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 Tools

What's your favorite garden tool?

Posted by: Martha Buns Updated: May 30, 2013 - 8:23 AM


The use of tools to grow food dates back millennia. But that doesn’t mean I can’t still find a new favorite tool.


This year’s new toy is a multi-tasker: It’s a 30-inch attachment for an electric drill designed to dig holes just the right size and depth for bulbs. I haven’t had a chance to use the Roto Digger for its intended purpose yet, but I’m finding all sorts of uses for it in the meantime: It’s a much more efficient stirring stick for the compost pile than my pitchfork. And it’s an awesome weapon against weeds or unwanted plants with long, sturdy roots like the ever-spreading ferns. You need an electric drill to make the auger turn in soil; a cordless isn’t likely to have enough oomph. And if you give it too much power, you might need to reverse the direction to get the attachment back out. But it made much shorter work of thoroughly taking out the pesky ferns, and made much smaller holes than I would have made trying to dig them out with a trowel or shovel.

It’s certainly a welcome addition to the tool treasure chest, and probably makes my top 10 list somewhere. Here’s the rest:

9. Ah, Velcro. Green hook and loop fasteners get a clematis started on a trellis and keep sprawling tomato vines in line.

8. My camera. I can’t seem to remember what my plants look like in spring, and don’t always recognize the gaps in my garden, but my camera lens captures all that.

7. My upgraded shovel. In every garden aisle, there always seem to be a choice of options with a wide range of prices. If I ever go with the cheapest option, I invariably find myself back in the store buying the next level up. Entry-level shovels aren’t up to Blue Star roots, it turns out.


6. Wire cloches, the kind that keep rabbits from nibbling every last bit of heuchera Crème Brulee and look OK while doing it.


5. Chicken wire. Stupid rabbits.

4. My aluminum trowel. It’s got a rubber handle for comfort, and it’s never bent under pressure.

3. My Fiskars garden scissors. I keep two pair: one for inside work on bouquets and one for outside tasks like trimming back tomatoes, picking bouquets and cutting netting. The Fiskars garden shears also come in handy, if I ever get around to pruning

2. Atlas Nitrile gloves. I went through at least a pair of gardening gloves a year before I bought these three years ago. They’re tough enough to handle whatever comes their way but stay supple and the finger ends don’t break. (But I break out the longer gauntlet gloves with leather palms for working around the roses.)

1.    Hands down my top tool really isn’t one: It’s impossible to beat bare hands for some tasks. It’s murder on the manicure, but great for getting things done.

What’s on your top list of favorite garden equipment?

Winning the buckthorn battle

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: September 28, 2011 - 11:42 AM


What will you be doing on Saturday? 


I'll be getting rid of the mountains of buckthorn branches now piled in my back yard and driveway. They've been there since last week when I grabbed a chainsaw and attacked them with a vengeance. Sometimes they fought back, poking me with their thorns until I had bloody scratches up and down my arms. It was a grueling battle, but ultimately very satisfying.

And this time, they're not coming back -- not if I can help it. This time I went medieval, dousing the freshly cut stumps with Roundup. I hate using chemicals in my landscape but buckthorn is such a relentless bully that I made an exception.

I've been pulling out little buckthorns and cutting down big buckthorns for as long as I've been living in my current house (in northern Eden Prairie). But the big ones always come roaring back, bigger and badder than ever.

What's the urgency with getting rid of buckthorn? In natural areas, the invasive shrub is so fast-growing and aggressive that it chokes out native plants that support songbirds and other wildlife. In home landscapes, it does the same thing, plus it's scraggly and ugly, quickly shooting to twice the size of everything around it.


Fall is an ideal time to battle this monster, when its leaves are still green, making it easy to identify. If you don't have time to tackle all your buckthorn, concentrate on the female plants, the ones with the blackish-purple berries. They're the ones that will produce armies of new buckthorn for you to battle. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has some good information about buckthorn eradication on its website:


As for getting rid of buckthorn branches, most waste haulers will pick them up as yard waste if they're cut and bundled. I've got so many that I'd be sawing and bundling until Christmas. Instead, I'm going to haul it to the Mulch Store (, which has four Minnesota Department of Agriculture-certified sites for disposal of tree branches and other yard waste. 

Is your yard plagued with buckthorn? Or  is something else on your "most hated" list?



Got junk in your garage?

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: July 20, 2011 - 12:07 PM


You know those people with pristine garages? With tools arranged just so, and floors that look like you could eat off of them? 


I'm not one of those people. In fact, our garage is an embarrassment. Tools, bikes, ladders and other gadgets -- the stuff that's supposed to be in garages -- are jumbled together chaotically with little rhyme or reason. But there's more. LOTS more. A broken-down computer and fax machine. A high chair so destroyed that it isn't fit to donate. (The dog ate the cushioned seat after the baby spilled something tasty on it.) The ugly, stained futon from our daughter's freshman dorm room. The list goes on.

The garage pictured above isn't mine. It apparently belonged to someone in Texas who won a "Messy Garage" contest. But I think mine could have been a contender -- at least a runner up. 

