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What trends do you see in container plantings, such as type of pot, materials, sun or shade, foliage or flowers.

What trends do you see in container plantings, such as type of pot, materials, sun or shade, foliage or flowers.

Brenda Williams, Sales, Pesche’s Greenhouse, Floral & Gifts, Lake Geneva, Wisc.

As our lives get busier, gardeners are looking for easy care and double duty – plants with colorful or unique leaves. Like coleus.They come in all sizes from thrillers to fillers and even a spiller called ‘Rose Lava’ that tumbles over the edge. A tall nicotiana or canna lily easily substitutes for a spike in the center of a container. A euphorbia like ‘Diamond Frost’ might look delicate but is an excellent performer whose “flowers” are actually tiny white leaves.

I also see more succulent containers. With their diversity in texture, color and form plus low maintenance, they fit well in our busy lives. They are modern and bold.

Lori Harms, owner of Countryside Flower Shop, Nursery and Garden Center in Crystal Lake.

This year we saw a huge increase in holiday greens sales, selling over 100 more than the year before. Spruce tips were in short supply so we used multiple birch logs in assorted lengths to gain height for the focal point. Magnolia leaves, seeded eucalyptus, winterberry branches and juniper berries were used to highlight the containers, along with evergreen fillers. We added elegance with glittered and iced branches in natural, gold, white or red. We also created whimsical looks by adding snowman heads or larger millimeter balls with stars or hearts on sticks for splashes of color.

Tina Perkins, Manager, Winding Creek, Millbrook

We have recently seen a progression towards decorative ceramic pots for container planting. Customers use them for fairy gardens or succulents, which seem to be trending. Depending on the size of the pot, customers may use a mix of small indoor plants and succulents. Usually indoor plants can take lower light conditions or a porch location. Succulents have become more popular to use in containers as they generally require higher light conditions. Both types of plants like a lighter soil.


Perennial Pinchback

Is there an overall rule about when to pinch back my leggy plants?

“The reason plants are pinched back is to obtain compact and bushier growth. This is generally done three times during a growing season, or you can apply the 6 nodes rule,” says Jennifer Brennan, horticulturist, Chalet Nursery, Wilmette.

After 6 weeks of growth, trim back half of the growth, or wait until you see 6 nodes on the plant stem to trim back to get more branching. For plants that respond, such as chrysanthemums, use the 6 node criterion.


Overwintering Clivia

After a summer outside, my clivia has returned indoors. Last year it had only one puny flower. What treatment should I give it over winter to bring it into bloom?

A. Clivia miniata, sometimes known as Kaffir lily, a South African native, is a member of the amaryllis family. When growing clivia, it is important to observe seasonal changes. During short winter days, stop fertilizing entirely until spring, and stop watering also.

“Treat your plant like a cactus,” says Steve Butcher, tropical plant specialist at Sid’s Garden Center in Palos Hills. “You can keep it completely dry for a couple of weeks up to the point of shriveling before watering. Keep your plant in a cool place; 55 to 65 degrees is ideal, but that’s hard to achieve in many homes. It does not need a brightly lit location.”

When the days lengthen, move the plant into a brighter location and increase watering. There are no hard-and-fast rules on watering. The frequency depends on the pot size and the root mass. Use a water-soluble, high-phosphorus fertilizer every second or third watering. After you see buds, reduce fertilizer to once per month. Root bound plants flower better.

Following this regime last winter, Editor Carolyn Ulrich reported five bloom stalks on one of her plants in February. Other plants bloomed in March but one didn’t bloom until June. Clivia are considered a winter-flowering houseplant, but bloom time will vary. Be patient.


Tomatoes

After my father’s tomatoes ripen on the vine, he finds when he cuts into them that there is a hard white core that extends through the fruit.

“This is a common problem,” says Dan Woldhuis, owner, Woldhuis Farms, Grant Park. “Customers bring their tomatoes to me with hard cores.”

Sometimes this is the result of weather that’s too hot and then suddenly cold.

But more likely it is the variety. Change to a soft-skin, less firm tomato such as ‘Celebrity’ to overcome the white core problem. I’ve grown this for many years and sold it at the farmers’ market, but it is too soft for the commercial market and is best for home growers.


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.


Rose of Sharon - Botrytis Blight

I have two 3-year-old rose of Sharon plants, about 20 feet apart. One blooms every year. The other plant forms about 100 buds and looks healthy, but it has not bloomed in the last two years. The buds are solidly closed and look as if they are rotting from the inside out. There does not seem to be any sign of insects on the plant. What is this problem?

From the description it sounds like your plant is infected with botrytis blight, a fungus disease that attacks buds before they open, according to Jim Schuster, extension educator, horticulture, University of Illinois. Your plant needs to be treated with a fungicide early in the season. Remove all diseased portions of the plant and any residue on the ground, as the fungus lives over winter in discarded material.


Houseplants

I have houseplants outside that I will need to bring indoors. What is the lowest temperature at which I can leave them outside?

The rule of thumb is when night temperatures are in the 50s, it is time to bring your houseplants indoors, according to horticulturists at Pesche’s garden center, Des Plaines.

