Tag Archive | landscaping

Epic Fail in My Landscape

imageLast summer, I designed and installed a whole new front foundation bed. It took almost a year for me to even design it, as I wanted to find the most obscure plants for my garden. No ordinary plants for Ilex!!

I noticed a new plant being offered at a few nurseries of mine called First Editions® Amber Jubilee® Ninebark or it’s original name, Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Jefam’ PPAF. Basically, Monrovia bought the rights to ‘Jefam’ and changed it’s name to patent it.

Ninebark’s are native here, so I didn’t question the hardiness of this shrub. I thought it’s orange leaves would be a wonderful addition to my landscape.

Sadly, this spring they barely leafed out. All five shrubs are toast. At $45 a pop at wholesale, that was a hit to my pocketbook. Hubby will be doing me the pleasure of removing them. I’ve decided large perennials would be a better choice for this location. We will be painting the house next spring and they will be safe underground opposed to these shrubs next to the house. The replacement cost is five times lower, also.

So, what happened here!?!

Well. Here are a few thoughts that ran through my mind:

  • They were planted at the correct depth, mulched and watered correctly.
  • They were planted in the correct exposure, 6 hours of sun.
  • There wasn’t an herbicide accident or outside force that took them out.
  • No animal damage.
  • Yes, sometimes things just die.

As a horticulturist, I do take this personally. I don’t understand how something can just die on my watch! I do know there are forces in nature that we as humans can’t understand yet. I get it.

The thing I did find interesting is that these plants started being advertised by Monrovia in 2014. I’m not sure how long the original ‘Jefam’ had been around. In 2015, nurseries were full of them. This year, they aren’t listed in any of the inventories. This tells me that the plant wasn’t popular or didn’t over-winter well at the nurseries. If a nursery can’t keep a plant alive, who could?

In the end, I figured my story would make non-professional gardeners feel better. Things do die in the landscape, even under the watchful eye of an educated horticulturist.

PS – I wrote this post before I ripped them out of the landscape and didn’t want to do a whole rewrite…

There is another possibility/reason they croaked. Their root systems were very week and undeveloped, a nursery management issue. Nurseries sell by pot size and actual size. Most likely the nursery had many orders for these and sold them sooner than they should have from a recent upsize in pot. Immature plants with under-developed root systems survive just fine under drip irrigation and climate control. Once out in the real world (like kids after college), they don’t realize how tough the real world is. These ripped out of the ground with little effort, as the rootball was only he size of a softball. It should have been the size of a basketball, at least.


© Ilex – Midwestern Plant Girl

Monday Memories 5-9-2016

The Hunt for Garlic Mustard for Tasty Meals!garl must

Now is the time to hunt for garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) a biennial flowering plant in the mustard family (Brassicaceae) and remove it.

Spring rain has made the ground soft which helps with removal of garlic mustard’s tap root. This root only goes down for about an inch, then takes an abrupt turn. When you pull slowly, you can feel which way the root goes and pull accordingly. If all of it is not removed, it will grow back like a dandelion. It will also start blooming in our area soon, making it easier to find.

Use Landscaping to Save on Energy Bills

Landscaping can significantly reduce the costs of heating and cooling the home. Some well-placed shade trees, evergreens and shrubs not only look great, but also keep the house cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

Not much solar energy enters our homes through the walls and roof because of the insulation. Sun shining through the windows accounts for about half of the unwanted heat in a house during the summer. Twice as much solar energy enters through the east and west windows as the south windows, particularly if there is a roof overhang on the south side of the house.

The sun and wind both affect the temperature of residences in winter. A substantial amount of warmth can be gained from the sun shining through a southern facing window in the winter when the sun is low in the sky. East and west windows can also provide solar energy gain in the winter. The solar energy from the windows may provide 4-18% of the total energy needed to heat the home. Although, escaping warm air, along with cold wind penetrating a home, increase the heating costs and account for 24-39% of the heating requirements.


