Archives For gardening tips

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.


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