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 Weather

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.

Baby, it's cold outside

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: May 12, 2014 - 10:50 AM

Oh, Minnesota. You definitely keep things interesting, from a gardener's perspective. Especially in spring.

Just two years ago, it was so hot and balmy in early April that experts had to caution us to resist the temptation to put hot-weather crops like tomatoes into the ground prematurely.

This week, we're looking at a weather forecast with a couple of dips down into the 30s. It'll feel "more like October than May," as meteorologist Paul Douglas noted.

So where does that leave us, in terms of spring planting? The old rule of thumb used to be to wait until Memorial Day. But in recent years, Mother's Day has become sort of the unofficial kick-off to the gardening season.

This year, the old model is probably the safest model, at least for certain plants.

Cold-hardy plants can handle a nippy spring. Cool-weather veggie crops like broccoli and cabbage thrive on it. But it's definitely too soon to plant tomatoes and peppers. If you've already bought those plants or grown them from seed, keep them inside a while longer. It's best to wait until the soil temperature reaches 50 degrees before putting them in the ground.

Tropicals and houseplants that you want to bring outside for the season also should stay indoors a while longer -- until there's nothing lower than 50 in the forecast.

What have you planted so far? And what are you still sheltering indoors?

Grow, already!

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: April 28, 2014 - 10:33 AM

Greetings, fellow gardeners! Welcome to Minnesota growing season 2014, our long-awaited reward for enduring the winter from you-know-what.

Saturday was inventory day in my garden. I walked from bed to bed, front to back, peering at the earth to see what was coming up. Things are clearly off to a very slow, late start, despite balmy summer-like temperatures on Easter Sunday. My peonies are mere nubs, like rosy pinky fingers poking their way through the dirt. My sedums, delphiniums and ligularia made it through the winter, sprouting tiny, but healthy-looking new foliage.

Other perennials -- hydrangeas and black-eyed Susans -- are still slumbering below the surface, but I have faith they'll make their presence known soon.

Plant experts I've talked to this spring don't expect heavy garden casualties, despite all the subzero temperatures we experienced during the winter months. That's because the garden gods blessed us with a thick and relatively early blanket of snow, Mother Nature's insulation. 

Minnesota-hardy plants should do just fine this growing season, although gardeners who experimented with borderline plants can expect to see some dieback.

If you have evergreens that are looking dry, brown and crispy, don't despair -- and don't prune just yet, caution tree experts. The condition is called winter burn, and there's a lot of it this spring. "We're seeing quite a bit of damage," says Jeffrey Johnson, woody plant specialist for the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. "Pines, in particular, took it hard, and also some of the spruce."

Brown needles won't rehydrate and turn soft and green, but new growth may still fill in. "Let spring do its thing," says Josh Plunkett, nursery inspector with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and co-author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Trees and Shrubs."

So keep those pruning shears in the shed, for now, and concentrate on other garden tasks.

What's going on in your garden? Are plants coming up later than usual? 

Harvest envy

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: September 24, 2013 - 10:48 AM

I've seen some truly amazing edible gardens in the last month.  

One was a formal vegetable garden in St. Paul, one of this year's Beautiful Gardens winners, that's as productive as it is beautiful. Gardener Eileen Troxel especially loves growing heirloom tomatoes for her favorite recipe, a delicious-looking tomato tart that she serves to guests at her outdoor dinner parties. (You can see and read about her garden in Variety Home + Garden on Oct. 23).

Then there's the "Edible Estate" in Woodbury, where an artist and crew tore up the front lawn Memorial Day weekend and replaced it with more than 100 different edible crops. I made my final visit of the season recently, and was blown away by how much it's producing. Even after sharing with most of their neighborhood, the Schoenherr family has more food than they know what to do with. They're making pestos and salsas, canning sauces and figuring out new recipes for eggplant and Brussels sprouts. They're even growing artichokes! (Their landscape will be featured in Home + Garden on Oct. 2.)

Seeing all this bounty in other people's gardens makes me painfully aware of how little my pitiful garden actually produces. Mother Nature didn't do me any favors this year, pelting my garden with golf-ball-size hail in August, which pretty much wiped out my tomatoes. That wasn't my fault.

But the sad beets definitely are my fault. I'm not sure what I did wrong this year -- maybe I didn't thin them aggressively enough -- but my yield will be very small, and the beets themselves are only about the size of quarters. I may get one salad out of the whole crop.

I harvested some decent lettuce early in the season, and my basil and mint production have been fantastic. (Although, as one garden author noted to me earlier this year, "If you can't grow mint, you truly are a terrible gardener.") 

All in all, not a banner year in the garden for moi, but I'm already resolved to do better next year. What are you eating out of your garden these days? And what are you going to do different next year? 

I'm now a Pruning Advocate.

Posted by: Helen Yarmoska Updated: September 18, 2013 - 9:18 AM

After this week, I’m a firm believer in pruning your apple tree!  For YEARS I did not pick off those small quarter sized potential apples.  They were too cute – they held so much potential – I always think I’m going to have the biggest crop of apples EVER.

Then, last year happened.  Remember the early Spring and late frost?  The frost killed off all but three of my apples.  But, they were the prettiest, cleanest, non-wormy apples I’ve ever grown in the 15 years I’ve had the apple tree. All the tree’s defenses went into making those fruit the best fruit ever.

So I finally practiced what I preached and pruned my apple tree.  When they were about the size of a nickel, I plucked off the apples so there was only one every six inches.  Oh it was difficult.  I poured a bucketful of baby apples into my compost pile.  Ouch.

Now, as I looked at my apple tree this drizzly morning I’m happy that I pruned the tree.  And, as I bit into my

yummy Haralson for breakfast, I wasn’t worried about looking for half a worm.

Are you now a believer?  Will you prune your apple tree next year?


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