Good Growing Keeping you growing with good ideas Sun, 15 May 2005 13:02:08 -0500 Oh Deer! Thu, 17 May 2018 13:23:00 +0000 Many a gardener has faced the not so lovely experience of white tailed deer using their backyard as their personal smorgasbord. I'll be honest, I've been lucky in that every place I've lived, I haven't had to deal with deer in my backyard. Should I knock on wood now?

At one time, in the late 1800's/early 1900's, the deer population in Illinois was almost eliminated due to over hunting/no hunting regulations as well as changes in the landscape. In 1901, Illinois placed a 5 year moratorium on deer hunting, but the population never resurged. In 1903 the Office of the State Game Commission was created and put into place hunting license requirements. The population of deer still remained low and in 1933, Illinois began reintroducing deer. Illinois wasn't the only state to experience significant deer population decline - Iowa and Northern Missouri did as well. As you know, the deer population rebounded and now the only form of population management is through regulated hunting as their natural predators (wolves and cougars) were extirpated from the state.

So, what options do we have to protect our landscape from deer? There are a few options including deterrents, choosing less desirable plants, and physical barriers (this would be to prevent antler rubbing damage). Some say hanging bars of soap help to deter deer away from plants, but the effective radius is only about 1 foot out, so it would take multiple bars in a landscape. A Cornell University study conducted from 1989-1991, showed soaps made from tallow fatty acid were more effective than those made with coconut fatty acids, so make sure to check the label if this is the route you want to take.

Another research study was released in 2010 about chemical deer deterrent effectiveness in Connecticut and was conducted using yews over a 2 years period. They compared four different types of chemical deterrents – fear, condition-aversion, pain-inducing, and taste to see what worked best as well as having a control group that received no treatment. Over the 2 year period, deterrents did help to reduce the amount of damage, but there were none that provided 100% control. They concluded that products that required a higher rate of reapplication (applied according to the label) had a higher ranking on their Protection Index. If you're interested in reading the study report in full, you can download it here:

Plant selection gives us another option for minimizing deer damage. There are some plants that deer highly favor over others, but if they are hungry will feed on most anything. Even if a plant is listed as "deer resistant" it means that it's not their first choice, but if given no other options, that plant could still fair game.

Here is a list of deer top favorites:

  • American Arborvitae
  • Apples and Crabapples
  • Burning Bush
  • Cherries and Plums
  • Clematis
  • Corneliancherry Dogwood
  • Daylilies
  • Eastern Redbud
  • Garden Lilies
  • Hostas
  • Hybrid Tea Rose
  • Linden
  • Norway Maple
  • Rhododendron
  • Yews

Here is a selection of "deer resistant" plants:

  • Alyssum
  • Barberry
  • Beautybush
  • Birch
  • Colorado Spruce
  • Columbine
  • Coneflower
  • Forsythia
  • Iris
  • Lilac
  • Honeylocust
  • Marigold
  • Mugo Pine
  • Peony
  • Russian Sage
  • Snapdragons
  • Spruce
  • Yarrow
What’s the Best Mulch to Use in the Landscape? Tue, 08 May 2018 13:05:00 +0000 Spring is a time when we emerge outside, poking around the garden to see what winter wrought. What many homeowners find is their mulch is need of refreshing. But what mulch is the best? Following are commonly used mulches and my picks for the best to use in the home landscape.

Shredded wood mulch- By far the most popular type covering, shredded wood mulch can be easily found at any garden center. What I like about shredded wood mulch is the uniformity of the pieces and how they can knit together to hold in place. The double-edged sword with this is the mulch can form a "shell" over time, limiting water and air exchange in the soil. (Cypress mulch is notorious for this) Cultivate your shredded wood mulch at least once a year. Shredded wood mulch also decomposes over time to add nutrients into the soil. (As do all the other wood-based mulches I'm about to mention.) A problem fungus known as artillery fungus can inhabit wood mulch. Why the hawkish name? Artillery refers to the tiny black spores fired by the fungus in the mulch, which sticks to everything from siding, fencing, car paint, and so on. (The artillery fungus issue also applies to all the following wood-based mulches.) One final drawback is shredded wood mulch is often made from trees harvested simply to shred and toss on our landscapes. It seems somewhat tragic to cut a tree down, shred it, then scatter its remains around an invasive ornamental pear.

