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 Trees

What's a gardener to do after a hailstorm?

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: August 7, 2013 - 10:55 AM


It wasn't on my bucket list, but I now have firsthand experience with golf-ball-sized hail. I've seen and heard it crashing, held it in my hand -- and witnessed the carnage it can wreak in a garden.


I live in Eden Prairie, where the hail started hammering my house and landscape not long after I got home from work. My husband, who had just left to run an errand, called me with an urgent plea to get the other car into the garage.

I ran outside, ice balls painfully pelting my head and shoulders, and got the car under cover. Back inside, I watched my deck as ice balls and pellets piled up, turning the deck surface as white as a snowstorm. I could see my plants whipping in the wind and driving rain. Two containers blew completely over. 


After about 10 minutes, the icy onslaught subsided into softer rain, and I went out to inspect the damage. Wow! At least a dozen tomatoes, in various stages of ripening, were sheared off the plants, sometimes stalk and all. 


My giant black elephant ear -- my big splurge of the season -- had lost half its foliage, and what remained was punched so full of holes that the leaves looked like crocheted doilies. My canna were shredded to ribbons. My beets were submerged under a couple inches of standing water. (Apparently the drainage holes I had punched in that big pot were no match for the downpour.)

So much for homegrown tomatoes this year. There are only a few left on the plants, and they're pitted and pocked.

I'll still try to over-winter the elephant ear, but its days as the dramatic focal point of my outdoor "room" are over.


I haven't done a complete inventory of my back-yard garden yet, but I know it's not going to be pretty. 


What's a gardener to do after a hailstorm wipes out a growing season's worth of growth? 

Here's what plant experts have to say:

Trees and shrubs: These should probably be your first priority. Broken, dangling branches need to be cut off cleanly. Also remove limbs with severe gouges and tears. (Less-serious wounds will probably heal naturally).

Perennials: Damaged plants also need trimming. Unfortunately, the timing of this storm was not good for gardeners. Late-summer hail damage creates problems for plants because some will struggle to produce a new set of leaves, with limited success this late in the season. Damaged plants will be weakened and under stress, making them more susceptible to disease, pests and death. Plants that do sprount new leaves won't have time to harden off before fall, making them more vulnerable to winter kill. You can improve plants' chances by inspecting frequently for signs of pests or disease -- and treating problems promptly. Extra mulch can help protect damaged plants during the winter.

Vegetables: Remove damaged veggies and leaves. It's too late to try planting new tomatoes to replace ones you lost. Better luck next year. Root crops, such as radishes and beets, should survive as long as their tops aren't too badly damaged.

Annuals: These tend to recuperate quickly. Trim them back, fertilize them lightly and give them extra water for a days to promote new growth.

And next spring, when you're surveying those holes in your garden left by hail-damaged plants that died over the winter, consider replacing them with native plants. Because they've adapted to local growing conditions, they're better able to withstand being pelted with hail.

How did your garden hold up last night? 

Help your favorite garden look like a winner!

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: July 2, 2013 - 10:08 AM


It's Beautiful Gardens season -- the time of year when Home + Garden invites readers to share their favorite gardens and enter them in our annual Beautiful Gardens contest. We're currently taking nominations, and we'll select a handful of winners to feature in upcoming sections and online at

during the coming months.


So if you know of a great garden -- including your own -- that you're thinking of nominating this year, here are a couple of suggestions:

PHOTOS: We ask for them to be included with each entry, and there's a reason. We don't need many, and they don't have to be of professional quality. A couple of snapshots will do. But we do need something visual. With 100-plus entries, we just don't have the staff to preview every garden. The judging panel carefully reviews submitted photos to determine the winners, which are then visited in-person by a reporter and photographer. So if you just tell us, "Hey, my friend has a great garden -- you should check it out," your favorite garden won't really be in the running.

PERSPECTIVE: Close-up photos are great! But we also need at least one back-off shot that gives us a broader sense of the garden, and how elements work together. If your nomination includes close-up photos only, we can see that your gardener knows how to grow healthy hostas or stunning roses, but we can't see or evaluate the garden as a whole.

SIZE: There are a LOT of ways to share photos electronically these days, and some of them are more effective than others. If your preferred photo-sharing tool results in teeny-tiny photos the size of postage stamps, keep in mind that a team of judges will be squeezed around a computer terminal squinting at them and trying to figure out what's going on in the photo. This puts your garden at a bit of a disadvantage, because larger photos inevitably have more impact than microscopic ones. The photos don't have to be huge. Just big enough to see. If you can't figure out a way to send expanded photos electronically, there's always snail mail.

TIMING: Spring flowers are beautiful, and every year we receive at least a few nominations for gardens that put spring blooms in a starring role. But if that's ALL we can see in the photos, or ALL that's described in the nomination, that garden is not likely to be a winner, no matter how beautiful it is in spring. That's because we'll be choosing the winners in late July, and taking photos in early August, when the peonies and iris and other spring flowers are spent. If the garden has summer-long beauty, in addition to its spring blooms, please make sure to include that.

So please keep those Beautiful Gardens coming! We're taking nominations through July 12. Send them to, or to "Beautiful Gardens Contest," Star Tribune, 425 Portland Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488.



