Timeline Through Landscape Design - ARCHIVES A blog to guide home gardeners with seasonal landscape improvements. Sun, 15 May 2005 13:02:08 -0500 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/cook/eb395/rss.xml Special Vegetable Edition - Straw Bale Gardening https://web.extension.illinois.edu/cook/eb395/entry_13355/ Mon, 07 May 2018 09:00:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/cook/eb395/entry_13355/ I typically write about landscape improvements, however, Illinois Extension has been getting a number of calls regarding vegetable gardening in straw bales. So, I decide to write a special edition on the basics of straw bale gardening.

If you are gardening on a budget, have poor soil, or lack space you may want to consider straw bale gardening. This innovative method utilizes a bale of straw as a raised bed garden to grow just about any vegetable, flower or herb. Special consideration should be given to corn and sunflowers as those plants will become top heavy and cause the bale to tip over. Beyond that, choose any crop based on what you like to eat and plant them slightly closer than you would if growing in the ground. For example, one tomato plant per bale and three pepper plants were manageable in Illinois Extension bale gardens.

Selecting and positioning the bale is the next step. Use straw bales, not hay, because hay will result in weeds and grass sprouts. The bale can be placed on paved areas or lawn in full sun. When placing it on lawn, you can add a layer of cardboard or newspapers around the bale then cover the paper with mulch to limit maintenance of mowing around the bale(s). Position bale so that the twine is on the side and the cut side faces up. Next comes conditioning the bed, which requires soaking the bale thoroughly. Be sure to locate it where it will not have to be moved because it will be heavy once wet.

Conditioning the bale is an important step because it will speed up the decomposition process and allow for easy planting. Straw bales that have been sitting exposed outside for a year or more may not need conditioning. There are varying recipes for conditioning fresh cut bales and the process takes about 10 to 12 days. One suggested recipe is shared below.

Days 1 to 3: Keep bale wet each day.

Days 4 to 6: Each day, add ½ to 1 cup of nitrogen-rich fertilizer, such as urea (1/2 cup) or ammonium sulfate (1 cup), then add water. Organic gardeners can substitute 3 cups blood meal over synthetic fertilizers. Organic fertilizers may require more time to allow for decomposition.

Days 7 to 9: Cut the amount of fertilizer in half and add water each day.

Day 10: Stop adding fertilizer but keep it moist.

Day 11: Feel the top of the bale and if it is less than your body temperature it is ready to plant.

Planting is simple. When using transplants make a hole in the bale and place the plant in the hole. It is surprisingly easy to spread the bale apart to make a hole. Adding a cup full of soil to the planting hole will help. If using seeds, place moistened paper towel on top of the bale, then space seeds accordingly and cover them lightly with compost or potting soil (as shown in photo). Keep seeds moist to increase germination rate.

Keep your plants vigorous and healthy by following proper after-planting care procedures. The straw will require a bit more fertilization versus growing in soil. As plants grow add a complete garden fertilizer one to two times per month and water in well. Bales tend to dry out quicker than soil, so water the bale well. Setting up a drip irrigation will limit your time spent on watering. Your time spent on weeding should be little to none. Learn more from Illinois Extension straw bale garden experts by visiting Fruits, Flowers, and Frass blog.

Time to Prune Roses https://web.extension.illinois.edu/cook/eb395/entry_13340/ Fri, 27 Apr 2018 09:00:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/cook/eb395/entry_13340/ Spring has sprung and I am back! I was on leave for quite some time but, I am happy to be back and blogging again.

Looks like it is time to prune my roses. In my area of northeastern Illinois the forsythia are in bloom so, it must be time to prune the roses. Many gardeners use this as a sign to remind them to prune roses. Late winter early spring is generally a great time to prune roses and many other woody plants. It is warm enough to avoid winter injury yet still cool enough to minimize the spread of insects and disease.

The example I have to share is pruning Knockout Roses which are a popular type of rose in the landscape. The breeders of Knockout Roses suggest that bushes will grow three time their size once cut back. Therefore if you cut your roses to one foot, they will be three feet by the end of the season. Knockout roses are considered a shrub rose and can be pruned using the one-third rule (See Photo 1).

The one-third method:


  • Remove one-third of the very oldest canes. This helps keep the plant from becoming an overgrown thicket of poor-flowering canes.
  • Replace these canes by identifying about one-third of the very youngest canes that grew the previous season.
  • Remove the remaining canes.


