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

That dreaded chore

Posted by: Mary Jane Smetanka Updated: June 26, 2012 - 10:10 AM

I worked in the yard almost all weekend. I spent hours digging up a garden that had grass in it, trying to untangle the threads of grass roots from among the perennials. I moved heavy rocks. I dug up dozens of plants of that garden Satan, creeping bellflower.
All the while, The Most Dreaded Job lurked: trimming the grass.
It’s silly, I know. I will happily mow the lawn and weed the garden for hours, but the mindless job of pulling out the weed whip stymies me.
I don’t know why I hate it so much. It’s not like when I was a kid and had to kneel on the grass with a hand clipper. The new trimmers don’t even need their cutting lines “bumped,” like my old one did. This machine simply churns away, efficiently slicing the grass away and sending the clippings flying.
So after I mowed, I pulled out the weed whip. For half an hour it sliced and diced. My legs were covered with bits of grass and dirt but I have to admit: the yard looked much better.
I don’t care. I still don’t like it.
Do you have a dreaded chore in the garden?

Weeds: Offense or defense?

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: June 25, 2012 - 11:00 AM


Weeding isn't the WORST garden chore in the world. It's satisfying to grab a fistul of weed and feel the roots give way -- plus you get the instant gratification of seeing a cleaner, tidier garden.

Grab and pull, grab and pull. Once you get into the rhythm, it's oddly therapeutic.

But after two hours of grabbing and pulling under the hot sun yesterday afternoon, I've had quite enough weed therapy, thank you very much.

The patches I weeded look pretty good, but there are others I never made it to. And the patches I weeded two weeks ago need weeding again, thanks to all our recent rain.

I've been playing defense against weeds. It's time for a stronger offense, I decided. Not chemicals. My garden needs to become naturally less weed-friendly.

So here's my action plan:

Step 1: More perennials, planted more densely. Landscape designer Jamie Durie, who was in town earlier this month, is a fan of this method. "I don't endorse bald spots," he said. "I plant abundantly. I don't even give weeds room to pop up." (

I need more big, hardy perennials like bee balm and ligularia and cardinal flower, that come up reliably and take up a lot of garden space.  

Step 2: Mulch. This one will be a little more tricky to execute, at least in my yard. My biggest weed headache is the area covered with river rock in the front. Whoever installed my landscape, about 20 years ago, apparently laid plastic, then put dirt and the rocks on top. It looked good when we moved in 16 years ago, but every year, more weeds sprout between the rocks. This year, there was more green than gray.  

I'd love to replace the rocks with a thick layer of wood mulch. But removing all those rocks will be such a nightmare that I'm tempted to just put the mulch on top. Anyone out there ever tried that? Or should I resign myself to a weekend of rock removal?





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?




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