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 Lawn care

Dogs vs. grass

Posted by: Mary Jane Smetanka Updated: June 5, 2012 - 11:50 AM



I am not obsessed with grass. I tolerate clover, dandelions and other weeds, pulling what I can. But I draw the line at having a dust bowl in the backyard.
That may be a dream if you have dogs, especially big dogs. My first Airedale terrier, 85-pound Teddy, would run straight to a tree in pursuit of squirrels and then make a beeline for the fence, where he would race up and down to see what was coming down the alley.
Thus the dirt track in the shape of a big “T” in my back yard.
When I whined about this, my mother had a tart reality check that has stayed with me: “You can have a perfect lawn, or you can have dogs.”
Well okay then.
Teddy is now chasing squirrels in the sky. His successor, Toby, wasn’t as hard on the grass as Teddy had been. And my fox terriers are so light on their feet and spend so much time in the air that they hardly mar the lawn. With regular aeration and fertilization — I like to keep it organic where the dogs are and use corn gluten meal — the lawn was in pretty decent shape for years.
Then Toby passed and a new Airedale, Henry, joined the household. He’s not as big as his predecessors, but he takes the cake for sheer athleticism. He springs like Superman from deck to yard, landing with a THUNK on the grass and running in an circle from deck to yard, over and over again. He teases his wire fox terrier sister until she joins in the fun. The grass flies, the dust rises, and if Henry is feeling really silly he’ll rip some sod up with his teeth and toss it in the air for good measure.
And I hear my Mom whispering in my ear: “You can have a perfect lawn, or you can have dogs.”
Last fall, I seeded the bare areas and fenced it off until winter came. It looked gorgeous. Then came the coup de grace, a snowless winter. When spring came, a dirt racetrack had been carved through the backyard.
If I had any sense, I’d rip the grass out and put wood chips everywhere. But I don’t want that. I had some spare flagstones, so I began filling part of the Henry’s landing spot near the deck with stepping stones. It looked like this:



He didn’t like landing on limestone, and shifted his path to land on some very battered grass.
Two weeks ago, I sodded widest part of Henry’s track. Seeded lawn would never survive the dog traffic, I thought, and if the sod dies, I will be no worse off than when I started.
Henry loves the sod. He lays on it. He makes a point to pee on it. And he runs on it, over and over again.
I have my fingers crossed. But I haven’t forgotten the odds are against me. When it comes to choosing between grass and dogs, I opt for the canines.


Don't keep your garden to yourself

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: June 4, 2012 - 11:18 AM


We were strolling through the Lake Harriet Rose Garden when my husband said something that suprised me:


"Do we have any roses?"

Huh? "You just mowed the back yard," I said, a bit sharply. "Didn't you see them? They're all in bloom."

Needless to say, my husband is not a gardener, which has been a disappointment to me. I've always thought it would be more fun  -- not to mention we'd have a better garden -- if we worked as a team.  

Every once in a while, I've "invited" him to share some garden chore, which he's dutifully done. But I realized I'd never really tried to share our garden with him in a more accessible way -- by opening his eyes to what was there.

"I'm taking you on a tour when we get home," I said. The next morning, we walked through our garden. I pointed out the roses, the pink ones climbing on the trellis, and the deep-red ones on hardy shrubs. I showed him the clematis, the  heuchera and the peonies, stopping here and there to pull a weed. I showed him the veggies, pointing out which ones would produce tomatoes, lettuce, peppers and beets.

"Is that a weed?" he asked, pointing at a big, vigorous clump of ligularia. 

"Nope, it's a perennial -- it comes back every year," I said. "I planted it because I like the leaves, but it gets a flower, too, a yellow one."

By the end of our little tour, he could identify a few plants. And I had a new appreciation for my own garden -- because I'd taken time to stop and see the roses. 

Tending a garden is its own reward, but sharing a garden is even better. If you tend a great garden -- or know someone who does -- now is the time to share it, by nominating it in our annual Beautiful Gardens contest. It's easy to nominate. Just send a few snapshots of the garden, along with a brief description, including who tends it and where it's located, to Or, if you prefer snail mail, send entries to: Beautiful Gardens, Star Tribune, 425 Portland Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488, We'll be accepting entries through June 16. The winning gardeners and gardeners will get their moment of glory on the cover of the Home & Garden section and online at

We're looking for gardens of all types and sizes -- big and small, urban and suburban, flowers and veggies. 

So don't be shy. Share your garden so others can enjoy it. And even if your garden, like mine, is kind of ordinary, take a few minutes to share it with someone -- maybe even someone in your own household.


