Archives For how-to

Pollinators are crucial to the health of the planet, helping with everything from the food we eat to the cycle of life. At the free Unearth Science festival this weekend, the Chicago Botanic Garden will celebrate pollinators with activities including a workshop on making native bee homes. We’ve got a sneak peek for you below.

Did you know that native bees are better and more efficient pollinators than honeybees when it comes to fruit trees? Honeybees carry pollen in sacks on their hind legs, which doesn’t always make it to the stigma of the flowers they visit (anthers are where the pollen grains are picked up; stigma is where they are deposited for successful pollination). Mason bees (Osmia lignaria) carry pollen all over their bodies, which means that the pollen has a greater chance of reaching the stigma for proper pollination. One mason bee can pollinate as many flowers as 100 honeybees. 

PHOTO: Mason bee (Osmia lignaria)

Mason bee (Osmia lignaria)

Mason bees pollinate a wide variety of flowers, in addition to fruit trees, with a particular emphasis on the rose family. They are generalists though, so they pollinate many types of vegetables too. If you are interested in growing fruit trees and vegetables in your yard, you may want to attract and support more mason bees.

Are you avoiding bees because they sting? Another reason to invite mason bees into your yard is that they are nonaggressive. Honeybees and bumblebees may defend their nests if disturbed, so bee skeps—or domed hives—are usually located on larger plots of land, not in typical backyards. Male mason bees do not have stingers, and the females only sting if they are trapped, so there is little reason to fear them.

We asked horticulture program specialist Nancy Clifton for a preview of her workshop at the Unearth Science festival with Northwestern University graduate student Marie Faust. The workshop, Native Bee Homes, is a free event that requires registration. You’ll find instructions for how to make a mason bee home below. Bring your questions about pollinators and other science-related topics to the festival, where dozens of scientists and horticulturists will be happy to answer them.

How to Make a Mason Bee Home

DIY native bee house

DIY native bee house

Supplies you’ll need:

  • Clean, 15-ounce metal can
  • Phragmite reed tubes
    (6 inches long)
  • 2¼-inch-wide bark ribbon
  • Cling floral adhesive (or similar putty tape)
  • Duct tape
    (camouflage blends in well)
  • Scissors
  • Rubber bands

Instructions:

Step 1: placing the reeds. They will stick out of the can quite a bit, so you can extend the lip of the can with duct tape around the reed bundle.

Step 1

Fill the metal can with as many reeds as you can tightly pack inside. Ensure the open ends of the reeds are facing out. Use duct tape to encircle the parts of the reeds that are sticking out of the can.

Wrap 3 strips of bark ribbon around the can and extension.

Step 2

Cut three strips of bark ribbon to wrap around the can and the duct-taped extension. Use bits of Cling adhesive to adhere the bark ribbon to the can in three sections, so it is completely covered.

Make a roof with bark ribbon and duct tape.

Step 3

Cut two 8-inch-long pieces of bark ribbon and duct tape them together along the long edge. Place this over the top of your can as a roof. You want to create a small gable that overlaps ½ inch over the end of the tube to keep the reeds dry when it rains.

Place the bee house against a flat surface in a protected area, with a southwest exposure.

Step 4

Use bits of Cling to adhere the roof to the house. If needed, further secure the roof with two rubber bands. Place the completed bee house fairly in a protected area, against a flat surface with a southwest exposure. Placing the house fairly high up ensures that bees will not mingle with people when entering and exiting their new home.

Leave your house out all summer and you should find mason bees filling the tubes with larvae. For information about storing and incubating mason bees for next year, visit seedsavers.org.

Sign up for the free workshop on making native bee homes with horticultural specialist Nancy Clifton and Northwestern University graduate student Marie Faust at the Unearth Science festival, April 20–22, 2018. You’ll make your own native bee home just as described above.


©2018 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

We love nature here at the Chicago Botanic Garden, so we looked to the natural world for inspiration on how to enjoy the eclipse—here at the Garden, or in your own backyard.

Practice safe viewing at the Garden with eclipse glasses from the Adler Planetarium.

Practice safe viewing at the Garden with eclipse glasses from the Adler Planetarium. Distribution of glasses begins at 10 a.m. Monday, August 21 on the Esplanade.

