Getting Ready for the Fall Planting Season? Read This Expert Guide First

Though most of the popular flowers and vegetables are at their peak during the summer, it is not too late to start planting for late fall, winter, and spring, even in the cool Chicago climate. Below is a quick and easy guide to the best options for the fall planting season and some tips for getting the most out of them.

Do the Prep Work

Because summer is the peak growing season, there’s a good chance you’ll have some cleanup to do before you can really get to work on your fall plants. Before you begin planting, carry out the following steps:

  • Remove debris. Dead leaves, bits of fruits and vegetables, twigs, and even lawn clippings should be removed from your flowerbeds and vegetable gardens as soon as possible. Numerous destructive insect species overwinter in this leftover debris, so removing it is ideal.
  • Till or break up soil. Breaking up the soil in your garden and bed now will make things much easier for you when it’s time to plant. Even if your beds will be bare until spring, if you break up and aerate the soil now, it will be much easier to work with come spring.
  • Swap fertilizer for organic nutrients. Fall is a great time to fertilize the soil in your flower and vegetable gardens, but it may be even better to try using leftover organic matter instead of expensive chemical fertilizer.
  • Spread mulch. Mulching your beds in early fall will help keep the soil moist and warm for much longer. If you will plant flowers or vegetables in the fall, wait until afterward to spread mulch.
  • Save your seeds. As you go around your garden removing debris, remember to save any seeds that you might want to plant again in the spring.

Choose Your Fall Crops

Now that you’ve prepped your vegetable garden and flowerbed areas, it’s time to choose some plants. Some of the best options for the cool Chicago fall weather include:

  • Greens known as “salad plants.” Mustard greens, arugula, radishes, and similar plants are wonderful for fall. Be sure that you plant them at least a month in advance of the first frost to ensure their survival.
  • Numerous herbs will thrive in the fall, including cilantro and parsley. You might even choose to add some edible flowers like nasturtiums to your herb garden for a pop of delicious color.
  • Get your edible bulbs in the ground now. If you want to harvest things like garlic or onions come early summer, now is the perfect time to get them in the ground.
  • Consider using accessories to protect plants. There are several ways to make growing season last a little longer in the fall. Some options include things like garden blankets, raised beds, and even row covers just to name a few.

Though Chicago’s fall planting season is not quite as extensive and diverse as spring and summer, there is still plenty of time to get the most out of your garden space. Prep the area early on and then choose the flowers, shrubs, and vegetables that will provide you with the best visual appeal and harvest.

 

5 Plants that Attract Chicago-Area Wildlife in the Fall

Gardening is a wonderful hobby that allows you to add color and style to your home exterior, and in Chicago, planting the right flowers can also attract wildlife like bees, butterflies, and even hummingbirds. Below are five flowers that you can plant this fall to make your yard a haven for Chicago wildlife both now and in the spring. In fact, most will thrive in containers, which can make maintenance and care a breeze when the weather is unpredictable.

Goldenrod

Goldenrod is a classic autumn flower that is available in more than 100 different species. Though it can certainly attract insects, goldenrod is also notorious for attracting spiders and birds that feed on those insects. As such, adding goldenrod to your fall gardening plan might provide some all-natural pest control. It’s a hardy plant that is exceptionally easy to grow directly from seed in full-sun areas.  

Asters

There are two main types of asters: those that bloom in spring and those that bloom in fall. You can sow seeds in the ground in spring, but most Chicago-area residents prefer to purchase potted asters as they tend to bloom later in the year and can be brought indoors. They perform best in full-sun locations, but a handful of varieties will survive partial shade – albeit with fewer blooms.

Sunflowers

Sunflowers are typically associated with summer thanks to their huge golden-yellow blooms, but it’s entirely possible to start, grow, and enjoy them throughout the fall months, too. Aside from their abundant seeds, which are a favorite among many of Chicago’s native bird species, they also offer a treasure trove of pollen and nectar for bees. These giant flowers are also relatively easy to care for and grow, and they make an excellent focal point when planted along the sides of garden sheds or garages, too.  

