Good Growing Keeping you growing with good ideas Sun, 15 May 2005 13:02:08 -0500 Overwintering Tender Bulbs Wed, 17 Oct 2018 13:45:00 +0000 Plants like cannas, caladiums, dahlias, elephant ears, gladiolus, and tuberous begonia can make a great addition to the landscape. These plants are commonly referred to as tender bulbs, or summer-blooming bulbs. Not all of them actually grow from bulbs, but this is what their fleshy storage structures are commonly referred to as (other storage structures include corms, rhizomes, tubers, and roots). Unlike spring-blooming bulbs such as tulips and daffodils, these tropical plants will be killed by our cold winter temperatures if left outdoors. Therefore if we don't want to have to buy new bulbs every year we need to dig and store them indoors for the winter.

Once the foliage has begun to turn yellow, or has been killed by a frost it can be cut back. The plants should be dug up within a few days of a frost to make sure rot-causing organisms don't enter the bulbs. Be careful when digging plants; if the bulbs are accidentally cut or 'skinned' this creates an entry for pathogens that can quickly spread disease. One way to avoid damaging the bulbs is to begin digging several inches away from the plant. Loosen the soil all around the plant, then lift the entire clump. After the clump has been lifted, remove any excess soil on the bulbs and discard any damaged bulbs. Using a digging fork can also help avoid causing damage to bulbs.

Most bulbs will need a curing, or drying, period before being stored for the winter. This can be as short as 1 to 3 days or as long as long as three weeks for plants like gladiolus and callas. While drying keep the bulbs out of direct sunlight and in a well-ventilated area with temperatures around 60 to 70 degrees.

Before storing bulbs inspect them again for any signs of disease or insects. Discard or treat any bulbs that may have pest problems. If you store them with 'healthy' bulbs the problems can spread over the winter and become a much larger problem. It's also a good idea to label what the bulbs are so that you know what's what come spring (there's not much more frustrating than having a bunch of bulbs and having no idea what's what). Dried bulbs can be stored in 2 to 3-inch layers of peat moss, sand, vermiculite, sawdust or coconut coir in a well-ventilated container such as milk or bread crates or cardboard boxes. Try not to let bulbs touch one another while they are being stored; because this will help prevent the spread of rot between bulbs. For the most part, bulbs should be stored in a cool area with temperatures around 40 to 50 degrees such as an unheated garage, an unfinished basement or a root cellar.

Periodically check your bulbs throughout the winter and remove any that appear to be rotting. Also, check on the moisture levels. If bulbs are beginning to shrink and become wrinkled, moisten the media they are being stored in with a spray bottle. Just make sure not to moisten them too much because that can lead to rot.]]>
Invasive Bush Honeysuckle Sat, 13 Oct 2018 14:12:00 +0000 The problem with learning about invasive plants species is once you know about them, you start to see them everywhere. It can be a little depressing. How joyous it was when I began my life in horticulture. Learning about amazing plant processes and all the wonderful plants used in the ornamental landscape. Indeed, at the outset of my botanical life, all plants were good.

In practice, things are quite different. My understanding of the term 'invasive' took shape after learning my first legally invasive plant – bush honeysuckle.

Bush honeysuckle describes a family of shrub-like honeysuckles. The most common invasive honeysuckles in Illinois are Tartarian (Lonicera tatarica), Amur (L. maacki), and Morrow (L. morrow). These plants hail from Europe and Asia and were once recommended for planting as ornamentals, for wildlife cover and food, and erosion control.

Yet, landowners and researchers have now discovered, these non-native bush honeysuckles are a lousy wildlife food source and actually make erosion worse! Today, bush honeysuckle is considered one of the biggest threats to our native Illinois ecosystems.

Bush honeysuckle can be identified due to their opposite leaf arrangement, white spring flowers along the stem, and pairs of typically red fruit in the fall. The center of the stem is hollow, whereas Illinois' single native honeysuckle species has a solid stem.

