Extension Fall Garden Packet 08-3
August 29, 2008
  • /Crop Sciences
NOTE TO EDITORS: This is the final installment of University of Illinois Extension's Fall Garden Packet. Thank you for your consideration. Bob Sampson, Extension Communications Specialist

August 29, 2008

Source: Richard Hentschel (630) 685-2317 Contact: Bob Sampson Extension Communications Specialist Phone (217) 244-0225; rsampson@uiuc.edu

Sod versus Seed

Homeowners often face the dilemma of whether to get their lawn established by using seed or by laying sod, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture specialist.

"Sod certainly provides that instant green, while sowing seed may be the better choice in some situations," said Richard Hentschel.

"Sod is grown by professionals, is weed-free, and with proper care is typically 'knitted-down' without a lot of problems in two to three weeks. It is not fully established until several weeks later. It can be put down just about any time of the year, even during hot, dry weather if you water it more than usual."

But, he added, using seed to establish a lawn may be the way to go if you have a lot of shade in the yard.

"You can create a mixture of grasses that will establish in shade, versus the sod which will be made up of hybrid Kentucky bluegrasses which prefer full-sun exposures," he explained. "In Illinois, grass seed is usually started in the spring or fall and it is not recommended for summer seeding due to the hot, dry summer weather.

"As the grass seed germinates, so, too, will weed seed. You will find more weed seed germinating in the spring than in the fall."

Soil preparation should be the same for sod or seed. A soil test will reveal what fertilizers are needed to build up the soil. If seeding, a starter fertilizer is helpful as well and may be recommended.

"You do not want to work your soil when it is too wet or too dry as this will destroy the good soil structure which allows air and water to move freely through the soil," he said.

Care after seeding or sodding is pretty straightforward, he noted.

"To get your sod to 'knit-down' and establish new roots or for your grass seed to germinate and develop a root system, providing water is the key to success," he said. "For sod, watering to keep the sod and soil moist should be the goal. Sod will shrink and cracks between the rolls will develop if you go too long between watering.

"That is the visual system. Worse yet, the new roots have likely suffered and died."

For grass seed to begin growing, the seed must absorb some water to start germination and then have a continuous source until the young grass plant has established a root system capable of getting water on its own.

"Once-a-day watering may not be enough, especially for full-sun locations," Hentschel said. "One way to allow your watering to go further if you are seeding in a full-sun location is to cover the area after seeding with clean straw. The straw will shade the soil, keeping moisture there for the young grass plants."

Weed control products, he cautioned, can damage newly seeded lawns, so be sure to follow all label instructions.

"If ever in doubt, wait until the next growing season before attempting weed control," he said.

-30- August 29, 2008

Source: Jennifer Fishburn (217) 782-4617 Contact: Bob Sampson Extension Communications Specialist Phone (217) 244-0225; rsampson@uiuc.edu

A Poppin' Good Snack

A snap in the weather can turn thoughts to a pop in the pan, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

"Whether we are at the movie theater or curled up on the couch watching a movie, popcorn is a favorite snack for all age groups," said Jennifer Fishburn. "According to The Popcorn Board, Americans consume 16 billion quarts of popped popcorn annually, approximately 54 quarts per person.

"Fall is the peak period for popcorn sales for home consumption."

Popcorn, she added, is one of the oldest American foods.

"Archeologist excavations in 1948 of the Bat Cave in west-central New Mexico turned up popcorn ears nearly 4,000 years old," she said. "Although popcorn has a long history, it took until 1880 for seed catalogs to include popcorn. Today, most popcorn grown in the United States comes from the midwestern states, including Illinois."

Today many people probably think popcorn comes only in a microwavable bag. But it can be successfully popped the "old-fashioned way" on the stovetop.

"Popcorn is an economical and versatile treat that is easy on your wallet and waistline," she said.

