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.
Is there a void in your landscape where a tree used to be?
Minneapolis homeowners who lost trees in the June 21 storm have an opportunity to order a replacement tree for $25. The city is offering about 500 lost-cost trees between now and Sept. 20 (earlier if the trees sell out).
Six species of trees will be available, including hackberry, harvest gold linden, heritage oak (an English oak and bur oak cross), heritage river birch, Honeycrisp apple and royal star magnolia.
If the tree you lost was on the boulevard, hold off. These trees are not to be planted on boulevards; the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is developing its own plan for boulevard tree re-planting, to be implemented in the spring.
To order a tree, visit www.treetrust.org. Homeowners who order trees will pick them up in late September (2-7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 26, and 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28 at the Minneapolis Impound Lot, 51 Colfax Ave. N.) Volunteers will be available at the pickup location to help load each tree and provide a complimentary bag of mulch.
And if you need help keeping your new tree aIive and healthy, there's a free workshop on tree planting and care, offered Sept. 23, from 6-7 p.m., at McRae Recreation Center, 906 E. 47th St., Minneapolis. No RSVP is required.
Have you joined the raised bed craze? Lots of people have this year, if my extended neighborhood is anything to go by. And one significant change: Many more of them are popping up in front yards to take advantage of sunnier spots.
On daily walks I chart the progress of several of them. There's a two-tier model using the square-foot gardening technique that seems to be doing well. A twine trellis holds up some tomatoes on the far end, and greens, beets and other smaller veggies seem to be contained nicely. In another front-yard expansion of three large raised beds, some cantaloupe have escaped, further taking over the former lawn.
My next-door neighbors are among those joining the club, deciding to give up trying to grow grass in a difficult spot and putting in a few raised beds surrounded by stepping stones and herbs in pots. They'll gain a spot for microgreens just steps from their kitchen and cut their mowing chores. It's been fun trading notes, and it made me remember how much work it was to put in ours to begin with.
Here's a few tips I was able to share that worked for us, and some lessons learned:
A thick layer of newsprint at the bottom of the raised beds worked better than weed cloth at keeping grass from trying to grow back through.
Put temporary rebar stakes around the outside to keep the beds from moving out of position when you fill them. Dirt is heavy, and there's no shifting them once they're full.
Free fill dirt on Craigslist is often worth about that. Much of it has been dug away from foundation areas and is rocky and filled with concrete shards. You'll get your new garden off to a better start if you spring for some slightly better dirt. I put in a bag of potting soil in each bed, along with lots of dirt and a hearty dressing of compost. You'll need way more dirt than you'd expect.
The level of dirt will drop each season, so you'll need to add more compost/dirt. Luckily, my raised beds are right by the composter, so they get first dibs.
They can be thirsty. We've got ours on a timed watering line to keep the soil from drying out.
They're rabbit magnets. The second phase for every raised bed construction I see is barriers to protect the goodies.
Garden trends have a slightly longer shelf life than most pop culture trends, but I'll be curious to see how long this one lasts. If you're considering putting in raised beds, here are a few links to get you started: www.bhg.com/gardening/yard/garden-care/how-to-build-a-raised-bed/ www.squarefootgardening.org/ www.sunset.com/garden/perfect-raised-bed-00400000039550/
What's your experience been with raised beds? Did they meet your expectations? Would you do it again? For us it's been great -- except sometimes I think four aren't nearly enough....
Let's face it -- with vacations, camps, activities, reunions and now school on the horizon, summer gets out of control. And when you're feeling like life is out of control, chances are the garden isn't far behind.
From a distance, my garden looks amazing: The plants are big, green and lush. But get a little closer and you'll see that there's a turf war going on. The tomatoes grew bigger than I thought they would and now overshadow the banana peppers, which can barely get enough light to grow. (Yes, I've pruned my tomatoes, but they are unstoppable.)
On the other end, the cucumbers are taking on a life of their own by attaching themselves to everything around them, already snuffing out a couple of bell pepper plants and a sunflower. The least they could do is bear fruit,
On the fruit side of the garden, a cantelope plant is trailing nicely on a trellis, but has spilled out onto the lawn and is infringing on the strawberries. And everyone knows that strawberries are the definition of mayhem.
