Down the Garden Path Sun, 15 May 2005 13:02:08 -0500 Pantry pests after holiday baking Thu, 14 Dec 2017 11:14:00 +0000 Leftover baking goods are usually the culprit, especially any flour or flour-based cooking and baking product. This is a bit more troublesome for homes where baking starts before the holidays and quits soon afterwards as our normal routine returns.

The more common pantry pests are the Indian Meal Moth and the two versions of Flour Grain Beetle. We receive more calls about the Indian Meal Moth than the grain beetle. The meal moth will be attracted to windows and lights, so it is a lot more obvious if you have a problem. While the pests have slightly different life cycles, generally eggs hatch in any kind a product that contains flour. The larvae stage feeds until it is time to transform into an adult.

The key to preventing these pantry pests is not to have any leftover flour that is going to be accidentally worked to the back of the shelf in the cupboard or pantry. It is better to use the flour up in cooking and baking than attempt to store it. If the flour is to be kept, store it in a very tight-sealing plastic container, keep it in the refrigerator, or even better, the freezer. If later you do find some of that stored flour to be contaminated in your pantry, then it is a matter of disposing of just that one container. Storing flour in the refrigerator dramatically slows the potential of finding contamination and if left in a freezer, to zero or below, there will no chance of anything going wrong.

Flour products are not the only way pantry pests can make it into your home. Did you buy a dried flower arrangement or make one that contained flower seed heads from your own flower beds? Other potential sources include any of our dry pet foods that contain flour as an ingredient. Buy just enough to last a month to prevent the time needed for any pantry pests to show up. One of our favorite winter past times is to feed and watch the birds. If you do buy bird seed in large amounts, be sure to store it in an unheated area like the garage and in a tight-sealing container, as you would the flour in the pantry. The same goes for the food for our furry four-legged pets like gerbils, mice, rabbits, and the birds too.

So go ahead, bake those dozens of cookies for the cookie exchange, just remember, store the leftover flour properly.

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

Warmer Weather and Ants Thu, 07 Dec 2017 11:30:00 +0000 One has a common name of pavement ant. This is an ant that enjoys warmth and can be found nesting next to or under paved surfaces outdoors. This is a common ant found with homes built on a slab with the heating and cooling system below the slab. The ground remains warm near the duct work and can allow the ants to remain active. As any ant colony would, foraging for food is pretty typical. In cold weather, when the soil is frozen, foraging is going to take place in the home.

Extension gets those calls where all of a sudden ants are found by the hundreds (it only seems to be the thousands) swarming over the kitchen counters or trailing across open space headed for the dry pet food station.

Ants are routinely sending out scout ants in the hunt for a food source. This time of year with all the goodies being baked and brought home from office parties and left on the counter, we create a great buffet. Once that scout ant finds something good to eat, the message gets back to the colony and the march begins.

To prevent ants from discovering your treats, keep them in tight-sealing containers. If you find the dry pet food being eaten, remove the source by feeding the pets and not leaving leftovers. Once the ants cannot find food or continue to feed, they will look elsewhere for another source of food.

You really cannot use any sprays around the kitchen counters and pet food stations, so sanitation is your best approach. If you knew the ants were coming in from the outside, a foundation spray outdoors could be used. Ant baits can be used and usually provide control without having to use additional sprays. Since the ants follow a predetermined trail from the nest to the food source, washing that area with soap and water will greatly reduce the infestation as they get confused about the route to take.

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

Work that Turkey off Fri, 01 Dec 2017 11:49:00 +0000 Tree leaves have been slow to fall, so maybe use the mower and bagger attachment to go over the lawn one more time to clean up the last of the leaves. Ground up leaves can be used to cover the vegetable garden soil for the winter, or be added to the compost pile or bin as part of the "browns" to go with the "greens" already there.

