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 FAQs for Early Spring Yard Work https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13876/ Tue, 16 Apr 2019 12:16:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13876/ 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 not germinate until the soil temperature reaches 55 degrees and stays there for at least 7 days. Last week, soil temperatures were just hitting 48 to 50 degrees. Bare and dark-colored soils warm quicker than sandy and covered soils (lawns and mulched areas). Crabgrass preventers put down too early will break down long before crabgrass seed stops germinating. Put down too late and you will still see crabgrass. Timing is everything.

Q) What is the best time to start apple tree sprays?

A) We are very close right now. To protect foliage and later the developing fruits, sprays start as soon as you see what we call "green tip." As the protective bud scales begin to soften from spring rains, the foliage buds (and quickly to follow, the flower buds) start to push out. The green tip we see represents all the leaves for the season. Keeping the leaves covered from green tip to fully expanded and beyond will prevent Apple Scab and Cedar Apple Rust fungal diseases, which damage the leaves. If you are unclear about "green tip," here is a situation where starting too early is not a bad approach. Starting after the leaves are already infected may help any leaves that show up later, the infection will remain season long. The part to remember is the leaves produce the resources needed to: 1) create this year's apples, and 2) create next year's foliage and flower buds. Of all our tree fruits, apples are the most challenging. Timing is everything.

Q) What is the best time to start the vegetable garden from seed?

A) Vegetables have a range of soil temperatures they prefer. If the garden bed is in good condition already, the earliest leafy vegetables are leaf lettuce, kale, and spinach. Others include onion and peas. Closer to our average frost-free date (AVFD, anywhere from April 25 through May 5) beets, carrots, chard and radishes work. A good way to get more out of the garden is to sow carrots and radishes together in the same row. Radishes come up early, marking the row and are harvested long before carrots need the space. Once we hit the magical AVFD, tender vegetables like snap beans and summer squash are sown. Lastly, we have vegetables that absolutely need warm soils. These are a lot of our other vine crops like, cucumbers, melons, watermelons (if you are up to the challenge), and our winter squashes harvested in late summer or fall. So what about tomatoes and peppers? We normally put these in as transplants. Tomatoes go in with the tender vegetables and peppers with the warm soil group. We lose at least 2 weeks of growing if we plant the tomatoes at the right time for peppers.

Plants and Insects Coming Alive in Northern Illinois https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13867/ Mon, 08 Apr 2019 21:44:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13867/ Perennials may have already begun in warmer situations like the south or west exposures around the home. Take some time to see how they are emerging. Are they all coming from the crown of the plant like a fern, or from individual growing points like a hosta? This will give us a clue as to how to divide them later. Early perennial vegetables will be rhubarb and asparagus (rhubarb from the crown and asparagus from the crown several inches below ground).

Tulips and daffodils have been growing for some time, yet "smart enough" to keep the flower stalk and buds below ground until it is safe to emerge and flower. Other perennials have a similar pattern of growth; maybe foliage could be damaged by a late frost, but the flower buds remain safe. Shade tree buds follow the same routine. Silver maples are one of the first to have buds swell and open. This year, they seem to be 10 to 14 days behind due to our cold weather pattern.

What is the lawn up to right now? Greening has begun on southern exposures, more so if on a sloping exposure where more heat gets collected during the day. Lawns really respond to those warm spring rains, bringing some nitrogen with them. A good warm rain will green up a lawn in 24 to 48 hours.

Just like plants get the spring signal, our outdoor insects do too. Spiders can be found as early as temperatures in the 40s and 50s. Others emerge so their life cycle matches their favorite host plants so they have something to eat. Some emerge from the soil, as soil temperatures remain consistently warm over a several day period. Depending on the insect, they will overwinter in the best state for future survival. That could be an overwintering adult hiding in leaf litter, under the rough bark of plants or in the walls of our home. Other insects leave behind eggs to survive the winter to hatch in the spring because as an adult they cannot; perhaps it is a cocoon above ground or a larval stage below ground or buried inside the bark of a tree or shrub. Whatever the survival method, it has evolved over thousands of years guaranteeing successful future generations.

So start walking your yard (even though it has yet to fully green up) and see the marvel of nature as spring unfolds on a daily basis.

Spring Veggies from A(sparagus) to T(urnips) https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13860/ Wed, 03 Apr 2019 14:09:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13860/ 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 typically go in the garden four to six weeks before our area average frost-free date. Some use April 30, others use May 5, and both are valid depending on where you live in northern Illinois.

Very hardy vegetables include kale, kohlrabi, leaf lettuce, onion, pea, rutabaga, salsify, spinach, turnip, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, onion sets/transplants, parsley, Irish potato and rhubarb. You can see that this list contains vegetables that can be sown directly or put in as transplants. From this group you can easily find vegetables that the whole family will eat. You can plant successive plantings of leaf lettuce, radish and spinach every ten days or so for a continuous supply until the warmer weather gets here. If you are going to plant rhubarb, be sure it has a place out of the way since it is a perennial crop.