Bark Mulch – Often bark mulch is a byproduct of the timber harvest process, which makes it preferable in my book. Look for products specifically labeled as "bark mulch".

Dyed Wood Mulch – Commonly found at big box garden centers and convenience stores, dyed wood mulch comes in a variety of colors, but most are red or black. I've found pieces of old door jambs in products like this and lots of wood that was obviously a pallet, 2x4, or plywood in its former life. While recycling is certainly something to be celebrated, the origin of the product is suspect in my mind. I don't know what it may have contained, been treated with, or why I can now find it shredded and stacked in bags next to the fuel pump. I'll admit my bias in that I am not a fan of dyed mulch. My wife called me a mulch snob the other day.

Arborist wood chips – From a sustainability standpoint, this is one of the better wood-based mulches. Arborist wood chips are byproducts from the day-to-day tasks of arborists or municipal tree crews and many are looking for a free place to get rid of this stuff. In Macomb, and many other places, these are free to haul away, all you need is a truck. Arborist wood chips are not as uniform as commercial mulches and may include shredded vegetation. Plus, the tree may have been cut down because it was diseased or harboring some invasive insect, which may have survived the chipping process. Still a favorite of mine. Who can argue with free?

Rubber mulch – Is this still a thing? The EPA designates tires dumped in an unregulated landfill as hazardous waste. How does shredding the tires, dying them red, and putting them around our daylilies change this fact?

Rock Mulch – Rock is not a favorite of mine. Rock adds little horticulturally speaking for plants, and can even contribute to harsh growing conditions. Rock holds heat and radiates it out at night keeping plants warmer. Rocks do break down with time and can alter the composition of soil structure and pH. Moreover, as a landscaper I've hauled countless wheelbarrows of rock mulch, it is not pleasant. Enough said.

Pine needles – In my area, pine needle mulch is rare to come by. Often homeowners will harvest from under their white pines to use the dropped needles elsewhere in the garden. I would argue the best spot for pine needles is to be left under the pine tree as they do a great job suppressing weeds. The other perks of pine needles as a landscape mulch is they are light and don't compact, so air and water easily move into the soil. Pine needles (and pine bark) are believed to acidify the soil. This process takes time, depends on your soil type, and may not really amount to much acidification. Regardless, use them around acid-loving plants like azaleas.

Compost – One of best mulches you can buy or make. It provides nutrients and enhances the soil. There are many different types of composts on the market. Yard waste compost or commercial compost work well in the landscape. Manure-based composts can harbor weed seeds and the nutrient composition varies depending on the animal it was derived, which requires a bit more research to make sure you're giving the plant the correct ratio of nutrients. Compost can also be expensive.

Shredded Fall Leaves – In light of the cost of compost, I often turn to shredded fall leaves in my landscape beds as my mulch of choice. Fall leaves are plentiful in the Midwest and often underutilized. Usually, by the time the summer ends I need more leaves. Fortunately, the deciduous trees in my backyard are happy to supply. Apply caution to black walnut leaves or trees that had a serious foliar disease. The inoculum for the next year can reside in leaves overwinter.

Growing Your Indoor Plant Collection Wed, 02 May 2018 11:38:00 +0000 My obsession with succulents hasn't slowed down any and my love of green growing things overall is causing my indoor houseplant collection to grow bigger as well. I recently added a Monstera deliciosa, Calathea 'Medallion', and Pothos 'Pearls and Jade'. I also have a Watermelon Peperomia on the way with 2 other pothos varieties. Hands down, my favorite plants are those who have interesting foliage. I have been finding out about so many new plants and varieties since I started on the succulent path and then found people to follow on Instagram that love plants as much as I do. This has led me to start a Plant Wish List which currently keeps growing and that could pose to be dangerous!

One of the things that I love about many of these plants that I have fallen in love with is the ability to propagate more of them. There are some plants out there that are difficult to propagate at home and it's easier to put a new plant – Birds Nest Fern being one of them (and yes it is on my Plant Wish List). While others such as succulents and pothos are easy to propagate at home.

Succulents such as Echeverias, Graptosedum, and Jade are easily propagated by removing leaves from the plant. To remove a leave, gently grab the leaf and wiggle it back and forth until it releases from the plant. You need to make sure to get the entire leaf removed – a leaf broken in half won't survive. Once the leaf is removed, let the leaf sit on a shelf, counter, plate, etc. and let the end of the leaf callus over for a few days. After the leaves have had a chance to callus over place them on top of a cactus potting mix. Mist the potting mix every few days with water or give the mix a good watering and wait for it to dry out before watering again. Most leaf cuttings will develop new roots within a few weeks.

