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.

Soddenly, it's summer in the garden

Posted by: Martha Buns under Weather 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 mystery of the missing buds

Posted by: Lynn Underwood under Flowers, Perennials, Trees Updated: June 12, 2014 - 2:21 PM

I remember all the hoopla when Endless Summer hydrangeas made their big debut in 2004. Our local Bailey Nurseries developed this show-stopping beauty that everyone was talking about.  It was the first repeat flowering big-leaf hydrangea and would even flourish in northern climates. Word spread that we could have big blossoms from July to early September.

How could I resist?

I bought two from a local garden center and planted them in a primo sunny spot right in front of the house. Summer after summer, the two bushes sprouted soccer ball-sized clusters of pink flowers. Okay - I’m exaggerating - but they sure were showy. Mine were pink because I had alkaline soil. Acidic soil produces blue hydrangeas. One August, my hydrangea blossoms decorated each table at my niece’s baby shower

But after five magnificent seasons, my Endless Summers gradually quit sprouting endless blossoms. Each summer, the number of cauliflower-shaped buds would dwindle.

So I followed some of the tips for “Blooming Success” from the Endless Summer website. I applied 10-30-10 fertilizer a couple of times in the spring. I was really careful not to cut dried stems to the ground until all the new foliage came in since Endless Summers bloom on old and new growth. I covered the base with mulch in the fall and didn’t remove it until May.

But nothing seemed to work. The buds were down to zero. What had changed over the past few years? Then I figured it out. Although this hydrangea can thrive in partial shade, it needs at least six hours of sun a day to produce flowers. I had planted a nearby Linden tree 20 years ago. That tree was now 25 feet tall. Each summer, less nourishing sunlight was filtering through its branches to the hydrangeas.

Once again, my Endless Summers’ foliage looks so green and lush  - but there’s not one sign of even one tiny bud. So I’ve gone from perplexed to acceptance. I’ll never have the soccer ball -sized pink flowers ever again. Unless I climb a very tall ladder and cut off a bunch of thick branches from the Linden tree. And that’s not happening.

Do you have shrubs or perennials that one time produced a riot of flowers but have inexplicably stopped?
Did you move it to a new location and have better luck?

Ants - OK in the garden, but not my walls!

Posted by: Helen Yarmoska under Critters and pests Updated: June 11, 2014 - 8:34 AM

Insects are as much a part of the garden as plants and soil.  In fact, when taking courses to become a Master Gardener, there are a few required on insect identification and pest management.  So I was not surprised when my friend, Pizz, asked me about how to get rid of ants that have started invading her house.

The pests were in the walls of her 1950s era house.  There were chewing noises, not scratching like mice or bats.  She did see some large ants entering the house on the outside, but only a few found on the inside.  She had hired a pest management company who came and sprayed, but she was concerned when it rained the next day.

Ants are OK in the garden.  They sometimes act as pollinators and quite often clean up debris left by other leaf eating insects.  Many people are seeing ants right now around peony buds.  (NO, the flowers do not need the ants to open, the ants just like the sweet nectar around the buds.)  But inside the house… ants are NOT nice.

Ants are colony insects much like honey bees.  They have a queen and without the queen, there is no nest.  So the trick in ant-elimination is to get rid of the queen.  Instant kill sprays really don’t do much besides give the sprayer satisfaction.  Sprays can also be indiscriminate.  They may kill beneficial insects such as bees and wasps.  

Good old fashioned Borax is what I recommended.  She could purchase a feed-kill product and place several drops on cardboard the outside of her house and feed them for several days.   That should get to the queen eventually.   Or perhaps buy a box of the stuff and sprinkle around her foundation.
Do you have any other recommendations for Pizz?

Shrub unexpectedly calls it quits

Posted by: Martha Buns under Perennials Updated: June 10, 2014 - 8:08 AM

I didn’t see it coming. There were no signs of stress, no previous scares. But this spring, after at least 19 years of reliable existence, a shrub in front of the house just didn’t make it through the long winter.

