Go green with eco-friendly lawn care
By Nancy Kreith
Residential lawns consume over 2.5 billion gallons of water a year. This makes taking a natural approach to lawn care appealing for homeowners. Also, almost 3 million tons of fertilizer are applied to residential lawns every year, and homeowners typically use three times more pesticide per acre than farmers. There are a few simple steps that landowners can take to make more environmentally sound choices when it comes to lawn care.
Healthy soil is the foundation of natural lawn care. When you return nutrients and maintain your soil, it will ultimately lead to better lawn establishment. Performing a soil test is a good place to start. Labs can test your soil chemistry for a nominal fee, and University of Illinois Extension staff can help interpret the results. Illinois Extension’s soil testing website, extension.illinois.edu/soil/soil-testing, also offers instructions about DIY tests that homeowners can do, including soil infiltration to gauge how well their soil drains. A ribbon test can assess soil texture for levels of clay, sand, and silt which is important for how different plant roots access nutrients, water, and air. You can add nutrients and other amendments based on the soil test results.
Maintenance like core aeration and recycling grassing clippings will also improve your soil. Perform core aeration when lawns are actively growing, typically in May or September. Instead of bagging up grass clippings, allow them to drop in place. Recycled clippings can provide up to 25% of nutrient needs for the lawn and add organic matter and moisture to the soil. In September, top-dress the lawn with compost or other organic matter. In October, mow over fallen leaves to add organic matter to the soil.
While the soil is the foundation, there are other simple practices that will aid in helping the lawn grow well.
Mow high and remove no more than 1/3 of the leaf blade in one cutting. This helps to establish a deep root system and crowd out weeds. Regularly sharpen and clean your lawnmower blade.
Seed at the right time. The best time to overseed is in August, but it can also be done in May. Fill in bare spots with a 50/50 mix of soil and compost and plant perennial grass seed species that you selected based on your site conditions. Overseeding in August helps fill in bare spots and increases turf density. Seed blends or mixtures such as tall fescue for the cool season and buffalo grass for the warm season work well. Encourage the seed to germinate by keeping it evenly moist with light watering.
Limit watering and allow your lawn to go dormant. Use water efficiently and water in the early morning. Water no more than 1 inch per week, including rainfall. A rain gauge will help determine how much water is deposited. In July, reduce watering and allow the lawn to go dormant, where it will turn brown for 4 to 6 weeks. During dormancy, limit traffic and mowing and only water a ½-inch every four weeks. If you commit to letting the lawn go dormant, do not try to increase watering. It will cause too much stress on the grass.
Accept some weeds. Monitor for weeds, but some weeds are acceptable. Clover in the lawn is beneficial for bees and makes nitrogen available in the soil. If needed, remove weeds by hand or spot-treat problematic weedy areas. Use fewer toxic chemicals and consider natural and biological controls. Be sure to read and follow the pesticide label and note the best time of application.
Monitor for pests such as weeds, diseases, and insects at least twice per month. It is important to catch pests during the initial stages of development for best control. Treat problems and not symptoms. If white grubs were a problem in the past, monitor for those in July and August.
Only fertilize as needed. A soil test will help determine fertilizer needs. Fertilize medium and high-maintenance lawns in late May and again in early to mid-September. Fertilize minimal maintenance lawns from early to mid-September. Base your fertilizer program on your quality and maintenance preferences.
As you implement natural lawn care methods, monitor your successes and setbacks. Take note of what needs improvement and refer to the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant lawn care calendar at LawntoLakeMidwest.org/calendar. For more research-based information on lawn care, connect with your local Illinois Extension county office at go.illinois.edu/ExtensionOffice.
Nancy Kreith is a horticulture educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving Cook County. Gardeners Corner is a quarterly newsletter from gardening experts around the state. Each issue highlights best practices that will make your houseplants, landscape, or garden shine in any season. Join the Gardener’s Corner email list at go.illinois.edu/GCsubscribe for direct access to timely tips.
PHOTO ACCESS: The photo in this article is available to download for media use. Photo by Nancy Kreith.
Reduce storm damage by looking for tree defects before bad weather strikes
By Sarah Vogel
High winds during summer storms wreak havoc on trees. Tree defects increase the likelihood of failure, and those close to your home can quickly become dangerous. Learn to look for these weak points to be better prepared for severe weather events.
