October 17, 2018

Why You Should Leave Your Perennials and Leaf Litter Until Spring

By Peg O’Hagan

Did you know that many beneficial insects spend the winters inside stems or under leaf litter? Before you panic, the following article does recommend removing the leaves from your lawn and removing any diseased plant material in the fall.

This article from the University of Illinois Extension explains Why NOT to cut your perennials this fall. And this article from Savvy Gardening gives Six Reasons Not To Clean Up Your Garden In the Fall

April 6, 2018

Tip for Planting New Rose Bushes

By Wilma Faerber

When setting out new bare-root rose bushes, soak the plants in a bucket of 1/2 cup of epsom salt per one gallon of water for several hours or overnight to revitalize the roots. Add one tablespoon of epsom salt to each rose planting hole, mixing it with the soil.

Healthy, established rose shrubs will benefit from 1/2 cup epsom salt scratched into the surface of the soil around the plant base in the spring.

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January 16, 2018

Recycle Household Waste In Your Garden

By Peg O’Hagan

Some items you might otherwise put in your recycling bin, or garbage, can be used in your garden.

Flat pieces can be used as a weed barrier. Cover with a layer of mulch.

Yogurt Cups/K-cups
These plastic cups are a good size for starting seeds. Punch a hole in the bottom for drainage.

Coffee grounds
Sprinkle in the garden to keep cats out, or mix with your compost to add nitrogen.

2-Liter bottles
Cut off top to put over plants in the early spring to protect them from cold. Leave the lid on at night and remove at least the lid during the day.

Flip over the top part of the bottle and place in the bottom to create a self-watering planter for larger seedlings. Instructions

Smaller bottles with lids can be placed in large pots or window boxes to reduce weight and amount of potting soil required.

If you can manage to break only the end of the eggshell when opening it – or blow out the egg contents – it can be used to grow seedlings. Just break the bottom when planting.

If you have broken eggshells, they can be placed around plants to help keep away slugs, or mixed in the soil to add calcium.

Cardboard egg cartons can also be used for starting plants. Since they are biodegradable, they can be separated and planted right in the garden.

Use in the bottom of large pots to help fill up space and add drainage without adding weight and wasting potting soil. Any type can be used as long as it doesn't block the water from draining.

October 5, 2016

Why You Should Leave Your Perennials and Leaf Litter Until Spring

By Peg O’Hagan

Did you know that many beneficial insects spend the winters inside stems or under leaf litter? Before you panic, the following article does recommend removing the leaves from your lawn and removing any diseased plant material in the fall.

This article from the University of Illinois Extension explains Why NOT to cut your perennials this fall.

June 28, 2017

Controlling Japanese Beetles – Why Traps and Sprays Aren’t the Best Idea

By Peg O’Hagan

Japanese Beetle on hostaJapanese Beetles (Popillia japonica) cause a great amount of damage to crops and gardens in the Midwest. It is thought they were first accidentally introduced to the U.S. before 1912 as grubs in soil around Japanese iris delivered to the East Coast.

Traps may seem useful, but they will also attract beetles from beyond your yard. They also are not that effective at killing adult beetles.

Use of Neem oil is effective but can be harmful to fish, do not use if your lot drains off anywhere near our lakes and streams.

Other commercially-available insecticides are not very effective and will be harmful to bees and butterflies.

The most effective method of controlling adult beetles is to handpick them off the plant into a cup of soapy water. The soap prevents them from flying off and the water drowns them. It can be a little creepy to feel them but they can cling to cloth gloves – rubber gloves might work ok. Be sure to put the cup under the bug before you try to shake, knock or pick it off. They sometimes like to just drop to try to get away from your fingers, so if your cup is in a good place it will drop right in. After they drown just dump the contents of your cup in your garden or lawn. I have found that raccoons will empty your cup if you leave it overnight – the bugs and water will be gone!

Almanac.com suggest another natural solution: fruit cocktail. “Open the can and let it sit in the sun for a week to ferment. Then place it on top of bricks or wood blocks in a light-colored pail, and fill the pail with water to just below the top of the can. Place the pail about 25 feet from the plants you want to protect. The beetles will head for the sweet bait, fall into the water, and drown. If rain dilutes the bait, start over.”

The above technique helps you avoid handling the bugs. I haven't tried it yet but am going to once it warms up.

Re-blog from May 2, 2016

Please Help Iradicate Garlic Mustard!

By Peg O’Hagan

Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is an invasive plant in this area. Although it has been around for well over a century and has had some usefulness, it tends to take over shady areas and crowd out native plants, including tree seedlings.

