Extension Winter Gardening Packet--III
December 5, 2005
  • /Crop Sciences
December 5, 2005

Source: Barbara Bates (630) 584-6166 Contact: Bob Sampson Extension Communications Specialist Phone (217) 244-0225; rsampson@uiuc.edu

Succulent Plants Indoors

Just because the snow is flying outside doesn't necessarily mean that gardening is over until spring, says a University of Illinois Extension horticulture specialist.

"Succulent plants are well adapted for growing indoors during winters where the relative humidity of midwestern buildings is low," says Barbara Bates.

Plants described as succulent have thick, fleshy leaves, stems, or tubers. They have evolved in arid environments, and their specialized structures are used for water storage.

Best known among the succulent plants is the cactus, but Bates points out there are over 60 plant families considered succulent.

"There are many architecturally interesting ones to choose from," she says. "You can find a succulent plant to fit just about any location indoors because they come in a wide range of forms and sizes. Some present best in hanging baskets such as string-of-pearls (Senecio rowleyanus), succulent grape (Cissus sp.) and Ceropegia woodii.

"Others are most effective when mixed together in a dish garden, and others are best as solo performers that serve as a focal point."

Jade trees (Crassula argentia) with their bright green waxy leaves can grow to be five feet in height with stems several inches in diameter. Aeonium and Echeveria come in a variety of rosette forms.

"Echeverias can be grown in low to medium light conditions, and the rosettes stay low and compact," says Bates. "Aeoniums vary in form including some that hold their rosettes of leaves high on stalks to those that are very flattened, with closely overlapping layers of leaves."

Succulents, she adds, are available in a wide range of colors and textures, from various shades of green, variegated, blue-green, to purple-red.

"Leaf texture is most often plump and fleshy, but sometimes the stem is the most visually interesting part of the plant," she notes. "With living stones (Lithops), two leaves are all you see until a delicate flower emerges from deep within a crevasse between the two leaves."

Conophytums resemble Lithops but have a papery sheath that remains around the pair of leaves. Both Lithops and Conophytums produce beautiful flowers.

"Other succulents are referred to as 'fat plants' because the prominent thickened stem is the primary part of the plant," Bates says. "Brachystemia sp., and some Dioscorea are two such plants that have broad, flattened tubers that remain above the soil for an interesting display."

Bates says that the ability of succulents to store water makes them very low maintenance. During the growing season, watering once a month is adequate.

"Let the soil dry out between watering, clear to the bottom of the container," she says. "Porous containers, such as unglazed terra cotta are preferred. Porous, sandy soils are best. Watch for the leaves to show a lack of turgidity, then water thoroughly. Overwatering will lead to leaf drop. Underwatering will be shown as limp, wilted leaves.

"Fertilize with low-nitrogen fertilizer only during the growing season. Average household temperatures are ideal for succulents. Avoid placing them in drafty locations where cold air may cause leaf drop."

Bates says, "For easy care, good conversation pieces, and a truly unique feature, create a dish garden with a variety of succulents."


December 5, 2005

Source: Maurice Ogutu (708) 352-0109 Contact: Bob Sampson Extension Communications Specialist Phone (217) 244-0225; rsampson@uiuc.edu

Pruning Tips for Apples

Late winter, February to March, offers the optimal time to prune apple trees, says a University of Illinois Extension horticulture specialist.

"Pruning is the judicious removal of apple shoots, branches, and spurs," says Maurice Ogutu. "Major pruning is done during the dormant season before the bud break. In February and March, there is much less risk of winter injury."

Apple trees need to be pruned every year to keep the tree at the desired height for ease of management and harvesting. Pruning also improves air circulation and light penetration in the trees.

"Apple trees that are pruned every year produce higher yields and good-quality fruit," he says.

Trees are pruned based on the age of the tree, the training system used to attain desired framework or maintain the existing framework, fruiting habits of the variety, and whether the bark and wood is damaged or not. Pruning can be done by simple equipment such as hand shears for removing small shoots and spurs, lopping shears for removing larger shoots and small branches, and pruning saws for removing larger branches.

"Use sharp tools and make clean and smooth cuts, which heal much faster than rough and ragged cuts," Ogutu recommends. "Pruning can be done by either heading-back to encourage growth of side branches or thinning-out to remove unproductive branches in order to increase light penetration or to shorten a branch."

