Over the Fence Where gardeners come to find out what's happening out in the yard. Sun, 15 May 2005 13:02:08 -0500 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/rss.xml Protect your Landscape from Rabbits this Winter http://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_12985/ Tue, 14 Nov 2017 15:20:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_12985/ Colder weather, frozen soil, fallen and windblown leaves, and later any accumulated snow, all will force rabbits to take shelter and begin to look for food anywhere they can. Once the ground is frozen, rabbits will have fewer places to take shelter or hide. Foraging for food will mean staying a lot closer to the protection of their winter home.

While the weather remains favorable, rabbits feed on the diversity of plant material in the home landscape, lessening damage to any one plant. Rabbits feed on grass, clover and other lawn weeds, as long as the ground is open. Once those choices are gone, rabbits turn to young twigs and branches of plants, and once that food source is exhausted, tender bark on thin barked trees. Examples would be fruit trees, crabapples and burning bush. It is common to find young trees completely girdled by the rabbits, having eaten the bark all around the small trunks from the ground up several inches, by spring. On the smaller plants, rabbits can eat them down to the ground quickly if that is the sole source of food. Rabbits tend to find a place to live for the winter and then move out from there locating food. The damage is far worse closer to their winter home than farther out in the yard, even if the plants are the same.

Feeding damage can be prevented using chicken wire or a more specific type of fencing designed to keep the younger rabbits from getting into your plantings. This fencing has the wire at a much smaller spacing near the bottom where a baby rabbit could get through. This is not so important in the winter, but is great for next spring when offspring are feeding. If possible, get the fencing in place now. Work it down into the soil surface so later when the ground does freeze it is locked in place and wildlife cannot easily burrow underneath it. If you have a perennial bed, it can be easier to fence out the entire bed than create individual structures for each plant. If protecting young trees, the fencing will need to be several inches larger than the trunk. The height will vary, just keep in mind that a rabbit will walk up the snowdrift and feed higher on the tree so a typical roll of poultry fence may not be high enough if you know your yard drifts around your trees. Plan accordingly.

Other materials can be found at most garden centers and work well too. Plastic wraps that spiral around the trunk work, but you may need to use more than one to get up high enough on the trunk. There are also rolls of tree wrap that will prevent feeding and provide winter protection from the sun, especially on thin barked trees. If you are wrapping for both the rabbits and to prevent frost cracks, wrapping up to the lowest branch on newly planted single-stemmed trees is recommended. For fruit trees that have low scaffold branches, both the wraps and fencing are suggested.

Richard Hentschel is a Horticulture Extension Educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving DuPage, Kane and Kendall counties. Stay tuned to more garden and yard updates with the Green Side Up podcast at go.illinois.edu/greensideup.

Late Season Vegetable Storage Tips http://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_12963/ Mon, 06 Nov 2017 10:28:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_12963/ Many Master Gardener Help Desk calls at the end of this growing season have been about garden cleanup, as would be expected. Yet other calls have been about handling expected or bonus yields of late season produce, especially root crops and the hard rind squashes.

Q: We still have carrots in the garden, and do not want them to go to waste. How can we store them for a while longer?

A: There are a couple of choices for in-ground storage right in the garden. The easiest is to mulch the row with clean straw or loose leaves for the next few weeks. Go out and dig what you need and leave the rest. Put a deep layer down – 6 to 8 inches – and you can harvest well into December, January and maybe February, as you have prevented the soil from freezing solid. The second method takes more time now, but may be more convenient later. Go ahead, harvest the carrot row, and immediately heal them in at the end of the row all together. Cover well and retrieve them as needed, replacing the mulch each time. This puts them at the edge of the garden all in one place. Carrots fall into the cold moist group for storage. Carrots do not have a thick skin, so high moisture is needed. Ideally, around 95 percent, which is why you have a crisper drawer in the refrigerator and why leaving them in the ground works well. They can take temperatures down to freezing outside and the other benefit is they get sweeter tasting too. Other root crops like parsnips, turnips and radish fall into this group as well. A tip is to place groups of carrots, parsnips, turnips together to use as fresh ingredients in a variety of meals. Storage times range from 2 to 3 weeks to 4 to 6 months depending on what you are storing.