The best way to find bush honeysuckle is to look into the woods in the late fall or early spring where it can form dense thickets. Honeysuckle can survive in full sun or the shade of a woodland understory and it is the first to leaf out in the spring and last to drop its leaves in the fall. The shrub and herbaceous understory of woodlands vanish under the blanket of honeysuckle leaves. Leaving behind bare soil that washes into stream and rivers, choking out aquatic life. Overstory trees are not immune to the effects of bush honeysuckle. Research has shown that large tree in forests invaded by bush honeysuckle are stunted by as much as 40 percent!

Depending on the situation, there are different methods to control honeysuckle. Mechanical control using a saw or loppers to remove stems triggers vigorous growth and is often unsuccessful unless repeated multiple times a year, for many years. Some woodlands are so overgrown with bush honeysuckle, a person cannot even walk through the forest. In this case, most landowners use a skid steer or tractor with a brush clearing attachment. They then wait for the flush of new growth and can then walk through and spray the new growth with an herbicide.

In most situations, a landowner will turn to herbicides to control bush honeysuckle. Many use the cut-stump technique, where one person cuts the honeysuckle six inches from the ground and a second paints the stump with a 20 percent concentration of glyphosate herbicide. The second option is a foliar spray with a 2 percent concentration glyphosate solution. Either technique is best performed in the fall when the plant is sending energy to the root system and bush honeysuckle is one of the only shrubs with leaves making it easy to identify. Unfortunately, once you learn this plant you'll start seeing it everywhere.

There is a lot more when it comes to controlling bush honeysuckle and promoting native understory plants. Contact your local Extension office for more information on invasive plant species.]]>
Protecting the Countryside: The importance of open space Wed, 10 Oct 2018 14:11:00 +0000 This week's Good Growing column is not going to center on gardening. Instead, we are going to look at the bigger picture of the landscape.

Confession time – while I did study horticultural science at SIUC, my final three years of formal education was a Masters of Landscape Architecture at Kansas State University. The majority of landscape architects (LAs) are not trained in horticultural or botanical sciences. LAs typically, aren't the ones to diagnose your tomato disease or ask for a quote on mowing the lawn. Some LAs specialize in residential design or site design, where they work with individual property owners on the fine details to create spectacular landscapes. Other LAs, may have their roots in horticulture or botany and use that emphasis in their work.

However, many LAs work in the big picture. Much of my class time at K-State was devoted to community and regional development and planning. This is a broad-scale of the landscape dealing with acres and sometimes square miles of land.

As we examine historical land use prior to World War II, most Americans lived in a rural setting. Today, 80 percent of Americans live in an urban area. That type of population shift caused our cities balloon in size, known as urban sprawl. The growth of cities continues with 6,000 acres of open land converted to development per day, according to the US Forest Service. Additionally, the US Forest Service predicts by 2060 total urban and developed area will increase by 39 to 69 million acres.

Which finally brings us to the point of this article – the loss of agricultural and natural landscapes to development. Agricultural and natural landscapes provide urban areas with food and natural resources. Natural landscapes such as forests, wetlands, and prairie create habitat for wildlife, clean our air and water, help to build soil, absorb stormwater, and give humans a place for recreation. The spread of cities and towns into open space has become quite a balancing act and one that is sure to become more complicated.

The developer term used to describe ag or natural landscapes untouched by the bulldozer is "greenfield". A common misconception is that economic growth is characterized by the horizontal expansion of the city or town across the landscape. This greenfield development takes place on the fringes of town and creeps outward into the countryside. These new developments are desirable to most, but they do come with extra costs of infrastructure maintenance and loss of tax revenue to municipalities as residents move outside of city limits. Meanwhile, the existing properties within the town must deal with aging infrastructure, loss of citizens, and reduced property value.

Reinvesting within existing development can also be considered a potential for economic growth. Many communities are working to preserve open space and slow the outward growth of their towns and cities by encouraging reinvestment in downtowns and existing residential neighborhoods.

