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.