As I take my evening walks, I can see lots of garlic mustard popping up around the lake. It is mostly in empty lots, but some grows beneath trees on occupied lots. While it will probably not take over a tended lot, it can cause damage in parks and other areas, including areas where wildlife depend on native plants. So the less there is, the less it can propogate to those areas.

How to identify: Wisconsin’s DNR site has a good guide on how to identify garlic mustard. In early spring, the leaves look a little like creeping charlie leaves, but won’t be in a vine configuration. Here are some photos of how it looks mid- to late-spring.

Garlic MustardGarlic Mustard in bloomUnopened garlic mustard

How to remove: Wear gloves or the plants’ oils will stink up your hands. If plants have already flowered, put into a plastic garbage can so the seeds can’t disperse. If there are only leaves (no flowers buds or open flowers), they can be put into a compost pile.

Uses: If you want to use a small amount for cooking (a little goes a long way) you can find recipes online, including this site fosc.org/GM-Recipe.htm. Note that raw garlic mustard contains large amounts of cyanide, so it must be cooked completely and consumed with caution. Plants that have flowered are more bitter than first-year plants.

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News & Tips

March 23, 2017

Artificial colors in hummingbird nectar results in sick and dead birds

By Peg O’Hagan

hummingbirdNow that spring is here, it is time to put out hummingbird feeders to tide them over until your garden is in bloom.

But don't make the mistake of using red dye in your nectar!

According to many Happinest, bird rehabbers across the country are finding hummingbirds that are unable to fly after drinking nectar with artificial coloring. Not all survive.

The nectar in your feeder does not have to be red to attract hummingbirds. Even a small amount of red on the actual feeder will take care of that.

From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website:
"Sheri Williamson of the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory (SABO), and author of A Field Guide to Hummingbirds and Attracting and Feeding Hummingbirds, writes, 'The bottom line is that instant nectar products containing artificial coloring are at best a waste of your hard-earned money and at worst a source of disease, suffering, and premature death in hummingbirds.' "

Making your own CLEAR nectar is simple and much cheaper.

More information:
Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Feeding Hummingbirds

March 4, 2017

Berries of "Heavenly Bamboo" kill birds - Don't plant them in your yard!

By Peg O’Hagan

Nandina domestica is also known as "Heavenly Bamboo", although it is not actually a bamboo plant. It produces berries that have cyanide in high enough quantities to kill birds, like cedar waxwings, that rely on berries for food in the winter.

The bush also becomes invasive and will spread to other parts of your yards or other lots. It is sold at garden centers, but they will not tell you this about the plant. Do not purchase!

Invasive bushes in Decatur killing cedar waxwings

January 10, 2017

Starting Your Garden In The Winter

By Peg O’Hagan

Are you poring over the colorful flower catalogs? If you don't have any, go online or call and request some. Like all catalogs, once you start, they will multiply! But its so nice to see photos of blooming flowers all through the winter.

Catalogs are also a great way to add flowers to your garden that are difficult or impossible to find in garden centers, like Zowie! zinnias or the Blushing Susie variety of thunbergia. The following are a few of my favorites.

Jung Seed (1.800.297.3123) is based in Wisconsin so the selections tend to be more aligned with our growing conditions. They are mostly herbs and vegetables but have a nice selection of flowering annuals and perennials as well.

Select Seeds (1-800-684-0395) has a great variety of heirloom/antique flowers and vegetables, as well as the standards.

Bulbs and tubers can be found on many sites, but one dedicated grower is K. Van Bourgondien & Sons (1-800-552-9996). One section groups plants into “Gardening Solutions”: deer-resistant, drought-resistant, etc.

Park Seed’s motto is “Superior Germination”, and I've found that to be true. They also have a complete line of trays, lights and other growing supplies like their “biodomes”. Their website is http://parkseed.com and their phone number is 1-800-845-3369.

DO YOUR RESEARCH. Not every flower will grow in your garden's conditions... and some seeds are very difficult to get to sprout or grow into a healthy plant.

Some seedlings will only thrive if you have a dedicated seed bed with a professional plant light set up. I have started some plants, like snapdragons, just in a sunny window. They start fine but end up very squirrely/twisted, instead of nice upright plants!

Engel & Voelkers suggests using photos you took during the previous year to plan for the upcoming summer – so it won't work if you didn't do that! But it does have some other good suggestions as well.

There are also several gardening magazines that might help spark ideas, like Garden Gate and Birds and Blooms. Check your library or a friends house!

November 11, 2016

Stop those shears! Fall is NOT the time to prune those plants!

By Peg O’Hagan

Some people mistakenly think autumn and winter is the time to prune all woody plants. In reality, this is usually the worst time to do it. You may be cutting off next year's blooms, or stimulating the sap when the plant is most vulnerable.