Trees experience damage from pests and disease, natural disasters, and human interference. Early stressors such as being planted too deeply, inadequate water during establishment, or forgotten stakes and guy wires contribute to a tree’s decline. Young and mature trees in urban forests often suffer drought, soil compaction, herbicide damage, overfertilization, or improper pruning practices that hinder wound closure.
Over time, decline escalates other defects, increasing the potential for danger. For resources, review the USDA Forest Service’s manual and reach out to the local Extension office for materials and programs on proper planting, establishment, pruning, and integrated pest management methods to promote long-term health. Recognizing tree defects, preventing further damage, and relying on arborists for accurate risk assessment ensure the safety of persons and property.
Could my tree be hazardous? Is the tree close to a potential target, like a house, driveway, or play equipment? What is the age and condition of the tree? Has it been showing signs of stress like dieback, dropping limbs, less foliage each spring, or stunted leaves? These are indicators of tree stress.
Know what is normal for the species. Some species have naturally lighter green foliage that may be mistaken for illness. Some tree species are poor self-pruners, leaving dead but relatively harmless branches in the crown.
Look for root issues. Shallow root systems, damaged and decayed roots, and restricted root space severely impact root function. Stem girdling roots are another common but serious issue. Additionally, root collars buried with soil and mulch cause bark deterioration and impact the tree’s vascular system. These impacts may appear suddenly or take years to become evident. A sparse crown or isolated section of the affected canopy can often be traced to root problems.
Examine the trunk. Cracks are weak areas that occur from bending or twisting, growth expansion, frost cracking, bark inclusion, or as an effect of stem girdling roots. Immediate action is warranted if two or more cracks occur in the same area or splits through the bark extend into the wood of the tree.
Cankers are areas where the bark is sunken, swollen, flattened, cracked, dead, or absent. These develop from wounds or disease. If a canker incorporates more than half the stem’s circumference, immediate action is recommended.
Decay doesn't always mean the tree is a hazard, but decaying trees are more likely to fail. Advanced decay like soft and crumbly wood, cavities with missing wood, or fungal growth, as seen in research from University of Maryland Extension, all indicate a higher risk for failure. Arborists are trained to evaluate the safety of decaying trees.
University of Florida horticulture research shows Codominant stems occur when two or more upright branches grow closely together. These can form "included bark" or "ingrown bark" that acts as a wedge to split branches apart. Callery pear, among other negative attributes, are notorious for their upright growth habit with included bark defects that frequently fail in high winds. Maple, ash, and elm are other species that commonly form codominant stems.
Remove dead branches or dead trees immediately, regardless of season. Because it is dry and brittle, dead wood doesn't bend like live wood and is more prone to snapping in high winds. Dead branches remaining in the crown are particularly alarming as they are already partly or fully detached.
Multiple defects may occur simultaneously in trees. It is rarely one issue causing decline or failure, but more often, a combination. Regular tree checkups alleviate risk and prevent problems, especially in trees already suffering issues. It's also important to observe trees after a weather event to determine if further damage was suffered or existing problems advanced.
For more information on trees and assessing tree defects, connect with your local Extension office at go.illinois.edu/ExtensionOffice.
Sarah Vogel is an Illinois Extension horticulture educator for DeWitt, Macon, and Piatt counties. Gardeners Corner is a quarterly newsletter from gardening experts around the state. Each issue highlights best practices that will make your houseplants, landscape, or garden shine in any season. Join the Gardener’s Corner email list at go.illinois.edu/GCsubscribe for direct access to timely tips.
PHOTO ACCESS: The photo in this article is available to download for media use. Photo by Sarah Vogel.
Care for perennial gardens with 3 proven pruning methods
By Nicole Flowers-Kimmerle
Pruning perennial flowers takes a garden from looking fair to well-kept. Deadheading, cutting back, and pinching are all pruning techniques that can keep perennial plants looking well cared for and healthy.
Pruning perennials is a complex topic because different plants need different kinds of pruning. Experience, developed with practice and close observation of the plants, helps to determine when and what type of pruning is required. Luckily, perennial plants are forgiving, so experimenting usually won't cause permanent damage. Leggy plants, ragged leaves, or new growth at the base of the plant are signs that the plant is ready for pruning.
