person watering plants with a purple watering wand

Watering plants may seem easy, but it can inspire a lot of questions – When? How much? What is the best way? What kind of watering attachment? Can I use harvested water?

Water is a critical component of a successful garden, but are we watering wisely? There are steps we can take to make sure our plants have enough water while keeping our efforts efficient.

Calls and emails to the Extension office have certainly been trending on all things water, and I wanted to share a few of our most-asked questions:

Q: I am seeing cracks in the ground. I am wondering, should I be watering already?

Dividing perennials has been, and always will be, a good gardening practice. However, with invasive jumping worms now confirmed in more parts of Illinois, sharing those perennials with neighbors or donating them to plant sales may not be the best thing to do.

snow-covered plant debris

Outdoor insects have endured quite well, despite our hopes that either the cold or snow would have done them in for the 2021 gardening season. The cold is more of a factor than the snow. The snow will act as insulation for those overwintering insects at or below the soil line. (Side note: This also is why our perennials do so much better in the spring if covered with snow all winter compared to open and exposed to the wind and cold temperatures.)

January finds us thinking we have already had our share of cold, and this year, some snow. Yet the colorful gardening catalogs keep us thinking that spring will return. The vegetable and flower gardens are certainly asleep until spring, but we can take a yard inventory from the dining room window and think about what we liked, what grew well and not so well, and begin to generally plan how we want our yard to look in 2021.

As we approach mid-January, there may be more going on inside than outside for gardeners. Perennial beds covered in snow enjoy the protection from drying winter winds and the winter sun (if we ever see sunny days anytime soon). For some of us, traditional bird feeding started weeks back.

January begins the annual flight of vegetable, flower, and fruit tree catalogs to your mailbox (or your email inbox). Depending on your level of gardening, the catalogs may arrive frequently and in mass.

 

In 2020, many garden retailers found themselves with empty shelves or running very low on seeds and other common garden items. Like any other industry, future orders are based on previous sales with a projected increase to match sales goals. Seed producers base their production on the orders they get from retailers without a lot of cushion. (There is not always a good market for leftover seed.)

Everyone recognizes that 2020 has been quite a unique year. Travel has been limited or off the table, school or work may have been moved to home, and since spring, holidays have been celebrated in different ways. One big stress reliever in all of this may just have been the backyard garden and the home landscape.

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

What do lilacs, phlox, vine crops, peonies, and lawns all have in common this time of year? First clue – it is weather related. Second clue – if you touch it, it will rub off. Final clue – it looks like it came out of the kitchen pantry and you would sprinkle on your pastries, pancakes, and waffles.

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?

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.

There is clearly an uptick in households interested in planting a vegetable garden right now. Seasoned gardeners may be expanding the size of the existing garden or finally trying new (or new-to-them) vegetables that had not won a spot in the garden before. Others are going to be getting started for the first time.

First time gardeners, this column is for you. There are all sorts of gardening gadgets out there, yet first timers only really need a few basic tools to get the first vegetable garden planted.

Tools to get started:

  • A garden shovel

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.

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.

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?

different types of shovels laying in the grass

Many of us are already watching our calendars and the weather for signs of Spring. It officially starts Thursday, March 19, and ends Saturday, June 20. Avid gardeners are making plans to be toiling away preparing vegetable and landscape beds for the 2020 growing season.

Very often, if not always, this work means using a shovel. If we were all great gardeners, our shovel(s) got put away in 2019, nice and clean, with a thin coating of your favorite rust preventer.