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 Critters and pests

Ants - OK in the garden, but not my walls!

Posted by: Helen Yarmoska Updated: June 11, 2014 - 8:34 AM

Insects are as much a part of the garden as plants and soil.  In fact, when taking courses to become a Master Gardener, there are a few required on insect identification and pest management.  So I was not surprised when my friend, Pizz, asked me about how to get rid of ants that have started invading her house.

The pests were in the walls of her 1950s era house.  There were chewing noises, not scratching like mice or bats.  She did see some large ants entering the house on the outside, but only a few found on the inside.  She had hired a pest management company who came and sprayed, but she was concerned when it rained the next day.

Ants are OK in the garden.  They sometimes act as pollinators and quite often clean up debris left by other leaf eating insects.  Many people are seeing ants right now around peony buds.  (NO, the flowers do not need the ants to open, the ants just like the sweet nectar around the buds.)  But inside the house… ants are NOT nice.

Ants are colony insects much like honey bees.  They have a queen and without the queen, there is no nest.  So the trick in ant-elimination is to get rid of the queen.  Instant kill sprays really don’t do much besides give the sprayer satisfaction.  Sprays can also be indiscriminate.  They may kill beneficial insects such as bees and wasps.  

Good old fashioned Borax is what I recommended.  She could purchase a feed-kill product and place several drops on cardboard the outside of her house and feed them for several days.   That should get to the queen eventually.   Or perhaps buy a box of the stuff and sprinkle around her foundation.
Do you have any other recommendations for Pizz?

Plants I regret

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: June 9, 2014 - 11:16 AM

When I was a younger, inexperienced gardener, I did some things I regret.

I brought home some plants I shouldn't have -- good-looking specimens that I didn't know much about. They're still haunting my landscape.

There's the contorted filbert I picked up at Home Depot about 10 years ago. It was small and quirky, with curly, twisty little branches. I put it in one of my garden beds next to a big boulder, thinking it would stay small and twisty and cute. 

Instead it grew like a giant weed, shooting out long straight branches with none of the curlicued charm that first caught my eye. 

It also brought a most unwelcome invader: Japanese beetles. If I had any before the filbert, I never noticed them. But once the filbert took up residence, they arrived in droves. By mid-summer, the filbert's foliage is thick with beetles. If they just stayed there and munched on the filbert it wouldn't be so bad, but they also move on to feast on my nearby roses and other plants.

Then there's the climbing rose I picked up the summer I moved into my house. The rose attracted me with its bright brilliant pink blooms, so I impulsively bought it and a big arbor to support it. The rose is still pretty -- for about two weeks in early summer when it's covered with vibrant flowers.

The rest of the time, it's just bare straggly canes that burst beyond the confines of the arbor and stab me with their thorns when I try to tame them.

Now that I know better -- that there are beautiful rose options that bloom all season long -- I could kick myself for not doing a little research first. 

The biggest mistake in my landscape is a maple, also planted the first year summer we moved into the house. We were new to suburbia, after years of living in the leafy urban core, and we missed the trees. So we planted one. 

Instead of carefully choosing the best location for a tree, we lazily picked the spot where the kids' wading pool had already killed the grass. And instead of carefully researching and choosing the best type of tree, we grabbed a maple at the garden center -- without reading the tag. We figured it would give us beautiful fall color. It does. But it also turned out to be some weird dwarf species that is more bush-shaped than tree-shaped. Instead of a traditional trunk crowned with branches, it produced multiple trunks low to the ground. It's too low and squatty to provide shade you can actually sit under. But, of course, it completely shades my garden, making it impossible to grow the sun-loving plants that thrived there when the tree was young.

One of these years, I'll probably get rid of these unsightly reminders of my impetuous youth. But it sure would have been easier if I'd just done my homework -- at least read the tags -- before I bought them.

Impulse garden purchases can be fun -- but save them for annuals and small plants; that's the lesson I learned the hard way.

Anyone else out there have things in their landscape that they planted in ignorance and now regret?

Cottontails leave a trail of damage

Posted by: Martha Buns Updated: May 13, 2014 - 7:03 AM


Silly rabbits.  Or substitute a stronger adjective of your choice. This winter was brutal in many respects, from relentless cold to never-ending snow, and in my yard, that made for extra hungry rabbits.