Ilex VS House Sparrow

The House Sparrow originated in the Mediterranean and expanded its range into Europe as civilization also grew. Many factors contributed to the House Sparrows invasion of America. In 1850, green inch-worms were destroying trees in New York City’s Central Park. It was thought that the house sparrow’s main diet in Europe was these green worms and if sparrows were brought to New York City, they would solve the worm problem. One year later, the Brooklyn institute released eight pairs that didn’t survive the climate change. However, after many more attempts, they did finally adapt. Others hypothesized that the House Sparrow would eat grain out of horse manure, which would help the manure decompose faster. Finally, many Europeans who immigrated to the United States during this time smuggled in the little birds they were accustomed to seeing in their native country. By the time it was realized that house sparrows do not regularly eat insects outside the nesting season or eat grain out of horse manure (yet ate it out of the horse feeders), the birds range had spread tremendously.

fairy rigerIlex VS Fairy Rings

Some cultures believe these circles to be dangerous to humans. Those violating fairy perimeters become invisible to those outside and may be unable leave the circle. The fairies then force the intruder to dance till exhausted, dead, or in the throes of madness.

The only safe way to investigate a fairy ring is to run around it nine times. Doing this permits the runner to hear the fairies dancing underground. This must be done under a full moon and in the direction the sun travels.

Other cultures still believe in fairy activity and that fairy rings are omens of good fortune. Some legends see fairy circles as places of fertility and fortune. The Welsh believe that mountain sheep eating the grass from a fairy ring flourish and crops sown around tend to grow better. European folklore believe fairy rings are gateways into elfin kingdoms.

Spring Blooming Flowers 4-26-2016

I like how spring is unfolding here. Lots of things are at least starting to show growth and or if it has survived the winter. I had a bunch of stuff die in my front beds. See, even professionals have issues sometimes! I had a whole row of Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Jefam’ or ‘Amber Jubilee’ croak on me. Gaaa! Those were $45. even at wholesale. I have still to see on some late emerging stuff, but after another couple of weeks, the truth will be told what is making a comeback..

Hop on the wayback machine to see what I found blooming in 201320142015

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Stylophorum diphyllum ~ celandine-poppy, wood poppy, poppywort  |  Chionanthus virginicus ~ fringetree


Chaenomeles speciosa ~ Texas scarlet quince
image   image

Sanguinaria canadensis ~ bloodroot  |  Viburnum Carlsii ~ Koreanspice viburnum


Rhododendron ‘Karens’ ~ Karen’s azalea


Malus ~ Crabapple

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Viburnum dentatum ~ Arrowwood vibrunum  |  Glechoma hederacea ~ Creeping Charlie


Draba verna ~ Whitlow-grass

© Ilex – Midwestern Plant Girl

A Sad Day For Ilex



Here’s where all the fun happens!!

Welcome to the world of Ilex!!

If you’ve been following me for awhile, you’ve probably seen many bird, squirrel, humorous and serious posts that have originated from the view from my desk. I work in a large, renovated-into-an-office house. I love the feel here, as it really feels like home. I can make a grilled cheese for lunch on the stove, not have to share poop smells with a stall neighbor and best of all, have my desk right up against a picture window!

My predecessor had a bird feeder hanging from the tree, however she never offered the birds anything good, so she never got any interesting visitors aside from sparrows.


My tree, held together with a strap.

After she left, I stepped up the game and started offering sunflower seeds, suet and thistle. It wasn’t long before word got out that Ilex’s Bird Bonanza was open for business! I started getting visitors of all shapes and sizes. I had never been a big birder in the past, however now I had my bird book out and learned all of the different species, what they liked to eat, how they serenaded their mates, fed their young and sometimes avoided death. I even got to see visitors with fur instead of feathers. Sadly, sometimes the furries even ate my feathered friends. Nature happens like that.

Our normal Springs are very windy. Ironically, they do not call Chicago the ‘Windy City’ because of the gusty weather we have here, it’s because of the blow-hardy politicians! Remember, Mr. Obama is from our wonderful state. =P

It was during a particularly windy day that I noticed my tree was swaying a bit. I went outside to get a better look and inspect it like a true arborist should. I used a rubber mallet to tap on the crack in the center and all I heard was hollow noises… NOT good. Most likely, this was two trees that grew together. This causes the inner bark to constantly wear and rot when water or debris gets stuck in it.

