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Italian Cypress

Is it possible to plant and grow Italian cypress in the Chicago area? Are our winters too severe for it? If they are, is there an alternative conifer that will provide a similar look?

Italian cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) has dark green foliage and horizontal branches and grows into a dense column 60 feet high in Italy. It is not hardy here.

Paul Jeffers, tree and shrub salesperson, Gethsemane Garden Center, Chicago, suggests substituting a dense, columnar arborvitae, (Thuja occidentalis ‘Fastigiata’). It grows to 25 feet tall and 5 feet wide, but can be kept lower by pruning. The very narrow arborvitae ‘DeGroots Spire’ is another choice. The false cypress Chamaecyparis nootkatensis ‘Green Arrow’, often mistaken for arborvitae, is a tight upright growing plant.


Osteospermum

Can you tell me if the African daisy Osteospermum ‘Springstar Aurora’ can be winterized here? It is a healthy plant?

Those South African daisies could never endure a frigid winter here and should be considered annuals. Their daisy-like flowers with blue centers open only in sunlight and bloom best in early summer or later when summer days cool down. They can be seed-grown under lights.


Ground Cover Suggestions

I have a dampish area with poor grass and moss that I would like to change to ground cover, but if I have only one plant, won’t it be boring? Can I get rid of the grass in winter or early spring?

If we have a dry winter or spring, you can smother the grass with a heavy layer of newspapers held down by bricks or stones, or use a product that will kill the grass. Use it according to the label directions. Grass roots are very persistent, so you may have to dig out the remaining roots by hand. The moss will disappear as you aerate the soil and rake in organic material.

When your area is properly prepared, you will have a large choice of low-growing groundcovers.

Kim Schroeder, perennial buyer at Wasco Nursery and Garden Center, St. Charles, suggests the following: lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis), sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum), wild ginger (Asarum canadense), or European ginger (A. europaeum), vinca (Vinca minor), Tiarella, Astilbe-the cultivar ‘Perkio’ is shorter than Astilbe chinensis ‘Pumila’ and violas such as bird’s foot viola (Viola pedata) or sweet white viola (V. blanda).

These choices are not aggressive growers like goutweed (Aegopodium), which grows anywhere and is very difficult to eradicate. You can plant free form areas with one type and another alongside it as contrast. Most of these ground covers bloom at slightly different times to give you a spring-into-summer flowering season.


Birch Trees

I’d like to plant a white bark birch in front of my home in my sunny front yard. What can you tell me about Betula utilis var. Jacquemontii?

The birch, Betula utilis var. Jacquemontii is a tall, narrow tree (to 100 feet) with very white bark that’s native to India. It is subject to borers. The popular weeping white bark birch, B. pendula is also subject to borers in our climate and is not a suitable choice.

“There are better birch choices, so choose what grows well in our area,” advises Ken Morris, vice president of Spring Bluff Nursery in Sugar Grove. Two trees resistant to borers are the paper or canoe birch and the river birch.

Canoe or paper birch (B. papyrifera) has a stout trunk with creamy white bark that peels off in papery layers. It is native to North America. It is the first paper birch bred to resist the bronze birch borer, but it still needs to be monitored and sprayed yearly for the borers. A good cultivar is ‘Renaissance Reflection.’

River birch (B. nigra), native to the eastern United States, is fast growing when young. It can reach more than 50 feet in height. Its bark is a smooth, shiny apricot and, when mature, flakes and curls in cinnamon strips. It tolerates slow drainage and is also resistant to borers. “It’s pretty tough, good and sturdy,” says Morris.

The cultivar ‘Heritage’ was introduced to much acclaim around 15 years ago.

Birch trees need moisture. Do not allow your tree to dry out in your sunny site.


Pumpkins

I’d like to know the secret to growing a decent-sized pumpkin for jack-o-lanterns for the grandkids and for decorating. My experience in recent years is that they get about as big as a basketball and then begin to rot. What am I doing wrong?

The longer the fruit is on the vine, the greater the chance it will rot. By September its size is apparent, and it turns orange. It is best to plant pumpkins in different soil each year or every two years, according to Sue Murdock, manager, Goebbert’s Pumpkin Farm, South Barrington.

The size and use of pumpkins is determined by the seed you buy. ‘Atlantic Giant’ produces fruits that weigh hundreds of pounds. A better choice is to grow ‘Howden’. It bears well-shaped 10 to 20-pound fruits, the perfect size for jack-o-lanterns. ‘New England Pie’ is the standard for pies with smooth, bright orange flesh. ‘Wee-B-Little’ is a miniature round pumpkin bearing 3- to 4-inch fruit useful for table decorations and suitable for tiny hands.


Planting Tulips

Is there a best time to plant tulips? I see them at the garden centers in late summer but I am afraid that it is too early to plant them. If I wait too long, I might forget all about them.

Fall bulb planting should wait until soil temperatures drop to 55 degrees or cooler. This usually occurs when nighttime temperatures drop to 50 degrees or lower for two weeks or more. While waiting to plant, store the tulips in a cool, dark place away from direct sunlight—but don’t forget them. After planting, water the bulbs well, advises the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center.