Important tips to remember when pruning roses:


  • Wear long clothing and thick gloves to prevent injury from thorns
  • Use a clean sharp pruners
  • Make cuts at a 45° angle (See Photo 2)
  • Cut ¼" above an outward facing bud


One handy tool I found to be useful are pruners that hold onto the stem after making the cut (See Photo 3 & 4). This allows you to place your cuttings directly into a bucket once the cut is made. Can you believe it? You never have to handle the thorny stems! If you ever pruned roses before, you know how painful these thorns can be.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to pruning roses. Remember that there are many species and types of roses. For more information on best pruning methods for each species please visit U of I Extension website on pruning roses.

More post to come this winter: Please stay tuned. https://web.extension.illinois.edu/cook/eb395/entry_12766/ Tue, 15 Aug 2017 09:00:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/cook/eb395/entry_12766/ Thank you for your patience,
Beware of Plants in the Landscape that May Cause Skin Reactions https://web.extension.illinois.edu/cook/eb395/entry_12765/ Tue, 01 Aug 2017 09:00:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/cook/eb395/entry_12765/ There are a number of plants to be cautious of while working in your landscape. Learn more from the South Town Star article in which I was quoted by clicking here.

Click here for a more extensive list of plants that cause skin irritations.

Butterfly Weed: Perennial of the Year https://web.extension.illinois.edu/cook/eb395/entry_12586/ Mon, 22 May 2017 09:00:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/cook/eb395/entry_12586/ Late spring to early summer is a good time to incorporate perennials into the garden. As you contemplate plant selection, why not consider butterfly weed, named the 2017 Perennial Plant of the Year™ by the Perennial Plant Association. Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a well-behaved, easy-care plant native to Illinois. It is common in most regions of the state, except in some western areas. It also goes by the name of butterfly milkweed, but people tend to call it butterfly weed because it lacks the white sap of other milkweed species. Butterfly weed is different from the common shrub butterfly bush (Buddleia spp).

Though butterfly weed is commonly found in dry prairies, it adapts to other growing conditions. It prefers full sun and dry to semi-moist, acidic sandy soil, but it tolerates loam and clay soils if they are well drained. Butterfly weed ranges from 1 to 2-1/2 feet tall and spreads 2 feet wide; it displays unique long-lasting orange blooms from early to mid-summer, and it can bloom again in late summer to early fall. On occasion, though rarely, flowers may have hints of red and yellow. The blooms make excellent cut flowers. In the garden, butterfly weed pairs nicely with Liatris spicata, Echinacea sp., and Salvia sp. As the only Illinois milkweed species with orange blossoms, it is easily recognizable.

Butterfly weed will not spread as aggressively as many other milkweeds, but it does produce pods with seeds carried by the wind. To keep the plant contained and encourage repeat blooms later in the year, deadhead spent flowers.Like other milkweeds, butterfly weed is a host plant for the monarch butterfly caterpillar, an insect population that has been decreasing in recent years. In addition to the monarch butterfly, other butterflies, the ruby throated hummingbird, and many bees, wasps, and moths enjoy feeding on butterfly weed. Milkweed beetles and aphids can feed on it rather destructively, but deer tend to avoid it.

This native species should be on everyone's plant list. It benefits wildlife and has long-lasting beauty without much work. Be patient, as it will take a couple years for butterfly weed to look its best. As it tends to emerge late in the spring, do not cultivate too early in its planted location. Nurture young plants by not cutting them back in the fall, and add a layer of mulch until they become well established. You can add beauty to the landscape while supporting pollinators by planting butterfly weed this summer.

The Marvels of Spring Ephemerals https://web.extension.illinois.edu/cook/eb395/entry_12345/ Wed, 08 Mar 2017 09:00:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/cook/eb395/entry_12345/ Spring will be arriving soon, and with the new season comes brand new foliage followed by a burst of flowers. Gardeners poking around the yard may discover plants emerging here and there.

Some of the earliest of these plants are native spring ephemerals. Ephemerals, or short-lived plants, are often misunderstood and I refer to them as the mystery plants of the Eastern U.S. deciduous forest. That is because they seem to emerge suddenly and vanish almost as quickly as they came.

Gardeners find themselves wondering if they did something wrong. Many of these mysterious plants emerge, flower, set seed, and die back within two months.