Q: I have lots of Butternut and Acorn squash I need to put somewhere. What are the storage conditions to keep them for a long time?

A: Hard rind, or winter, squash are not very fussy about storage. They fall into the cool and dry group. Ideal storage temperatures are between 50 and 55 degrees, so not in our range of comfort. Stored warmer and we just need to use them sooner. If you use a humidistat, look for 60-70 percent. In the unheated basement, away from heat sources, against an outside wall works. You may have that back bedroom that is kept a lot cooler than the rest of the home, or a semi-heated breezeway between the home and garage could be another option. Winter squashes, including pie pumpkins, can last 2 to 4 months.

Remember, whenever and wherever you store vegetables, the motto should be "store the best and eat the rest."

Drought to Drowning http://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_12943/ Mon, 30 Oct 2017 11:40:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_12943/ Our latest weather pattern is making outdoor fall clean up more difficult than usual. It always can seem overwhelming, but even more so this year thanks to several long rain events.

For example, just keeping up (again) with the flush of the lawn has been hard, but add in finding a time when the ground is firm enough and grass dry enough, is the real challenge.

While at a recent meeting, the presenter asked if anyone knew how you would eat an entire elephant. After several funny answers, the real one was "one bite at a time," exactly how gardeners should tackle fall clean up.

Not waiting until the last flower has died is the right approach. Cleaning up each bed, leaving those few flowers still flowering or those plants that look good is a way to start. This "first round" allows gardeners to see what also will need to be done as garden clean up continues. Often times there have been weeds lurking about hiding in the foliage of our perennials and maybe even annuals. If you are lucky, these weeds are annuals; remove them and they will pose no future problems. However, this season, gardeners have seen quite a few perennial weeds, like thistles and bindweed. If these grew from seed and do not have a well developed root system, then digging them out may be the end.

If you find a more established perennial weed, be sure you remember where you found it and plan on more vigorous weeding starting as soon as you see them emerge next spring. One such "weed" being reported and seen is that of Mulberry. Right now they are anywhere from an inch or two in size (likely from seed just this year) to six or eight inches tall (probably a two-year old seedling). First-year seedlings are easy to pull out. Older than that and a garden trowel or spade is in order to get enough of that root system out.

If you just cut the top off, it will be back!

Weeds in the vegetable garden are usually taken care of by fall tillage and incorporation of composts or other organic matter. There is a trend developing not to do a lot of tillage to leave the soil intact. The practice of minimal soil disturbance is a good one, yet over time perennial weeds can become a problem, so weed control early on, as the weeds are just developing, should be adopted.

If this wet weather has kept you from harvesting root crops, consider using composts or straw as a mulch over the rows to allow harvest into November and December. You will find vegetables can become sweeter using this technique. A deeper mulch that keeps the ground from eventually freezing can allow harvest even with snow cover in January. Think about having fresh carrots at Thanksgiving or Christmas – and the bragging rights to go with that.

You also can consider, if the soil allows, digging them all and healing them back in at the end of the garden for ease of access later, keeping them covered, of course, with straw or mulch.

Good Gardening Questions http://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_12932/ Tue, 24 Oct 2017 12:38:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_12932/ As our gardening season is winding down, questions to the University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener volunteers have been mixed, and they have been really good questions to share with others:

Q: My white pine is losing many needles on the inside, is that normal?

A: White pines, like all needled evergreens, naturally let go of one set of needles a year. It seems to be quite pronounced this year, though very normal.

Q: My lawn and yard have mushrooms all over the place. Should I be worried?

A: Mushrooms show up when we typically have a cool, wet spell that allows the fruiting structure to quickly emerge. It can be as fast as overnight. Mushrooms are decay organisms and can be in landscape mulch, thatch in the lawn, growing from decaying roots (remember that ash tree taken down?). You cannot prevent them though breaking up the landscape mulch will help a lot.

Q: Can I still plant grass seed/lay sod?

