6. Set out water bowls and birdbaths for pollinators to drink.

7. Let clover grow and flower.

8. Start a beehive.

What are you doing in your garden to make it more pollinator-friendly?

Catching up with the Edible Estate

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: August 4, 2014 - 10:55 AM

Remember last year's Edible Estate? That was the front yard in Woodbury where an artist/horticulturist tore up the traditional lawn and replaced it with a dense forest of food crops.

So what's going on this growing season, now that the Schoenherr family is on their own, with no donated plants or free expert help? 

Pretty much the same as last year -- that was the surprising news when I visited the family last week. They're still growing more than 100 edible crops, covering almost all their large suburban front yard. About half of last year's crops returned or self-seeded. The rest -- about 1,000 plants -- they started from seed in their basement, under grow lights. 

Now that they can choose their own crop mix, they're growing fewer eggplants, but they've added some new edibles, including tomatillos and borage. 

And their gung-ho neighbors, who dug in last year to help tend the mini-farm in their midst, are still at it, showing up for weekly "garden nights" to help pull weeds and help themselves to some produce.

"We really do have a lot of help," said Catherine Shoenherr. "It wouldn't be very fun to do this by yourself."

How has the family managed to turn their private front yard into a community garden? Find out in next week's Variety Home + Garden.


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