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.
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?
Last year, when I grew sweet potatoes for the first time, the slips I ordered arrived on the Friday before Memorial Day. There had been several weeks of warm weather and they were tucked into cozy raised beds that had been warmed under black plastic for a month.
This year, some wise person in Tennessee delayed shipments to Minnesota by a week, and I got my slips on the chilly last day of May. They were sturdy and looked perky compared to last year’s lot.
But where to put them?
The raised bed was sopping wet and cold. I decided to wait for drier and warmer weather and wrapped the roots of my little plants in a wet paper towel, putting them in the sunniest spot I could find in the porch.
Three days later, when the rain paused, I decided I couldn’t wait any longer. After work I planted some of the slips in the raised bed and others in pots, and thought about how to protect them from the wind and cold nights.
Into the basement I went, home to all sorts of odds and ends.
I came back out with a plastic cone that had been worn around the neck by a dog after an operation and some plastic milk jugs. The cone fit perfectly over the pot. And when I cut off the bottom of the milk jugs they worked perfectly as cloches, protecting the stringy plants from the wind and perhaps creating a little heat as mini-greenhouses.
It’s time to regroup, and replant. The late spring delayed my realization that this winter turned out to be a bad die-off year in my garden. An azalea will no longer see any Northern lights. Several clematis are MIA after several years of reliable service. A bugbane is banished, and there were a few casualties among the delphinium.
Odder still is that plants that ordinarily by now are vying with their equally aggressive neighbors for world domination are now at best struggling afterthoughts. For as long as we’ve lived in the house, centaurea and cranesbill have been on the march, springing ahead to fill any perceived possible gaps. This year, the cranesbill are nicely contained without my intervention, and the centaurea are pretty spotty. In a way, it’s a welcome reprieve that lets me look at the bones of my garden without being distracted by plants that I didn’t really plant there, but it’s still puzzling, and it leaves me with several gaps to fill.
Some of the other garden gaps are of my own making: I let the tyrannical phlox get away with trying to annex the lily area a little too long. So this spring I’ve been digging the phlox away from the lilies I want to naturalize in that spot. But it’s left me with gaps, and it’s getting late for spring bulb planting.
I’ve replaced a few of the casualties, but I’m looking for suggestions for underplanting in the now-Spartan lily area. Should I go for some sun-loving annuals now and then put in more lily bulbs in the fall? Any suggestions for pairings with my pastel lilies, either annuals or perennials?
What’s your winter die-off story? Did you have a good year, or do you too have gaps?
It does give me an excuse to go shopping, but I might run into a budget gap before I fill the garden gaps.
I'm still waiting for my peonies to burst into bloom. They're up, but their marble-sized buds remain tightly closed.
Apparently my peonies aren't the only late arrivals this spring. The Minnesota Peony Society just announced that it's canceling this weekend's annual show, citing weather conditions that have delayed bloom.
Peonies typically flower between mid-May and early June, with many in full bloom around Memorial Day. Not this year. No peonies, no peony show.
"It's unbelievable -- we're two to three weeks behind," says grower Harvey Buchite, owner of Hidden Springs Flower Farm (www.hiddenspringsflowerfarm.com) in Spring Grove, Minn.
He's had to cancel and reschedule his own grand opening three times this season. (It's finally happening this weekend.) Hidden Springs has a section of early-blooming hybrids in full flower, he says. But the common garden peony, which blooms a couple weeks later, has a ways to go.
That's bad news for brides who were counting on peonies for their June wedding bouquets, he says. "There are all these anxious brides, wondering if they'll have peonies for their June 15-16 weddings."
And will they? "It's really touch-and-go," he says. "The following weekend there's a better chance."
Peonies rely on heat, which has been in short supply so far this spring. "Once the peonies come up, what really moves them along in bloom cycle is temperature," Buchite says. "They've been in suspended animation."
On the bright side, the early peonies that have opened are looking good. "The plant material is beautiful," Buchite says. "Cool temperatures keep things fresh, and maybe it was too cold for diseases to take hold."
So if you have peonies in your garden, just be patient a little longer. They will bloom, according to Buchite. "At some point, you just can't stop nature."
And if you were looking forward to the annual peony show, you'll also have to be patient. It will return next year. "We look forward to 2014, and hopefully, a peony season more in keeping with typical bloom timing," the society said in a release announcing the cancellation.
How about in your garden? Any peony sightings yet? How big are your buds?
All roses are not created equal. I know that now, after years of gardening, but I didn't know it when I planted two very vigorous specimens 17 years ago.
We'd just moved into our current home, and I was happily putting my personal stamp on the already established landscape.
My previous garden, on a postage-stamp city lot, was heavily shaded, so I had no experience with sun-loving plants. Suddenly in suburbia, I had sun galore. The possibilities were intoxicating. I could plant tomatoes! And peppers! And roses!
My grandfather, an Englishman who loved his roses, had died 15 years earlier, but I still had vivid memories of his beautiful garden. I wanted a rose-covered arbor, just like Grandpa used to have.
So I bought two hot-pink climbing roses and planted them in a sunny spot. They thrived, and I was soon rewarded with an explosion of blooms. But that bloom cycle was short.
The rest of the summer, I'm left with bare, wild, scraggly canes with vicious thorns that stab me through the toughest gloves every time I try to tame them.
My roses look absolutely glorious for about 10 days in late spring. After that, they're basically ugly weeds.
Now that I know better -- that there are many beautiful hardy roses that bloom all summer long -- I kick myself for planting ones that don't.
I'm reluctant to kill perfectly healthy roses, but every year, I'm tempted. What do you think, fellow gardeners -- should these roses be saved? Or replaced with something better? Anyone have a favorite rose to suggest?
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