Archives For gardening tips

Are your summer container gardens in need of a fall makeover? Good news! There are many fall-flavored plants that will provide you with texture, form, and long-lasting colors in both flowers and foliage.

I love the combination of purple or blue asters (Symphyotrichum) with ornamental kale as the colors play off each other nicely for a long-lasting fall container. Using other lesser-known plants, such as some of the fall-blooming Salvias or sage can add height and lend to very interesting combinations in your container gardens. Try using cold-hardy vegetables and adding herbs to create interest and texture to any combination. I like using Swiss chard, broccoli, Asian greens, parsley, and onions (Allium) for interesting and colorful effects.

Fall Containers

Here are a few tips for planning your fall containers:

  1. To achieve a fuller effect, use more plants than you would in the spring or summer. As the days begin to get shorter and the nights get cooler, plant growth is slowing down or ceasing. By planting a fuller container, you will see immediate results that can last for the remainder of the fall season.
  2. Try to plant by early September to give your plants a chance to kick in with some growth before the cooler temperatures and shorter days slow things down. Remember, many plants available for fall container gardens can take temperatures in the 20s Fahrenheit without being damaged, while many plants actually begin to show better foliage colors with cooler temperatures. These include ornamental kale and cabbage, Heuchera, and many ornamental grasses as well.
  3. Select plants that have a variety of tones that contrast and set off each other. Think about using colorful cultivars of Heuchera for their many foliage colors, and colorful grasses or grass-like plants, such as Pennisetum, Carex, Juncus, or the black foliage of Ophiopogon. See the list below of other fall plants to consider for your containers.
  4. Remember, a pot of mums looks fresh for three to four weeks at most, and then the show is over. Showy foliage from grasses or kale and cabbage will carry the display much longer.
  5. The fall foliage on evergreen succulents (Sempervivum ‘Hens and chicks’), and many of the stonecrop (Sedum) cultivars changes and develops more dramatic color once the temperatures stay cool.
  6. If you must have flower power, consider long- and late-blooming Salvia, Cuphea, or fall pansies or violas.
  7. When nighttime temperatures drop below freezing, have light blankets, large pots, or even an empty trash barrel handy to cover your container and protect the plantings from frost.
  8. As November passes, the time will come to disassemble your planter. Carefully place your hardy plants in a nursery bed or empty space in your vegetable garden plot to hold them over until next spring, when you can plant them in a permanent home to enjoy for another season.

 

Here are a few fall plants and items that can be added to your fall container gardens:

Brassica varieties - ornamental cabbage

Annuals:

  • Calibrachoa varieties
  • Capsicum, ornamental peppers
  • Dianthus cultivars, ‘Sweet William’ and other Pinks
  • Brassica varieties, ornamental kale and cabbage
  • Tagetes, marigolds
  • Pansies and violas
  • Helianthus, sunflowers
  • Plectranthus
  • Salvia, sages

Chrysanthemums

Perennials, trees, shrubs:

  • Anemone hybrids
  • Aster cultivars
  • Chrysanthemum, hardy fall mums
  • Helianthus and Helianthoides, perennial sunflowers
  • Rudbeckia, black-eyed-Susan
  • Boltonia
  • Sedum and Sempervivum, and other succulents
  • Fall foliage color with trees and shrubs; maples, cornus, viburnum, spirea, and others

Ornamental grasses

Ornamental grasses:

  • Miscanthus cultivars
  • Panicum cultivars
  • Pennisetum cultivars, including ornamental millet
  • Muhlenbergia, Muhly grass
  • Stipa tenuissima, Mexican feather grass
  • Schizachyrium scoparium, little bluestem

Pumpkins

Other fall items:

  • Pumpkins
  • Gourds and squash
  • Corn stalks
  • Straw
  • Branches
  • Fall decorative items; scarecrows, Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations

©2018 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Like you, the staff at the Chicago Botanic Garden has been tracking the recent rains. We know many of you are anxious to get planting done—it is spring, right? But we encourage caution and patience.

If it squishes, wait. Working with wet soil and turf damages it.

If it squishes, wait. Working with wet soil and turf damages it.

Here are tips to help gardeners navigate Chicago’s spring:

  1. Wait until the soil dries out to get back in your garden. If the soil can form a sticky ball when you squeeze a handful, it is still too wet for planting. Soil will take longer to dry after periods of cool weather. Sandy soils can be worked much sooner after a rain event. Clay soil holds more moisture and requires a longer waiting time.
  2. Avoid excessive walking in garden beds and on lawns. It can compact and damage your soil.
  3. Soil is ready for planting when it crumbles in your hand. Working the soil when it is too wet can increase compaction and break down the structure of the soil, leaving you with hard crusts or clumps when it dries out.
  4. Don’t mow a lawn that is excessively wet. A lawn is too wet when you see standing water, or water comes up from the ground as you step on the lawn. In these conditions, the mower tires will leave muddy tracks that will damage your lawn.
  5. Now is the time to get in some really satisfying weeding!

    Now is the time to get in some really satisfying weeding!

    Do pull weeds once your soil has dried a bit. Weeds are more easily pulled when the ground is moist (but not wet). Work from the edges of the beds to pull weeds without compacting soil or damaging other plantings.
  6. Mulch beds once the soil has dried out. Be sure the beds are sufficiently dry.
  7. Drainage issues? If you can, collect water that has pooled. In order to correct a drainage problem, you will first have to move the excess surface water that is pooling in low areas. Then you can consider the different options to improve drainage, taking into account soil type and natural changes in grade.

tomatoes on the vineThe Garden recommends waiting to plant warm-season flowering annuals, vines, herbs, and vegetables until after the Chicago area’s average last frost date of May 15. Cautious gardeners often wait until Memorial Day before setting out cold-sensitive plants such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and squash.