I had the crew strap the limbs together so I wouldn’t get killed on the job. There are better ways to deal with this, however when you know the tree has to go, there’s no reason to do a full guy wire to try to lengthen the life of the tree. It’s not going to be safe to leave it. So, with a heavy heart, I watched our crew cut the branches down and finally the trunk, down to the stump that is left today.

I cried a little. The guys knew how I felt about this tree and my feathered friends. They helped me take the feeders down and were extra nice at finding alternative methods to hang my feeders from the gutters.

I was really worried I’d loose many of my visitors, however so far, only two species went MIA, the Red-Belled Woodpecker & the Brown Creepers. Both are trunk feeders. They loved coming by for suet on the tree trunk. I do put suet on a tree out of my view from the window. I know someone is eating it though, as it does disappear!

image  wpid-wp-1444232733064.jpg

Ah, memories!! I loved watching the birds land on the trunk and snack.

My new view. Not as forest looking as it used to be, but I’ll get used to it. I do also get my pick of replacement trees. I’m torn between a Black Tupelo and a Crimson Frost Birch. Both are pretty awesome trees. I’m sure there will be a post when I do decide.

© Ilex – Midwestern Plant Girl

Monday Memories ~ April 11, 2016

The Skinny on Skinny Trees – Columnar / Fastigiate Trees

tree and ballsColumnar or fastigiated trees make great candidates for landscape areas where space is restricted such as in parkway strips, between the sidewalk and driveway, or near the corner of a building. Many of these trees can also be used as a privacy screen. Columnar trees are also recommended for parking lots where outward branching can get in the way of vehicles. Be sure to check the salt tolerance factor of the tree before planting in a parking lot.


Ilex VS. Winter Damage

imageWinter burn happens when plants dry out during the winter. Even during the colder months, evergreens continue to lose water vapor through their needles, which are modified leaves. The plant attempts to replace the water by pulling it from the roots. However, when the ground is frozen, the roots cannot absorb enough water to supply it to the dry needles. If the weather turns breezy, warm and sunny while the ground is still frozen (like today, in the Midwest), evaporation from the needles increases and water cannot be replaced fast enough. Discolored, brown or burnt -looking foliage may start to appear when this happens. In fact, winter burn indicators typically develop during warm weather in late winter and early spring.

Winter damage is often misdiagnosed as a disease or as damage from excessively cold temperatures. The damage which starts at the tips, is brown or rust-colored and generally on the side of the plant facing the sun and/or the side exposed to the wind, where the rate of evaporation from the needles or leaves is greatest.

2015 Warmest Winter… EVER!!

djfinseNOAA says that December through February – for meteorological record-keeping purposes, winter is defined as those three months in the Northern Hemisphere – was 1.42 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average for all land and ocean areas. This tops the previous warmest winter of 2007 by 0.05 degrees Fahrenheit. Global temperature records are available for the period 1880-2015.

I’m going to be curious if we’ll give 2015 a run for its money for 2016 on temps.

35 Water Saving Methods in the Gardenrain barrel
  1. Water lawns during the early morning when temperatures and wind speed are the lowest. This reduces evaporation and waste. Watering in the evening can leave leaves wet all night, promoting disease problems. Better yet. DON’T WATER THE LAWN AT ALL!!! It doesn’t die, it goes dormant.

  2. Start a compost pile or scrape food into the trash instead of running your garbage disposal*, which requires a lot of water to work properly. Use the compost to improve the quality and water holding capacity of your soil. *Save yourself from having the plumber out also!!

  3. Do not leave sprinklers or hoses unattended. Your garden hose can pour out 600 gallons of water or more in only a few hours, so don’t leave the sprinkler running all day. Use a kitchen timer to remind yourself to turn it off.

25 Ways to Kill A Tree

Kill a Tree

Yes, I drew this. Meh, better than a 5th grader… 😉

Mechanical damage and improper tree maintenance kills more trees than any insects or diseases. This how-to guide will hopefully teach you how NOT to treat your tree friends. .. However, if you’re the sadistic type and love spending money replacing trees, this is a great read for you also!

1 – “Top” the tree which promotes watersprouts that weaken trees and encourage pests and disease.