You can place multiple leaves in the same tray or pot while waiting for roots and the beginning of a new plant. After that, you can transplant them into their own individual pots. Once a new plant begins to form at the end of the leaf – the leaf itself will eventually wither and die. Just as a note – not every single leaf will form into a new plant every time, so its best if you really have a plant you want more of that you pull a few leaves from the same plant.

If you are propagating multiple different varieties, make sure to mark or label your pots and trays so you know which variety is which. My trays for callusing my Echeveria are clay pot trays and on the underside I have them marked as to what variety it is so I remember later. I have a selection of Echeveria that have been curing for a few days and the next step tonight after work will be to get them on top of cactus mix. I'll be using the same trays that I used for curing for rooting for simplicity and space. I'd love to hear from you on your experiences with propagating succulents and which ones are your favorites!

Digging and Dividing Perennials Wed, 25 Apr 2018 15:42:00 +0000 Spring finally decided to arrive and if you're like me, you're itching to get outside and enjoy the nicer weather. It's be a long cold winter that I am more than happy to finally say good bye to. Happiness is seeing perennials starting to raise their green heads or begin to flower (my Pulmonaria are having a party in the garden right now) and spring bulbs merrily blooming away.

One of my favorite thing about plants is the ability to propagate them and spread the joy in the garden or with others. Some sources say to dig and divide perennials while dormant others say when growth first emerges in spring – but I have been known to not follow either of those 2 pieces of advice. With a little extra care, I have had great success dividing at various times of the growing season. If you wait till fall to divide make sure to provide extra mulch for your newly divided plants to protect them from winter damage and then remove the mulch in the spring.

Note - Do not dig and divide perennials when they are in bloom. The reason is that they are using a lot of energy to produce those flower blooms and you want them to spend energy on root formation after dividing. Dig and divide either before or after they bloom. Wait to divide Pulmonaria (lungwort) and Phlox subulata (moss phlox) until after they have finished blooming in the spring

When digging up the plant – dig outside the root zone, not in it. The more roots you can keep intact the better. If the ground is dry, consider watering it a few days before you plant to transplant to make it easier on you and less stressful on the plant. Once you have the plant dug up – there are a few different methods for separating one plant in to many. You can gently pull the plant apart with your hands, use a sharp clean knife, or a double-fork method. The method you use will be related to what you are trying to divide. Perennials like daylilies can benefit from the double-fork method to make it easier to separate where as a clean sharp knife is best for dividing iris.

There are some perennials that should not be divided in until later summer and includes peonies, iris, and poppy. Some perennials are difficult to divide and transplant due to taproots regardless of what time of year it is. That list includes baby's breath, butterfly weed, balloon flower, blue false indigo and lupine.

You may be wondering if you can dig up and divide spring flowering bulbs and indeed you can! A good indicator that it may be time to dig and divide is if you are having fewer and fewer flower blooms each year. Tulips are more likely to exhibit that symptom more so than daffodils or smaller spring bulbs. Wait until the foliage dies back – usually 6-8 weeks after the plant has finished blooming to dig up and replant the bulbs. Carefully dig up the clump and separate the bulbs discarding any bulbs that are damaged or smaller then they should be for that species. It's best if the bulbs are replanted immediately, but if you have to wait until fall, store them in a cool, dry, and well ventilated location.

Hurray to finally having spring weather!

Understanding Climate Change in Illinois Fri, 20 Apr 2018 11:28:00 +0000 This past week I was honored to be invited to the Western Illinois University Agriculture Banquet, where faculty and students celebrated another year of education, research, and community outreach. Most graduating students will be filling vital roles in the agriculture, green industry, natural resources, and education sectors. As I sat at my table, I couldn't help but think of the challenges ahead of these students and the massive, even global, problems they will have to face, most notably climate change.

For two hundred years, scientists have understood the complexities of the greenhouse effect of our atmosphere. The first paper to mathematically demonstrate the cause of increased carbon dioxide was published in the 1890s. By the middle of the twentieth century, scientists knew humans were adding carbon dioxide to the Earth's atmosphere, further insulating the planet and increasing average global temperatures. Today climate scientists have a 97% consensus that climate change is caused by human activity.

