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Article ThumbnailSaving Dahlias

Big beefy dahlias with their dinner-plate-sized flowers are darlings of the garden from summer through the first autumn frosts. Although many gardeners treat dahlias as disposable annuals, it’s easy to store them over winter – and save money – for another display the following year. It’s simply a matter of digging up the tubers and roots after the first fall frost.

Article ThumbnailI Can’t Draw, Don’t Ask Me

Do you sing in the shower?

Um, I know that’s kind of personal and you don’t need to tell me what kind of soap you use but the point is, do you sing there but nowhere else? I ask only because I know that there are people out there who feel, well, incompetent at certain skills. Singing is a common one. Public speaking is another. Sports, cooking, electronics, home improvement, fashion, and let’s not forget origami, are other areas where the taunts of childhood acquaintances, spouses and co-workers can breed a sense of insecurity that can haunt people their whole lives.

Article ThumbnailSomewhere Below the Soil Line

“Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…gnxx! Huh?” “Move over. You’re taking up all the root space.” “No need to stick a rhizome in my side.” “And you’re snoring. Can you keep it down?” “Hunh? What time is it?” “Early. Go back to sleep. And stop hogging all of the mulch.” “How early? I’m cold. You know I like to snuggle down under the mulch.” “Early early. January early. And save some mulch for me. It’s bad enough being planted this close together without you using up all of the resources.” “You kidding me? January? I feel like I’ve been dormant forever. Let’s get out of here! I want to sprout! To touch the sky! I want to–ouch! “What now?” “Bumped my head on something.” “It’s called ice, nimroots. The ground is frozen.” “Oh. Well, I still want to…want to…want…zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz….” “Will you just give me some of that…that…oh, never mind.”

Article ThumbnailPrep School

January, February and March are the great equalizers of the horticultural world. This is the time of the year when I can look at the landscapes belonging to my oh-so-serious gardening brethren and cistern and taunt, “Gee, that doesn’t look much better than my garden.” I choose to ignore the fact that, even under 20 inches of snow, their yards invariably do look better than mine.

Of course, when the weather warms up (in Chicago that happens around July 15) their gardens pass mine the way that Road Runner passes Wile E. Coyote on a desert road. To make matters worse, the expression on my face then bears a strong resemblance to the one sported by Mr. Coyote. And to add injury to insult, a huge rock usually falls on my head, sometime around July 27. I guess that’s the legacy of a misspent youth.

Article ThumbnailBirds and Beans

All the snow we’ve had recently brought many more birds to the feeders outside our kitchen window. A lone starling was joined by sparrows, house finches, downy woodpeckers, seven cardinals, goldfinches (which are beginning to show faint yellow feathers as they lose their winter plumage), mourning doves and the occasional Cooper’s hawk (which sends the small birds scattering). It’s a good time to be indoors cooking and sowing seeds of tomato and pepper plants. As soon as the snow melts, I’ll get my soil thermometer and when the top inch of soil reaches to 52 F or so, I’ll begin sowing kale seeds.

Article ThumbnailThe CRASH Test

Every day I receive letters (well, not every day, but every few days…actually, I occasionally receive letters ... okay, okay, I got one once—are you happy?) in the mail (to be precise, not the real, old-fashioned mail, but somehow they find their way to my desk ... my computer ... and they’re somewhat about gardening ... I mean, I assume that increasing your trowel size has something to do with gardening ... uh, by the way, don’t ever open an e-mail with that subject line) like this one from Rusty:

Article ThumbnailLawn Gone

My neighbor just paved over his front yard.

For those of you who are already doubled over in laughter, saying, “That wacky Nowak! Where does he come up with these things?” all I can say is, “No, really. He paved over his front yard.” By the way, I really was called “No-Wacky” in high school. Is it any wonder that I’ve never been able to hold down a decent job? And the fact that my neighbor just paved over his front yard isn’t all that funny, anyway. At least for a gardener.!

Article ThumbnailTulipa sylvestris

It’s probably been more than four years since a wild shade-loving tulip made its surprising appearance in a shady, grassy bed in my garden. Its color looked like the “before” shot in a commercial for women with faded blond hair. After a close examination on my knees, I determined it was actually a tulip. I know how long ago it was because my knees no longer permit close examinations.

Article ThumbnailMike’s Really, Really Cool Gardening Stuff for 2006

It might have been yesterday when, huddled under a fluorescent kitchen light with a cup of instant decaf, staring vacantly out the window at the arborvitae that was split in two by Tuesday’s ice storm, I began entertaining dark, dark thoughts about life without gardening.

I know that I am not alone. Heck, through the window I can see, somewhere just above my damaged arborvitae, a dark, dark thought-cloud hovering over the city, rising like smoke from the kitchen windows everywhere, which tells me that my fellow gardeners are on the precipice, too.

Article ThumbnailWhile Waiting for Winter

While my back was turned (okay, I was out of town), we got a little frost. I didn’t realize it until I walked around my garden yesterday and discovered that the New Guinea impatiens, coleus and zinnia had collapsed. The dahlias also had gotten zapped. The cannas, however, were still standing tall in their pots, and I’m going to leave them there until the frost makes a repeat performance.

Article ThumbnailFrom the Editor - Jan/Feb 2014

This is our “Ideas Issue,” designed to be a keeper, although of course we hope you keep all of our issues. So to get this new year off to a rousing start, we’ve created an issue that’s chock full of ideas for everything.

Every January and February, we get the garden ball rolling with Jim Nau from Ball Horticultural offering his appraisal of the year’s new plants. This issue we’ve tweaked that concept a bit in order to focus on plants for sun and ideas for shade, including shade-loving alternatives to the disease-prone common impatiens. There are newbies, but also a few golden oldies (well, not that old but definitely golden).


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Hummingbirds Heading South

One of the most extraordinary creatures to visit local gardens is the hummingbird. There are several species of hummingbirds ...

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Summer-Blooming Bulbs

Last spring my sister called to say that she had found a wonderful new anemone to add to her collection in a mixed flower …

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A Conversation on Color

At some point in a gardener’s life, he or she will likely come across the writings and photographs of the renowned gardener ...

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From the Editor - Jan/Feb 2015

Illinois is an agricultural state. We all know that, right? But did you also know that Illinois imports 90 percent of its food

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Go Pantless … er, Plantless!

If there’s absolutely one thing I’m sure of as I slog through this vale of tears, it’s that the MacArthur genius grant ...


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

I have two strawberry plants in a hanging basket in my yard. I have not had any fruit from them although the vines hang down. I give them plant food once a month and water daily. What am I doing wrong?

Do the ants on my peony flowers help buds to open, or is this an old wives’ tale? What are the extremely tiny, microscopic yellow wormy looking bugs crawling on my pink peony flowers? My peonies are beautiful, but I don’t want all these bugs.

calendar of events

See these and more events in our calendar of gardening events.

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