He suggests the following guidelines for pruning newly planted and mature trees:

--At planting time, unbranched trees sometimes called whips can be pruned to 30 inches above the ground. Prune roots that are too long or dead before planting. Trees that are two years old or more tend to have branches, so you can select branches with wider crotch angles, spaced evenly around the trunk, and 18-to-22 inches above the ground;

--After the first year's growing season, select two to four branches, remove other branches, and cut back the main leader to 15 to18 inches above the crotch of the highest branch. Use branch spreaders in branches with narrow-angled crotches;

--After the second, third, fourth, and fifth-year growing seasons, select one, two, or three branches every year. Head-back the leader every year as in the first year--standard trees may require more severe pruning than dwarf or semi-dwarf trees. Continue pruning after sixth to 10th year growing seasons to complete the desired framework for the tree by heading-back and thinning-out when necessary;

--Mature trees need to be pruned every year in order to achieve uniform light exposure and to facilitate renewal of bearing wood. When pruning mature trees, you can follow these steps: start by cutting upward-growing limbs; remove crowded branches by starting from the tips of the branches and pruning to the base; continue pruning as you move downwards by removing dead, broken, and diseased wood as these areas harbor disease pathogens and insect pests; shorten any crossing branches, or parallel branches, and branches lying on top of another or very close to the ground; water sprouts except where you want to fill a vacant space in the tree; and suckers that grow from the base of the trunk.


December 5, 2005

Source: James Schuster (708) 352-0109 Contact: Bob Sampson Extension Communications Specialist Phone (217) 244-0225; rsampson@uiuc.edu

Valentine Flower Care

Following a few suggestions can prolong the beauty of flowers given on Valentine's Day and other special occasions, says a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

"Whether you are giving roses, carnations, mums, or some other type of flower, you want them to last," says James Schuster. "Start with buying young flowers. Young rose buds have just their outer petals open, show no browning and on red roses there is no noticeable 'blue blush' showing through the red.

"The flower head stands straight up--the stem just below the flower has not become limp so that the flower head leans to the side."

The best carnations are not fully expanded and show no browning or wilting. Spike flowers like snapdragons and gladiolas should have the top third of the spike with the flowers still in bud. Daisy-like flowers should have the center look like a smooth flat to roundish button with a slight green color rather than a fuzzy-looking button.

"Whether the flowers are cut or potted, always check the age," says Schuster. "Check for browning and other aging/injury problems and check for wilting. Old flowers, diseased flowers, and wilted flowers have a short life expectancy."

Avoiding frost and freeze damage is another way to make gift flowers last longer. Make sure that there is adequate protection on the cut flowers and potted plants. Since heat rises, an opening at the top of wrapped cut flowers or sleeved potted plants lets the heat out and the cold in.

"Make sure that the wrapping or sleeve folds over to cover this opening before leaving the store to go to your car," Schuster says. "Also consider how cold the car is inside and how long it will take you to get home. The paper used to protect your plants is only a short-term protection. If the cut flowers or potted plant remain in the cold too long, the flowers will not last."

Cut flowers need to be placed in water as soon as possible to reduce the chance of wilting. Those receiving cut flowers should cut about one to two inches of the stems under water and, if possible, put the flowers into a vase while still under water.

"This prevents air bubbles from interfering with the uptake of water," explains Schuster. "Change the water frequently--at least once a day. If a preservative is used, do not use all the preservative on the first day. If no preservative is available, it becomes more important to change the water daily.

"Changing the water frequently reduces decay and its foul odor. Potted plants should be moist but not wet. Keep them cool and in lots of bright lot but not direct sun."


December 5, 2005

Source: Ron Wolford (773) 233-0476 Contact: Bob Sampson Extension Communications Specialist Phone (217) 244-0225; rsampson@uiuc.edu

Gardening in a Bag

An easy way to give young gardeners a successful and enjoyable experience with gardening that will lead to a lifetime hobby is gardening in a bag, says a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

"Even as winter approaches, this is something that can be done indoors," says Ron Wolford. "You should use plastic bags, specifically, heavy-duty, Ziploc freezer bags. Do not use sandwich bags as they will split and rip open easily.

"With a sunny window and a few seeds, a garden will grow."

Wolford offers some step-by-step instructions for getting started.

"Purchase a box of heavy-duty Ziploc freezer bags, pint or quart size, and a bag of potting soil," he says. "Choose some easy-to-grow seeds like basil, chives, garlic chives, or lettuce. The chives will grow like grass and can be cut back to be used in soups, cottage cheese, or on a baked potato. Combine some 'Black-seeded Simpson' and "Red Sails' lettuce to grow a colorful, nutritious display."

The bag should be filled with potting soil. Be sure to punch the soil into the corners of the bag. This will allow the bag to sit upright on the windowsill. Fill the bag to within a couple of inches of the top. You should be able to zip the bag shut.

"Sprinkle a few seeds on top of the soil and lightly cover with soil. Water so the top few inches of soil are moist and zip the bag shut and place in a sunny window," Wolford says.