Many perennials bloom for three weeks or less. Deadheading is one way to encourage a longer bloom time in certain species. After flowering, the plant puts a lot of energy into making seeds to complete its life cycle. Deadheading or removing the flowers after bloom forces the plant to put more into making new flowers. Deadheading techniques depend on the species. Due to different growth habits, some plants require deadheading to the next flower, bud, or leaf, while others need to remove the flower stalk. Well-known perennials that should be deadheaded to the next lateral flower, bud, or leaf to encourage a longer time for blooms include:
- Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
- Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
- Scarlet bee balm (Monarda didyma)
- Garden phlox (Phlox paniculata)
- Culver's root (Veronicastrum virginicum)
Cutting back is a second pruning option for perennials. Increasing plant vigor, delaying bloom time, and controlling height are some reasons for choosing to cut back plants. Cutting back when foliage looks ragged, and new growth at the plant’s base is starting can rejuvenate the appearance. The renewed growth also helps keep the plant healthy. Removing older, worn foliage with healthy new foliage reduces stress and can increase the plant's life expectancy.
Cutting the plant back can also delay bloom time or manage plant height. With some plants, cutting back can encourage a second bloom. It is best to cut the whole plant back at one time. With continuous flowering, a perennial can use all its energy for flowers in a season with nothing left to make flower buds the next season.
Some species can tolerate cutting back better than others. It is essential to pay close attention to the signs that cutting back would be beneficial. Cutting back more than half of the foliage can put the plant under some stress, so be sure to give the plant some extra attention until new growth begins. Perennials benefitting from cutting back early in the summer include:
- Sedum (Hylotelephium spectabile)
- Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
- Golden rod (Solidagos)
A third option for pruning perennials is the pinching method. Pinching can cause a plant to produce more but smaller flowers by removing the central flower bud. On the other hand, pinching away side buds can force the plant to put more energy into one large flower. Perennials that can be pinched back to benefit the plant include:
- Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
- Chrysanthemums (Chrysanthemum x morifolium)
- Goldenrods (Solidago hybrids)
Another benefit of pinching specific stems is increased air circulation through the plant. Increased air circulation helps to reduce the likelihood of infection by disease. Removing disease or injured stems by pinching helps keep plants healthy.
Try some of these pruning techniques to keep your perennials looking great all season long. For more information on perennials and pruning, connect with your local Extension office at go.illinois.edu/ExtensionOffice.
Nicole Flowers-Kimmerle is an Illinois Extension horticulture educator for Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell counties. Gardeners Corner is a quarterly newsletter from gardening experts around the state. Each issue highlights best practices that will make your houseplants, landscape, or garden shine in any season. Join the Gardener’s Corner email list at go.illinois.edu/GCsubscribe for direct access to timely tips.
PHOTO ACCESS: The photo in this article is available to available to download for media use. Photo by Nicole Flowers-Kimmerle.
Elevate your expectations with raised bed gardening
By Ken Johnson
Whether for convenience or accessibility, raised beds are a popular option for growing fruits, vegetables, or ornamental plants. Raised bed structures elevate the soil, and with it comes a variety of advantages for growing plants.
Using raised beds may allow you to garden in soils where it may otherwise be difficult to grow plants, such as areas with poor drainage or compaction issues. Because these beds are raised above the ground, compaction shouldn’t be an issue because there won’t be any foot traffic on them.
Raised beds also have better drainage, and the soils warm up earlier in the spring compared to in-ground beds allowing you to get an earlier start to the gardening season. Since they are contained, they also tend to have fewer weed problems, although this can vary depending on the soil you are using to fill the beds.
Raised beds can also provide those with accessibility concerns, such as individuals who use a wheelchair or have difficulty working at ground level, with gardening opportunities.
While there are many advantages to raised beds, there are also some disadvantages. Raised beds must be constructed, which can come at a cost. While you can use recycled materials, there is still some added work to construct them. Filling raised beds can be expensive, especially if you are building large beds. Some crops don’t work well in raised beds. Sweet corn requires larger blocks of plants to ensure proper pollination, and large vining crops like pumpkins can overtake a bed. Finally, raised beds tend to dry out faster than in-ground beds, so they will likely need to be watered more frequently.