Zinnias

Zinnias are beautiful spherical blooms that come in colors ranging from pale yellow to hot pink and even crimson red. They are widely regarded as some of the simplest and best annuals for beginners since they require very little in the way of care. They perform best in full sun, and while they will still bloom in part shade conditions, they will have fewer blooms and be more susceptible to disease. Like other flowers on this list, zinnias are simple enough to grow from seed in the spring, but they can also thrive in containers. Try placing potted zinnias on porches or near windows so you can watch the dozens of hummingbirds they attract.

Bee Balm

Last, but most certainly not least, bee balm is another excellent option for attracting wildlife. As its name might suggest, bees are especially drawn to the beautiful purple, red, pink, or white flowers, but it’s also a favorite among hummingbirds thanks to its abundant sweet nectar, and butterflies seem to love it, too. It performs best in full sun, and while you can grow it in only part sun, the blooms will be fewer and more lackluster. It’s important to note that bee balm can be somewhat invasive in home gardens because its seeds grow quickly and easily, but this can be managed by keeping bee balm in containers.

Bees, insects, butterflies, hummingbirds, and other forms of wildlife are often drawn to a wide variety of flowers found in Chicago-area gardens. Though goldenrod, asters, sunflowers, zinnias, and bee balm are some of the most well-known, this is only a partial list. Other options include butterfly weed, coneflowers, wild quinine, elderberries, and various forms of hydrangeas.

The Key Differences between Morning and Evening Sunlight

Whether you’re growing vegetables or enjoying the beautiful colors and aromas of a flower garden, it’s important to ensure that they receive the right sunlight. Below, you can learn more about the differences between morning and evening sunlight so that you can make the best decisions for your unique garden and create the perfect landscaping plan.

Sun vs. Shade

First things first, it’s important to understand that some plants need a lot of sun while others need little if any at all. The best way to determine the amount of sun or shade your plants need is to do some research online. You can also read the back of the seed packet or the small plastic tag that comes with most plants. There are several degrees of sunlight to familiarize yourself with.

  • Full Sun – This indicates that your plant will require at least six hours of unobstructed sunlight each day. Most “full sun” plants thrive with eight or more hours of sunlight, however.
  • Part Sun – A plant that is labeled “part sun” requires anywhere from three to six hours of sunlight each day.
  • Part Shade – Again, these plants will require anywhere from three to six hours of sunlight. The difference here is that you will need to protect plants labeled as part shade from the intensity of the late afternoon and evening sun.
  • Full Shade – Finally, these plants should be exposed to no more than three hours of direct sun per day, and they should be protected from late afternoon and evening sun when possible.

Morning or Evening Sun?

Now that you understand how much sunlight your individual plants need, there are a few other considerations to make. Morning sun is less intense and somewhat filtered, so it is considered the safest bet for plants that require part sun or part shade. On the other hand, the late afternoon and evening sun is strong and less filtered, so it’s best for plants that require full or part sun.

Once you can accurately determine how much sun individual plants require, and once you understand the difference between morning and afternoon or evening sunlight, you can plan your garden based on the amount of sun exposure certain areas receive during the day. For example, if there’s a part of your flowerbed or garden that is always in shade, plan to put your “full shade” plants in this location. If there’s a part that is in shade most of the day but receives a few hours of sunlight in the morning hours, this is perfect for “part shade” or “part sun” plants. Finally, it’s important to always remember that the only plants that should be exposed to hours of afternoon and evening sun are those labeled “full sun.”

Learning more about the differences between morning and evening sunlight is an important first step in planning your vegetable or flower garden. When you choose the perfect locations for specific plants based on the type and amount of sunlight they receive throughout the day and combine it with good irrigation and nutrition, your landscape will be healthier, your yields will be higher, and your flowers will be more numerous.

How to Pair the Right Plants, Shrubs, and Hedges with Your Home’s Exterior Design

Your home’s exterior design is what provides its curb appeal and makes it attractive to others in the neighborhood. Pairing different types plants, shrubs, and hedges with your home exterior can create a more cohesive look and amplify your style. Below are the most important factors to consider when making sure the plants you choose are right for your home.