It’s not as if I had massive die-off from this year’s winter vortex. Even a Zone 5 plant I gambled on a few years ago is back and raring to go. But the shrub that had been a chore to try to rein in, that turned the sun room into anything but sunny, this year just took a dive and didn’t revive.

I can't accuse myself of overpruning it, because I didn't get around to pruning it at all last year. It has a few signs of winter damage, since our yard is apparently perfect rabbitat, but nothing like the rhododendron that’s still going OK, even if lopped off near the ground. Certainly the damage doesn’t look like anything enough to take down the entire bush.  But after several laissez faire weeks of waiting to see if it was just a slow starter, it’s clearly just a bunch of brittle twigs.

Maybe there’s something more systemic going on, since a bush several shrubs down is also only partly reviving. Maybe there’s another pest I’m not detecting, although that shrub is coming back from the roots quite nicely.

At any rate, I’m now in the market for a new shrub. (Oh, rats. An excuse to go shopping.) Any suggestions for a front-of the-house landscaping bush? It’s going into a spot in between a variegated dogwood and a ninebark, just down from a hydrangea. What have you had good luck with? And has anyone else run into a no-show after years of reliable performance?

Or I could be insane and try to dig up the overgrown weigela that's likely to have to come out to reconstruct our porch and attempt to transplant it. Hmm.

Plants I regret

Posted by: Kim Palmer under Annuals, Critters and pests, Flowers, Perennials, Trees Updated: June 9, 2014 - 11:16 AM

When I was a younger, inexperienced gardener, I did some things I regret.

I brought home some plants I shouldn't have -- good-looking specimens that I didn't know much about. They're still haunting my landscape.

There's the contorted filbert I picked up at Home Depot about 10 years ago. It was small and quirky, with curly, twisty little branches. I put it in one of my garden beds next to a big boulder, thinking it would stay small and twisty and cute. 

Instead it grew like a giant weed, shooting out long straight branches with none of the curlicued charm that first caught my eye. 

It also brought a most unwelcome invader: Japanese beetles. If I had any before the filbert, I never noticed them. But once the filbert took up residence, they arrived in droves. By mid-summer, the filbert's foliage is thick with beetles. If they just stayed there and munched on the filbert it wouldn't be so bad, but they also move on to feast on my nearby roses and other plants.

Then there's the climbing rose I picked up the summer I moved into my house. The rose attracted me with its bright brilliant pink blooms, so I impulsively bought it and a big arbor to support it. The rose is still pretty -- for about two weeks in early summer when it's covered with vibrant flowers.

The rest of the time, it's just bare straggly canes that burst beyond the confines of the arbor and stab me with their thorns when I try to tame them.

Now that I know better -- that there are beautiful rose options that bloom all season long -- I could kick myself for not doing a little research first. 

The biggest mistake in my landscape is a maple, also planted the first year summer we moved into the house. We were new to suburbia, after years of living in the leafy urban core, and we missed the trees. So we planted one. 

Instead of carefully choosing the best location for a tree, we lazily picked the spot where the kids' wading pool had already killed the grass. And instead of carefully researching and choosing the best type of tree, we grabbed a maple at the garden center -- without reading the tag. We figured it would give us beautiful fall color. It does. But it also turned out to be some weird dwarf species that is more bush-shaped than tree-shaped. Instead of a traditional trunk crowned with branches, it produced multiple trunks low to the ground. It's too low and squatty to provide shade you can actually sit under. But, of course, it completely shades my garden, making it impossible to grow the sun-loving plants that thrived there when the tree was young.

One of these years, I'll probably get rid of these unsightly reminders of my impetuous youth. But it sure would have been easier if I'd just done my homework -- at least read the tags -- before I bought them.

Impulse garden purchases can be fun -- but save them for annuals and small plants; that's the lesson I learned the hard way.

Anyone else out there have things in their landscape that they planted in ignorance and now regret?


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