String Trimmers

A pivoting cordless string trimmers is a useful tool to have for maintaining the garden. You can use it to do some quick weed control on a path or open area, or trim lawn in front of a retaining wall or edging as shown in the picture above.

To edge a lawn adjacent to a sidewalk, just pivot the trimmer to make a professional looking edge to your lawn.

When you have completed your trimming, just pivot the trimmer to the original position and return the tool to it’s charger so it will be ready for the next use.

Battery life can be an issue if you have a large area to trim, but this is not an issue for most urban sites.

Posted on February 6, 2015 .

Edging

 Edging is done to make a sharp ‘edge’ between your lawn and planting beds. Leaving a one foot mulched space between the plants and lawn provides a mowing strip for your lawn mower to ride along so the lawn is evenly cut. Edging the lawn a couple of times during the growing season with a half moon edger will maintain the sharp edge with minimal work.

Posted on January 30, 2015 .

Organize your Garden Supplies & Tools

Spring will creep up on us before we know it. Organizing your garden tools and supplies and weeding out the un-needed items is a good way to get a jump on the season. 

A basket or bag that you can take with you into the garden is a good way to handle small tools. 

There are plenty of organizers to hold long handled tools  to maximize wall space or try a tall rolling trash container that you can roll out into the garden that will hold them. Two nails about two inches apart that you can reach with the head of a tool is a time honored way to store long handled tools in a garage.

 Whatever your method or space, having your supplies organized will save you time and help you avoid buying things you already have on hand.

Posted on January 23, 2015 .

Maintaining and Sharpening your Garden Tools

    

 

 

Cleaning, maintaining and sharpening your garden tools is a great way to get prepared for Spring. This exercise will help you evaluate the condition of your tools and decide if any need to be replaced or repaired. Thinking  about how you use your tools will help research options as you do your garden research. Sharp tools are easier to use and damage plants less so they can heal faster. The video links show different ways to sharpen tools. l keep a BBQ grill brush, sharpener, bastard file, sharpening stone and cooking oil spray in my small tool basket so I can touch up my tools during the growing season.

groworganic.com

marthastewart.com

Posted on January 16, 2015 .

Dreaming of Summer

With frigid temperatures outside, gardeners turn to dreaming of next year’s garden. Whether you grow ornamentals or food, seed and plant catalogs can help you decide what to grow, learn about new varieties/hybrids and inspire you to add more to your garden.  Buying local is important so the plants will be appropriate for your climate and meet any local restrictions. Be sure to look at the light, soil and water requirements of the plant. If perennial, make sure the plant is rated for your hardiness zone (Chicago is Zone 5).  Enjoy your armchair gardening.

With frigid temperatures outside, gardeners turn to dreaming of next year’s garden. Whether you grow ornamentals or food, seed and plant catalogs can help you decide what to grow, learn about new varieties/hybrids and inspire you to add more to your garden.

Buying local is important so the plants will be appropriate for your climate and meet any local restrictions. Be sure to look at the light, soil and water requirements of the plant. If perennial, make sure the plant is rated for your hardiness zone (Chicago is Zone 5).

Enjoy your armchair gardening.

Posted on January 9, 2015 .

Christmas Tree Recycling

Soon, many residents will be facing the dilemma of how to dispose of the Christmas tree once the holidays are over. The Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation is encouraging residents not to place the tree inside the garbage carts, but instead to take it to a recycling site located at any of the 23 parks district locations from Saturday, Jan. 3 to Saturday, Jan. 17. 

Find the full list at the city's website

Ornaments, lights, tinsels, and garlands must be removed prior to dropping off the tree at the recycling sites. Forestry crews will chip Christmas trees into free mulch for residents . 

Limited amounts of free mulch will be available for residents to collect from 6 drop-off locations beginning on Tuesday, Jan. 6, including North Park Village. Christmas tree recycling is an easy and environmentally alternative for residents to dispose of their trees.

Posted on December 26, 2014 .

Outdoor Holiday Bouquet

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The holiday season is upon us and it’s time to make those planters festive. Choose a variety of greens and natural items and arrange them like you would a bouquet. Now is the time to prune evergreens and deciduous shrubs for your planters.

The soil is frozen in Chicago, so add some hot water to the pot to loosen and level the soil. Remove the dead plants, and make your own bouquet. The soil will re-freeze and keep your arrangement in place.

Posted on December 6, 2014 .

Iresine - A Most Versitile Plant

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Iresine is a perennial sold as an annual in many garden centers in zone 5. It a useful container plant that will tolerate a variety of conditions from sun to shade. In shade it can get leggy. To get a bushier, wider plant, pinch back the terminal leaves. I have also used it in the garden as a filler plant to cover a bald spot when a perennial has finished. It can get 2-3’ tall with glossy maroon leaves.

It works well in flower arrangements too. As the plants get too tall for my containers, I cut a few stems combine them with some hosta leaves, Coleus and whatever is blooming in the garden for a table decoration. The Iresine and Coleus wil root in a couple of weeks, so they can be a long lasting addition to your arrangements.

At the end of the season, I pot and cut the plant back for a winter house plant. It needs consistent moisture but does not like wet feet.

Posted on November 28, 2014 .

Evergreens - Bones of the Garden

Evergreens have gotten a bad name because they were over used as foundation plantings and as they outgrew their intended space were sheared into submission.