Height

One of the first things to consider is the height of the plant or shrub when it is fully grown. Depending on your home’s architecture, placing taller plants near the entrance or at the corners can help provide a more natural, purposeful look. If you live in a three-story Victorian home, for example, you can choose plants that grow as high as eight to 10 feet for this purpose. On the other hand, if you live in a ranch-style home, plants of that size would look out of place. It’s all about ensuring that the height of the plants or shrubs complements the height of your home without dwarfing it.

Color

Many homeowners utilize specific color schemes in their home exterior design. Many prefer to keep the colors of their siding and roofing relatively neutral but use lawn décor and floral accents for pops of color. If your home’s exterior is gray with dark gray trim, for example, you might choose to plant flowers that offer bright pops of red and yellow for a pop of color contrast. You might even opt for some flowering shrubs at the corners of your home to help bring it all together. Another option involves choosing flower and shrub colors that complement your exterior design for the front yard but allowing yourself to enjoy the full spectrum of color in the rear.

Shape

Plants come in a wide variety of shapes and styles, so taking the time to plan ahead will help you achieve better pairings. Grasses, for example, can grow in a variety of different shapes. Some may be almost spherical while others are almost all height and virtually no width at all. Look at the front of your home from the street or the curb – or use a high-resolution photo – and try to visualize different shapes in different areas. Exterior design is all about catching the eye, so try to think of different ways to create focal points with plant and shrub shapes.

Functionality

Last, but most certainly not least, homeowners should always consider the functionality of anything they plant in their yards. A beautiful oak tree is certainly a sight to behold, but it’s much more than just aesthetic. An oak tree can provide shade in the summer that makes your backyard more comfortable for children and even reduces your energy bills by deflecting direct sunlight. A tall hedge is more than just a statement piece; it can provide ample privacy in lieu of a traditional fence. In both cases, these options can provide homes for local wildlife and make your lawn a much more interesting place to spend time.

Choosing the right plants, shrubs, and hedges to pair with your home exterior design doesn’t have to be tricky. It’s all about choosing things that appeal to you and perhaps even provide some functionality or benefit while creating focal points with height, shape, and pops of color. A landscaped lawn is much like a work of art, so be sure to look at plenty of inspiration, decide what appeals to you, and then allow your creativity to flow freely.

 

5 Annuals That Will Survive the Harsh Chicago Heat

Chicago is in a unique part of the world that gets freezing cold during the winter but scorching hot during the summer. As such, finding plants that can withstand these extreme temperatures may seem tricky. Fortunately, there are plenty from which to choose. Below are five annuals that are hardy enough to survive the sweltering Chicago summers.

#1 – Cannas

Cannas is a tropical plant that will require full sun in your garden, but it makes an incredible statement. The bright orange-red flowers stand as high as six feet tall and, like daylilies, they grow in clumps. If you plan to utilize cannas to bring some unique interest to your flower garden, remember that you’ll need to store the root clumps in the winter months to keep them alive.

#2 – Coleus

Coleus is common in Chicago-area gardens because of its hardiness, texture, and colorful eye appeal. It ranges from a bright almost neon yellow-green to dark burgundy and royal purple in color, and because it is shade-tolerant, it’s perfect for ground cover. It’s important to note that coleus will produce flowers late in the season, but because they are far less impactful than the foliage, most gardeners simply pluck them off to redirect energy and nutrients back into the leaves.

#3 – Dahlia

Believe it or not, the common dahlia is also incredibly heat tolerant and perfect for Chicagoland flower beds. They come in dozens of different varieties, too. Some grow as tall as five feet, and the aptly-named “dinner plate” dahlia’s massive bloom is a sight to behold. Dahlias grow best in super fertile soil, so ideally, you’ll want to add compost to their beds. Remember to give them space as they need plenty of air to thrive, too. Plant them six to 18 inches apart, giving more space to the taller varieties and less space to the “dwarf” varieties.

#4 – Geraniums

Geraniums are always a great idea because they absolutely thrive in hot, dry conditions. Certain varieties, such as Regal geraniums, fare much better in the Chicago climate than others. The good news is that geraniums are incredibly easy to take care of, so they’re perfect for beginners. Immediately after planting, water them well – early in the morning – then allow the soil to dry out completely before watering them again. To get the most color out of your geranium spreads, pinch off any wilted or withered blooms.

