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The Humble Gardener

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Master Gardener's Q & A

During a recent visit with my daughter, I asked to borrow her computer to write my gardening column. As she set it up, she said, "What do gardeners do in the winter? What can you write about?" She unwittingly gave me a great idea for this month's column. Gardeners answer questions. Our own and others'. Answering questions/education is part of our mission as University of Illinois Master Gardeners. Our answers are based on research and experience. Fortunately, we have lots of resources to rely on, some in book form and some in the form of other gardeners.

At the Knox County Nursing Home plant sale last spring, my first question arose concerning calling plants by anything other than their common names. I have trouble with Latin names; the often multisyllabic names rarely roll off my tongue. But using common names tends to lend itself to confusion. Case in point is a lily that grows in our area that I learned as the "naked lady". The foliage grows abundantly in summer and then disappears. This is followed by a single stalk with a gorgeous lily in mid-August; the absence of foliage contributes to the flower's common name. Immediately several voices offered THEIR common names for the lily, among them "mystery lily", "surprise lily", "resurrection lily" and "August lily". The family name is Amaryllidaceae (am-uh-ril-id-AY-see-ee), a potentially useful piece of information if you are searching for this plant and the common name is unknown at the nursery. Or fellow gardeners. Don't ask me to pronounce it.

A second question came during our unseasonably warm fall. We have a balcony on our house where I grow geraniums during spring and summer. Late last October, an acquaintance walking by asked me what I do with the plants during the winter. She overwintered her geraniums in her basement with little success. Right now, in mid-January, I still have geraniums in bloom, their different colors providing friendly warmth against the barren scene framed by the sunroom's windows where they live. After bringing them in, I explained, I water them sparingly and, in late winter, cut them back and give them each a new pot of fresh potting soil. I love this method of overwintering because several of the plants were gifts; I like to think of the givers each time I tend to the plants, several of which are ten plus years old. The plants seem to like this method better than the one I used to use: ripping out the plant in the fall and hanging them upside down in the basement. This method just requires a cool room with some winter sun to be successful. My acquaintance said, "I'm using the basement method" and resumed her walk. I mentally shrugged. We are answerers, not enforcers.

Another question came from a friend who had decided to grow her own vegetable plants this year. I was thrilled when she mentioned this. It doesn't seem possible that it is time to start seeds when we just finished gardening in late November. There are many, many websites that provide useful information to the fledging seed starter as well as to the veteran. We have been starting seeds for many years and we are still learning ways to be successful. I answered my friend's question about lighting, which she had already figured out, and walked away grinning at the fun and educational new adventure she was embarking on.
I had one more question to answer for myself. What plants should I add to a pollinator garden I started last year? The mailbox has obligingly yielded catalogs featuring mail order seeds and plants, as well as the annual Prairie Plant Plug Sale information from the Knox County Soil and Water Conservation District. The majority of my pollinator garden planted last year consists of plants I purchased from the KCSWD. Grown by Pleasant Prairie Nursery in Williamsfield, the plants were healthy and grew vigorously all summer. The price is right, $2.25 per plug or container. This year's offerings are for twelve wildflowers and four grasses. You can call the office (309.342.5138 ext.3) for more information or visit and click on the SWCD sale page. Pickup is on June 15 at the SWCD office located at 233 S. Soangetaha Road, Galesburg, Il. By purchasing the plants, you know you are getting locally sourced plants, which supports the local economy while ensuring that your purchase will help local pollinators have access to the plants they need.

I ordered plants from KCSWD and happily wrote a planting schedule for our own seed growing. My gardening partner's thoughts were on the same track; a new bag of seed starting mix is next to the seeds. "How to survive winter's blast?" is the question. Seed starting is our answer.

Knox Master Gardener
Sandra DePalma-Odell

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