Saturday, December 27, 2008

All This Snow

I was out shoveling the drive this evening. It was very still, except for the sound of my shovel scraping across the drive and the snow was still coming down and it was very peaceful. I could see the Christmas lights twinkling from down the street. I bought some ice melter the other day, thinking that it would help relieve me of the burden of shoveling the drive. Then I read the label. This is kind of like the time I bought the leaf shredder from my neighbor. I somehow thought that it would reduce the amount of leaves to about what would fit in a 5 gallon bucket. Wrong. And it was a lot of work, raking up all those leaves and running them through the shredder then spreading them around the flower beds and digging it in to the soil to decompose. I guess I thought the ice melter would somehow turn a driveway covered in snow into... something other than a driveway covered in snow and it would somehow all just go away. Wrong again.
So what does ice melter do and how does it do it? Well, when you read the fine print you find out that what it does is keep the snow from adhering to whatever it has fallen onto, like your driveway or sidewalk and it should be put down before it snows, not after. Who is going to remember to do that?! Ice melters are made from several different substances. The cheapest ice melter is rock salt. More expensive ice melters are made of different types of chlorides, including magnesium chloride and potassium chloride. Ice melters can melt down to different temperatures as well. Some go as low as -20 . Anything with chlorides in it will be corrosive to some degree or another and also damaging to plants. The lower the sodium chloride the safer the ice melter for your plants, deck and sidewalk.
There are organic ice melters now on the market that are completely safe for plants, decks and sidewalks. They melt down to -50 . They are even less corrosive than water and you won’t track the residue into your house. They are liquid and you can apply them with a pressurized sprayer. I have used it around my house this year and it seemed to work as advertised. I sprayed it before the snow fell and it did seem easier to shovel the snow from the front walk.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


Crystal Lake today had two opportunities to enjoy holiday programs featuring Countryside staff members. This afternoon I had the pleasure of seeing Laura Fergus, from the greenhouse department, and her husband Rick sing at the First Congregational Church Christmas program. The concert features several choirs and a bell choir. What a fabulous performance and we all had a great time at the end singing a medley of Christmas songs. Tonight, Jim the driver, will be playing the tuba in the Crystal Lake Concert Band’s winter concert. If you didn’t get a chance to hear the band tonight, they are frequent performers during the Tuesday night concerts at the band shell in the summer.

With the first real snowfall this week, I got to thinking about the birds. The snow has covered up any seeds or other food sources so it is incumbent upon us to help provide food sources, especially as development takes away from the natural resources. A lot of birds, of course, do migrate to warmer climes with more available food sources, but the cardinals, juncos, and the finches, to name a few, stick around (I don’t know why, even my neighbor has finally left for Florida for the winter) and so we should put out not only food, but water also.
I have several friends, mostly from my garden club, who also feed the birds during the winter and they have two different philosophies about what type of food to put out. My one friend, (you know who you are) buys the cheapest bird food she can find feeling that whatever she puts out is better than nothing. I personally like to attract a wide variety of birds, so I put out several different kinds of bird food in different types of feeders. And I feel that if the birds won’t eat what you put out, why bother.

Selecting Bird Seed --It is pretty easy to tell a high quality bird seed, just look at the label. Just like at the grocery store, the ingredients are listed in descending order by percentage. Also listed on the label will be the guaranteed analysis, by percentage, of protein, fat, fiber and moisture. In order to compare one mix from another, compare the ingredients and the analysis. It also helps to know what type of birds you want to attract. If you want to attract finches, which like nyjer thistle and your mix doesn’t list it, then you won’t attract many finches.

Most birds that stay around through the winter prefer foods that have sunflower seeds, safflower, cracked corn, millet, thistle and fruit. Suet is another popular food this time of year. Just as important is to also have a source for water. Just like all animals, birds need water, too. Using a heated bird bath is one way to provide a water source this time of year.
Birding is the second most popular hobby in America. It can be a very rewarding experience to put out feeders, plant bird friendly plants, and make a backyard habitat for birds. If you want more information about birding as a hobby here are several links to websites for more information.

