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 Hosting Holiday Plants in your Home https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13711/ Mon, 10 Dec 2018 10:06:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13711/ Most of the holiday plants like very bright, but indirect light, and moist yet well-drained potting soil. Not that sunlight is a bad thing; it just causes the soil in the pots to dry sooner. Holiday plants already are taking up more soil moisture due to higher transpiration rates being inside where the air is typically drier in the winter months. Large blooming holiday plants growing in small containers can quickly move the available moisture from the soil into the plant and run out of soil moisture quickly.

In addition, holiday plants, just like the rest of our indoor plants, do not do well if the soil remains too wet over a long time. Soils that are kept too wet will cause roots to rot and die due to a lack of soil air in the pot. Those holiday plants that are kept too wet could have the same appearance of a plant that is in need of moisture – wilted. Managing soil moisture then becomes a bigger challenge. Repeated wilting – from either cause – will quickly shorten the bloom show. Plants that remain wilted also will have root loss just like those over-watered.

Besides visually seeing drooping leaves, the best tool you can use to determine if your holiday plant needs water is your index finger. Some gardeners also will use a toothpick or pencil method. Using a finger, clean toothpick or sharpened pencil, stick it down into the pot away from the edge (where soil is always drier). If it comes up clean, the soil is dry and the plant needs to be watered. If it comes up moist, wait to water. One other technique used is to pick up the plant and if it needs water, it will be considerably lighter in weight.

If your testing tool comes back out muddy, you have a waterlogged plant and that spells trouble. Because these plants are in pots, they do not have the benefit of gravity pulling excess moisture down and out of the pot. This is why a good potting soil must drain well. Try tipping the pot on edge and you will see water start to seep out of the lowest drainage hole in the pot.

When you do need to water, the best way is to use enough water so it collects in the tray or saucer below, then wait about 5 minutes, and drain away the excess. To learn more about poinsettias, visit https://extension.illinois.edu/poinsettia/

Choosing & Caring for a Fresh Holiday Tree https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13703/ Mon, 03 Dec 2018 11:36:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13703/ Whether you and family head out to a cut-your-own tree farm, visit a local organization's tree lot or buy from your favorite garden center, there are some points to remember as you shop:

  • Take a tape measure Holiday trees can be deceiving by looking small out in the field or at the tree lot. Unless you have cathedral ceilings where height does not matter, many of us have an eight- or nine-foot ceiling. Keep in mind, the tree stand and tree topper will add several more inches to the ultimate height of the tree. Thinking you will just cut off more of the bottom may leave you with an exposed trunk that is unsightly.
  • Making a final clean, fresh cut is important – Unless you live right next to the tree farm, making an additional final flat cut is essential. If you are doing a cut-your-own tree, it is hard to get that squared-off flat cut right out of field. If you buy your tree from your favorite lot, that cut is older and will not let the tree absorb water. This is the biggest reason to make a fresh cut so the tree lasts in the home.
  • Getting the tree ready for inside the home – Having made that fresh flat cut, your tree should go directly into a bucket or container of fresh water to allow the maximum amount of water to be absorbed before placing it in the stand. If the netting is still around the tree, it should be removed so the tree branches can settle back to their normal position. This also will help you see the shape again and to decide on the "best side" to show inside. Once the tree is set up and before any ornaments are hung, immediately fill the water reservoir.
  • Things to avoid – Mostly that is any heat source that will cause the needles to dry prematurely. While the tree looks great next to the fireplace, that heat we so enjoy will quickly dry those evergreen needles. You also can temporarily close off nearby heat registers while the tree is up and decorated. Check the water often and never let the reservoir go dry. Once the cut end of the truck is exposed to air and dries out, that will be the end of water uptake and the tree will not last.
  • Recycle after the holidays are over – You can bring your tree outside and provide birds with a place to hide out in bad weather. You can decorate your tree with suet balls, strings of popcorn and pieces of apples for a food source. If you prefer, you can cut apart the tree, and use the branches for winter mulch for perennials and groundcovers, and even hide them from the rabbits. In this case, the left over trunk can be used next spring in the garden to grow peas, vine crops, or anything that needs a support to climb.
Learn more about Christmas tree selection and care at extension.illinois.edu/trees and watch quick-tip videos at facebook.com/extensiondkk/videos.
Prevent Pantry Pests https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13700/ Thu, 29 Nov 2018 13:52:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13700/ Bakers in the family, and everyone else who enjoy their benefits, really like the holidays. Lots of cookies, cakes and pies are baked during the season. Pantry pests are those tiny grain beetles and flour moths that use the leftover flour to feed on and live in. This phenomenon is common, as many homes do not routinely bake during other times of the year. The leftover flour is pushed to the side or to the back of the pantry or cabinet, and forgotten over time.

