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.
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?
There's an almost-ripe, red tomato about a day away from being ready for my dinner table.
It seems like tomatoes are taking longer than usual to ripen this growing season. Many on my biggest plants have been big but hard and green for weeks. My smaller plants are still a long way from producing edible tomatoes.
I can't help being nostalgic for the weird, crazy growing season of 2010, when I spotted my first green tomato on May 24 and plucked two ripe ones for eating in late June.
This year appears much more typical, with tomatoes starting to ripen in mid-July. (For a calendar of what edibles ripen when in Minnesota, go to: http://www.pickyourown.org/MNharvestcalendar.htm)
Will it be a good year for tomatoes? Or not? So far, I can't tell. My plants look mostly healthy so far, although there are spots on a few leaves, which could hint at end rot to come.
What's going on with your tomatoes this year?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or to "Beautiful Gardens Contest," Star Tribune, 425 Portland Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488.
Massive trees toppled by the roots blocked motorists' paths, smashed cars and wedged precariously over houses. Prolonged power outages and massive downpours made recovery that much worse. For us, that was 1998, when this picture was taken, and the recent double-whammy of storms seemed all too familiar when we woke up Saturday and tried to navigate through South Minneapolis, supremely grateful that this time it wasn't us dealing with cleanup, and feeling great empathy for residents walking the streets to take in the transformed landscape, bearing the dazed look we knew quite well.
As rain and tree branches lashed at the window, we heard a terrific crash, a massive boom and were plunged into darkness when the power went out. With a large tree draped over the power lines in the alley, it was no wonder. (That power outage lasted three days and we had a houseful of weekend guests at the time, so as a hostess, it was memorable.)
We could see the damage more clearly in the light of day. Thankfully, the neighbor's tree had toppled away from their home, just crunching one small corner of their garage roof before smashing through our back fence and blocking the alley. No one was hurt, the damage was comparatively not pricey to repair, and I could truthfully assure the neighbors that I'd never particularly liked that fence. Like many residents this weekend, we got to make friends with neighbors with chainsaws. Professionals eventually took care of the large trunk in the back yard, managing the astounding feat of removing the tree without hitting our porch or garage, and amazingly, sparing our lilac trees that the fallen tree was straddling.
The major cleanup was over in less than a week, as I recall, but as a gardener, it took a little longer to adjust and smooth out the crater created by the tree. We took down what was left of the old fence, and eventually built a new open fence with built-in trellises that let us see the back-yard alley garden from the porch. With the neighbor's tree gone, it opened up new prospects for sun-loving vegetables. But it took us a few years to finally relocate all the shade lovers that were now baked by the sun and plant more suitable replacements.
So 15 years later, I'd have to admit there were silver linings to that storm. It forced us to transform our back yard for the better, with a fence that lets in more light and air for the plants, and sunny place for us to put in raised beds and paths around them. It's not the way you want urban renewal to happen, and I mourn the cooling shade of the trees we've lost over the years, but part of gardening is continuing to adjust to each new opportunity, even when it comes in the form of a calamity.
We knew at the time that we were very lucky to have the tree fall where it did, and were reminded of that again yesterday. For all those out there struggling to clean up the mess and live without power, you have my profound sympathy, and I hope that at some point, your stories will have a silver lining, too.
What's the damage like in your gardens?
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 (http://sunnyside-gardens.com) 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 (http://uncommongardens.com) 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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