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 Soil prep

The not-so-perennial garden

Posted by: Nicole Hvidsten Updated: May 23, 2014 - 7:50 AM

Suffice it to say there was no tip-toeing through the tulips this spring. And bloom where you're planted?

This was not happening at my house.

This was not happening at my house.

Not at my house. At least not this spring.

For the first time since I happily stuck bulbs in the ground more than a dozen years ago, my tulips didn't bloom. Nestled next to the house on the south side, they've always been protected and they've always been early risers. Like many other perennials, this year they were a little slow to wake up. (Weren't we all?) But sure enough, they reliably poked through to herald the arrival of spring. They kept growing, but not one of my eight plants were up to the task of producing blooms. Did they finally give up?

I've never really doted on my tulips, figuring they were the one low-maintenance part of my life. (Full disclosure: Life with three busy kids prevents me from doting on a lot of things.) As I started to research possible causes for the lack of blooms, I was surprised to hear them called finicky. I've never had a problem, but suddenly felt lucky that they've stuck with me all these years. Those tulips were the first thing I planted when we moved in, so I need to step up my game. I figure I have a few choices:

1. Let them be. Was it a fluke? Maybe they'll bloom again next year. But should I do something different this fall?

2. Dig them up and replant. Perhaps they need a breath of fresh air and the benefit of reworked soil. And speaking of soil, should I treat my soil differently?

3. Give up. Have those tulips run their courses? One garden enthusiast wrote that she plants bulbs by the handful and feels lucky when something comes up. Not sure I want to go to that extreme, but is it time to bring in some new blood?

Help me out, gardeners. I need some advice. Because my clematis is a little slow on the take, too.

Plant swap: Don't forget our annual Green Girls free plant swap is coming up May 31 from 10 to noon in the park area across the street from the Star Tribune building at 425 Portland Av. S., Minneapolis.

Next year's garden trends

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: September 3, 2013 - 12:24 PM


The growing season is winding down, but trendwatchers are already looking ahead to how we'll be gardening next year.


So what crops, methods and looks will be hot in 2014? Here are a dozen top trends from the Garden Media Group, presented  by trendspotter Suzi McCoy at the recent Garden Writers Association Symposium in Quebec City: 

1. Ground up. Food scraps are the new recyclables, according to McCoy. About 25 percent of Americans are currently composting and building their soil from scratch, and more will jump on the compost bandwagon, inspired by new user-friendly compost products.

2. Super Foods Super Models. The veggie-growing renaissance that emerged a few years back is still robust, with more gardeners branching beyond the basics to grow hard-to-find specialty veggies, fruits and herbs.

3. Drink Your Yard. Homegrown goes liquid, with more gardeners growing hops for homebrew, grapes for wine, ingredients for craft cocktails and "green smoothies." Homemade pickles and kimchi also will be big. "Fermentation gardens are the new chickens," according to Rebecca Reed of Southern Living.

4. Dress Up Your Yard. Outdoor living enthusiasts are in the mood to accessorize, using artsy pots, chandeliers and other "garden jewelry" to add flair to their landscapes. 

5. Bee-nificials. Pollinators are in peril, and consumers are primed to help, planting pollen-rich natives, moving away from monocultures and adding habitat, both natural vegetation and bee-friendly innovations such as "bee hotels."

6. Cultur-vating. Locavores are taking local to the next level, embracing plants that are local to their region but mixing them with plants from other cultures.

7. Simple Elegance. Gardens are taking a cue from fashion with color-blocking and other simple-yet-high-impact color schemes, including classic black and white.

8. Frack'd Up. Neat clean lines are passe. The trendiest gardens will feature fractional shapes such as triangles, circles and squares. Umbels -- a flower shape featuring spiky stems topped by round clusters of blooms -- will be especially popular.

9. Young Men Get Down and Dirty. Who spends the most money in the garden? Right now, it's young guys, ages 18 to 34, who shell out $100 more than average during the growing season. They're growing food for grilling, hops for homebrew and peppers for homemade salsa.

10. Think Gardens. As more people get the message that plants help us de-stress and work smarter, look for more outdoor garden meetings, indoor gardens at work and even desktop gardens.