The most common and easily discovered pantry pest is likely going to be the Indian meal moth. As the name suggests the adult moth flies and is often, found near windows or more often flying around light fixtures in the kitchen area. If you find the moths, then for sure leftover flour has been supporting these pests. If the meal moth has been in your white flour, the color becomes a dingy grey and there will be webbing found in the container. That webbing is easy to see in the round container of oatmeal too. You will see larval stages in the product actively feeding. Once the larvae have grown to full-size, they will crawl out of the infested product and find a crevice to pupate and turn into the adult moth. Once mated, the adult will return to a food source and lay more eggs to repeat the cycle.

Management of the Indian meal moth and the flour beetles means finding the source of the infestation. If caught early, this could be just that leftover flour. If left for a while, pantry pests could be in any product that contains a flour or grain. Any highly processed product would not be the initial source, but could easily become contaminated later. When the outbreak is substantial, every product becomes suspect, and it will require a lot of time and effort to deal with the moth. The remedy for the moth and beetle is to inspect all packages in the cabinet and throw away any clearly infested products. Any products left should be considered suspect, and placed in a tight-sealing container in the pantry until used again. Birdseed and dry pet food also will support these insects. There are no insecticides to spray. Cleaning and vacuuming the pantry shelves and removing any shelf paper will expose areas where pupation can occur. Be sure to clean the entire cabinet, including the cabinet cracks and crevices above your head too! This will lessen the adult populations that would be emerging later.

As you buy new products for the pantry, only buy the amount you will use in a short time.
Do not buy products in a broken or damaged bag or box. Other considerations would be to remember to use older products first and to keep the pantry free of spilled food and crumbs. If you are going to keep ground flour products after the baking season, consider putting them in the refrigerator or freezing them until you bake again. It is always easier to prevent these insects now than having to clean up their messes later.

Yard Equipment Maintenance Tips https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13687/ Tue, 20 Nov 2018 06:47:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13687/ 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: String trimmers, chainsaws and maybe a mower or two should have the gas drained, engine started and run dry, to get the fuel mixture out of the carburetor. This is the most common reason they do not start for us the following spring, a stale fuel mixture and gummed up carburetors and jets. Spark plugs can be gently cleaned or replaced, and be sure the spark plug cap is correct. A bad spark plug is likely the second most common reason both 2- and 4-cycle engines are hard to start or don't start at all. The 4-cycle engines should be run dry or you can add fuel stabilizer to a full tank of fresh gasoline. Changing the oil leaves the engine with fresh oil and no oil contaminates that can harm internal engine parts. Engines that see limited use – like chippers/shredders, rototillers and snow blowers – are more likely to have stale gas and oil contaminates. This is because they are not run frequently or for an extended period when they are used.

All things electric – corded or battery pack: Corded gardening and yard tools take the least amount of winterization. Electric mowers need to have the decks cleaned, just like their gasoline relations, both above and under. Check the blade while you are there, sharpen and return or consider a new blade. Check the condition of the power cord (and any extension cord you use).

Battery powered equipment has an extra step, keeping the battery charged. The biggest lament is forgetting to charge it when we are done with it for the season or finding out the battery is dead come spring. Battery technology is rapidly changing. Refer the owner's manual on charging frequency and if a specific charger is needed to properly charge and maintain the batteries.

Non-powered tools (most everything else): Shovels, rakes, long- and short-bladed gardening spades, tined diggers and that enormous assortment of handheld tools should get some "TLC" as well. The cleaner the tool, the easier it works in the soil. Taking a rough rag, wire brush or a cleaning tool of choice, remove any caked on dirt. Shovels, spades, and hoes can be sharpened. The final step will be to lightly coat the surfaces with a light oil to prevent surface rust from forming over the winter.

Even the lowly garden hose should receive your attention. If you do nothing else to the garden hose, BE SURE TO DISCONNECT IT FROM THE HOUSE, your frost-free spigot is not frost-free if water is trapped by a garden hose left connected all winter. Drain the water as best you can and store inside if you can.

Bird Feeding is Not a Part-Time Job https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13678/ Thu, 15 Nov 2018 15:08:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13678/ One of our favorite ones seems to be the thistle feeder since it will attract a number of different finches into our yard. Since thistle seed can be expensive, these specific feeders do not allow the larger birds to feed. We likely have all seen these feeders; they are usually a clear plastic cylinder with several small perches near holes where the finches can feed. Even these feeders can be more selective if you want. If the perches are horizontal, then sparrows will be able to eat too. If there are no perches, this limits the seed to finches who can "perch" on other parts of the feeder.

General bird feeders accommodate just about any bird that visits the backyard. Some of these bird feeders have weighted perches that allow the smaller birds access while the weight of the larger birds will cause a door to close over the seed. This can conserve a lot of seed and stretch your resources. One big concern may be all the wasted seed down on the ground. This is typical if we use a mix of seed to fill the feeder without any mechanisms to limit bird species. Each bird throws out seed looking for their favorite. If you do not mind that, then there is plenty of seed on the ground for squirrels, rabbits and other smaller creatures that need to eat all winter. Some birds like mourning doves and juncos will feed on the ground as well.

