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.
Let's face it -- with vacations, camps, activities, reunions and now school on the horizon, summer gets out of control. And when you're feeling like life is out of control, chances are the garden isn't far behind.
From a distance, my garden looks amazing: The plants are big, green and lush. But get a little closer and you'll see that there's a turf war going on. The tomatoes grew bigger than I thought they would and now overshadow the banana peppers, which can barely get enough light to grow. (Yes, I've pruned my tomatoes, but they are unstoppable.)
On the other end, the cucumbers are taking on a life of their own by attaching themselves to everything around them, already snuffing out a couple of bell pepper plants and a sunflower. The least they could do is bear fruit,
On the fruit side of the garden, a cantelope plant is trailing nicely on a trellis, but has spilled out onto the lawn and is infringing on the strawberries. And everyone knows that strawberries are the definition of mayhem.
Much of this I attribute to novice mistakes:
1. I overplanted. I always figured that the spacing requirements were just guidelines, and since I never had enough faith in my gardening abilities, figured more was always better. Not the case.
2. I didn't make my garden big enough. I didn't want to bite off more than I can chew. Turns out I can chew more than I thought I could.
3. I didn't do my homework. I should have read up on what I wanted to plant and where I should plant them. I went with my heart, and that's never a good idea. I also need to learn how to take care of the plants beyond the basics, and troubleshoot issues like why are my canteloupe leaves are turning white.
4. Thinning really is important. Pulling carrots should be interesting -- they might be braided at this point.
There are so many things to learn, but there are some things going right: there's not a weed to be found in my garden, and I walked back to the house yesterday munching on grape tomatoes that tasted like sunshine.
What are lessons that you've learned along the way?
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?
Thanks to the mega storm that took down multiple trees, there's a monster pile of free wood chips in the parking lot on the north side of Lake Nokomis in south Minneapolis. Lots of people were out with shovels taking advantage of it today, but I'm guessing it will be replentished often, given the sheer volume of trees yet to go through.
The wood chips are often on the larger side of wood chip mulch, and it's not the same quality you get in bagged form, but the price is right and it's locally sourced.
I recently overheard a small boy ask his mother if she were a plant, what kind she'd like to be. He earnestly volunteered that he'd want to be a vine, so he could grow around things.
He's got a point. Vines rise above it all, and have a great grasp on life, even while relying on others for their support. From the gardener's perspective, vines are a great way to add some height to the back of a border or disguise an otherwise unattractive structure or fence.
My favorite vine combo is clematis growing on roses, although getting both plants to bloom at the same time is an inexact science.
Right now many of the vines in my garden are outstripping their support structures. The pole beans have hit the top of their obelisk and are flopping down the other side waiting for me to provide another foothold. Ditto with the hops. Clematis plants that have overrun their trellis have started wrapping around themselves. But other vines are resolutely turning their backs on their intended support. When presented with a perfectly serviceable trellis, the cucumbers and watermelon are instead intent on winding themselves as tightly as possible into the protective chicken wire that surrounds them despite daily efforts to give their thoughts another direction.
If you're in the market for some plants that will grow on you, here's a link to some perennial and annual vines broken down by height and sun requirements: www.bachmans.com/divHomePage.ep
One of the plants on the list is zone hardy wisteria, which looks lovely, but I've heard people complain it's hard to control and needs really heavy duty support. Have you grown wisteria, and if so, how have you controlled it and would you recommend yea or nay?
While I 'm a sucker for most vines, not all the vines growing in my garden are welcome: Bindweed has gotten loose in one area. Just like their favored flowering counterparts, vining weeds sometimes grow a little too fast to keep up with.
Then comes the rest of the summer, when the bloom bonanza is over, and I have to direct my gaze carefully to the few bright spots that remain and take solace in variegated or colored leaves. Even the coneflowers start to look faded, and sometimes it seems the only things in rampant bloom are the phlox and the annoying harebells I can never quite quell. (I’ve resorted to using the harebells as cut flowers after yanking them out for the weeds they really are, mixed with the ferns that have volunteered in unwelcome spots.)
I do my best to stretch the perennial flowering season. I keep flowering blooms well watered so they aren’t stressed. And few things spur my interest on a plant tag so much as the phrase “long bloom time” or “prolific repeat bloomer.” Be still my heart.
I’ve also tried to add more fall bloomers to keep the sedum Autumn Joy company. But even the New England asters, which are supposed to be my fall mainstays, have jumped the gun and started blooming, so I’m wondering how long they’ll be able to keep up the show.
One way to prolong summer bloom time is by deadheading. Not all plants will rebloom if you pinch off the spent blooms, but many will reward your efforts. And some plants like centaurea will enjoy a second wind if you cut them back. Here’s a handy guide: www.dundeenursery.com/FactSheets/deadhead_perennials.html
The list of long-blooming perennials includes coneflowers, rudbeckia, daylilies, Veronica, scabiosa, coreopsis and Shasta daisies. Here’s a much longer list to pick from, many of which are zone hardy: gardening.about.com/od/perennials/a/LongBloomers.htm
Possibly the best way to assure yourself of some late summer color is to keep your pots of annuals well watered, or pick up some hanging baskets in the late season sales.
What are your strategies for keeping summer blooms alive? What are your long-lasting mainstays?
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