FAQ | Frequently Asked Questions

  • Winter

      • I usually toss my amaryllis after if finishes blooming, but it was so pretty this year I’m considering saving it to re-bloom next year. Can I do this?

        • Yes! Cut the spent flower stems down to the neck of the bulb to prevent energy being wasted on seed production. Then start fertilizing with a high phosphorous (the middle nutrient in an analysis, ex: 10-15-10) fertilizer on a regular basis. This fertilization is crucial as it takes a tremendous amount of stored food to build up the exhausted bulb. Keep the bulb growing as an indoor houseplant or sink the pot into a semi-shaded area of the garden (generally, full sun all day will tend to burn the leaves) after danger of frost has passed, keep feeding and watering until early fall (October). Before frost lift the potted amaryllis and put in the basement, immediately starting to withhold water to force the bulb into a dormant state. When all the leaves have yellowed cut them off at the neck of the bulb. During this time cool temperatures, darkness and lack of water are the order of the day. After a rest period of 8-12 weeks when the bulb has sufficiently “rested” leaves and/or flower buds will start showing in the neck of the bulb. The cycle starts over again. 

      • What do people mean by perennials “frost heaving” over the winter?

        • Frost heaving is the result of extreme alternating freeze/thaw cycles. Candidate plants for heaving are: either planted late in the fall and didn’t have a chance to get established; plants that have naturally shallow root systems; or plants that weren’t properly mulched. These plants will start pulling out of the ground with the tops of their root systems showing above the surrounding soil line. Root exposure to cold temperatures and the drying effects of wind can result in devastating losses. What to do? On winter days well above freezing, walk your perennial border and scout for frost-heaved perennials. Gently put a foot on either edge of the root ball and press gently back down into the ground. Yes, it does further compact our clay soils, but it’s a case of no good alternatives. Strongly consider mulching these “heaver” perennials to keep the ground frozen.  

      • When is the best time to contact your Landscape team to start the design process?

        • The right answer is ASAP. The seasonality of our climate often lulls the majority of us into overlooking landscape planning and design until spring. Be the one who plans ahead, contact us now at 847-423-6158 or online here to start the process. It is a multi-step process from initial contact to installation. Be prepared for spring with a plan in hand!

      • I know it is Winter but I am antsy to begin gardening. Is it too early to start seeds?

        • Microgreens and sprouts aside, unless you have a great light set-up (such as ‘Rise Gardens’) or a greenhouse, it’s too early to start most things that you’re wanting to put out in the spring garden.  Starting seeds too early in insufficient light yields tall, weak, lanky seedlings. You can, however, plan your garden and do your seed shopping as the seed racks start hitting our store in early to mid-January.  

      • With the shorter days of winter and the fact that many of them are even virtually sun-less, what houseplants are foolproof in low light north and east-facing windows?

        • Check out any of the many varieties of the following:

          Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema) – Great for the interesting variations in color tones in the leaves, can be used in smaller pot sizes as a table plant, mature sizes are tall enough to work beautifully as floor specimens.

          Philodendron- Everything in fashion and design ebbs and flows, and Philodendron in all their diverse forms are “in” again- big time. That’s because you can place them in your very darkest rooms, water when you think of them and they’ll flourish.

          Snake plant/Mother-in-law’s tongue (Sansevieria) – For those that just remember the one grandma had, you know the mottled green one or the green with the gold edges, it’s time for a trip to Chalet to see what’s new. The diversity of forms and leaf shapes is too cool. This is the plant for people that claim a “black thumb” or to get kids’ started with plants in their rooms. Think of them as camels (the plants, not the kids) and water them when you think of it. If a plant is needed in your darkest room Snake plants are a great choice.

          Peace lily (Spathiphyllum) – An abundance of pretty dark green leaves shaped a bit like sails, and then with time comes the bonus of snow-white flowers that last and last. Best when watered as soon as the soil feels dry to the touch.

          And the four plant “families” above aren’t just pretty faces. All these beauties are scrubbing the polluted air in your home, removing indoor toxins every minute of the day!                

      • I have some yews that I’m concerned about becoming deer fodder over the winter. I sprayed a repellent directly on the foliage in mid-November and so far, it seems to be working. Do I have to reapply?

        • It’s a long winter and while the Plant-Skydd label reads “6 months of winter protection” we’d feel more comfortable if you make at least one more application mid-winter.

      • I’ve seen ads for bird bath deicers. I hadn’t really thought about birds’ access to water during the winter. Is it that much of an issue?