Another way to handle the waste is to feed using more than one feeder and in each one, a specific seed. Examples would be sunflower seed for cardinals, nuthatches and chickadees. Millet will attract sparrows and juncos. If your interest is with bigger birds like woodpeckers, then supply suet as well. If you only have room for one feeder and want to feed a variety of birds, chose one that has suet feeders on the ends, has a weighted perch to manage the seed supply and use a mix of seed.

It is very important that once you start to feed the birds, you continue throughout the entire winter season, as birds will come to rely on your feeder daily. If you have already been feeding birds for years, then you also know that a source of open water also is appreciated.

Lastly, the trough area where the seed is available will clog up with seed debris and spent seed parts over time. When the feeder is near empty, and before you fill it back up, take in down and clean out the feeder area allowing many more birds to feed a the same time.

What's Left to do in the Yard? https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13677/ Tue, 13 Nov 2018 12:59:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13677/ 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 be used as a mulch in the vegetable or perennial beds. Next spring, work into the bed adding important organic matter. Using the mixture of green cut grass and browning leaves makes a great beginning for a new compost pile or bin, as it has both the "greens" and "browns" needed. You can mix that in with the plant parts from bed cleanup too, and don't forget to keep mowing as long as the grass is growing.

If you have planted new trees, shrubs or evergreens this fall, be sure to follow up with the watering. Root systems continue to grow even if the above ground parts seem dormant. This also applies to any perennials you planted or have transplanted. If rabbits and deer visit your yard, consider protecting those plants as well. Rabbits really enjoy our thin-barked ornamentals, and they will feed starting at the soil line up as far as they can reach. Deer feed from the top down and can completely destroy young tender plants.

Produce still left in the garden, especially root crops, can be harvested and healed back in at the edge of the garden for use later. A good trick is to heal in carrots, parsnips and potatoes is meal-sized groupings. A heavy layer of straw (a great use for that bale of straw you decorated with for Halloween) will prevent the soil from freezing over so you can use those vegetables well into the New Year usually.

You cannot have that spring bulb bloom show next year unless you plant them yet this fall before the ground freezes over. You can still find spring bulbs on clearance. Bulbs are typically planted two to three times their diameter in the soil. Water them in too. Use some of that chicken wire you have left after protecting your trees and shrubs to cover the bed for the winter, as squirrels will help themselves. You can leave it on the surface or further down in the planting bed before you replace the soil.

There also a few things not plant-related, yet they need to be done. Be sure you remove the hose from the house and drain any water. Once you are done for the season, put the garden hose in the shed. Also, swap the location of the mower with the snow blower for easy access for that first big snowfall. Gasoline does not store very well anymore so be sure to add a fuel stabilizer to the mower and snow blower. When you are sure you are done in the garden, don't forget to clean and protect your gardening hand tools.

Don't "Leave" Behind Opportunities this Fall https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13657/ Wed, 31 Oct 2018 10:32:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/eb192/entry_13657/ 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 with active growth, such as silver maple and mulberry. If you are out there in the country with natural woodlands, leaves play a part in preserving the natural habitat of native trees, shrubs and flowers. If that is the case, just let those leaves lie. They will decompose and return valuable nutrients to the soil, to be used by the soil microbes that in turn support plant growth.

Where your lawn and trees exist together, mulching the leaves with a mower lets the small pieces fall between grass blades, benefiting the soil, trees and lawn. At some point, there can be more leaves than can be mulched in, and that is the time to mow and bag them so the leaves do not smother the lawn.

Where the vegetable garden and flowerbeds are adjacent to the lawn, consider blowing the leaves in to the beds, and work them in yet this fall or leave them as a mulch layer for the soil and work them into the soil next spring. Whole leaves also can be used as mulch around the base of tender plants like roses; use the whole leaf as mulch so it does not pack down, defeating the purpose of protecting the crown of the rose plant.

Any leaves collected with the lawn mower can start a compost pile or add to one you already have. That mower bag contains the two primary compost ingredients, browns (leaves) and greens (grass clippings). As you create the compost pile, some garden soil should be sprinkled in as you go to provide the pile with the microbes that will be breaking down the organic matter into compost. Since organic matter is naturally acidic, about ½ pound of a finely ground limestone should also be added for every cubic yard of material.

Your compost recipe is almost complete. Once the composting pile has been created, the final ingredient needed is water. If the pile remains too dry, no breakdown occurs. If left too wet, an anaerobic condition and decay occur, giving you a very smelly, slimy mess to deal with. Fresh kitchen produce peelings also can be added into the compost pile year round. They provide some of the moisture that is needed during the summer and after they have frozen and thawed from the winter months, provide moisture as well. If you are lacking in the fallen leaves department, just ask the neighbors who have bags sitting out at the curb. Don't let that good organic matter get away; build a compost pile. Learn more at https://extension.illinois.edu/homecompost