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Tree Position

What is the correct distance from my house to plant a tree? What is the correct distance from the lot line to plant a tree?

It depends on the size of the tree you are planting. A small tree such as a serviceberry (Amelanchier) or a dwarf flowering crab could be planted as close as four to five feet from the house. For a birch tree, a distance of six to eight feet would be the minimum.

Distance from the lot line does not matter as long as it doesn’t interfere with power or sewer lines. You should check with your village before planting. Closeness to the neighbor’s lot line is not an issue, because neighbors have the right to trim back any overhanging branches, according to Matt Zerby, partner in Wasco Nursery, St. Charles.


Peony Blight

Last summer my neighbor told me the black spots on my peony were a blight, although my peonies bloomed nicely. What can I do about this?

Your peonies probably have a fungal disease, a common problem. The causes are wet summers with cool damp nights, too much shade, poorly drained soil, or a lack of air circulation. While your neighbor diagnosed your problem as peony blight, which is caused by an air-borne botrytis fungus, the black spots indicate the more common phytophthora blight, according to Walter Schmidtke, nursery manager at Pesche’s Garden Center in DesPlaines.

Early in the spring, young emerging shoots may suddenly wilt and fall over, turn black and show masses of gray-brown botrytis spores. If nothing is done, these spores are carried to developing buds, which turn black.

Black spots on foliage, leaves turning red in summer, and black stripes on the stalk indicate phytophthora. “Plants with these conditions won’t have as much zest” said Schmidtke.

The best protection against recurrence of either blight is good sanitation. In fall, it is important to cut down and throw away all peony foliage, cutting stalks just below the surface of the ground.

If this doesn"t work and you resort to chemicals, the treatment is the same for both diseases. As soon as the shoots emerge in spring, begin spraying with Mancozeb, a copper sulphate solution, and repeat every 7-10 days until buds form, according to University of Illinois Extension. Spray the whole soil area for overwintering spores. In early summer you can spray plants with Daconil, a general purpose fungicide. Cut away any diseased foliage at once.


What are some good plant/tree choices to hide unattractive views?

I’d like to block an unattractive view of my neighbor’s house/yard. What are some good plant/tree choices to hide unattractive views?

John Eskandari, owner, The Urban Plantsman, Chicago

Two evergreens for sun are Thuja occientalis ‘Wintergreen’ and Picea pungens ‘Fastigiata’. Both are moderate to fast growers. For shadier locations, Picea abies ‘Cuppressina’ does remarkably well.

A deciduous tree that would work nicely is Fagus sylvatica ‘Dawyck’. It comes in green, gold, red and purple leaved varieties. They work well in shadier spots but the red and purple leaves are less intense in shade.

In smaller areas, I like Amelanchier laevis ‘Cumulus’. It’s a more upright form of serviceberry providing nice spring blooms, edible berries, and golden fall color. It is adaptable to both sun and shade.

Chrissie Sieff, nursery manager, Platt Hill Nursery, Bloomingdale

Whenever I am asked this question, my customers usually have something in mind such as ‘Emerald Green’ arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ’Emerald Green’, sometimes labeled ‘Smaragd’). They want a green wall, and they want it instantly! Our dead plant return rate is high on this item, so I try to steer them to hardier choices, such as Viburnum nudum ‘Winterthur’ or Syringa pubescens subsp. patula ‘Miss Kim’.

A strategically placed tree can also do the trick. I love katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum), river birch (Betula nigra), serviceberry (Amelanchier), and ‘Ivory Silk’ tree lilacs. As you can tell, I’m not a big fan of evergreens.

Andy Wedel, part owner, Wedel’s Nursery, Florist & Garden Center, Kalamazoo, MI

Arborvitae (Thuja spp.) is the first plant we think of, but there are others. It’s hard to pick just one. Fine Line buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula ‘Ron Williams’) is a columnar-shaped deciduous shrub with yellow fall color. Evergreen, drought-tolerant upright junipers such as Juniperus chinensis ‘Blue Point’ are great in sunny spots. Some other columnar trees include ‘Crimson Sentry’ maple (Acer platanoides ‘Crimson Sentry’), Red Fox katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum ‘Rotfuchs’), and columnar hornbeam (Carpinus spp., cvs.).


Cycas

I have a cycas palm and am not sure how much direct sunlight or water it needs. It has light brown marks developing on the leaves. What is causing this, and how do I care for my plant?

