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.
Suddenly my morning walks have become fall walks, with sidewalks covered with crispy brown leaves. It’s too early for this.
It’s not only because fall is approaching. While trees begin shutting down and drop their leaves in response to shortening days, much of what we’re seeing now is trees that are shedding their leaves in self-defense because of drought. Hanging onto those leaves just costs too much in precious moisture and carbohydrates as the tree heads into winter.
I’m also seeing perennials that are flat as pancakes for lack of water, and bushes with leaves that are hanging limp.
Drought could affect our autumn. Trees that are stressed often show dulled leaf colors in the fall. Here’s an interesting page from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources:
So keep watering. Perennials, trees and shrubs need it as we head toward winter. I’ll be watering my trees and shrubs right up until the ground freezes, as a protection against another dry winter.
Are you seeing signs of fall?
It's State Fair time, which means it's also the beginning of Minnesota's apple season. Some of the early varieties like Zestar! are already available, with Honeycrisps, Minnesota's most popular apple, soon to follow.
Honeycrisps usually start appearing in mid-September, but they may arrive as early as next week, according to growers. Some apple varieties are two weeks ahead of schedule.
Minnesota's total apple crop will be down this year, about 60 to 70 percent of normal, estimated David Bedford, research scientist and apple breeder at the University of Minnesota (www.apples.umn.edu). But that's actually good news. Growers were on edge this spring after unusually warm weather in March brought early blossoming, followed by April frost that nipped tender buds.
While a few growers were hit very hard, losing almost all of this year's crop, most growers fared better than expected. "Pollination went well," Bedford said. "It's not a total disaster. It could have been a lot worse."
Early-blooming apples might be in shorter supply than usual, Bedford said, because they were a little more vulnerable to this spring's unusual weather. There may be fewer apples available for U-Pick and at farmer's markets. But Bedford doesn't expect apple shortages in stores because most apples are shipped from other growing regions, including Washington state. That's where Pepin Heights, the state's largest producer of apples, will be getting much of its fruit this year, said vice president Tim Byrne. Pepin Heights' 125,000 trees survived the early frost only to lose most of their fruit during May hailstorms.
"There will be plenty of apples," said Mike Dekarski, president of the Minnesota Apple Growers Association and owner of Apple Jack Orchards in Delano (www.applejackorchards.com). "We will have enough for a lot of fall fun."
The Apple House at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum (www.arboretum.umn.edu/applehouse.aspx) will open Sept. 1 offering freshly picked fruit including U of M introductions. Opening week will bring Zestar! and Chestnut crabapples. For up-to-date information about apple inventory, call 952-443-1409.
Also at the Apple House will be other freshly picked seasonal produce, as well as locally made ice cream, fudge, maple syrup and jams. The Apple House will be open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily through early November. It's located about 1.5 miles west of the Arboretum entrance on Highway 5 in Chanhassen.
If you have a favorite apple or a favorite orchard you like to visit, it's a good idea to call ahead, especially this year, to make sure the apples you want will be available. For a list of local growers, visit the Minnesota Apple Growers Association website (www.minnesotaapple.org).
What's your favorite apple? And where do you like to get them -- do you pick 'em yourself at an orchard or buy 'em at the farmer's market or grocery store?
As a gardener, part of the fun of traveling is seeing plants you've never seen before. Sometimes they're exotic species that would never make it in Minnesota. All you can do is admire them in their native habitat -- and take a couple pictures to remember them by.
But sometimes you discover plants that you can actually try at home.
I encountered some of both types this month. First we spent a week in South Carolina, a state we'd never visited before, and I got my first real encounter with Spanish moss. Sure, I'd seen it in movies and photos. But seeing it for real -- everywhere -- draped from trees like fluttering gray-green scarves -- was magical and enchanting. It's so different from anything we see up here that I felt like I had stepped into some sort of Southern Gothic Disney theme park -- Bayou Land!.
I'd love to have Spanish moss hanging from my tree branches here in Minnesota, but I know that's never gonna happen.