#5 – Marigolds

Last, but most certainly not least, marigolds can be a welcome addition to any backyard. They thrive in the heat, and they’re exceptionally tolerant of neglect, too, which makes them ideal for those who want pops of color without an exceptional amount of work. They produce blooms that range from light yellow to bright orange in hue for a period of about three months, and they can be planted almost anywhere – along the edges of your house or building, in between vegetables, or even in containers.

Though Chicago’s climate can be harsh at times, there are plenty of annuals that can absolutely thrive in the heat of summer. Whether you prefer simple blooms like marigolds, the beautiful complexity of a dahlia, or even the striking foliage produced by coleus, it’s possible to design a beautiful garden with dozens of different heat-tolerant annuals.

 

 

Irrigation will be Important with the Summer Heat – Try Following These Watering Tips

Of all the things you do to take care of your garden, watering may seem like a no-brainer. Now that summer is in full swing, irrigation is more important than ever – especially if you live in a drier part of the country. Below are some watering tips from the pros that will help you improve your yields and blooms throughout the season.

Only Water When Necessary

This may seem simple enough, but the truth is that many people water their gardens automatically – without even thinking about it – whether or not the soil is actually dry. The best way to determine whether your plants need water is to use your finger to test the soil. The top may appear especially dry, but if you feel moisture in the top two inches, wait another day before irrigating. You should also pay close attention to the weather and avoid watering if good soaking rain is in the forecast within 24 hours.

Water Early in the Morning

Watering your plants in the heat of the day can do more harm than good. Water droplets amplify the heat of the sun, which can actually burn your plants and have a drastic impact on their beauty or their ability to produce fruits or vegetables. The best time to water your garden is early in the morning. This way, the water has the opportunity to evaporate from leaves and soak down into the soil before the sun rises too high in the sky. Watering at night can be problematic, too; if there’s no opportunity for the droplets on the foliage to evaporate, fungus may develop.

Water More, Not More Often

When your plants do need water, make sure that you’re thoroughly soaking the soil around their roots and not just dampening the ground. After all, the water needs to get to the plant’s roots, which are often just as large as the plant itself. Though aiming the hose directly at the root and soaking the soil definitely works, it may save you time to utilize a soaker hose or drip irrigation system, instead. Ideally, with each watering, you’ll want to moisten the top five to six inches of soil.

Stop Watering if the Edges of the Foliage Turn Brown

Finally, if you notice that the edges of your plants’ leaves are starting to turn brown, this is a surefire sign that you are overwatering. Usually, when a plant’s leaves begin to turn brown, people believe this is due to lack of moisture. If entire leaves are turning brown and wilting, this is true; however, if it’s just the edges of the leaves that look brown, this is a sign that there is too much water. Remember that plants take in nutrients through water, and if those nutrients are too diluted, the plants won’t be as healthy and strong.

If you want to get the most out of your flower or vegetable garden this summer, it’s important to follow these watering and irrigation tips carefully. Water your plants only when the first couple of inches of soil feels dry, and make sure you’re watering during the early morning hours when you do. Rather than watering a small amount daily, give your garden a good soaking every few days as needed. These things all work together to create a beautiful, bountiful garden. 

 

5 Chicago-Area Places to Visit to See Flowers, Plants, and More for Design Inspiration

As the weather becomes warmer, many homeowners start thinking about redesigning and landscaping their gardens and yards. If you’re eager to start working in your garden, but need some ideas or inspiration, there are a few great venues in the Chicago area that you can visit if you’re eager to get your creative juices flowing.

Wicker Park Community Garden

Spread over more than 10,000 square feet, plants in these gardens at 1425 N. Damen Avenue are maintained and designed by volunteers from the Wicker Park Garden Club. Visitors to the garden will be able to enjoy seeing a fantastic array of plants and colorful flowers, along with several native bird species. Visitors can stroll through these gardens as often as they like to obtain inspiration or to simply enjoy the relaxing environment. Various activities are available to partake in as well.