When to prune depends on the type of plant. Unless you are pruning to remove diseased or broken material, you should follow these rules:

Spring and Early Summer Flowering Plants
These plants should be pruned only after they finish blooming. They start to develop their buds for next year soon after they finish, so pruning any later will result in fewer flowers.

Mid- to Late-Summer Flowering Plants
Prune in late winter or early spring, while the plant is dormant, but late enough that the new spring growth will heal the pruning wounds.

Repeat Bloomers
If they need pruning, the best time is right after the first bloom. But if the plant is healthy, just remove the finished blooms.

Your hydrangea might have its own schedule. This website gives a general overview of when to prune: Pruning Hydrangeas

Hedges and Conifers
In the spring and summer, shear new growth only to help keep the plant full. Do not over-prune; keep at least half of the new growth. If you need to cut wood, cut far enough into the plant to hide the cute.

Deciduous Trees
According to Dave's Garden:
“Pruning trees in early spring, prior to full leaf flush, is the accepted practice. Because of the impending season of rapid growth, pruning wounds heal quickly to exclude insect and disease infestation. A few notable exceptions include birch, maple and walnut. These trees have heavy sap flows during early spring and should not be pruned until they have fully leafed out and hardened off. Dead branches may be removed at any time of year.”

Other rules:

How to prune:
Avoid power tools. Use clean manual tools. Use turpentine or mineral spirits to remove sap buildup.

Here are some great tips on HOW to cut, based on the age of the plant:

Some people are afraid to pick up the shears. Pruning helps keep your plants healthy by stimulating new growth while allowing more air and light into the center of the plant. Do it at the right time, and your plant will thank you!

September 9, 2016

Why Plant Natives?

By Barbara Kuminowski

Here at the lake we live in a very natural setting and what could be better than taking advantage of these beautiful surroundings and planting native plants rather than those brought here from other countries?

As you know, we depend on ecosystems to exist, and ecosystems function locally. If we lose these pollinators, we lose 80-90% of our plants. Our #1 most valuable native plant is the oak tree; they sustain 557 species of caterpillars. Birds depend on caterpillars, especially during breeding season. There are 50% fewer birds of all types than 40 years ago. 80% of a hummingbirds diet is insects so we need plants that attract insects and natives are high on the list. We need to include plants that the insects are specialized too. Take the monarch butterfly: if the milkweed plants disappear, so will the monarchs.

We need a functioning ecosystem to increase the survival rates of numerous birds, butterflies and wildlife, so if you are starting a new garden or just replacing a plant, consider natives. Our lives depend on it.

Sources for native plants include Applied Ecological Services in Brodhead; the Wild Ones plant sales – native woodland plant sale in April, prairie plant sale in May and tree and shrub sale in September; and catalogs such as Prairie Moon.

butterfly on coneflowerbee on butterflyweedmonarch butterfly on butterflyweed

Photos by Peg O'Hagan

July 11, 2016

Don’t touch the parsnip!

By Peg O’Hagan

If you've driven anywhere in northern Illinois or southern Wisconsin lately, you may have noticed an abundance of lacy yellow flowers in the ditches along the road and in fallow fields.

Wild Parsnip bloom This pretty plant is wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa), and those pretty flowers hide a scary fact: the plant causes a severe, blistering rash if handled. The presence of sunlight triggers the process, so it is called phytophotodermatitis reaction. The rash usually appears a day or two after exposure.

According to the Wisconsin DNR, “In mild cases, affected skin reddens and feels sunburned. In more severe cases, the skin reddens first, then blisters rise – some are impressively large – and for a while the area feels like it has been scalded. Places where skin is most sensitive (arms, legs, torso, face, neck) are most vulnerable. Moisture from perspiration speeds the absorption of the psoralens.”

Unlike poison ivy, where a rash occurs only as an allergic reaction, the sap of wild parsnips affects all it comes in contact with. The sap is most toxic when the plant is blooming.

Wild parsnip is not native but, as the roadsides attest, has naturalized everywhere. Since the flowers produce abundant seeds, there will probably be even more next year.

Other non-natives, Queen Anne's Lace and Giant Hogweed, also produce this troublesome sap. This website has a useful listing of the different types:

The only type of wild parsnip that is actually native is cow parsnip (Heracleum mantegazzianum), which has large white blooms on stems up to 5 feet tall in spring. This can also cause burns if it comes in contact with your skin, however.

This page has some good photos of how to identify wild parsnip before it has bloomed, so you can remove it when it is a little safer to do so (but wear gloves and long sleeves!)