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'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.
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?
So far, nothing is going gardeners' way this growing season. Spring arrived late, with freezes continuing into mid-May, which delayed planting.
Then it was endlessly cool and rainy, giving new gardens plenty of moisture but not enough sun and heat to really flourish.
Now the deer have invaded. They've eaten every bud off my roses except for a handful on the climbers that are above their reach. The new growth on my coralbells and coneflowers has been nibbled to the nub, to the point that I'm not sure those plants are even going to survive.
I live in an area with a lot of wooded spots -- and deer. They've always been a bit of a garden menace, but it was spotty, a few plants here and there.
Not this year. Every morning, there's fresh evidence of their visits, with new buds sheared off and fewer tender leaves.
I'm guessing that the lateness of everything green has reduced the amount of new growth in the wild, forcing deer to forage more heavily in gardens.
I haven't done anything to deter them -- yet -- but I may get serious about deer deterrence if this continues. The National Gardening Association offers advice on its website (http://www.garden.org/howtos/?q=show&id=1295).
A couple preventive tips: If you're still filling in your garden, try planting things that deer don't especially like. They tend to turn up their noses at ferns, ornamental grasses, plants with fuzzy foliage, plants that taste of lemon, mint or sage, and anything with bitter or spicy foliage, according to the site.
And if you're fond of fertilizing, you might want to lay off for a while. Excess nitrogen in plant tissue makes foliage especially appetizing to deer.
What's going on in your plot? Are you seeing more deer damage than usual? What's worked for you as far as deer deterrence?
Yesterday my kitchen looked like a garden center. It was filled with three mandevilla vines, two big potted tomatoes (a Mother's Day gift) and a couple dozen random annuals. I had hauled them in from the deck because it was supposed to freeze Sunday night. (Freeze! In mid May! Good grief!)
Then came today, with the forecast for 90 plus. So I hauled all those pots back out to the deck this morning, to soak up the warmth and sunshine, and doused them with water to keep them from getting parched.
I don't know if I dare plant the tomatoes yet, even though it's now hot enough to sun-dry them, if I had tomatoes to sun-dry.
This year has been such a bizarre extreme, especially compared to last year, when we were warning eager gardeners not to plant tomatoes in April, even though it was consistently warm and balmy and all the perennials were pushing up weeks ahead of schedule.
My garden remains in a state of suspended animation. There are a few signs of life on some of my perennials, but not all. The coneflowers haven't budged out of the ground yet. Two of five hydrangeas have yet to emerge. Even my hostas and sedum, the toughest stuff in my garden, are only showing about an inch of growth.
Now that it's finally quit snowing and freezing (I think), I know we're all impatient to start planting and get this growing season underway already.
The U of M Extension recommends May 15 to June 1 as the optimal time for planting tomatoes. I think I'll plant mine this weekend. I haven't even gotten a chance to plant my cooler-crop stuff like lettuce. The window between frozen, snow-covered winter and baking-hot summer has been so whisker-thin that I missed it entirely.
What will you do different in the garden this year, given that spring appears to have come and gone in about a day?
We've been waiting SOOOO long for spring to arrive. I'm dying to plant things in my plot and containers and make up for lost time. But spring's very lateness is forcing me to slow down. My perennials are so poky to emerge this year, that I can't tell what's coming back and what's dead.
I took a quick inventory last night. Of my five peony plants, only the early bird, the one that gets the most sun, is showing any life at all, and that's only a couple of stubs, no longer than the tip of my pinky finger. My Endless Summer hydrangeas are even more delayed. Only one plant is showing a few hints of green near the base. The rest look like Endless Winter, brown and lifeless.
My containers are a mystery. I have moneywort and creeping sedum that I use for "spillers" in several pots. They come back year after year, and I put the showier annuals in the middle, trying not to disturb the perennials on the edges. But this year, they moneywort and sedum just look brown and crispy, with no signs yet of new growth.
We just need to be patient, said Karl Foord, educator in horticulture for the University of Minnesota's Extension Service. Because of the unseasonably cold temperatures in April and into early May, we're weeks behind "normal" for plant growth. It seems especially stark because we were weeks ahead of schedule last year.
Foord isn't worried about heavy perennial casualties this year. "It was not a severe winter in any respect," he said. "It was long." But there was adequate snow cover, and temperatures weren't lower than usual.
So go ahead and plant your cool-crop veggies, but hold off on tender ones, like tomatoes, until Memorial Day, he advised. And don't give up yet on perennials that look like they didn't make it. They'll be poking their heads up soon. "It's going to happen fast now," Foord said. (For information about what veggies to plant when, visit (http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/horticulture/dg1422.html)
What's going on in your garden? Are your perennials later to emerge than they've ever been?
What's coming up and what's not?
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