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.

Note: this is part one of a series on fruit trees

You don’t need space for a full orchard to plant and enjoy fruit trees in the home landscape. However, where you place those fruit trees – whether it’s a whole home orchard or just a few trees – makes a big difference in how they grow and perform. As they say, “location, location, location.” Here’s what to consider:

We winterize the lawn mower, why not the home orchard and landscape? Now is the time to prevent problems later, by spending some time with your favorite young trees and fruit trees.

Late summer triggers a column on our houseplants that are going to be brought back into our homes for the winter. For many, we take them outside to let Mother Nature nurture them back to a better state of health, or to kind of take a vacation from having to care for them as carefully as we had been during the winter. You may have set them out on the ground under shrubs or evergreens, put them on the edge of the patio, or maybe you have plant stands you use under your trees in the yard.

When it finally rains after a dry spell, it is such a relief and gives gardeners a few days off before the watering patrol kicks in again. Our plants get the dust and dirt washed off, foliage perks up, and if the flowers were on the dry side, foliage colors return to normal.

The prolonged hot, dry weather pattern has created some vegetable gardening challenges. Garden plants (and all other kinds of plants) respond to the weather conditions by adjusting vegetative (foliage) and reproductive (fruiting) growth.

Our Illinois weather may “play dirty" starting Friday night, especially in the northern part of the state. Predictions are for below freezing temperatures, which can damage or potentially kill vegetable seedlings, some fruit tree blossom, and tender or warm-loving transplants. Here are some tips to help keep plants safe:

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.

Our plants will break dormancy at different times each spring. This depends on, as you can guess, the kind of weather we have. Besides the warming weather, “chilling hours” influence how soon we see bud swell and blooms.

This time of year, getting the gardening “to do” list finished is challenging anyway, and now with our variable weather pattern, it’s nearly impossible. If there is a way to make gardeners feel better, there is a lot of discussion going on that says leaving the garden debris in place has some benefits for overwintering beneficial insects. Insects that needed that debris to “cocoon” on earlier are still out there since the garden parts never made it to the compost bin or pile.