Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Collect & Divide in August

Divide your peonies in late summer/early fall.
Late summer is typically reserved for enjoying the fruits of a spring's labor -- home gardeners can relax and take in the beauty of their landscape. But for those of us who just can't sit still, there are still some productive gardening tasks to be done.

For example, August is a great time to divide certain perennials and collect seeds.

Spring is the best time to divide most perennials, but poppies, peonies, and iris have fleshy roots and are best divided in late summer. If the plant has had a weak flowering season and or has a dead center portion, it should be divided. Another sign is if the plant is spreading rapidly and beginning to invade other plants' growth areas.

To divide your plant, dig up the clump and use a sharp spade or knife to break it apart. Keep the divisions moist while you prepare new planting spots. Make sure the newly planted divisions are well-hydrated.

For seed collection, follow these steps:

-Identify the plants you will be collecting from and research their needs and habits.
-Collect the seeds before they are shed from the parent plant.
-Loosely tie a paper bag around seedheads to collect seeds as they are shed.
-Separate the seeds from other plant parts before putting them in storage.
-Store seeds in airtight containers in a cool location that will not freeze.
-DO NOT collect wild seeds. This will deplete the wild population. Collection of wild seeds is illegal for many plants.

Share the seeds or divisions of your favorite plants with friends and family! Enjoy the rest of the summer!

Information in this post taken from the University of Illinois Extension and William Aldrich and Don Williamson's Gardening Month by Month in Illinois (available at Whispering Hills)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Superb dry-weather plants

A few weeks ago we gave you a list of drought-hardy plants available at Whispering Hills. The University of Illinois Extension recently followed up with a video on the same topic. Since we're still not getting enough rain, we thought it'd be good to re-post it and keep the dry-weather tips coming.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Deer-resistant plants

Deer are everyone's favorite large woodland mammals. Elegant, graceful, and omnipresent in the northern woods, their foraging habits sometimes take them into our backyards to nibble on our plants.

If you're not keen on blowing Bambi's brains out with a shotgun (which we do NOT advocate), try planting one of many deer-resistant plant varieties carried at Whispering Hills.

Below you'll find lists of trees, shrubs, perennials, vines and flowers that DOE'nt attract deer.

Deer-resistant Trees:
  • Deerproof Arborvitae
  • Douglas Fir
  • Scotch & Mugo Pine
  • Colorado Blue & Norway Spruce
  • Blue Star, Mountbatten & 9 other types of Juniper
  • Whitespire Birch
  • Norway Maple

Deer-resistant Shrubs:
  • Chicagoland Green, Green Mountain & 5 other types of Boxwood
  • Weeping Siberian Pea Shrub
  • Common Lilac (Purple & white)
  • Cranberry Viburnum
  • Japanese Barberry
  • Shamrock Inkberry
  • Renaissance Spirea
  • Blizzard & Dwarf Snowflake Mock Orange

Click here for a list of of deer-resistant vines, flowers, and groundcovers.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Hummingbird-friendly plants

There are plenty of pesky animals intruding on home gardens, but one creature nobody wants to shoo away is the gorgeous hummingbird. Many people pick out plants specifically to attract the tiny, nectar-sucking speed-flappers.

Hummingbirds are able to assess the sugar content of nectar and prefer flowers with higher sugar percentage, so there's a limited selection of plants that will invite them to your yard.

Hummingbird-friendly Perennials
Hummingbirds are "suckers" for Morning Glories and other sweet flowers.


Whispering Hills stocks many of these varieties. Call 847-658-5610 for more information.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Shady spot secrets

Ligularia "The Rocket" likes moist, shady soil. 
Shady spots can sometimes stump even the most proficient home gardener. Sure, most people know about the bazillion kinds of Hosta. But that shady site in your yard is not limited to just different varieties of the green, leafy perennial.

Whispering Hills' own perennial expert, Shelley Isenhart, will name a few of your more colorful shade options in her talk on July 15. If you live in northwest Chicagoland, RSVP to the talk here (you'll have to log in to Facebook first).

