We should have been expecting it, but no one is really ever ready for the first really cold weather we get. Our hardy trees, shrubs and evergreens or perennials weren't really impacted by low 30's and upper 30's that areas in the Fox Valley received. Gardeners do plant lots of tender flowers for their color, texture and habit that make our gardens shine, yet can be much more sensitive to cold temperatures.
There are some 8000 thousand ant species around and on occasion ants can become an annoyance in the home. Most often they are a bother in the spring of the year when soils outdoors begin to warm again. Right now with our soils next to the home being warmer yet, we can have ants from outside colonies foraging for food. This time of year we are normally bothered by ants from colonies in the soil within the footprint of our home. Ants could be brown, black, red or shades of these colors and vary in size from extremely tiny to quite obvious.
Landscapes flower and vegetable beds sure needed some moisture; just getting it all at once is not ideal. Couple the high humidity, temperatures together, and we have great opportunities for disease outbreaks in the yard.
Just about now, you can see holiday trees sitting in the front or side yard, waiting for the assigned pick up date to be collected and mulched. This is one way to be sure your holiday tree gets recycled to the benefit of the environment. The follow through to getting your tree composted in a community program is to be sure your take advantage of the composted material later by bringing some back home and using it in your landscape beds. Those fallen needles that need to be collected can go to the compost pile.
The fall foliage show of reds, yellows, gold have begun to subside and soon enough a night of below freezing temperatures will bring that to a close and all those leaves will end up in the landscape.
If you are out there in the country with natural woodlands, leaves play a part in preserving the natural habitat of native trees, shrubs and flowers. If that is the case, just let those leaves lie. The leaves will decompose and return valuable nutrients to the soil to be used by the soil microbes that in turn support plant growth.
Squirrels clearly know fall is approaching based on the calls coming into the Master Gardeners help desk telephone line and homeowners bringing in handfuls of small oak twigs. Squirrels will, on an annual basis collect, hide, and eat a great many acorns in anticipation of winter, it is what they do. Squirrels will bury acorns in the typical places like the lawn, vegetable and flower beds, but also in containers on the porch and patio.
All this cooler weather especially at night is having an effect on all our plants in the landscape. The temperatures we have been having at night especially have caused changes in how the plants have switched from actively growing to getting ready for dormancy. The plants used as annuals or as garden accent plants that are really tropical, would never go dormant in their native habitat and have responded immediately to the cold nights. If you have grown Elephant Ears or see them in public plantings, they have taken on a wilted kind of look, even though they have plenty of water.
Bakers in the family and everyone else who enjoy the benefits really like the holidays. Lots of cookies, cakes and pies are baked during the holiday season. It is not the baked goods that will give households any problems, but what comes later with the leftover flour.
Young fruit trees in the home orchard should begin to fruit once the tree has become established. Several conditions will need to be met before that happens. The four big factors are tree health, weather, typical age for the tree to bear and proper pollination.
The snow continues to melt and rains have begun to rinse away the dirty grunge of winter from the soil that piled up everywhere. While we wait for the last of the snow to go and the ground to warm up before we can plant even those cold and cool loving vegetables, we can do some garden strategizing.
Now that the Holidays and Super bowl Sunday are over and pretty much our lives have returned to a more normal routine, there may be some insects beginning to show up in the pantry or kitchen. Leftover baking goods are usually the culprit and enough time has passed that we should be on the lookout.
The weather has caught us all by surprise and there can be some leftover gardening projects still unfinished. If that bag or box of spring flowering bulbs is still sitting in the garage, the ground is not frozen and planting those bulbs will be easy. Follow the directions for proper planting depth and put some bone meal in the bottom of the hole as part of the planting process. We are supposed to get some break in the weather, so pick your day carefully by watching the weather closely.
Home lawns have come alive again as their fall pattern of increased growth has returned. Gardeners need to mow more frequently for the next few weeks to keep up and follow the 1/3 rule of not removing more than 1/3 of the grass blade at any one mowing. A sharp mower blade will also keep the lawn looking better as well. If the lawn has been mowed while it was wet, take a few minutes and clear the underside of the mower deck so the blade and deck can me more efficient in cutting the grass blades into smaller portions before the grass blades leave the mower deck.
Lots of tree planting happened in the Fox Valley this past fall. The replanting has been pushed by the continuing tree population decline from the Emerald Ash borer, a boring insect that has now killed millions of ash trees in the Midwest. The other major reason homeowners have replanted trees has been the long term decline of our landscape and shade trees from the drought of 2012 and terrible winter of 2013/2014. Plant diseases and other insects attacking many plants have caused additional plant loses.
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.
Just about this time every year, homeowners that have a Sycamore tree in the home landscape begin to notice problems. Leafing out late or seeing a second set of buds and then leaves form is not normal. While Sycamores seem to be the worst, the disease called anthracnose also infects other trees as well. Anthracnose is favored by cool wet spring weather with temperatures for several days in the low 50's, something we had a lot of in the Fox valley.
There has been some recent press covering cicadas in Illinois this summer. While we can have a few cicadas every year, the brood of concern will be invading northwestern Illinois in the summer of 2014. According to the experts that follow cicadas, this is known as the Iowa brood (also called the Marlatt's Brood III) and will emerge in most of the southern two thirds of Iowa. The brood will also get into Illinois covering about four counties.
Our beautiful ornamental flowering crabapples that grace so many yards have a couple of foliage diseases that can really impact how they look once the bloom show is gone. Both diseases readily infect the crabapple leaf.
Our ornamental landscape beds are really going through the process of getting ready for winter in a big way now. The weather pattern with warm days and cooler to cold nights has triggered the plants physiology from one of active growth to that of preparing for dormancy. Once that begins, there are clear signs, like fall color development and diseases like powdery mildew that can be seen now on a great many plants.
July has brought us a mild summer with a fair amount of rain. It was not until the end of July that our yards and gardens began to look more typical – drying ground with some cracking showing up as the soil did begin to dry. If you missed some of those weeds, by now they are well established in the beds and take quite a bit of effort to get them out. As a reminder, even if the bed is beyond recovery for this year, DO NOT let those weeds go to seed.
We are lucky here in the Midwest to be able to enjoy spring and summer bulbs alike. We plant spring bulbs in the fall and summer bulbs in the spring. We let spring bulbs overwinter in our garden beds and dig up summer bulbs to overwinter indoors.
January is not too early to start to plan for a new home orchard or to consider replacements for aging fruit trees in an existing orchard. There are several different kinds of fruit trees to consider, including apple, cherry, peach, pear and plum.
The giving of holiday plants has become for many homes an annual family tradition. The one we think of most often of course is the poinsettia, yet mums, azaleas, cyclamen, and Christmas cactus are also given frequently. How well those holiday plants hold up and continue to give us enjoyment depends on the care given. Taking good care of those plants can extend the bloom show and foliage for several weeks or even months.
Gardeners would normally see damage from grubs or sod webworms this time of year. With our rainfall this summer, grub damage if they are even out there will be minimal. The winter weather took out a large percentage of the Japanese beetle grubs, so we have not seen that big population we have in the past. Our more native Masked Chafer grub population having been displaced by the Japanese Beetles so without them, grub damage could be low in the home lawns. Grub damage occurs when the grubs are feeding on grass roots faster than the grass can replace them.