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 Perennials

Endless winter vs. Endless Summer

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: July 14, 2014 - 11:04 AM

Now that it's midsummer, it's pretty clear what is and isn't going to deliver this growing season. Are some reliable blooms missing in action? Specifically, Endless Summers, the hardy hydrangeas? 

Apparently there are enough no-shows this year that Bailey Nurseries issued a press release last week. Chalk up another one to the Polar Vortex. The unusually harsh winter of 2013/14 resulted in many healthy-looking plants that have chosen not to bloom this year. They need a year of growing "in a vegetative state" to recover from the damage they suffered, according to Bailey.

You might think that Endless Summers planted near your house would have a more sheltered microclimate than those planted farther away. But actually the opposite is true, according to Bailey's release. Plants closer to houses were subjected to a more damaging freeze-thaw cycle. 

That's apparently the case at my house. I have five Endless Summers, all of which have bloomed reliably since I planted them several years ago. This year, the one closest to the house is big and green but with  nary a hint of a flower bud. The other four are blooming, although sporting fewer blooms than usual.

Is there anything we can do to coax flowers at this point? Probably not, according to Bailey. Resist the urge to fertilize, which just risks burning and damaging the roots. Just wait. And pray for a milder winter next year. 

If you have Endless Summer plants, are you seeing fewer blooms than usual this year?

Lilies take center stage

Posted by: Lynn Underwood Updated: July 10, 2014 - 2:42 PM

Lily or not?
Many plants have “lily” in their name, but aren’t true lilies. Pick the real lily:
1. Daylily
2. Lily-of-the-valley
3. Asiatic lily
4. Calla lily

Lily fanatics will know the answer. Asiatic lilies are true lilies because they are members of the genus Lilium and have special characteristics such as scaly bulbs. The Tiger lily and Easter lily are also true lilies.

This graceful, easy-to-grow plant is hands-down the glam flower of the summer garden. What other perennial gives bursts of color (pure-white to deep red) from mid-June to August? And has super long stems, making it the Cadillac of cutting flowers? Ther's so many hybrids for gardeners to choose from - trumpet, oriental, martagon, Asiatic and Orienpet are the most popular.

This weekend, lilies will be adored, coveted and appreciated at the local North Star Lily Society’s show and convention from July 11-13 at the Hilton Airport/Mall of American Hotel in Bloomington. Lily Hall is free and open to the public with displays of hundreds of stems from Canada to southern U.S..There's also lily photographs, floral design ideas and lily vendors. See the latest hybrid seedlings developed by creative lily growers. Seminars, bus tour of area lily gardens, and other events are available for a fee; registration required. For more details, go to www.allstarlilies.org.

Are you a lily lover? Which ones are your faves?

Conquering bugaboo plants

Posted by: Martha Buns Updated: July 8, 2014 - 9:40 AM

The maxim "If at first you don't suceed, try, try again" could just as well have been coined for gardeners. Each year is a chance to finally "get it right," to achieve our goals, big or small.

This year's nominee in the elusive success quest category: Hollyhocks. You know, those ubiquitous cottage garden plants that ringed every grandma's garage or stood at the back of the border just inside the picket fence. Seemingly everyone can grow them. Except me.

My on-and-off attempts to grow them date back to my very first gardening forays, when my mother let me have a few unclaimed patches of the yard and garden to try out some seeds. It was not a universal success, to say the least. The carnations fell victim to my zealous grandfather with a mower. The pumpkins grew really, really big, but crept lawlessly into the laneway to a field, where they got ruthlessly smashed by those enormous back wheels of a tractor. The hollyhock seedlings? They got a piece of machinery parked on top of them.

When I first got my own garden, I tried again, thinking a row of hollyhocks along the border by the garage would look peachy. But they looked more peaked than peachy, and no blooms materialized, and they didn't revive the following year. So I let a few more years go by and tried again, with no better results, despite the seemingly appropriate growing conditions. Hollyhock mallow, a free-spirited self-sower, is no problem to grow, but the spiky biennials, not so much for me.

I've had other bugaboo plants that I couldn't seem to grow over the years that I've finally managed to conquer. Delphinums eluded me, but for a few years now, mine have been proudly waving in the breeze at the back of the border, so I'm cautiously declaring success.

So after years of driving by abandoned farm houses where hollyhocks still stand stalwart, I thought it was time to try once more with one of my longest-running bugaboos. To give myself a leg up, I bought plants rather than starting from seed, which may be cheating, but you know who prospers. And I've got watering lines running past them to help keep the soil moist.So far they're at least growing; still waiting on flower buds.

How about you? Do you have bugaboo plants that you just can't seem to grow? Are there some you've mastered, and did you change your approach to get them to grow?

If this works, I might try carnations from seed again. But I don't think I'll ever have room for pumpkins.

The photo? That's clearly not from my garden, at least not yet. credit: Star Tribune file

Nipped in the bud

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: July 7, 2014 - 10:16 AM

At last! After a string of warm, sunny days, gardens are finally in full flower. I love wandering outside before and after work every day to see which buds have opened. 

My clematis is in glorious red-purple bloom, with more flowers to come. The ligularia and delphinium are about to burst forth, adding golden yellow and brilliant blue to the garden palette.

There are a few red roses in bloom, as well as Endless Summer hydrangeas. Usually mine bloom bright pink, but after treatment last year with the "Color Me Blue" color kit,

they're showing hints of lavender and periwinkle amidst the pink.

But there are definitely some disappointments in the bloom department.

My black-eyed Susans have been putting up big, juicy buds for weeks, but so far, I've seen only one flower. Every morning when I go outside to check on my garden, I find nipped-off stems where the best buds were the night before. Clearly deer are visiting my garden overnight and helping themselves to the juiciest-looking flower buds.

My balloon flowers are suffering the same fate. I've had easily 50-plus buds, but not one bloom so far, thanks to the deer, who leave gnawed-off stems to taunt me. 

It's time to buy some Irish Spring soap, haul out the potato peeler and see if a few shavings in the garden will deter the deer from munching. I had modest success with that remedy last year, although nothing I've tried keeps the deer away completely.

Are you seeing more deer damage than usual this year in your garden? And what, if anything, are you doing about it?

Getting your garden through vacation

Posted by: Martha Buns Updated: July 1, 2014 - 6:57 AM

Welcome home. That’s the message I got from the garden when we got back from vacation last week. We were only gone five days, but what a change five summer days can make.

When we’d left, the peonies had given up and hardly any other blooms were in action. But a burst of heat and some (more) rainfall have opened up the clematis buds and yielded a riot of delphinium, astilbe, coneflower and malva. The pea plants have gone from mere stubs to vines serious about business. And what had been teensy would-be tomatoes are nice dark green hopefuls.

The watering system we’d rigged up in our absence mostly worked, except one plant that a kind neighbor took pity on, so we didn’t come back to dead plants. We put pots inside the raised beds so they'd get the benefit of the timed water lines, which looks funny, but it's effective.

Really, nothing makes me value the garden more than coming home to it after time away. Except did I mention what the weeds did in five days? Eeek.

What have these prolific rains wrought in your garden? And what’s your strategy for getting your garden through vacation?

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