The Prince Corporation
Cornell Ornithological Lab

Monday, November 24, 2008

One More Chore for Fall

I am sure you are all getting ready for Thanksgiving and then Christmas and you probably aren't thinking about the garden. So if you need an excuse to avoid the mall this weekend, here it is. Broadleaf evergreens and evergreens don't go dormant during the winter like deciduous trees and shrubs do. To keep them from drying out over the winter you should water them whenever the temperatures go above freezing. You can also apply an anti-transpirant which will keep them from losing moisture through their leaves. This is especially important with broad leaf evergreens, such as boxwood, holly, azaleas and rhododendrons. Do your azaleas and rhododendrons not bloom in the spring? This could be the reason. These shrubs set their blooms in the fall (I've actually had a PJM rhody bloom in November when we've had a warm up) and if they get stressed over the winter from drying out they will jettison the blooms in an effort to save themselves. You can see the difference it makes in looking at the pictures on the right. These are from the Wilt Pruf web site and are quite dramatic.

So what is an anti-transpirant? It is a polymer layer that is sprayed on the plant leaves, or needles in the case of spruce or arbor vitae, that keeps the plant from drying out. There are several brands available, including Wilt Pruf and Wilt Stop from Bonide. The Wilt Pruf lays down multiple layers of polymer and seems to last longer. You should apply it in late fall, Thanksgiving is a good reminder, whenever the temperature is above 40 degrees.

This is a great product to use in the spring and summer when you are transplanting shrubs, as it helps the plants retain moisture. You can also use it with your fresh Christmas trees, wreaths and roping and on your winter containers.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

More Fall Chores

Most of the leaves are off my trees and neighbor Dave and I were out raking yesterday in our respective gardens. I put the patio furniture away and the hose and really started battening down for the winter. When we first moved here a friend of mine said of this time of year, "Say good bye to your neighbors because you won’t see them until spring! They hibernate, too!" And she was right. Unlike other parts of the country where people really enjoy winter sports, we don’t here. I suppose it has to do with the dreary, gray days. (Mr. Ross tells me that in most parts of the country backing up to high tension power lines results in lower appraisal values for houses, except in Minnesota where it is considered a bonus because it makes for great snow mobile trails.)

Well, I guess what keeps us going is knowing that in six months spring will be here and our gardens, like us, will be springing back to life. I am already starting to plan for next year and my leaves are helping out. I want to put in a mixed herbaceous border, as they say in England, so I need to get rid of some grass in the back. Mike in the greenhouse department gave me this tip so I am trying it out this year. When he puts in a new planting area, he spreads newspaper over the area and then piles leaves on top. By spring the leaves and paper have smothered the grass and then you can till in the decomposing leaves to help amend the soil. So this week I have 3 bags of leaves for the city to pick up, whereas neighbor Dave has seven.
It is pretty shady back there and I want plants with brighter foliage to lighten the area up. I will be planting lots of the gold tone and chartreuse hostas and hakonechloa grass in addition to the limelight hydrangea and itea shrubs that I planted last spring. One thing to keep in mind when planning a new bed or landscape is to think about what the area will look like when not in its prime. What is there to capture the eye at that time. This is a piece of statuary from my old house. It looks great mixed in with the plants, but it also gives me something to look at during the winter. I can see this area from my kitchen window so I do see it through all seasons.
I also planted the last of my bulbs. I had a few daffodils and crocus bulbs left over from my bulb forcing project last month so I got them planted as well. (Last month I planted some bulbs in a container to force them to bloom earlier than they normally would. I had them in the refrigerator until last week when I moved them to the cellar steps, where they would stay cold but not freeze.) I used a bulb auger attached to my electric drill to dig the holes for the left over bulbs. I have a few planted up the beds on either side of my front door, but to change it up a bit, I planted these last few in the lawn right in front of the raised planters. I accidently dug up one that I had planted earlier and was pleased to note that the roots had really started to develop. So that is one other thing I have to look forward to this spring.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Winter Rose Care