"While salt and butter are optional, many of us prefer these additions to our popcorn. For added flavor without adding salt or calories, sprinkle warm popcorn with herbs, such as marjoram, thyme, summer savory, basil, rosemary, or sage. Another way to add flavor is with spices, such as garlic, dry mustard, curry, or chili powder."

According to The Popcorn Board, kernels that do not pop are known as "old maids."

"These generally do not have sufficient water contained within the starch to create the buildup of pressure needed to pop the corn," she said. "Popcorn's ability to pop lies in the fact that the kernels contain a small amount of water stored in a circle of soft starch inside the hard outer casing.

"When heated, the water expands, creating pressure within, until eventually the casing gives way and the kernels explode and pop, allowing the water to escape as steam, turning the kernels inside out."

A low-calorie way to prepare popcorn is air popping. One cup of air-popped popcorn contains 31 calories, one gram of protein, six grams of carbohydrate, one gram of fiber, and just a trace of fat.

"Oil-popped popcorn contains about 60 calories," she said. "Popcorn is a whole-grain food, which makes it a complex carbohydrate source that is not only low in calories, but high in fiber."

For more information on popcorn facts, recipes, nutrition information, and growing popcorn, visit The Popcorn Board website (http://www.popcorn.org). The Popcorn Board is a non-profit organization funded by U.S. popcorn processors.

"This fall, enjoy eating popcorn, a snack that tastes great and is good for you," said Fishburn.

-30- August 29, 2008

Source: Martha Smith (309) 836-2363 Contact: Bob Sampson (217) 244-0225 Extension Communications Specialist e-mail: rsampson@uiuc.edu

Preparing for Spring in Fall

Fall may end this year's gardening season, but it is also the perfect time to begin preparations for next year, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

"Don't put that trowel and rake away yet," said Martha Smith. "Taking care of a few details now means fewer chores, pests, and problems next spring."

A good place to start is a walk through this year's garden.

"Walk through the vegetable garden and take notes on plant location and overall performance," she said. "You should sketch out your vegetable garden. Crop rotation is very important when it comes to vegetable diseases. In the spring, you can refer to your sketch rather than relying on your memory and plant vegetables in different locations.

"Annuals should also receive a year-end review. Note whether this season's plants met your expectations or if you need to experiment with different plants and varieties next year. Perhaps choosing a different location for certain varieties will help their performance."

Clean up the garden, completely removing diseased plants. Vegetable and annual plants should be removed. Healthy plant debris can be added to the compost pile.

"If any of your perennials have been seriously and routinely plagued with disease, fall is the time to discard them before spreading the problems to other plants," she said. "After the first frost, remove the annuals and cut back tops of tall herbaceous perennials.

"Many gardeners prefer to leave most of their perennials as they are, cutting them back in the spring. Perennials over three feet tall will only flop over under the weight of snow and create ideal environments for overwintering rodents. If you have had vole problems in the past, cut back tall perennials."

Rake leaves and add them to the compost pile or locate them near the pile so they are handy to add next spring and summer. Don't allow fallen leaves to accumulate and mat down over your desirable turf.

"This time of the year, your grass is actively growing," she noted. "Leaves smother the grass and prevent photosynthesis, which is the plant's ability to produce food. Consider using fallen leaves as winter mulch around tender plants."

Container plants should be pulled out of the container when they have been frost-killed. If saving the soil for next year, store in a dry area or cover it with plastic to keep out debris and prevent it from getting waterlogged over the winter.

"If not saving soil, add it to your compost pile and before storing clean out the container with a mild bleach solution--10 parts water, one part bleach," she said.

Dig up tender bulbs such as gladioli, dahlia, and canna lilies. Dry them and store over the winter in a cool but frost-free area. If you are considering adding hardy bulbs such as tulips, daffodils, and crocus, your local garden center has them in stock now. Check out the selection and plant in October and November for spring blooms.

