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Over the Garden Fence

Where gardeners come to find out what's happening out in the yard.

Warning: This Growing Season will be Different

We finally got some dry days to catch up on planting the family vegetable garden and dealing with the landscape beds, weeding, edging, and putting down composts and other kinds of organic matter. Unlike the farmer who has to make some hard planting decisions this late in the season, our annual plants are going to grow and flower. We just may need to plant a few more annual flowers to get the b...

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Over the Garden Fence - summer plant vacation
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Are your Houseplants Ready for Summer Vacation?

An old joke goes: "Why do you put your houseplants out for the summer? So I can slowly kill them all winter back in the house." Well, there is a certain amount of truth to that. We cannot always get them inside for the winter when we should, cannot always supply the right kind of light for all of them, and often watering them is not easy given plant sizes, various soil mixes, and humidity in the h...

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Planting Struggles

The weather is at least providing gardeners with consistently warming temperatures (mostly) that are in turn warming our garden soil. Of course, what is not so welcoming is the rain seems to continue and not just light spring showers either. Gardeners and farmers alike cannot find a drying pattern long enough before the rain moves in again to get things planted. Questions to the Master Gardene...

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Winter Damage Beyond Boxwoods

There has been a lot of media coverage and homeowner concerns about boxwoods, and this has overshadowed overwintering damage on a range of other landscape plants from trees down to small fruits and perennials. First thing's first – winter hardiness. To some extent, gardeners have been cheating Mother Nature annually for years. We have this USDA hardiness zone map to use as a guide and the info...

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Over the Garden Fence - flowers foliage

Flowers and Foliage for your Yard

Every gardener has their favorite flowers that seem to make it into the garden each year, maybe in a different spot, worked into the design a bit differently than last year, but they are there. It is a little easier to have your favorites if your yard gets lots of sunlight every day. Look at the vast selection of color when you shop for petunias. It is not just petunias; you can have yo...

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Over the Garden Fence - Early Spring FAQs

FAQs for Early Spring Yard Work

We have some real signs spring is going to happen, and the calls, emails and visits to the Illinois Extension Master Gardener Help Desks often start with "What's the best time to…?" Here are a few FAQs for the start of the home gardening and landscape season. Q) What is the best time to apply crabgrass preventer? A) Crabgrass seed will n...

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Plants and Insects Coming Alive in Northern Illinois

Plants are beginning to get the right signals from Mother Nature that spring has begun. Foliage and flower buds have begun to swell and expand, and will do so more quickly with the more spring-like weather. Buds have been protected all winter with insulating bud scales that will soften with the first good warm spring rain allowing quick emergence of foliage and bloom. Perennials may have alrea...

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OTGF spring veggies

Spring Veggies from A(sparagus) to T(urnips)

Vegetable gardening season is nearly here now, and there are several vegetables that can handle cold or cool temperatures, both above and below ground. In fact, our early spring vegetables really need the cooler temperatures to develop properly. Right now, you can sow or plant those very hardy vegetables in the garden. These vegetables can withstand very cold to freezing temperatures, and typic...

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So... When Should We Sow?

Some of our earliest vegetables can be sown as soon as you can carefully work the garden soil and once soil temperatures reach 45 and 50 degrees. You can place spinach and lettuce in the 45-degree group, and peas, cabbage, Swiss chard, radish, and beets in the 50-degree group. Other vegetables can go out as well, and they are planted as a root and will be protected by the soil, such as asparagu...

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FAQs on Starting Seeds Indoors

This time of year, questions about starting seeds indoors are common. The following FAQs should serve as a helpful refresher for the seasoned gardener and a great resource for all the first-timers. Q: I have a bag of open potting soil in the garage. Why must I use soilless seed starting mix? A: Soilless seed starting mix contains all the right stuff an...

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OGF seed start blog

Starting Flower and Vegetable Seeds

The absolutely best place to start for your flower and vegetable seeds this spring is at the seed packet itself. That is just the start of what will be a several week adventure. Based on the date you expect to eventually plant outside, the information on the seed packet can guide you when you need to start your seeds. For our area, May 5 has been the average frost-free date for many years. If...

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Over the Garden Fence2

Cold Temps, Snow Cover and Dormancy

When we have very cold weather, it is great to see snow come along with it, for our garden plants at least. Snow cover provides insulation from the drying winter sun and the extreme air temperatures. A good snow cover protects above ground plant parts and helps them survive the winter. In parts of the country that do not experience our kind of cold weather, plants do not have to go dormant. Ma...