Once your very hardy vegetable seeds and transplants are in the garden, you can wait a couple more weeks before planting the frost-tolerant vegetables; those can withstand some frosty nights, but not an actual freeze. Beet, carrot, chard, mustard, parsnip, radish, cauliflower and Chinese cabbage make up this group of vegetables. Often times a retail outlet will be selling cabbage and cauliflower together. Be sure to wait to plant the cauliflower since frosty temperatures can be damaging. When planning, remember that some of these vegetables are short-term crops, such as radish, versus chard and parsnip, which are full-season vegetables. Plan to plant accordingly to make the best use of your garden space!

Another perennial favorite is asparagus. A planting of asparagus can last up to, or even beyond, 20 years. Sometimes it is better to establish asparagus in a bed all of its own or along with other perennial garden plants. Asparagus is typically established using one-year-old crowns as soon as your ground can be worked without damaging soil structure. Planting asparagus is a bit unique in that you will need to dig a wide trench about 15 to 18 inches wide and 6 to 8 inches deep. Crowns are placed with the buds upright and the pencil-sized roots radiating outwards. Spacing should be 10 to 12 inches apart. Cover the crowns with two inches of soil and fill in the trench as the season progresses. This will leave the crowns planted at the proper depth by the end of the season. As tempting as it is, do not harvest any of the spears the first season. Ditto for the very hardy rhubarb; wait for the second year for that pie.

So... When Should We Sow? https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13854/ Thu, 28 Mar 2019 11:53:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13854/ 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 asparagus, onion sets, potatoes and rhubarb. From there, the garden soil continues to warm until we hit the upper limit for good germination, and the remaining vegetables can be sown or transplanted.

The days to germination can be as short as three to five days upwards of 10 to 15 days. Root crops can be some of the slowest, so do not panic. One garden trick for rows that will be slow to show is to plant a crop like radish with it to "mark the row." Radish being a short crop anyway will be long gone and will not interfere with the other vegetable sown.

We consider those very early crops to be very hardy and able to survive very cold temperatures, planted in a range of four to six weeks ahead of the average frost-free date. As the soils continue to warm, the next group known as frost tolerant (not able to actually be frozen) can go out from seed or transplants between two and three weeks ahead of the average frost-free date. Beet, carrot, radish, and summer squash are examples for this group.

The second to last group, known as tender, is planted on the average frost-free date. These crops will need to be protected if we get a late frost or a threat of low temperatures. The last is the warm-loving vegetables that absolutely need warm soils without any threat of cool temperatures. They are planted out as seeds or transplants two weeks after the average frost-free date. This last group to think of is the vine crops, mainly cucumber, pumpkin, muskmelon and watermelon.

In the last two groups, there some vegetables that we think of planting together, yet could be handled differently. Most gardeners will plant tomatoes and peppers at the same time. We lose one to two weeks on our tomatoes (a tender vegetable) if planted as a warm-loving vegetable or run the risk of seeing our peppers (warm-loving) damaged if planted at the same time as our tomatoes. The same goes for summer squashes and the rest of the vine crops. Summer squash falls into the tender group, while the other squashed require that warmer soil.

The hard part of scheduling your sowing or transplanting is deciding for your yard what you will be using as the average frost-free date, since all planting dates are determined from there. The best I can offer is a range for each of the four groups:

  • Very Hardy – between April 10-25
  • Frost Tolerant – between April 25-May 10
  • Tender – between May 10-25
  • Warm Loving – between May 25-June 1

Last point is there is a difference between the "average frost-free date" and the "absolute frost-free date." Be careful as you read seed packet labels or the tags with vegetable transplants, and sow or plant accordingly.

FAQs on Starting Seeds Indoors https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13842/ Wed, 20 Mar 2019 07:26:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13842/ 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 and none of the wrong stuff. Seed starting media has excellent drainage, just the right amount of nutrition to get the seedlings off to a good start and none of soil borne pathogens that can attack and kill those young seedlings. That open bag of potting soil likely contains a mix that is too "heavy" for seed starting and since it has been open, likely now contains disease pathogens from contaminated gardening tools. Save that bag for the outdoor garden.

Q: I kept unused seed from 2018. Will I be able to use it this spring?

A: That is one of those yes, no and maybe questions. In general, the larger the seed, the longer it will last. Think snap beans versus lettuce seed or sunflower versus marigold. Those tiny seeds with limited food reserves may not make it even a year later. In addition, seed stored in a cool, dry environment will last longer than seed stored in hot, dry conditions. Seed stored in tight-sealing containers will last longer than leftover seed in the open seed packet. In general, the germination rate goes down about 10 percent each year. Best bet is to buy and use fresh seed packaged for 2019. If old 2018 seed is used, increase the sowing rate by at least 10 percent.

Q: Once I have sown my seed, how often do I need to water it?