Raised beds are often constructed with wooden boards. Cedar and cypress wood are commonly used because they are naturally rot-resistant. Alternatives to wood include materials such as cinder blocks, plastic lumber, and metal.
Pressure-treated wood is another option for constructing raised beds. Some people have concerns about using pressure-treated wood when growing food crops. Newer chemicals used in pressure-treating wood, such as micronized copper azole, CA, or alkaline copper quaternary ammonium, ACQ, are less toxic compared to previously used chemicals. Never use railroad ties, which have been treated with creosote, when constructing raised beds.
Raised beds are commonly built to be 6 to 12 inches tall but can be built taller. If constructing a raised bed with wheelchair access, they should be 24 inches tall. Raised beds should be no wider than 4 feet if they can be accessed on all sides. Otherwise, they should be no wider than 2 feet to ensure you are able to reach everything in the bed without stepping on the soil. When constructing raised beds out of wood, reinforce the corners with corner brackets or pieces of wood.
Fill raised beds with a 1:1 mixture of compost and garden or topsoil. Over time the compost or other organic matter used will decompose, which will cause the bed to settle. Because of this, more soil and compost may need to be added to the bed each year. Explore more about this at go.illinois.edu/RefreshRaisedBeds.
How much soil does a raised bed need? Multiply the length of the bed by the width and height — length x width x height — to get your raised bed’s volume. When calculating, make sure you are using the same unit of measure for all parts — feet, inches, etc.
For more research-based information on gardening, connect with your local Illinois Extension county office at go.illinois.edu/ExtensionOffice.
Ken Johnson is a horticulture educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving Calhoun, Cass, Greene, Morgan, and Scott counties. Gardeners Corner is a quarterly newsletter from gardening experts around the state. Each issue highlights best practices that will make your houseplants, landscape, or garden shine in any season. Join the Gardener’s Corner email list at go.illinois.edu/GCsubscribe for direct access to timely tips.
PHOTO ACCESS: The photo in this article is available to download for media use. Photo by Ken Johnson.
Want more from your garden? Plant a fall crop of cucumbers
By Jennifer Fishburn
It’s the middle of summer, and you are looking for a new home project. Did you know it is not too late to plant some vegetable plants? With proper care, many vegetables are easy to grow in a sunny location in your backyard or a container garden on a patio. Take the challenge and reap what you sow, as the number one reason for growing your own vegetables is the taste.
A popular, great-tasting homegrown vegetable is cucumbers. This warm-season vegetable produces an abundance of fruit when given proper care. The first crop can be planted after the danger of frost has passed and can also be planted in mid to late summer.
Tips for growing cucumbers
What does it take to have a great crop of cucumbers? Lots of water. Cucumber plants have shallow roots and require ample soil moisture at all stages of growth. Adequate moisture is most critical when fruit begins to set and mature.
Cucumber plants need plenty of space in the garden. Rows should be 5 to 6 feet apart.
In small gardens, cucumber plants can be trained on a trellis or a fence. Also, if space is limited, look for bush varieties that can be grown in containers.
Cucumbers need warm soil for germination and proper plant growth. Fertile soils will produce the best yields. Incorporate compost or well-rotted manure before planting. Remember to side-dress with nitrogen fertilizer when the plants begin to vine.
A cucumber is of the best quality when it is uniformly green, firm, and crisp. Harvest the cucumbers before the seeds fully develop. The best size depends on the use and type of cucumber. Pick slicing types when they are 6 to 8 inches long and pickling cucumbers when they are 3 to 4 inches long. Be diligent and inspect plants for fruits every day. Be sure to remove all mature cucumbers from a plant, as over-mature cucumbers left on the vine will halt the growth of new cucumbers. Refrigerate fruits after harvesting.
Some years the cucumbers have a bitter taste. What causes this bitterness? Most cucumber plants contain bitter compounds called cucurbitacins B and C, which can be present in the foliage and sometimes spread to the fruit. Bitterness tends to be a result of stress, such as lack of moisture, high temperatures, wide temperature swings, or poor plant nutrition. To try to combat the bitter taste, water plants during dry periods and add a layer of organic mulch to help to conserve soil moisture. Some bitterness can be removed by cutting off the stem end and removing the skin. Cucumber cultivars differ in their tendency to be bitter, so be sure to select bitter-free cultivars.