A: Good news/bad news on this one. Good for sod, bad for seed. It is too late to ensure any new seeding will be up and mowed 3 to 4 times before the weather shuts us off. It could easily have time to germinate yet, but will not have matured enough to survive the winter. There still should be time for sod.

Q: I am seeing random small holes in my lawn and wonder if I have grubs?

A: We did have an above normal population of Japanese beetles this summer, yet few calls about grubs. For grubs to cause damage there would need to be more than 10 to 12 grubs per square foot. We have not seen those numbers. That does not mean skunks and raccoons have not been digging anyway. Even if there were not enough grubs to damage turf, they are still there for at least a snack. Very recently, squirrels have been very active burying seeds and nuts everywhere and that includes the lawn.

Q: I have what look like ants with wings crawling up my patio door. Hoping for ants, not termites.

A: I have examined several baggies full of what are truly ants with wings. Ants swarm just like bees do, both being social insects. Ants would, of course, normally bring their winged young up and out of the ground outside to fly away to start another colony. On occasion, coming up and out ends up inside the home. They hope to climb up trees, flowers, etc., and let the wind carry them away. An easy identification difference between ants and termites is ants have a pinched waist and termites are "full bodied." Also, ant wings are clear with visible veins and termite wings look like silk, milky and opaque.

Q: Our family loves to use the fireplace, can I store the wood inside where it is easy to get?

A: You should not store more than what you are going use up in a week in a warm indoor location. Insects do not know the difference between the bark on a piece of firewood and that of a standing tree when they are looking for a place for the winter. It normally takes more than a week for an overwintering insect to "come alive" again.

Birdseed and Firewood http://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_12918/ Tue, 17 Oct 2017 15:17:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_12918/ Birdseed and firewood are two common topics that come up this time of year. Both take some planning to be successful.

Feeding the birds means starting earlier than later. Birds need to know early on that there will be something to eat on a regular basis if you want them to hang around in your yard. Rather than buying seed that has a little bit of everything for every bird out there, consider seed that will be more likely to attract your favorite birds. This can be more cost effective, and unwanted seed will not end up on the ground or patio attracting ground squirrels and other four-legged critters.

To go along with the choices in birdseed is the need to have the right kind of feeder. The birds will be dependent on those feeders throughout the winter months and it can mean their death if you abruptly stop. Most think of feeding the birds, fewer think about supplying water too. Consider birdbaths that have a heating element to keep them from icing solid.

Now on to firewood. Seasoned firewood means it has been cut and split (for logs over six inches in diameter) and drying for a long time. A clue is the gray color on the ends of a log. Check marks showing moisture loss. Firewood should be around 20-25 percent moisture to burn well and limit smoke. Now that you have purchased that well-seasoned wood, you need to keep it dry before you burn it. Make it easier to uncover and recover or you will find yourself leaving the cover off and allowing the wood to reabsorb the water you payed to remove.

As a rule, the heavier the firewood – given the same moisture content – the more heat it will give off. This is something to consider if you have choices of species when you purchase your firewood. It is never a good idea to burn "green" wood in the home fireplace as it will take heat away from the room and can add substantially to the creosote buildup in the chimney. Outdoors it can make for so much smoke you cannot sit close enough to enjoy the fire.

Once the home fireplace is being used regularly, only bring in as much firewood as you expect it burn in a week. It takes more than a week usually to "thaw out" any outdoor insects that have decided to hide out in cracks and crevices on the bark. This practice will keep the insects from wandering around – and while not likely to do any damage indoors – will keep family peace. As an additional precaution, when stacking the firewood next to the outside wall of the home, be sure to leave a few inches between for good air movement. That also provides that air barrier for insects.

Houseguests Even Before the Holidays http://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_12905/ Tue, 10 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_12905/ Just about a month ago, I wrote about getting those houseplants back inside after vacationing in the backyard or on the patio. Now, there are other parts of nature that are trying to follow suit, but are really uninvited houseguests. This includes any kind of insect critter that has begun to look for a place to overwinter and wants to stay warm as long as possible.

