Greengirls Helen Yarmoska, Nicole Hvidsten, Martha Buns, Connie Nelson and Kim Palmer 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 Weather

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?

What is this mystery flower?

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: June 23, 2014 - 9:39 AM

Gardens always have surprises up their sleeves. Many of those surprises are disappointing, such as perennials that don't come back or plants that refuse to bloom. 

But some surprises are delightful! Like this beautiful bright yellow flower that opened over the weekend.

This plant has been in my garden for at least a dozen years. I remember the day I bought it. I was shopping with my son, now 21, but a little boy at the time. I told him he could pick something out to plant in our garden, and he chose this plant, because he liked the sunny blooms.

I took it home, without even reading the tag, and we plopped it into the garden, where it bloomed for several years, then stopped. My theory was that it no longer got enough sun -- the maple tree we planted nearby is now huge and shades much of the garden.

But this year, it surprised me and burst into flower, with several buds to follow. The maple tree still shades the garden, so apparently this plant loved the polar vortex, or maybe it was the rainy June. 

Anybody recognize this plant? And what mystery survivors have you found in your garden?

The bees know it's wet outside

Posted by: Helen Yarmoska Updated: June 18, 2014 - 8:37 AM


Bees are fascinating!  They are always telling you something, and they are great reactors to the environment.  One of the first years I kept bees, we did not get any honey.  My bee-mentor explained to me, “Helen, you’re a farmer.  The bees react to the weather and your crop is honey.  Bad weather, bad crop.”  What wonderful words of wisdom Bob bestowed on me that day.


This past week, the bees were definitely reacting to the environment!  This photo shows seven queen cells on one side of a frame.  To explain how they are telling us something, let me first do a little Queen 101.

There is only one Queen per hive.  Each hive holds about 40,000 – 60,000 bees.  The majority of those bees are undeveloped female workers.  The hive communicates through pheromones (scent).  If the workers sense the Queen is not doing her job (not laying eggs fast enough).  Or if they don’t like where they are living right now, then they will make another queen.  

They do that by taking an egg that would normally develop into another worker bee, feed it royal jelly, and create a larger cell for the larvae to develop.  The cells are those long hanging things you see at the bottom of the frame in the photograph.  Royal jelly is super concentrated pollen and nectar.  Worker bees have a honey gut (a place to store honey and nectar inside their abdomen).  The nurse bees (they take care of the baby-larvae) concentrate the nectar and pollen by passing it back and forth between nurse bees.  This concentrates everything good and nutritious for the bees.  

Developing a queen is not easy.  They need to really work at it.  Besides becoming fully mature and able to lay eggs, another major difference between a queen and a worker is that the queen’s stinger is not barbed.  A worker bee, should it use it’s stinger, will die because like a fish hook, the stinger stays with the victim.  A queen, however has a stinger closer to a wasp.  No barb, so multiple stings are an option.

Should one of these queen cells develop and a new queen hatches; she finds each of the other queen cells and stings through the cell to gain victory.  Simultaneously, worker bees are touching her and passing her pheromone on to others.  The current Queen-in-standing realizes there is another queen in her presence.  Her subjects ‘tell’ her it’s time to leave (they have known this for some time and sent scouts out to find a new home).  So she and several thousand bees leave the hive to the new queen and her new subjects.

That story tells us that the bees right now in our hive are not happy.  Could it be that they are tired of the rain and want to go back to California?  Or do they feel the hillside is a little too drafty?  Or are they mad we took away the sugar water a couple weeks ago?  That we don’t know -- if only we had smellivision.

Soddenly, it's summer in the garden

Posted by: Martha Buns Updated: June 17, 2014 - 9:10 AM

If this keeps up, we might wind up with that water feature I've always wanted. The heavy rains are starting to form a spontaneous creek through the back yard, rearranging the mulch as it carves out a channel.

The rainfall in the gauge this morning was shy of half an inch, which in some summers would count as much-needed relief from a dry spell, but in the current stretch counts as a nearly dry day.

We've been luckier than some nearby: we have no downed trees, flattened peonies, dropped power lines or standing water in our yard. There's a mini lake in the low spot in the alley behind our garage, but the birds are having a field day with the impromptu bird bath.

My only real beef with all this rain is that it's creating a garden vs. gardener speed mismatch. I tried dodging rain storms and insistent mosquitoes this past weekend to harvest greens and curb the weeds, but I'm clearly losing ground. The copious rains that have produced rain-forest lushness in my hosta bed have triggered equal or greater growth among the weeds, and brought out slugs to boot. It's also slowing up some last-minute planting, since I try to avoid planting in mud and even my well-drained hilltop location is mushy.

On the plus side, the rain barrel is as full as the leak part-way up will let it get. (Note to self: Try to seal that after we drain it this fall.)

How is your garden holding up through all these storms? Is it time to bring back moats as a landscaping feature?

The 'reluctant spring'

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: May 19, 2014 - 10:43 AM

Patience has never been a virtue of mine, and this spring is testing every shred I have. The perennials are poky. My peonies are still just small stalks, with no buds in sight. My hydrangeas have a few new leaves emerging, but so far, they're tiny and tentative.  

My junipers, usually a reliable source of evergreen color, are instead brown and crispy. I can tell the plants are alive -- there are areas with green needles -- but they're patchy and parched-looking, so ugly that I was itching to take the clippers to them and prune out the brown sections.  

I resisted the urge, on the advice of Jeffrey Johnson, woody plant specialist for the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. "It's been a long winter, and people are frustrated," he says. "Landscape plants took a beating, and there's a lot of pent-up gardening energy." But even at the Arb, where there's pressure to get gardens looking good as quickly as possible, there's been very little pruning of brown evergreens.

"We're still taking a wait-and-see approach," he says. "This has been a very reluctant spring, and it's very difficult to tell where dieback stop and healthy starts. Even through the foliage is brown, there could be live tissue."

"The best thing to do for evergreens might be nothing at all," agrees Mark Stennes, a St. Paul arborist and plant pathologist. Cool wet weather like today's should help.

By next week, gardeners should have a much better picture of what they can safely prune, according to Johnson and Stennis. Look for new candles forming on the plants. "If you've got new candles coming in, you're fine," Stennes said. "If you don't see any buds swelling, it's toast."

In the meantime, try to ignore those ugly brown needles just a little longer.


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