Winning the buckthorn battle

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: September 28, 2011 - 11:42 AM


What will you be doing on Saturday? 


I'll be getting rid of the mountains of buckthorn branches now piled in my back yard and driveway. They've been there since last week when I grabbed a chainsaw and attacked them with a vengeance. Sometimes they fought back, poking me with their thorns until I had bloody scratches up and down my arms. It was a grueling battle, but ultimately very satisfying.

And this time, they're not coming back -- not if I can help it. This time I went medieval, dousing the freshly cut stumps with Roundup. I hate using chemicals in my landscape but buckthorn is such a relentless bully that I made an exception.

I've been pulling out little buckthorns and cutting down big buckthorns for as long as I've been living in my current house (in northern Eden Prairie). But the big ones always come roaring back, bigger and badder than ever.

What's the urgency with getting rid of buckthorn? In natural areas, the invasive shrub is so fast-growing and aggressive that it chokes out native plants that support songbirds and other wildlife. In home landscapes, it does the same thing, plus it's scraggly and ugly, quickly shooting to twice the size of everything around it.


Fall is an ideal time to battle this monster, when its leaves are still green, making it easy to identify. If you don't have time to tackle all your buckthorn, concentrate on the female plants, the ones with the blackish-purple berries. They're the ones that will produce armies of new buckthorn for you to battle. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has some good information about buckthorn eradication on its website:


As for getting rid of buckthorn branches, most waste haulers will pick them up as yard waste if they're cut and bundled. I've got so many that I'd be sawing and bundling until Christmas. Instead, I'm going to haul it to the Mulch Store (, which has four Minnesota Department of Agriculture-certified sites for disposal of tree branches and other yard waste. 

Is your yard plagued with buckthorn? Or  is something else on your "most hated" list?



Lawn care or lawn chair?

Posted by: Helen Yarmoska Updated: September 22, 2011 - 9:15 AM


Our neighbors put down new sod right before the heat wave hit.  They've been very good at watering, and their lawn looks super.  Our 20-year-old lawn pales in comparison.  This made me pick up the UofM recommendations on Fall Lawn Care.  In order to have a great looking lawn in Spring here's what they recommend:


1.  Overseeding and sodding.  Oops should have done that in mid August

2.  Fertilizing.  Oops again, last fertilizer should have gone down Labor Day weekend.

3. Watering.  Ah ha, I can still do that.  One inch per week is what is recommended,

but watch the weather.  The ground should feel moist but not wet.  (the old stick your finger in the ground trick!)


4. Mowing height.  Another one I'm not too late to do.  Lower from 3" (Summer height) gradually down to 2".  This helps reduce snow mold.  The lawn's not ready to mow yet, so I can put that off.

5. Lawn aerification & thatch control.  Wow, sounds like work.  Rending a core aerifier.  We'll see if one is available this weekend.  We did it two years ago, is it that important?

6. Broadleaf weed control.  Now's the time to get the dandelions and creeping Charlie!  They may not look dead in the Fall, but the poison will flow quickly througout the plant and there will be less chance of the pesky buggers in the Spring. 

Blue Hydrangea

Blue Hydrangea

For right now, I think I'll enjoy the Fall hues of my Hydrangeas. 

White hydrangea

White hydrangea









Pink Hydrangea

Pink Hydrangea




What are you doing in your garden right now?  I think that I'll grab another cup of coffee and wait for the weekend!


Got plastic pots?

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: September 14, 2011 - 10:36 AM


If you're like most gardeners, you've probably got a lot of plastic pots cluttering up your garage. (I've even got a little stack stashed in the corner of my deck, leftovers from my last frantic planting spree.)



With fall cleanup on the brain, it's tempting to toss all those pots and plastic trays in the trash. Resist the urge. Instead, recycle 'em, at one of 45 garden centers around the state.

The Minnesota Nursery & Landscape Association's garden plastic recycling program, now in its sixth  year, has kept millions of pounds of plastic out of landfills.

More than 30 garden centers have been accepting plastic pots all growing season; this weekend (Sept. 17 and 18), another dozen join the effort.

What can you bring in for recycling? Any size plastic pot that came with trees, shrubs, flowers or other plants you bought at a garden center. You can also bring in those little polystyrene trays that annuals and bedding plants are sold in. But other types of household plastic will NOT be accepted, nor will clay pots.

Wipe excess soil from the pots, and remove any metal hangers.

The participating garden centers receive no payment for the plastic they recycle, according to the MNLA. It's a service they provide free of charge, in an effort to reduce landfill waste.

To see which garden centers are participating in this program, visit





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