If you don't live in the area, you'll miss Shelley's smiling face, which is a shame. However, she's agreed to share some of her shade secrets in this blog post.

Successful gardening is all about having the right plant in the right environment. Many people get the first part right - they'll make sure they know whether the plant they're buying will do well in the shade or sun. But that's usually about as far as they go, and if the plant doesn't do well it's usually seen as a problem with the plant.

Not all shade is a healthy environment for every shade plant. For example, some varieties of the perennial ligularia like not just shade but moist soil, so if it's planted in dry shade it won't do well. A quick probe of the soil in your shade spot before you head to the garden center can save you a lot of frustration.

Plants for dry shade
-Heuchera (Coral Bells)
-Lamium (Groundcover)
-Polygonatum (Solomon's Seal)

Plants for moist shade
-Pulmonaria (Lungwort)
-Bleeding Hearts
It's possible to plant a moisture-loving shady plant in a dry site, but not the other way around. To ensure a plant retains moisture in dry soil, dig the hole twice as deep and line it with a black trash bag. Poke a few holes in the bag to allow some drainage, and then re-fill the hole with soil and compost or another amendment.

Sign up for Shelley's talk for more tips on shade gardening, or if you can't make it, give us a call at 847-658-5610 with any questions. Stay cool!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Drought-hardy plants

OK, it's not this dry. But it's really dry!
Unless you've found a rare northern Illinois cave structure to live in, you've probably noticed the weather in this area has been dry lately. And when we say "dry," we mean historically dry.

Indeed, as local meteorologist Tom Skilling notes, we've seen much, much wetter Junes in Chicagoland. Skilling reports that this June could be a record-breaker in terms of consecutive 90-degree days, but what's worse for the region's plant material is that it's been hot without rain.

It's been at least a dozen days since the last heavy rainfall, and with no moisture and sweltering conditions in the forecast for the next five days, proper watering habits may mean the difference between life and death for many of your plants.

For instructions on how to water properly, please view our watering guides (one for annuals and perennials and one for trees and shrubs). Before watering mulched areas, be sure to move the mulch aside with a rake so the water can soak directly into the ground. Once replaced, the mulch will keep the soil wet.

There are many varieties of plants, however, that are designed to beat the heat. Below you'll find a list of the most drought-tolerant plants we carry at Whispering Hills.
Drought-tolerant* Varieties

Grasses Limelight Hydrangea Evergreens
Tickseed Tickle-Me-Pink Hydrangea Crabapple
Baptisia Rose Sugar Maple
Cotton Candy
Viburnum Hawthorn
Nepeta Barberry Serviceberry
Salvia Weigela
*Tolerance depends on establishment of plant. Well-established plants will have optimum tolerance.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Antioxidants and the black chokeberry

Antioxidants, or molecules that inhibit other molecules from oxidizing, have been a hyped-up health topic for the past several years. Ads for products containing blueberries, acai, pomegranate and other antioxidant-rich foods are everywhere, from television to magazines to the internet.

The message on most of these advertisements is simple: "Buy this product because it has antioxidants, and antioxidants are good for you."

But how true is it? The cause of this antioxidant craze dates back to the 1990s, according to a publication by Harvard's School of Public Health:

"Antioxidants came to public attention in the 1990s, when scientists began to understand that free radical damage was involved in the early stages of artery-clogging atherosclerosis and may contribute to cancer, vision loss, and a host of other chronic conditions. Some studies showed that people with low intakes of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables were at greater risk for developing these chronic conditions than were people who ate plenty of these fruits and vegetables."

The publication goes on to conclude that despite the rampant claims to the contrary by food and pharmaceutical companies, there is very little scientific evidence linking greater antioxidant consumption with the prevention of various types of diseases.

One thing we do know, however, is that people who eat a high amount of fruits and vegetables, which contain a high amount of antioxidants, are more resistant to various types of diseases than those who don't eat as much.

