Down the Garden Path
Richard Hentschel, Extension Educator
Spring is coming, but may be a bit late compared to what we have gotten used to. It is great that plants, insects and wildlife seem to know when it is right to show up. Insects will typically develop right along with their plant hosts and if they do not, always have a fall back plant that will support them if their first choice is not available.
Plants return to growth having gone dormant to survive our winter months. Plants are expecting something called "Chilling Days" to encourage spring growth. We would have already been collecting those chilling days if our weather had been normal. So far, here in N. Illinois, the chilling degree-days have yet to begin. We need those days of 40 degrees and above over several weeks to provide enough chilling degrees to encourage both vegetative and reproductive growth. Spring bulbs on the other had most likely received all chilling degrees they need as the soil cooled and got cold last fall and into early winter. Once the soils thaw, and warm up a bit, spring bulbs with start to show up.
Weed seeds also have already received all the chilling they need too. The majority of our weed seeds will be germinating in the spring of the year. Those weed seeds will wait until conditions are right before germination begins. They have limited ability to start, stop and start again before their resources are exhausted.
There are some very early insects too that we can see if we go looking. Spiders are some of the first bugs that become active early. In the spring, it is estimated that we are never more than just a few feet away from a spider while we are outside in the yard. A plant that attracts insects early in the spring is alpine currant with its very small and inconspicuous lime green flowers. Alpine currant is one of the earliest growers, so insects that use the alpine currant plant have evolved together.
An area that is not so great are the many plant diseases that also develop based on the weather patterns. Our two worst diseases for apple trees are Cedar Apple Rust and Apple Scab. Those overwintering organisms are just waiting until foliage and flower buds start to open along with the cooler and wetter conditions to begin their airborne trip from the orchard floor into the canopies of apple trees. Young vegetable and flower transplants can be easy targets for root and crown rots that have overwintered in the soil that will remain cold and damp. If that is the condition of your flower and vegetable beds this spring, waiting even a few days can make a difference.
While we have all used the calendar to plant our seeds every other year, and the seed packets provide us with some good guidelines for planting, waiting for the garden soil to be ready will really be our ruler that we will measure our success with this season. Spring is coming, unlike flights that start out being delayed and finally cancelled.
About the author: Richard Hentschel’s expertise extends across several subject areas with specialties in lawn care, fruit tree production, woody ornamentals, and home and community gardening. During his 45-year career in horticulture and agriculture, Hentschel became a well-known and respected expert for commercial and homeowner audiences, industry organizations, and media. He retired from University of Illinois Extension in April 2022 with nearly 30 years of service as a Horticulture Specialist and Educator in northern Illinois.