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.
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?
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.
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 (www.baileynurseries.com).
Planting is crucial when adding a new evergreen to the landscape, according Lew Gerten, part owner and general manager of greenhouse production for Gertens (www.gertens.com). 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?
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?
I remember all the hoopla when Endless Summer hydrangeas made their big debut in 2004. Our local Bailey Nurseries developed this show-stopping beauty that everyone was talking about. It was the first repeat flowering big-leaf hydrangea and would even flourish in northern climates. Word spread that we could have big blossoms from July to early September.
How could I resist?
I bought two from a local garden center and planted them in a primo sunny spot right in front of the house. Summer after summer, the two bushes sprouted soccer ball-sized clusters of pink flowers. Okay - I’m exaggerating - but they sure were showy. Mine were pink because I had alkaline soil. Acidic soil produces blue hydrangeas. One August, my hydrangea blossoms decorated each table at my niece’s baby shower
But after five magnificent seasons, my Endless Summers gradually quit sprouting endless blossoms. Each summer, the number of cauliflower-shaped buds would dwindle.
So I followed some of the tips for “Blooming Success” from the Endless Summer website. I applied 10-30-10 fertilizer a couple of times in the spring. I was really careful not to cut dried stems to the ground until all the new foliage came in since Endless Summers bloom on old and new growth. I covered the base with mulch in the fall and didn’t remove it until May.
But nothing seemed to work. The buds were down to zero. What had changed over the past few years? Then I figured it out. Although this hydrangea can thrive in partial shade, it needs at least six hours of sun a day to produce flowers. I had planted a nearby Linden tree 20 years ago. That tree was now 25 feet tall. Each summer, less nourishing sunlight was filtering through its branches to the hydrangeas.
Once again, my Endless Summers’ foliage looks so green and lush - but there’s not one sign of even one tiny bud. So I’ve gone from perplexed to acceptance. I’ll never have the soccer ball -sized pink flowers ever again. Unless I climb a very tall ladder and cut off a bunch of thick branches from the Linden tree. And that’s not happening.
Do you have shrubs or perennials that one time produced a riot of flowers but have inexplicably stopped?
Did you move it to a new location and have better luck?
When I was a younger, inexperienced gardener, I did some things I regret.
I brought home some plants I shouldn't have -- good-looking specimens that I didn't know much about. They're still haunting my landscape.
There's the contorted filbert I picked up at Home Depot about 10 years ago. It was small and quirky, with curly, twisty little branches. I put it in one of my garden beds next to a big boulder, thinking it would stay small and twisty and cute.
Instead it grew like a giant weed, shooting out long straight branches with none of the curlicued charm that first caught my eye.
It also brought a most unwelcome invader: Japanese beetles. If I had any before the filbert, I never noticed them. But once the filbert took up residence, they arrived in droves. By mid-summer, the filbert's foliage is thick with beetles. If they just stayed there and munched on the filbert it wouldn't be so bad, but they also move on to feast on my nearby roses and other plants.
Then there's the climbing rose I picked up the summer I moved into my house. The rose attracted me with its bright brilliant pink blooms, so I impulsively bought it and a big arbor to support it. The rose is still pretty -- for about two weeks in early summer when it's covered with vibrant flowers.
The rest of the time, it's just bare straggly canes that burst beyond the confines of the arbor and stab me with their thorns when I try to tame them.
Now that I know better -- that there are beautiful rose options that bloom all season long -- I could kick myself for not doing a little research first.
The biggest mistake in my landscape is a maple, also planted the first year summer we moved into the house. We were new to suburbia, after years of living in the leafy urban core, and we missed the trees. So we planted one.
Instead of carefully choosing the best location for a tree, we lazily picked the spot where the kids' wading pool had already killed the grass. And instead of carefully researching and choosing the best type of tree, we grabbed a maple at the garden center -- without reading the tag. We figured it would give us beautiful fall color. It does. But it also turned out to be some weird dwarf species that is more bush-shaped than tree-shaped. Instead of a traditional trunk crowned with branches, it produced multiple trunks low to the ground. It's too low and squatty to provide shade you can actually sit under. But, of course, it completely shades my garden, making it impossible to grow the sun-loving plants that thrived there when the tree was young.
One of these years, I'll probably get rid of these unsightly reminders of my impetuous youth. But it sure would have been easier if I'd just done my homework -- at least read the tags -- before I bought them.
Impulse garden purchases can be fun -- but save them for annuals and small plants; that's the lesson I learned the hard way.
Anyone else out there have things in their landscape that they planted in ignorance and now regret?
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