While my family enjoys sliced cucumbers with a little salt, cucumbers add a crisp snap to salads and sandwiches. Cucumbers are mostly water having minimal nutritional value. If possible, leave the green peeling on as it contains a small amount of beta-carotene, which is where the most nutritional value is found.
To preserve your harvest, the only practical way for cucumbers is pickling. University of Illinois Extension provides basic guidelines for pickling, answers commonly asked questions, and recipes at extension.illinois.edu/food/pickling-foods.
For more information about growing and harvesting cucumbers, visit University of Illinois Extension, Vegetable Gardening, Cucumbers, extension.illinois.edu/gardening/cucumber.
Jennifer Fishburn is a horticulture educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving Logan, Menard, and Sangamon counties. Gardeners Corner is a quarterly newsletter from gardening experts around the state. Each issue highlights best practices that will make your houseplants, landscape, or garden shine in any season. Join the Gardener’s Corner email list at go.illinois.edu/GCsubscribe for direct access to timely tips.
PHOTO ACCESS: The photo in this article is available to download for media use. Photo by Jennifer Fishburn.
How to grow tropical ginger for at home spice
By Brittnay Haag
Growing fresh vegetables, fruits, and herbs in your backyard can seem like a lot of work, but at the end of the season, the bountiful, tasty harvest is worth it. The International Herb Association named ginger (Zingiber officinale) the 2023 “Herb of the Year”. This is one herb that we typically do not grow in Illinois gardens and find it easier to buy at the grocery store. However, ginger can be grown successfully in Illinois home gardens with a little extra planning and care.
The gnarly, tan rhizome, or underground stem, of ginger, has a strong, spicy flavor and is grown for a variety of culinary uses, including baked goods, teas, and soups. When used fresh, ginger is considered a culinary herb. When ground or powdered, it is recognized as a spice.
Ginger that is commercially produced for culinary use is grown in tropical climates, which offers the plant 8 to 10 months of growth before the harvest of the mature rhizome. It will not survive outdoors in temperatures below 30 °F, which makes it an annual plant in Illinois.
Researchers with University of Illinois Extension and Western Illinois University are currently exploring how to commercially produce ginger in Illinois to give specialty crop growers a new high-value product that can grow in high tunnels. Find out more about the project at go.illinois.edu/GingerCrop.
To increase the length of growing time by a few months and allow adequate time for the rhizome to mature, start ginger plants indoors in February or March. Purchase sets, or small sections of the certified disease-free rhizome for planting, from local garden centers or nurseries, or online seed companies. Ginger roots found in the grocery store receive an inhibitor treatment to avoid sprouting and are not certified disease free.
Plant ginger in at least a 15” diameter container to move outdoors when temperatures are consistently between 70- and 80°F. When starting rhizomes in containers, the top of the rhizomes should barely be covered with soil to avoid rot. Also, allow space at the top of the container to add more soil as the rhizome pushes up. Detailed planting directions can be found online to ensure a successful crop.
Ginger will grow in part-shade to full sun and will not tolerate overly wet, waterlogged soils or completely drying out. Brown leaf tips are an indicator the plant either needs more water, or it is receiving too much sunlight. Yellowing foliage is a sign that supplemental fertilization is needed.
In addition to growing for culinary use, ginger also makes a beautiful ornamental plant in any garden. With a clump-forming habit, reaching 3 feet tall, ginger’s strappy, bright green foliage adds a tropical flair to a garden landscape or patio container.
Baby ginger, or small sections of the rhizome, can be harvested after four months of growth. These immature sections have the same taste but are not as fibrous since they lack the tough outer skin of a mature rhizome and can get damaged easily. They can be stored in a freezer for several months to enjoy later.
To harvest mature sections, bring them inside before temperatures drop below freezing and wait until the leaves turn brown and dry out around November, and then carefully dig the rhizome from the soil. If you plan to overwinter the plants, move the container indoors before freezing temperatures. Once inside, the plant will go dormant for the winter, losing all the foliage until temperatures warm in spring.