On Monday, August 21, people across the United States will be able to witness a rare event: the first total solar eclipse to cross over the country from coast to coast in nearly a century.

The path of totality—meaning the area of the United States that will see the sun completely blocked by the moon—passes across southern Illinois. In the Chicago area, we will experience roughly 86 percent coverage around 1:19 p.m. This is the closest the Chicago area has been to a total solar eclipse in 92 years.

 

1. Make a pinhole projector—using leaves.

Rule number one with eclipses—and with the sun every day, actually—is don’t look directly at it with the naked eye. A fun way to indirectly “see” the eclipse is with a pinhole projector, and one of the best natural projectors is a leaf. Leaves often have holes that can act as natural projectors.

During the eclipse, turn your back to the sun and hold the leaf above a neutral colored background, ideally several feet or more away. A white sheet of paper will do. You’ll see a crescent-shaped shadow that changes as the eclipse progresses.

Via Rice Space Institute, a fun way to commemorate an eclipse: make a pinhole sign and photograph its shadow.

Via Rice Space Institute, a fun way to commemorate an eclipse: make a pinhole sign and photograph its shadow.

The easiest pinhole projector you can make is with your hands. Stretch out and overlap your fingers to create a grid. Look down and you’ll see mini eclipses projected through the spaces between your fingers.

Eclipse shadows seen through crossed fingers of kids.

Viewing with children? Use what you’ve got to make your own shadow art: tiny hands are perfect. Photo via blogger Linda Shore

Other ideas: Use everyday objects that already have holes—like colanders or crackers, for example—or by punching a hole in a piece of cardboard or other sturdy material. If you want a more patriotic experience, NASA has 2D/3D printable pinhole projectors in the shape of the United States and each state.


2. Follow the shadows of the trees.

Find a shady spot and watch as the eclipse shadows change over the course of the event. Instead of the one shadow that a standard pinhole projector creates, you can view hundreds by standing under a decently sized oak or maple.

Instead of the shadows of leaves, thousands of sun crescents: the light cast through the gaps in moving leaves is only a sliver of the sun, and it shows.

Instead of the shadows of leaves, thousands of sun crescents: the light cast through the gaps in moving leaves is only a sliver of the sun, and it shows. Photo by David Prasad from Fresno, CA., United States [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons, taken during the 2012 annular solar eclipse seen on the west coast of the United States.

Shadows of leaves on the ground during a partial solar eclipse look like a host of small, overlapping crescent moons.

Shadows of leaves on the ground during a partial solar eclipse look like a host of small, overlapping crescent moons. Photo by பரிதிமதி (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Another cool effect created by the eclipse is shadows that look sharper and appear to move (albeit very slowly) as the eclipse goes on. Boyce Tankersley, the Garden’s director of living plant documentation, was in St. Louis during the annular solar eclipse that passed over the United States in 1994, and witnessed this phenomenon while working at the botanical garden there. Unlike the annular 1994 eclipse, where a ring of the sun appears around the edge of the moon, the total eclipse this year will completely block the sun’s light in the path of totality (near Carbondale, Illinois, in our region). That’s because during a total eclipse, the distances between the moon, sun, and earth allows the moon to completely cover the sun; during an annular eclipse, it does not.

Rangers in Grand Canyon National Park use eclipse filters on a pair of binoculars during an annular eclipse viewing in 2012.

Rangers in Grand Canyon National Park use pair of filtered binoculars during an annular eclipse viewing in 2012. Note the crisp shadows at near-peak eclipse, as well as the crisp outline of the crescent sun.
[CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

At peak viewing time, from roughly 12:45 to 2 p.m., we’ll see a skinny crescent of light peeking out from behind the moon, almost like it’s taking a bite out of the sun. Though it’s only a sliver, it’s still strong enough to mess with the way shadows appear to the naked eye. This will make for some amazing patterns and changing shapes under the Garden’s trees. If you want to experience the eclipse this way, Tankersley recommends heading to the Waterfall Garden, English Oak Meadow, or English Walled Garden. Even the Garden’s parking lots have big, leafy trees that would work. If you prefer seclusion, the west service road, stretching from the Regenstein Learning Campus to the Graham Bulb Garden, has ginkgo, redbud, and buckeye, to name a few trees in that area with interesting leaves. Use the Garden’s plant finder or download our GardenGuide app to seek out a spot to see the eclipse by your favorite kind of tree.