Once you are finally done with the mower, time to put it to bed for the winter by adding fuel stabilizer to the gas tank and running the motor to get treated gas into the carburetor. While the engine is still warm, drain and refill the crankcase with fresh oil. Clean the underside and outside of the mower, change or clean the air filter and even sharpen the blade. Since you are likely going to use the gas in the can to fuel the snow blower, add some fuel stabilizer to the can as well. Two cycle blowers have the oil and gas mixed and could benefit from the stabilizer too. Either add fuel stabilizer to the blower or from the treated can and go ahead run the blower. If your garden shed is like many others, go ahead and swap out the blower for the mower so it is easy to get to the first time you need it.

Some projects potentially left undone or unfinished could involve protection newer plants from the winter winds and sun, especially if they are needle or broadleaved evergreens. Temporary screening or using an anti-desiccant will work. Small plants can be protected by covering with evergreen boughs or even branches that will catch leaves. This has the added benefit of being disguised and hidden from rabbits. Any rabbit fencing put up should be pressed into the ground to be frozen in later to prevent rabbits from burrowing or pushing the fence out of the way. Rabbits will stand on their hind legs or climb up the snowdrift so be sure the fencing is high enough to be effective.

The last couple of things to do at the very end of the season are to clean up those gardening tools for the final time and to remove the hose from the house, drain and put away for the winter. If you leave the hose with water in it, freezing and thawing will break down the hose components and it will not last. Perhaps even a bigger deal is that while homes come with a frost-free spigot now, leaving the hose on can mean there is water left in the spigot that can freeze. These are the last two since watering late into the season is critical to all our plants, young, old, recently planted. Even if you had already cleaned the garden tools, you have likely used at least some of them again, since that is our nature as a gardener. See, you did work some of that turkey off.

Winterizing Your Home Orchard Thu, 23 Nov 2017 10:28:00 +0000 Rodent damage to the trunk at the soil line happens when grass grows tall next to the trunk. Remove the grass and weeds using hand clippers, not the string trimmer, as that can cause more problems. Rodents love to hide in the grass, and they will happily eat the bark off the trunk and the surface of the roots. This feeding can girdle the tree, causing it to die.

Rabbits love to eat thin barked fruit trees (and other thin barked ornamentals), as well as any young tender branches and twigs within reach while standing on their hind legs. Once trees develop the heavier, thicker bark, rabbits seem to leave those tree trunks alone. However, they will continue to eat those tender branches. Mechanical barriers are the most effective method of preventing rabbit damage. Use a cylinder of chicken wire, hardware cloth or fencing specific to keeping rabbits out which has graduated openings. The openings are narrow at the bottom and get bigger the higher up on the fence. Young rabbits will not be able to get inside in the spring either. You must secure the cylinder of wire so the rabbits cannot push it over and feed, and it must be higher than any expected snow or snowdrift common in your yard. Since fruit trees are often branched low to the ground, a wide wire cylinder is often the most practical. A larger diameter and taller wire column is needed if you also have deer feeding on a regular basis.

There are other materials, such as spiral plastic wraps or commercial tree wraps, that are applied once cold weather is here to stay. The best wraps will be lighter in color to reflect heat away from the trunks. Wrapping the trunk also will have additional benefits, preventing winter sunscald and frost cracks. When the trees are wrapped, we are not trying to keep the trunk warm, but rather to shade the trunk from direct sunlight that can raise the trunk temperature above 32 degrees and cause that freeze crack. These cracks are most common on the southern or western exposures of the tree trunk. This damage will not show up until the following growing season. Remove the wraps after any chance of frosts and freezing temperatures in the spring. This allows the trunks to grow in girth and develop hardier bark.

One area often overlooked is water drainage away from the trunk at the soil line. Fruit tree trunks standing in water and then being frozen causes damage to the trunk, leading to crown and root rots. Be sure to allow for drainage away from the base of the tree for the winter.

Protect your Landscape from Rabbits this Winter Tue, 21 Nov 2017 10:23:00 +0000 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.

Late Season Vegetable Storage Tips Thu, 09 Nov 2017 13:48:00 +0000 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."

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

Drought to Drowning Thu, 02 Nov 2017 15:33:00 +0000 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.

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