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.
I didn't plant sunflowers this year -- or any other year, for that matter. But I've got gigantic 5-foot-tall sunflowers now blooming in my back-yard garden.
I noticed them sprouting there a couple months ago. They've never sprouted there before. But my husband discovered birds this spring and bought a bird feeder, which he filled with sunflower seeds and placed on the deck.
That deck is right above my garden, which is how I wound up with sunflowers.
From a strict garden-design standpoint, the sunflowers aren't a great addition to my garden bed. Theyr'e way too tall, compared to what's planted around them, and look kind of silly. But I can't help smiling whenever I see their sunny yellow faces.
They provide a welcome burst of bright color, at a time when the flowers around them are winding down.
And -- best of all -- they've turned out to be irrestible to bees. I don't know what kind of sunflowers they are, but every time I venture outside, morning or evening, bees are buzzing around them, and camped out on the flowers and even nearby leaves.
The three new flowering natives I planted this spring with bees in mind haven't done as well as I expected. One plant died after a few weeks. One stayed tiny and never flowered. The third plant, a coneflower, thrived and attracted a few bees. But nothing like the sunflowers, which are bee magnets.
What are the bees liking best in your garden this September? And did your garden have any surprises up its sleeve?
The growing season is winding down, but trendwatchers are already looking ahead to how we'll be gardening next year.
So what crops, methods and looks will be hot in 2014? Here are a dozen top trends from the Garden Media Group, presented by trendspotter Suzi McCoy at the recent Garden Writers Association Symposium in Quebec City:
1. Ground up. Food scraps are the new recyclables, according to McCoy. About 25 percent of Americans are currently composting and building their soil from scratch, and more will jump on the compost bandwagon, inspired by new user-friendly compost products.
2. Super Foods Super Models. The veggie-growing renaissance that emerged a few years back is still robust, with more gardeners branching beyond the basics to grow hard-to-find specialty veggies, fruits and herbs.
3. Drink Your Yard. Homegrown goes liquid, with more gardeners growing hops for homebrew, grapes for wine, ingredients for craft cocktails and "green smoothies." Homemade pickles and kimchi also will be big. "Fermentation gardens are the new chickens," according to Rebecca Reed of Southern Living.
4. Dress Up Your Yard. Outdoor living enthusiasts are in the mood to accessorize, using artsy pots, chandeliers and other "garden jewelry" to add flair to their landscapes.
5. Bee-nificials. Pollinators are in peril, and consumers are primed to help, planting pollen-rich natives, moving away from monocultures and adding habitat, both natural vegetation and bee-friendly innovations such as "bee hotels."
6. Cultur-vating. Locavores are taking local to the next level, embracing plants that are local to their region but mixing them with plants from other cultures.
7. Simple Elegance. Gardens are taking a cue from fashion with color-blocking and other simple-yet-high-impact color schemes, including classic black and white.
8. Frack'd Up. Neat clean lines are passe. The trendiest gardens will feature fractional shapes such as triangles, circles and squares. Umbels -- a flower shape featuring spiky stems topped by round clusters of blooms -- will be especially popular.
9. Young Men Get Down and Dirty. Who spends the most money in the garden? Right now, it's young guys, ages 18 to 34, who shell out $100 more than average during the growing season. They're growing food for grilling, hops for homebrew and peppers for homemade salsa.
10. Think Gardens. As more people get the message that plants help us de-stress and work smarter, look for more outdoor garden meetings, indoor gardens at work and even desktop gardens.
11. Fingertip Gardening. Gardening goes digital. Instead of asking friends and neighbors for growing advice, we're now turning to the Internet and mobile apps.
12. Tree-mendous Reversal. Between development and pests, we're losing 4 million urban trees a year -- and we're increasingly aware of what that's costing us -- environmentally, economically and emotionally. Thus, we're going to be planting a lot of trees, trying to restore our arboreal balance.
That's what's in. Here's what's out, according to McCoy. "Fairy gardens are over," she said. (Although I'm not sure Minnesota gardeners are ready to let go of them, judging from the many fairy gardens entered in this year's Beatuiful Gardens contest.)
So now it's your turn to weigh in, fellow gardeners. Which of these trends resonate for you? Which ones will you be embracing? Or ignoring?
My tomato dreams for the season are over -- wiped out by last week's hail storm.
At least a dozen tomatoes, in varying stages of ripening, were sheared off my plants and dumped rudely on my deck. I was hoping to salvage the tomatoes that managed to stay on the vine, but after inspecting them over the weekend, it was clear they were a lost cause. Every single one was damaged, the skin pierced in multiple spots by hailstones.
Since that's a recipe for disease, I reluctantly plucked them and threw them away.
So with six tomato plants, I harvested exactly one -- ONE -- tomato before the destruction. There's still hope for my beets, and I've been enjoying my basil, three kinds, all summer long, as well as mint and salad greens. But all in all, that's a pretty pathetic yield.
It's way too late to plant new tomatoes, obviously, but I'm thinking about late-season veggies I might try, so this year's growing season isn't such a bust.
The U of M extension service has some guidelines and suggestions for mid-to-late-summer planting on its website (http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/horticulture/M1227.html).
So tell me, fellow gardeners. What late-season veggies have you tried? What's worked for you? Or should I just resign myself to the farmer's market?
I visited Dowling Community Garden in Minneapolis this morning, one of the oldest community gardens in the nation. In a couple of weeks gardeners there will celebrate the 70th anniversity of what began as a World War II Victory Garden. As I wandered through a jungle of green — it is inspiring just to visit — I noticed a few things.
Cherry tomatoes are ripe, but the big ones are just turning. Gardeners were complaining about poor garlic, but kale was running wild. And plants like rhubarb and hops, which don’t seem to care much about the weather, are doing just fine.
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?
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