        • Perhaps surprisingly, it is. Having clean, non-contaminated water for drinking is really the issue as opposed to them having it for bathing. Under certain weather conditions clean drinking water can be harder for birds to obtain than food! Using a birdbath deicer can literally be the difference between life and death. One of the most telling pictures I ever saw was of a heated birdbath in winter snow that had at least 15 robins in, perched or awaiting their turn for water in the heated birdbath. 

      • As I get older, I get more and more nervous about falling on my sidewalk. I have it shoveled religiously, but I’d feel safer if I use a de-icing product. Aren’t they all pretty much the same?

        • If you consider their potential negative effects on landscape plants, we would always recommend a calcium or potassium based-deicer like “Paw Thaw” (calcium). It’s the sodium or salt-based products that wreak havoc with plants and turf. 

      • What’s a good way to recycle (and get one more use) my cut Christmas tree?

        • I recommend cutting off the branches at the trunk and using them for mulch. Flip them over from the way they exist on the tree and place them on perennials, or over beds of ground cover (especially English ivy) in windswept, sunny sites. The tree branches shade the soil, keeping it frozen, yet still allowing air circulation around the crowns of the plant. In shading the soil and therefore plants, evergreen perennials and English ivy foliage are spared the dehydrating combo of sun and wind that can be devastating in winters where it’s bitterly cold, but don’t have the insulating benefit of deep snow.  

      • I love the idea of having a live potted or balled & burlapped Christmas tree, then planting it out after Christmas. It seems so ecologically correct. Since no one seems to be doing it there must be a downside. What am I missing?

        • You’re so right. It’s a lovely idea. You’re right, too, that there are some “considerations” that must be met that keep many people off the “live Christmas tree” bandwagon.

          Even a 3-4’ or 4-5’ potted evergreen is heavy and cumbersome to schlep up or down stairs and despite best efforts can be muddy or leaking water… on an Oriental rug, staining hardwood floors, etc.

          Tree must be well watered while inside ensuring that the root ball is moist and heavy….

          They can’t stay indoors at 70° for the weeks we’d ordinarily have a tree up. It confuses their dormant state. We recommend transitioning: 3 days in a garage, 5 days absolute max indoors (very cool room preferred), then 3 days in the garage before easing back out to cold temperatures. This timetable gives a live tree the best chance for surviving the whole process.

          Pre-digging the hole, moving and storing wet soil somewhere that it doesn’t freeze, lining the hole with mulch while awaiting the planting ceremony, these are all time-consuming chores and hard work. Ho-ho-ho.

          That being said, it can work if you’re willing to do the labor, especially following the timeline  strictly!

      • What’s the short version of “All I Ever Needed to Know About Poinsettias” to make them last as long as possible?

        • Bright light. Allow the soil surface to dry thoroughly to the touch before watering, always using warm water. Don’t splash water on the bracts (the colored leaves we refer to as flowers, which really aren’t).  Don’t let poinsettias sit in drainage water for more than 30 minutes after you’ve watered them. Avoid temperature extremes, hot or cold, inside or out. They must be wrapped to leave the store. If you buy them on a cold day go directly home and put inside the house. NEVER let them sit in a cold car while you shop and the car interior grows cold. Conversely, don’t put them near an actively used fireplace, heat vents or radiators.

      • Our family loves the tradition of having paperwhite Narcissus in bloom for the holidays. What’s the response time so I can “back in” to a correct planting date to have them in bloom when I want them?

        • Generally, you should get them started about 6 weeks before you need them in bloom. Therefore, a mid-November start will generally have them on target for the Christmas

          table. Room temperature and window exposure will speed up or slow down their forward progress. Also, as the season progresses these tropical bulbs will come out of dormancy naturally and will bloom sooner than 6 weeks. BTW, if you’ve never done them before they can’t be reflowered. Treat them like a cut flower bouquet and recycle when finished. 

      • I was in your store the other day shopping and was blown away by the incredible number of amaryllis varieties that exist now, since I grew up with the reddish-scarlet one, which seemed to be the only option then. Giving them as gifts, what are the three most important things to share so my friends are successful?

        • I know exactly what you mean. Hybridizers have done incredible things giving us a wider range of: colors, flower sizes and even flower forms with doubles that look entirely different.

          Tip #1 – The bigger the bulb the better your chances of having larger flowers, perhaps more than four per spike, and even multiple spikes.

