The Joy of Gardening Whether prairie plant or pansy, native or ornamental, gain insight into all aspects of gardening & wildlife. Sun, 15 May 2005 13:02:08 -0500 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/cook/eb378/rss.xml Browning on Colorado Blue Spruce 'Fat Albert' http://web.extension.illinois.edu/cook/eb378/entry_12348/ Fri, 10 Mar 2017 07:01:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/cook/eb378/entry_12348/ I have a Colorado Blue Spruce 'Fat Albert'. I noticed last year that it wasn't looking good. I was out today looking at it, only to find that the needles in the whole heart of the tree seem to be turning black and falling off. Is there anything I can do to save it?

Your description leads me to believe that it is Rhizosphaera needle cast, which is a fungal disease. Rhizosphaera needle cast causes older needles in the centers of trees to turn brown or purple, and then fall off. The new needles at the tips of branches remain green and unaffected. This disease spreads by splashing water and it overwinters in both live and dead needles. Needle cast will often start in the lower branches and move upwards though the tree. Cultural control options include increasing air circulation around trees, (spacing, selective pruning), selecting a full sun location, avoiding sprinklers wetting needles and avoiding plants having damp foliage going into the night. Always keep trees in optimal health by practicing to avoid stress which increases disease susceptibility. to If the problem persists, the fungicide Chlorothalonil offers a chemical control option and should be applied in early spring to protect the new growth. Several applications are needed. Colorado Blue Spruce naturally grows at higher elevations and is not native to our Illinois region, which puts it at a disadvantage and makes it more susceptible to pest and disease damage. It is a good practice to select native plants that are adapted to local environmental conditions.

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How Can I Support Pollinators? http://web.extension.illinois.edu/cook/eb378/entry_12342/ Tue, 07 Mar 2017 09:23:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/cook/eb378/entry_12342/ What is the current buzz about pollinators?

From the plight of the honeybee to the predicament of the Monarch butterfly, pollinators are increasingly in the news due to their drastic decline. The iconic honeybee and Monarch butterfly are however indicators of a far more widespread decline. There are over 4000 species of native bees and 700 species of butterflies in the US, and many of these are decreasing in numbers.

What are pollinators?

A pollinator is anything that transfers pollen between or within flowers, leading to fertilization and thus fruit and seed set. In Illinois pollinators are typically comprised of bees, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds and insects. Without these beloved creatures, many of our fundamental crops would be lost, as 1 of every 3 mouthfuls eaten is dependent on bees. Pollination is also essential for seed set and therefore plant survival, so whether wildlife lover or not, we all depend on pollinators.

Why are pollinators declining?

Pollinator decline is due to a myriad of reasons:

  • Widespread use of pesticides (Neonicitinoids especially)
  • Lack of native plants
  • Lack of good quality habitat
  • Removal of winter nesting material
  • Invasive pests, plants and diseases

What can I do?

  • Reduce or eliminate pesticide use.
  • Grow native plants.
  • Cultivate plant diversity.
  • Select plants rich in pollen for foraging, and host plants for reproduction.
  • Ensure a succession of blooms from early spring to late fall as a continuous food source.
  • Plant in small groupings rather than individual plants.
  • Reduce the size of your lawn.
  • Practice natural lawn care; leave lawn clippings, apply compost/organic fertilizer, no pesticide use.
  • Embrace flowers in your lawn; clover and dandelions are excellent pollen sources.
  • Leave perennials over winter; do not cut down and remove plant materials. Many butterflies and bees overwinter in hollow plant stems or leaf litter.
  • Allow leaf litter to remain.
  • Avoid hybridized plants as these have little pollen; select natural forms.
  • Provide a water source.

If you wish to provide a pollen source but are not ready to grow natives, find out which common garden plants are good pollen producers. Some are very suitable; Zinnias, Cosmos, sunflowers, marigolds, Alyssum, Crocus, Allium, Anemone, Sedum, yarrow, butterfly bush, Caryopteris and Russian sage. Allowing herbs to bloom is a simple way to support pollinators who cherish mint, borage, fennel, cilantro, thyme, lavender and rosemary.