Portland, Oregon created an Urban Growth Boundary (UGB). In its simplest form, areas outside of the UGB are preserved as agriculture use or preserved natural areas. Other developers incorporate agriculture within the community called 'agrihoods'. Kane County Illinois has taken big steps to preserve half of the county's land as agriculture use and open space. Other counties implement comprehensive plans to direct growth. An option for private landowners are land trusts.

The above-mentioned options are not always perfect or agreed-upon by everyone, but they can help protect agricultural and natural landscapes. One other thing I learned at K-State is to develop communities that respond to the needs of the people, the voices of the citizens need to be part of the planning process. Having knowledge of these different development strategies is important when gathering for community planning.

Whew, that is enough urban planning talk. Next week its back to the exciting things of life - plants, bugs, and disease.]]>
Picking Pumpkins Wed, 03 Oct 2018 13:23:00 +0000 Even though the weather seems to think it's still summer, fall has arrived. This means leaves changing color, apple cider, and pumpkin spice everywhere. It also means many of us will be taking a visit to a pumpkin patch.

Pumpkins are a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, along with several other familiar plants such as squash, cucumbers, melons, and gourds. These plants are commonly referred to as cucurbits. Typically a cucurbit that produces a round, orange fruit (botanically speaking pumpkins are fruit even though we treat them as vegetables) is called a pumpkin. There are a few species of plants that contain the plants we commonly refer to as pumpkins; Cucurbita maxima, Cucurbita moschata, and primarily Cucurbita pepo.

When it comes to pumpkins, Illinois is king. In 2017 Illinois produced over 640 million pounds of pumpkins, which is almost 4 times more than the runner-up (California). Most (80%) of the pumpkins grown in Illinois aren't your average carving pumpkins, but processing pumpkins used to make canned pumpkin. Processing pumpkins are typically the size and shape of a watermelon, with light orange skin, and weigh about 20 pounds. According to the Morton (IL) Chamber of Commerce, about 80 percent of canned pumpkin in the world is produced at the Libby's plant there, making Morton the "Pumpkin Capital of the World". If you make your pumpkin pie with canned pumpkin, that pumpkin probably came from Illinois.

When you make your way out to the pumpkin patch here are a few things to look for when you're selecting pumpkins.

  • First, choose a pumpkin with a stem. Pumpkins without a stem don't last as long as those that do. Also, never carry your pumpkin by the stem. If the stem breaks off it creates a wound that can lead to rot.
  • Many people look for a nice round pumpkin, but in reality the shape of the pumpkin isn't all that important. If you plan on carving and/or displaying your pumpkin look for one with a flat bottom, so it will stand upright.
  • Examine pumpkins for soft spots, mold, wrinkles, holes or open cuts. If you find any of these, move to the next pumpkin because these areas will rot.
  • Keep your pumpkin in a cool place until you are ready to carve it, this will help extend the life of your pumpkin.

When it comes time to carve your pumpkin, wash it with warm water and a little dish soap and let it dry. Carving should only be done a few days before Halloween. After pumpkins have been carved they begin to lose moisture and rot organisms begin to move in. One way to help slow down the decline of your pumpkin is to wash the cut surfaces with a 20% bleach solution (to help prevent rot) and coat the cuts with petroleum jelly (to help prevent moisture loss). Using a candle can also speed up the deterioration of pumpkins, so instead use a battery powered light.

Once you're done with your pumpkin, it will make a great addition to your compost.

Give Your Soil a Check-up This Fall Wed, 19 Sep 2018 11:21:00 +0000 As you begin your fall garden cleanup think about adding a soil test to your list of things to do. Soil testing is a quick and easy task that has many benefits. By conducting a soil test, it will allow you to see what the pH of your soil is, as well as what the nutrient levels in your soils are like.

Conducting a soil test is good for both your wallet and the environment. By knowing what the nutrient and pH levels are like in your soil, you can amend your soils to optimize the growing conditions for your plants. Knowing the nutrient levels in your soils may lead to you using fewer fertilizers which will save you money and is better for the environment. Adding too much fertilizer to the soil can lead to fertilizers leaching or running-off into bodies of water and polluting them.

