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We had a great class at the Morton Arboretum last Friday, and while we were planning front gardens for all 20 students, we got into talking about soil testing. Everyone in this class has a new build or a mature landscape that has been long in need of a spruce up! Both of these scenarios require a soil test to know how to care for the soil. After all, in a sustainable garden, it’s the soil that nurtures the plants.
Soil tests can be simple or very complex, and what you choose to do should depend on your specific questions. We typically recommend a high level lab test if you have never had one done and you want to know about the overall health of your garden soil. On the other hand, if you are only testing for lead content in an area where you plant to do edible gardening, less expensive tests are available. Finally, if you want to do a simple test on your own, you can buy a do-it-yourself kit at your garden center.
Proceed as follows: Select an area where you want the soil tested. This should be one garden bed or an area not bigger than 150 sq. ft. And remember tat the topsoil is what you are testing — the darkest and topmost area in the cross-section shown above. Dig down about 4 inches in 3 or 4 spots in the area you want tested, and take a half cup or so of soil from each. Mix well and place a total of about 2 cups of the mix in a PAPER bag. Seal the bag and place in a mailing box. Send this to the lab. If you need to test other areas, send a sample in this fashion for EACH area you want tested.
You can find reputable labs on Google, or by checking with your local garden center or conservation associations. Sage Advice can also recommend soil test agencies.
Sage Advice is proud to be the landscape company of choice for Carol Calabresa, who has just been honored by Conserve Lake County as their Woman of the Year, for her 30-plus years of community service in support of conservation initiatives in Lake County. Carol has served on the Conserve Lake County Board, the Forest Preserve Board, and the Lake County Board, where she is still a Trustee.
Sage Advice has worked for the past several years helping Carol and her husband Bill build a completely new residential landscape with native shrubs and forbs, on their property in Libertyville, Illinois.
Planting a vegetable garden or a row of summer flowers gives kids even as young as 4 or 5 the chance to dig in the dirt, learn where food comes from and feel comfortable outdoors. To help our kids avoid having Nature Deficit Disorder, a documented problem these days, it’s best to start early!
From New Terrain, a newsletter of Ball Publishing: As many as 1.8 billion additional stems of milkweed plants in North America may return imperiled Monarch butterflies to a sustainable population size, according to a recently published U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) study. Habitat plants in the Monarch’s Midwestern flyway are most important.
“Milkweeds in corn and soybean fields produce more Monarch eggs than milkweeds located in non-agricultural areas,” Wayne Thogmartin, USGS Research Ecologist, said in a USGS press release.
“Competing demands for space in these agricultural locations limit the highly desirable habitat available to milkweeds and Monarchs.”
More than 860 million milkweeds were lost in the northern United States over the last decade. Scientists with the USGS and collaborators examined the density of Eastern migratory Monarch butterflies overwintering in Mexico from 1979-2002 and the amount of milkweed plants available to them in North America. The study found that 3.62 billion milkweeds are needed to reestablish the Monarch population, but only 1.34 billion remain in the U.S.
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You can provide food and shelter for birds and butterflies no matter where you live. In the city of Chicago, this customer turned her parkway into an oasis that is not only beautiful but functional for wildlife. The parkway is only 20 by 11 feet but that’s big enough!
This term refers to spring wildflowers that appear quickly in early spring when sunlight, moisture and soil nutrients are just right. Ephemerals bloom, fruit, die back, and then disappear completely from the garden before the spring season has even completed its run. Novice gardeners may think the plants have died, but they have not! Spring ephemerals return each year only at the exact right time given the conditions mentioned above. Why spring? Because that’s when the sunlight can still reach the forest floor – and ephemerals are native to the woodland. Ephemerals must bloom before the leaves of overhead trees unfurl and block the light. They are able to do so because they grow close to the ground, where soil moisture protects them from the cold temperatures we sometimes experience in spring.
Winter is a great time to re-assess what you are doing to promote sustainability in the environment. Every gardener can do this, and it doesn’t need to be hard. Here are a few things to think about for next year!
Do you have a rain barrel?
Do you compost in your yard?
Are you returning the nitrogen in grass clippings back into your soil by using a mulching mower?
Have you added native plants to your garden, to help attract butterflies and bees?
Would a rain garden help the drainage in your yard?
These are a few questions that might help you think about sustainability!
A butterfly garden doesn’t necessarily look like much when first planted, but see how it emerges to a stunning display by the third season! In this garden, the outstanding orange blossoms are butterfly weed, a favorite variety of milkweed.
Sage Advice pleased to be able to offer help to an energetic committee in Park Ridge Illinois that is working to increase awareness of sustainability in our home suburb! One of the major projects of the committee this year is their Milkweed Project. The goal is to distribute 500 milkweed plants throughout the community this summer to help support Monarch butterflies. Committee members collected seeds last fall and this spring worked with Pizzo Native Plant Nursery who generously offered to stratify and germinate the seeds at their facility in Leland, Illinois. Plants will be ready in June for distribution throughout the community. Lurvey Landscape Supply in Des Plaines has offered to provide individual pots for seedings, and plants will be ready for distribution throughout the community in June. Committee members recently donated a day to help Pizzo Nursery transplant more than 8000 seedings into plug trays.
We had the rare privilege of visiting recently with daylily expert Ann Redmon from Manhattan Kansas. Ms. Redmon has cross-bred many daylilies in her acerage to create new varieties, and has registered four of them. Pictured here is one of her registered lilies, called “Hannah Banana.” Daylilies are great in any garden. But remember, you want cultivated varieties, not the common and very tall orange “ditch lilies” that spread by rhizomes and crowd out cultivated plants.
Daylilies are easy to care for and add bright spots of midsummer color in shades of yellow, orange, red, white, pink, even green like this one, and combinations of these colors. Ms. Redmon specializes in creating new lilies with narrower petals and a more modern look.