If this doesn’t convince you winter’s on the way, you are either in a major state of denial or already in Florida. I’m staying close to home except for spending the afternoon at the MCC French movie festival. Seems like a good place to spend a cold, icky Saturday afternoon.
This is the time of year we get a lot of calls and questions about cleaning up the flower beds. Believe it or not, the garden has not yet gone fully dormant, so the short answer is don’t do anything! What a relief! I was out this morning looking at the roses I planted this summer. The climbing rose I bought to cover the chain link fence between me and neighbor Dave has grown at least 4 feet! The yellow rose has also grown and still has buds, one that is even starting to open.
Roses are a tough sell in our climate. The winter is pretty hard on them and just when they start to look great in the summer, the Japanese beetles get them. There are many varieties of roses that do well here in northern Illinois. The best roses for our region are the shrub roses. Though their flowers are not as large or fragrant, they are very floriforous, meaning they have many blossoms, and many are everblooming, meaning they will have flowers all the time. They are also very hardy in our area and don’t need a lot of maintenance.
That said, what should you do with your roses this time of year? You do need to provide some type of protection for the roses. This is not to keep the roses from freezing but rather to keep them from coming out of dormancy prematurely during those times when we get an early warm up and then a deep freeze. If you have grafted roses, which would be most of your hybrid tea, floribunda or grandiflora roses, you can use rose collars to protect the root graft. This is a plastic collar that fits around the base of the rose and is then backfilled with compost, blackdirt or garden soil. The benefits to using the rose collars as opposed to rose cones, is that you can do it earlier in the fall and you don’t have to prune the roses to make them fit under the cone.
If you opt for rose cones, wait until late December when the roses are fully dormant, then prune them back to about 16"-18" or enough to fit under the rose cone. Some cones come with a removable top. On days when the sun is out, the temperature under the cone can rise to the point where the rose starts to come out of dormancy and begins to transpire and produce moisture in the cone. This can lead to disease problems later on. On warm sunny days remove the top or the entire cone to allow the moisture to escape. Be sure to remove the cone for good in early spring.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Bring in your Tropical Plants

Last Thursday we had a frost warning, though I don’t think it actually did drop below 32 . Just to be on the safe side I dragged my patio plants inside and now that I’ve done that I’m beginning to wonder what else I’ve brought inside. I had a customer once who left her plants outside until well into fall and when she did bring them inside discovered she also brought in a hibernating frog!
Well, the whole point here is that you never know what else you bring in with your plants and, really, I am thinking of bugs. Before you bring your plants inside you may want to give them a good hosing with water to knock off any insects that may be lurking in the foliage. Check the undersides of the leaves for insect eggs. Ann Larson, who is currently recuperating from ankle surgery, recommends using a mild solution of True Value cleaner (we sell it at Countryside) to remove insect eggs and kill smaller insects. You can also use a systemic insecticide or yellow sticky traps, that work like fly paper. The yellow color of the trap attracts whiteflys, aphids, thrips, leafhoppers and aphids. The systemic takes a few weeks to work its way up the plant and into the leaves so a combination of all of the above is probably best.
It is usually a bit of a shock to the plant to go from a sunny, cool outdoor spot to a now warmer, drier, less sunny inside location. Some plants to not make this transition very well. Keep the plants in as sunny and cool a location as possible and keep them away from the heating vents. You may want to provide additional humidity by putting a pan of water next to the plant. Often, plants react to a drastic change in environment by going into shock and dropping their leaves. Do not just assume that the plant needs water and water it. Check the soil first. If the soil moisture is adequate, just let the plant be. It will begin to set new leaves that will be acclimatized to the new location and should be fine. Remember, in lower light conditions plants do not grow as much so they don’t take up as much water. Over watering will do as much to kill a plant as under watering.

My hibiscus plant has really grown and I am always worried when I either put it outside or bring it in that the change is going to shock it. Hibiscus are pretty tough plants, but they do have a tendency to loose their leaves when brought indoors. It won't kill the plant and if you strip the leaves off the plant before you bring it in, you will leave all those insects outside.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Forcing Bulbs

Forcing bulbs is a fun project for the fall, though you won't see the fruits of your labor until spring. Forcing bulbs means to trick them into blooming sooner than they would when planted outside. Some bulbs do not need to be forced, like paper whites or amaryllis. Others, such as daffodils, tulips, crocus or hyacinths need to be cooled before they will bloom. It is a little too late to force bulbs for blooming by Christmas but you can still get a jump on spring by doing it now. The Van Bloem web site has a page that explains how to do it and gives the weeks of cooling needed for each bulb type.

Most bulbs need 12-15 weeks of cool temperatures before they will bloom. After this period it generally takes another month for the blooms to actually set and open. I prefer to time my bulbs to bloom sometime in late January or February. There is usually plenty of color in the house in December, what with Christmas decorating and poinsettias. After that the house looks a little drab so it is nice to perk it up with some forced bulbs.