The science behind climate change is old news, yet humans have been slow to react. Why? Yes, there is the issue of special interest casting doubt on climate research, but also because climate change doesn't feel like a big problem. Our brains are wired to perceive immediate threats such as coming face-to-face with a predator or escaping from a burning building. It's hard to see climate change as a threat while relaxing in your garden on a beautiful day or dealing with the immediate stresses of life itself.

The cause of climate change is known; however up for debate in the scientific community is what will be the results of a warming planet. For us living in Illinois, some climate models indicate an increase in overall annual rainfall, temperatures, and dewpoint, yielding a higher frequency of tropical-like atmospheric conditions by 2090. It would be akin to moving to South Carolina. Other models predict a slight decrease in annual rainfall, while still having higher temperatures. Illinois' climate would be similar to Oklahoma and north Texas.

As the temperature of our planet increases so too does the amount of energy stored in the atmosphere. Climate scientists predict more severe storms due to the increased energy in the atmosphere. Storms with higher intensity will put additional stress on an already aging infrastructure.

Our summers will be getting longer too. A long summer certainly has its perks. Corn and soybean farmers may have more time during the growing season to focus on soil management before planting or after harvest. Gardener's will be getting tomatoes sooner and have longer to ripen those tasty red sweet peppers at the end of the season.

Longer summers also mean shorter, milder winters and an increase in insect, disease, and weed pressure. Northern Illinois gardeners will have to contend with many new southern pests. Additionally, plants adapted to colder climates will not thrive, and the composition of our landscape plants will change.

The North and South Poles have felt the most significant impact to date, and the effects lessen as one travel toward the equator. However, as the climate change scenario plays out, Illinoisans are going to start to notice significant shifts in our climate. Northern US states like Minnesota are already feeling dramatic changes in their weather patterns.

Is this article doom and gloom? Yes, but one of the greatest attributes of the human species is our ability to plan for the future. By confronting the consequences of our actions, we can develop a path to avoid the worst-case scenarios. I can't help but think of this new generation coming into the workforce and cheer for their success, but they can't do it alone. To do your part, you can plant a tree, cultivate a garden, steward a natural area. This Earth Day weekend, volunteer in your community. Pull a weed, plant a flower, break a sweat, and make a difference. Consider becoming an Extension volunteer as a Master Gardener or Master Naturalist. Climate change may very well be the greatest challenge humanity has faced, and it will take all of us to solve this problem.]]>
The Dangers of Tree Topping Tue, 10 Apr 2018 09:42:00 +0000 "Would you look at that?" I exclaim almost routinely as we drive around town. A horticulturalist does not make for the most enjoyable company in a car. Especially, if like my wife, you could care less about the health of a wayward tree or circling back to check out a random flowerbed. "Was that a field of cabbage? We better swing around to check it out." If I am late to something, it is probably because there was a landscape that required a double take.

There is one horticultural topic (okay maybe more than one) of a landscape practice so horrid which throws me into a tirade where I expound my disdain for its very appearance. You are about to read a rant…er…rather, an article about tree topping.

"But our grandparents did it and so did our parents. If it is good enough for them, it's good enough to me." All due respect to Gramps, but they were wrong. Plant scientists and arborists unanimously agree the practice of tree topping is an unjustifiable practice and has no redeeming benefit to the tree. Still don't believe me? Let's describe tree topping and what happens after the chainsaw is put away.

Tree topping is also known as stubbing, hatracking, and many other names. When a tree is topped, there is no thought or planning as to where pruning cuts occur. A chainsaw is used to cut the canopy of the tree back to a uniform height. Think of it like a buzzcut for trees.

A topped tree loses a significant amount of its leaf cover. Despite our everyday use of the term, we do not "feed" plants with fertilizer. Plants feed themselves with photosynthesis. And when the bulk of the photosynthetic powerhouses (aka leaves) are removed, the tree must spend valuable energy to replace those lost resources.

To do so the tree activates latent buds deep within the woody tissue, these are called epicormic shoots, or water sprouts. These new branches must grow fast and dense to replace the lost leaf cover. Some tree toppers will even contend this new growth is better than before. However, this new lush growth has a weak connection to the old growth, making it far more susceptible to breakage from wind, ice, snow, and attack from insects and disease. If you drive around town while the trees are bare, you may see topped trees from years past with hanging limbs in their dense canopy. Arborists call these "widow-makers."

