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 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?
There's an almost-ripe, red tomato about a day away from being ready for my dinner table.
It seems like tomatoes are taking longer than usual to ripen this growing season. Many on my biggest plants have been big but hard and green for weeks. My smaller plants are still a long way from producing edible tomatoes.
I can't help being nostalgic for the weird, crazy growing season of 2010, when I spotted my first green tomato on May 24 and plucked two ripe ones for eating in late June.
This year appears much more typical, with tomatoes starting to ripen in mid-July. (For a calendar of what edibles ripen when in Minnesota, go to: http://www.pickyourown.org/MNharvestcalendar.htm)
Will it be a good year for tomatoes? Or not? So far, I can't tell. My plants look mostly healthy so far, although there are spots on a few leaves, which could hint at end rot to come.
What's going on with your tomatoes this year?
Last night I got my first look at Edible Estate #15 since its installation over Memorial Day weekend.
A lot has changed. The tiny seedlings have blown up into big, beautiful vegetable plants -- more than 100 different crops, if you count color variations. The Schoenherrs' front yard in Woodbury is already producing so much food that the family of four can't eat it all. They're sharing veggies with their neighbors and bringing bags of lettuce to work to give to co-workers. "I don't want another salad for awhile," admitted Catherine Schoenherr.
She's most excited about the bright-purple cauliflower now peeping from its leaves. "We knew it was cauliflower but we didn't know it was purple," she said.
Her husband, John, is experimenting with pestos and juices, and their grown kids, Aaron and Andrea, are making salsa. And they're all trying to figure out what to do with chamomile, besides make tea.
Catherine has organized several "gardening nights" when neighbors are invited to come, pull a few weeds and bring home a bag of produce. And she'd like to plan a sauerkraut-making party later in the season. "We're going to have a ton of cabbage."
The garden is not open to the public, but the public can get a peek starting Aug. 8 at the Walker Art Museum, when it kicks off its Edible Estates exhibit, part of artist Fritz Haeg's residency. (Haeg is the creator of Edible Estates and the designer of the Schoenherrs' new landscape.) You can learn more about Haeg and his vision at: http://www.walkerart.org/magazine/2013/garden-all-seasons
We'll be featuring the Schoenherrs' new landscape in Home + Garden on Aug. 7. So what do you think? Would you want to grow this much food in your own front yard?
With a garden that appears more secure than the White House, this was something I wasn't expecting: The vertical assault.
So consumed was I with preventing the rabbits from lunching on my plants, it didn't dawn on me -- a novice gardener -- that the birds would be the first to harvest my strawberries. How deflating.
I have a love-hate relationship with birds: They are pretty to look at from afar -- even I can appreciate the beauty of some of them -- but scary as heck up close and when they're flying toward you. To be honest, I really don't like them. At all. And adding produce thieves to their list of traits is doing them no favors. My neighbors, however, feel differently. Many of them have a bird feeder or two in their yards or gardens, and apparently the birds eat the main course there and visit the dessert buffet in my garden.
Now my research has turned to literally protecting the fruits of my labor. It's an important task, as my family loves strawberries, and I hope to expand my berry garden next year. Most of the information I've found has recommended bird netting, but I'm open to other options. I'm looking for something easy, not very expensive and safe. As much as I don't want my strawberries plucked from my garden, I really don't want to be plucking birds from the garden, too.
What have you found to be an effective way to protect your garden from aerial attacks?
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 email@example.com, or to "Beautiful Gardens Contest," Star Tribune, 425 Portland Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488.
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