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.

green grass

The snow is long gone, but it has left us with lawns that, to date, may look pretty sad. Prepare for the spring green up ahead with these tasks.

Sometimes life gets in the way of doing things on time, especially in the yard, and even if we know better. This past gardening season for homeowners may have had a way of pushing those garden activities back since our year has been so different in so many ways. The weather pattern is most likely to blame, and we have to blame something!

Leaves

Homeowners have likely heard of core aeration as a way to relieve soil compaction in the lawn. While that is certainly true, coring has several more benefits for the grass plant, microbial activity in the ground, and thatch management.

The weather can, does, and will influence foliage disease each year, starting in the early weeks of spring. While early spring was a long time ago, many diseases are now quite visible in the home landscape.

By this time of year, woody plants have taken care of business, meaning the foliage already has produced the energy needed to form buds for both foliage and flowers for next year. If there is a fruit or pod containing seeds, that is nearly, if not already completed, as well. In the next few weeks, plants will get the signal that fall is on the way and begin to set up for the eventual color change and leaf drop.

This time of year, many of the messages coming into our local Master Gardener Help Desks are commonly asked questions that track with our seasonal weather. Here are a few:

Q: My lawn has looked pretty good until two weeks ago, what’s up with all the brown spots and patches now?

Lawns have come through this summer surprisingly well, especially with all the heat we have had. My unofficial count says we have had at least 15 days of 90 degree heat this summer, and some for several days in row. However, we also had good rains.

For yards that need to be re-seeded, the best window for our area is from the middle of August through the first week in September. (This may need to be adjusted for other parts of Illinois).

The hot, dry weather we have been getting – and will continue to get – changes how we are going to water the home landscape. Best management practices, or BMP, includes more than just watering (but water is so key to plant survival) and more than just your vegetable plants.

Tips for containers and planters

By mid-June, the spring gardens have either slowed or have finished providing us with all those great colorful flowers, from daffodils to peonies to iris. The same goes for many of our flowering shrubs and trees. Our lawns, with all the rain, are for the most part actively growing and green, but there are some lawns that are beginning to show signs of slowing down for summer.

Homeowners expect so much from shade trees, but those same trees get little care once they get established in the home landscape. Besides getting watered during stressful times, proper mulching can go a long way in the health of the tree.

crabgrass in lawn

Now is the time to prevent crabgrass so you will not have to see it in the lawn later. Crabgrass like other “weeds” in the landscape is an opportunist. Crabgrass will take advantage of places in the lawn that are thin or have been damaged from the winter, such as the road salt on your parkway.

The past couple of springs, we have not had the kind of weather for good early season vegetable gardening. This spring has been a lot better with enough drying time to actually get out there and get potato seed pieces in the ground, sow those early rows of spinach and lettuce, and put out cabbage transplants.

Emails to the office this time of year are always a mix of “When can I…?” or “Is it too late already to…?” kinds of questions. Here are three common examples:

Q: When should I be putting down crabgrass preventer?

Why not add garden work to your new, and temporary, routine as many of us “sit this thing out” at home? If we hold off getting the garden going just because things are different right now, catching up later will be tough. Besides, getting outdoors in our own yard and spending some time alone is still doing our part.

We all want to get out in the yard, do something good for the yard, yet there is all this late winter weather hanging on. The cold weather at night, frosty lawns, cold rains during the day or the frost on the ground can keep us from doing the things we want.

We can do other things besides trying to overseed the lawn, get the garden soil ready for vegetables or work up the ground where the annuals are going. For example, if you bought new flower or vegetable seeds, re-read the packet to be sure when it is time to start them indoors.

University of Illinois Extension and Master Gardener Help Desk phone lines have seen more action recently, especially when it comes to what can be done outside. Here are a few that may ring a bell for many homeowners:

Q:            I am going to start my own vegetable and flower transplants this year. Can you give me some best practices?

Fall Colors & Leaves: Three weeks ago, there was only a hint of fall color in the home landscape. In the last week or so, fall color has come a long way. All the red maple cultivars have developed good reds and lots of other trees and shrubs are showing strong yellows and golds. Very soon, according weather forecasts, we are expecting a hard freeze and that color show will end.

Homeowners have likely heard of core aeration as a way to relieve soil compaction in the lawn. While that is certainly true, coring has several more benefits for the grass plant, soil profile, microbial activity in the ground, and thatch management.

Fall is for more than planting trees (although it is true that fall is a great time for that – see more below). Fall also is the time to do so many activities in the home landscape. These are not just weekend activities, but things that can be done in small bites, even on weekday evenings.

Hard to believe it is quickly approaching the time to seed a new lawn or over seed what is there. Our best window of opportunity to ensure a good stand that will survive winter is August 15 through the first week in September.