Evergreens are useful in landscape design as vertical and spreading elements. They can even be specimen plants in a design. The key is to incorporate trees, shrubs and perennials with the evergreens so that they are not the focal point during the growing season. 

In winter, evergreens add color in an otherwise drab color palette. They become the stars of the landscaping and the deciduous trees, shrubs and grasses move to supporting roles. 

Consider including a few evergreens in your landscape. Select plants that will stay within their intended space and you will enjoy the green in winter.

Posted on November 7, 2014 .

Serviceberry & Chokeberry - A Perfect Combination

I love to pair Serviceberry and Chokeberry in a garden so that they mirror each other. They have the same shape, bloom time and fall color. The vase shape, with bare branches at the bottom, is perfect for underplanting with ground covers, perennials or small shrubs. 

Serviceberry produces small fruits in June that are sweet and edible. Of course the birds love them and you can watch mother robin stuffing her baby with berries, so you need to be vigilant to get some for yourself.

 

Chokeberry produces small fruits in red or black that are so bitter the birds will not eat them unless food is scarce in early spring. I usually choose red chokeberry because the persistent red fruits create winter interest. Underplanted with low evergreens, they make an annual winter holiday decoration.

Their small stature make these go to plants in urban gardens and foundation plantings.

 

Posted on October 31, 2014 .

Monkshood (Aconitum napellus)

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Monkshood is a perennial that blooms in late summer to early fall. It likes part shade and moist soil. At 3-5 feet high in bloom, it is a middle to back of the border plant in most gardens. It is slow to establish or re-establish when moved.

Each fall I enjoy watching the buds form and open when most of my perennials have stopped blooming or are in seasonal decline. 

All parts are posionous so it’s not suitable for gardens where children and pets are likely to go. Gloves are recommended when handling this plant. 

September Charm Anemone makes a good companion and shares the same bloom time.

September Charm Anemone makes a good companion and shares the same bloom time.

 

 


Posted on October 17, 2014 .

Iris Reticulata - Plant Now to Enjoy this Harbinger of Spring

Iris reticulata is one of my favorites because it's one of the first bulbs to bloom in the spring. It is ephemeral, so it is ideal for a bed where you plant annuals or a perennial garden emerging later in the spring to hide the fading foliage and fill the space.

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It is a perennial bulb that spreads by offsets. To rejuvenate the bed, dig up the bulbs every 3-5 years, break up the offsets and re-plant them about 3” deep and 3” apart, amending the soil with compost and/or grit to promote good drainage. I have not had a problem with squirrels digging out the bulbs. Good companions are Crocus, Snow Drops and  Siberian Squill.

Posted on October 13, 2014 .

Soil Testing

Soil is an important variable of gardening. It is a living ecosystem that provides sustenance to your plants. Many of us add fertilizer or compost to our soil and hope for the best. A soil test can help you add the right nutrients to your soil to get the best results.

One source for soil testing is the University of Illinois Extension Service serving Cook County. The link will take you to their page for more information on soil testing. It is a great site for answers to your questions on gardening and farming.

Posted on October 3, 2014 .

Oh, Those Pesky Yellow Jackets!

Yellow Jackets are ground-nesting wasps.  In spring and summer they feed mostly on insects but as the growing season progresses food sources become scarce and they turn to scavenging. Scavenging leads to pestering picnickers, and hanging around garbage cans.

Here are some general tips on avoiding insect stings:

  • Don't swat at flying insects. If they land on you, gently brush them off, then walk away.
  • Observe the flight pattern of insects to determine their nest site, and then avoid it.
  • Avoid floral perfumes, lotions and hair products, which may attract insects.
  • Yellow jackets are attracted to sugary sodas and may fly into the cans, so pour the drink into a glass so you can see it.
  • Keep garbage cans and pet food covered.

 

Compost piles are favored for nesting, so if you don’t turn your compost pile regularly, they might build their nest there.

 

Posted on September 26, 2014 .

Art In the Garden

    

 

 

Adding Permanent art that will withstand harsh winters adds an element to the garden that stands on its own and/or complements the evergreens, grasses and other plants that have winter interest.  A bench or sculpture can be a focal point or destination. Arbors, Pergolas, cement benches/sculptures and boulders add interest year round. In a primarily shrubs/perennials garden, elements that span the seasons, anchor the garden and add interest throughout the year. 

Smaller elements can add color and interest to areas where plants are not blooming or where ephemerals leave a gap. Many need to be stored indoors in winter, but add three season interest to a garden. 

 

Posted on September 20, 2014 .

Are Your Annuals Leggy?

Many annuals look a little tired by September. Try cutting them back by a third to bring them back to the size and shape of the arrangement intended and encourage thicker growth. Coleus, Impatiens, Irisine and Persian Shield are some annuals I trim to improve the fall display. 

Try putting the cuttings in a flower arrangement. Some will root. Pot them up to extend your enjoyment of your annuals indoors as the temperatures drop. 

Posted on September 11, 2014 .

Borrowed Views

This plan screens out a busy street view while focusing attention on the pleasant borrowed view of the neighbor’s property.

Many sites have a mix of borrowed views. Using a variety of materials such as fencing, lattice, trees and shrubs to screen out or distract the eye from unpleasant views while encouraging the eye to focus on pleasant/borrowed views can be accomplished with a smart landscape design.

Posted on September 11, 2014 .