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.