3. Come to the Garden’s Eclipse Event

The Garden has partnered with the Adler Planetarium to host a solar eclipse viewing event. Free special viewing glasses—while supplies last—will be available so visitors can safely view the eclipse directly. We’ll also have Family Drop-In activities related to the eclipse and a scale model of the moon, sun, and earth stretching across the Esplanade, not far from the Visitor Center.

Crescent-shaped shadows of an eclipse seen through a colander.

Colanders, strainers, slotted spoons, and crackers—use household objects for your own eclipse experiments. Photo via Lightscapes blog.

The Esplanade is going to be a hub of activity, but the Garden has a number of other open spaces for great viewing. Grab your eclipse glasses and head to Dixon Prairie, on the south end of the Garden. When you need a break from staring at the sky, you’ll also see blooming blazing star, wild bergamot, prairie dock, and ironweed. If you’re lucky, you may also spot a hummingbird or monarch butterfly. The prairie is right off the section of the North Branch Trail that winds through the eastern part of the Garden, so it’s easily accessible if you bike here from the south.

Not as off the beaten path, but usually a sure bet for some private space, is Evening Island. It’s home to the Theodore C. Butz Memorial Carillon and features different landscapes on five acres. Head to the lawn overlooking the Great Basin for a clear view of the sky, as well as sweeping, photo-ready vistas. If you’re with a small group, gather in the council ring, inspired by the work of famed garden designer Jens Jensen.


If you miss this year’s total solar eclipse you won’t have to wait too long for the next one. There will be another in seven years, with the Chicago area closer to the path of totality and expected to see roughly 93 percent coverage. Practice your skills this year and you’ll be proficient in eclipse observation by 2024.


©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Repotting Cactus

Tom Weaver —  January 10, 2017 — 1 Comment

Repotting a cactus can be intimidating, but a few simple tricks can make the project a lot less painful—and result in beautiful, healthy plants.

When repotting a cactus, there a few essential tools you’ll need:

  • Chopstick or small dowel
  • Cactus soil
  • Container with drainage
  • Gloves
  • Newspaper

Cactus soil is a special blend of potting soil that is formulated for fast drainage. It is usually a blend of peat moss and sand, sometimes including coconut fiber, perlite, or vermiculite. With the increase in popularity of growing cacti and succulents, it has become a garden center staple and can be found at most garden centers and hardware stores.

View video on our YouTube channel

You’ll want to use a container—preferably one that is made from terra cotta—with drainage holes. This allows the water to drain away from the roots rapidly. Cacti are native to dry environments and do not like to have their roots sitting in water. If the drainage hole on your pot is especially large, it can be partially covered with a rock to prevent soil from draining out the bottom when you water. Most cacti are slow growing and should never be planted in a pot that is more than an inch larger in diameter than their previous container. This is to help prevent rot.

Winter is a great time to warm up in the Greenhouses and see our cacti collection.

Weingartia lanata in bloom.

Weingartia lanata in bloom

Repotting your cactus is in many ways very similar to repotting almost any other houseplant.

  1. Begin by filling the new pot ½ to ¾ full with soil.
  2. Remove your plant from its old pot. 
    • Make sure to wear gloves.
    • Roll up a sheet of newspaper to make a strip approximately the same width as a belt. 
    • Wrap your newspaper strip around the plant and use it as a handle to gently lift the plant from the pot.
  3. If the plant is really root bound, gently loosen the soil around it to encourage new growth. (I like to leave some of the soil intact. This provides some weight to help keep the plant anchored. If the soil is poor quality, all of it should be removed.)
  4. Using the newspaper handle, set your plant into its new pot.
  5. Using the chopstick, firm the soil around the base of your plant. Keep adding soil until it reaches the same level as the old soil. (This should be approximately ½-1 inch below the lip of the container.)
  6. Water your plant throughly. 

Your cactus now has much more room to grow, which also means much more soil to stay moist. Make sure to check before watering again—the soil can stay moist for a long time, even if it is a mix made for cacti.