One that you can count on every late summer and early fall is the boxelder bug. Easily identified by its red and black coloration, boxelders mass together on the warmer sides of our homes and while doing so, find their way in through cracks and crevices. Once inside, but without a food source, they will wander around using up the energy they have stored and leaving behind dark spots on walls and drapes. The vacuum cleaner is effective in capturing live ones and cleaning up the dead.

The notorious boxelder bug has some competition now – the brown marmorated stink bug, or BMSB. We have other stink bugs, as well, but this one is an import and moving quickly across all of the United States. Known to be from Asia, it was first confirmed in America in fall 2001 out East and is now found in many counties in Illinois, including Kendall, Kane and DuPage.

What makes BMSB different than all the others is that it feeds on many kinds of plants, both ornamental and food producing. Once established in an area, BMSB, in large numbers, damages both fruit and foliage of apple, cherry, peach and other trees. Perhaps the most unpleasant part of the BMSB is the smell emitted when disturbed, which is why they are called stink bugs.

Just like boxelder bugs, BMSB will gather in great numbers at the end of the summer, invading homes and outbuildings, seeking a suitable overwintering site. They will be sharing those spaces with others besides like Asian lady beetles and cluster flies.

The best protection is to keep them at bay and outside. Being sure windows and doors seal tight is the first line of defense. Many times the threshold seal on the door needs to be adjusted or replaced. Once inside your walls, they will continue to seek out heat and eventually make it into the home through wall outlets, light switches, ceiling fixtures, and openings around plumbing pipes. When you spot them, use the vacuum cleaner. If appropriate, an outside foundation spray also can help too. Look for the active ingredient deltamethrin, common in more than 30 available trade name products

By the way, if you have not started moving those houseplants inside, do not wait too much longer. Historically, we have had that first frost of the season as early as late September, and we are now well into October.

Where has all the water gone? http://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_12904/ Mon, 09 Oct 2017 10:33:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_12904/ This column has frequently addressed the need to water new plantings, transplanted trees, shrubs and evergreens added to the landscape. Little has been written regarding water management on what we would all call our "well-established" landscape plants in the yard.

Most of us give little thought that those big oaks, maples, pines and spruce could use our help.

The last time the hot, dry weather got our attention was the summer of 2012. There were issues with lawns certainly, yet calls to the volunteer Master Gardeners on taking care of established trees were few and far between. While large established plants may appear to be OK, a lot of them really are not. I was able to examine a cross section of an oak that had been taken down mid-summer. You could readily see the growth rings from the spring of 2017 and back. Prior to 2012, the rings were wide and evenly spaced indicating good growth rates. From 2012 forward, the rings were very tight together, indicating slowed growth. Until the tree died, the leaves appeared normal according to the homeowner who had no idea the big beautiful oak was in trouble.

Short of being able to evaluate the tree rings, you can go out and examine branches to see how much annual growth they are putting on. This mirrors the rings in the trunks. You will need to examine quite a few branches to get a good idea on the average growth overall.

So how do you water such big trees in the home landscape? This will take several hours per tree. An open-ended hose placed in the general drip line of the tree with a strong rate of flow in several areas in the total dripline is needed. It may be easier to think about mentally dividing the area up into quarters, letting the hose run for an extended period to get the whole area done. The majority of the trees roots that absorb water and food from the soil live in the top 12-18 inches of soil. When it does rain, those roots can take advantage of all the moisture the canopy can provide.

While the canopy of most of our evergreen trees in not nearly as extensive, watering them is very similar, just in a smaller diameter. Watering those established evergreens now is going to help; watering them late in the season just before you hang up the hose for the winter also is very important. Evergreen needles lose moisture all winter so supplying them with as much water as possible, as late as possible, really helps.

You should not forget your established shrub borders either. Watering a bed is not as exacting. Move the hose around in the bed until you feel there is water everywhere. Often times placing the hose between the shrubs works the best.

It might be tempting to put a sprinkler out there instead, but sprinklers cannot provide the same volume of water to your valued plants in the same timeframe an open hose can. Using the open hose also allows you work in other beds doing fall cleanup while your tree, shrub and evergreen watering goes on.