To avoid the shock of suddenly bringing plants into a hot dry environment, place them in a shaded area before the heat comes on in the house. Bring in sensitive tropicals such as hibiscus and anthuriums as soon as summer cools down.

Christmas cactus and cymbidium orchids can tolerate chillier temperatures and stay outdoors longer, but move them indoors before the thermometer drops to freezing, says Greg Stack, University of Illinois Extension Educator, Horticulture. Indoors, a cool 50-degree area such as an unheated sun porch will give them the short day situation they need to set flower buds. Stack keeps his Christmas cactus in a cool unused room where the lights aren’t turned on. His plant sets buds and blooms reliably every year, he reports. Christmas cactus buds will dry up in an overheated, dry room.


What suggestions can you offer for more exotic herbs that I could add to my garden to spice things up?

We all seem to plant the basic herbs like basil, rosemary and parsley. What suggestions can you offer for more exotic herbs that I could add to my garden to spice things up both for cooking and adding interest/beauty to my landscape?

Ron Peterson, head grower, Milaegers Garden Center, Racine, Wisc.

I think lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus) would be a good candidate for landscape interest and culinary use; it is even reported to have more mosquito control attributes than citronella. It is a warm season annual grass that grows quickly and is used in teas and Thai cooking to add a lemony flavor without the acidity of lemon juice. Stevia is a natural sweetener option for those trying to avoid added sugar. There is also a mint called Berries and Cream which merges peppermint with berry flavors for a unique twist on the traditional mint options.

Lisa Hilgenberg, horticulturist, Chicago Botanic Garden, Glencoe

Golden lemon thyme (Thymus x citriodorus) adds good citrus flavor to dishes and tea. The 8-inch tall cultivar ‘Aureus’ makes a good edging paired with Salvia officinalis ‘Icterina’. The chartreuse ‘Lime’ shines in dark garden corners.

Red shiso (Perilla frutescens) has frilly garnet red leaves, edible flowers and a spicy cinnamon/clover flavor. Papalo (Porophyllum ruderale) has a taste between arugula and cilantro. Plant once cilantro bolts to seed. Steely blue foliage up to 5 feet tall.

Joe Heidgen, co-owner, Shady Hill Gardens, Elburn

A plant that is often included with the popular herbs that gardeners know at Shady Hill is the scented geranium. It doesn’t look anything like a garden geranium, but it has a wide range of fragrances, as well as varying leaf shapes and colors. The fragrances may be lemon, rose, pine, ginger, lime, balsam or apple. It can be used in cooking and also in potpourri and sachets. Some scented geraniums are upright, some cascading, but all are unique and quite easy to grow. They are ideal for planters.

Kevin DeBoer, manager, Big John’s Farm Market, Chicago Heights

Onion or garlic chives can be grown and cut for use in potatoes and eggs. We also have five different types of mint that can be grown and used for mojito, flavoring water and teas. Some varieties such as pineapple mint are attractive and add beauty to the garden. Thymes such as English and lemon can be used in pasta and in marinades for grilling. A good marinade for meat can be made from thyme, rosemary, sage, Italian olive oil and pepper.


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.


Rose Rosette Disease (RRD)

What is rose rosette disease? I lost two antique roses and removed a hedge of multiflora roses that were supposed to be undesirable. How bad is it?

Rose rosette disease is a plant killer of unknown origin and no known cure. It is known to plant pathologists, but unknown to most rose gardeners in this area.

The disease is believed to be caused by a virus or virus-like pathogen that has been spreading through much of the wild rose population in the Midwest, probably transmitted by a mite introduced to the U. S. to eradicate multiflora roses. It is lethal to the wild multiflora rose and potentially lethal to many rose species and cultivars.

Symptoms of rose rosette disease are highly variable, depending on the species or cultivar. Some of the more recognizable symptoms include rapid elongation of new shoots forming witches brooms, or clustering of small branches with distorted leaves of conspicuous red pigmentation and distorted flowers.

David Robson, Springfield, extension educator, horticulture with the University of Illinois, reports that it is all over our area. Mike Geimer, owner of Geimer Greenhouse, Long Grove, reports coming across RRD in a Long Grove garden. One plant in a bed of Flower Carpet roses caught his eye because of its uncharacteristic red clumping stems. He looked up the symptoms on the internet, identified it as RRD and advised immediate removal of the plant. Also important, warns Geimer: “Always sterilize pruning shears.”

Kathy Hallgren, Sycamore, is worried about the future of old roses. Two summers ago she noticed some peculiarly rampant irregular, hyper-thorny pink growth with irregular leaves on an antique Alba rose.

After researching the symptoms, Hallgren determined the irregularities were from RRD. “I dug out the plant and burned it. Once I learned that multiflora roses could be the culprit, I removed them even though they were healthy. This summer I saw it on one of my ‘William Baffin’ roses so cut it down and burned it. This disease means business,” says Hallgren.

No effective control is available for existing rose rosette disease. All cultivated roses are potentially susceptible. Be on the lookout for it. Early detection is the key to effective cultural control. If the disease is recognized early and the rose is removed, it is possible to save other roses in the garden and hopefully curb the spread of RRD.


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