Do not top trees. Tree heights can be lessened by proper crown reduction that doesn’t stimulate watersprout growth.

2 – Leave co-dominant leaders to promote “V” growth and splitting during winds and storms.

When a tree is young, select one or the other of the competing upright branches to be the main branch and cut the other off. Do not buy a tree with these characteristics.

3 – Leave crossing branches to rub protective bark and create wounds.

Prune branches that cross and rub in order to prevent bark wounds.

4 – Ignore insect or disease damage.

You should be out, enjoying your trees on a daily basis, so monitor for pests and treat appropriately if they are found.

5 – Coat pruning cuts with paint or sealer to slow healing and promote pest problems.

Do not use anything to cover pruning cuts or wounds– trees seal their own wounds, it’s called compartmentalization. CODIT for short in the arborist world.

6 – Leave broken branches unpruned to invite pests and disease.

Prune branches off correctly at the branch bark collar.

7 – Spray unapproved herbicides over tree root area to weaken tree.

Read labels thoroughly!! Spray lawns with herbicides that will not damage trees. Better yet, don’t spray and herbicides at all!!

8 – Damage roots and trunk with lawn equipment.

Apply mulch around the tree to avoid hitting the tree trunk with lawn or edging equipment and to protect surface roots.

9 – Rip through roots when digging trenches.

Dig around roots whenever possible, however if this is not possible, make a clean pruning cut on the tree side of the root.

10 – Plant close to the house or an obstacle to reduce adequate tree and root growing space.

Know how big a tree will grow (height and width) and space accordingly away from houses and other obstacles.

11 – Attach items to tree to damage bark and girdle branches with wire and rope.

Insert a nail or screw into your tree to which a wire or line can be attached. The tree will seal around the small wound made by the nail or screw.

12 – Prune between lateral branches to leave stubs.

Cut branches back to laterals so you don’t leave stubs to which the branches will die back.

13 – Prune flush cuts to reduce wound closure.

Do not make flush cuts. Cut on the outside of the branch bark collar.

14 – Leave tree staked until guy wire girdles trunk.

Stakes generally aren’t needed on small residential trees, but if they are, remove them after one year to avoid any damage.

14 – Leave wrap on to constrict trunk growth and rot bark.

Do not wrap the trunk with anything except a wide wire cage if animals are a problem. This also invides borers into the protected space under the wrap.

15 – Pile up excessive mulch to encourage rodent damage and bark rot. MULCH VOLCANO!

Do not put mulch in contact with the trunk, and then pile mulch only 2 to 3 inches over the roots.

17 – Put non-porous black plastic under mulch.

Do not put any type of fabric or plastic material under your mulch. Wind will bring soil and seeds in on top of the fabric, and there will be weeds growing in no time.

18 – Stack items atop roots to cause soil compaction.

Do not stack items atop the roots as it causes soil compaction.

19 – Leave ball roping on to girdle trunk.

Take the ball roping off around the tree trunk. If the tree is in a container, remove the container before planting. Yes, I have seen full containers in holes before.

20 – Plant near a downspout to assure excessive water or water lightly to encourage shallow root growth.

Divert water from the roots of trees that don’t like wet soil. However, when watering, water deeply to encourage deep root growth. Better to water less often, but longer – than more often and shorter.

21 – Leave top of wire basket in place to girdle roots.

Remove the top horizontal round of wire from the basket as least. Try to remove as much as you can.

22 – Leave treated or synthetic burlap on to prevent root growth.

Remove the burlap, (regardless of type) from atop the ball and at least as much on the sides that it is buried by several inches. If left above ground, it will wick away all the moisture from the area of the tree and essentially dry it out.

23 – Dig hole too narrow and over amend backfill to discourage proper root spread.

Dig the hole at least twice as wide as the root system to encourage lateral root growth out of the root ball. Do not amend backfill for individual tree holes, use native soil.

24 – Dig hole too deep and/or fill with gravel to collect water and drown roots.

Dig your hole only as deep as the root system (Top root of ball) and do not put gravel in the bottom of the planting hole.

25 – Remember that trees give us all of the air we breath on this planet. If no one plants trees, none of us will continue to breath!!

