Over the Fence Where gardeners come to find out what's happening out in the yard. Sun, 15 May 2005 13:02:08 -0500 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/rss.xml Weather, what can you say? http://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13293/ Mon, 09 Apr 2018 12:40:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13293/ Our weather has very likely already messed up any plans for getting those early plants in and seeds sown. No one has a clear crystal ball right for when consistent spring weather will happen. If you have sown seeds for later planting as transplants, keep them from getting any taller until they can go outside. Give them strong light and cooler nighttime temperatures than they have had, to keep them from stretching more.

Should we be worrying about any plants that are already up? Right now, it is mainly the spring bulbs and those bulbs are "smart" when it comes to how far the come up out of the ground. While some of the foliage could get damaged, the flower bud and stem remain below ground. Those bulbs in protected areas are always going to be ahead of bulbs in more exposed settings. It is common to see our very early woodland bulbs covered in snow and they handle that easily without any damage.

One fruit tree of concern, if you are lucky enough to have one, is peach. They do have a tendency to flower just as we are having that late frost or freeze. We can do something to delay flowering. If you go out now (although it is better done very late fall or early winter when the ground is already cold) and heavily mulch the ground around the peach, you will be keeping the tree from budding for a few days and hopefully miss that late frost. Straw has been the mulch of choice, as it is available now and easily removed. Use it later as mulch in between the rows in the vegetable garden.

The lawn remains dormant, except for those protected locations, just like the bulbs and our early perennials. If you have caught "spring fever," you can go out and hand rake the lawn until you are too cold and cannot hold on to the rake anymore.

Our ornamental flowering trees and shrubs have seen this weather before and are holding off on their spring bloom show until the weather improves. This does not mean you have to wait; you can have spring indoors. Go out and clip some branches from where they will not be missed later, and bring them inside to force flowers. A good tip is to wrap the branches in moist fabric, like an older bath towel, to soften the tight bud scales for 2 to 3 days. The warm home will trigger the flower buds to expand and open shortly after for your enjoyment. This does not have to be a one-time event either. You can repeat this until those plants begin to flower outside in real spring-like weather… whenever that will be.

Early Spring Garden Questions http://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13284/ Wed, 04 Apr 2018 13:28:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13284/ Time to address several good questions that Master Gardeners have gotten already this early spring. We are right on schedule for some; others will have to wait, being weather dependent.

Q: I need to trim my oaks and maples. Do I do it now or wait?

A: We have about two weeks (by mid-April) to do our dormant pruning while there is no sap flow. If you have elm in the home landscape, it is another tree that should be pruned while dormant. For oaks and elms, we want to do so to prevent the spread of wilts by the beetles that are attracted to the sap. Maples will "bleed" excessively once sap flow starts, so dormant pruning is recommended.

Q: What is the best time to put down crabgrass preventer?

A: The soil temperatures remain too cold for crabgrass seed to germinate. With our current weather pattern, it is likely going to be sometime in mid-April this year. Crabgrass is an annual grassy weed that will need several days and nights where the soil temperatures are above 55 degrees. Crabgrass will continue to germinate over a several week period. If there has been a lot of crabgrass pressure in your lawn in the past, consider a second application mid-June. Lastly, crabgrass is a bit of an opportunist; it just needs bare ground or thinned turf to germinate and grow. Work on getting the lawn healthy and thick and you will have less crabgrass.

Q: When can I apply dormant oil to my home orchard?

A: Dormant oils are used to control overwintering insect adults, eggs and certain kinds of scale insects on your fruit trees. Thorough coverage is critical if you expect good control. Dormant oils are mixed with water for application, so most labels will state the proper conditions for application. This is usually when we will have above freezing temperatures for 24 to 48 hours. Always read and follow label instructions.

Q: Some of my landscape plants look burnt. Is there something I should be doing?

A: Minor winter burn should be expected on our needle and broadleaved plants. At some point during the winter, those leaves lost moisture and usually the outer edges can turn brown in response. The more leaf moisture lost, the more the leaf will turn brown. If it is just the needles and leaves, there is a bud just waiting to emerge and take over. Browned needles and leaves will naturally drop. If the desiccation has moved into small twigs and branches, there may be some clean up needed with hand pruners. Prune back to a viable bud or twig. Be sure the plants have water available early in the season and for next year; plan to water one more time as late as possible in the season. Some plants – like the groundcover Pachysandra, also known as Japanese spurge – benefit from annual applications of organic matter to protect shallow fleshy roots and provide an ongoing source of nutrition.

We are all excited spring is happening, yet Mother Nature is still in control, so gardening patience is in order.

Garden Bed Cleanup Has Begun http://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13268/ Fri, 30 Mar 2018 08:00:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13268/ You know it is finally spring, not by the calendar, but by the first landscape maintenance trucks hitting the road without snowplow attachments. Mother Nature is struggling a bit; we are having warmer days, but the nights are still crisp. Those warmer temperatures are needed by many blooming plants to trigger the soon-to-be flowers. Winter bud scales will be softening with rains to later allow the flower and leaf buds to open easier.

