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.

Posts about Weeds

Danger from the stranger in the garden

Posted by: Mary Jane Smetanka Updated: June 17, 2013 - 10:50 AM

This spring I noticed an attractive little stranger in the garden. The leaves looked kind of cool, so I let it grow.
Last week, the now-tall stranger bloomed. The emerging lavender flowers had the delicious spicy smell of stocks, which I had tried to grow a couple of times without much luck. Could this be some weird seedling from those plants?
When I got on the Internet, I realized I had something totally different: Hesperis matronalis, better known as dame’s rocket. As my plant grew taller — this morning it was a sturdy four feet tall — the tight ball of fragrant flowers grew spiky and loose, and I recognized my dame’s rocket as the same plant I see growing in ditches and in glades along West River Parkway along the Mississippi River.
Dame’s rocket is in the same plant family as garlic mustard, one of the most noxious weeds in the Twin Cities area. My beautiful visitor is banned or listed as a noxious weed in Colorado, Connecticut and Massachusetts, and in Michigan people who remove garlic mustard from the landscape are encouraged to take its cousin, too.
Here’s some more information about dame’s rocket: While it resembles wild phlox, it can be identified by its four-petalled flowers.
After I took this picture, I reluctantly pulled the plant up. It is very shallow-rooted, but dame’s rocket prolifically spreads through seeds, and I didn’t want my plant to populate my perennial garden.
I will be curious to see if dame’s rocket is eventually added to Minnesota’s list of noxious weeds.
Have you found visitors in your garden that turned out to be thugs instead of friends? This weekend another master gardener told me she lets dame’s rocket grow in her boulevard garden where it thrives in a hostile space. One gardener’s enemy is another gardener’s friend! Here’s a nice column on that issue:

With Spring comes...

Posted by: Helen Yarmoska Updated: May 15, 2013 - 8:30 AM


Ah Spring.  Finally. Last night as I walked around the back yard with my beverage of choice, I finally realized that we have turned the tide.  As with every Spring we see beauty and work ahead of us.

I lost my Mom 5 years ago, but the bright yellow of this daffodil reminds me of her smile and asparagus reminds me of my Dad.  Beauty is everywhere you look.  Peas are coming up, my sedum and peonies are peeking out from under the ground.  I need only clean away the mulch a little and sprinkle on some water and the garden comes alive. 

But then there’s the half empty side of the cup.  Weeds.  

Last week we had the lawn aerated.   We watered this morning thinking that with the heat and air near their roots, the grass will have a head start over the weeds. But crazy plants grow where they want.  A fern in the turf – come on!  Don’t they know to stay behind the plastic edging?!?

Then I have my hops to deal with.  I thought it would be fun to grow our own hops for our homebrew.  Little did I know that the vines would want to take over my vegetable garden.  Does anyone want some of these?  I’ll pull what I can for the Plant Swap on Saturday… but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Speaking of the Swap, they say it’s going to rain on Saturday... and we’ll be there – rain or shine.  If you come, please take one of my weeds and say they are the perfect plant for the perfect spot – even if it’s in your compost bin!


The Weed Wars

Posted by: Mary Jane Smetanka Updated: August 14, 2012 - 12:20 PM



I weeded this garden a week ago, but you’d never know it. My arch enemy, oxalis, has popped up again.
I’ve been battling this weed for years. To pull it, I water the garden and grab the stems near the ground, hoping to get the whole plant as well as its roots. But the stems are delicate and tend to snap off. If it’s gone to seed, the battle is already lost.
Part of the issue is that I haven’t mulched the perennials the way I usually do, so weekly weeding is a must.
Here’s another pest that I’ve had for the last few years. At least Virginia copperleaf is easy to pull up. It can reach three feet at maturity, but I haven’t let it get that big!



And my old friend nightshade has sprung up again, growing remarkably fast. Again, it’s easy to pull up if the soil is wet, but you have to grasp the stem at ground level to get the roots or the plant will snap off and regrow. The nightshades have some cool-looking flowers — they’re related to tomatoes and potatoes — and some of the plants are poisonous. Again, if they seed they’ll end up everywhere, so it’s best to pull them before they flower. Here's some nightshade:




I dig up or pull all but the hardest-to-eliminate weeds, and resort to a weed killer only for plants like dandelions that are growing in a crack in the pavement or for really hard to kill weeds like thistles.
If you go the chemical route, make sure you pick the right chemical and read the label carefully. Any chemical with glyphosate in it is an indiscriminate plant killer, and will take out your grass and other plants as well as what you’re trying to kill. It will kill the weeds in your lawn as well as the grass, as the owner of this lawn discovered:




Here’s a guide to some of Minnesota’s most common weeds:
Do you have a weed that’s driving you crazy?


Weeds: Offense or defense?

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: June 25, 2012 - 11:00 AM


Weeding isn't the WORST garden chore in the world. It's satisfying to grab a fistul of weed and feel the roots give way -- plus you get the instant gratification of seeing a cleaner, tidier garden.

Grab and pull, grab and pull. Once you get into the rhythm, it's oddly therapeutic.

But after two hours of grabbing and pulling under the hot sun yesterday afternoon, I've had quite enough weed therapy, thank you very much.

The patches I weeded look pretty good, but there are others I never made it to. And the patches I weeded two weeks ago need weeding again, thanks to all our recent rain.

I've been playing defense against weeds. It's time for a stronger offense, I decided. Not chemicals. My garden needs to become naturally less weed-friendly.

So here's my action plan:

Step 1: More perennials, planted more densely. Landscape designer Jamie Durie, who was in town earlier this month, is a fan of this method. "I don't endorse bald spots," he said. "I plant abundantly. I don't even give weeds room to pop up." (

I need more big, hardy perennials like bee balm and ligularia and cardinal flower, that come up reliably and take up a lot of garden space.  

Step 2: Mulch. This one will be a little more tricky to execute, at least in my yard. My biggest weed headache is the area covered with river rock in the front. Whoever installed my landscape, about 20 years ago, apparently laid plastic, then put dirt and the rocks on top. It looked good when we moved in 16 years ago, but every year, more weeds sprout between the rocks. This year, there was more green than gray.  

I'd love to replace the rocks with a thick layer of wood mulch. But removing all those rocks will be such a nightmare that I'm tempted to just put the mulch on top. Anyone out there ever tried that? Or should I resign myself to a weekend of rock removal?





It's time to mulch!

Posted by: Helen Yarmoska Updated: June 14, 2012 - 9:38 AM


I put another 3” layer of cedar chips around my trees a couple weeks ago, but my beans weren’t high enough to put mulch in the vegetable garden.



Thanks to some nice rain and warm weather, it’s time.


As you see, for now I’m using grass clippings.  Grass clippings are abundant and free -- qualities I really like.  I prefer to use compost, but I was not good about stirring my pile this spring and it’s not ready yet.  I had the right mixture (4 parts brown to one part green), but I didn’t get in there with my pitchfork and give the pile some oxygen. 

Now, I’m adding more greens and shredded newspaper to the pile and it will take some time for that to break down.  Plus, look at this little beauty growing out the side.  Do I really want to disturb a tomato plant?  I wonder what variety grew.



Some people say that you don’t need to stir compost, that the worms will do their job well enough.  And I might test out that theory this year.  I’ll add my new items in holes dug into the working pile.  Maybe the worms would like a fresh banana peel once in a while.

How about you, are you a "stirrer" or a "piler?"  Or maybe you have two bins where you can let one work and add new items into the other.  What works for you?


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