In this example I am using daffodils and crocus. You can use any type of container. If it is going in the house you would want to use a more decorative container. I am planning to put this out on the front porch so the container doesn’t have to look too nice. I think using a galvanized container would look nice, also.

Fill the container with potting mix, not garden soil, and place the bulbs pointy side up. In a 6" container Van Bloem recommends 6 tulip bulbs, 3-6 daffodil bulbs, 3 hyacinth and 12 crocus or muscari bulbs. In my container, which is more like a 10" container, I am using 4 daffodil bulbs and 5 crocus bulbs. Once the bulbs are in place, partially cover the bulbs with soil, water in and place in a paper bag.
Find a cool place to store the bulbs. Right now the coolest place is going to be in your refrigerator. I am having to evict the wine from the bottom shelf of the frig at least for a few weeks. Once the outside temperature has dropped sufficiently find a place that stays cool but does not freeze. My garden club friend Kathy, puts hers in the covered window wells in her basement. In 12-15 weeks bring the container into a warm sunny room. There should be green shoots about 1-2" tall emerging from the soil. They will continue to grow and form buds and finally open. This process will take about a month. Be sure to turn the container so that the stems don’t grow to one side, toward the light.

Bulbs do not have to be fertilized since they stored the energy for next year’s blooms last spring. I have had some people tell me that bulbs that are forced do not ever bloom again and they should be thrown out after the blooms are spent. This is not true. Once the bulbs have blossomed, you can fertilize them with a well balanced, all purpose fertilizer. If you want you can plant them outside in the ground at this point or allow them to grow in the container until later in the spring and then allow them to go dormant, remove them from the soil, dry them and replant them in the fall in the ground. The key is allowing them to continue the process of photo-synthesis and sending energy to the bulb to enable the plant to store up enough energy to bloom again the following spring.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Time for Bulbs

I apologize for the lack of blogs recently. In early September I took the youngest daughter back to school in Boston, then got busy at work– but now I seem to have my muse back so here we go.

I have been in my house a full year and have seen the full range of seasons. I am beginning to see what is lacking in the landscape. One thing that I missed last spring was spring bulbs. At my old house I had planted hundreds of bulbs and this spring at this house there were like three. Now that the weather has cooled (I cracked up reading my last blog about the lack of rain!) we can think about planting bulbs. If you plant them too early in the season, we can get a cool down and then a warm up and the bulbs are fooled into thinking they have been through the cool down period. You really can fool Mother Nature sometimes.

I love driving down Woodstock Street in Crystal Lake in the early spring to see the scilla in bloom in the lawns of the houses near the intersection of Oak and Woodstock. Yesterday I planted a bag of scilla bulbs in the middle of the front lawn. I also planted daffodils in the planters on either side of the front door and in the lawn in front of the planters. I think this will create an interesting transition between the lawn and the planters as well as soften the hard edges of the brick paver planters.

I think, too, the blue of the scilla and the yellow daffodils will be a nice combination in case they end up blooming at the same time. Both bloom early, but the scilla is the earlier bloomer. So much of when plants bloom depends on the weather but again, as a general rule, crocus and snow drops bloom early, usually in March, followed by daffodils, and then tulips. For summer blooms you can plant alliums for dramatic impact and fall crocuses and colchicums for blooms in September and October. In fact, you can have more than 100 days of blooms with bulbs alone and in a small space if you plant them at different heights. Bulbs are really very versatile and, because the blooms usually last a long time, a great investment.

One bulb variety that may be of interest to those plagued with deer and rabbits is fritillary, sometimes called snakes head. This bulb blooms later in the spring and has lovely bobbing heads and the best thing is it is deer and rabbit resistant. Also deer and rabbit resistent are daffodils.
We get asked a lot of questions about planting bulbs and two of the most common are "What side goes up?" and "How deep do you plant them?" Bulbs usually have a pointy end and a flatter end. The pointy end is the top and the flat side is where the roots grow but don’t worry if you plant them upside down. Bulbs are "geo-tropic," which means they know which way to grow and can "right" themselves to the correct orientation. How deep you plant the bulb depends on how big the bulb is. A general rule is to plant the bulb 3x the depth of the bulb, so a 1" bulb will be planted 3 inches deep. Don’t get too worried about measuring from the top or the bottom of the bulb, close enough is good enough. You can bury bulbs too deep and if you do you will notice little or no flowering, but an inch one way or the other will not make a difference.
For more information on fall bulbs, stop by Countryside and talk to any of the green house staff. There are several web sites that also have good information as well. The International Flower Bulb Centre, run by the Netherlands bulb growers at is full of excellent information as is the site run by Van Bloem Gardens (where all my pictures came from)