Most flowers, shrubs, grasses, fruits, and vegetables grow best in soils that have a pH of 6.1 to 6.9 (slightly acidic). It's no coincidence that most nutrients that are used by plants are readily available for plant uptake in this range. Other plants, such as rhododendron, azalea, and blueberries, grow best in more acidic soils. By conducting a soil test, you can determine if any adjustments need to be made to the soil pH. Improper soil pH is one common reason why plants that like acidic soil don't do well for people.

Soil tests can be conducted at any time (as long as the soil isn't frozen and the soil isn't too wet). Fall is a good time to test soils because any deficiencies that may be present can be addressed early. Any amendments that are added will have had time to react with the soil by the time spring rolls around again.

When conducting a soil test you want to make sure you are getting a representative sample. Check out your soil's characteristics like color, texture, and drainage. If the soil you wish to test is uniform, a single sample can be taken. If your soil has varying characteristics separate samples should be taken for the different soil types.

When taking a soil sample:

  • Remove any turf, residue or other plant debris from the surface.
  • Dig a hole 12 inches deep for trees and shrubs, 6-8 inches deep for gardens, flowerbeds, and 3-4 inches deep for samples being taken from the lawn.
  • Next, take a thin slice of soil down one side of the hole and collect the soil. Make sure to remove any roots or other debris from the sample.
  • Take at least eight random samples from the area you are sampling.
  • Combine all of the samples together and break up any soil clumps. You will need about one pint of the combined soil samples for the test.
  • A separate sample should be taken for each growing area. For example, one for the vegetable garden, one for a flower bed, and one for the lawn. If you have a problem area, that too may warrant its own sample.

After obtaining your sample it can be sent off to a soil testing lab. University of Illinois Extension has a list of soil testing labs that can be found at When selecting a testing lab try to choose one that will provide an interpretation of the results for home samples.

Indoor Plant Week Reminds it is Time to Start Bringing Houseplants Indoors Wed, 12 Sep 2018 12:06:00 +0000 Coming up this third week of September is National Indoor Plant week. My attitude toward houseplants is quite harsh. I refuse to grow an indoor plant that is finicky about the pH of the water or must only be given a tablespoon of water every three days. To live in my house, you have to be tough!

Late spring of every year, I return my houseplants to the outdoors, where they often thrive and grow exponentially in size. Sitting on my patio they soak up the dappled sun and natural rainfall, the plants seem to revel in being released from the drab, drafty corners of my house.

National Indoor Plant week serves as an important reminder for us neglectful houseplant owners, as this is the time of year when we need to begin to transition our summer-vacationing houseplants back inside. My process begins by placing the potted plants under the full shade of our maple tree. I also become very mindful of predicted nighttime temperatures. Often when I see the temperature dip under 55 degrees Fahrenheit, the plants get moved into the garage. Once nighttime temperatures are reliably in the lower 50s it is time to get the plants inside the house.

Before moving plants inside, they all get a thorough cleaning. Outdoors during the summer, you may notice all types of insects take up residence on your houseplant, but you likely do not want those bugs moving into your residence. Outdoors natural predators such as wasps, aphid lions (green lacewing larvae), spiders, disease, and many others control most houseplant pests. Those predators won't be in your home, which allows pests like aphids, scale, or whitefly to overwhelm plants.

Fortunately, it is very easy to rid your houseplant of common pests. Using a hose I shoot sharp streams of water, blasting the leaves and stems of the houseplant, knocking off most, if not all pest insects. Inspect the plant leaves (top and bottom) and the stems for any lingering critters. Additionally, the container is wiped clean with soapy water.

A word of caution - inspect the inside of the pot closely. One spring when helping my father move a large houseplant outside of the family cabin we came face-to-face with a large black snake wrapped around the inside of the pot. The snake may have come in the previous fall with the plants. On the plus side, there were no mice that winter and the snake was now back outside.

