Greengirls Helen Yarmoska, Nicole Hvidsten, Martha Buns, Connie Nelson and Kim Palmer 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.

It’s dinnertime for deer

Posted by: Lynn Underwood under Critters and pests, Green gardening Updated: April 24, 2015 - 2:19 PM

Oh deer! It’s only April and deer have already chomped on three hydrangea bushes I just planted last summer. The young shrubs were about two feet tall and the hungry critters devoured the branches clear to the ground. I hope adversity makes hydrangeas stronger and they come back in May.

I checked the University of Minnesota Extension Service, and as expected, hydrangeas are on the list of deer “Generally Preferred Plants.” And keep an eye on your sprouting hostas -  they love to feast on those, too.

A couple of summers ago, I was checking on the progress of my lilies -also a deer preferred plant - and discovered clumps of empty stems The tender buds were cleanly bitten off like a lollipop by deer - or maybe rabbits. So last year, I took a bar of Irish Spring soap and used a potato peeler to scatter soap shavings around the base of the lilies. It kind of worked - they only chewed off some of the buds. I guess deer only find certain lily varieties tasty.

Deodorant soap is one of the repellents suggested by the U of M Extension Service article “Coping with Deer in Home Landscapes” (http://bit.ly/1rEBNfO.) There are two types of repellents -  one applied to the plants, causing them to taste bad. The other type is a repellent placed in the problem area, which keep deer out because of a foul odor. Someone even did a study and tested six different repellents - with Deer Away, an egg-based product, the most effective.

But I like the homemade remedies - like eggs blended with cold water and sprayed on  foliage or hanging mesh bags of human hair in the garden. They’re organic - and cheaper.

Have deer or rabbits munched on emerging plants in your yard and garden? What repellents have worked for you?

Photos by Hostasdirect.com and Ecologicalwildlifesolutions.com.

Cold weather? Time to take care of your lawn

Posted by: Helen Yarmoska under Grasses, Weekend chores Updated: April 23, 2015 - 9:07 AM

Thank goodness for the cold weather. That’s right, you heard me, I’m happy for the cool weather. Why? I want a nice looking lawn this year. Grass grows better in the cold weather. So now is the time you should be taking a good look at your turf.

Like any garden, you always need to look at the foundation – the soil. The University of Minnesota recommends you always test your soil before adding any type of fertilizer. But I’ll admit, I haven’t tested my soil for about 10 years. I have sandy soil that rinses away the nitrogen. We bag our clippings every other mowing so don’t have a thatch problem. So I wing it. (Yes, I’m a Master Gardener who wings it and admits it!)

I live by a park so I need to sprinkle lime over the dog marks (pee-patches). But other than that, I’m planning on putting down a high nitrogen granular fertilizer next week. It’s important to get that fertilizer down soon because you want to feed the grass before the weeds start growing.

Our lawn isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty good considering I live by a park that will look yellow with dandelion heads in a couple of weeks. What's up with your lawn? Let’s chat and see if we can help everyone be a little greener this year.

5 green gardening ways for Earth Day

Posted by: Martha Buns under Compost, Green gardening Updated: April 22, 2015 - 8:21 AM

Happy Earth Day. Here are five ways to incorporate earth-friendly garden practices, many of which also save you some green:

  1. Compost. Not only does it avoid stuffing pricy landfills, it makes a nearly magical mixture to augment your garden soil, all with very little effort other than occasional stirring. Plus, you may no longer feel the need to buy composted manure at the garden center. You can buy all manner of compost bins at local garden centers, or build your own. Just make sure to follow your city’s rules for proper siting. Here’s a link to build a minimalist one yourself: http://www.motherearthliving.com/wiser-living/make-your-own-compost-bin.aspx
  2. Install a rain barrel. The standard size rain barrel can capture 55 gallons. Connect one to a downspout to maximize the amount it collects. Use the water for your perennials and flowering annuals. Best to avoid using it on herbs and veggies since the water passed over asphalt roof shingles. (If you’re buying an old wine barrel, check that it doesn’t leak.)
  3. Go native: Native plants are less likely to be resource hogs than some more exotic non-natives, needing less water or fertilizer to thrive. As a bonus, they’re zone hardy, so you run into less winter kill. And many help attract birds, bees and other pollinators/bug eaters, so all your plants fare better . The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has a guide for using native plants for landscaping and a list of suppliers on its site: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/gardens/nativeplants/index.html
  4. Cut back on the spray dope: Start with the least nasty remedy you can find to tackle an insect invasion. Instead of automatically dowsing cabbages with powder as a preventative as my mother's generation often did, I've found a simple daily walk-through, pick-off during the brief cabbage worm season takes care of the problem. Insecticidal soaps will tackle many garden ills, so reserve the heavy artillery for invaders that only respond to sterner stuff.  Here’s a link to making your own natural pesticide: http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/how-to-make-natural-garden-pesticides-169168
  5. Reuse household cast-offs in the garden. Repurpose newsprint as mulch, compost fodder, or seed-starting pots. http://www.motherearthliving.com/in-the-garden/uses-for-shredded-paper.aspx Turn plastic bottles into mini cloches for spring seedlings (http://www.gardengatemagazine.com/49cloche/). Consider whether your would-be castoffs could make good garden art. :

