Oats, Outi Mähönen, via Unsplash

Do you struggle with weed control in the spring before planting your summer garden? Does your garden lose topsoil after a heavy rain due to slope? Would you like to improve soil structure and add organic matter to your garden?

Backyard cover cropping is for you!

terrarium with roman soldier - photo by Brittnay Haag

You may not be able to travel for the kids’ spring break this year, but make it a memorable one and spend time in your own backyard, or at a local nature space. The weather is finally starting to warm up, and your garden and yard will be coming back to life soon. Get outside and get your hands dirty with a few garden activities for everyone to enjoy.  

seedling under plastic lid. creative commons.

Who would have known seeds would be the latest craze in 2021? Many seed companies are finding it hard to keep up with the demand and are out of stock or delayed in delivery. If you haven’t ordered your seeds, don’t fret, some are still available and your garden centers will not let you down on offering the average fare.

Seedlings growing in paper eggshell cartons

Believe it or not, it's never too early to start making plans for this year's garden. Knowing when to plant for your area and getting your plants started right will help you maximize the growing season.

When to grow?

Planting dates are determined two things: the first and last frost dates where you grow, and how much time it takes for a crop to mature. Always check the plant tag or seed packet for the recommended date.  

blueberries on the bush

The 2021 Garden Trends Report by Garden Media Group says, “Victory garden was spurred by the increase in home cooking in 2020. GMG says 31 percent of people would like to grow fruits in their backyard and berries are at the top of the list.”

LEGO sculpture of adult and child gardening together

Six Garden Gifts 

Gardening is a mindful practice that can only be sourced outside in the fresh air, with your hands in the dirt, creating a pallet of flowers and fruits. This past year, many new gardeners tested their skills while experienced gardeners stretched theirs. This year, gift the must-have gardening tools of the trade. 

joseph's coat

This is the time of the year to make tough decisions about what will take up residence in the house and what will succumb to the frost. Though frost will inevitably kill off most of the tender plants that I have cared for all summer, some of these plants can be saved for next year.

Houseplants

aster, purple with yellow centers. credit: pixabay.

When thinking of fall bloomers for your garden, everyone's usual go-to is the mum, but don’t rule out the gorgeous asters sitting next to the mums. There are 180 species of aster, many of which are native to Illinois. New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) and aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium) are two easy-to-find favorites.

fox squirrel in foreground of fall or winter tree limbs.

Proactive strategies can lessen the extent of wildlife damage to your gardens through fall and winter.

Once the ground is frozen, rabbits will have fewer places to take shelter or hide, and will forage for food a lot closer to the protection of their winter home. They will go for anything green but once that is gone, they will go for thin-skinned bark and small branches. Feeding damage can be prevented using chicken wire fencing, burying a few inches to thwart digging.

tomado demonstrating blossom end rot

1. Adding eggshells when planting tomatoes adds calcium and prevents blossom end rot. Fiction.

Eggshells add very little immediate calcium to the plant.

mole emerging from soil

1. Control grubs in the lawn to eliminate moles and voles? Fiction.

A mole’s diet consist mostly of earthworms. This does not mean they won’t eat a grub, but grubs are not their preferred diet. Although mole tunnels can be a nuisance in a lawn setting, most landscape plants are not bothered. Moles generally elude traps, so it may be best to accept them as part of the ecosystem of your yard.

Voles are herbivores. They do tend to eat bark during the winter months, so a protective trunk wrap may help in these cases.

brilliant red-orange oriental poppy pixabay

If you have a vigorous perennial that has been in the garden bed for more than a few years, or it is starting to choke out some other plants and no longer looking healthy, then it may be time to divide.

Plants that need to be divided cannot support healthy foliage and flowers. Some perennials like to be divided yearly (chrysanthemum); some can go three to five years without division; some can go much longer. Some do not require division at all, like butterfly weed with the taproot, or baby’s breath.

Are you ready to take your butterfly gardening to the next level and allow some of your beautiful plants to be eaten by caterpillars?

Choose the right plants, give them some care, and voila — caterpillars. The most grown caterpillar food in our gardens are milkweeds for monarchs and parsley for black swallowtails. By adding a few more native shrubs, perennials and annuals, as well as allowing certain weeds to remain, the caterpillar café could be open in no time.

Shrubs

wheat grass growing in a cup

The grass will germinate and grow quickly to create a lush, green head. Snip or style the “hair” to keep it looking tidy.

Materials:

  • 8 oz white paper cup
  • Potting soil
  • Wheat grass seeds
  • Colored pencils or crayons

   

1. Poke 3-4 small holes in the bottom of the cup for drainage.

2. Draw a face on the paper cup with colored pencils or crayons.

3. Fill the cup with soil, save 1 tablespoon to put on top of the seeds.

plox from pixabay

While designing a perennial flower bed, remember to add personal favorites, and throw out “garden design rules” that don’t fit your vision. Some of the plants I choose are favorites because they are tough, dependable, and beautiful.

blue false indigo (Baptisia australis)

silvery checkerspot by kathy dumler

Are you ready to take your butterfly gardening status to the next level and allow some of your beautiful plants to be eaten by caterpillars?