If you plant grape hyacinth bulbs amidst your tulips, they will come up early in the fall and serve to mark the position of your tulips.


Colorful Shrubs

I am interested in improving fall color in my yard. What shrubs turns red beside burning bush (Euonymus alatus)?

Wendy Vichitk, plant manager at Luurs Garden and Flower Shop, Hillside, recommends these shrubs for a colorful fall garden:

Low growing 2- to 3-foot Virginia sweetspire ‘Little Henry’ (Itea virginica) has red foliage and grows in both sun and shade. The foliage of the somewhat taller ‘Henry’s Garnet’ is dark red, as the name indicates.

Fothergilla ‘Mount Airy’ has blue-green leaves that turn intense yellow and orange-red in sun and half shade.

Oak leaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) grows in shade or partial sun, with orange-red to red fall color.
The leaves of apple serviceberry (Amelanchier grandiflora) burn a bright orange red. There are several cultivars on the market to choose from.

Many viburnums have bright fall color. The easy to grow Korean spice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii) and the also fragrant V. juddii have leaves that produce a mixture of red, orange and mahogany. Arrowood viburnum (V. dentatum) and cranberry bush viburnum (V. trilobum) both exhibit typical red-purple color.

The intensity of color is affected by the weather. Warm sunny days followed by cool nights bring the highest leaf color. The health of the plant, its growing conditions, and the amount of water the plant receives also affect fall color.


What plants do you predict will be best sellers this year? Why?

What plants do you predict will be best sellers this year? Why?

Bryon Angerman, nursery manager, Alsip Home & Garden, St. John, Ind. and Frankfort, Ill.

I believe these two compact hydrangeas will be hot plants this year. First is Invincibelle Wee White® hydrangea, a compact and reblooming white variety of ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea. Its dwarf habit of 18-24 inches and versatile adaptability to full-sun to part-shade planting locations will yield three to four months of continuous flowers on sturdy stems. It’s sure to become a staple in every landscape. Also look for Mini Mauvette hydrangea for similar habits with pinkish purple flowers.

Molly Hornbaker Blogg, nursery manager, Hornbaker Gardens, Princeton.

Hydrangea Little Quick Fire will be a best seller this year. It blooms early with pure white flowers turning to pink, then rose. Its more
compact size, at 4-5 feet and fits into most urban gardens better than most other panicle hydrangeas. Hosta ‘Autumn Frost’ is an attention grabbing plant with powder blue leaves and showy yellow margins. Last year’s Perennial of the Year, Asclepias tuberosa, should continue to be a big seller because of its gorgeous orange flowers and because it is a host for monarch caterpillars.

Jennifer Brennan,horticulture information specialist, manager of education, Chalet, Wilmette.

Being at a retail garden center and nursery, I get to hear customers’ requests and questions about plants for their gardens. Being on the board of the Perennial Plant Association for 6 years, I get to hear hybridizers and growers claims about the “BEST” plants. It is wonderful when the claims of the hybridizers and growers match the requests of the gardeners and designers. The other fact that is worth stating is that the plants are trialed much better than in the past, so there is proof from many areas of the country that the recommended plants will perform and survive.

The first plant that I expect to be a good seller is one that has been selected by the members of the Perennial Plant Association as the Perennial Plant of the Year for 2018. It is Allium ‘Millenium’. Allium ‘Millenium’ is one of the very best ornamental onions. Unlike spring-blooming Allium bulbs, this hybrid Allium blooms in mid to late summer with large large 2 inch rose-purple, globe-shaped flowers over shiny deep green strappy, grassy foliage. Mature plants have dozens of globes covering this perennial plant. Allium ‘Millenium’ attracts butterflies and bees love it as well, but deer and rabbits stay away. This Allium is good for winter hardiness Zones 5-9; prefers full sun to part shade and is 10-12 inches tall.

The
second plant is a flowering perennial Echinacea. It is Echinacea KISMET™ Raspberry and it is different due to sheer flower number and a fabulous habit. It blooms first year, early in the season, with large flowers and continues until a hard frost. It is a great plant! I saw it in trials in the Chicago area and in Colorado. It attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. It is a wonderful cut flower with a great fragrance. It is deer resistant. It is hardy from Zone 4 to zone 10. It forms an upright mound that is 16 inches tall by 24 inches wide, up to 18 inches in flower. It is a beautiful hot pink color that blooms June, July, August, September and October. And, it likes average well drained soil in full sun.

