Tips from the best in the gardening business

Tips from the best in the gardening business

Assuming plant life survives this second ice age we've experienced, gardening season will be here before you know it. We asked 10 of the area's foremost authorities: What's your one "don't" for less-accomplished gardeners and planters?

Botanical Garden Supervisor, Mabery Gelvin Botanical Garden, Mahomet

Don't ... use organic fertilizers for planters outdoors.

"If you have nighttime critters prowling around your neighborhood, the scent of organic fertilizers will attract them. I made a container garden using several large planters and a variety of annual flowering plants. I incorporated Bone meal and Blood meal into the potting soil. The next morning, every plant was laying on the ground, along with about half of the soil in each container.

"I put the soil and plants back into the containers but the scene the next morning was the same. Only this time, I found raccoon tracks. I replanted using fresh potting soil and the problem was eliminated. The raccoons were searching for food and could care less about the plants, so they dug them up."

Botanist, Illinois Natural History Survey

Don't ... plant without a plan.

"A rookie mistake I have made is bringing home young, small plants and planting them too close together. Rosinweed is a wonderful prairie wildflower with sunflower-like heads. It looked small and vulnerable when I first put it in the ground but within a few years it grew dozens of stems that crowded out other plants nearby.

"So I dug it up and moved it to another part of my yard where it could thrive. Proper planning saves you that hassle."

Co-owner, Urbana's Country Arbor Nurseries

Don't ... drown your poor plants.

"Plants like to be watered, dry out, and then watered again. We at the nursery, and our customers, kill 10 times as many plants from overwatering as we do from underwatering.

"Overwatered plants show the same signs as dry plants. Their leaves sag from root rot and give the owner the impression they need to water more. When they do, they finish it off."

Executive Director, Champaign's International Society of Arboriculture

Don't ... plant a tree under a power line.

"Always look up before you plant. Trees are a major cause of power outages during storms. Planting the tree in the right place prevents power interruption and also allows the tree to grow to maturity — without being disfigured."

Host, WILL-AM's "Backyard Industry"

Don't ... count on staying clean.

"And don't expect those jeans to ever be wearable anywhere other than the garden. Don't worry about the dirt under your fingernails — other gardeners will see them and give you a silent nod of understanding and approval. Embrace the dirt. It's good for you."

Ford County Soil & Water Conservation District

Don't ... forget to mulch your garden when plants are 4-6 inches tall.

"You can use straw, alfalfa, leaves, grass clippings, newspaper, compost, manure, black plastic sheeting, even bark mulch.

"There are many different options, but they are all important for reducing the amount of weeds you have to pull — a gardener's favorite task; conserving moisture in the soil; reducing erosion of loose soil and adding nutrients in some cases."

Host, "Mid-American Gardener" on Illinois Public Media

Don't ... work garden soil when it's soaked.

"The soil should form a loose, crumbly ball when you grab some with your hand. You run the risk of compacting the soil by losing the structure and important air pockets.

"Don't plant poor unsuspecting vegetable seeds into your newly formed concrete. Wait — and while you're waiting, plant some containers of colorful mixed lettuces or spinach and radishes."

Plant expert, Prairie Gardens

Don't ... pick out your vegetable plants on an empty stomach.

"Just like the grocery store, you'll go overboard. This winter has created an empty stomach feeling for the most of us."

Director of horticulture, Parkland College

Don't ... trim tulips and daffodils too soon.

"I'm often asked: After my tulips and daffodils are done blooming, should I braid the leaves so they don't look so floppy and unsightly? You want to let them die down naturally, as the nutrients from the leaves replenish the bulb. If not, the next year's blooms end up puny or sometimes none at all.

"The bulb's leaves can be unsightly but it is vital to their health to leave them until they are completely brown and dead, at which time they can be trimmed off."

Designer, caretaker, Japan House Gardens

Don't ... cram your plants too close together.

"Think simplicity and you will save money and work, and create a more attractive garden. If you don't understand the size, shape and growing requirements of your plants in the garden for your climate, your garden will limp along into failure.

"Don't buy plants just because you like them — they may not be suitable for your area. Read before you buy."

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