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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!



2014: Year of the Cucumber

Bush CucumberEach year, the National Garden Bureau selects one annual, perennial and vegetable to be the plant of the season.  This year, the vegetable they have selected is the cucumber. Cucumbers are among the most popular vegetables to grow in your garden. This is not just because so many people enjoy eating them, but because they are so easy to grow.

Cucumbers fall into two categories for growing: pickling and slicing.  These classifications are somewhat self-explanatory.  Slicing cucumbers are best for eating fresh out of the garden, in salads or on sandwiches.  Pickling cucumbers are best for preserving and making pickles with.  These varieties tend to be smaller cucumbers, such as your Gherkins that you see in the stores.

You will also notice the term “Burpless” on some cucumber tags.  This refers to the fact that these varieties do not have a bitter taste.  This bitter taste is called a burp and is a result of a natural biochemical compound that is present in some varieties.

Cucumbers have two growing habits, either vine or bush.  Bush cucumbers are more compact and ideal for container growing.  Vining cucumber plants either need plenty of space to stretch out, or some sort of trellis to climb as they grow.  They may need a little bit of help getting trained onto the trellis, but once there, they will produce plenty of fruits for you.

Once you have selected your cucumbers to grow, either from seed or Slicing Cucumberseedlings, you need to make sure you have plenty of sun.  Cucumbers not only need full sun, but they want well-drained soil that is amended with compost or organic fertilizer.  If the soil is too wet, there is a good chance that cucumbers will not have good production and are more likely to fall to disease. If planting in a container, it is very important that the container have at least one drainage hole for extra water to escape from. You also need to make sure the soil is plenty warm before planting your cucumbers, waiting until after the last frost or being sure you can protect them if it does frost.

When your cucumbers are planted, be sure to water them in and keep the water coming. Cucumbers like lots of water, so be sure to give them a thorough watering rather than a quick sprinkle here and there.  You can mulch the soil around the cucumbers to help keep the soil from drying out so quickly. If you have a container garden of cucumbers, be sure to water it frequently, as pots tend to dry out quicker than garden soil.

When the cucumbers are ready to be harvested, it will seem like you are Pickling Cucumberpicking them non-stop.  Mature cucumbers should not be left on the vine, as this will signal the plant to stop production.  Most slicing varieties are mature when they grow to be six to eight inches in length, while pickling varieties are ready once they are between one and four inches.

Cucumbers are an easy, high-yielding crop to grow in your garden or a container.  Once you slice your first home-grown cucumber, you will know exactly why you put the effort in to growing them.  Not to mention, you will be a very popular in the neighborhood because you will have so many to give out!