Nystrom's Nursery
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Maintaining beautiful plants in summer

By Neil Peterson

Last Updated Jun 13, 2009 11:54:23 AM


   The last three years have seen way above average precipitation. In 2004 we had the worst drought since 1988. Over the last decade, we\'ve all come to realize the destructive ability of Japanese Beetles and will soon experience Emerald Ash Bore. What do these things have in common? They can all make a garden or landscape fall apart in a matter of days.
   As a gardener, there are multiple considerations to help avoid and minimize the risk these problems pose to your yard. The biggest decision lies in correct plant choice, which probably accounts for 50% of gardening success. Another huge factor is what type of soil you have, and what you can do to improve it. Lastly is understanding the microclimate that is your yard and why Northern Illinois has widely variable pockets of temperatures and conditions.
   Choosing the right plant for the right place is the most important decision to make for a long lasting landscape. Not only the place, but what types of maintenance does a plant need? Be aware of how much moisture a plant is going to need. If you plant a River Birch a long ways from a hose, a week of 90 degrees and no rain is going to see a rapid decline in the aesthetics of that plant. Listen to nurseryman recommendations, not every plant can be grown in every yard. If you don\'t want to worry about Japanese Beetles, Roses and Purple Leaf Plums are most definitely out of the question. Swamp Milkweed is a beautiful summer blooming butterfly magnet. As the name implies, it likes moisture. Planting it on a dry hillside will end up being detrimental to its longevity; instead plant it in a drainage ditch or by a downspout. A Daylily in lots of shade is neither going to flower nor flourish.
   "Without soil there can be no life, and without life there can be no soil" is a quote that sums up the importance of earth. In the Midwest, we are blessed with the best soil in the world. Unfortunately, building practices in the last few decades have led to activities such as scraping and filling. If you have poor soil conditions (hard clay or very stony) bad environmental conditions can exacerbate plant decline. The best thing you can do is to feed your soil with a rich, organic (meaning plant matter) topdressing. Start a compost pile-its free, saves on trash, and keeps organic debris out of landfills-and dress your beds and lawn with a 1/4 inch every fall. Within a few years you\'ll see leaps of plant growth, resistance to disease, and improved drought tolerance. Compost also aids in loosening clay, which helps to drain excess water as well. If you\'ve never thought of a compost bin, do some research and reap the rewards. Another concern is salt. Plants near a roadside are often exposed to very large amounts of salt (especially the last few winters) and this can cause some serious problems. Evergreens are the most affected. Salt sprays on the needles and dries them out-a common sight in urban areas throughout the Northern Tier. Most of the time they recover, but that side of the tree is usually less dense. Adding Gypsum to the soil every fall is a great way to help avoid this problem. It binds to the salt residue and causes it to leach, leaving your soil cleaned up until the snow flies again.
   Microclimates are also very important pieces of a landscape to understand. Central Rockford experiances a much milder climate than more rural areas. Neighborhoods reduce wind and the large number of structures and pavement cause temperatures to warm up faster in the spring and stay warm longer in the fall. Lets say you want to plant a Japanese Maple on the East side of a home in a well established area. Hardiness won\'t be an issue because the house will block West and North winter winds, and the area itself is going to be much more moderate than a location in the country. Valleys allow winds to whip over and keep winter conditions less brutal (Look at Anderson Gardens for example). Pay attention to your yard, watch where the wind and sun are, in heavy rains see if areas puddle or pool. These are all important factors to remember when picking out a plant and keeping it there for years to come.