squash vine borer feeding on vine

There’s nothing more devastating than walking out to your garden to discover your squash plants are wilted or dead. An insect known as the squash vine borer is one that will cause damage to your cucurbit plants by tunneling into the stems.  Once you have had an encounter with squash vine borer, it is one you will never forget.

Jumping worm

How full is your invasive species radar? All I can say is my view is overwhelmed. Dealing with the current group of Japanese beetles, emerald ash borer, bush honeysuckle, and so many more. Plus, in Illinois, we are girding for the impending arrival of the very destructive spotted lanternfly. Then a notification arrives the USDA has prohibited the import of boxwood, holly, and Euonymus species from Canada to prevent the spread of the box tree moth (Cydalima perspectalis). I didn’t even look that one up to see what it does, but I bet it’s not good.

landscape fabric fail

Landscape fabric. It’s what goes under the mulch. Right? I’ve had several conversations with home gardeners looking for a permanent solution to keeping the weeds down and each time I warn them about the use of landscape fabric.

If you’re thinking, “Hang on! Landscape fabric doesn’t work?” Of course, you’ve seen people on TV and perhaps watched professional landscapers roll out the black landscape fabric before spreading mulch. And why does every garden center sell the stuff if it doesn’t work?

Garden tasks to help get your landscape through the summer. vegetable and flower garden with mulch path in-between.

After some up and down temperatures earlier this year, it seems summer has settled in for good. While a lot of the work we do in the garden happens in the spring, that doesn’t mean we can coast through the summer. Here are some things we can be doing in our landscapes to help keep them going through the summer.

pumpkins

Why are we talking about pumpkins in June? Because if you want home-grown pumpkins for Halloween, it is best to get them planted now!

Good Growing Fact
Did you know Illinois is ranked #1 for pumpkin production with more than 10,000 acres planted in 2019? Morton, IL, is considered the Pumpkin Capital of the World because 85% of the world’s canned pumpkin is packed there.

garden with fruit and veggies

The year of 2020 brought a new experience for many as over 20 million novice gardeners picked up a trowel for the first time according to Bonnie Plants CEO Mike Sutterer. New adventures come with excitement; however, as those rose-colored glasses become clearer with further attempts and another year of gardening, the frustrations and failures can grow. Therefore, we have come up with some tips to help those 2nd time growers stay optimistic.

How to successfully grow asparagus in your garden. purple-green asparagus spears emerging from soil.

Asparagus is one of the few perennial vegetables that is commonly grown in gardens. But don’t let that intimidate you - it’s a relatively easy crop to grow. However, you’ll need to exercise some patience when growing asparagus.

Row cover protecting some lettuce

It feels like spring has sprung and boy it sprang hard. Despite the dizzy use of the different forms of “spring”, Illinoisans can relate. Several days above sixty and even a few above seventy degrees in early March has pushed growth in many early perennial plants. Buds on trees and shrubs are swelling ready to pop at a moment’s notice. Many of our cool-season vegetables have also put on significant growth. And yet, by the time this article is printed, we will likely be back to more seasonable spring weather. Chilly, rainy, and mud…everywhere.

cover crop starting to grow in corn field in February

Ooooh that smell. Can’t you smell that smell (read to the tune of That Smell by Lynyrd Skynyrd). If you have been driving around the countryside recently, you might already know what I am talking about; however, for those of you that don’t, as the temperatures warm up, a foul smell may begin floating around select farmer’s fields. Some say it smells like a gas leak while others might give their vehicle companion a nasty look, but the true culprit is the radish.

winter loaded screen

I love winter. I love snow. However, I must add two caveats to my initial statements – I love winter and snow as long as I am warm and I can stay at home. It’s when my feet get cold or my car is fishtailing trying to turn a corner that winter weather goes from fun to miserable.