Cycas palms or sago palms (Cycas revoluta) are tough house or patio plants. They are neither palms nor ferns but primitive cone-bearing relatives of conifers. A rosette of green feather-like leaves, 2 to 3 feet in height, grows from a central point at the top of a single trunk.

Cycas need bright light and should be kept relatively moist with weekly watering. However, prolonged rainy spells can cause fungal leaf spot disease.

“The shiny brown spots are probably caused by scale,” says Jeff Frohn, sales associate at Geimer Greenhouses, Long Grove. “It can be treated with fish oil, vegetable oil or an all-in-one insecticide spray,” adds Mike Geimer, owner, Geimer Greenhouses.


Low Light House Plants

We have a skylight in the bathroom over our Jacuzzi tub with an area around the tub that is quite large. What plants can we grow there, and what care do they need? Can we grow orchids?

Use plants that grow in low light such as pothos, philodendron, peace lily (Spathiphyllum), Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema), any type of dracaena, and include lady palm (Rhapis) for height. It would be possible to grow moth orchids (Phalaenopsis).

“While the bathroom will give you good humidity, your plants must be watered thoroughly. The peace lily needs to be kept evenly moist. Feed monthly with an all-purpose houseplant fertilizer,” advises Elizabeth Hoffman, manager, West End Florist, Evanston.


Fertilizer

What ratio and amounts of fertilizer would you use for a perennial bed and a vegetable garden? For growing annuals in a greenhouse, should the fertilizer be fast or slow-release, organic or inorganic?

Use 3 to 5 pounds of a 10-5-10 or 10-10-10 fertilizer per 1000 square feet in the perennial bed. Add leaves as mulch. In your vegetable bed, nutrients are important. Fertilize more heavily using a 10-10-10 fertilizer at the rate of 5 to 10 pounds per 1000 square feet.

For hanging baskets of annuals in a greenhouse, a slow-release fertilizer is best. Use a 20-10-20 liquid fertilizer following label directions. In general, organic fertilizers have a lower chemical analysis than inorganic ones, so you have to use more, according to David Tyznik, owner of Planter’s Palette, Winfield.

A healthy plant is dependent on its soil. A balanced soil is rich in beneficial microorganisms that improve the soil structure and supply necessary nutrients. Soilless potting mixes have no microorganisms. “Both organic and inorganic fertilizers work well, but those in soilless mixes need more fertilizer,” says Tyznik.


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.


Orchids

What causes black spots on my orchid leaves?

There are a number of causes for black spots, depending on the type of orchid.

“In some varieties, like Oncidium ‘Cherry Baby’, the small black spots through the leaf are normal,” says Liese Butler, owner, Oak Hill
Gardens, Dundee.

Black spots on the top of the leaf could be sunburn, caused when sunlight scalds a drop of water that has been left on a leaf. Newer growth of Cattleya orchids can normally have a purplish spot. A black mushy spot and a black stem indicate rot.


Raising Lawn Level

I want to raise the level of my lawn as much as 2 feet in places. I now have a large quantity of somewhat composted wood chips and I am wondering if I can use them as fill to raise the ground level and provide a good soil in which to sow a lawn.

“It is not a good idea to use only wood chips to raise the grade of an area,” says Greg Stack, University of Illinois extension educator, horticulture. While wood chips may raise the grade for a while, over time they will decompose and eventually the site will sink. Even using them as fill and putting soil over them is not a good idea.

“I would not use straight compost by itself to raise the lawn level, but mix it with soil,” adds Stack.


Amaryllis Bulbs

I plan on saving my amaryllis bulbs that I kept outside over summer, but I noticed red streaks on the inner side of the leaves. What caused that? Will I be able to save my bulbs?

There are several possible causes of red streaks in amaryllis hybrids (Hippeastrum), explains Bill Welter, owner of Victor Hlavacek Florist, Winnetk. If the streaks occur on the foliage only, excess moisture and not enough air around the bulb could have caused the streaks. Amaryllis is also susceptible to leaf scorch, which can cause red streaks on the foliage and on the bulb. This was common on older varieties.

You can save the bulb for next season by letting the leaves die down, then trimming off the foliage, and dipping the bulb in a fungicide solution. Another possible reason for leaf scorch is tobacco mosaic disease, transmitted by insects.


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questions

Now that bedding impatiens (I. walleriana) are not recommended because of impatiens downy mildew, what are three good annuals for shade?

What is the correct distance from my house to plant a tree? What is the correct distance from the lot line to plant a tree?

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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