11. Fingertip Gardening. Gardening goes digital. Instead of asking friends and neighbors for growing advice, we're now turning to the Internet and mobile apps.

12. Tree-mendous Reversal. Between development and pests, we're losing 4 million urban trees a year -- and we're increasingly aware of what that's costing us -- environmentally, economically and emotionally. Thus, we're going to be planting a lot of trees, trying to restore our arboreal balance.

That's what's in. Here's what's out, according to McCoy. "Fairy gardens are over," she said. (Although I'm not sure Minnesota gardeners are ready to let go of them, judging from the many fairy gardens entered in this year's Beatuiful Gardens contest.)   

So now it's your turn to weigh in, fellow gardeners. Which of these trends resonate for you? Which ones will you be embracing? Or ignoring?  



Raised bed expectations

Posted by: Martha Buns Updated: August 22, 2013 - 12:02 PM


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:

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....

Catching up with the Edible Estate

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: July 16, 2013 - 10:44 AM

Last night I got my first look at Edible Estate #15 since its installation over Memorial Day weekend.

A lot has changed. The tiny seedlings have blown up into big, beautiful vegetable plants -- more than 100 different crops, if you count color variations. The Schoenherrs' front yard in Woodbury is already producing so much food that the family of four can't eat it all. They're sharing veggies with their neighbors and bringing bags of lettuce to work to give to co-workers. "I don't want another salad for awhile," admitted Catherine Schoenherr.

She's most excited about the bright-purple cauliflower now peeping from its leaves. "We knew it was cauliflower but we didn't know it was purple," she said.

Her husband, John, is experimenting with pestos and juices, and their grown kids, Aaron and Andrea, are making salsa. And they're all trying to figure out what to do with chamomile, besides make tea.

Catherine has organized several "gardening nights" when neighbors are invited to come, pull a few weeds and bring home a bag of produce. And she'd like to plan a sauerkraut-making party later in the season. "We're going to have a ton of cabbage."

The garden is not open to the public, but the public can get a peek starting Aug. 8 at the Walker Art Museum, when it kicks off its Edible Estates exhibit, part of artist Fritz Haeg's residency. (Haeg is the creator of Edible Estates and the designer of the Schoenherrs' new landscape.) You can learn more about Haeg and his vision at:

We'll be featuring the Schoenherrs' new landscape in Home + Garden on Aug. 7. So what do you think? Would you want to grow this much food in your own front yard?  



Patience with perennials

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: May 7, 2013 - 10:28 AM


We've been waiting SOOOO long for spring to arrive. I'm dying to plant things in my plot and containers and make up for lost time. But spring's very lateness is forcing me to slow down. My perennials are so poky to emerge this year, that I can't tell what's coming back and what's dead. 


I took a quick inventory last night. Of my five peony plants, only the early bird, the one that gets the most sun, is showing any life at all, and that's only a couple of  stubs, no longer than the tip of my pinky finger.  My Endless Summer hydrangeas are even more delayed. Only one plant is showing a few hints of green near the base. The rest look like Endless Winter, brown and lifeless. 

My containers are a mystery. I have moneywort and creeping sedum that I use for "spillers" in several pots. They come back year after year, and I put the showier annuals in the middle, trying not to disturb the perennials on the edges. But this year, they moneywort and sedum just look brown and crispy, with no signs yet of new growth.


We just need to be patient, said Karl Foord, educator in horticulture for the University of Minnesota's Extension Service. Because of the unseasonably cold temperatures in April and into early May, we're weeks behind "normal" for plant growth.  It seems especially stark because we were weeks ahead of schedule last year.


Foord isn't worried about heavy perennial casualties this year. "It was not a severe winter in any respect," he said. "It was long." But there was adequate snow cover, and temperatures weren't lower than usual. 

So go ahead and plant your cool-crop veggies, but hold off on tender ones, like tomatoes, until Memorial Day, he advised. And don't give up yet on perennials that look like they didn't make it. They'll be poking their heads up soon. "It's going to happen fast now," Foord said. (For information about what veggies to plant when, visit  (

What's going on in your garden? Are your perennials later to emerge than they've ever been?

What's coming up and what's not?



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