Choosing the right plants, some care and voila caterpillars. I am not only altering the habitat of my backyard for the greater good, I will have some more willing specimens for my Instagram posts.

Last week's high temperatures and our limited amount of rain is making gardeners' number one job watering.

Even though we have gotten some much-needed rain for the flowers and the trees, consistent watering throughout the season is very important. "Drought stress" occurs with limited water and very high temperatures. Plants are unable to make food and cool themselves. Drought stress symptoms are reproductive failure, slow and reduced growth, change in leaf color, browning of leaves, leaf drop and susceptibility to insects and diseases.

URBANA, Ill. – Every garden needs water, but with a container garden’s limited soil volume, proper watering is crucial for plants to stay productive.

Nothing says summer like enjoying the freshly harvested vegetables and herbs from your garden. “One of the easiest, most prolific, and flavorful herbs to grow is basil (Ocimum basilicum),” states Brittnay Haag, University of Illinois Extension Horticulture Educator. While there are many cultivars of basil, the most common are sweet basil and Genovese basil.

black swallowtail caterpillar ascending parsley

Herbs have been touted by gardeners as some of the easiest and most rewarding plants to grow in the garden. Did you know that some herbs grow best in the cooler season of spring?

Cilantro and parsley can be planted by seed or transplants now. Cilantro and Parsley should be planted in rich but well-drained soil, with full sun or partial sun (afternoon sun). It is best not to over fertilize herbs; doing so may dull the taste. Harvest no more than half of the plant and remove leaves to base of plant ensuring to not leave stalks behind.

monarch butterfly on mexican hat sunflower

Each year, the month of May is Monarch Month in Illinois to honor our official State Insect. Despite our efforts to honor our butterfly friend, the annual count of Monarchs recently saw a 53% decline in a one-year period, and the Monarch will be considered for inclusion on the Endangered Species list in December 2020.

These numbers make state collaborations like the Illinois Monarch Project that much more important. What can you do?

kohlrabi at Garden of Giving

In the last article, we talked about starting seeds indoor with limited resources. A lot of seed can be started outdoors during the month of April.

Carrots can be planted by seed starting April 10. Carrot seed is so small that inevitably you must thin your seedlings, which can be quite a tedious task. My advice is to mix the seed with soil or sand to spread the seed more evenly.  When you do thin or clip tops with a pair of scissors, use the seedlings in a fresh pesto or soup. Be patient as carrot seeds can be slow to germinate, but water daily.

Start seeds with a clamshell of soil and a spraybottle.

Starting seed at home is easy, even with limited materials.

Seeds

Some of you may have already gotten your seed order for the spring, but the procrastinating gardener that I am will force me to explore last year’s seeds stash.

Horticulturists typically keep their seed stash in a refrigerator to ensure viability. We have a refrigerator at the office to keep our seed for our various projects, like the Unity Community Center garden.

nodding onion

Planting perennials can bring you wonderful surprises and inspiration for future garden design.

beet greens and lettuce greens

Free time on your hands? Avoiding social spaces, but need some time outside?

First, remember that just because you're outside, the virus can still spread. If you're working with more than one person:

University of Illinois Extension Livingston County Master Gardeners would like to welcome spring with an educational workshop entitled “A Day in the Garden Patch” on Saturday, April 4 from 8:30 a.m. to Noon.

A Day in the Garden Patch is all about inspiring, educating and encouraging gardeners, whether they have a balcony and a sunny window or an acre to grow. This educational event is for all who love plants and want to discover new gardening tips while having fun.

Lavender photo by Verophoto Art, via Unsplash

Walking through any garden can be calming, educational, inspiring, energizing, or a combination of all of these. A new trend in gardening is creating intentional gardens; gardens with a specific purpose, like a sensory garden. 

cicada killer by deanna frautschi

Cicada Killers and the Great black wasp may have already started menacing gardener. However menacing they are in their façade, they are just simply trying to get some nectar from the flowers. About this time of year, inquiries from the public start to flood Master Gardener ran help desks because they start emerging from their winter homes that are nests underground.

Strawberries can be greatly rewarding and only require a few simple, timed garden tasks. Plant strawberry plants this spring for next year's harvest of plump juicy berries.

Add Compost

Before planting bare-root bundles, amend the soil with organic matter. Organic matter consisting of plant and animal materials will provide nutrients and help retain water and encourage root growth. University of Illinois strongly suggests not planting strawberries where tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and peppers have been grown because of disease issues.

Get your gardens buzzing next spring by planting bee-friendly bulbs and spring bloomers this fall.

Bumblebee queens, honey bees, and solitary bees start emerging from their winter homes ready to feast on the landscape as early as March. Feed them from your garden by planting a mix of crocus, snow drops, Siberian squill, grape hyacinth, bluebells with spring flowering hellebores and primroses to ensure many sources of nectar.