Start small! Do not think that you need to change your entire garden. With over 95% of land in Illinois privately owned, small changes can ultimately make a big difference.

Any changes you make will benefit not just pollinators, but also yourself, because sharing your garden with wildlife is such joy that once you experience it, suddenly the thought of a garden without life buzzing around seems bleak. So enjoy the tranquil calm of watching that special butterfly fluttering between plants on a sunny afternoon, whilst soaking up the rich fragrance of your pollinator plants.

For information on sustainable gardening visit Conservation @ Home http://web.extension.illinois.edu/cook/conservationhome/

Native Pollinator Plants for Continuous Bloom

Latin name

Common name

Bloom period

Height

Color

Preferred conditions

Plant's pollinators

Mertensia virginica

Virginia Bluebells

Early spring

1–2 ft

Blue

Part sun

Bees, butterflies

Aquilegia Canadensis

Columbine

Spring

1–3 ft

Yellow/

red

Part sun

Bees, hummingbird

Baptisia leucophaea

Cream Wild Indigo

Late spring early summer

1.5 ft

Cream

Sun

Bees, butterflies

Pycnanthemum virginianum

Mountain Mint

Early to midsummer

3 ft

White

Sun

Bees, butterflies

Monarda fistulosa

Bee Balm, Bergamot

Early to midsummer

2–4 ft

Lavender/

pink

Sun

Bees, butterflies

Penstemon digitalis

Foxglove Penstemon

Midsummer

3 ft

White

Sun

Bees, butterflies, hummingbird

Liatris aspera

Rough Blazing Star

Midsummer

2–5 ft

Purple

Sun

Bees, butterflies

Echinacea pallida

Pale Coneflower

Mid to late summer

3 ft

Purple

Sun

Bees, butterflies

Lobelia cardinalis

Cardinal Flower

Mid to late summer

2–3 ft

Red

Sun

Hummingbirds, butterflies

Rudbeckia triloba

Brown-Eyed Susan

Late summer, early fall

5 ft

Yellow

Sun

Bees, butterflies

Veronicastrum virginicum

Culver's Root

Midsummer to end of summer

5 ft

White

Sun

Bees, butterflies

Asclepias tuberosa

Butterfly Weed

Midsummer to end of summer

1–2 ft

Orange

Sun

Bees, butterflies, hummingbird

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae

New England Aster

Late summer to late fall

4 ft

Purple

Sun

Bees, butterflies

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Grafted Tomatoes http://web.extension.illinois.edu/cook/eb378/entry_12306/ Sat, 25 Feb 2017 10:36:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/cook/eb378/entry_12306/ Should I be buying grafted tomatoes? What are their advantages to warrant the higher price? Will the wild growth from the base of the plant ultimately take over?

Answer

There is no straightforward answer to that question! Grafted tomatoes, or any other vegetables, do certainly have advantages over their non-grafted counterparts. Grafted tomatoes have soil-borne disease resistance, increased- vigor, yield and overall resilience. Whether these features are necessary or not depends on the individual gardeners expectations and current growing challenges. If you are experiencing persistent soil-borne disease from year to year, yes, than I would say, pay the extra money and purchase grafted plants. Otherwise you will be unable to plant anything from the nightshade family in that area for many years to come, including peppers, potatoes, eggplants and tomatillos. To counteract the persistence of soil-borne diseases the investment is well worth it. However if you are trying to avoid air-borne diseases; i.e. early and late blight, than grafted plants will not provide a solution. Although these plants are quite resilient, they are not immune to our most common diseases. The best course of action is still the use of traditional cultural practices; spacing plants generously, watering early and at the base so plants do not go into the night wet, removing excess foliage for air circulation, and planting in full sun. Grafted plants will provide higher yields, however with tomatoes this might not be as important as with other vegetables, as tomatoes are by nature great producers.

