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Pansies & Violas: Strong & Bright


You know spring has arrived when pansies and violas begin to pop up in containers and garden beds.  These little flowers are not only beautiful pops of color after the long winter, but they are hardy enough to withstand the cold nights that occur during the spring…like the one we had last night.

Many people have trouble telling the difference between pansies and violas. Their foliage and flowers are similar in shape, but the main difference is in the flower size.  Violas have a smaller flower and tend to bloom a little bit earlier than pansies.  Pansies have a much larger flower head.

Both pansies and violas want sun to part sun in order to grow their best. They don’t do well with the hot summer sun. To get the longest life out of them, plant them in an area that is in full sun before the trees leaf out, and dappled sun after they are leafed out.

As I said earlier, pansies and violas can handle cool nights.  No need to cover these plants, even if the temperatures drop into the twenties. The morning after a cold night, they may look a little limp. They will pop back up to life once the temperatures warm up again the next day.  If it is really cold, the flowers may be damaged, but the plants themselves will be okay.

Pansies and violas are versatile in where you can plant them, too. They are great to pair with other spring annuals in containers, window boxes and hanging baskets. They also do well planted in beds and mass plantings. Just be sure to give them about 6 inches when planting, so they have plenty of room to grow.

Once planted, pansies and violas need to be kept watered. The soil should never dry out or the plants will stop flowering. Be sure to water at the base of the plants, as watering above them can cause spots on the leaves and blooms. To encourage blooming to continue, deadhead the plants when you see spent blooms.

Pansies and violas are great spring flowers, blooming early and throughout the season. They can withstand the cold nights, be planted anywhere, and they come in a variety of colors. From the clear blue that so many people love, to Johnny Jump Ups that are purple and yellow, the blotched faces of pansies and violas are always a welcome sight in spring.





Spotlight On: Strawberries

Summer is every gardener’s favorite time of year. From the beautiful flowerbeds to the delicious crops, it is a gardener’s paradise.  While many gardeners grow lots of vegetables, they shouldn’t forget about fruits like strawberries.

Believe it or not, strawberries are perennials in the Midwest. The great thing about strawberries is that they can be grown in either containers or garden beds.  There are even containers that are made just for them called strawberry jars. These pots have holes on the sides, allowing for the strawberry plants to trail and vine.

No matter where you choose to grow the strawberries, you will need plenty of sun for these plants.  You will also need well-drained soil, which is why pots can be a great spot for these.  They like to be kept moist.  Keep the plants well watered, about 2 inches a week for juicer, fuller fruit.

Strawberries grow in a trailing or vining habit. The mother plant shoots off smaller, baby plants, forming a sort of mat when they are planted in the garden.  For this reason, you will need a fair amount of space to dedicate to your strawberries.  Typically, one plant will need about two square feet of space to grow. It’s best to plant them in rows, with each plant being about six inches apart and rows that are 30 inches apart.

It is recommended to mulch around the berry plants after you have planted them.  This not only keeps weeds down, but the soil moist. It is also recommended to fertilize every two or three weeks.  Be sure to use an organic fertilizer, as this is a crop you will be eating.

After a four or five years, strawberries typically need to be replace because the plants produce less and less.  As far as when to harvest your berries, you will want to pick them as soon as they are ripe. Berries are ripening constantly, so the plants will need to be checked every other day.

Overall, strawberries are a prolific crop to grow in your garden, and they are a perennial.  Once planted in your yard, you will have fresh strawberries to snack on year after year.


Winter's Silver Lining

This winter has been a long and trying one, polar vortices and all. The entire country has experienced colder than average temperatures and here in the suburbs we have had more snow than we knew what to do with. 

So as the calendar marks the first day of spring and the days grow longer, our hopes are high and our spirits ready for some warm weather. Even as the birds start chirping and the snow melts away, many gardeners are wondering what this crazy winter did to our gardens and what type of summer we can expect.

Though it’s hard to imagine, especially thinking back to that -40 degree day in January, that there is any silver lining to the extremes we experienced this winter, but there are.  Getting to spring seems like reward enough after that winter, but there are bonuses in store for us for surviving that winter.

The first bonus is the killing off impatiens downy mildew. This disease began to pop up in the Midwest during the past two summers. It spread through the air and once the soil was infected with it, it would remain infected for at least three years. It was pretty devastating out there for anyone with a lot of shade in their yard, but there is good news.

Experts said we would need at least five nights of below zero temperatures in order for this disease to be killed off in the soil, and I think it’s safe to say that we have had those nights--days even! So the impatiens downy mildew should be gone from your yard if you had it in the past. 

Another bonus to this winter is the snow. While it is not fun to shovel every other day, the large amount of snowfall we have had actually helps insulate the perennials we have in our yards. With the ground being insulated, hopefully the cold temperatures will not have hit our plants as they are dormant over the winter, and we will see them begin to sprout back to life this spring.  There may, however, be some loss as there is any year, but hopefully this snow helped to prevent anything major.

Finally, the cold temperatures may have helped kill off a lot of allergens and invasive insects.  The past few years, allergy sufferers have experienced some bad seasons due to the fact that our winters didn’t get cold enough to kill everything off as they should.  This year, it is safe to say that it got cold and while our allergies will still bother us, hopefully it won’t be as bad.

As for insects, experts are saying that these cold temperatures may have put a dent in the population of invasive species such as the emerald ash borer. These bugs have been wreaking havoc on our ash trees and spreading around the country quickly.  While they may have been insulated while burrowed inside trees during the winter, there is a chance that these cold temperatures have affected their population. (For more information on how ash borer were affected by the winter, check out this story from NPR)

So while we shiver thinking back to those cold days many of us hid inside and the schools were cancelled, know that it may have been well worth it. Less bugs, allergens and plant diseases in a garden is always good.


2014: Year of the Echincacea

Echinacea Hot PapayaEach year, the National Garden Bureau selects one annual, perennial and vegetable to be the plant of the season.  This year, the perennial they have selected is one that many people are familiar with and love to grow, echincacea.

Echinacea, or coneflower as it is commonly referred to, is a beautiful native perennial to our Illinois gardens. It is a classic choice for gardeners because it not only comes in a variety of colors, but it is low maintenance and a favorite among pollinators.

Echinacea comes from the same family as daisies, so they have a similar appearance with the large center with long petals protruding from this.  Some echinacea have a very cone-like appearance, with the petals dropping straight down from the center.  

Coneflowers need full sun to light shade to reach their potential in gardens.  They don’t necessarily need the best soil to grow, and are drought tolerant.  They are very easy to grow and make a huge impact when they are grown in mass plantings in the garden.  If their needs are met, they will keep blooming for you all summer long.  Come fall, rather than cut the dead flowers down, leave them for the birds. 

Not only do the birds like them in the fall and winter, but during the summer season as well. Butterflies, bees and other pollinators will make them a regular stop in your garden.  Echinacea is also fairly deer resistant. 

Another bonus of growing echinacea is that they are available in almost every color. From the traditional purple or light pink to newer colors like the lime or papaya, there is a color that will accent your garden beautifully.   

You can’t go wrong with planting echinacea in your garden. Low maintenance, native and a pollinator pleaser, it is easy to see why this garden staple was chosen as the National Garden Bureau’s perennial the year.


Hinsdale Home Show THIS Saturday!