When you turn on the news, radio, or talk with your neighbor people are getting rather irritated with winter. With all this complaining about our cold snowy weather, is there any benefit to winter when it comes to our yards and gardens?

chickadee at a feeder

People love to feed birds. Aside from gardening, it is considered one of the most popular hobbies around the globe. And even some would argue, feeding the birds is a part of gardening. In the winter months, many find joy in watching a flurry of feathered friends, feeding at the feeder. The bird food we set out helps to give those birds that stick around Illinois over the winter an energy boost to keep their body temperatures up on these cold days.

worms feeding on food waste creating compost

Being two weeks into the new year, I hope those of you with new goals of healthier eating are still going strong. If things didn’t work out the way you had planned, no worries; vermicomposting can help you get rid of all those fruits and vegetables that have gone bad and provide a nutrient rich material that can be added to our plants. Vermicomposting is the process of using various species of worms to decompose organic waste such as food scraps. It is also a great option for winter composting when our outside pile has become dormant.

sunlight through ice covered trees

As I type out this article, I can’t stop thinking about my drive to work today. After days of clouds, ice, snow, and more clouds, the sun shone brightly as it crept over the eastern horizon. As sunbeams edged further across the landscape the trees became illuminated with a rainbow of light. It was spectacular!

2021 All-American Selections winners

Out with the old and in with the new. A new year means the garden catalogs are starting to arrive and that it’s time to start planning this year’s garden. Whether you’re just getting started or you’re a veteran gardener, consider growing something new this year in your garden.

frozen over fountain

Leftovers. Is this why we only eat turkey once a year? Because after all the leftovers we are sick of giant poultry? Nah! I think turkey is simply more of a seasonal thing. We grow up seeing a turkey as the Thanksgiving centerpiece. To eat a whole turkey any other time just feels wrong. It’s like listening to Christmas music after Christmas. There’s not much demand for Deck the Halls outside of the holiday season. However, I will concede, everyone has that deranged person in the office or home that listens to Christmas music in July.

planting spring bulbs amongst fall perennials

Fall is here; not only does the calendar tell us that it is officially here, but our days are getting shorter, the temperatures are cooler, combines are rolling in the fields, mums decorate front porches, and the trees are starting to turn. As our summer activities in the garden wind down, there are some things to do to prepare for cooler temperatures.

Perennials and Grasses

cool season crops

As we enjoy fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, and other vegetables from our garden this summer, it is time to start planning the garden for fall production. Many of the cool-season vegetables we plant in early spring can be planted again in late summer to early fall to extend the growing season and have fresh produce for a longer period.

Summer Reading for Gardeners

Boredom. I hear that’s a thing when living in a pandemic. During pandemics of historical note, Sir Isaac Newton uncovered the marvels of calculus. Before that, it is said Shakespeare wrote some of his best plays while sheltering-in-place.

Was it boredom that inspired such achievements? Perhaps. However, I prefer to argue that Newton was already a genius and Shakespeare’s masterful writing was honed over his lifetime. That at least makes me feel better that, even after months, I still haven’t fixed our dripping bathroom faucet.

Growing Garlic

I love garlic. I just so happened to marry a woman who did not. But something magical happened during her first pregnancy. She developed a taste for all things pickled and garlicky. Since then we have been throwing garlic into almost everything we make.

Home Horticultural Remedies

Home remedies abound in the horticultural world. Some gardeners swear by their mixtures of a little bit of this and a little bit of that, but Extension does not readily recommend the use of homemade pesticides. Perhaps your anti-Japanese beetle potion warded off the critters last year. But what if you get the amount of ingredients out of balance next time or what is happening in the long-term to your plants, soil, and environment? Salt and vinegar are two common ingredients in many purported weed remedies found on the internet.

How to grow popular herbs

Have you been there? A new recipe calls for some fresh basil or dried rosemary. After searching the fridge and spice rack, you realize you do not have what you need to give your meal that kick of flavor that herbs often provide. I have certainly stared down the barrel of an empty bottle of dried oregano. One of my saving graces has been having some herbs growing outside our kitchen window. Herbs are relatively easy to grow, provided you give your plants the right conditions. Let’s examine some common herbs that might get you out of a culinary crisis.