But closer to home, I discovered a plant I would like to try. We were in Madison, Wis., moving our daughter out of her apartment, and I took a side trip to the Allen Centennial Gardens (http://www.allencentennialgardens.org) on the UW campus.
The garden is a teaching garden for the UW horticulture department, and it's always worth a stroll. So beautiful that it's a sought-after site for weddings, it's also a living laboratory of interesting plant species.
This visit, what caught my eye were some purplish-black tomatoes, darker than any I've ever seen, as dark as an eggplant. The tag said they were 'Indigo Rose.' Back home, at my computer, I looked them up. Apparently Indigo Rose is a new tomato variety developed at Oregon State University. It's not only gorgeous, but it also apparently has a high level of antioxidants, so it's healthy to boot. How does it taste? "Like a tomato," according to one online review.
That's good enough for me!
Several seed companies are now carrying Indigo Rose in their catalogs, and I'm definitely going to get my hands on some next year and trying growing them at home.
What plants have you discovered while traveling? Any you've tried to grow at home?
We were strolling through the Lake Harriet Rose Garden when my husband said something that suprised me:
"Do we have any roses?"
Huh? "You just mowed the back yard," I said, a bit sharply. "Didn't you see them? They're all in bloom."
Needless to say, my husband is not a gardener, which has been a disappointment to me. I've always thought it would be more fun -- not to mention we'd have a better garden -- if we worked as a team.
Every once in a while, I've "invited" him to share some garden chore, which he's dutifully done. But I realized I'd never really tried to share our garden with him in a more accessible way -- by opening his eyes to what was there.
"I'm taking you on a tour when we get home," I said. The next morning, we walked through our garden. I pointed out the roses, the pink ones climbing on the trellis, and the deep-red ones on hardy shrubs. I showed him the clematis, the heuchera and the peonies, stopping here and there to pull a weed. I showed him the veggies, pointing out which ones would produce tomatoes, lettuce, peppers and beets.
"Is that a weed?" he asked, pointing at a big, vigorous clump of ligularia.
"Nope, it's a perennial -- it comes back every year," I said. "I planted it because I like the leaves, but it gets a flower, too, a yellow one."
By the end of our little tour, he could identify a few plants. And I had a new appreciation for my own garden -- because I'd taken time to stop and see the roses.
Tending a garden is its own reward, but sharing a garden is even better. If you tend a great garden -- or know someone who does -- now is the time to share it, by nominating it in our annual Beautiful Gardens contest. It's easy to nominate. Just send a few snapshots of the garden, along with a brief description, including who tends it and where it's located, to email@example.com. Or, if you prefer snail mail, send entries to: Beautiful Gardens, Star Tribune, 425 Portland Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488, We'll be accepting entries through June 16. The winning gardeners and gardeners will get their moment of glory on the cover of the Home & Garden section and online at startribune.com.
We're looking for gardens of all types and sizes -- big and small, urban and suburban, flowers and veggies.
So don't be shy. Share your garden so others can enjoy it. And even if your garden, like mine, is kind of ordinary, take a few minutes to share it with someone -- maybe even someone in your own household.
T.S. Eliot sure got that right. April is supposed to be full of mild showers to coax out May flowers.
Instead, March lured buds out early, with unseasonably warm temperatures. Then April kicked our sunny spring optimism in the teeth, with two nights in a row of below-freezing temperatures last week.
Apple and grape growers are seriously worried about the damage already done to tender buds. Those of us who don't depend on our plants for our livelihood have less at stake, but we're still concerned about what this year's weird weather is doing to our peonies, lilacs and other spring-blooming plants.
It's supposed to dip below freezing in many parts of the state again tonight. If you have plants you can move, it's a good night to put them in the garage for protection. If they're in the ground, it's probably worth throwing a sheet over them. It doesn't add much protection, but every little bit helps.
If your peonies are up and budding, peony grower Harvey Buchite of Hidden Springs Flower Farm (www.hiddenspringsflowerfarm.com) recommends putting a cardboard box over them and weighting it with a rock, to create an envelope of warmer air around tender plants.
What are you worried about in your landscape? Have you had any damage? Are you doing anything to prevent it?
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