Over the Garden Fence Where gardeners come to find out what's happening out in the yard. Sun, 15 May 2005 13:02:08 -0500 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/rss.xml Warning: This Growing Season will be Different https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13964/ Tue, 11 Jun 2019 19:34:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13964/ 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 bed to fill in for the summer though. Many existing perennials have grown bigger than expected with our cool, wet weather, yet those we plant now can end up smaller than expected with the delayed planting.

The lawn challenge has been, and will continue to be, frequent mowing at least until the soil really dries and we get those hot temperatures that trigger the natural summer dormancy for our cool season grasses. If you need a mantra, it should be:"mow high, mow often, and with a sharp mower blade."

Leaf spot diseases, while rarely life threatening, certainly can be unattractive visually and if severe enough, even disfigure the foliage. We can blame the same cool, wet weather that kept us from gardening for this too. Trees, shrubs and perennial flowers will be the ones that take the biggest hit.

While planting and yard work has been delayed, that is not the case for overwintering insects. Insects have "partnered" with their host plants for many hundreds of years and they develop in parallel with the plant. One bright spot in all the cold weather damage that has happened to our plants – survey work is indicating that female bagworms did not survive nor did their eggs, so maybe we have one less insect to worry about this season.

Other insects that get our attention while attempting to work in the yard are all the gnats, flies and mosquitoes. All the moist soil and high humidity has fostered big populations right now. Gnats and flies will decline soon enough, but the mosquitoes are going to hang around. Gardeners should not leave any containers around that collect and hold water for any length of time. Birth baths and decorative containers come to mind. A birdbath should be rinsed and refilled regularly to stop mosquito larval development.

A final note this week – landscape plants that have been damaged by the severe winter temperatures and the late freeze are still recovering and it will be weeks really, before we know if they are going to make it. Stay patient and stay tuned.

Swarming Insects this Season https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13953/ Wed, 05 Jun 2019 13:31:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13953/ What do bees, ants, and termites have in common? At some point in the year, they all swarm. Our honeybee may be the most obvious as the queen gathers up thousands of support bees from the existing hive and heads off to find another location to set up shop. You may see those swarms hanging in trees or somewhere on the home under an eave. Sometimes they cling to parked cars and trucks before moving along. Bee swarming is much more likely later in the summer when colony numbers are much higher.

Homeowners have been bringing in or emailing pictures of ants with wings, and last week I got a video! While bees are above ground to start with, ants have to herd those winged individuals up from the colony below ground. Once above ground, the winged ant will climb upwards while the wings are expanding and drying. When ready, they launch themselves into the air to fly away to create a new colony. Soon after, those wings will fall off and down the ants go to start a new underground colony. This is all natural and according to plan. When the plan goes wrong is when they leave the colony in the ground and find themselves in our homes. All the cool, wet weather seems to have made the migration indoors increase. You may have noticed more ants indoors foraging for food or after periods of heavy rains.

Homeowners can find a few dozen appearing overnight or within hours once the migration from the colony to above ground begins. In these situations, the ants expected to end up outside where they belong. Very likely, the colony was under the slab of the home and found their way up next to heating ducts or followed plumbing by accident. Homes with basements, the colony could be just outside and yet found a way inside through cracks and crevices that every home has between the foundation walls and the sill plate, being covered by that last row of siding. Outside of their natural environment, those winged ants will not last very long and a vacuum cleaner is all that is needed to remove them. Left alone, you will find them dead with discarded wings everywhere.

The most worrisome of the three are termites, of course. Termites, like ants, have colonies in the ground. In nature, they feed on wood. If they find a way into our homes, they feed on the wood that built our homes. They travel back and forth between the colony in the soil and the source of their food. Finding winged termites outdoors or indoors should be a red flag that your home should be inspected. Termites, like ants, bring up their own winged versions to the soil surface to fly away and start termite colonies.

The difference between winged ants and termites is quite clear. While both have two sets of wings, ants have a pinched waistline, while termites do not. Wings on the ant are clear and lightly veined and originate from the same place on the thorax. Wings on the termite are whitish and gossamer looking, originate from two different spots on the termite body, and appear parallel to one another. Only the termite destined for flight is a dark color, those in the colony are quite small with a white fleshy color.

Are your Houseplants Ready for Summer Vacation? https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13945/ Wed, 29 May 2019 08:11:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13945/ You sorted them last fall, deciding which ones win the windowsill lottery and which ones go on to "a better place" – a.k.a., the compost pile. Those that made it indoors found warmth and sunlight. Those that hit the compost pile enter the world of dark, wet and cold to come back as organic matter to other plants in the yard.

If you're reviving them by putting them back outside on the patio or under the trees in a shady bed, now is the time to do some repotting, pruning, and cleaning so the better conditions outdoors allows for good recovery and growth before next fall.