Sweet corn

Having 8+ years of experience with growing field corn and a master’s degree in crop science, I thought I knew all there was to planting sweet corn; however, my first time planting it was a flop. I planted the seeds as if I was raising 350 bushel field corn (who doesn’t want lots of sweet corn?) which resulted in lodged sweet corn plants. Come to find out; you don’t plant sweet corn exactly the same as field corn.

The Many Different Types of Cucurbits

Cucurbits are members of the Cucurbitaceae family and are home to some of the most popular garden crops in the world. This article will dive into the three main categories of cucurbit crops: cucumber, melon, and squash. Each one of these categories could become a book unto itself and we only touch on the subcategories of each.

bright yellow flower

Cucurbits, which include squash, cucumbers, gourds, watermelons, and cantaloupes, are some of the most popular vegetables planted in the garden. Plants in the cucurbit family have similar growth habit and requirements for production. Cucurbits are best identified by their prostrate, vining growth; large, lobed leaves; and bright, yellow flowers.

Planting

different types, sizes, and colors of tomatoes

‘To-MAY-to’, “to-MAH-to’, they’re all the same, right? Well, according to Taste of Home magazine, there is a such this thing as using the right tomato for different recipes. Who knew? I guess this calls for some investigation into the different types of tomatoes.

How to Grow Tomatoes

I think my wife likes to torture me. Multiple times a year she buys grocery store tomatoes. You might know where I’m headed with this. These tomatoes are very often bland versions of their flavorful kin. Slicing into the tomato I am usually met with a solid white center. To turn up the flavor I pile the bacon on top of my tomato slice during the assembly of the traditional bacon lettuce and tomato sandwich.

three lettuce varieties

Did you hear about the tomato and lettuce? Well, the lettuce was a-head and the tomato was trying to ketchup.

I haven’t seen any lettuce and tomatoes racing lately; however, being a fairly hardy, cool-season crop, lettuce tends to thrive more than tomatoes (a warm-season crop) in temperatures we are currently experiencing, between 60°F to 70°F.

Sweet potato harvest

Very often what grows in a garden are those fruits and vegetables we enjoy eating. Though, sometimes our gardens may exceed our appetites. After growing fifteen kale plants, my family determined, we probably could live off of two. And ten cherry tomato bushes were nine too many. One vegetable, my family does enjoy regularly is sweet potato. Baked, boiled, or fried – sweet potatoes are used more often than potatoes in my home, making it a good candidate for the garden. Let’s examine what it takes to grow sweet potatoes in our Central Illinois climate.

Sprinkler head

Watering. The inescapable task of any garden. No matter what, at some point, you will need to water your plants. That’s just the fact of the matter here in Illinois. We do get lots of rain, but then there are times we go through some very hot, and dry weather.

Can Watering Wait?

corn seedlings with fertilizer

Much like humans, plants require certain nutrients to live and grow. There are 18 essential nutrients that plants require to grow and survive. Carbon, Hydrogen, and Oxygen are needed in the greatest quantity and are obtained from air and water. The next 6 nutrients are considered macronutrients; 3 primary macronutrients include Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium and 3 secondary macronutrients include Calcium, Magnesium, and Sulfur.

squash vine borer larva inside of the stem of a zucchini plant

As the saying goes, the only things guaranteed in life are death and taxes. If you’re a gardener, you can also include pests to the list of life’s guarantees. Now that it's started to warm up enough to get out and plant the garden, it also means it’s warm enough for weeds, insects, and diseases to become active too. So, get outside and start scouting your gardens.

cucumber plants growing up a trellis

Have you ever tried growing squash, and had the plants completely take over your garden? How about growing tomatoes without a cage? Many of our most popular garden crops such as peas, green beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, and melons grow as vines. They can take up a considerable amount of space in the garden. Providing support to these plants in the form of cages, stakes, and trellises can make growing them easier.