"Now you can begin to put away your garden tools," Smith said. "But while you're at it, remember to clean the tools, wipe the metal blades with oil, and store them under cover so they are ready for next year's garden chores."


August 29, 2008

Source: Nancy Pollard (708) 720-7500 Contact: Bob Sampson (217) 244-0225 Extension Communications Specialist e-mail: rsampson@uiuc.edu

Fall Tree Planting

If you want to take advantage of mild fall weather and sales, fall can be a good time for planting trees and shrubs, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

"Fall is also a time that seems to be less hectic," said Nancy Pollard. "You can increase your chances of success significantly with many trees and shrubs by using some good practices--proper planting depth, supplemental watering, and good mulching practices."

After selecting and purchasing the tree or shrub, she suggested sticking a tarp in your vehicle to protect the plant from drying winds during transport. And in picking out the tree or shrub, keep in mind the landscape purpose, available space, soil type, and sun or shade conditions it will face.

"Keep the plant well watered until transplanting," she added.

When it comes time to dig a hole for the new plant, the immediate question is, how deep?

"The tree trunk and root ball will tell you," she said. "While the tree is still in the container, look for the point where the trunk slightly flares out and the roots angle down--not at 90 degrees or up. Often this flare is buried accidentally by soil or mulch. You may need to excavate the root ball by hand down to the root flare.

"The natural flare should end up about two inches above the surrounding soil line when planted in clay or poorly drained soil, or exactly at soil level if the soil is sandy or loamy."

If the container is small, Pollard likes to dig the hole, set the container in the hole to see if the depth is too shallow, and when the height of the root flare is just right, remove the container so it can be planted.

"If the container is heavy--it should be if it has been watered--use a ruler or shovel handle to figure this out," she said. "The hole should be much wider than it is deep, more saucer-shaped, like the natural shape of the root system. Rough up the edges of the saucer-shaped hole as roots refuse to cross slick barriers. Skip the amendments, but do break up any large soil clods."

Next, it is time to remove the plant from the container, place it on a tarp, and tease the roots out with your fingers if the plant is not pot-bound.

"If you find a few circling roots in the ball, carefully unwind them and spread them in the wide hole," she said. "This prevents them from choking or girdling the tree just as the tree has reached the size you were dreaming about when you planted it."

If the roots prove too dense to tease out, make four one-inch-deep slices with a knife down the sides of the ball and through the bottom of the root ball as well. Then slide it into the hole.

"Backfill the hole with soil up to the base of the flare. Do not cover the root flare," she said. "I like to partially backfill, add water, allow it to drain, and then add the rest of the soil. Then water again. This eliminates air pockets and gets good soil contact with the root ball.

"Do not stomp on the hole because that limits root growth and makes a muddy mess of your shoes. Instead, let the water settle the soil."

Throughout the subsequent months, she added, consistent watering is critical. But do not overwater.

"Water deeply, as often as is necessary to keep the soil ball moist--about twice a week during warm weather, once a week during cooler weather. Water about every three weeks throughout the winter when there are thaws or if there is little rainfall," she said. "Winter winds continue to dry out the plants and the root system is limited.

"Checking the plants in the winter also helps you detect any frost heaving--particularly a problem in clay soils."

The new plant should be topped with a three-inch layer of mulch such as bark chips to conserve water and insulate the roots. It may also help reduce frost heaving.

"Spread the mulch," she said. "It will look like a flat, five- or six-foot-wide doughnut around the tree with the trunk in the center hole. Keep the mulch a couple of inches away from the trunk. Trunk bark is made to 'breathe,' not resist moisture and soil microorganisms as the roots do."

With care in tree selection, proper planting depth, and good watering and mulching practices, the majority of trees are able to overcome transplant shock.

"Water diligently the first spring and summer and during future droughts," she said. "If you follow these tips, you can expect decades of delight for your efforts."