Cornell Oasis Community Garden

Located at 5491 S. Shore Drive, this community garden is home to numerous varieties of wildflowers, ferns, woodlands species, birds and butterflies. Spread over 42 impressive garden plots, visitors will not only enjoy a relaxing walk through the grounds; community members grow many different organic vegetables on some of the plots as well. Guided birding and butterfly experiences are also available for members of the public to enjoy.

Kilbourn Park Organic Greenhouse

Situated at 3501 N. Kilbourn Avenue, visitors can enjoy seeing a wide variety of beautiful and attractive plants, while also learning a lot about tending their own gardens at home. Several opportunities are available for members of the public to volunteer their time and expertise here virtually all year round and various events are held such as plant swaps, demonstrations on growing various vegetables, flowers and other plants in the most sustainable ways possible.

The Bahá’í House of Worship

Located at 100 Linde Avenue, the temples on this property are surrounded with lush, beautiful gardens that visitors are able to spend time in every day of the year. Plants and trees that can be found in these gardens include more than twenty-four flower varieties and Chinese juniper trees. Some of the main aspects that these gardens are known for are their superb arrangements of more than 10,000 individual tulip flowers.

Chicago Botanic Garden

This garden can be found at 1000 Lake Cook Road and it has become well known for its extensive collection of bonsais, along with 26 gardens that have been dedicated to four separate habitats such as lakes, woods, shores and prairies. The master plan for this garden was originally designed in 1890.

Each of the above-mentioned locations will not only be a pleasure to visit; you will be able to learn a lot about the various plant, bird and butterfly species that abound in them, as well as gain inspiration for your next large garden or landscaping project. If you would like to find out more about the best types of plants to have in your garden, contact us for professional advice.

Ideas to Protect your Plants during Summer Downpours

After spending hours or even days planting your new flowers and shrubs, the last thing you’ll want to experience is having your hard work decimated by heavy summer downpours. Below are some tips that can be used to help provide your plants with a little extra protection.

Proper Runoff is Essential

Before attempting any of the measures below, it’s important to check that your garden has sufficient runoff. This means that rainwater needs to be directed away from your garden instead of damming up in the center.

Start by Protecting Roots

The quickest and easiest way to protect the roots of plants against a downpour is to spread mulch around them. Apply a two to three inch thick layer around the roots area of each plant, but ensure that it doesn’t cover any of the foliage. Ensure that the mulch is spread generously.

Provide Coverage wherever Possible

Individual plants can be covered with overturned bowls, pots, buckets or virtually any other containers that are large enough to protect them against heavy rainfall. You may need to weigh each of these coverings down with pieces of rock, brick or even old cement pavers to ensure that they don’t blow away or overturn when the rain becomes heavy.

Some Plants can be Wrapped

Some plants will benefit from being wrapped in durable fabric, such as burlap sacking – this will provide them with much needed protection against heavy rain. Ensure that the burlap is securely tied with twine and plant a few additional garden stakes for extra stability if needed. Where there are newly planted trees, these should also be wrapped in this manner.

Plant Row Covers

Beds of smaller plants can be covered with a floating row cover or frost blanket before heavy rains start, and this will provide adequate protection in most cases. If you intend using a cover like this, it’s essential to ensure that a little extra room is left on each side of the row cover so that it can be fastened down or weighted with heavy objects in the event of strong winds picking up.

Provide Anchors for Shrubs and Trees

Newly planted shrubs and trees could suffer severe damage as a result of a heavy summer downpour if they aren’t provided with adequate protection. Young shrubs and trees can be anchored by pounding two to three foot long stakes into the ground until they are about 20 inches deep. Ensure that these are angled away from the plants before tying the twine and securing it to the stakes.

Keeping up with weather reports in your area will enable you to plan ahead with regards to protecting your most delicate plants from the after effects of heavy rainfalls. If you would like to find out more about providing your plants with adequate protection and the best possible level of care, our professional team will be able to assist you in this regard. Contact us today to schedule an appointment with us.

No Green Thumb? Here are 5 Tips to Improve your Plant Caretaking Skills

Are you a homeowner who dreams of having lush lawns and gloriously gorgeous gardens, but don’t seem to have fingers that are green enough to make this happen? If this is the case, the hints and tips below have been compiled especially to help property owners like you to not only learn how to plant your garden, but how to provide it with the best possible care over time as well.