There are a variety of benefits to providing your plants with support.

Cold frame with vegetables growing inside in the fall.

Are you waiting on the edge of your seat, ready for that frost-free date to pass so you can safely plant your tomatoes in the garden? If you know any vegetable farmers, they already have tomatoes in the ground. But you can’t fit a high tunnel in your backyard. Maybe the front yard? Nah, the neighbors won’t like that one bit. There are strategies to get you out in the garden sooner by extending the season. Let’s cover some early- and late-season strategies for the home gardener which don’t involve 100-foot long high tunnels.

What is Season Extension?

basil seedlings in seedling flat

Much like humans after being cooped up all winter, plants require acclimation to the outdoors prior to being transplanted outside; for plants this is termed hardening off. Hardening off is the process of slowly introducing plants to outdoor conditions after being started indoors.

Spade in garden soil

How well do you know your garden soil? Does it drain well or stay wet for a couple of days after a significant rain? What is the pH? Does it have sufficient nutrients available for your vegetables to use to grow? We often overlook the importance of soil management when it comes to building our gardens; however, soil is a foundational medium when it comes to plant growth. Soil keeps plant roots anchored and provides plants with essential nutrients, water, and air.

lettuce and potatoes in an in-ground garden, vegetables in a raised bed, and herbs in pots

When it comes to planning and creating a garden, you need to determine how you’re going to grow your plants. There are a variety of ways in which this can be done, each with its advantages and disadvantages. The amount of space, as well as your gardening goals, will play a large role in the type of garden you choose.

In-Ground Bed (Traditional)

basket with tomatoes, peppers and summer squash

Once the weather starts to warm up, we can start thinking about planting our warms season plants outdoors. Warm season plants can further be broken down by their frost tolerance to tender and very tender plants. Tender plants are injured or may be killed by a light frost but can withstand cool weather, while the very tender, in addition to being damaged or killed by frost, may be injured by cool weather.

Kale

For many, gardening takes place in the summer. However, for me, and a growing number of gardeners, we are growing in the garden nearly all year long!

Lighting

Perhaps my least favorite part of winter is waking up to darkness in the morning. Even worse while being at home during the COVID-19 shelter-in-place order, it has been cloudy for nearly a week! This morning, as I led my half-asleep six-year-old down the steps into the living room, we were greeted with streams of light coming through the windows. After the short days of winter and several days of cloudy, wet weather, the sun was a welcome sight. I'm not the only one welcoming the longer days and more sunlight; plants also need adequate light.

Vegetable garden sketch

Starting a Garden: Begin with a Plan

The key to a successful and productive garden is a plan; it saves time and makes the garden easier to care for. By starting with a plan, you will be ready to get to work once planting time is here. So let’s get started!

Site Selection

blazing star seedlings under grow lights

Spring is finally here! March 19, 2020 is the earliest first day of spring it's been in 124 years. Many of us are finding ourselves spending more time at home and looking forward to gardening, in many cases for the first time. In the coming weeks, the Good Growing team - Chris, Katie, and I - will be doing several articles on starting a garden.

Image of spring

A Light Exists in Spring by Emily Dickinson

Perhaps my least favorite part of winter is waking up to darkness in the morning. This morning, as I led my half-asleep six-year-old down the steps into the living room, we were greeted with streams of light coming through the windows. After the short days of winter and several days of cloudy, wet weather, the sun was a welcome sight. I'm not the only one welcoming the longer days and more sunlight; plants also need adequate light.

It's March and now is the time that everyone starts thinking about lawn care. The grass is greening up and plants are starting to grow again, daffodils are blooming, and garden work has started.

You may be looking at your lawn and wondering where to start, maybe you have a few bare patches or the entire lawn is thinning out. I often receive questions about when to reseed or seed new lawns, when to apply crabgrass preventer and when to start fertilizing lawns and there is still time to do all of them.