Friday, April 29, 2011

Container Show

Last night Micheal and I participated in the McHenry Garden Club’s Annual Container Show. We were up on stage with our friends from The Barn, The Gardens of Woodstock, Harm’s Farm and Locker’s Flowers. Shelley Isenhart from Whispering Hills was the moderator. 
Micheal at the Container Show

Mike and I made 8 containers and all the containers made were raffled off to members of the audience. It was a fun evening that showcased the talent available to you at our McHenry County gardens centers.

Moderator Shelley

We all had the opportunity to make a few comments about our designs and Mike offered some design advice about the use of contrast in designing a pleasing combination. Contrasting foliage and flower texture and color helps make each individual plant stand out in the container.

Shelly talked about the three basic design elements in container gardening being the thriller, filler, spiller—choosing plants that are tall for the “thriller,” semi-trailing or mounding for the “filler,” and trailing plants to soften the edges of the container.
Some of the containers
we made last night

Many of the containers used a lot of annuals but also incorporated perennials including roses, a Japanese maple, a blueberry shrub, heucheras, lamium, and even plants we usually think of as indoor houseplants.

The Barn used miniature conifers in their fairy gardens and accented them with scale versions of garden accents. (Be sure to congratulate Heather next time you are there on the upcoming birth of daughter number 2, due this fall.) Locker’s Flowers used children’s pails as containers and sea shells as soil cover, to add come whimsy to their designs. Harm’s Farm did several containers with vegetables and herbs for containers that are fun and functional.

So, a big thank you to the McHenry Garden Club for sponsoring this fun evening. To learn more about garden clubs in our area contact the National Garden Clubs at

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Year of the Tomato

Topsy Turvy tomato
A couple of weeks ago my youngest, who is in school in Boston, called to ask about growing tomatoes in one of the Up Side Down grow bags. She asked if they started tomatoes from seed would they bear fruit this year. Well, apparently, I have been neglectful of her horticultural education (tho I may say that she is getting a first rate education in information science and it has been worth every penny Mr. Ross spends to send her there). Of course tomatoes are an annual here and even if you could over winter them, the likely hood of survival and then good production the next year is doubtful.
The National Gardening Bureau has proclaimed this year the Year of the Tomato. They have also selected the Zinnia as the Annual of the Year and next year will also honor a perennial.

Tomatoes can be classified in several ways, including by size and shape of fruit, growth habit, color, days to maturity, etc. Everybody has an opinion on which is best, but it really depends on how you are going to use it, to determine what tomato is best for you. There are plenty of hybrids and heirlooms to pick from so you shouldn’t have a problem finding one that suits your needs.
Tomatoes in a mixed container

Tomatoes range in size from grape, cherry, plum, standard and beefsteak. They can be red, orange, yellow, green, almost black and even striped. One important factor in determining what variety to grow is its growth habit. I always grow mine in a big whiskey barrel so I usually pick a “determinate” variety. This type of tomato grows to a genetically predetermined height and bears most of its fruit at the same time. This is a good thing if you do any type of canning or preserving of tomatoes. Determinate tomatoes tend to be more compact, which makes them perfect for containers. Some of them are so compact they can even be planted in hanging baskets! Indeterminate types continue to grow and produce fruit over the entire season. They can get quite large and need staking or a tomato cage to hold them up.
There are a bazillion
tomato varieties

One question we always get at Countryside is about the days to maturity and what this actually means. Tomatoes are classified as early, mid-season and late. Days to maturity are the average days from the time the plant is transplanted into the garden until the first fruit ripens. Since it is an average, it really should be used as a guide not gospel. Generally speaking early tomatoes will ripen in fewer than 70 days, mid-season from 70-80 days and late tomatoes will require over 80 days from date of planting outdoors.

We always have a great selection of all types of tomatoes and I am sure we can find one that will suit your needs.  Click here to see all the varieties we will have this year.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ideas for Spring

Pansy bowl with snow!
I am really getting eager to start planting, but what a surprise this morning’s snow was! Your pansies, violas, snapdragons, and other cool season annuals will have survived just fine but please do remember that the last frost date for our area is May 15th. Warm season veg crops and annuals will have to wait!  My friend Janice sent me this picture of her pansy bowl on Monday morning! 

Giant double zinnias
I do tend to be a creature of habit and try to stick with what I know works, but it is fun to change things up once in a while and I plan to do that this year in my annual beds. For the last several years I have planted wax begonias in the shady back beds and salvia in the sunny front beds. I haven’t been happy with the performance of the begonias, tho that could be a function of watering. This year I think I will use impatiens in the back (and remember to water more frequently) and put the begonias up front. They really do work well in sunny areas, though most people use them for shadier spots.

Zinnias in containers
 If you are thinking of doing something different this year, the National Gardening Bureau has proclaimed 2011 “The Year of the Zinnia.” There are some plants that are so common we often forget about using them. I think zinnias fall into that category. They are truly an “old fashioned” annual that most people remember from Grandma’s garden. They are easy to grow from seed, come in a variety of heights and colors, and make an outstanding flower for the cut flower garden.

