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 Weather

Endless winter vs. Endless Summer

Posted by: Kim Palmer 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?

Nipped in the bud

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: July 7, 2014 - 10:16 AM

At last! After a string of warm, sunny days, gardens are finally in full flower. I love wandering outside before and after work every day to see which buds have opened. 

My clematis is in glorious red-purple bloom, with more flowers to come. The ligularia and delphinium are about to burst forth, adding golden yellow and brilliant blue to the garden palette.

There are a few red roses in bloom, as well as Endless Summer hydrangeas. Usually mine bloom bright pink, but after treatment last year with the "Color Me Blue" color kit,

they're showing hints of lavender and periwinkle amidst the pink.

But there are definitely some disappointments in the bloom department.

My black-eyed Susans have been putting up big, juicy buds for weeks, but so far, I've seen only one flower. Every morning when I go outside to check on my garden, I find nipped-off stems where the best buds were the night before. Clearly deer are visiting my garden overnight and helping themselves to the juiciest-looking flower buds.

My balloon flowers are suffering the same fate. I've had easily 50-plus buds, but not one bloom so far, thanks to the deer, who leave gnawed-off stems to taunt me. 

It's time to buy some Irish Spring soap, haul out the potato peeler and see if a few shavings in the garden will deter the deer from munching. I had modest success with that remedy last year, although nothing I've tried keeps the deer away completely.

Are you seeing more deer damage than usual this year in your garden? And what, if anything, are you doing about it?

What is this mystery flower?

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: June 23, 2014 - 9:39 AM

Gardens always have surprises up their sleeves. Many of those surprises are disappointing, such as perennials that don't come back or plants that refuse to bloom. 

But some surprises are delightful! Like this beautiful bright yellow flower that opened over the weekend.

This plant has been in my garden for at least a dozen years. I remember the day I bought it. I was shopping with my son, now 21, but a little boy at the time. I told him he could pick something out to plant in our garden, and he chose this plant, because he liked the sunny blooms.

I took it home, without even reading the tag, and we plopped it into the garden, where it bloomed for several years, then stopped. My theory was that it no longer got enough sun -- the maple tree we planted nearby is now huge and shades much of the garden.

But this year, it surprised me and burst into flower, with several buds to follow. The maple tree still shades the garden, so apparently this plant loved the polar vortex, or maybe it was the rainy June. 

Anybody recognize this plant? And what mystery survivors have you found in your garden?

The bees know it's wet outside

Posted by: Helen Yarmoska Updated: June 18, 2014 - 8:37 AM


Bees are fascinating!  They are always telling you something, and they are great reactors to the environment.  One of the first years I kept bees, we did not get any honey.  My bee-mentor explained to me, “Helen, you’re a farmer.  The bees react to the weather and your crop is honey.  Bad weather, bad crop.”  What wonderful words of wisdom Bob bestowed on me that day.


This past week, the bees were definitely reacting to the environment!  This photo shows seven queen cells on one side of a frame.  To explain how they are telling us something, let me first do a little Queen 101.

There is only one Queen per hive.  Each hive holds about 40,000 – 60,000 bees.  The majority of those bees are undeveloped female workers.  The hive communicates through pheromones (scent).  If the workers sense the Queen is not doing her job (not laying eggs fast enough).  Or if they don’t like where they are living right now, then they will make another queen.  

They do that by taking an egg that would normally develop into another worker bee, feed it royal jelly, and create a larger cell for the larvae to develop.  The cells are those long hanging things you see at the bottom of the frame in the photograph.  Royal jelly is super concentrated pollen and nectar.  Worker bees have a honey gut (a place to store honey and nectar inside their abdomen).  The nurse bees (they take care of the baby-larvae) concentrate the nectar and pollen by passing it back and forth between nurse bees.  This concentrates everything good and nutritious for the bees.  

Developing a queen is not easy.  They need to really work at it.  Besides becoming fully mature and able to lay eggs, another major difference between a queen and a worker is that the queen’s stinger is not barbed.  A worker bee, should it use it’s stinger, will die because like a fish hook, the stinger stays with the victim.  A queen, however has a stinger closer to a wasp.  No barb, so multiple stings are an option.

Should one of these queen cells develop and a new queen hatches; she finds each of the other queen cells and stings through the cell to gain victory.  Simultaneously, worker bees are touching her and passing her pheromone on to others.  The current Queen-in-standing realizes there is another queen in her presence.  Her subjects ‘tell’ her it’s time to leave (they have known this for some time and sent scouts out to find a new home).  So she and several thousand bees leave the hive to the new queen and her new subjects.

That story tells us that the bees right now in our hive are not happy.  Could it be that they are tired of the rain and want to go back to California?  Or do they feel the hillside is a little too drafty?  Or are they mad we took away the sugar water a couple weeks ago?  That we don’t know -- if only we had smellivision.

Soddenly, it's summer in the garden

Posted by: Martha Buns Updated: June 17, 2014 - 9:10 AM

If this keeps up, we might wind up with that water feature I've always wanted. The heavy rains are starting to form a spontaneous creek through the back yard, rearranging the mulch as it carves out a channel.

The rainfall in the gauge this morning was shy of half an inch, which in some summers would count as much-needed relief from a dry spell, but in the current stretch counts as a nearly dry day.

We've been luckier than some nearby: we have no downed trees, flattened peonies, dropped power lines or standing water in our yard. There's a mini lake in the low spot in the alley behind our garage, but the birds are having a field day with the impromptu bird bath.

My only real beef with all this rain is that it's creating a garden vs. gardener speed mismatch. I tried dodging rain storms and insistent mosquitoes this past weekend to harvest greens and curb the weeds, but I'm clearly losing ground. The copious rains that have produced rain-forest lushness in my hosta bed have triggered equal or greater growth among the weeds, and brought out slugs to boot. It's also slowing up some last-minute planting, since I try to avoid planting in mud and even my well-drained hilltop location is mushy.

On the plus side, the rain barrel is as full as the leak part-way up will let it get. (Note to self: Try to seal that after we drain it this fall.)

How is your garden holding up through all these storms? Is it time to bring back moats as a landscaping feature?


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