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).