Repot houseplants that have become root bound and to make sure other soil-dwelling critters aren't also brought indoors.

If pests such as aphids become a serious problem, spray plants with a horticultural soap or oil labeled for use on indoor plants.

And if you are wondering what indestructible plants have survived my care:

  • Rubber tree – I propagated this thing while attending SIUC in 2005. It hasn't died yet.
  • Pothos – Same as the rubber tree, and it looks healthy to boot.
  • Jade plant – I've only had this one for two years. By winters end, it looked ready to give up the ghost, but being outside has created an incredible flush of new growth. I also repotted into fresh potting mix and worm castings.
  • Aloe – I killed the top growing portion of this plant because I placed right in front of a vent. A Master Gardener commented, "How do you kill aloe?" After putting the half-dead plant outside, new growth emerged from the soil. It is now happy and healthy. Ready for round two!
  • Dracaena – This plant should be dead. It takes my neglect and smiles back. The only time this plant was questionable, is when, having no other location, I placed it near a vent. After closing the vent, the plant perked back up. That is a common theme of houseplant care, avoid heating and air vents.
  • Philodendron (vining type) – This plant has come back from the brink more times than I can count. The plant's winter home is in my office where it often goes forgotten for a month, if not longer.

Yellowjackets Wed, 05 Sep 2018 14:10:00 +0000 As the calendar creeps closer and closer to fall, often times we begin to encounter yellowjackets more and more. These wasps are commonly confused with honey bees because of their similar size (both are about ½ long) and coloration. Despite this, they are rather easy to tell apart (if you're willing to look close enough). Yellowjackets have bright yellow and black bands on their abdomens and are shiny, while honey bees are golden brown and fuzzy.

To understand why we often times start seeing yellowjackets more frequently in the fall we need to talk a little bit about their lifecycle. Yellowjacket queens will overwinter in protected areas (under the bark of rotting trees, leaf litter, firewood, etc.) and come spring they will emerge and begin constructing nests. Nests are commonly built underground and occasionally in building walls. Colonies are annual meaning a new one is started every year; they do not reuse nests.

As the seasons progress, several generations of wasps will be produced. Despite the bad name they get, yellowjackets are considered beneficial insects. Larvae are meat eaters, consuming caterpillars and other insects that adults have captured and brought back to the nest (free pest control!). Adults on the other hand feed on flower nectar and other sweet liquids (may do some pollination).

By late summer, nests may contain thousands of workers. This is when they can begin to cause problems. All of these wasps need something to eat. As fall approaches and progresses, many flowers stop blooming, reducing the amount of food available for yellowjacket colonies. Once it freezes, blooming ceases. As retired Extension Entomologist Phil Nixon puts it, "The result is a very large, very hungry population of wasps that are short-tempered and sting with little provocation." Because of the lack of food, they will begin searching far and wide. They are attracted to various sweet food items such as carbonated beverages, juices, candy, fruit, and ice cream. When it comes to beverages, make sure to put them in cups outdoors so you can see what you are drinking. If a yellowjacket decides to check you out, blow on it or brush it away rather than swatting at it (which will commonly result in you getting stung).

In-ground yellowjacket colonies can be managed by drenching the exit hole with an approved pesticide. After the nest has been drenched place a shovel full of soil over the exit hole. If the nest is inside a building, use an approved insecticidal dust on wall openings where the yellowjackets are entering. Do not seal the entrance to a colony in a wall while it is active. Doing so can result in yellowjackets chewing through the walls and into your home. Regardless of where the nest is, treat them at dawn or dusk when they are least active. Do not use a flashlight, they will fly at the light and you will likely be stung. Also, make sure to use protective clothing (long pants, long sleeves, gloves, etc.). If accessing the nest is difficult or you are not comfortable treating yourself, contact a professional pest control company. If the nest is located away from high traffic areas, a good option is to wait and do nothing since nests will die out once cold temperatures arrive. Regardless, it's never a good idea to 'kill them with fire'.