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Over the Garden Fence

Surveying winter damage as spring emerges

We can always count on spring, but we cannot count on how our plants will come through the winter weather. Emails and phone calls coming into our offices are revealing some trends on how our landscape plants faired.

A couple that have looked very good this spring are flowering ornamental crabapples and the redbuds. Established PJM Rhododendrons have had a good bloom show as well. However, gardeners would expect to see some winter damage on those marginally hardy ornamental plants. You know the ones – the ones the garden center said to be sure you plant in a protected area, cover in the winter, and mulch the ground around to keep them from budding out too early? Those plants. Japanese maples are likely at the top of that list right now.

What we have been surprised with are winter damage reports on some of our known-to-be-hardy large shrubs and small trees. Magnolias, Chokeberry, Euonymus shrubs, and the smaller Spirea are a few of the deciduous plants. And, some landscapes have seen Boxwoods with severe damage even being protected or established for 10 or more years. Damage has ranged from time dieback to entire branches dead down to the crown or maybe larger limbs that have split open, but not the usual frost cracks near the soil line. While there could be a biotic cause, i.e. a living pathogen at work, more likely the cause is environmental.

Lawns have had a great spring, plenty of cool weather and just enough rain. According to the drought monitoring websites, we are actually behind on our normal rainfall amounts, which could influence how soon the lawn slows from the typical spring flush. Since the lawns have greened up well, one of the perennial warm season grassy weeds has easily been spotted, Nimblewill. It remains straw-colored in an otherwise green lawn. A recent article in the University of Illinois Home, Yard and Garden Pest newsletter now reports we can have selective control on Nimblewill with mesotrione. Prior to this, any treatments took out the desirable grasses too. If you have your lawn treated, ask your lawn care company about this option. You will get better control if treated in the spring while the grassy perennial weed is young. Read the full article for details and more information. (Always read and follow label instructions.)

Recently, a lot of press has centered around jumping worms, and what, if anything, we as gardeners should be doing about them. While DuPage, Kane, and Kendall counties have been identified with jumping worms, NOT every community, home, or yard has this worm. Gardening should continue as usual in your own yard. Those that find out they have the worm should not share plants, composts, or soil with family, friends, or garden club plant sales. Read the latest news here.

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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.