Repotting allows you to cut away any dead roots, and replace the spent potting soil with a new mix full of nutrients. If you can repot using the same soil mix for all your houseplants, watering will be easier, at least from the soil mix perspective. Any new mix will typically drain away excess moisture better than the old soil mix that has broken down and contains dead roots.

If you have the room to encourage bigger plants, go up one pot size, but no more. Roots need to be able to fill the pot by summer's end. If you are at the maximum plant size now, clearing out the old dead or damaged roots allows for repotting back into the same pot with new soil mix.

Pruning consists of taking back any growth that occurred indoors over the winter. Very likely it is thin and spindly, having grown towards the light of the window. This kind of pruning also helps balance the remaining top of the plant with the remaining roots in the pot. For foliage, another expectation should be some leaf loss and perhaps some sunburn if put directly into full sun immediately. Leaves created in the winter indoors do not have any "sunblock" on yet. Best to set any houseplant out on a cloudy day if possible.

While you are cleaning, you get a chance to look at the overall condition of the foliage. Maybe the plants have great foliage making your job easier. If you have cats, then they enjoy a little taste testing and you will find holes and torn tissue. Some older, lower leaves facing away from window may have naturally died, pushing food into parts of the plant that can benefit from the sunlight, so that makes removing those leaves an easy choice. If you were lucky enough to have flowers in the winter from succulents, time to cut away the flower stalk.

Lastly, no fertilizer at first. Water and sunlight will be all that is needed to get those houseplants back on the survival road. Once you see new leaves emerge and mature, then fertilize with the product of choice. Feed them until July 4, then let them coast and slow down for that inevitable trip back inside the house after their summer vacation.

Planting Struggles https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13938/ Wed, 22 May 2019 08:36:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13938/ Questions to the Master Gardener Help Desk have begun to reveal the frustration of dealing with the weather.

Q: Is there a way to plant my flower and vegetable seeds and transplants in my muddy soil?

A: Small seeded flowers and vegetable seeds have a bit of an advantage over larger seeds. When we do have a drying day or two, the very top of the garden soil dries enough to sow those tiny seeds. There will be plenty of soil moisture to start the seed germination process. Lay down some kind of support over the soil so you do not compact the overly wet soil while you work. For larger seeds that will certainly end up in muddy ground, you can cover the seed with drier soil or finished compost from your bin or pile that is drier as well. Where you literally have to dig a hole for your tomato or pepper transplants, you cannot help but make a mess. The soil you dug out of the hole will not be any good to use to plant with; it will be just too wet. Use some of your compost again or perhaps purchase a good quality bagged topsoil just for planting purposes.

Q: Because it is so wet and I cannot work the ground in my landscape beds, I am seeing a lot of small broadleaved weeds already in flower, what are they?

A: These are very likely winter annuals. Chickweed and speedwell are the culprits. As a winter annual, they germinate late in the season growing large enough to survive the winter, yet remain small to go undetected. They get started about the time most gardeners are "done for the season." By spring, their growth matures and begin to flower. Chickweed has very small white flowers, and speedwell flowers are blue and white striped. Both hug the ground, chickweed more so that speedwell. To prevent them, a fall pre-emergence treatment would need to be used. Neither one responds well to a post-emergence treatment, as they are mature weeds by now and within a few weeks they will naturally die, leaving lots of seed behind to start again late summer. Your normal spring-cleaning of the beds takes out the mature chickweed and speedwell. With the delay in cleaning, future weed seed pressure will be greater this fall and more weeds will be back next spring.

To get help with your lawn and garden questions, contact your local Master Gardener Help Desk. To find hours and details for DuPage, Kane and Kendall counties, visit https://go.illinois.edu/MasterGardenerHelpdkk

Winter Damage Beyond Boxwoods https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13929/ Thu, 16 May 2019 15:16:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13929/ 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 information on the plant tag to tell us if the plant is going to survive our winters. The hardiness zone map has been revised a couple times now so you want to use the most current one as a reference. The changes reflect long-term weather patterns over many years. Visit the USDA site at https://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/ and zoom in on Illinois or search by zip code. For example, St. Charles with a zip code of 60174 registers as zone 5b with a temperature range of -15 to -10 degrees Fahrenheit for winter lows.

Where we get into trouble is purchasing a plant that is out of our range. The kind of plant can make a difference too. Boxwoods are a broadleaved evergreen, more susceptible to winter damage than a deciduous shrub in the same zone. The same goes for rhododendrons and versions of the broadleaved azalea.

This spring we are seeing winter damage on a variety of plants. Bud and twig dieback is common for trees and shrubs, especially at the tips where those buds were created late in the summer. Yellowing and needle loss on yews and larger-needled evergreens can be seen. We also may notice a loss of bloom show on forsythia, ornamental pears and flowering dogwoods. In addition, if you have perennials that typically overwinter with some above ground stems, they may be killed down to the ground.

In the home orchard, apples are the hardiest (flowering crabapples are an apple so they are fine), and peaches are the most sensitive. While there have been peaches survive this spring, there are many more that have suffered severe damage to death. Other small fruits like brambles, strawberries, and blueberries have suffered to varying degrees.