Monday, September 1, 2008

To Water or Not to Water

You know, it seems like it’s either feast or famine. This spring was one of the wettest, especially in Iowa with all the flooding that occurred there, and now hurricane season is hitting Florida and Texas. And we haven’t had rain in weeks! Not that I am complaining but if your lawn is like mine it looks like shredded wheat. So, what to do? Unless we have an extended drought your lawn will do just fine. It is now going dormant, but it is not dead. You can water but you must water on a consistent basis and follow whatever water restrictions your municipality has implemented. If you do feel the need to water, follow these guidelines: The lawn will need 1" of water per week, water deeply and infrequently rather than a little bit every day and finally, water in the morning rather than in the evening to prevent disease. Water is a scarce commodity and it does seem silly to use it on the lawn, when as soon as the rains return, it will green up again. I say enjoy the break from mowing.

Your trees, shrubs and perennials are a different matter, especially since these represent a large investment. I found these watering recommendations on the Tree Gator web site:

1. Water slowly and deeply. Tree roots are in the top 2-4' of the soil.
2. Apply water directly over the root ball.
3. Newly planted trees need approximately 10 gallons of water per week per 1" of tree caliper. A 2" caliper tree would need 20 gallons of water per week.
4. It takes a tree about one year per caliper inch to become established. So, our 2" tree will take two years to become properly established.
Tree Gators are bags that fit around the trunk of the tree and are filled with up to 20 gallons of water. The water is released slowly through the root ball and out to the surrounding soil. This encourages the roots to grow out of the planting hole and results in a better established tree.
Soaker hoses are another option if you have a larger area that needs to be watered, such as a perennial bed. They can be snaked around the plants and can even be buried underground to more effectively deliver water closer to the plants’ roots. Using soaker or weeper hoses keeps the water in the soil and not on the foliage.

Sprinklers are definitely not the way to water. A lot of the water evaporates before it hits the ground and water on foliage promotes disease. If you only have one tree or a small area, just lay a hose on the ground next to the tree trunk or plant stem and leave it on a slow trickle until the ground is saturated.

You may have noticed your older, more established trees starting to turn color a little early. This is a stress response due to the drought, similar to the lawn looking like toast. Even if the tree is in a lawn that is being watered, the tree is still not getting enough water deep enough. It, too, will benefit from a good, deep soaking from the hose. Believe it or not, but a lot of these trees probably have not fully recovered from the drought of 2005.
Well, I've just noticed I've got a little hose draggin' to do myself!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

On Patrol

Hardy hibiscus are a really unique plant for our area. They have a great tropical look to them, with vibrantly colored large, dinner-plate sized flowers. They are very slow to come out of dormancy in the spring– we baby them in a warm green house before moving them out to the growing houses to give them an "edge." Unfortunately, they are also loved by the dreaded Japanese beetle. The other day I was peddling down a Crystal Lake street and saw some really nice hibiscus that obviously had not be ravaged by the beetles. I was intrigued by this and wanted to know, I knocked on the door to get this gardener’s secret, which she was more than happy to share with me and my intrepid readers.

The "secret" is one we’ve blogged about before but it goes to show that it does work: Sevin® and lots of it. The active ingredient in Sevin® is carbaryl, which is a very common chemical. You’ll find it in flea powders and sprays, so it is safe to use. Like Eight®, it is a topical spray, which means it has to actually touch the bug to be effective so you do need to re-apply it on a regular basis. But here is living proof that what we tell you at the store really does work when applied as per the directions.

Marcy invited me in to see her backyard, which included a beautiful water feature. Unbeknownst to me, her pond had been featured on the Countryside pond walk last month. I went to several pond and garden walks that day and hadn’t made it to hers and, boy, was I sorry but I was glad to see it at last. What a paradise. For the last several years the gardening trend has been the "outdoor room" and Marcy and George clearly consider the back yard as their summer living room. It features a beautiful brick paver patio, a raised water feature and lots of urban wildlife. They also recently put up a bat box in hopes of attracting bats to eat mosquitos. While most people would consider squirrels a pest, Marcy and her family put out peanuts for the squirrels and one in particular has become quite friendly, even touching noses with their cat!
While I was there Marcy had some questions about her water plants which I was happy to answer. Most of what she has in and around the pond are tropical plants, which in our area have to be considered as annuals or over wintered inside. One of her aquatic plants is actually one of my favorites– equisetum. As you can tell from its Latin name, it has something to do with horses and the common name is in fact "horse tail." This is an amazing plant because it is one of the oldest plants on earth dating back to the mid-Devonian period (350+ million years ago!) It is hardy in our area, but should be kept containerized since it can spread.