If you are out in the yard cleaning up beds, watch carefully for emerging spring bulbs and the crowns of early tender perennials. If they have been under quite a bit of leaf litter or mulch you put down last fall, carefully remove the cover over time, allowing the tender plant parts to acclimate gradually. Remove the mulch and leaf litter last on those plants that are favorites of rabbits. Once there are more plants, weeds and grass to eat, your perennials become less of a target.

Rabbits have very likely fed on some of your shrubs over the winter, and it may seem surprising to find some damage on the lower branches and not the stems at the soil line. We had some good snowdrifts that allowed rabbits to feed higher. Rabbits have never had a pruning class, so have your pruners handy to do some pruning back to a smaller branch or the next bud to repair the feeding damage. If you find fine textured shrubs like Potentilla or the smaller Spirea heavily damaged, go ahead and take down what is left and let those come back from the crown.

Lawns can be cleaned up using a leaf rake to take care of the winter debris without damaging the grass plants that have been pushed up and out of the ground by freezing and thawing.

Ornamental grasses left up for the winter interest and nest-building materials for the birds will need to be taken down to several inches above the soil line before growth resumes. Ornamental grasses are more of a warm season grass, so you have lots of time to get other parts of your yard in order before you have to cut back the grasses. An easy trick to getting those grasses down is to use a bungee cord, tying the bundle together before using your pruners or shears scattering the tops everywhere.

All of that material is compost worthy and can be used to create your very own compost to use later. If you collect lawn clippings, you have all the ingredients you need. The browns for the carbon and the greens for moisture and the food for the microorganisms that will work to break down the waste to compost.

Needle Evergreens Not at Their Best http://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13267/ Wed, 28 Mar 2018 08:53:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13267/ University of Illinois Extension offices are already getting calls about needle evergreens that are not looking healthy, and spring has yet to arrive! If you drive your neighborhood right now, you can spot those evergreens that died late last fall. Arborvitaes are standing dead in many locations in the Fox Valley, as are Austrian pine and spruce.

Spruce are not well adapted to our area, and although they do grow pretty well for us when young, spruce begin to suffer as they mature. For example, Colorado blue spruce have been planted for many years and often as the focal point in a landscape. While young, few problems are apparent, but as they age, it is typical for them to have some trouble with needle blights and Cytospora canker.

Besides the dead Arborvitae that we can see, there are pines that died last fall too. Two common pines are Austrian (Black) Pine and White Pine. Austrian pine are loved because they create those beautiful candles as the new growth expands each year, and the white pines are chosen for their soft texture and the sound made as the wind blows through them. Austrian pines have performed well in landscapes being adaptable, yet like spruce, they are not at home here. Austrian pines have had several needle diseases, including Diplodia tip blight, and can have a combination of needle diseases at the same time. Just like the arborvitae, as temperatures rise, we can expect to see Austrian pine turn brown or just after they begin to grow, then turn. White pines, being more native to Illinois, fair better and tolerate needle diseases pretty well in a typical year, but they are not without problems. Take note that white pines still stressed from the 2012 drought are more prone to needle diseases.

What the University of Illinois Plant Clinic and I suspect plant clinics from our neighboring states are diagnosing are the more common needle diseases in increasing numbers on our spruce and pine. This increase in disease incidence will make it that much harder for our needle evergreens to recover and become healthy again.

Start this spring with the idea that our needle evergreens are stressed and that those needle diseases are present. Be sure those plants are well watered by nature or by you, and consider a fertilization to help energize the plants this spring. Make a note on your calendar to provide water starting in mid-August through mid- to late September, depending on the rainfall. Those high value evergreens in the home landscape can be treated by a professional arborist with fungicides yet as a homeowner we have to do our part as well if those plants are going to recover and grow for many more years.

Bird Feeders in the Yard http://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13237/ Tue, 13 Mar 2018 09:00:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13237/ Bird feeders will bring in a variety of migrating birds during the early spring on their journey to summer digs. This is before there is much for them to eat elsewhere, in nature or in home landscapes. Our winter resident birds that have hung out with us all winter still need that seed too. Be sure to continue your feeding efforts well into spring until they can find food on their own. Plan to use up all birdseed so summer storage or grain pests are not issues. Birds also need water, and without snow now, remember to leave out some shallow dishes of water.

Just like so many other things we enjoy, there are a couple of maintenance and spring-cleaning activities associated with supporting nature. If you have not checked recently, you may be surprised to find the feeding slots or holes partially or completely blocked off by seed debris. The leftover debris will moisten and cake together limiting the kinds of seeds getting through. The remedy is dumping the seed into a pail and doing a thorough cleaning of the inside of the feeder, paying special attention to the openings, before returning the seed to the feeder and putting it back into service.