Less is More where Water is Concerned

Most plants will recover quicker if they have been deprived of water than if they have been overwatered. If one of your plants has been overwatered, it may need to be repotted and have any unhealthy-looking roots trimmed off. If the plant is in your garden outside, it will need to be relocated to another spot that is drier.

Keep a Sharp Eye out for Bugs

Although most novice gardeners think that bugs will only cause cosmetic damage to their plants, this is not the case.  Damage caused to leaves and other parts of a plant by bugs provides the ideal opportunity for harmful bacteria and viruses to enter them. Bugs also act as carriers of various plant-related diseases, so it’s important to eliminate them as quickly as possible.

Use the Right Fertilizer Correctly

It’s often thought that all fertilizers are he same. However, different varieties have been specifically formulated for various types of plants and soil, so it’s essential to use it only as directed.

Using too much fertilizer can cause plant roots to burn, which will affect their ability to withstand bad weather. Plants with damaged roots will also not be able to absorb as much water as they need, resulting in premature wilting.

Before using any fertilizer, it’s recommended that you have your garden soil tested by a reputable garden center or extension agency. The level of acidity or alkalinity in your soil will help determine the best types of fertilizer products to use.

Consider a Self-watering Planter

If you’re constantly busy or simply don’t have as much time to spend tending your plants as you’d like to have, it may be possible to ensure that they are at least watered at the recommended intervals. Place a potted plant into a container that is slightly larger than the one the plant itself is in, put a little water at the bottom of the larger container and run a piece of string up into the plant pot. Water will travel up the string and provide liquid refreshment for your plant.

Drainage is Important

After bringing new plants home, ensure that the containers they are being placed into have sufficient drainage. This will prevent overwatering and save plant roots from rotting as a result of standing in too much water.

If you’re new to gardening and would like to learn more about caring for the plants you’ve chosen, don’t hesitate to contact us right away. Our team looks forward to assisting you.

 

The Importance of Color Contrast in your Flower Garden

While planning your garden, one of the main aspects you’ll most likely be considering is how much color you’d like it to have. Although it may seem easy to simply place assorted colored plants and flowers at random throughout your garden, it’s important to take color contrast into consideration as well.

Considering Warm and Cool Colors

Flowers and plants in cool colors will provide you with a completely different effect when compared to those that are classified as being warm colors. Reds, yellows and oranges are warm colors and they are known for being highly expressive. They also tend to catch the eye quicker than cool colored flowers in most cases.

Purples, violets and blues are classified as cool colors and they are usually a little less conspicuous, but more subtle than their warm counterparts. Cool colors will produce a relaxing effect on their own, but will make for a vibrant show if paired with flowers in warm colors.

Personal Preferences

Using color contrast to create various combinations of flowers and foliage is what will give your garden the personal touch you desire. If you’re aiming for a garden with various contrasting color combinations, it’s recommended that you combine colors that are further away from each other on the color wheel.

Combining contrasting colors from opposite ends of the color wheel will create exciting color combinations that are sure to attract everyone’s attention while they’re admiring your garden. For instance, planting red and violet flowers next to each other, or yellow and blue, orange and purple or even violet and white flowers alongside each other will provide beautiful contrasts throughout your garden.

When using your color wheel, it’s important to remember that the further away from each other two specific colors are, the more of a contrasting result will be obtained.

Don’t Forget that Foliage

Although the flowers you choose will be the most eye-catching component of your garden, it’s just as important to give consideration to the foliage plants that you’ll be planting to accompany them.

Many perennials or plants that are used as foliage have leaves in various colors such as yellow-green, deep purple, spotted or striped patterns and even silvery-colored varieties. Taking these into account when working with your color wheel will help you create nothing less than a spectacularly colorful and well-designed garden – which will be the envy of family and friends.

Also keep in mind that some flowers will grow just as well if used in containers that are placed throughout your garden. These can also be moved around from time to time for some added variety if they aren’t too large or heavy.

If you’ve been considering planning your flower garden and require a little professional help with regards to selecting the correct flowers and foliage plants for your hardiness zone, we have professionals on hand who will be able to assist you. Contact our friendly team today to schedule an appointment with one of our experts.

 

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