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 was deja vu all over again as I surveyed my landscape over the weekend.
This time last year, we were puzzling over our polar vortex souvenirs -- reliably hardy evergreens that emerged in the spring with crispy brown needles, the result of dessication or winter burn, from all those bone-chilling temperatures and harsh winds.
Most of us probably dug up the evergreens that were clearly toast, with no healthy green needles. But there were a lot of half-and-half evergreens with a patchwork of brown and green. The plants were clearly alive, although no longer contributing much to the landscape.
I'm an optimist, so I gave my glass-half-full junipers the benefit of the doubt last year. Even though there were more brown branches than green ones, I didn't dig them up, but waited to see how they'd look this year.
Well, guess what. They look pretty darn awful.
And they occupy a high-profile spot in my front yard, so clearly I'm going to have to admit defeat this year, and replace them with something else.
How about a Black Hills spruce, a Sky High or Medora (both upright junipers) or Techny arborvitae? Those were the replacement evergreens suggested by Deb Lonnee, a horticulturist with Bailey Nurseries (www.baileynurseries.com).
Planting is crucial when adding a new evergreen to the landscape, according Lew Gerten, part owner and general manager of greenhouse production for Gertens (www.gertens.com). He advised digging a cone-shaped hole, very wide at the top but tapering down to a narrow bottom for optimal drainage. Without the tapering, water will settle at the bottom and invite root rot.
Once the hole is dug, blend the soil with 30 to 40 percent peat moss or potting soil, which enhances pH balance and drainage.
So what's going on with your evergreens? Do you still have some polar vortex souvenirs lingering in your landscape?
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?
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.
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.
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?
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?
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