University of Illinois Extension


Sharon Yiesla
Unit Educator, Horticulture
Lake Unit

Past Issues

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Long Term Planning Leads to Successful Gardening

“Winter was so dry, what should I do now?” “We’ve had so much rain this spring. What can I do now to help my garden?” “My plants have a serious disease or insect problem. What can I do now to stop it?” Do any of these statements sound familiar? Most likely they do. So much of our gardening seems to be a reaction (and sometimes a knee-jerk reaction) to current situations. Often when we ask what can we do NOW, it is already too late to do anything for this current growing season.

Gardening will be more successful if we are proactive and do some long range planning. Take weather for example. While it can be hard to know for sure what is coming, we do see some trends in northern Illinois. Winter is often very cold and in most years we can count on a good amount of snow. Spring often brings more rain than we would like and often the temperatures are too cool (or go from too cool to almost too hot overnight). In most years, summer brings us excess heat, often accompanied by too little rain. Autumn is often pleasant, but it can bring nasty surprises like an early frost. So while we can’t know the details, we do know some trends and can plan for them.

First in the planning process is choosing plants that can tolerate our weather. We want to select plants that are fully winter hardy in our area. It is often tempting to grow plants that we see growing further south in our state or in other states, but it will be disappointing if we add them to our yard and we get a ‘real Chicago winter.’ Choosing plants that are fully cold hardy reduces the amount of winter damage that occurs. On the other end of the spectrum, we also want to select plants that will tolerate our summer heat. Some plants, like the white-barked birches, do not like the heat we experience heat and they will be stressed, leading to other problems like insect attack. Plants that cannot stand the heat should be avoided.

Also, select plants that are adapted to the conditions in your yard. Trying to grow a moisture loving plant in a dry site will lead to disappointment. Determine what your yard offers: sun or shade, dry, wet, or well drained soils, soil pH, etc. Purchase plants that match those conditions. These plants will grow well since they are adapted to the site and a healthy plant will be better able to tolerate those little ‘surprises’ that the weather often sends our way.

Planning can serve us in the fight against disease and insects. As you buy new plants for your yard, look for those species that have few common disease and insect problems. Also, look for varieties or cultivars that are disease resistant. They are less likely to have problems and thus less likely to need pesticide treatments.

Careful monitoring of the garden can help also. Too often we don’t see a disease or insect problem until it has become a BIG problem. Looking at our plants on a regular basis can be useful for catching a problem when it is still small. Most gardeners are in the garden on a regular basis and it should not be much work to look at our plants and note if something looks different than it did the day before.

Another item to incorporate into our long range planning is regular watering of our plants. Too often we don’t water our plants until we are in the middle of a drought. By that time, some damage has already been done. It would be more appropriate to be watering on a regular basis. Most plants need about one inch of water per week. If rainfall is plentiful in a given week, we don’t need to add anything. If rainfall is sparse in a given week, we should look to supply our plants with the needed water. The evergreens that suffered because of the dry winter we just had, would have faired better had they been watered regularly last summer and autumn (up until the time the soil froze). Make watering an on-going concern.

June-July 2003: Herbs | "Pretty" Purple Plants Can be Pesky Plants | Long Term Planning Leads to Successful Gardening | Honey Bees, Wasps and More | Rust Diseases on Home Lawns

Past Issues

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