As the International Herb Association’s Herb of the Year, ginger is both beautiful in the garden and valuable in the kitchen. Also, consider planting past winners in your garden: violet (Viola), parsley (Petroselinum), anise hyssop (Agastache ssp.), coriander/cilantro (Coriandrum sativum), and savory (Saturea ssp.)
For more research-based information on fruit and vegetable gardening, connect with your local Illinois Extension county office at go.illinois.edu/ExtensionOffice.
Brittnay Haag is a Horticulture Educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving Livingston, McLean, and Woodford counties. Gardeners Corner is a quarterly newsletter from gardening experts around the state. Each issue highlights best practices that will make your houseplants, landscape, or garden shine in any season. Join the Gardener’s Corner email list at go.illinois.edu/GCsubscribe for direct access to timely tips.
PHOTO ACCESS: The photo in this article is available to download for media use. Photo by Chris Enroth.
Make flowers and memories last forever with drying for design
By Christina Lueking
A great way to enjoy flowers with family and friends is to harvest and preserve them. The popularity of dried and pressed flowers has turned an old hobby into a renewed interior design and art trend. Who has not pressed that lucky four-leaf clover between a couple of pages of a book?
Flowers chosen should be harvested and prepared so that they hold their color and form. These types are called everlasting flowers as they dry out very easily.
Everlasting flowers are composed of colorful, papery petals or bract-style modified leaves that, when mature, are stiff and dry when still attached to the living plant. Planting annuals and perennial flowers that are suitable for drying extends gardening activities without elaborate equipment or previous experience for the whole family to enjoy.
Types of everlasting flowers
Some plants and flowers that are suitable for air drying include larkspur (Consolida ajacis), strawflower (Bracteantha bracteate), statice (Limonium sinuatum), globe amaranth (Gomphrena globosa), love in the mist (Nigella damascena), yarrow (Achillea species), money plant (Lunaria annua), blazing star (Liatris spicata), and millet (Setaria italica). Ornamental grasses are another option that adds an airy, whimsical element of what lies beyond the stems or seed heads.
Tips for harvesting flowers for drying
Harvest flowers that are close to prime. Flowers to be air-dried continue to open as they dry, so they should not be fully open when picked. Poor shapes dry as poor shapes. The best time to pick is on a sunny afternoon when plant parts contain the least amount of moisture. Harvest flowers just before they have fully opened since they will continue to mature after they have been cut. Remember, do not harvest flowers that have already wilted, as they will not hold shape. When picking, strip the foliage from the stem by holding the stem just below the bloom and running your hand down the stem to
remove foliage. This will prepare the flower stem for gathering and bundling prior
Tips for drying flowers
Air-drying is the easiest and most common way to preserve most flowers. Stems dried in this process will be fairly straight.
- Cut flowers of good quality in prime condition
- Remove foliage from stems
- Gather the stems into small bunches and bind them with a rubber band or twist tie instead of a string, as the bunches shrink as they dry.
- Hang the bunches upside-down in a warm, dry, dark area with good air circulation. Avoid direct sunlight that will fade the flowers.
- Attach the tied bunches with a paper clip to the drying rack, line, or nail.
- Allow hanging until thoroughly dried, which generally takes two to three weeks.
A few large flowers, such as peonies and hydrangea, are sometimes dried in this way but should be hung individually. Going one step further with this activity, you can make dried arrangements or posies. Remember, flowers dried in this manner are extremely stiff once dried, and some flowers shrink like roses and peonies. Blue and yellow flowers retain their colors when air-dried, but pink flowers tend to fade. This drying method is still an inexpensive and fun activity for any age to enjoy.
Examples of drying using desiccants or substances used to create dryness may include the process of borax combined with sand or cornmeal, silica gel, oolitic sand, standard sand, microwave oven drying, freeze-drying, water drying, or preserving foliage with glycerin. What method will you try? Remember that each method should be researched before attempting so that proper precautions can be taken.
The last method for everlasting flowers would be to press plant material or flowers. Pressing requires sandwiching flowers and foliage between layers of absorbent material. One way is between the pages of a book, which is closed and weighted down. Wooden presses can also be used with bolts and wing nuts to apply pressure to absorbent material for drying. Finally, heat pressing can be done with a warm iron and wax paper. In comparison, microwave ceramic tiles and paper towels can be used for a quick heat press.