One plant that has seen a lot of attention recently thanks to the frenzy over antioxidants is Aronia melanocarpa, better known as the black chokeberry. The black chokeberry is a lovely shrub that sports white flowers and small, black fruit that has some of the highest antioxidant counts found in nature.

Black chokeberry jam
The berries are edible but have a very astringent taste when eaten raw, hence the plant's name. The berries' flavor improves drastically when they're prepared as a jam, spread, juice, or in any other popular culinary rendition.

Whispering Hills carries two kinds of black chokeberry this season: the Black Viking and Black Iroquois Beauty. Both will produce high yields of the delicious berries for you and the songbirds to enjoy, as well as provide a nice-looking hedge for your landscape.

Though new research is still in the process of confirming the radical health benefits of antioxidants, it is well-known that a good supply of them from chokeberries and other dark-colored berries is an important part of any diet.

Get your antioxidants from your backyard. Try the chokeberry!

 For more reliable information on antioxidants, check out this article published by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Northern Illinois Fruit Guide

With its long, freezing winters and unpredictable springs, northern Illinois is one of the trickiest regions in the state to grow fruit trees or small fruit bushes. Also, unlike vegetables, the cost to maintain the tree will likely exceed any savings produced by growing your own fruit, which makes it even more important to do your research.

That's where we come in. Click the link below to expand the post and read information on select fruit trees and small fruit plants that can be grown in our neck of the woods.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Relax, it's just slime mold

We humans are such visual creatures, always making judgments based solely on how people or things appear. It's why some of us don't eat cottage cheese or guacamole, why we won't talk to the girl with 40 piercings on her face, or why we recoil in horror from a vomit-like substance on our mulch beds:

If you see this on your mulch, don't scream. It may look extremely disgusting, but it's actually a harmless, fungus-type growth known as slime mold. The popular name for one variety, based on its appearance (what else?), is "Dog Vomit."

From University of Illinois extension educator Sandra Martin:

"Slime molds are not true fungus but can appear on the top of mulch. Slime molds are often bright yellow, but can also be white, gray, brown or red. They can vary from a few inches in diameter to a foot across. They are not decomposing the mulch, but are living off the bacteria and other critters in the mulch."

Slime molds like the "Dog's Vomit" kind are not parasitic and so pose no danger to your plants or family.

The easiest way to remove slime mold is to simply shovel it out of the bed. You can even leave it there if you don't feel like dealing with it, as it will lose its color, turn into a powdery form (spores) and disappear within one week. Watering slime mold will disperse the spores into a cloud, so unless you want the neighbor kids to suck in a big dose of spores, don't shoot it with the hose.

For more information on slime molds visit this page at the University of Illinois Extension or call the experts at Whispering Hills: 847-658-5610.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Container Gardening Essentials

 Not all garden creations are grown in the ground. The right aesthetic combination of plants can make for a stunning container display with no shovel or hoe required.

Whispering Hills' own flower expert Shelley Isenhart has come up with the perfect guide to container planting, and it starts with three words.

Thrillers, Fillers, and Spillers: Steps to a gorgeous container garden

-Thrillers, not to be confused with the talented dancing corpses in Michael Jackson's hit video, are tall, interesting plants to be placed in the center or back of a container. Good thrillers add a central, eye-catching element and include ornamental grasses or tall varieties of coleus.

Diamond Frost Euphorbia
-Fillers are plants that provide an accent feature to the container. Petunias, euphorbias, and impatiens make excellent fillers. Specific varieties recommended include the million bells petunia, the Diamond Frost Euphorbia, and the New Guinea Impatiens.

Sweet potato vine, a stunning spiller
-Spillers give the container character by adding color and spilling over the sides. One of the most popular new spillers is the sweet potato vine, a bright green, leafy roamer that is very low-maintenance.

-Use high-quality potting soil in the container and add a granular, time-released fertilizer such as Florikan's Dynamite.

-Maintenance is the key to a successful container garden. Stressed container plants will look the part quickly, so it's important to practice 'deadheading' - the pruning of dead blooms - and water frequently. Probe the soil with a finger every other day to check for moisture content.