©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Why wait until spring? Plant a bulb container for a preview of blooms to come.

In this video, the Chicago Botanic Garden shows how to create a bulb garden in a pot for winter forcing so you can enjoy a preview of spring in the midst of winter’s chill. Forcing is the act of putting plants through a cold period in order to stimulate blooming during an atypical time of the year. By potting up your bulbs now, you’ll be able to enjoy a spring garden in your living room in ten weeks.

Shop 200+ bulbs at the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Fall Bulb Festival, October 8–9, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Members hours: Friday, October 7, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.)

What you need:

  • A shallow container with drainage holes
  • Enough spring bulbs to fill the container (plan on planting them close together, with an inch of space between bulbs)
  • Slightly moist potting soil

Assemble your container:

  1. Cover the bottom of the pot in one inch of soil.
  2. Add your largest bulbs in a layer, leaving approximately one inch between plants.
  3. Cover these bulbs. If adding another layer of smaller bulbs, leave 1½ inches of space from the top of the pot. Add the small bulbs in this layer, leaving one-half inch of space between plants. Fill with soil to within one-fourth inch of the rim.
  4. Lightly water the container.
  5. Place your container in a cool, dark location. The container must never get above 50 degrees or below freezing. Ideal spots are an unheated garage or, if you do a small pot, the crisper drawer of your refrigerator.
  6. In ten weeks your plants can be moved to a warm, sunny location. You should start to see growth within a week. (If you don’t want to bring your plants out at this time, they can hold  for several months in a cool location.)
  7. Once the plants begin to show flower buds, move to a less sunny location to prolong the blooming period.
  8. After blooming, plants should be discarded. Forced bulbs rarely transplant well into the garden.

The best plants for forcing tend to be on the smaller side. Tulips and narcissus work very well, especially the smaller cultivars. Larger blooms will require staking, especially if they don’t receive enough sunlight. Iris reticulata, Scilla siberica, Crocus, and Muscari are all wonderful bulbs for forcing: they stay small, and come in beautiful jewel tones that will brighten up any winter windowsill.  

PHOTO: Muscari 'Pink Sunrise'.

Muscari ‘Pink Sunrise’

Our Fall Bulb Presale ends Friday, September 30. Choose your specialty bulbs now and pick them up at the Fall Bulb Festival.


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

We’ve officially reached planting season, and it is now safe to put in warm-season flowering annuals, vines, herbs, and vegetables. Horticulturists at the Chicago Botanic Garden do recommend waiting until Memorial Day for cold-sensitive plants such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and squash. Happy planting!

Summer plantings await in the Production Greenhouses.

Summer plantings await in the production greenhouses.


Looking for a challenge? Try these techniques from our blog and the Smart Gardener:

Diascia Barberae 'Flirtation Pink'.

Diascia barberae ‘Flirtation Pink’

Get the best performance from your plants with these tips from the Garden’s Plant Information Service:

  • Pinch back one-third of new growth to encourage stocky habit (except vines).
  • Be sure newly purchased annuals have been hardened off properly before planting them outside. That means moving plants outdoors for a portion of the day to gradually introduce them to the direct sunlight, dry air, and cold nights.
  • Avoid fertilizing newly planted annuals for two weeks.
  • Continue to plant new perennials, ornamental grasses, and roses in containers. If plant roots are root-bound (encircling the pot), make four cuts into the bottom of the root ball with a sharp tool, and flare the sections outward when planting.
  • Stake tall perennials before they reach 6 inches. Begin to regularly pinch back fall-blooming perennials such as chrysanthemums, asters, and tall sedums. Pinch once a week until the middle of July. This promotes stocky growth.
  • Continue to direct the growth of perennial vines on their supports. Climbing roses should be encouraged to develop lateral, flower-bearing canes.
  • Let spring bulb foliage yellow and wither before removing it. The leaves manufacture food that is stored in the bulb for next year’s growth. Even braiding the foliage of daffodils can reduce the food production of the leaves.

Our monthly checklists and Plant Information Service have a host of other gardening tips—including care for lawns, shrubs, and roses.


Photos by Bill Bishoff
©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org