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 Annuals

5 ways to get out of a gardening funk

Posted by: Martha Buns Updated: August 12, 2014 - 11:47 AM

It strikes every year, afflicting thousands of once-earnest gardeners: midsummer malaise. We start the year with a pent-up need to plant, to bring fresh life from a landscape that was buried under deep snow for so very, very long.

And then: August. Ooof. Our gardens turn muggy, buggy, weedy and wilty. Even the produce that thrilled us with its first onset starts to seem like a chore, and we secretly hope that the peas peter out so we don’t have to shell one more batch.

For me, vacation plays a role. I have one blissful, cool week on the North Shore, but my weeds and produce didn’t take the week off. When I come back, the garden seems overwhelming, and I start to avert my eyes from offending parts of the yard.

If you’ve been bitten by the garden flu, here are five strategies I use to fight back:

1. Count to 10. Pull 10 weeds from one plot each day. Or spend just 10 minutes weeding – you’ll have given enough blood by that time. I have to squelch my mistaken idea that it’s not worth gardening unless you can spend at least an hour. Six days of 10 minutes each adds up to that same hour, and if it’s really super hot, I’m not going to want to spend an hour out in it.

2. Garden by the sun: Unless your garden enjoys complete sun, chances are good there’s shade somewhere in your yard in the morning or late afternoon.Chase it, and move the minute the sun catches up with you.

3. Start fresh: Give up on beleaguered early season crops like lettuce and peas, and plant some late-season offerings so you restore some novelty. Some fall-loving kale, spinach or colorful Swiss chard will take off where your arugula bolted. A colorful annual on clearance sale at the garden center can perk up a lackluster window box or planter.

4. It’s never too late to mulch. Get off the weeding treadmill by putting down mulch. You’ll get a boost of enthusiasm from having a tidy area of your yard where you don’t mind looking. And any area you get under control this year will make next spring that much easier.

5. Make something tasty. I always get a boost of enthusiasm when I try a good new recipe using my garden produce. Clearly my basil needs topping. Usually I just make a bunch of pesto to deal with the excess, but this time I think I might give this basil aioli a try.

How about you? What are your strategies for getting out of a garden funk? And what's your favorite way to use up basil? (As if there could be too much of that good a thing.)

Garden heroes save the day

Posted by: Lynn Underwood Updated: August 7, 2014 - 5:07 PM

Dan and Nancy Engebretson are gardening superheroes.

The builder of their townhome complex in the small town of Elysian was supposed to install an ordinary walking path surrounded by humdrum landscaping of spirea and other assorted shrubs.But he went bankrupt during the housing meltdown and didn’t complete the project.  So the outdoors-loving couple -  armed with shovels, a wheelbarrow, mulch and plants - saved the day.

The Engebretsons are among the winners of the Star Tribune’s Beautiful Gardens contest. Last week, I toured the mini-arboretum they’ve designed, planted and nurtured in the common area shared by all the townhome residents.

“We could look at a weed patch forever - or do something about it,” said Dan. The couple's super powers are passion, dedication and how to get a good deal on plants.

Since 2008, they’ve created a waterfall that flows down a slope into a fish pond bordered by stones they hauled and laid. Rustic wood chip paths wind around massive waves of tulips in the spring and purple coneflowers and pink phlox in summer. For Nancy, the star of almost every bed is an attention-grabbing Tiger Eye sumac.

After coming home from their day jobs, Dan and Nancy work nights and weekends watering (there’s no underground sprinkler) weeding, deadheading and keeping tabs on plant performance.

Barb Judd, an appreciative neighbor, nominated the partners in planting. “The gardens have become a mecca for residents who enjoy walking the pathways created through beautiful flowers, shrubs and trees,” she wrote. And now other townhome owners are asking the Engebretsons for adivice n planting beds in their own yards.

Have you helped beautify areas other than your own yard? Have you shared your garden know-how with novices?