For more information on container gardening, visit the guide at the University of Illinois Horticulture Extension.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

10 tips for a victorious vegetable garden

Few things make more sense than planting your own vegetable garden. Cheap, high quality vegetables spring up just a few feet from your door, and gardening is a healthy and educational experience for the whole family.

The trouble is vegetable gardens take time and effort to maintain, and not all of us have the time. But the financial impact, as well as the fun factor, ensures you'll be well-compensated for the time spent with your hands in the dirt. Take these 10 tips from Whispering Hills and the University of Illinois Extension and start building your own backyard farm stand.

It's a cliche for a reason. Just as location is important in everything else you do, a successful vegetable garden starts with the right plot. Make sure your veggies aren't close to trees or shrubs that will compete for resources, and make sure the garden fits in with your landscape design. Do we have to tell you that vegetables need a ton of sunlight? If possible, plant your garden close to a water source as well.

Make a list of the vegetables you want to plant and look up growing tips for each kind. The University of Illinois' horticulture extension has a handy chart to help you with this. Sketch out which vegetables will go where before you just go buying all kinds of plants at the store.

This is the most important part of a vegetable garden. Proper soil for a garden is soft, loose, nutrient-rich and well-drained. Northern Illinois soil does not naturally have those properties. It is hard and full of clay, so be sure to mix in an adequate amount of topsoil and a nutrient-rich amendment (like mushroom compost, Bumper Crop, or material from your own home compost pile) to prime your bed before planting.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Got yard waste? Don't go crazy, go compostal

Here's an interesting story to ponder as we work our way through the spring cleanup season:

Meet Billy.

Billy is a middle-aged, agreeable-looking man who loves his wife, 7-year-old daughter, his recently remodeled suburban home and, possibly above all, his yearly lawn projects. To say he's an enthusiast would be an understatement. All March he watches the weather in earnest. As soon as the weather breaks, neighbors will see him spreading, raking, tilling, edging, digging, watering, weeding, planting, and mowing. Being the yard-monger he is, Billy's lawn is by far the healthiest in the neighborhood. Therefore, it needs to be mowed about twice a week, and the clippings make an unsightly, clumpy mess in Billy's otherwise flawless lawn year after year.

To get rid of the ugly clipping clumps, Billy rakes them into bags and leaves them curbside for his municipal trash service. It's a little extra work, but it keeps his lawn free of the waste and Billy is satisfied.

Billy, NOOOO!!!!
Any yard enthusiast knows healthy soil is essential for a thriving garden, so every year Billy also goes to his local landscape center and buys $550 worth of topsoil. He pays an extra $300 to have the soil mixed with organic compost and then busies himself in the garden for the remainder of the season.

And that's the story of Billy, year after year. He seems like a guru--the kind of neighbor you'd go to with all your landscape and gardening questions. In reality though, his cumulative yard intellect is equivalent to one of those big bags of grass clippings he sets on the curb every week.

Why? Because Billy pays extra (a lot extra) for organically amended soil when he can just rake all his grass clippings into a compost pile, let the nutrient-rich material decompose, and then mix it in to his planting soil later on. Even if he did absolutely nothing with the clippings and just left them on the lawn, they would still help his grass by decomposing and returning nutrients to the yard.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Local love: Where were your plants grown?

Was your Colorado Spruce actually grown in Colorado?

When we Yankees in Illinois get visitors from the South, their accent quickly tells us where they came from.

Plants, however, aren't blessed with (cursed with?) the ability to speak, so you'll have a harder time figuring out if that arborvitae in your yard came from down the road or Tennessee. However, if the plant took a long time to thrive, that might be an indication that it wasn't grown in northern Illinois soil.

It's not just big box stores that sell non-local plant material; many area garden centers sacrifice quality when they bring in cheaper plants from areas with longer growing seasons.

Not only are locally grown plants already adjusted to the soil in your yard, they also have a shorter trip from the grower to the market. That means the growers can time their shipments accurately and deliver the plants when they are just about to hit their peak bloom.