What is a grafted plant? Grafted plants combine the characteristics of two plants. The bottom plant serves for vigor, disease resistance, and yield; whilst the top plant provides the desirable fruit; i.e. flavor, aroma, color etc. Grafting is a natural method of combining the best traits of both plants without compromising the character of the desired fruit. Because the bottom plant is the more vigorous, yes, if you allow sprouting from the base, it will ultimately take over. This can be easily avoided by simply removing any shoots that emerge from below the graft.

Do I favor grafted plants? I grow both grafted and non-grafted. As a gardener it is always nice to experiment, observe and learn. Another option would be to carry out the grafting one's self. With the correct rootstock, some basic guidelines and little experience, everyone has the potential to be a grafter.

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Brown Patches on Draceana http://web.extension.illinois.edu/cook/eb378/entry_12173/ Wed, 18 Jan 2017 11:35:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/cook/eb378/entry_12173/ My corn plant has developed brown blotches all over, both old and new growth. The green parts of the leaves look healthy. I do not think I am doing anything differently than I have been doing for a number of years. Is it a disease, or am I doing something wrong?

Answer

Corn plants, or Draceana fragrans, are wonderful houseplants, as they are relatively trouble-free, require little maintenance and put up with low light levels. No plant is indestructible however. The symptoms you are describing could have several possible causes, however the most likely culprit is overwatering. Even though your care of the plant has not changed, other environmental factors do change. This time of year, light levels are low, and plants drastically reduce active growth, or photosynthesis. This winter light levels have been even lower than usual, as we have experienced many dark and cloudy days. During these times plants require absolute minimal watering as they are barely using water. Another side effect of overwatering can be salt buildup in the soil; in this case plants should be repotted into fresh potting soil. I advise that you; reduce your watering, practice consistent watering, use room temperature water, check soil moisture levels throughout the pot and seek in an area in your home with good light levels. Brown spots can be remedied by cutting leaf sections or entire leaves. In extreme cases even foliage crowns can be pruned to promote healthy, new growth.

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Leaves Smothering My Lawn http://web.extension.illinois.edu/cook/eb378/entry_12171/ Thu, 29 Dec 2016 11:30:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/cook/eb378/entry_12171/ For some reason the leaves on several of my trees did not fall this year. After the fall cleanup, the two snows in mid-December knocked them all down, and now they are buried under the snow. I've heard that accumulated and packed down leaves will smother and kill off the grass. Also, it makes the grass more susceptible to diseases. Is there anything that can be done? Or is there anything that I can spray on the lawn to help negate the effect of the excess leaves?

Answer

Plants use a combination of daylight and temperature cues to tell the seasons. This year, due to the exceptionally warm autumn we had, and then that drastic change to cold, some trees, especially non-natives, were not able to drop their leaves. Buckthorn and Bradford Pear are two trees that were still green as we experienced the sudden and dramatic onset of winter.

I cannot speak to the quantity of leaves nor the leaf type that you currently have on your lawn. Regardless of this however, I would recommend that you do not do anything during winter. Wait until next year in the spring. During these freezing temperatures there will be no onset of disease or damage to your lawn due to the leaves. You will likely do more damage trying to remove the snow and leaves at this stage. When the snow melts in spring you can remove the leaf cover, however even then, proceed with caution. The ground will be wet and you do not want to tear up the lawn or cause compaction, as this will further encourage disease.

In order for you to be able to spray the lawn, snow and leaves will need to be absent. By this stage I would advise to simply allow the flow of fresh air and sunshine to remedy any disease problems that might be present. Lawn molds in early spring generally do not cause permanent damage to the lawn. They are primarily aesthetic and disappear in time. Although fungicides can be sprayed preventatively in autumn if mold problems reoccur annually, it is often not necessary. Instead try to diagnose what is causing the mold; i.e. foot traffic in winter, compaction, large snow piles.

So at this stage I would recommend waiting until spring and seeing what the next season brings before taking action.

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Top Ten Tips for Poinsettias http://web.extension.illinois.edu/cook/eb378/entry_11960/ Mon, 21 Nov 2016 11:52:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/cook/eb378/entry_11960/ "It is hard to think of the Holidays and not conjure up images of red Poinsettias and a snowy landscape", said Kim Ellson, a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator. Poinsettias truly have become a symbol of Christmas and it would be very difficult to think them away.