Catching up with the Edible Estate

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: August 4, 2014 - 10:55 AM

Remember last year's Edible Estate? That was the front yard in Woodbury where an artist/horticulturist tore up the traditional lawn and replaced it with a dense forest of food crops.

So what's going on this growing season, now that the Schoenherr family is on their own, with no donated plants or free expert help? 

Pretty much the same as last year -- that was the surprising news when I visited the family last week. They're still growing more than 100 edible crops, covering almost all their large suburban front yard. About half of last year's crops returned or self-seeded. The rest -- about 1,000 plants -- they started from seed in their basement, under grow lights. 

Now that they can choose their own crop mix, they're growing fewer eggplants, but they've added some new edibles, including tomatillos and borage. 

And their gung-ho neighbors, who dug in last year to help tend the mini-farm in their midst, are still at it, showing up for weekly "garden nights" to help pull weeds and help themselves to some produce.

"We really do have a lot of help," said Catherine Shoenherr. "It wouldn't be very fun to do this by yourself."

How has the family managed to turn their private front yard into a community garden? Find out in next week's Variety Home + Garden.

Fairy fatigue?

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: July 28, 2014 - 10:29 AM

"Fairy gardens are over."

That's what they told us almost a year ago, at the Garden Writers Assocation convention in Quebec City, where the Garden Media Group was presenting its top trends for 2104. Those trends included bee-friendly gardening, and young guys growing hops, and geometric shapes. 

No fairies. They're so 2012. 

But Minnesota gardeners didn't get the memo, apparently. Just this morning, my inbox included a press release for yet another fairy garden workshop. This summer's crop of Beautiful Gardens submissions included fairy gardens of all size and description.

I'll admit fairy gardens aren't my personal cup of nectar. They're tiny and detailed, while my aesthetic leans toward big, bold foliage plants.

But maybe I'm just the wrong demographic to appreciate fairy gardening and its charms. Most of the fairy gardeners I've met are doing it for their kids and grandkids as much as for themselves. They love having a garden that delights young children and attracts them to the landscape. (My kids are 21 and 24 -- they haven't procreated yet, and are too old to be enchanted by wee winged creatures.)

So maybe fairy gardens defy trendiness, and instead have become a beloved garden niche. 

What do you think, fellow gardeners? Are you feeling the magic of fairies in the garden? Been there, done that? Or never would?  

Lackadaisical tropicals

Posted by: Lynn Underwood Updated: June 19, 2014 - 12:10 PM

For me, the rock star of deck and patio plants is the tropical hibiscus.

The mini-shrub’s huge trumpet-shaped flowers explode in colors like blood red, fiery orange and delicious peach. Sometimes I see tiny hummingbirds flitting around the blooms. It’s no surprise that the hibiscus is the national flower of Hawaii and  Jamaica.

But since we live in Minnesota, these beauties have to be brought inside for the winter if you want them to survive until spring. And I found out that you have to be patient to make it worth the trouble.

In October, when it’s time to empty the outdoor planters, the tropical  hibiscus is too lovely to send to the city disposal site with other garden debris. So I lug the super heavy pot to the basement to chill out for the winter in a special spot by a window. The cold and darkness hinders bud growth, but I water it every week, dreaming about all the bodacious blooms it will produce come summer.

In May, I keep track of the night time temperatures. It’s only safe to place tender plants outdoors when temperatures stay above 50 degrees. So usually by Memorial Day, I lug the hibiscus pot up from the basement to a special spot in the sun on the deck.

It looks pretty pathetic - the foliage is sparse and scraggly - but there’s promising new growth.
I give the plant a little TLC and fertilizer. Then I wait, every day inspecting for buds.

The last two summers, the slow-as-a snail hibiscus didn’t produce buds until almost August. It really takes a tropical plant, which likely would choose to live in Hawaii over Minnesota, a long time to get in the groove.

This summer, I've seen lush hibiscus bursting with flowers at the garden centers. Ther're  very tempting - and I bet they’re on sale.

Do you have good luck overwintering tropical plants?  What are your favorites?

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