The third plant is a hybrid of a native grass. Native plants are one of the strongest trends in gardening these days. The natural beauty of native Blue Grama Grass is raised to a higher level in Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’. Its allure includes an abundance of horizontal seed heads, which resemble elegant, petite flags. They emerge chartreuse and transform to blonde. These exquisite blooms hover above thin, blue-green, two-foot stems. ‘Blonde Ambition’ was named a 2011 Plant Select® Winner for its resistance to pests, exceptional performance in low water conditions, retail appeal, and long-lasting attractiveness in gardens and containers. It pops right back up after snowfall. Bouteloua gracilis‘ Blonde Ambition’ was discovered and introduced by David Salman of High Country Gardens. It is easily grown in average, dry to medium, well-drained soils in full sun. It tolerates a wide range of soils, except poorly-drained, wet ones. It is hardy from Zone 3 to Zone 10. It is a tufted, warm season, Missouri native grass noted for its distinctive arrangement of mosquito larvae-like seed spikes which hang from only one side of its flowering stems. It is native to prairies, plains, open rocky woodlands and along railroad tracks. It has narrow, bluish-gray leaf blades (to 1/4 inch wide) that typically form a dense clump growing 12-15 inches tall. Foliage turns golden brown in autumn, sometimes also developing interesting hues of orange and red. Inflorescences of blond colored flowers appear on arching stems above the foliage in early to mid-summer, typically bringing the total height of the clump to 20 inches tall.

All three of these should be at the top of the selling lists for the 2018.


Best Houseplants

What are the three best houseplants that everyone should own and why?

Bill Koch, owner, Hawthorn Gardens, Hawthorn Woods, Illinois
I tell people to go sit in Woodfield Mall and look at what’s doing well. We like to sell what will grow, what’s easy. So there’s ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamifolia). It will survive if you go away for a 2-3 week vacation. Needs little water. Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema) is a wonderful plant. Will grow in any light; also doesn’t take much water. And pothos (Epipremnum aureum). We like to keep it simple.


Jackie Weiss, Garden Center Manager, Linton’s Enchanted Gardens, Elkhart, Indiana
Mother-in-law’s tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata) is one of the easiest plants to maintain. Find a place with dim light or low sun and forget it. The plant just needs a drink of water every 2-3 weeks.

Peace lily (Spathyphyllum). This is a phenomenal plant.Very easy to maintain. Will thrive in filtered sun but will do equally well in dim light. This plant loves moist soil.

Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) is a plant that keeps on giving. Very easy to take care of, it will often send out feelers with a baby spider plant attached. Just pop the baby in a pot of soil, allow roots to form and cut it free from the mother plant.


Dee Speaker, Greenhouse Manager, K & W Greenery, Janesville, Wisconsin
People think orchids are difficult to grow because they look exotic, but the Phalaenopsis orchid is easy to grow. The blooms are elegant and can last up to three months.

Spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum) adapt well to most places in your home and are one of the easiest plants there are. They are forgiving if neglected, and they also improve the air quality in your home.

FIddleleaf fig (Ficus lyrata) is a trendy plant. It’s easy to grow and adds character to a room. It can get tall but that’s what makes it blend in nicely with your décor.


Elizabeth Hoffman, Owner, West End Florist and Garden Center Evanston, Illinois
For high-light situations I like variegated Swedish ivy (Plectranthus madagascariensis). This trailing vine is so much fun with its vibrant white margin and aromatic scent. It prefers moist well-drained soil.

For medium light, I suggest mistletoe cactus (Rhipsalis pilocarpa). This is a cool trailing non-toxic succulent type plant that never likes to dry out. It is also not very sharp to the touch like other cacti. It prefer moist, well-drained soil.

For low light, I recommend snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata). It’s very easy to care for as long as you let it slightly dry out between waterings. It’s very striking with its color and stiff upright habit.


Bulbs Over Winter

What is the best way to dig up, clean and store gladiolus and dahlias? What are the little white sacs on glad bulbs?

Gladiolus corms and dahlia tubers are generally dug up after the first frost or before Halloween. Cut off all the stems and foliage, let the plants dry, and shake off all the soil. Make sure each corm and tuber is firm and not rotted. Place them in a box or tray and cover with peat moss. If you know the cultivar name, tag the plant.

Store them in a dark, cool place, checking them over winter. If the dahlia tubers are shriveled, sprinkle a little water on them. Dahlias can be potted up in spring for an early start in the garden.

“The white sacs you see attached to the gladiolus corms are little bulblets. You can remove them or not. If left on the corm, they will grow larger, and may enhance the number of stems on the plant. If you remove them and plant them, it will take at least three years before they flower,” explains Joni Cotton, perennial manager, Hawthorn Gardens, Hawthorn Woods.


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questions

I have read that purple coneflowers (Echinacea) are a good source of food for birds in the winter. Will they be okay if not trimmed back until spring? If so, how early should they be trimmed?

I am going to be planting five dwarf fruit trees; two ‘Bartlett’ pears, one ‘Cresthaven’ peach, and two ‘Honeycrisp’ apples. Could you give me some feedback on them?

From what I have read, hellebores are supposed to spread. I have a few I planted four years ago, and they seem to be the same as when I planted them. They are planted in a bed of vinca. Should I remove more vinca that surrounds them? I do fertilize them and protect them with a winter mulch. What else should I be doing to have more plants?

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