A: Seeds do need to take up soil moisture to start the germination process, but do not require saturated soils. Soils that are damp are good enough. As they begin to show up in the seedling tray, they still do not need a lot of water, as root systems are very limited. Moisten the soil and consider covering the flat with a plastic wrap to keep moisture in. Once many of the seedlings have emerged, the covering comes off and you are off to the races. Then pay close attention to their watering needs and keep the water off the foliage when you do water.

Q: Do I need to sow all the seeds at once?

A: Absolutely not. In fact, sowing the seeds in stages allows you to "hedge your bet" on the actual date you will be able to get out in your garden to do the transplanting, since spring weather is so difficult to predict. Different sowing dates also may be driven by what you are growing and how many weeks before planting you need to start. Cold or cool season crops are some of the earliest ones to start, while warming loving crops are near the end of your 2019 seed sowing efforts.

For questions, contact your local Master Gardener Help Desk or learn more about vegetable gardening at https://extension.illinois.edu/veggies

Starting Flower and Vegetable Seeds https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13838/ Wed, 13 Mar 2019 14:06:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13838/ 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 we had an early spring, a few days earlier could work, but with our weather being so abnormal, May 5 may be a better date this year for planting those very hardy seeds and transplants. A later date may even be safer if you are concerned with our weather and the location of your garden in the yard.

Seeding four to six weeks ahead is pretty common, yet be sure you follow the label. After reading all the seed packets, you will see that starting all your seeds at the same time is not the thing to do! Those warm loving vegetables can be sown later so they will not be overgrown and leggy by the time you move them to the garden.

To avoid seed germination issues, use either clean or brand new seedling flats. Along with the seedling flats, use a soilless media to avoid soil borne diseases. Soilless media also will drain quickly while holding adequate moisture. While you are waiting to see the first signs of seedling emergence, make sure the soil media is moist but not overly wet. Emergence can be just a matter of a few days to 10 or more days, depending on what you're going to grow.

Some gardeners will lightly cover the seedling flats with a sheet of plastic or saran wrap to conserve moisture and retain a bit of heat that may help hasten germination. The seed packet may even suggest that for better success. Some seeds are happy to germinate in the dark while others require light. You may need to group those seeds in the same seed flat. Once the seedlings emerge, they all require light immediately. Light intensity drops off quickly the farther the light fixture is away from the flat. A bright indirect light from the sun in a window will work too. If the light source is too far away, the seedlings will stretch and end up with thin, long stems before it is time to take them to the garden or flower bed. Your seedlings also will stretch if the nighttime temperatures are high, so that cooler windowsill may be a better place.

Once you are getting closer to planting day, those transplants will need to be conditioned to the outdoors. Several days ahead of planting day, set them outdoors in a protected location a few minutes each day, extending the time outdoors each day. Try to pick a planting day where the weather is cooler and cloudy. This will be a better first day for the transplants than a sunny hot day. Watch them carefully to be sure the transplants do not wilt from lack of moisture. Their root systems have been limited to the transplant container and can easily dry out.

For questions, contact the Kendall County Master Gardener Help Desk at 630-553-5823 or learn more about vegetable gardening at https://extension.illinois.edu/veggies

Household and Houseplant Insects https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13827/ Wed, 06 Mar 2019 08:33:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13827/ Household nuisance insects include boxelder bugs, stinkbugs, and Asian ladybugs for sure. Others might be those insects from our houseplants that could not survive indoors and were found dead on the windowsills. All of the nuisance pests can be collected in paper towels or vacuumed up. The boxelder bug will leave behind these small dark spots on the wall and curtains as reminders that "they were there." Dead houseplant insects could be pill bugs, centipedes and other insects that have resided in the soil inside a pot.

One visitor that just showed up or could be coming soon is the ant. They have begun to wake up for the season and without being able to be outside, have found their way inside the home. As warmer weather comes along, ants will disappear. If, however, you have pet food available, ants can be persistent. Move the food to a new spot, pick the bowl up for the night and use soap and water to remove their "trails."

Houseplant insects that are still alive and increasing in numbers could be aphids, spider mites or soft scale insects. Aphids and scale insects can cause the houseplants to look shiny and sticky. Spider mites can cause some stickiness, yet, are more known for their webbing, discoloration, and distortion of foliage, especially young leaves and leaflets.

Aphids are the easiest to control. Use the kitchen sink sprayer to rinse them off along with the stickiness. Bigger houseplants may need to "take a shower" instead. Since the spider mites will have multiple stages of adults and eggs, the above method works, but will need to be repeated, as eggs will continue to hatch in coming weeks. Scale insects will the hardest to manage as adults are securely attached to stems, leaf petioles and even on roots at the crown of the plant. The water treatment works on the younger stages without the protective layer, yet the adult scales will need to be treated with an appropriate insecticide. Adult treatments should occur in the garage if heated with good air circulation or will have to wait until the plants return outdoors. Always read and follow label instructions.