Besides dealing with the feeder itself, getting the seed hulls out of the lawn and off the patio is another challenge. If you have fed all winter, sunflower hulls will pile up below the feeder. They mix with other seed hulls and can mat together too. You will want to remove as much as you can before lawns start to grow again; the seed hull mat easily can smoother grass plants as they begin to emerge. Raking the hulls out of the lawn with a hard rake or a leaf rake is a good start. Once you have gotten as much of the hulls out of the lawn, resorting to a wet-dry vacuum can remove even more for you. A square-nosed shovel, or even the snow shovel, and a course bristled broom can work pretty well on the smooth surface of the patio. The wet-dry vacuum can clean up the rest.

You can add all the seed hulls to your compost pile or bin rather than put them in the garbage. Birds do a good job just leaving behind just the hulls, but you can expect to see a few seeds germinating if you do not incorporate the hulls into the bin or pile as you routinely do with the rest of the yard waste that goes towards composting.

A great family activity is keeping a journal of when our migrating birds begin to show up at the feeder. Robins, for example, have already been spotted. What will you see at your feeder next?

Things to do for the Home Orchard http://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13225/ Wed, 07 Mar 2018 08:42:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13225/ A couple of weeks ago, my column covered getting ready for the vegetable gardening season. This time it is about the home orchard. While dormant pruning has been and will continue to be done, getting ready for the management of fruit tree diseases and insects can be done inside, dry and warm.

In the early spring, the first spray should be applied while the ground and air temperatures are still quite cold. This will be the dormant oil spray, aimed at overwintering insects. Dormant oils are applied on days where the air temperature will remain above freezing for 24 or 36 hours. Read the label for your product. Dormant oils are good in the container for several seasons, so round yours up and see if you have enough concentrate for thorough coverage of all the woody parts of your trees. You may need to purchase more.

The second group of sprays you will need to inventory are those that follow the dormant oil, starting at what we call "green tip," when the overwintering protective bud scales start to soften to allow the emerging leaves and flowers to expand. Most often, these options can be found in your favorite garden center being sold as "home orchard" or "fruit tree" spray, and in combinations to include both insecticides and fungicides so you do not have to buy and store multiple products. Most have a built-in spreader-sticker additive to help the sprays adhere to and spread out across the leaves and fruit for good coverage. Reading the label will help you determine how many gallons of diluted spray you will need for the season. You will use less spray per tree more often at the start of the spray season and more spray per tree but less often as the season progresses to keep the foliage and fruits covered and protected. Those early frequent sprays are going to protect the young leaves and small fruits from diseases, and the later sprays are going on against the late spring and summer insects. No one likes to find a worm in the apple, or worse, half a worm!

Locating your spray equipment should be another part of getting ready for the 2018 growing season. This sprayer should be your dedicated one for the home orchard, one that you have never used for weed control products. Modern sprayers are constructed of plastic and easily cleaned when done.

If your home orchard trees have grown in size, you may benefit from an upgrade in equipment for more capacity, as more spray will be needed for each tree. You will save on how many times you need to fill up, reducing the potential for mistakes to happen if you are filling the tank less often.

Now that the snow is gone http://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13224/ Wed, 07 Mar 2018 08:40:00 +0000 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13224/ Now that the snow is all gone our yards are now shades of brown. All too obvious is the debris from the neighborhood that has blown in, collecting in the ground cover and shrub beds and at the base of your fence. Time to do that quick walk about and pick up so you do not have to look at it every day until spring arrives. Natural litter from your landscape is expected though, and leaves and twigs would be normal right now.

This may be your first walk about in the home landscape for 2018. In the perennial beds, you may see indications of early spring bulbs just barely showing some green tips, more where they have been protected by the home or fallen leaves. Since spring bulbs are the first up, they are the first to be eaten by rabbits, so protect them as best you can.

Woody plants should still be showing signs of being very dormant for a few more weeks. One exception is Hamamelis vernalis, known as Vernal witch hazel. This large shrub, around here, blooms in February and March with strap-like flower petals that fold up at night for protection. This witch hazel has a companion with yellow strap-like flowers that will bloom in October and November (weather permitting) call common witch hazel.

Other plants that should be green right now include the groundcover Pachysandras, Rhododendron and Boxwoods. There may be a hint of purple in the leaves, which may be cupped or curled from the winter cold. If we get that "winter thaw" and the ground can absorb water, it is good if you can give them a drink to help them get through the rest of our winter and early spring. No need to dig out the water hose, you can use a plastic gallon jug or five-gallon bucket to get the job done. If an anti-desiccant was applied last fall, another application can be applied if the temperatures are above freezing over a couple of days. Read that label to be sure.

What else can you see or deal with while the snow is gone? Be on the lookout for evidence of rabbit feeding, either direct damage to landscape plants or rabbit droppings as evidence that they have been eating in the landscape. While the bare ground is with us, rabbit fencing can still be put in place, and repellants can be applied (weather permitting, especially the air temperature).

If you feed the birds and squirrels, you would expect to see rabbit droppings, as they will be the "cleanup crew," feeding at night. You may even be able to see smaller legged critters like voles feeding as well.

So even now, there can be things to do carefully in the home landscape.