She also had several calla lily plants around the pond. The mother of my best friend from high school called them "death lilies," since they are often used in funeral arrangements. I like them because of their dappled foliage and unique flower, which can be purple, pink, yellow, green, deep purple and white. They are grown from bulbs in the spring and therefore not hardy in our area. They can be dug up at the end of the season and over wintered inside.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Fall Containers

Now that we seem to have a little touch of fall in the air, it’s time to think about changing out our containers. The summer annuals have had their day with their vibrant colors and now we can think about the muted colors of fall. I was out at our growing facility last week checking on the mums. They hadn’t broken bud yet but many were getting close.

If you plan ahead when planting your containers you can still use some of the plants and only replace those that look a little tired. The purple fountain grass has probably reached its full height and is starting to bloom. The vinca vine probably also still looks good and it will last well into the fall, but you will probably want to replace the blooming annuals. Of course, mums and asters are the typical plants for fall containers. Other annuals that look good in the cooler weather include osteospermum, diamond frost euphorbia, and ageratums. In fact many of the plants that we recommend for spring containers also do well in the fall. Plants for foliage include ornamental kale and swiss chard and ornamental peppers. Also consider adding a small pumpkin for a different look and texture.

One thing to consider when planting any container is color. I usually carry a color wheel with me when I am on the sales lot and it really helps when selecting a color scheme for my containers. The three primary colors are yellow, red and blue. Purple is the complementary color of yellow, orange is the complementary color of blue and green is complementary of red. If you use colors that are complementary you will get a very bold design, whereas if you use colors that are next to each other on the color wheel it will be more soothing. There isn’t any right or wrong way to design, but understanding the color wheel can help when selecting plants.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Vegetable Gardening Tips

Well, I don’t want to be the one to say this, but does it feel like fall to you? I didn’t mind the mild summer, in fact, I rather enjoyed it, even if my tomatoes (that do so much better with warm nights) are now just ripening. I just hope we don’t pay for it this winter. I have a very long driveway and no kids to shovel. But I digress...

Last week on my jaunts through town on the old bike, I ran across this garden. Actually, Neil lives down the block from me and I’ve seen his garden many times with these odd bottles and finally got around to stopping by and asking about them. He was somewhat embarrassed to admit he didn’t get these at Countryside, but since I don’t think we carry them, it’s okay to say he got them by mail order, but I won’t say where. You can see from the picture how it works. You cut the end off a 2 liter bottle, screw a hollow plastic spike onto the other end and finally push the spike into the ground next to the plant. Using this system gets the water right to the root and doesn’t water the weeds. I think something like this would work to water indoor plants while you where on vacation as well.
Neil has been gardening for many years. His garden is actually in his neighbor’s yard but they let him use it. Every fall they rake up the leaves from both yards and pile them on the garden. Then they roto till them in and let them decompose over the winter. In this way they have solved two problems: what to do with the prodigious amount of leaves that accumulate and improve soil tilth.

Also last week I rode back over to the community gardens off of Barlina Road to see what progress had been made since my first visit in June. Wow, things had really changed in those two months. Only one gardener was out working when we were there, so we asked Don O’ Conner what he was growing. This year he was growing cucumbers, pumpkins, potatoes and sweet potatoes, tomatoes and peppers. He had started out growing heirloom tomatoes but is moving away from them because of disease problems.

