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.
I remember all the hoopla when Endless Summer hydrangeas made their big debut in 2004. Our local Bailey Nurseries developed this show-stopping beauty that everyone was talking about. It was the first repeat flowering big-leaf hydrangea and would even flourish in northern climates. Word spread that we could have big blossoms from July to early September.
How could I resist?
I bought two from a local garden center and planted them in a primo sunny spot right in front of the house. Summer after summer, the two bushes sprouted soccer ball-sized clusters of pink flowers. Okay - I’m exaggerating - but they sure were showy. Mine were pink because I had alkaline soil. Acidic soil produces blue hydrangeas. One August, my hydrangea blossoms decorated each table at my niece’s baby shower
But after five magnificent seasons, my Endless Summers gradually quit sprouting endless blossoms. Each summer, the number of cauliflower-shaped buds would dwindle.
So I followed some of the tips for “Blooming Success” from the Endless Summer website. I applied 10-30-10 fertilizer a couple of times in the spring. I was really careful not to cut dried stems to the ground until all the new foliage came in since Endless Summers bloom on old and new growth. I covered the base with mulch in the fall and didn’t remove it until May.
But nothing seemed to work. The buds were down to zero. What had changed over the past few years? Then I figured it out. Although this hydrangea can thrive in partial shade, it needs at least six hours of sun a day to produce flowers. I had planted a nearby Linden tree 20 years ago. That tree was now 25 feet tall. Each summer, less nourishing sunlight was filtering through its branches to the hydrangeas.
Once again, my Endless Summers’ foliage looks so green and lush - but there’s not one sign of even one tiny bud. So I’ve gone from perplexed to acceptance. I’ll never have the soccer ball -sized pink flowers ever again. Unless I climb a very tall ladder and cut off a bunch of thick branches from the Linden tree. And that’s not happening.
Do you have shrubs or perennials that one time produced a riot of flowers but have inexplicably stopped?
Did you move it to a new location and have better luck?
I didn’t see it coming. There were no signs of stress, no previous scares. But this spring, after at least 19 years of reliable existence, a shrub in front of the house just didn’t make it through the long winter.
It’s not as if I had massive die-off from this year’s winter vortex. Even a Zone 5 plant I gambled on a few years ago is back and raring to go. But the shrub that had been a chore to try to rein in, that turned the sun room into anything but sunny, this year just took a dive and didn’t revive.
I can't accuse myself of overpruning it, because I didn't get around to pruning it at all last year. It has a few signs of winter damage, since our yard is apparently perfect rabbitat, but nothing like the rhododendron that’s still going OK, even if lopped off near the ground. Certainly the damage doesn’t look like anything enough to take down the entire bush. But after several laissez faire weeks of waiting to see if it was just a slow starter, it’s clearly just a bunch of brittle twigs.
Maybe there’s something more systemic going on, since a bush several shrubs down is also only partly reviving. Maybe there’s another pest I’m not detecting, although that shrub is coming back from the roots quite nicely.
At any rate, I’m now in the market for a new shrub. (Oh, rats. An excuse to go shopping.) Any suggestions for a front-of the-house landscaping bush? It’s going into a spot in between a variegated dogwood and a ninebark, just down from a hydrangea. What have you had good luck with? And has anyone else run into a no-show after years of reliable performance?
Or I could be insane and try to dig up the overgrown weigela that's likely to have to come out to reconstruct our porch and attempt to transplant it. Hmm.
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?
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?
The woman on the hunt for hosta looked familiar. It was Betsy, my former neighbor. I hadn't seen her since the Greengirls plant swap two years ago, and before that for at least a decade.
It was great to catch up with her, trade notes -- and point out people who had hosta to swap.
That's what's fun about a plant swap, as opposed to browsing for plants at a garden center or even the farmer's market. There's more personal interaction as swappers make the rounds, check out what's available, then circle back to make a trade.
"Where's Helen?" asked a gardener tempted by the seedling tomatoes she spotted in a swapper's labeled stash.
"Who has horseradish?" another swapper asked. "Anyone seen any?"
Swaps bring out interesting people. I met seasoned green thumbs, like the woman who was turning her urban corner lot into a pollinator garden. I met enthusuastic rookies, like the guy who didn't know what plants he was bringing home and didn't care -- he just wanted to start his first garden.
One woman arrived very late, as the swap was winding down and the Greengirls (the Star Tribune's garden bloggers) were gathering up the leftover plants that hadn't found a home. Many of the orphan plants were a bit bedraggled, but the woman was happy to have them -- she tends a garden at a school with disabled children and needs all the plants she can get, she said.
If you didn't make it down to this year's swap, come join us next year. You'll find great plants and great people -- maybe even a familiar face, like a long-lost neighbor.
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