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.
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?
Last fall, I discovered how to get dozens of beautiful luscious maggot-free apples from my back-yard tree. Make sure a nest of wasps make their home nearby.
I planted the Cortland apple tree - fertilized by the ashes of my deceased cockapoo - 15 years ago. But fall after fall, the apples were pocked with icky dimples made by adult apple maggot flies laying their eggs. I didn’t know - and didn’t want to find out - if there were still maggot larvae inside. Only deer and other critters were brave enough to eat them.
So I decided to try organic methods to stop those darn flies from turning my apples into a feast for larvae. I tried the sticky traps, slathering clear sticky stuff over big red balls that were supposed to attract the egg-laying flies. But they weren’t fooled by the decoy balls because my apples were still fully-infested come fall. Plus they sure were a pain to clean before storing for winter.
I’ve also considered trying the bagging method, which a colleague does religiously every summer. When the fruit is about the size of a walnut, enclose each one inside a plastic sandwich bag and staple it shut. Snip the bottom corner of each bag with a scissors to let water run out. But by the time I remember to do it - the fruit is way bigger than a walnut and it’s too late.
Last summer, I was sitting on my deck, resisting the urge to stain it. Then I spied a gray wasp nest, the size of a papier mache pinata, suspended in a crabapple tree about 10 feet away. Of course, I worried that I would get stung by the wasps or they would dive-bomb me when I was gardening. But I never heard a single buzz from the colony.
By fall, I was harvesting bucket after bucket of apples pretty enough to fill a bin at Whole Foods.
What the heck happened to the tenacious apple maggots? My internet research revealed that the wasps devoured them.
By winter, the wasps had abandoned the nest, and now it’s pretty much disintegrated. So I’m hoping and praying that another wasp queen will make her home in my very welcoming crabapple tree.
How do you prevent apple maggot infestation? Have you had an unexplained great crop of worm-free apples?
Patience has never been a virtue of mine, and this spring is testing every shred I have. The perennials are poky. My peonies are still just small stalks, with no buds in sight. My hydrangeas have a few new leaves emerging, but so far, they're tiny and tentative.
My junipers, usually a reliable source of evergreen color, are instead brown and crispy. I can tell the plants are alive -- there are areas with green needles -- but they're patchy and parched-looking, so ugly that I was itching to take the clippers to them and prune out the brown sections.
I resisted the urge, on the advice of Jeffrey Johnson, woody plant specialist for the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. "It's been a long winter, and people are frustrated," he says. "Landscape plants took a beating, and there's a lot of pent-up gardening energy." But even at the Arb, where there's pressure to get gardens looking good as quickly as possible, there's been very little pruning of brown evergreens.
"We're still taking a wait-and-see approach," he says. "This has been a very reluctant spring, and it's very difficult to tell where dieback stop and healthy starts. Even through the foliage is brown, there could be live tissue."
"The best thing to do for evergreens might be nothing at all," agrees Mark Stennes, a St. Paul arborist and plant pathologist. Cool wet weather like today's should help.
By next week, gardeners should have a much better picture of what they can safely prune, according to Johnson and Stennis. Look for new candles forming on the plants. "If you've got new candles coming in, you're fine," Stennes said. "If you don't see any buds swelling, it's toast."
In the meantime, try to ignore those ugly brown needles just a little longer.
Greetings, fellow gardeners! Welcome to Minnesota growing season 2014, our long-awaited reward for enduring the winter from you-know-what.
Saturday was inventory day in my garden. I walked from bed to bed, front to back, peering at the earth to see what was coming up. Things are clearly off to a very slow, late start, despite balmy summer-like temperatures on Easter Sunday. My peonies are mere nubs, like rosy pinky fingers poking their way through the dirt. My sedums, delphiniums and ligularia made it through the winter, sprouting tiny, but healthy-looking new foliage.
Other perennials -- hydrangeas and black-eyed Susans -- are still slumbering below the surface, but I have faith they'll make their presence known soon.
Plant experts I've talked to this spring don't expect heavy garden casualties, despite all the subzero temperatures we experienced during the winter months. That's because the garden gods blessed us with a thick and relatively early blanket of snow, Mother Nature's insulation.
Minnesota-hardy plants should do just fine this growing season, although gardeners who experimented with borderline plants can expect to see some dieback.
If you have evergreens that are looking dry, brown and crispy, don't despair -- and don't prune just yet, caution tree experts. The condition is called winter burn, and there's a lot of it this spring. "We're seeing quite a bit of damage," says Jeffrey Johnson, woody plant specialist for the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. "Pines, in particular, took it hard, and also some of the spruce."
Brown needles won't rehydrate and turn soft and green, but new growth may still fill in. "Let spring do its thing," says Josh Plunkett, nursery inspector with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and co-author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Trees and Shrubs."
So keep those pruning shears in the shed, for now, and concentrate on other garden tasks.
What's going on in your garden? Are plants coming up later than usual?
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