There are usual suspect plants I know I need to protect: the blueberries in fall/winter and the coral bells, small hosta and lilies in spring. But this winter’s tall snow pile gave the hungry bunnies access to plants they don’t usually bother, like my now severely pruned rhododendron. This crop of blooms is only one of two that were high enough to escape the munching jaws. I didn't notice the damage until it was already done, since it happened during the time we were scurrying from house to garage trying to survive the bitter cold. Now I have one more plant to add to the list that need to go behind barriers each fall, although I worry that efforts to protect plants just redirect the damage.

Meanwhile, I’m thinking it’s time for another garden center run to buy more wire plant cloches, or else follow the directions at this site:

How many inroads did rabbits make in your garden? And what’s your favorite way to protect your plants?

Start building the hives!

Posted by: Helen Yarmoska Updated: April 29, 2014 - 8:57 AM

I am a beekeeper.  And even though this is a gardening blog, I hope you don’t mind if I talk about my bees a little bit.  They are fascinating and they play a pretty big role in the circle of life of gardens.

Like gardeners, beekeepers enter Spring very optimistic.  We picked up our bees from Nature’s Nectar on a beautiful sunny morning a week ago.  Put two boxes filled with about 7,000 bees each in the back of our SUV and headed north.   It was windy on Monday, but dry.  Late afternoon, we suited up, sprayed the bees down with a little sugar water and shook them into their new homes.  We have two boxes, two live queens, a bunch of sugar water – everything is peachy.

The next morning, the bees were out and about checking out the neighborhood.  The apiary is in a good location, basswood trees, dogwood bushes and plenty of water within a mile.  Nothing blooming at the time, but they have sugar water (carbohydrates) and substitute pollen (protein), so they have what it takes to start working on growing the hives.  (Little did the bees know that it would be SNOWING this morning!)

Not everyone can keep bees.  It freaks out many of my friends when I tell them that in August, we have about 30,000 bees less than 20 feet from our deck at the cabin.   Really, they are more help than harm.  

Over 35% of human food relies on pollinators.  Aspen, birch and many of trees of the woods could not survive without pollinators.  The seeds the birds eat are all pollinated.  There are over 300 species of bees in Minnesota – over 18 of bumblebees alone.  

Unfortunately, pollinators are dying.   

The reasons are numerous, and as a Hennepin County Master Gardener, I’m waiting for the “official word” from the University of Minnesota before I start shouting.  For now, I’m spending a couple hundred bucks on bees.  Giving them time and sugar and hoping that they help my little corner of the world.  Maybe if I’m lucky we’ll get some honey to enjoy.  

If your neighbor asked you if they could keep bees in their back yard (or deck or roof) – and city laws were not a factor – would you give them permission?  

Look what the birds planted

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: September 17, 2013 - 10:48 AM

I didn't plant sunflowers this year -- or any other year, for that matter. But I've got gigantic 5-foot-tall sunflowers now blooming in my back-yard garden.

I noticed them sprouting there a couple months ago. They've never sprouted there before. But my husband discovered birds this spring and bought a bird feeder, which he filled with sunflower seeds and placed on the deck.

That deck is right above my garden, which is how I wound up with sunflowers.  

From a strict garden-design standpoint, the sunflowers aren't a great addition to my garden bed. Theyr'e way too tall, compared to what's planted around them, and look kind of silly. But I can't help smiling whenever I see their sunny yellow faces.

They provide a welcome burst of bright color, at a time when the flowers around them are winding down.

And -- best of all -- they've turned out to be irrestible to bees. I don't know what kind of sunflowers they are, but every time I venture outside, morning or evening, bees are buzzing around them, and camped out on the flowers and even nearby leaves. 

The three new flowering natives I planted this spring with bees in mind haven't done as well as I expected. One plant died after a few weeks. One stayed tiny and never flowered. The third plant, a coneflower, thrived and attracted a few bees. But nothing like the sunflowers, which are bee magnets.

What are the bees liking best in your garden this September? And did your garden have any surprises up its sleeve?


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