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White Pine Burn

I have two 20-year-old pine trees whose needles are turning brown on the west side of the plants. On the east side I have a compost pile.

I live in the St. Charles region and my soil is mostly clay. What is causing the browning? Should I get rid of the compost? How do I correct the damage?

Climate conditions could be the cause of the brown needles. There was strong west wind this past winter season, which caused winter burn. With last fall’s rain and winter snow cover, the soil never dried out. According to Todd Mohr, sales associate, Rich’s Foxwillow Pines Nursery, Woodstock, pines normally begin

to go dormant in late August. “We had a lot of burn on our evergreens which showed up over summer,” says Mohr.

Cut a sample of the branch and make sure the plant is alive. You can photograph your tree or take the sample to an arboretum or garden center for evaluation. The compost should not affect the trees unless you have a large pile that is prohibiting air circulation. Spread the compost loosely over the area.

White pine is a native Illinois tree. It may come back on its own. If not, have a tree professional diagnose it.


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.


Slugs

I am sick of slugs. Perhaps if I knew their life cycle I could get rid of them. Where do they go over winter? Where do they come from? What is the best way to get rid of them?

Slugs are gastropods belonging to the mollusk class. They have lungs and can breathe air and live one year. At nightime, to conserve moisture, they feed by biting tissue with a rasping mouth underneath their body. They move by sliding over slime secreted by a large muscular foot and constantly lose water from this slime production and evaporation.

To make matters worse, they are hermaphrodites having both male and female organs and can deposit egg-like clusters of 1/8 inch pearls in soil where they overwinter. Their growth is activated by rising soil humidity and temperature in the spring, according to Ed Valauskas, Manager of Library and Plant Information Services at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Even if your soil is relatively slug free, they can come in from a neighbor’s yard or live in the soil of container-grown plants. If you garden in very sandy, fast draining soil, you will probably not have many of these pests, but in heavy clay soil, slugs find constant moisture that suits their life style.

Slugs feed on plants with moisture in them, especially hosta, ligularia, dahlia and begonia leaves, lettuce, strawberries and tomatoes. They hide by day and feed at night or on gray, damp days. Go outside with a flashlight after 10 p.m. and look for them under boards, rocks or pots and destroy them.

Laurie Skrzenta of Laurie’s Landscape, a Downers Grove hosta grower, keeps the hosta area dry and doesn’t water them because slugs do not live in dry locations. She depends on rainfall and maintains that hostas can exist without supplemental water. Laurie also suggested using coarse sand as a mulch. Another possibility is to sprinkle sand in the center of your dormant hostas since this is where the slugs lay their eggs.

There are many home remedies to get rid of slugs including beer, ammonia water, ice water, and yeast water. Gardener Anna Hevrdejs, Woodridge, suggests sprinkling corn meal around slug areas. Slugs like to eat it, then die. Replace it after a rain. She also claims that sweet woodruff planted around hostas restrains the slug population.

Chemical metaldehyde or methiocarb pellets are useful but they can be attractive to dogs and children. They are very toxic. Much safer is a copper strip laid around the areas to be protected, although this is not practical in an ornamental garden.


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.


Russian Sage

Our Russian sage (Perovskia) is full and bountiful but will not stay upright. Is there anything we can do? Is there a way to split some off when it has outgrown its space? Should it be trimmed back in fall or spring?

The normal growing habit of Russian sage is to open in the center, according to Tina Pansic, staff horticulturist at Chalet Nursery, Wilmette, who says this is a common complaint. Russian sage must be grown in full sun and can be supported by pea stakes (willow or dogwood branches) or commercial wire stakes. A new cultivar, ‘Little Spire’ is shorter and will stay upright. Your plant can be divided by breaking up the root system with a spade as the bottom stems get woody.Wait until spring to cut the plant to the ground. Plants that are cut back in autumn suffer more winterkill. Pansic cuts her perovskia halfway down in late summer to control the spreading, and then cuts it to the ground the following spring


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