Posted by
It's been a different winter, spring and start to summer than we're used to, and it shows in the questions our Master Gardener Help Desk receives. Here's a quick summary of those questions coming in via phone, email and walk-ins last couple of weeks.

Q: Why are my perennials in the yard bigger than ever before?

A: While we have been cursing all the rain, it is the very reason many landscape plants have grown so well. That, and all the cooler temperatures, which perennials prefer. These same conditions have promoted a lot of annual growth on landscape shrubs that were not impacted by the severe winter temperatures.

Q: When will I know if my winter-damaged plants are coming back?

A: In general, if you have not seen any recovery to date, the plants may be lost and have gone to where all good plants go. If you can bend and snap the twigs/branches, then you know for sure. If there is enough live parts, you can encourage recovery by removing the dead branches, allowing sunlight into the canopy. If you think the branches are alive yet, but without leaves, lightly scrape the bark in a spot or two. If the color is a good deep green and wet-looking, the branch is alive. If it is a dry light green, the decline will continue. Damage this year was extensive, affecting both young and old plants. Just about every species has been impacted to some degree this year.

Q: I planted vegetable and perennial transplants when the dirt was really wet and now the ground is all cracked and hard. How do I fix it now?

A: There is not a good remedy for ground that has dried and cracked except time. Next winter, the freezing and thawing will let the soil recondition. In the meantime, consider topdressing with a compost or some other form of organic matter that will 1) hide the condition of the soil and 2) slowly soften and loosen the crust up ahead of the coming winter. The organic matter also will help condition the soil and provide nutrients.

Q: I did not have many Japanese beetles in my yard last year; do I need to worry for this year?

A: In a normal year, egg-laying time starts in late June into mid-July. This year may be a little different. Adult beetles will have to have been feeding for a while before they are interested in producing eggs. They prefer moist soil in lawns actively growing. This year, egg laying will be spread out over a very large area, not limited to the lawn that is watered. If you are seeing lots of feeding in your yard, the beetles are likely to lay eggs in your yard. The big "however" is since they fly; they can use your lawn even if they have not been feeding in your yard. To our benefit, the very cold weather has likely killed them in the ground before any emergence can take place. Be on the lookout for feeding and remember it takes 10-12 grubs per square feet to cause visual damage in the lawn. If we continue to get all the rain, you may not see any damage at all.

To get help with your lawn, tree, yard and garden questions, contact your local Master Gardener Help Desk. To find hours and details for DuPage, Kane and Kendall counties, visit