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.

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The long goodbye in the garden

Posted by: Martha Buns Updated: September 16, 2014 - 8:05 AM

First the bleeding hearts turn spindly and yellow. The squash leaves start to wilt. Then there's a cool night that turns my once-lush basil into spotty-leafed waifs.

The life is slow to completely ebb from my garden, but it's definitely starting to wave the white flag. The coneflowers hang on at one-quarter intensity and the summer bloomers start to look straggly.

There are a few welcome spots of color left: The asters are still bee magnets and the sedum Autumn Joy are putting on their reliable pompoms.

The veggies, too, are about to call it quits. Once I harvest that mega tomato weighing down a vine in the back row, I can go ahead and yank out the otherwise empty vine it's on. Four squash plants to pick and I can rip out all the vines sprawled over one raised bed.

Where there's no frost there's always hope. So I and the red cabbages and kale will hold on until the bitter end. But the kale will always outlast me.

So before your lawn turns crunchy from frost and leaves, make sure to take time to tour your garden to savor the long goodbye. You never know -- there might be some long-green tomatoes that finally ripened.

Slouching toward fall

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: September 15, 2014 - 10:22 AM

Fall doesn't begin officially until next Monday. But it's already starting to look and feel like fall in yards and gardens.

Maple trees are sporting a few flame-red flickers.

The tomatoes are tapering off after a flurry of ripening. There are only about a dozen still hanging on my scraggly vines, and the squirrels have beaten me to most of them.

Garden fatigue is setting in. A friend told me she usually quits watering her garden by early September, having lost interest in what little is left there. 

Me, I keep trying to preserve the last bits of garden goodness. My garden almost always has some late surprises up its sleeve.

Last week, the morning glory that I planted in May finally produced its first gorgeous flower. They're always slow to bloom in my garden, which has gotten too shady for morning glories. But they're worth the wait. 

I still have some late peppers and squash ripening, and I'm hoping they'll be ready to pick and eat before the frost hits.

And my cannas have a couple more clumps of buds that may or may not open into one last burst of autumnal bloom.

So I'll keep watering -- and savoring these last few days of "summer."

How about you? Have you lost interest in your garden, or will you keep nurturing it until the bitter end?

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?

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