Sadly, the cut flower garden is becoming a thing of the past. We are using annuals as more of a ground cover plant or in containers rather than as a tall, stately garden flower and we don’t want to deadhead. Well, fear not. The plant breeders of the world know this about us and have bred some zinnias just for this purpose. The “Profusion” and “Zahara” series fill this bill perfectly. The Zahara series was an AAS (All America Selection) 2010 selection for its larger flowers and many color variations.
Zahara Zinnias

Zinnias have been given the AAS designation because they are easy to grow, disease resistant and grow well in a variety of conditions. They come in a variety of heights, colors, and flower forms. They need at least 6 hours of sun and, while they are not heavy feeders, they should be fertilized at least twice during the growing season. They perform well in hot weather but don’t forget to water them.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Grassy Weeds

I hope everyone enjoyed Garden Fest at the college yesterday.  Kim gave two presentations and I gave on on watergardening.  Next weekend we will have several seminars at the store so drop by to find out about the best new plants for 2011 and dealing with insects.

With the warmer weather I have been out looking at my lawn.  I have a bird feeder in my yard and it seems I also have a lot of grassy weeds.  I am sure there is a connection.  Neighbor Dave next door has also noticed more "crabgrass" and I had to fess up that I thought it was because of my bird feeder.  We both enjoy the birds so I guess that is a tradeoff we have to make. 

Dandelions are broadleaf weeds

It's easy to kill grass in an ornamental bed or to kill broadleaf weeds in the lawn because they are completely different in their makeup and don't react to the herbicides in the same way.  It is much harder to kill broadleaf weeds in an ornamental bed without affecting the ornamentals or to kill grassy weeds in the lawn.  One way is to get to the weeds before they germinate.  We call this preemergent weed control.  The trick to being successful at pre-emergent control is to get the herbicide down before the weeds germinate.  Most crabgrass seeds germinate when the soil temperature reaches 55F.  You need to get the herbicide down a week or two before this happens.  With our fluctuating temperatures in the spring this is hard to do.  A visual clue to timing is the forsythia.  When you see the forsythia in bloom it is time to put down the pre-emergent.  By the time the lilacs bloom, it is too late.

Corn Gluten
For those of you looking for an organic control, try corn gluten.  University studies have shown that corn gluten inhibits root development in germinating seeds.  As an added benefit it also has 9% nitrogen and makes an excellent fertilizer.  The product needs to be watered in after applying it and then needs a dry period.  Try to pick a day when no rain is forcast for the next couple of days and then gently sprinkle with a hose to get the product wet.  If it rains, the product will become too dilute and the seeds with be able to recover and continue to grow.  Apply the corn gluten at a rate of 20-40 pounds per 1000 square feet.  For best results apply twice in the spring and again in the fall.

Pre-emergent herbicides do not discriminate between "good" seeds and "bad."  If you are planning to overseed your lawn wait at least six weeks after applying the pre-emergent.  

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Spring Is Finally Here

Crocus in lawn
Spring Is Finally Here!
The crocus in my front lawn are up and blooming and the daffodils are not far behind.  Last fall I planted more crocus in the back but it is shadier there and hence cooler so no sign of them yet.  I hope the squirrels didn't dig them up.  I do occasionally find blooming bulbs not where I planted them.  But that is okay because I naturalize my bulbs in the grass as well as designated flower beds so what could be more natural than bulbs planted by squirrels.

Naturalized scilla
A few years ago I planted scilla in the middle of the front lawn.  I just love those houses on Woodstock Street near Oak where the scilla has truly naturalized in the front lawns.  What a sight.  You should drive by and see it.  Mine hasn't done so well and I will have to remember next fall to add more.  I meant to do it this year, but by the time I got around to it the stores were sold out.  

Well, what better way to begin another gardening season here in Norther Illinois than by attending Garden Fest next Saturday at McHenry County College.  GardenFest is sponsored by the Master Gardeners of McHenry County, part of the University of Illinois Extension Service.  With all the funding cut backs going on this is one way to help support a group that gives so much to the community.  If you ever have a gardening question and call the Extension Office in Woodstock, it will most likely be a Master Gardener that answers it.  They get extensive training from the Extension Service and in return volunteer time at the office to answer garden related questions.

Kim Hartman and I will be there as speakers-- I am giving a talk on water gardening and Kim's topics are shade gardening and roses.  Kim's are at 9:30am and 1:15 and mine is at 2:45. 

Also going on this month, in fact as we speak, is the Macy's Flower Show at the Macy's on State Street.  I can't get there this year but I have gone in the past and the floral displays are outstanding.  Again, they also have classes and the Cook County Master Gardeners are there to answer any questions. 

And, finally, on April 16 Countryside is having another full day of seminars on gardening.  Kim will be filling you in on the best new plants for 2011, Karen Campney, Nursery Manager, will be talking about growing fruit and a tree specialist will be teaching you about insect management in trees, including how to deal with the emerald ash borer.