He does not garden organically. I noticed quite a few Japanese beetles flying about. He had a trap out and had trapped and killed a lot. He was using Sevin® (carbaryl) as an insecticide for the beetles not captured by the trap.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Gardens at Ball

The Ball Seed Gardens in West Chicago were open to the public last Sunday as part of a Garden Conservancy Open Day. I took our good customer and personal friend, Jean Mc Daniel of Dream Gardens, with me. Jean does fabulous work with container gardens (her creations can be seen at the Brink Street Market) and I thought she’d enjoy seeing some of the newest introductions. The weather was fantastic and we had an enjoyable morning at the gardens.
The Gardens at Ball are a combination display and test garden. They are an All-American test garden, which means they trial seed varieties that have not been yet introduced onto the market to determine how well they will do in our climate. To that end there are several beds just planted with a couple rows of each variety.
They are also a demonstration garden in that they design the gardens in a way that shows how to use the plants in an everyday situation, like at your house. Ball Seed also develops premium annuals for use in container gardening and they have oodles of containers planted up and placed about the gardens.
They had lots of new introductions this year including a really pretty purslane series called Toucan and a new basil called Boxwood Basil. As its name suggests this is a compact basil with very small leaves.
A few things really struck me as we enjoyed the gardens. First, the impact of massed planting, second, the "wow" factor of most annuals, and third, the use of planted containers in an existing garden bed. We always encourage our customers to plant in groups and I am sure many people think we are just trying to get you to buy more plants. But when you see a large block of color, whether they are annuals or perennials, it can just be breathtaking. A single plant can get lost in the clutter, but many, blooming all at once, is very striking.
Most of us think of putting containers only on the front step or on the deck or patio, but putting a tall container filled with annuals in a perennial bed or in a shady spot, does several things. First, it gets the color closer to the viewers eye, without having to bend over to see the flowers. Second, the container itself can be that bit of structure we are always talking about in garden design. Garden art doesn’t have to be a statue or a trellis, it can be a colorful container in a foliage garden with some annuals.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Japanese Beetles

I went down to the Kaleidoscoops (I am a shameless promotor of our local stores and besides my daughter Alexa works there) for ice cream after dinner and as I was eating I was struck by the damage done to the trees by the Japanese beetles. You have probably seen this on trees around town. The tops of the tree canopy are brown from the beetles eating the leaves. The liquid amber tree in my neighbor’s yard is similarly affected. Obviously, this defoliation is not good for the tree, but it will not kill it. In fact, if you look closely you can probably see new growth already starting.

A friend of mine with whom I worked a few years ago told me that he had noticed that the Japanese beetle population had increased as our winters here became milder. I asked him if he thought a few severe winters would decrease the population and he didn’t think so. So what can we do?

It helps to understand the life cycle of the beetle to know what type of control to use and when to use it. Right now the beetles are eating and mating and laying eggs in the soil. These eggs will hatch into grubs. As young grubs they will be in the top couple inches of soil, but as we move closer to winter and they mature they will move deeper in the soil. They move back up to the soil surface in the spring when the soil warms and feed some more. The next stage of their life is as a pupea. Similar to how caterpillars spin a cocoon to turn from caterpillar to butterfly, the grub pupates and then emerges as the adult beetle in late June to early July.

For this year, there isn’t much we can do. Use Eight® (permethrin) or Sevin® (carbaryl) as a spray to kill on contact. Please be careful to spray when there are no bees around. Lori always recommends using the beetle traps, but they can attract beetles from as much as 5 miles away and they only trap about 75% of the beetles, but at least you know the ones you did trap will be dead.

Starting now you can put down a grub control on the lawn and in the garden beds. Use a grub control that contains imidicloprid. Another product is Milky Spore®. This is a biological control that colonizes in the soil and also kills the grubs. As young grubs they are more susceptible to the grubicides and biological controls.

To protect your trees and shrubs next year, use a systemic insecticide. These are applied either as a drench (poured at the base of the tree or shrub) or a spray. There are several on the market that are effective for an entire year. So either now or next spring apply the insecticide (imidicloprid). It takes about 4-6 weeks for the insecticide to move up the tree to be effective so do it before the end of April.

Another thing to do is to choose plants that they don’t like. These include: ageratum, arborvitae, ash, baby's breath, garden balsam, begonia, bleeding heart, boxwood, buttercups, caladium, carnations, Chinese lantern plant, cockscomb, columbine, coralbells, coralberry, coreopsis, cornflower, daisies, dogwood (flowering), dusty-miller, euonymus, false cypresses, firs, forget-me-not, forsythia, foxglove, hemlock, hollies, hydrangeas, junipers, kale (ornamental), lilacs, lilies, magnolias, maple (red or silver only), mulberry, nasturtium, oaks (red and white only), pines, poppies, snapdragon, snowberry, speedwell, sweet pea, sweet-William, tuliptree, violets and pansy, or yews (taxus).

