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 Soil prep

Plan now for giving later.

Posted by: Helen Yarmoska Updated: April 19, 2012 - 10:23 AM

It’s a busy time of year for gardeners!  As a Hennepin County Master Gardener, I’m involved with a few programs that

require quite of bit of time and planning during April. 


Last year, Cargill Corporation started an employee volunteer program whereby they planted vegetables in a company owned garden then donated their produce to local food shelves.  As a Master Gardener, I assisted in planning, instructions and ‘bug advice.’   

Over 60 volunteers showed up Tuesday (some still in business clothes).  They turned the soil, added compost, marked out their plots and planted cool weather vegetables. In a month or so, they’ll plant tomatoes, peppers and other warm weather crops. 


In all, they hope to donate over 1,500 pounds of vegetables!  (last year they donated 800 pounds)


 Imagine how these fresh vegetables will put smiles on hungry, needy family’s faces! 

It’s not too late if you want to organize a group of friends/co-workers to work together to give.  If you’re not a green thumb, attend a Master Gardening Program at your local library.

As a community garden you’ll need ‘rules’ and ‘assignments’ but if everyone has a good attitude it can be done!  There are hungry people in Minnesota that will benefit from the nutrition and taste of fresh vegetables.  AND, it’s fun to garden with friends. 


What do you think, are you in?

If all else fails, don't follow instructions

Posted by: Martha Buns Updated: April 18, 2012 - 8:32 AM


Non-gardening season was extra short this year, especially for me. My 2011 gardening season ended on a raw December day when most people already had up outdoor holiday decorations in their yard, and I was out in mine attempting to plant garlic.


It was an accident, like many ventures in my gardening career. I had bought garlic at the farmers market in fall, and I set it aside to plant a few weeks after the first killing frost, as instructed. But that was a long time coming, and eventually I tucked it out of sight (and mind) when guests were coming over.

Then in December, my husband asked what had ever happened to the garlic we had bought. Well, shoot. Or no shoots, if I didn't so something. Could it be a case of better late than never? It was definitely past first frost, but sadly well past a hard freeze, and long since I should have put them in the ground. The dirt in the raised bed where I had good intentions to plant the garlic was already frozen solid and singularly resistant to digging. (Oh, we tried.)

Then my husband tried the big pile of dirt leftover from a yet-unfinished project, and it turned out to be more open to shovel work, so we added a layer of soil on top of the raised bed, planted the garlic and put more dirt on top of that. I mulched the bulbs with some leaves held back for future compost, and put down mesh to keep out inquisitive squirrels and bricks to hold down the mesh.

Then I forgot about it until a few weeks ago, when rows of garlic shoots emerged to reward our sheepish December gardening efforts. They weren't the straightest rows I've ever planted, but given the degree of difficulty points, I'll give myself a pass. I don't know what role the mild winter may have played in the garlic's survival, but I'll take it. If it all works out OK, this summer I'll dig out the aioli recipes and this fall I'll put "Plant garlic" on my electronic calendar for early October.

What is the latest you've ever planted? And what garden accidents have worked out well for you?

And if you want to know how to grow garlic properly, rather than improperly like me, the fine folks at the Extension service have all the details:

'Endless' waiting

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: June 29, 2011 - 10:10 AM


"Do you have flowers on your Endless Summers?" That's what a colleague asks me year after year. She sounds wistful at the beginning of the growing season, irritated by the end.


That's because my Endless Summers flower like crazy, and hers rarely boast a bloom. Both of us eagerly ran out and bought the plants after their much-hyped debut in 2004. But while mine have lived up to the hype, delivering pink and violet bursts of color all summer long, hers have been a big disappointment.

"Do you fertilize them?" she asks. Nope. Haven't done it once. "Did you mix in compost before you planted them?" Nope. Didn't do that either. They shouldn't be so happy in my yard, but for some reason, they are.


I know a lot of people are very pleased with the performance of their Endless Summers, but there are some disgruntled gardeners out there as well, who complain that their plants don't bloom much or at all. My mother is one of them, although, to be fair, she says it's probably because deer eat the buds as soon as they form.


I've also heard people complain about the plants' stature, that they don't get as tall as other hydrangeas they're used to. That's probably true; Endless Summers reach a mature height of 2 to 4 feet. That's a big plus in my landscape, where plants tend to overgrow their welcome. The five Endless Summers I planted along the walk in front of the house stay petite and compact and, yes, loaded with blooms. Did I mention that? Don't hate me because I'm beautiful.

I got curious about why Endless Summers perform so well for me but not for everyone. Siting appears to be key. The ideal location receives morning sun and afternoon shade. That's because Endless Summers, like all bigleaf hydrangeas, dislike hot afternoon sun. (My front yard, for what it's worth, does have morning sun and afternoon shade.) 