©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

The late February weather in Chicago has been a glorious time to be outside and work in the garden. But the unseasonably warm weather has also raised questions about the long-term effect on plants and what garden tasks are appropriate.

It is best to hold off on doing any detailed clean up of garden beds as the mulch and leaves in the beds will provide some protection to any early growing perennials when the weather eventually turns cold again. Raking leaves off the lawn and cutting back perennials are all fine to do now providing your garden soil is not too wet.

Snowdrops are blooming at the Garden.

Early flowering bulbs like snowdrops that are in flower here at the Chicago Botanic Garden are very tolerant of the cold. Daffodil and tulip foliage is coming up; these might end up being damaged by a spell of cold weather, but this should not affect the spring flowers. You do not need to take any special maintenance steps to protect these plants.

If you have some perennials that are growing in a warm area of the garden with more pronounced growth, they might benefit from a light layer of mulch. For the most part, though, there is nothing special for most gardeners to do in their perennial beds.

This is great weather to prune but proceed with care. Spring flowering shrubs like viburnums, lilacs, and forsythia set their flower buds last year so pruning done at this time of year will remove flower buds and reduce the number of spring flowers. You can still prune—just be aware of the flower buds as you are pruning. Forsythia flowers along the stems while viburnums will have a flower bud at the ends of the stem.

The dormant season, and in particular late winter, is the best time of year to complete rejuvenation pruning, which is the aggressive pruning of overgrown shrubs to bring them back into scale with the garden. Shrubs like hydrangea (except oak leaf hydrangea), potentilla, and spirea that flower on new wood respond well to pruning now too. For instance, I cut my Annabelle hydrangea back to the ground each spring.

Any plants installed last summer or fall should have been mulched when they were planted. If they were not, then mulch them now to help mitigate the temperature swings in the soil and prevent frost heaving of any plants in spring. The freezing and thawing of the soil can push recently installed small plants such as 1-gallon perennials or ground covers that were grown in containers out of the soil as the weather transitions to spring.

If we receive a good covering of snow, the snow itself will not harm plants unless it builds up on them and breaks branches. It is a good idea to brush plants off during a storm if you observe them getting weighted down. Later snowstorms are more likely to come in wet and heavy. Leave the plants alone if the snow has frozen on them to avoid breaking branches during the removal process.

Enjoy the warm weather and the early blooms, both at the Chicago Botanic Garden and in your own backyard.

We’re not afraid to geek out on all things eco-friendly (looking at you, backyard chickens and organic leafy greens), but World Environment Day gives us an excuse to devote a full day to greening the planet.

Dave Cantwell at World Environment Day

June 4 is your chance to meet Garden scientists and horticulturists, and get all your questions answered about roses, lawn care, composting, and more.

Join the global day of action—with people in more than 70 countries—in a daylong celebration of free events and activities (plenty for the kids) on Saturday, June 4, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the Chicago Botanic Garden (parking fees apply). World Environment Day is the United Nation’s principal vehicle for encouraging awareness and action for the environment.

Bonus points if you use the day to recycle, add a pollinator-friendly plant to your garden, or consider your ecological footprint by walking, biking, carpooling, or taking public transportation to the Garden (a trolley will be available from the Glencoe Metra station from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; fee applies). Post a picture of what you did for the planet: #CBGWED and #WED2016.

Here are ten free ways to dig the planet on World Environment Day at the Chicago Botanic Garden:

Tom Skilling.

Tom Skilling

1. Ask Tom Skilling.

Bring questions for WGN-TV chief meteorologist and Garden board member Tom Skilling on climate change and more. Skilling will give his climate and weather update at 1:30 p.m in the Plant Science Center.

2. Go to the movies—on us.

The Living Green movie

Director Carey Lundin introduces her award-winning documentary, Jens Jensen The Living Green. Discussion follows the 10 a.m. film; preregistration required.

Shifting Sands on the Path to Sustainability movie

At 3 p.m., catch a screening of Shifting Sands: On the Path to Sustainability, a documentary on the Indiana Dunes.

3. Get the buzz on pollinators and bugs.

Mason and native bee houses.

Learn how to raise bees from beekeepers, and talk to horticulturists about which insects are good for your garden.

4. Score a planet-friendly freebie

Pick up a free butterfly weed plant to grow in your garden to help attract monarch butterflies.

5. Sing, dance, talk up a scientist.

Get your groove on with live music at the Family Entertainment Stage and enjoy Family Drop-in Activities—but don’t forget to leave time for the kids to talk to Garden scientists about plant conservation.

6. Get fresh with us.

Windy City Harvest farmstand.

Windy City Harvest sells fresh, organic produce harvested from the Garden and its urban agriculture sites. While supplies last, pick up a free Costa Rican sweet pepper plant.

7. Be kind to the landfills.

Bring unused prescription medicines for a “medication take-back” sponsored by NorthShore University HealthSystem.

8. Don’t be chicken.

Two young girls pet a chicken and learn about raising chickens at home.

Learn how to bring chickens to your home roost, and learn the real meaning of “fresh eggs.”

9. Reduce, reuse, recycle.

Recycle plastic plant pots, and bring vases for re-purposing by Random Acts of Flowers, which delivers flower arrangements to people with health challenges.

Sustainable eating.

Sustainable eating

10. Think farmers’ markets

Chef Cleetus Friedman of Caffè Baci shows you how to cook with seasonal, organic, and locally grown produce from the Garden’s Windy City Harvest program.


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org