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Two More Gardens

The Wayman Garden

Susan and Glenn were my neighbors for many years until I moved into town last year. Her garden has undergone many changes in those years. Like the Hartmann’s, she and Glenn seem to do one major project a year. Over the years they have redone the front entryway, added brick paver walkways and expanded the perennial beds to border the entire back yard.

Susan likes plants that flower and the color scheme is a soothing blend of pinks and purples. One combination of plantings that she really enjoys is red astilbe and chartreuse hostas that she says "just glows" in the spring. She enjoys attracting some wildlife to the garden, especially humming birds, which frequent the monarda and the nepeta. She also likes the grass-like sedge, "Silver Scepter."

They have several fruit trees and a grape arbor and every year they put in a large vegetable garden. Last year she put up 34 jars of Concord grape jelly! They use no pesticides on the garden. Her favorite tomatoes are Rutgers, Celebrity and Big Mama. They will do a fall planting of more lettuces and radishes. Susan recommends using old CDs strung on fishing line to repel deer. She says if you hang it closer to the ground it will also scare off rabbits.

The Donahue Garden
Arlene is a long time member of the Countryside Garden Club (no relation), who enjoys all types of gardening and flower arranging. She has a large butterfly garden planted with lots of Asclepias, a milkweed favored by Monarch butterfly caterpillars. One year my daughters and I spent a fascinating afternoon there watching a monarch caterpillar spin a cocoon.

Arlene has several raised vegetable beds and I was particularly impressed with the trellis she had built for the cucumbers. The plants were already starting to scramble up the trellis without much help from Arlene, though she did tell me later she does tie them up.

Her favorite garden area is "The Secret Garden." This secluded garden is hidden by a shrub hedge with a willow branch entry way. I enjoyed the iron sculptures she had in various beds. Usually at some point in the season, the perennials are between bloom periods and it is nice to have something else to focus on.

One of my favorite plants is the giant allium and Arlene has several growing in her gardens. When they are in bloom they look just like a firework exploding on the Fourth of July, but even after the bloom is spent it still looks good.
It was a great day of gardens, but I have to say I was exhausted by the end and went home and took a nap! I hope you have enjoyed our little tour. Click here to see more pictures from my tour. Next Sunday I hope to get down to Ball Seed for their "Open Day."

More Garden Walks

The Neville Garden

The Neville’s moved to a smaller home on this Kane County property in 1976 and then to a bigger house on the property in 1989. The garden has been a work in progress ever since.
Whereas the Hartmann garden is an oasis of peace and tranquility, this garden is ablaze with color. I particularly loved the annual bed of cosmos and annual poppies that greets guests as they arrive and the well placed statuary and other permanent structures found throughout the gardens. The butterfly and hummingbird perennial garden was also well done.

The main interest on this property is the 2-acre native garden. Carved out of farm acreage, this native area is truly a labor of love. Once established, native gardens such as this are fairly easy to maintain, but getting to that point involves a lot of weeding and removal of unwanted plants.
As if the ornamental beds aren’t enough, the Neville’s also have a large vegetable garden. I was pleased to see them using the "Better Reds" plastic mulch around the tomatoes. University research has shown that using the red mulch reduces nematode growth and reflects light rays back up to the plant resulting in greater growth above ground. The upshot is that production is increased and Mrs. Neville reports similar findings.
Gail Johnson
Anyone who drives down Pomeroy Street in Crystal Lake has seen Gail’s front garden and the back is just as pretty and well maintained. It has been featured on Master Gardener Garden Walks before and this year was on the Countryside Pond Tour. For a small city lot, Gail has packed in a lot of plants and features.
The pond in her garden is not the main attraction, but it does add an element of calm and one can imagine unwinding after a stressful day at work with a glass of wine.
We get a lot of inquiries at Countryside about wisteria and there are several varieties of wisteria that will grow here. Gail purchased this one at Countryside several years ago and it is thriving. The variety is "Aunt Dee." Like all wisterias, this variety prefers deep, moist well drained soil however it blooms while still very young. Most wisterias are very slow to establish and don’t bloom until they are 5-7 years old! Gail is quite the plant collector and she loves roses, especially rugosas.
To see more pictures of the gardens I visited, click here. Also, don't forget the Open Day at Ball Seed in West Chicago on August 3.