Locally grown plants typically look better in your yard, but it's not all about you, you know. The growers obviously benefit, too, and when you buy their plants you help keep their fields from becoming another Wal-Mart. And we have enough Wal-Marts in our area.

How can you tell if the plant you're buying is grown locally? The root ball will be much smaller than ones on their non-local kin. The soil on a locally grown plant will be dark in color and have a high clay content, whereas non-local soils will likely be a lighter, reddish color (Tennessee) or have a high sand content (Michigan).

If you'd rather not worry about whether a plant you're thinking of buying was grown locally, just come to Whispering Hills. Nearly all of our plant material is locally grown, coming from such places as Harvard, Marengo, and Poplar Grove.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Spring cleanup checklist

Early spring frosts may still prevent you from planting, but now is still the perfect time to get your lawn and garden in order for the planting season. Follow these cleanup tips to get your yard in top shape.

Spring yard cleanup checklist

-Remove old mulch, leaves, and wood chips from your flower beds and give them a nutrient boost by raking the remaining mulch into the soil.

-Edge the perimeter of your garden bed and sidewalks. This will prevent grass from growing over the cement and give the landscape a clean look.

-Apply a 3-inch layer of new mulch to the garden bed and around tree trunks to help retain moisture and keep the roots warm.

-Fall and winter have given your plants ample growing time, so you may need to prune back perennial shrubs and grasses that were pruned back in the fall. Use pruning shears or loppers, depending on the branch diameter. DO NOT prune spring flowering shrubs. For more information on when to prune and how plants react to pruning, visit North Carolina State University's Pruning Factsheet.

Sound like too much work? Let the professional staff at Whispering Hills do your spring cleanup for you. Call 847-658-5610 for scheduling and pricing details.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Pond-free fountains provide safer, more flexible design option

An example of a pond-free fountain.
Water features add a touch of serenity to any landscape, but most of the time the work to put one in is anything but serene.

You're measuring, digging, fitting, moving rocks, digging, doing way more plumbing work than you're probably used to, digging, and then doubling your water bill for the month. And the work doesn't stop there, because eventually your water will evaporate from the pond and you'll have to replace it. If you have wandering young children, you've now got a drowning hazard.

A pond-free fountain, or disappearing fountain, is an easier, safer alternative to a pond water feature and provides more design options in the yard.

It's a smaller, ground-based fountain structure that uses a pump to cycle water up through decorative rocks, pottery, or other elements. The water supply is underground in the base and does not evaporate, and no above-ground pond means no hazard for small children. All of the plumbing sits on top of the base and is easier to access than in a pond feature.

A fountain base such as Atlantic Water Garden's pro-series FB3200 measures just under 3 feet wide, so it can be placed in just about any part of the landscape.

For a visual of the system, see the excessively corny video below. It's exceptionally corny, so only a skim-through is necessary to get the general idea. But if you're planning on purchasing this base or a similar unit, this video is probably a must-see before installation.

Whispering Hills sells the FB3200 and FB4600 fountain bases, custom cuts of stone, and a variety of stone and other materials that can be used in fountain construction.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Bump it up: New formula for bumper crop readily available

Coast of Maine has been throwing nutrient-rich fish and berry compost into Master Nursery's patented bumper crop mix since 2007, but until recently the cost kept the east-coast soil additive from public availability in the Midwest.

Market conditions have improved, and so for the first time in five years Whispering Hills is selling bumper crop in increments of one and two cubic yards to give northern Illinois plants a little boost to their bloom.  

Bumper crop, which in addition to the brand name is an agricultural term referring to an unusually high yield, is a pH-balanced, organic soil amendment that includes bat guano, forest humus, chicken manure, sea kelp and worm castings. 

It is best used when planting, but can be applied after as a mulch. See video below.

Whispering Hills Nursery & Garden Center
Bumper crop
1 cubic yard:$9.99
2 cubic yards: $13.99