As these new water sprouts continue to grow and put on weight, the danger for people and property below becomes a big problem. Legally, a homeowner is liable for any damage or injury caused by a poorly managed tree if that person is found negligent. So if your neighbor warned you of the hazard posed by the topped tree or hanging limbs, and that same tree fell and damaged property or hurt someone, you and potentially the landscape maintenance company would be held responsible.

If someone is to work on your large trees, insist they are certified arborists and ask to see insurance. Tree height can be reduced responsibly, with forethought and planning as to where to make the correct pruning cuts. Topped trees are unsightly and could negatively impact your home's curb appeal and shorten the life of our most significant landscape investments – our trees!

If a tree cannot be remedied with proper pruning, remove it and plant a tree more conducive to the site. The cost of removing a large tree may be expensive, but keep in mind a topped tree will never regain its natural shape and will require annual pruning, plus the potential for more costly outcomes down the line.]]>
Invasive Species Awareness Month Thu, 05 Apr 2018 14:36:00 +0000 The other day I received a daily update email that keeps me apprised of things in agriculture, natural resources, horticulture linking to various news articles and press releases. One of the articles was from the USDA APHIS about invasive insects and announcing that April is Invasive Species Awareness Month. APHIS also developed a website they have called Hungry Pests focusing on some of the invasive insect species that are causing the most harm to plants and trees or have the potential to. With a link readily available, who was I to not take a moment to click through and see what they had to offer.

They developed a character by the name of Vin Vasive who is in a series of 30 second YouTube videos clips about these invasive hungry pests including how they spread through firewood, fruits, clothing, gear and even internationally. I have to say Vin Vasive is one extremely creepy looking "invasive insect" – he kind of looks like a composite of a few of the hungry pests mentioned on their website.

You can visit the USDA APHIS website on Hungry Pests by visiting

Vin Vasive aside, the threat of invasive pests is real – take Emerald Ash Borer for example. It's a hungry pest munching its way through ash trees in 30 states in the US since 2002 when it was first discovered in Michigan. Ash is a native tree and was used extensively as a landscape and street tree replacement in the years since Dutch Elm Disease destroyed the American Elm population. With its popularity, it resulted in 20-40% of our urban forest being ash. This also causes financial burdens on communities to address how they want to deal with the ash trees in their communities – treatment, removal, or a combination of the two. Emerald Ash Borer is on track to cause billions of dollars in economic damages to the communities that it invades – including the cost of removal, treatment, and replacement.

Part of trying to manage and or limit invasive speices is understanding how those invasive species arrive here in the USA. Invasive species are not just insects, but include plants and diseases as well. Earlier this year, one of our Extension Forestry Specialists, presented a webinar called The Green Pathway to Invasion: Ornamental Invasive Plants. While this webinar didn't address insects or diseases, it does give an understanding of how plants, even ones brought over with landscaping use in mind, can go rouge and how and why they cause damage to the local ecosystem. If you are interested in view the recording of the webinar you can view it here:

Below is a list of additional resources for information on invasive species that might be of interest.

  • In 2015, some of the University of Illinois Extension Horticulture Team offered a two-part series called The Good, The Bad, & The Lovely Plants covering invasive plants, controls, native alternatives, and pollinators.
  • Part 1 – Invasive Species, Species of Concern, Controls:
  • Part 2 – Alternatives, Pollinators:
  • – a website dedicated to providing information and pictures of a variety of invasive species including insects, diseases, plants, as well as others.
  • – the national clearing house for Emerald Ash Borer including identification, controls, replanting suggestions, look-a-like insects, and maps showing where Emerald Ash Borer has been found to name a few.
  • National Invasive Species Center - This is housed within the USDA -

As devastating as invasive species can be, we all have the choice and chance to do our part in trying to help reduce their spread through a variety of means. If you have questions about invasive species, you can always contact your local Extension office for more information.

On a side note – this month, aside from being Invasive Species Awareness Month, on Friday April 27, 2018 is National Arbor Day. One way you can help with invasive insects is by increasing the diversity of our urban forest by planting a variety of tree species. If you want to learn more about proper tree planting and selection you can visit which is a resource developed by the International Society of Arboriculture.