"Now you have your own mini-greenhouse. Check the bag every few days for green growth. When you see green shoots emerge, open the bag, allowing the plants to grow. Water the bag when the soil is dry but be careful not to overwater. On very cold winter nights, you might want to move the garden bags away from the window."

Wolford says gardening in a bag provides an easy way to introduce children to gardening. It is a great yearly activity that builds memories for years to come.

For more tips about gardening with kids, visit U of I Extension's website, My First Garden, at: http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/firstgarden .


December 5, 2005

Source: Sharon Yiesla (847) 223-8627 Contact: Bob Sampson Extension Communications Specialist Phone (217) 244-0225; rsampson@uiuc.edu

Know Your Plants

Knowing the right name can help you obtain the right plant, says a University of Illinois Extension horticulture specialist.

"Do you ever hear gardeners talking about how well their Echinacea is doing or pick up a gardening magazine article about shade gardening and find that all the plants are listed by their scientific or 'Latin' names," asks Sharon Yiesla. "Are people showing off their knowledge or are they trying to annoy you? Actually, they are just trying to communicate clearly with others."

Most plants, she explains, have common names and they are usually easier to pronounce, but they may not be accurate or they may lead to confusion. Some common names may be applied to more than one plant.

"If you mention 'snowball bush,' you may be thinking of a certain type of viburnum, while someone else is thinking of a type of hydrangea," she says. "You can't really have a meaningful conversation because you are talking about two different plants."

More confusion arises because some plants have more than one common name. Acer saccharinum is commonly called silver maple, but some people know it as soft maple. Liriodendron tulipifera is commonly known as tulip tree, but it can also be called yellow poplar, even though it is not a poplar at all.

"Some common names just don't make sense," says Yiesla. "Watermelon begonia is neither a watermelon nor a begonia. It is a Peperomia, a common house plant.

"To avoid such confusion, we use scientific names for our plants. They are more standardized than common names. For any given plant, the same scientific name is recognized and used worldwide."

Every scientific name is made up of two names, the genus and the specific epithet--when used together they tell us the species of the plant.

"Let's look at an example. The name Quercus alba refers to the tree we commonly know as white oak. The genus, Quercus, is the Latin name for oak. So when we say Quercus, we know we are discussing oaks, but we are being very general," she says.

"That's where the specific epithet--the second name--comes in. It defines WHICH oak we are discussing. By adding the specific epithet, alba--which means white--behind the genus Quercus, we form the species name Quercus alba, and now we are talking about a particular oak, the white oak."

The standardization of scientific names helps us be clear about which plant we are discussing, but many people still find these names difficult to understand. Part of the confusion comes from the fact that most people don't speak Latin. The confusion also partially arises from the fact that some of these scientific names don't appear to have good "meanings."

"Many genus names are derived from ancient Latin terms and don't have what we consider to be a good translation," explains Yiesla. "Other scientific names are derived from proper names. For instance, Kolkwitzia amabilis--Beautybush--was named for Richard Kolkwitz, a botany professor.

"There are, however, many scientific names that have good meanings and help us know something about the plant."

Some words used as specific epithets--the second name--refer to color: alba (white), rubra (red), nigra (black), viridis (green), and purpurea (purple). When these terms occur in a species name, they often indicate that some part of the plant is that color.

Other words tell us something about the environment in which a plant thrives. Palustris means "marsh-loving," indicating that the plant tolerates poorly drained soils, such as Quercus palustris, pin oak, which tolerates heavy clay soils.

Sylvatica means "growing in the woods," such as Nyssa sylvatica, black tupelo, a forest tree. Nivalis means "growing near snow," indicating that the plant blooms very early in the season, such as Galanthus nivalis, snowdrops.

Some names tell us the country of origin for a plant. If "chinensis" appears as a specific epithet, then the plant is native to China. "Japonica" indicates a native of Japan and "alpinum" indicates a plant native to alpine climates. Names that refer to states like "virginica" and "pennsylvanica" indicate that the plant is native to North America.

Other scientific names indicate the habit or form of the plant. When "procumbens" is used as a specific epithet, the plant is usually low-growing. "Repens" indicates a plant that creeps, "dendron" a plant that is a tree or is tree-like, "elatum" means tall, indicating the height of the plant, and "gracilis" means slender.

"Knowing the right name can help you obtain the right plant," says Yiesla. "When you learn the scientific name of the plant, learn the whole name. If you go to a garden center and ask for a Eupatorium you might get Eupatorium maculatum (Joe-pye weed which has pink flowers), Eupatorium coelestinum (hardy ageratum, which has blue flowers), or Eupatorium perfoliatum (boneset, which has white flowers).

"Scientific names can be tricky at first, but as you start to learn them, you will find them helpful."