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.