Most ephemerals begin growing in very late winter to early spring before trees develop leaves. During this time, they are able to take advantage of the moist conditions and sunlight hitting the forest floor. Once trees begin growing leaves, many ephemerals enter dormancy and remain unseen until the following spring.

I caution gardeners not to confuse ephemerals with spring flowering bulbs, such as tulips or daffodils, although they may have similar underground structures. Energy reserves are stored in their fleshy roots, corms, and tubers, and allow ephemerals to grow very quickly as warmer temperatures arrive. One major difference is that many spring ephemerals will completely die back to the ground, unlike the leaves of bulbs, which remain well into late spring and summer. That said, if environmental conditions are favorable, attractive foliage will remain on some ephemerals well into summer.

For example, when planted in moist shaded areas, the leaves of the fringed bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia) tend to remain into early summer. It also goes the other way around: if warmer temperatures are delayed, ephemerals may remain hidden until conditions are just right, as in the case of mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) and celandine poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum). I like to note that celandine poppy can be very aggressive.

The earliest of the ephemerals, emerging in February, is skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus). The foul-smelling, tiny yellow flowers held on a spadix generate enough heat to melt surrounding snow and attract flies as pollinators.

Spring beauty (Claytonia virginica) is one of the most plentiful of the native ephemerals, forming dense stands from February through May. It even tolerates mowing. The low-growing and grass-like foliage is adorned with bubblegum-pink petals with dark pink stripes.

Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica), with their floppy leaves, appear in March. These plants are known for colonizing bottomland soils. The clusters of bell-shaped flowers are nearly erect over the foliage and the plant quickly dies back after blooming.

Prairie trillium (Trillium recurvatum), which also appears in woodlands, emerges in May and is the most versatile of the three native trilliums. Prairie trillium has deep burgundy flowers, while leaves are distinguishable by the dappled light and dark green variations.

Typically blooming around June, white trout lily (Erythronium albidum) has leaves that appear two to four weeks before the flower. The lily-like white flowers grow downward, hanging on a bare stalk over the two green or mottled leaves. Amazingly, it can take trout lilies up to seven years to get their second leaves.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the variety of spring ephemerals. Be sure to explore the many plant options before incorporating these into the garden.

A good place to begin is Illinois Extension's wildflower directory, found at http://extension.illinois.edu/wildflowers. Beyond researching the internet, I encourage gardeners to take a walk in the woods, notice the first signs of spring, and be inspired to learn the varieties of these early blossoms. Remember these beautiful bloomers not only benefit people with their carpet of colors, they also serve as an important and necessary early food source as wildlife become active after a long, cold winter.

Upcoming Native Landscaping Conference https://web.extension.illinois.edu/cook/eb395/entry_12203/ Thu, 26 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/cook/eb395/entry_12203/ West Cook Wild Ones Presents:

The Naturally Beautiful Garden Conference 2017

Saturday, February 11, 2017 from 12:00 PM – 5:30 PM

Triton College Performing Arts Center, River Grove, IL. 60171.

I highly recommend this conference if you are looking into incorporating native plants in your yard. Two great speakers are on the agenda. Read more below and click here for registration information. Additionally, U of I Extension will be hosting a table to promote the new Cook County Conservation@Home Yard Certification Program.

Speaker Schedule:

Rick Darke, an award-winning landscape architect and co-author with Doug Tallamy of The Living Landscape, will present his Putting Wildness to Work in the Living Landscape program in two parts. His work uses nature's layers in a landscape as a model for designed landscapes. He focuses on how all plants from the ground layer (forbs, grasses) to the middle layer (shrubs, understory trees) then to the canopy (large trees) all work together to create a beautiful, efficiently functioning ecosystem.

Heather Holm, author of Pollinators of Native Plants, will present to us about how to consider native bees in our landscapes. Heather owns a Minnetonka-based landscape design and consulting firm specializing in pollinator landscapes and native landscape restorations. She is currently working with the University of Minnesota Extension faculty on a three year study to determine the types of native bees that visit cultivated blueberries in Minnesota. The study also includes developing customized forage plantings for the native bees identified, and providing additional or enhancing existing nesting sites within the farms. Heather is an environmental educator and frequent presenter at conferences in the Midwest and Northeast. She writes for Houzz, a social media website, about pollinators, beneficial insects and native plants. Heather is currently working on another book which will be released in 2017, stay tuned!