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Winter Work for the Home Orchard

January is not too early to start to plan for a new home orchard or to consider replacements for aging fruit trees in an existing orchard. There are several different kinds of fruit trees to consider – apple, cherry, peach, pear, and plum. As we live in the northern portion of Illinois, apple is likely the main fruit tree grown in back yards and commercial orchards. At the local orchard...

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What's in your Garden Catalog?

Garden catalogs began to show up in early January and will continue for the few weeks. Each picture looks better than the next and promises to be bigger, better, than last year. There may be plenty of phrases or words that are unfamiliar or perhaps you have seen them before and never went far enough to find out what they mean. Vegetable descriptions will often include a number of initials at th...

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Gardening Catalogs Filling your Mailbox?

The end-of-year sales and holiday greetings have barely ceased and already the gardening catalogs have begun to arrive in your mailbox and inbox. Some catalogs are still pretty specific, vegetables or flowers, but not both. More and more catalogs today are now offering a bit of everything like the impulse aisle at the checkout. Since new flower and vegetable varieties are offered every...

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Plants, diseases & bugs over winter

Our weather can influence how well our landscape plants over-winter. Boxwood, rhododendron, azaleas and evergreen groundcovers get through the winter without all the desiccation associated with cold winters and come out in the spring looking a lot better. Limited or no snow can drive the frost deeper into the soil profile. A winter with temperatures that allow cycles of freezing and thawing soils...

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Keep on Giving the Gift of Compost

Raise your hand if you are cooking for the holidays? My guess is there are quite a few of you. Ever think about all the fresh vegetable waste that goes in the disposal or garbage can? Cooks can get busy and not think about the compost pile or bin sitting just outside. If the pile or bin is large, composting continues all winter. If not it will resume next spring. In either case, adding...

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Hosting Holiday Plants in your Home

For many, giving holiday plants is an annual tradition. The one we likely think of most often is the poinsettia; yet mums, azaleas, cyclamen, and Christmas cactus are given frequently too. How well these holiday plants hold up and continue to give us enjoyment depends on their care. Proper management of those plants can extend the bloom show and foliage for several weeks, or maybe months. Some wil...

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garden tools

Yard Equipment Maintenance Tips

Gardeners have reluctantly decided the gardening season is at an end given our current and future weather patterns. It is now time to "put to bed" a lot of gardening and yard equipment until next spring. While each piece may have a different garden function to ease our workload, they can have a lot in common when it comes to winterizing. All things gasoline – 4- or 2-cycle:...

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Bird Feeding is Not a Part-Time Job

Bird feeders are part of many backyards during the winter months. We enjoy the activity around the feeder, both by the birds themselves and the additional wildlife that feed on the leftovers knocked to the ground. We can attract specific birds by choosing an appropriate feeder and feed. One of our favorite ones seems to be the thistle feeder since it will attract a number of different finches...

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What's Left to do in the Yard?

Many of our fall yard and garden efforts have been delayed by weather. So what should we be getting done? One of the ongoing efforts has been to keep the lawn mowed, and, if we haven't already, now we need to contend with the leaves that came down in great numbers. There is very likely more than can be mulched and left on the lawn. Leaves bagged by the lawn mower are broken down and can...

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Don't "Leave" Behind Opportunities this Fall

The fall foliage show is back by popular demand (and because we cannot stop it anyway). Those reds, yellows, and oranges now have begun to subside, and soon enough a night of really below freezing temperatures will bring that to a close. Then, all those leaves will end up in the landscape. Our recent just-below-freezing temperatures caused an immediate fall of green leaves on any tree w...

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Why do we Celebrate OAKtober?

Oak trees are proving to be more important to ecological balance than previously thought. Of the 60-plus native oaks in the United States, 22 of them are right here in Illinois. Homeowners know them for their majestic size and shape, and this time of year, for their colors of red, yellow and gold. Oaks, like all other trees, contribute to our health by removing air pollution, taking in carbon...

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fall winter tree

A Fall Potpourri of Yard Work

There are still lots of things going on in the home landscape as fall settles in. Woody plants are well on the way to dormancy; leaves are turning fall colors and coming down slowly right now. Most of our flowering perennials have lost that luster that we have enjoyed all summer. In fact, by now, perennials have succumbed to the many foliage diseases common this time of year. Powdery mildew can...

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Sorting out Spring and Summer Bulbs

Let's start with a few confusing sentences this week. You plant spring flowering bulbs in the fall and summer flowering bulbs in the spring. You dig up summer bulbs in the fall. You divide spring bulbs in late summer. Your favorite spring bulbs are winter hardy and for them to bloom in the spring they need to have the cold soil temperatures to trigger them to sprout and bloom in the spring. Th...

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