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

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.

The year of the weeds

Posted by: Mary Jane Smetanka Updated: August 5, 2013 - 10:29 AM


This ugly pile of what’s-its is the result of five minutes of weeding one of my perennial gardens. This year, I could weed almost every day and not catch up. It is the year of the weeds.
Lately the state Master Gardener email list has featured photos of mystery weeds that have popped up everywhere, and sympathetic responses from gardeners who say they’re never fought so many weeds in their gardens.
This year I’ve seen lots of familiar invaders, including lamb’s quarters, Virginia copperleaf, oxalis and deadly nightshade. At least they are relatively easy to pull up in wet soil. But I have some horrible and aggressive newcomers, too. Sow’s thistle seems to be everywhere. I found many feet of wild cucumber climbing a big ornamental grass just a week after I’d weeded that garden. Bindweed, too, has invaded, and I seem to be untangling it all over the place.
Where did this stuff come from?
Some of the Master Gardeners wondered if the heavy rains we had through June helped waken long-dormant weed seeds that were just waiting for the right conditions to sprout. Maybe winds or birds deposited the seeds from other locations. I have several volunteer milkweed plants in the gardens, and I have left them as a welcome addition to the perennial mix.
Ironically my primary adversary of recent years, creeping bellflower, seems to have slowed its invasion at this stage of the year but the other weeds have taken over. I guess the only thing to do is to keep patrolling the garden for five or ten minutes a day, and try to get these guys out before they all set seed and begin a new advance nex year.
Here’s a visual guide that will help you identify some the most common weeds in Minnesota.

How are you fighting this year’s invasion? Seen anything unusual in the garden?

Happy July Fourth from the garden

Posted by: Martha Buns Updated: July 4, 2013 - 10:42 AM


I went looking in my yard for some fodder for a red, white and blue bouquet. I've got a sea of blue to pick from, but I came up short on the red front.  The berries in my neighbor's yard were the only patch of red to catch my eye.


My weeds are knee high by the Fourth of July. Luckily I have a day off to liberate my garden. If the weeds aren't enough incentive, I've got a stack of mulch bags taunting me, piling on the guilt.

But once I'm done, there's a lawn chair and a tall glass of lemonade with my name on it.

Have a great day, whether you're weeding or kicking back and enjoying your garden.


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