Look out for your trees

Posted by: Mary Jane Smetanka Updated: July 1, 2013 - 10:42 AM

At least once a week for more than 20 years, I’ve walked past a row of five or six identical boulevard trees in Minneapolis’ Longfellow neighborhood. I guess I never really bothered to look up, since I so busy managing what the dogs were doing below.
Two or three weeks ago we rounded the corner on our walk only to come face-to-face with a road blocked by orange street barriers. There lay one of the big trees. There had been a short, windy storm the night before, and the trunk had snapped off about four feet from ground level. The linden tree fell the only direction it could without damaging property, landing smack in the middle of the intersection.
I stopped to look at the splintered trunk. This is what I saw:

The lesson: we look, but we do not see.
The remaining trunk shows the classic signs of a stressed tree. Fungi growing is a sign of internal decay. The many holes on the bark indicate woodpeckers were feeding on insects, possibly linden borers that feed in the lowest part of the trunk.
I have no excuses for not paying attention. As a Master Gardener, I’m supposed to be observant. I’ve taken tree classes at the U of M . Yet in a city like Minneapolis, where trees are everywhere, many of us simply don’t pay attention. We plant trees too deep, don’t water them during drought, gash bark with lawn mowers and slice trunks with string trimmers. We allow fly-by-night tree trimmers to “top” trees instead of prune them. As trees age or sicken, we ignore the messages that fallen branches and dead wood high in canopies send us.
Here’s some of what I saw on walks around the neighborhood this weekend:



Our most recent storm was a wake-up call. While a lot of the tree damage in that storm was due not to neglect but to sodden ground and freakish bursts of high wind, it was a reminder to pay attention to our trees and to care of them. If you hire someone to examine a tree, make sure it’s a licensed arborist who knows their stuff.
On my walk last Friday, I ended up on that block of linden again. The fallen tree I’d seen before had been reduced to a stump. But one of its siblings had come down in the big storm. Like the other tree, it had snapped off several feet above the ground, and the remaining stump had mushrooms growing on the trunk and holes in the bark.
Here’s a pretty good briefing on hazard trees, some of it written by Gary Johnson of the U of  M:

And here's another useful site:

When a tree becomes an enemy

Posted by: Mary Jane Smetanka Updated: June 24, 2013 - 10:31 AM

I love the silver maple in my back yard. Or perhaps I should say, I have loved it.
It is the defining feature in my yard, a stately giant whose sheer size inspires awe among visitors. The base of the trunk is at least four feet across, and the canopy looms over my house and the neighbor’s house. The arborist who takes a look at the tree every few years once told me that the only bigger silver maple he’d seen was in a Minneapolis park.
It was healthy, too. Not that it made much difference on Friday night.
When the wind zoomed into high gear and the power flickered I was in the upstairs bedroom , retrieving a weather radio. The world outside the windows turned white with rain, the wind howled and there was an ominous thump on the roof. The house shook. There was a wrenching sound outside and a deafening crash. I scurried down the stairs in the dark, heart pounding.
Later, when I looked out the window, I thought the entire tree had fallen. In reality, only two very large branches fell. They ripped part of a new second-floor balcony off the side of the house, crushed a corner of the porch roof, dented the air conditioner, put a hole in the deck and tore the electric service wire from the house.
But I was lucky, and unnerved by what could have happened. The garage and fence were just feet away from the tree and were miraculously untouched. The neighbor’s house was undamaged.

After living with this giant for 25 years I think our bargain -- you give me shade and beauty, I give you plenty of water and the expert care of a watchful arborist -- is over. I know the winds on Friday night were a freakish event, but they seem to be occurring more often. I’m not sure I can live with this tree in my yard anymore. On Saturday night, when more storms were forecast, I slept on the first floor on a cot.
Silver maples aren’t planted in residential areas anymore, for good reason. They are shallow-rooted, grow like weeds and their wood is notoriously brittle. Now I realize what a hazard my tree can be, in the right conditions.
Since Friday, I have moved from mourning the loss of my tree to being resigned to cutting it down. The back yard will be a sunny desert, but perhaps I will be able to grow vegetables in the back yard again. Gardens and yards evolve, and for me it’s time to move on.

Rainy-day deals?

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: June 14, 2013 - 11:04 AM


Another weekend, another thunderstorm. The gardening season got off to a very soggy start last month when the GreenGirls annual plant swap was conducted under a downpour -- and a plastic tarp!

And the weekend rain has just kept on coming. But if it rains again tomorrow morning as forecasted, there might be a silver lining. Your local garden center might offer you a good deal on that shrub or flat of annuals you need to fill the holes in your garden. 

Sunnyside Gardens in Minneapolis (  has responded to the late and soggy spring with some short-term sales and specials -- such as $10 off a purchase of $25 or more -- so that a rainy day doesn't turn into a total wash-out, says owner Mike Hurley.

Garden centers want you buying now, before your enthusiasm for this year's garden season has been completely dampened. "The theory in our industry is that a late spring pushes into summer and produces pent-up demand," Hurley says. But weekend weather makes a big difference. "Now the kids are out of school, people are going to the lake on weekends, and pretty soon, it's the 4th of July," he says. "The casual gardeners lose interest."

Uncommon Gardens in Minneapolis ( has been offering Happy Hour Wednesdays, a two-hour special event (5:30-7:30 p.m.) with discounts of 40 percent, plus snacks and beverages. "We started that last year -- you have to be nimble," says owner Peggy Poore.

"People are a little behind this year, but it's not  too late to plant. The plants have kept growing -- they're bigger now [than they were in May]. And the rain has made keeping the plants looking good a little easier," she says.

The wet spring is following a killer winter, plant-wise, which means gardeners have had to replace more plants than usual, Poore says. "People lost a lot of trees and shrubs. It was just brutal. We're selling more of those."

Gardeners also seem more comfortable spending money on their gardens this year, she says. "People are a little more confident about the economy, and they want to do stuff." 

And wet weather has boosted demand for one product in a big way: "Rain barrels are selling like mad."

How about you? Are you gardening on a smaller scale this year -- because of the weather?   



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