In the order of damage, sensitive plants will lose flower buds first, then vegetative buds if the severe cold weather continues, then twigs and branches. For plants that have a good reserve of nutrients, it can replace vegetative buds, as long as there is no other damage. It will be late May into June before we know for sure.

Dead wood will not come back, so pruning it out is appropriate. If you take the wait-and-see perspective, get the replacements in as early as you can to allow the new transplants as much time as possible to establish new roots in your yard.

This damage is widespread throughout the region and there was not much that could be done to prevent this kind of cold weather damage. For those gardeners who did protect their sensitive plants from winter sun and wind, nothing could be done to protect them from the very severe low temperatures. For those who believe in alternative dimensions, you were not alone this winter.

Flowers and Foliage for your Yard https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13918/ Wed, 08 May 2019 13:48:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13918/ 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 your geraniums in just about any flower color you want, astilbe too. Interested in a theme garden of every white, red or orange flower, then you better take the big cart with you because you will have it completely filled with annuals and perennials to complete the garden.

If you have the challenge of shade gardening, choices are getting better each year. It used to be impatiens and coleus as the mainstays with not much change of flower or foliage colors. Now when you ask about shade gardening, the retailer will point you to the area covered by shade cloth and show you just how much has changed. Coleus now competes with hostas for variety of leaf color with hundreds of propagated varieties and more than two dozen seed varieties. Foliage ranges in serration, color variegation and the leaf size from less than a quarter to over several inches in length, like those you get with the "Kong" coleus series. Your favorite garden center retailer also will point out that there are now coleus plants that can grow in the sun, enabling you to extend your bed a little farther out the shade and into the sunlight. This gives the gardener additional choices in the yard where the sun-shade pattern is transitioning.

Perennials also have a place in most garden designs. Hosta, bleeding hearts and ferns for the shade; coneflower, Shasta daisy, mums and daylilies for the sun. These are just a few examples, as the choices are just about endless, just like the annuals. A big question from gardeners just starting out is 'Which ones do I pick that will grow and flower in my yard?' Besides the expert advice you get at the garden center, you cannot go wrong if you chose varieties named All-America Selections. These flowers are trialed all over the country and have to perform well in each of the trials before they are awarded this distinction. They are judged against other varieties of the same type considered to be the standard.

Quick reminder: You can buy the best of the best and still have a poor showing of blooms if the soil is not prepared to promote quick establishment. It all starts with the soil, soil amendments, and how and when we work the garden soil. Adding a good supply of organic matter is great start. Learn more at https://extension.illinois.edu/annuals/soil.cfm

Boxwood Blues and You https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13912/ Fri, 03 May 2019 09:40:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13912/ Last week, the column covered problems with our needle evergreens. This week, it is about our broadleaved landscape plants and specifically, what is happening to our boxwoods out in the landscape.

Boxwoods have always been known to need some TLC when it comes to getting them through the normal northern Illinois winter. Like our needled evergreens, boxwoods and other broadleaf evergreens are very alive all winter. Boxwoods are usually sited with northern or eastern exposures, or protected in some way from winter sunlight and winds. Plant breeders have increased their winter hardiness with some cultivars, but certainly not all of them. Protecting them with burlap from the sun or creating a temporary winter windbreak are the common ways to give them what they need. Some gardeners will treat the boxwood with an anti-desiccate before the temperatures fall below freezing and again on a mild day late winter or very early spring. Anti-desiccates seal the leaves by coating them, preventing moisture loss.

The damage this spring has been extensive on old and new plantings alike. If this was a disease, damage would be scattered and symptoms would have been present last summer. What is happening right now is environmental, primarily the severe cold we experienced over winter. Damage is uniform and to varying degrees based on where they are planted in the home landscape. Take a walk around the neighborhood and those differences are readily seen.

If the damage is minor, just leaves at the edge of the canopies will have the brown, burnt look. Those leaves will fall away when 2019 growth begins. In many cases, the entire boxwood is browned and recovery is questionable. If it is just the tips and browning is minor, plants will typically recover like in the past. More damage than that and the 2019 vegetative buds would be killed. Any regrowth will have to come from well within the canopy. Stems and twigs would be the next to go and then the desiccation moves further downward towards the crown. If you take a close look, those stems and twigs will be shriveled.

There is not a problem with replanting boxwood with boxwood. There is a disease known as Boxwood Blight that has been spreading in the United States and so far has not been detected in Illinois. If possible, buy replacements that have been grown in Illinois. At least ask the retailer if the boxwoods for sale have been certified blight-free from the supplier, if not Illinois grown.

When planting, modify the backfill soil with organic matter to increase aeration and drainage. Water them well at planting time and monitor them regularly for water. It will take at least two years to establish, longer for larger boxwood. They will have a limited root system during this time, making them more susceptible to desiccation, especially in the winter.