August 29, 2008

Source: Greg Stack (708) 720-7520 Contact: Bob Sampson Extension Communications Specialist Phone (217) 244-0225; rsampson@uiuc.edu

Overwintering Flowering Bulbs

When summer draws to a close and it's time to say goodbye to summer flowering 'bulbs' such as cannas, gladiolus, dahlia and tuberose begonia, why not consider giving them a reprieve and store the underground parts (tubers and corms, rhizomes) over the winter so you can include them back into the garden next year, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

"Because these are classified as tender bulbs they need to be brought in right after a light frost has blackened their foliage," said Greg Stack. "In the Midwest this can be any time from mid-October on depending on where you live. This is the time of the year when gardeners are very attentive to the weather forecasts and make their local weatherman the most important person on the local news channel."

Storing summer-flowering bulbs is not difficult and can be very successful as long as some simple steps are taken to ensure the bulbs go into storage properly. Basically the steps include proper digging, curing or air drying, and storage under proper conditions of temperatures and air circulation.

"Cannas are spectacular plants for both their foliage and flowers so they are worth saving," he said. "These are among the easiest to store and the way they multiply ensures you will have a lot more the second year than the first year to replant in the garden."

After the first frost blackens the foliage, cut back the stems to about six inches. Carefully dig the rhizome clump out of the ground and leave the soil attached. Try to avoid cutting or injuring the rhizomes if possible. Allow them to air dry for a few hours in the sun.

"This air drying helps to callus over wounds that might have occurred in the digging process," Stack explained.

Put the clumps into crates or boxes that have good ventilation. If there is not a lot of soil attached, cover the rhizomes with peat moss. Place the crate in a basement, crawlspace or other dark, well-ventilated space where the temperature is around 50 degrees. Check on them occasionally through the winter and if the rhizomes show signs of shriveling, moisten the peat slightly. In the spring the rhizomes can be cut apart, potted and started indoors about six weeks before the last frost in the spring.

Dahlias form tuberous roots that are saved from one season to the next. After frost has blackened the stems, carefully dig the tubers.

"They will look like very fat "thumbs" connected to a central point," he said. "Cut the stalk down to about four inches and allow the clump to air dry for a day or two. Again this will help callus over any injuries that occurred during digging.

"Carefully brush away any soil. Do not wash or scrub the tubers. Place the tuberous roots in a well-ventilated box and use peat moss, sawdust or similar material to cover the roots and keep them from shriveling."

Dahlias can be stored at 40 to 50 degrees. A basement or crawl space works well. Check on them periodically to ensure they are not drying out. If needed, add a little moisture to keep the tubers plump. In the spring divide the clumps, making sure to include an eye or bud that is attached to each tuber close to where they were joined in the clump.

Gladiolus corms can be dug about six weeks after they finish flowering or when the tops start to turn slightly yellow. After digging, wash off the soil and cut the tops to within an inch of the corm. Leave the corms outdoors in the sun for a few days and then move them to a light, airy place. Spread them out and allow them to cure for two to three weeks.

"After they are dry, remove the old corm located under the new corm by twisting it off," he said. "Do not remove the papery husk from the corm. Place the corms in an open flat or in onion bags or nylon stockings. Store at 40 to 50 degrees in a well-ventilated area. The small cormels (baby gladiolus corms) can also be saved for future planting. Keep in mind, however, it may take two to three seasons before they will produce blooming-size corms."

Tuberose begonias should be dug before any frost hits them. Dig them with the stems attached and allow them to air dry. Remove the dry stem. Tubers can then be stored in flats or containers with dry sand, peat moss, or vermiculite.

While bulbs are in storage, check on them periodically over the winter. Slightly dampen the peat moss if bulbs show signs of shriveling or drying out. Also, if any of the bulbs show signs of decay or other soft rots, remove them immediately.

"Overwintering your summer-flowering tender bulbs properly ensures that you will have plants to put back into next season's garden and may also have extras to share with your gardening friends," Stack said.