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 Weeds

Gardens are sometimes the best mysteries!

Posted by: Helen Yarmoska Updated: August 13, 2014 - 8:27 AM

Sometimes gardening is a mystery.  Because I’m a Master Gardener, people think I know all the answers. 

Certainly, there are gardeners that do… but I’m not one of them.  Throughout the growing season, I get handed bags with weeds or bugs and phones with photos and asked, “What is it?”

Some are easy, some require research.  Of course I like the easy ones because it makes me look smart, but the toughies can be a fun challenge.  The first photo is an easy one.  “Milkweed.  Let that grow so the monarchs have something to eat.”

The second photo is a bit different.  They are beets in a tiered garden that doesn’t get much air circulation.  “Fungal disease,” I reply.  But,  I need to know more.  I find that it is botrytis.  A fancy name for something you don’t want on your beets.  Everything I read said, remove from garden, discard - do not compost and wash your tools with bleach after removal.  Similar to tomato blight, there is no easy answer to tell the gardener.  There will be a reduced crop and don’t plant beets there again for a couple of years.

That said, many mystery plants can be fun.  Like in the third photo case, a mystery squash.  Let it grow and see what color it turns, then eat it.  I’m thinking a pumpkin by the looks of the stem, but maybe not.

Have you had mystery plants pop up in your yard?

Plant freebies in July?

Posted by: Lynn Underwood Updated: July 24, 2014 - 5:13 PM

By the end of July, it’s pretty clear which plants are greedy for more garden space. My midsummer garden is flush with too much growth. Masses of moneywort green tendrils have infiltrated the clumps of ‘Autumn Joy’ sedum.  Tall fringed loosestrife have infringed on the feathery foliage of astilbe. But the most nefarious plant is the sweet-looking buttercup primrose, which has vigorously multiplied and smothered everything in its path.

My garden is just too small for prolific perennials to run amok. So I’m continuiusly thinning and dividing, tossing the wandering plants with weeds and garden debris in the compost pile.

Local gardening groups organize scores of popular plant swaps, sales and giveaways in the spring. Why not at the end of July, too?

I wish I could share some of these healthy specimens with appreciative growers who still have holes to fill and don’t mind doing it when it’s hot and buggy.  And next spring, they'll reap the rewards.

What do you do with overzealous plants spreading across your garden? Does your neighborhood hold a midsummer plant swap?

Photos: Dave's Garden and Stepables

Getting your garden through vacation

Posted by: Martha Buns Updated: July 1, 2014 - 6:57 AM

Welcome home. That’s the message I got from the garden when we got back from vacation last week. We were only gone five days, but what a change five summer days can make.

When we’d left, the peonies had given up and hardly any other blooms were in action. But a burst of heat and some (more) rainfall have opened up the clematis buds and yielded a riot of delphinium, astilbe, coneflower and malva. The pea plants have gone from mere stubs to vines serious about business. And what had been teensy would-be tomatoes are nice dark green hopefuls.

The watering system we’d rigged up in our absence mostly worked, except one plant that a kind neighbor took pity on, so we didn’t come back to dead plants. We put pots inside the raised beds so they'd get the benefit of the timed water lines, which looks funny, but it's effective.

Really, nothing makes me value the garden more than coming home to it after time away. Except did I mention what the weeds did in five days? Eeek.

What have these prolific rains wrought in your garden? And what’s your strategy for getting your garden through vacation?

Weeds that grow like flowers

Posted by: Martha Buns Updated: June 3, 2014 - 8:04 AM

The difference between a flower and a weed is sometimes subjective. At this weekend’s plant swap, someone was looking for an ID on a plant they brought. We identified it as a primrose, but one of us later privately passed judgment on it as an invasive spreader. I confessed that the common primrose falls into the category of plants that I tolerate long enough to let them share their blooms before yanking them out.

Also in that category: creeping buttercup, damesrocket and some generic aggressively spreading ferns that I trim for bouquet filler before curbing their spread. The primrose and damesrocket add a touch of color in the alley garden before summer’s blossoms take hold, and they’re easy to pull before they go to seed if you pay attention.

Some of the flowery spreaders were something I unleashed on my world, like the pink mallow that so freely self sows. If it lands some place I don’t mind it, like the alley hell strip, I say more power to it. But if it lands at the front of a border and threatens to upset the design balance, out it comes.

I guess I’m just a sucker for a pretty bloom. Proof positive: When those blasted spreading bellflowers make an appearance, I clip them for a bouquet and and then try to tackle them before their insanely vigorous roots crowd out the campanula I actually planted.

What flower/weeds do you enjoy or at least tolerate? And where do you draw the line?

Ghosts of gardens past

Posted by: Nicole Hvidsten Updated: May 30, 2014 - 7:32 AM

Unlike my colleagues, I put the green in Greengirls -- and not as in green thumb, either. So I considered last year's growing season an outstanding success when I was able to have enough tomatoes to feed my family a steady supply of BLTs and tomato sauce, and was able to outpace the birds and retrieve at least a handful of strawberries.

What NOT to do.

What NOT to do.

But the first trip to the garden this year was a painful reminder of my novice mistakes, starting with the fact that I never got around to cleaning out the garden in the first place. (Once the busy school year starts, it all goes down hill.) Here are some of the lessons I learned. If you have any other suggestions on how to make this year's garden even more successful, I'm all ears:

Use thicker garden gloves. I'm not sure what variety of weed is so thornfully painful, but it invaded by strawberry patch. And my wimpy garden gloves were no match. After my fingers started to tingle, it was time for a trip to the garden center. (And that's never a bad thing.)

Good dirt is everything. I splurged and bought better dirt, not just the stuff that was dirt cheap. Now that I have a decent foundation, I can learn how to effectively manage the quality of the soil. At least eventually.

Don't overdo it. I didn't have much faith in my gardening ability, so I overcompensated by cramming as much as I could into the garden. I ignored directions on spacing, which I've done for years with flowers. But one too many tomato plants proved to be nearly fatal to my entire bed. It's quality over quantity.

Start small. I began with four 4- by 16-foot garden. I desperately wanted to expand this year, but ran out of time. That turned out to be a good thing. I'll take what I've learned and take better care of my plot, then look to expand next year. There's so much to grow!

I'll never outsmart wildlife. Pa, my go-to guy for just about everything, really tried to rabbit-proof my garden. It worked for the most part, but they've figured out a way to get back in this year. (They enjoyed a salad made from tomato plants.) What I didn't see coming: aerial assaults. Not sure how to combat the birds' love for strawberries, or my fear of birds for that matter.

Clean up after yourself. I left my sunflowers in over the winter, thinking I was doing a good thing and providing food for birds. (See? I can be nice.) I had no excuse for the rest of the garden.

I'd love to hear any other suggestions, or gardening lessons you've learned along the way. Although I never envision having a huge garden like my dad used to -- I don't even remember buying vegetables in the store -- I would eventually like to have enough to preserve my summer bounty through the winter.

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

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