"Although reds are certainly the most iconic" said Ellson, "variations of pinks, whites, burgundies and salmons are also very attractive." Most plants come predominantly in bush form yet there are also some in tree form.

Why is it then that despite their abundance and familiarity, their care still oftentimes a mystery to many? Are Poinsettias really that difficult to keep healthy and looking their best for any length of time? "There is no need people should be experiencing difficulties with their Poinsettia plants" commented Ellson. "Here are some tips to ensure your Poinsettia looks its very best this season and well into the New Year."

  1. Purchase a healthy, high quality plant.
  2. Make sure the cyathia remain tight and have not opened. The cyathia are the green buds in the centers, surrounded the colorful red leaves; which open up to tiny yellow flowers.
  3. White and healthy roots are a great indicator of good plant health.
  4. Wrap plants before transporting these home.
  5. Avoid cold drafts; Poinsettias are highly sensitive to direct drafts and suffer damage easily.
  6. Always water thoroughly.
  7. Let plants go completely dry between waterings without stressing plants. Poinsettias are prone to suffer from overwatering as they have sensitive root systems that easily rot out.
  8. If possible select a cool area in your home; avoid heating ducts or bring plant into warm area during Holiday season. This will ensure vibrant colorful bracts.
  9. There is no need to fertilize your Poinsettia during the Holidays; save the fertilizer for March.
  10. Monitor plant for pests such as whitefly by checking the undersides of the leaves to allow for early detection and treatment.

"These basic guidelines should help ensure you get the very most out of your Poinsettia this Holiday and enjoy a colorful season" said Ellson.

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Growing Azaleas and Rhododendrons http://web.extension.illinois.edu/cook/eb378/entry_11929/ Wed, 09 Nov 2016 10:57:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/cook/eb378/entry_11929/ For years I have tried to grow Azaleas and Rhododendrons with limited success. Often in the winter the leaves will turn brown, roll up and next spring after they bloom, they seem to have fewer leaves. So it becomes a slow, steady decline unto death.

I've been told that I probably need to add fertilizer and lime in the fall. But I was also told by others not to fertilize until after they get done blooming in the spring. What am I doing wrong?

Answer

Azaleas and Rhododendrons require acidic soil conditions with a pH of 4.5-6. I would therefore recommend against the use of lime as this will raise the pH of your soils, making it more alkaline. Depending on the quality of your soil your plants may or may not require any fertilizer. If you regularly add compost, leaf mulch or any other organic amendments to your soil; there is no need for any additional fertilizer. Azaleas and Rhododendrons thrive in loose, loamy soils that are rich in organic matter, and make excellent use of the slow release of nutrients from the natural decomposition process. It is therefore more advisable to periodically amend your soil rather than merely supplying a synthetic fertilizer; or make use of organic fertilizers as these too are slow release. When selecting a suitable fertilizer be sure to look for something labeled for 'acid-loving' plants, as this will ensure you retain a low pH for your plants. Early spring, before or after flowering are good times to fertilize, or alternatively as plants are going dormant in autumn. Avoid fertilizing from mid-summer to early autumn as this will encourage new growth that might not fully harden. Be sure to use any fertilizer sparingly as Azaleas and Rhododendrons have sensitive roots that can suffer root burn easily.

Be aware that Azaleas and Rhododendrons prefer damp summers and have shallow root systems, thereby making them susceptible to droughts. Be sure to provide supplemental water during hot and dry summers. Ensuring your plants are in a suitable location will help lessen any future problems. Select a shady or semi-shady location with a rich, damp and well-drained soil that is somewhat wind sheltered. The curling of the leaves you are describing sounds like it could be winter injury. Winter injury has various causes but many times it is due to either moisture loss or late/excessive fertilization. Be sure plants go into winter well hydrated, so water plants if necessary, and mulch the area around them. If they are in an exposed area provide some protection from drying winds. Avoid late or excessive fertilizer applications.

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