Much of this I attribute to novice mistakes:
1. I overplanted. I always figured that the spacing requirements were just guidelines, and since I never had enough faith in my gardening abilities, figured more was always better. Not the case.
2. I didn't make my garden big enough. I didn't want to bite off more than I can chew. Turns out I can chew more than I thought I could.
3. I didn't do my homework. I should have read up on what I wanted to plant and where I should plant them. I went with my heart, and that's never a good idea. I also need to learn how to take care of the plants beyond the basics, and troubleshoot issues like why are my canteloupe leaves are turning white.
4. Thinning really is important. Pulling carrots should be interesting -- they might be braided at this point.
There are so many things to learn, but there are some things going right: there's not a weed to be found in my garden, and I walked back to the house yesterday munching on grape tomatoes that tasted like sunshine.
What are lessons that you've learned along the way?
It wasn't on my bucket list, but I now have firsthand experience with golf-ball-sized hail. I've seen and heard it crashing, held it in my hand -- and witnessed the carnage it can wreak in a garden.
I live in Eden Prairie, where the hail started hammering my house and landscape not long after I got home from work. My husband, who had just left to run an errand, called me with an urgent plea to get the other car into the garage.
I ran outside, ice balls painfully pelting my head and shoulders, and got the car under cover. Back inside, I watched my deck as ice balls and pellets piled up, turning the deck surface as white as a snowstorm. I could see my plants whipping in the wind and driving rain. Two containers blew completely over.
After about 10 minutes, the icy onslaught subsided into softer rain, and I went out to inspect the damage. Wow! At least a dozen tomatoes, in various stages of ripening, were sheared off the plants, sometimes stalk and all.
My giant black elephant ear -- my big splurge of the season -- had lost half its foliage, and what remained was punched so full of holes that the leaves looked like crocheted doilies. My canna were shredded to ribbons. My beets were submerged under a couple inches of standing water. (Apparently the drainage holes I had punched in that big pot were no match for the downpour.)
So much for homegrown tomatoes this year. There are only a few left on the plants, and they're pitted and pocked.
I'll still try to over-winter the elephant ear, but its days as the dramatic focal point of my outdoor "room" are over.
I haven't done a complete inventory of my back-yard garden yet, but I know it's not going to be pretty.
What's a gardener to do after a hailstorm wipes out a growing season's worth of growth?
Here's what plant experts have to say:
Trees and shrubs: These should probably be your first priority. Broken, dangling branches need to be cut off cleanly. Also remove limbs with severe gouges and tears. (Less-serious wounds will probably heal naturally).
Perennials: Damaged plants also need trimming. Unfortunately, the timing of this storm was not good for gardeners. Late-summer hail damage creates problems for plants because some will struggle to produce a new set of leaves, with limited success this late in the season. Damaged plants will be weakened and under stress, making them more susceptible to disease, pests and death. Plants that do sprount new leaves won't have time to harden off before fall, making them more vulnerable to winter kill. You can improve plants' chances by inspecting frequently for signs of pests or disease -- and treating problems promptly. Extra mulch can help protect damaged plants during the winter.
Vegetables: Remove damaged veggies and leaves. It's too late to try planting new tomatoes to replace ones you lost. Better luck next year. Root crops, such as radishes and beets, should survive as long as their tops aren't too badly damaged.
Annuals: These tend to recuperate quickly. Trim them back, fertilize them lightly and give them extra water for a days to promote new growth.
And next spring, when you're surveying those holes in your garden left by hail-damaged plants that died over the winter, consider replacing them with native plants. Because they've adapted to local growing conditions, they're better able to withstand being pelted with hail.
How did your garden hold up last night?
Thanks to the mega storm that took down multiple trees, there's a monster pile of free wood chips in the parking lot on the north side of Lake Nokomis in south Minneapolis. Lots of people were out with shovels taking advantage of it today, but I'm guessing it will be replentished often, given the sheer volume of trees yet to go through.
The wood chips are often on the larger side of wood chip mulch, and it's not the same quality you get in bagged form, but the price is right and it's locally sourced.
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