That’s just a handful of ideas to get you started. What are your favorite ways to “green up” your garden? While I’m certainly not greener-than-thou, a few simple steps can make you feel better about your place in the world. And even if you're not about saving the Earth, it can help you save on your wallet. So happy Earth Day, and go out and play in the dirt!

It's time for a little mulch envy

Posted by: Kim Palmer under Lawn care, Perennials, Trees, Weather, Weeds, Weekend chores Updated: April 20, 2015 - 9:02 AM

It was a beautiful spring weekend but much too early to plant msot things here in the Twin Cities.

So what's a Minnesotan to do? Mulch.

Spreading mulch was the outdoor chore du jour, judging from the people I saw working outside in my neighborhood and around town over the weekend. Gardeners were even talking about mulch at church and posting photos of their freshly spread mulch on Facebook.

Wood-chip mulch is a good thing in garden beds for a whole host of reasons:

1. It conserves moisture, helping plants stay hydrated in the heat of summer.

2. It improves the health and fertility of your soil as it breaks down.

3. It inhibits weed growth.

4. And it greatly enhances the visual appeal of most landscapes. 

I always feel left out of the whole mulch conversation because my current yard doesn't have anywhere to put it. Whoever landscaped our place around 1990, the year the house was built, spread a layer of golfball-sized rocks around all the front-yard trees and shrubs. 

Sure, I've tweaked the landscape over the years. I've chopped down aging scraggly junipers and planted a few Endless Summer hydrangeas. But I've never done a major refresh of the original landscape. And after 25 years, it's definitely time.

I'd love to dig out a few more ugly overgrown shrubs and replace them with some charming little specimen trees. And I'd really love to surround them with mulch, not rocks.

So here's my dilemma: Can I take the easier way out and cover those rocks with a thick layer of mulch? Or do I have to remove all the rocks first and start from scratch? Anyone out there undertaken the rocks-to-mulch transformation? 

Rain garden recipes

Posted by: Lynn Underwood under Flowers, Green gardening, Perennials, Rain gardens Updated: April 17, 2015 - 1:33 PM

Eco-friendly rain gardens are smart for the environment - but aren’t always pretty.  They can turn into an overgrown mishmash of out-of-control foliage and flowers if you don’t know what you’re doing.

That’s what happened to my compact backyard bed. I planted a combination of deep-rooted perennials like rudbeckia and purple coneflowers in a super low part of my yard. Most of them absorbed and survived the rain water - and stream from my neighbor’s sump pump hose - that rushed down to the garden.  Each summer, I mindlessly added plants - not paying much attention to creating an appealing cohesive design   - and hardly ever divided them.

True rain gardens capture and filter rainwater runoff  before it can pollute our lakes and streams. The garden is bowl-shaped and composed of deep-rooted hardy wildflower and prairie plants that can handle rainy and dry spells. If you’re digging a rain garden  - there’s plenty of step-by-step instructions and long plant lists all over the Internet.

But make sure to check out the city of Maplewood’s website. That community has been at the forefront of promoting rain gardens. And they’ve done us well-meaning, but challenged rain gardeners a huge favor. Posted on the website (http://bit.ly/1HANkWM) are ten fool-proof color-coded rain garden designs that show exactly what plants to pick and where to place them. Have a sunny spot? There’s a layout for a sunny border garden. Like prairie plants?  Follow the “Minnesota Prairie garden” diagram.  When I dig a real rain garden - hopefully this summer - it’s going to look exactly like one of the designs

.Have you planted a rain garden and does it still look pretty? What plants do you like the best?

Designs from the City of Maplewood and Bonestroo.

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