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.
For me, the rock star of deck and patio plants is the tropical hibiscus.
The mini-shrub’s huge trumpet-shaped flowers explode in colors like blood red, fiery orange and delicious peach. Sometimes I see tiny hummingbirds flitting around the blooms. It’s no surprise that the hibiscus is the national flower of Hawaii and Jamaica.
But since we live in Minnesota, these beauties have to be brought inside for the winter if you want them to survive until spring. And I found out that you have to be patient to make it worth the trouble.
In October, when it’s time to empty the outdoor planters, the tropical hibiscus is too lovely to send to the city disposal site with other garden debris. So I lug the super heavy pot to the basement to chill out for the winter in a special spot by a window. The cold and darkness hinders bud growth, but I water it every week, dreaming about all the bodacious blooms it will produce come summer.
In May, I keep track of the night time temperatures. It’s only safe to place tender plants outdoors when temperatures stay above 50 degrees. So usually by Memorial Day, I lug the hibiscus pot up from the basement to a special spot in the sun on the deck.
It looks pretty pathetic - the foliage is sparse and scraggly - but there’s promising new growth.
I give the plant a little TLC and fertilizer. Then I wait, every day inspecting for buds.
The last two summers, the slow-as-a snail hibiscus didn’t produce buds until almost August. It really takes a tropical plant, which likely would choose to live in Hawaii over Minnesota, a long time to get in the groove.
This summer, I've seen lush hibiscus bursting with flowers at the garden centers. Ther're very tempting - and I bet they’re on sale.
Do you have good luck overwintering tropical plants? What are your favorites?
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?
The woman on the hunt for hosta looked familiar. It was Betsy, my former neighbor. I hadn't seen her since the Greengirls plant swap two years ago, and before that for at least a decade.
It was great to catch up with her, trade notes -- and point out people who had hosta to swap.
That's what's fun about a plant swap, as opposed to browsing for plants at a garden center or even the farmer's market. There's more personal interaction as swappers make the rounds, check out what's available, then circle back to make a trade.
"Where's Helen?" asked a gardener tempted by the seedling tomatoes she spotted in a swapper's labeled stash.
"Who has horseradish?" another swapper asked. "Anyone seen any?"
Swaps bring out interesting people. I met seasoned green thumbs, like the woman who was turning her urban corner lot into a pollinator garden. I met enthusuastic rookies, like the guy who didn't know what plants he was bringing home and didn't care -- he just wanted to start his first garden.
One woman arrived very late, as the swap was winding down and the Greengirls (the Star Tribune's garden bloggers) were gathering up the leftover plants that hadn't found a home. Many of the orphan plants were a bit bedraggled, but the woman was happy to have them -- she tends a garden at a school with disabled children and needs all the plants she can get, she said.
If you didn't make it down to this year's swap, come join us next year. You'll find great plants and great people -- maybe even a familiar face, like a long-lost neighbor.
The giant metal rooster at the entrance is a sure sign that buying plants at the Minneapolis Farmers Market on Lyndale is a whole different experience than at Twin Cities garden centers.
The sprawling Farmers Market is a festival-like amalgam of smells, people watching, food and of course, tables and tables of plants and produce. I went there last Saturday and found a riot of hanging flower baskets and flats of mass appeal annuals --- geraniums, coleus, impatiens and begonias.
It also felt like a Costco on a weekend with samples of salsa, cheese and sausage - making it easy to get sidetracked from my mission of checking out the perennial assortment. If you’re looking for more unusual or not as common varieties - you should hit the garden centers. But the Farmers Market has plenty of the tried-and-true daylilies, hosta, peonies, garden phlox, Asiatic llilies, bleeding heart, coneflowers and other northern garden faves.
This time of year, a lot of the produce, like tomatoes, are shipped in. But fresh asparagus, green onions, and some lettuces are in season and ready to put in your salads. Vendors also sell eggs, meats, cheeses, jams and jellies.
Need some campy garden art to decorate the beds? Head to the far end of the Farmers Market Annex, where there’s a sea of metal sculptures and a lots of ceramic planters -- some shaped like fish.
Prices for plants seemed comparable or even less than at the garden centers. My best bargain was a $15 tomato plant in a staked pot that was the perfect size for a small deck. It was full of flowers and the Brooks Farm growers said the plant would produce tomatoes by mid-July.
The Lyndale Farmers Market, nestled next to the freeway, is a break-your-routine alternative to the garden centers - and where you can munch on a brat and down fresh squeezed lemonade while you peruse the flats. It’s open from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily - with Saturdays and Sundays offering the most vendors and selection. (www.mplsfarmersmarket.com).
And the best place to meet friends is in front of the “big chicken” - that’s what everyone calls it.
Do you like Twin Cities Farmers Markets and which one is your favorite?
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?
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