Every spring, my husband and I resolve to do a major purge and cleaning of the garage. But life always gets in the way. Weekends get consumed by sports tournaments or out-of-town relatives or some other more urgent chores in the house or yard. The garage remains our hidden shame.

If you've got stuff cluttering up your garage, the next few days offer a golden opportunity to do something about it. Hennepin County is sponsoring a community collection event where residents can safely dispose of unwanted garden and household hazardous wastes.

This Thursday, Friday and Saturday, July 21-23, from 9 a.m.-4 p.m., you can bring those unwanted items to Dunwoody College of Technology, 818 Dunwoody Blvd., Minneapolis. Items that will be accepted include household, lawn and garden products, items containing mercury, electronics (old computers, VCRs, CDs and DVDs), and auto and fuel waste. Items NOT accepted include photocopiers, appliances, tires, explosives and asbestos. For a complete list of acceptable and non-acceptable items, call 612-348-3777 or visit

One caveat: You must be a Hennepin County resident with an ID to prove it. And items are limited to residential household waste. Businesses, you're on your own.

So round up some of that junk. But before you do, tell us about some of the embarrassing items in your garage. And if you're one of those pristine-garage types, how the heck do you do it? 

Buckthorn blues

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: June 15, 2011 - 1:56 PM


Now that the fun stuff (planting flowers and veggies) is mostly done, there's a bigger chore looming in my landscape. Banishing the buckthorn, that nasty invasive that eventually conquers every spot it sprouts.


I hate this chore, in part, because I've been such a failure at it. I didn't even know what buckthorn was when it first started appearing in my yard a few years ago. But it sure was aggressive. Once I figured out what I was dealing with, I hired a guy with a chainsaw to cut it down. He advised me to paint the stumps with Roundup, which I didn't do. I have kids and dogs and hate using toxic chemicals.  

I was shocked to see how fast and how vigorously the buckthorn returned. The next year, I rented a chainsaw myself and hacked the buckthorn down to the stumps. Then my husband and I spent two hours trying, in vain, to dig them up. Those suckers were so deeply rooted we couldn't budge them. Finally my husband said he'd heard you could rent a machine to pull out the stumps. I was more than happy to put down my shovel. But life got busy, and we never got around to renting that machine. 

Now my buckthorn is back with a vengeance, bigger and badder than ever, in more places. It's definitely chainsaw time again, but this time, I'm resolved to finish the job. I've since been told the stump-pulling machines aren't very effective, and that chemicals are the only way to go.  

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has a lot of information about buckthorn on its website (   

How do YOU beat buckthorn? What's worked and what hasn't? And is it your least-favorite chore, or is there one you hate even more? 




New garden brings many lessons

Posted by: Holly Collier Updated: May 16, 2011 - 9:34 AM


It’s been nearly two years since I discovered the sinkhole. My sewer line had broken, and the excavation and repair left me with an unplanned project  -- a blank slate of a front yard scarred from the heavy equipment that compacted the

heavy clay. I wrote about it then, imagining that I would spend all winter dreaming and ordering perennials from catalogs, ready to grab a shovel as soon as the snow had melted. My high-energy boyfriend and I had cleared out landscape rock and spread topsoil in the fall. I had visions of grandeur by spring.

It didn’t happen that way. 

High-energy boyfriend gave me a ring. We got married, sold his house in an

awful market, and then worked on merging two households into one.

As my husband said goodbye to the beautiful gardens he had worked so hard to build, we started planning our own – together, as a wedding gift. We had visions of grandeur by early last summer.

The rain washed away our best-laid plans. Weekend after stormy weekend.  We didn’t get started in earnest until the weather was blistering hot. We stripped the sod, tilled in soil and amendments and shopped for bargain plants for our project. And we learned a lot along the way. Some lessons, and some photos:

  • Tape measures and graph paper are garden tools.
  • The two-hour minimum on a sod cutter rental is dangerous. My husband sliced up the front yard in 25 minutes in the 90-degree heat and was eyeing the back yard – and offering to take up the neighbors’ lawns, too. (“We have to get our money’s worth,” he said.)
  • Gyms are for people who don’t have lawns. (So said my husband after Day 2 of heaving rain-soaked clumps of sod into a dumpster.)
  • Correcting the grade is more difficult than described on
  • Whoever coined the phrase “dirt cheap” has never ordered triple-screened topsoil.
  • A landscape rake is expensive but invaluable. We learned this a little late in the project.
  • The dirt  in a city boulevard  is only slightly better than the dust in an ashtray, only it’s pocked with chunks of broken asphalt.
  • Front-yard gardens create community. There’s nothing like ripping off your lawn and spreading 12 cubic yards of topsoil and compost to pique the curiosity of neighbors, the UPS driver, the mail carrier and curious passersby. Among the questions: “Are you crazy? It’s dangerously hot outside.”
  • A husband who wears a pith helmet while operating the rental roto-tiller piques neighborhood curiosity AND prompts strange looks.
  • Purple Emperor sedum detests daily rain. We replaced it once after it rotted away. When it disappeared again, we switched our plan to asters and Autumn Fire.
  • A landscape is never finished, even after the mulch is spread. High-energy husband has installed a patio and is dreaming of a pergola fence and climbing roses in the back yard.








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