There's a lot of great information about getting the most from Endless Summer in northern climates at (

In the meantime, what's been your experience with this plant? Has it lived up to the hype? Or are you still waiting, like my colleague? And if your Endless Summers are happy (flowering) campers, what's your secret?




Show us your 'Wow!' gardens

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: May 24, 2011 - 10:19 AM


"I believe gardening is the highest form of art." That's what a gardener, one of the past winners of the Star Tribune's Beautiful Gardens contest, once told me when I was visiting her garden, and it's stuck with me.


She wasn't bragging. She was reflecting on the challenges all gardeners face in their quest for beauty. 

Gardening, like most art forms, takes years to learn and master, she noted. But gardening is, by its nature, ephemeral, she added. One bad storm, one bad winter, and the gardener's careful creation can be dramatically altered or even destroyed.

When I visit winning gardens, I'm always amazed at the many ways gardeners find to create and nurture beauty. Some turn a tiny, postage-stamp city lot into an enchanted oasis. Others work on a bigger canvas, transforming acres of weeds into their own personal arboretum.

Have you experienced a "Wow!" garden? Maybe it's your Mom's. Maybe it's your neighbor's. Maybe it's in your own back yard.

Now is the time to share its beauty with others by nominating it in our annual Beautiful Gardens contest. It's easy to nominate. Just send a brief description of the garden and the gardener who tends it, along with a few photos -- they don't need to be of professional quality. Snapshots are fine. 

The winning gardens and gardeners will be featured in the Star Tribune, in print and online, during the coming months.

So share the beauty -- and help inspire your fellow gardeners! Please e-mail nominations  to: Or mail them to: Beautiful Gardens contest, Star Tribune, 425 Portland Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. The deadline is June 17, 2011.

In the meantime, let's talk about beautiful gardens. What makes a garden special? What's a memorable garden you've experienced? What's the most beautiful thing about your own garden?  



New garden brings many lessons

Posted by: Holly Collier Updated: May 16, 2011 - 9:34 AM


It’s been nearly two years since I discovered the sinkhole. My sewer line had broken, and the excavation and repair left me with an unplanned project  -- a blank slate of a front yard scarred from the heavy equipment that compacted the

heavy clay. I wrote about it then, imagining that I would spend all winter dreaming and ordering perennials from catalogs, ready to grab a shovel as soon as the snow had melted. My high-energy boyfriend and I had cleared out landscape rock and spread topsoil in the fall. I had visions of grandeur by spring.

It didn’t happen that way. 

High-energy boyfriend gave me a ring. We got married, sold his house in an

awful market, and then worked on merging two households into one.

As my husband said goodbye to the beautiful gardens he had worked so hard to build, we started planning our own – together, as a wedding gift. We had visions of grandeur by early last summer.

The rain washed away our best-laid plans. Weekend after stormy weekend.  We didn’t get started in earnest until the weather was blistering hot. We stripped the sod, tilled in soil and amendments and shopped for bargain plants for our project. And we learned a lot along the way. Some lessons, and some photos:

  • Tape measures and graph paper are garden tools.
  • The two-hour minimum on a sod cutter rental is dangerous. My husband sliced up the front yard in 25 minutes in the 90-degree heat and was eyeing the back yard – and offering to take up the neighbors’ lawns, too. (“We have to get our money’s worth,” he said.)
  • Gyms are for people who don’t have lawns. (So said my husband after Day 2 of heaving rain-soaked clumps of sod into a dumpster.)
  • Correcting the grade is more difficult than described on
  • Whoever coined the phrase “dirt cheap” has never ordered triple-screened topsoil.
  • A landscape rake is expensive but invaluable. We learned this a little late in the project.
  • The dirt  in a city boulevard  is only slightly better than the dust in an ashtray, only it’s pocked with chunks of broken asphalt.
  • Front-yard gardens create community. There’s nothing like ripping off your lawn and spreading 12 cubic yards of topsoil and compost to pique the curiosity of neighbors, the UPS driver, the mail carrier and curious passersby. Among the questions: “Are you crazy? It’s dangerously hot outside.”
  • A husband who wears a pith helmet while operating the rental roto-tiller piques neighborhood curiosity AND prompts strange looks.
  • Purple Emperor sedum detests daily rain. We replaced it once after it rotted away. When it disappeared again, we switched our plan to asters and Autumn Fire.
  • A landscape is never finished, even after the mulch is spread. High-energy husband has installed a patio and is dreaming of a pergola fence and climbing roses in the back yard.







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