Rain Garden Maintenance

We had a client that requested us to have his retention basins replanted with more color than the all cattail garden. We installed the plugs last September. Here is the results of our venture! Although just a bit thin, every species seemed to have made it over the winter and the full filling of the basins.

I was able to get released from the chains of my desk and got to come out to this location! This was a special treat! The whole reason I was let-out was because there was no one able to identify native plants. Why am I wasting my time sitting at a desk? Anyhow.

Here’s what the basins looked like this July.  There were a few cattails that were trying to resurface, however we pulled them by hand. The basin only measured about 14 feet wide so I waded in with my rubbers and threw the offending weeds at my crew for them to collect. They couldn’t identify the weeds fast enough, so they learned by looking at the things I had already pulled.



The lobelia and bull rush look so beautiful to me. I wish more people thought as much. Another reason I was brought out here was the clients were complaining that they weren’t seeing fields of color. No patience whatsoever. Grasses always grow faster than the flowers (forbs). Native restorations are usually said to be complete in three years. This is only year one.


Sagittaria latifolia – Common arrowhead

Very tasty when roasted, the texture is somewhat like potatoes with a taste like sweet chestnuts. The tubers can be eaten raw but they are rather bitter. It is best to remove this skin after the tubers have been cooked, but before eating. The tubers can also be dried and ground into a powder, this powder can be used as a gruel or mixed with cereal flours and used to make bread. North American Indians would slice the boiled roots into thin sections and string them on ropes to dry in much the same way as apples. The tubers are best harvested in the late summer as the leaves die down.

© Ilex ~ Midwestern Plant Girl

Ilex VS Lawn Fungus

Common Signs of Lawn Fungus Diseases

  • Spots and patches
  • Underdeveloped growth
  • Bleached or light colored turf
  • Shredded or curled grass blades
  • Circular lesions on the blades
  • Dark growth at the base/thatch line

In general, the damage from a fungus will be circular. Correctly identifying the damage is crucial. For if the damage is actually grubs, treating them with fungicide won’t work, duh! Fungi that damage the lawns are parasitic and steal nutrients from grass, which causes it to decline, turn colors or in some cases die. When a fungal spore encounters a host in the right environmental conditions think: pathogen + environment + host =  disease disease Triangle

Common Lawn Fungus Diseases

snow mold

Pink Snow Mold – White to pink fungal growth that feels slimy, favored by abundant moisture.

gray snow mold

Gray Snow Mold – White to gray fungal growth that may form large irregular patches, favored by abundant moisture or snow cover.

yellow patch

Yellow Patch – Circular patches of light tan to brown grass, favored by cool, wet conditions.










brown spt

Brown Patch – Circular, light brown patches, favored by moist conditions or areas that remain wet.

necrotic spot

Necrotic Patch – Circular yellow patches or tan to brown grass, favored by cool, wet weather.

red thread

Red Thread/Pink Patch – Small, light pink to red patches, favored by cooler weather and moist conditions.


Rust – Small, yellow flecks on leaves, sometimes enlarged to form rust-colored pustules, favored by moderately warm and humid conditions or stressed turf.

dollar spot

Dollar Spot – Circular patches with reddish-brown borders, favored by humidity.

fairy ring

Fairy Ring – Circular patches of dark green, often enlarged into rings, favored by mild temperatures and moisture, and sometimes in dry, hot conditions.
















Changing your lawn care habits might reduce your risk of fungi problems. A healthy lawn has a really good chance of pulling through a fungal infection, but that is up to you!

  • Water your grass regularly, but don’t water it too much because waterlogged grass invites fungi. Don’t set your irrigation and not monitor it.
  • Dry grass can also makes your lawn more susceptible.
  • A one time, nitrogen-based fertilizer applied in the fall supplies your grass with the nutrients it needs to flourish.
  • When you mow, don’t remove more than one-third of the length of the blades of grass at a time. A healthy length for grass (from the thatchline) is 3 inches tall.

Generally, a homeowner doesn’t have many choices in the self-help isle of the Big Depot. You also don’t go to the store until you notice there is a fungus among-us in your lawn. There are many products, however most home-use products will cure most fungi. ALWAYS read the labels thoroughly.