Pressing flowers is a trendy way to preserve flowers from special occasions that can be arranged in framed displays or as artwork. Use everlasting flowers to create everlasting memories.
For more information on cut flower gardening activities, connect with your local Extension office at go.illinois.edu/ExtensionOffice.
Christina Lueking is an Illinois Extension horticulture educator for Bond, Clinton, Jefferson, Marion, and Washington counties. Gardeners Corner is a quarterly newsletter from gardening experts around the state. Each issue highlights best practices that will make your houseplants, landscape, or garden shine in any season. Join the Gardener’s Corner email list at go.illinois.edu/GCsubscribe for direct access to timely tips.
PHOTO ACCESS: The photo in this article is available to download for media use. Photo by Christina Lueking.
Build privacy with plants for secret gardens
By Andrew Holsinger
Plants serve a lot of purposes in the landscape. One of which is to add some privacy. Screening plants can help define and give purpose to a space. Homeowners may wish to screen a particular area or transparency in the landscape, creating interest in what lies beyond.
First, start with a base map of your property drawn to the scale of your choice. This overall view allows you to identify existing spaces or those that you want to create. Integrate existing plants as well as structures, pavements, and other features of the landscape into the map. How you currently use and how you plan to use an area in the yard can help delineate these spaces.
Create a wish list of what you want to accomplish with the landscape. Identify areas where you want to relax, entertain, or create a private space. The function of the landscape is important and should not be neglected in the design. Think about where
the focal points will be from both inside and outside the residence.
You may want to shelter some items from view, like a poolside or an outdoor eating
area. Using diagrams, overlay your base map and think through the aspects of the design. What do you want to conceal in the landscape? The view of the neighbor’s
house may be a consideration. Be a good neighbor, and before planting, investigate if plants are invasive or have a spread that may encroach on their side of the property line.
Investigate what plants are available in your area according to your hardiness zone and create screened views with the right plant in the right place.
Select plants based not only on their hardiness and cultural requirements but also their function. A variety of plant sizes can be used to screen a view. The palette of plants available may go beyond the usual thinking. Enjoying the outdoors with a background of well-planned plants creates a nice surrounding of seclusion and offers opportunities for exploration.
To help select plants, look for contrasting types of foliage. Do you want a year-round screen? A screened view doesn’t necessarily need to be achieved with evergreen plants. There are a wide number of perennials and even some annuals that can be used as screening plants. Moonflower is an annual that can even add interest at night with its nocturnal blooms. Hydrangea, Bee Balm, Joe-Pye-weed, ‘Sun King’ Aralia, and Royal Purple Smoke Tree are great perennials for screening.
A berm can also raise the traditional height of plants and enhance the screening effect. Think about the focal points of the room and the view that is being created with the design. For color, go beyond monochromatic green and add hints of color to attract the eye. Variegation may also add some appeal. Blooms can add to the beauty and provide an aroma to be enjoyed throughout the season if carefully planned. For example, if you wish to draw a person from one screened area to the next, a focal point or specimen plant visible from the adjacent space prompts curiosity and can entice someone to move through the garden.
Signs and arrows are useful for finding paths of circulation or identifying focal points to enhance with screening plants. Enjoying the outdoors with plants is a great way to escape into nature and enhance your lifestyle. Less mowing and more growing can free some of your schedule to find a place of escape.
For more research-based information on landscape design, connect with your local University of Illinois Extension county office at go.illinois.edu/ExtensionOffice.
Andrew Holsinger is a Horticulture Educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving Christian, Jersey, Macoupin, and Montgomery counties. Gardeners Corner is a quarterly newsletter from gardening experts around the state. Each issue highlights best practices that will make your houseplants, landscape, or garden shine in any season. Join the Gardener’s Corner email list at go.illinois.edu/GCsubscribe for direct access to timely tips.
PHOTO ACCESS: The photo in this article is available to download for media use. Photo by Andrew Holsinger.
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Gardener's Corner is a quarterly newsletter from the University of Illinois Extension team of horticulture experts. Each issue highlights best practices that will make your houseplants, landscape, or garden shine in any season. Join the Gardener’s Corner email list for direct access to timely tips!