The first thing you must do is to cure or the CURATIVE treatment. Which, in general, is either a stronger mixture, applied more often or both than the PREVENTATIVE. Be aware, you will need to apply this curatively, every 3 weeks, preventatively, every 4-5 weeks.

Organically, I’ve heard of putting corn meal on the lawn. I’ve got no experience using this. Has anyone tried this??

© Ilex ~ Midwestern Plant Girl

Monday Memories

Happy Monday to you all!

This week we have a jammed-packed post with lots of stuff going on in the world of nature.

Why Native Plants Rock in the Midwest (Four Part Series)

wpid-2014-08-23-21.00.26.jpg.jpegMany native plants, animals, and insects have become endangered as the world’s population grows and expands into areas previously untouched by humans. To mitigate these issues, residents should be encouraged to use native plants in their landscape. Not only do natives promote habitats, a community can save water, and reduce erosion and flooding problems.

Native plants can be defined as being indigenous or occurring naturally in a given geographic area and not introduced to that area by humans. When it comes to native plants, the “geographical area” is a 50-mile radius. The distinction between native and non-native species is important because native species have generally adapted and evolved with the competing species, predators, and diseases of an area over many thousands of years. Native species are therefore generally in reasonable ecological balance with their associates and competitors, and have pests, predators, or diseases that limit their abundance.

How to Attract Butterflies in your Garden

imageThis is a list of host plants for many of the North American butterflies that call our large island a home. Many of these species are slowly declining, mostly due to loss of habitat and pesticide use.




Ilex VS Oak Wilt

Thank you – ci.ramsey.mn.us


If your in the Midwest and your oak (Quercus) leaves are now looking like the above photo, it more than likely has oak wilt.

Oak wilt is a disease caused by the fungus Ceratocystis fagacearum, that is either spread by beetles of the nitidulid family (commonly known as sap bugs), or by root grafts. The disease clogs the vascular system of the tree causing wilting.

This disease kills red oaks including; red, black, pin, and scarlet varieties. White oaks including; white, bur, and swamp white oaks tend to pull through, although it takes many injectable fungicide treatments and a lot of care must be given.


Ilex VS Grubs in the Lawn

Lawn Damage by Grubs

Lawn Damage by Grubs


Lawns in the Midwest often are subject to severe injury by the larval stages (grubs) of various species of scarab beetles. Japanese beetles and May/June beetles are the predominant damaging white grub species found within home lawns. Several other white grub species including: European chafer, Asiatic garden beetle, green June beetle, masked chafer grubs, and Oriental beetle are sporadically found in lawns and may cause some damage.

Japanese beetles cause other types of damage and require different types of controls. Visit Ilex VS Japanese Beetles for more information on how to battle them.


Ilex VS Sawfly


Endelomyia aethiops or the rose sawfly larvae.


Gooseberry Sawfly – Nematus ribesii

The rose sawfly has one generation a year, with larvae appearing in mid to late spring. The larvae fall from the plants and tunnel into the soil by mid-June, but it’s later this year.  They remain dormant underground until next spring, when the adults emerge and lay eggs on the new rose foliage to begin the cycle over again.

Larvae can be effectively controlled with a neem oil product or an insecticidal soap. Spray only the leaves (both sides), in the morning as neem oil can possibility hurt pollinators (More research needs to go into that). The strategy is to find larvae while they are still small and before damage becomes severe, like our roses! There is no need for control after the larvae have finished eating and left the plants, give or take mid-July.



© Ilex ~ Midwestern Plant Girl

Spring Blooming Flowers 5-12-2015

Happy Tuesday!

Click here to see what was blooming in 2014 and 2013.

Dicentra spectabilis ‘Valentine’ – Bleeding hearts


Lamium ‘Orchid Frost’ – Spotted dead nettle


Hosta ‘Dragon Tails’


Hmm. A lily?


Phlox stolonifera ‘sherwood purple’


Euphorbia polychroma – cushion spurge


Pulmonaria ‘Trevi Fountain’ – Lungwort


Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ – Heartleaf brunnera


Dicentra spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’ – Bleeding heart

© Ilex ~ Midwestern Plant Girl