          Tip #2 -  When you plant water the bulb once and then don’t water it again until you see either a flower spike and/or leaves emerging from the neck of the bulb. If it’s still dormant and not ready to grow and you keep watering it will spurn your unwanted kindness by rotting.

          Tip #3 – Don’t assume they’ll bloom for Christmas. They are grown both in the northern and southern hemispheres. If the latter, then they’ve already experienced their resting phase and will be much more apt to have leaves/ flower shoots peeking out of the bulb. These  might make it in time for a Christmas display.

          If they’re not showing “anything” chances are they were grown in the northern hemisphere and haven’t completed their rest period. They will just bloom later in the winter, that’s all.                             

      • We seem to be on a 365-day-a-year garden walk for browsing deer. Last year one particular yew at a corner where they always stopped for a nosh got stripped. While it regrew the loss of foliage clearly stressed the plant. What can I do?

        • When the snow gets deep (or even if it isn’t) deer will turn to feeding on both yews and arborvitae. While you can spray with long-lasting repellents like Plant Skydd it’s not always fun to walk through snowdrifts to reapply. One easy bet is to exclude deer by wrapping the plants loosely with black deer netting and zip ties. It comes in a number of square and rectangular sized packages, and is totally inconspicuous. In my experience this really seems to be a winter only issue that disappears when softer, juicier garden offerings (say, annuals and perennials) are on the menu.

      • I enjoy the birds’ antics at the feeder all year ‘round. Now I’m thinking of adding a suet feeder. How specifically does that benefit our feathered friends?

        • Suet is literally rendered fat (most often beef) and therefore provides great protein and calories for energy and heat production. Bird feeding is one of America’s favorite hobbies so there’s a wide range of specialty suet cakes available with goodies imbedded in them: insects, fruit, nuts, corn, etc.  Suet cakes with mealworms will be particularly appreciated by those birds that are insectivores (robins) rather than seed eaters. In addition to helping birds survive the winter challenges of finding enough high-quality food offering various suet cakes may bring in new species that aren’t regular diners at your feeder.

      • I have a multi-trunked arborvitae that has splayed open under the weight of wet, icy snow in the past. It never returned to its tight conical shape after that. Suggestions?

        • You’re so right, this is a common occurrence. Most arborvitae are grown multiple stem to get a fuller plant, but that does make them subject to just the kind of “opening up” that you describe. What I’ve done with mine is to purchase a length of coated flexible cable and I looped the trunks together (somewhat) tightly, making sure it’s not so tight that it cuts into the bark. I wove it behind the foliage so you can’t see the cable. Taller plants might benefit from two sets of cables a few feet apart.   

      • Why is last year’s beautiful Christmas cactus not showing blooms, or even buds?

        • The answer probably is that they’re in a room where they’re receiving light in the evening.  Christmas cactus, like poinsettias, set buds in response to long uninterrupted periods of darkness. For success:

          Keep them somewhat root-bound and gently reduce the amount of water they receive in fall (by early Oct.)

          They’re most likely to flower with six-eight weeks of days of 14 hours of uninterrupted darkness, again starting early October (that means a room that no one enters and even flashes a light for a few seconds).

          During the “dark day” period they prefer temperatures 60° or somewhat lower. Give them bright, indirect light and avoid placing near doors where they could receive cold drafts during bud formation and flowering.

      • What do I need to know to keep my cut Christmas tree fresh as long as possible?

        • We’re fortunate that our Fraser fir grower lives locally and takes very good care of us. He literally cuts from his farm on the East Coast and ships to us in the next few days. That’s unbelievably fresh and a huge advantage for our customers.

          If you’re going to store your tree for days before setup keep it cool/cold, and out of sun and wind- an unheated garage serves well.  We highly recommend spraying with Wilt-Pruf, a sealant that reduces water loss and therefore premature drying. Spray the undersides of the leaves (where water loss occurs) and let dry outside before bringing in.

          A fresh cut (at least 1/4” or more) must be made to the trunk of the tree to maximize water uptake. Once the cut is made it is best to get the tree in the stand within 30 minutes, but no later than an hour. After that the trunk cells seal over and water retention slows. We always recommend lukewarm/warm water for best uptake. Check the water reservoir twice daily the first few days always adding warm water, never cold. Never let the stand go dry and always avoid siting your tree next to fireplaces and heating vents.

          P.S.- Don’t waste your time putting the tree in a bucket of cold water in the garage. That does NOT keep it fresh – there’s little to no absorption of cold water!

      • For winter protection consideration purposes, what trees and shrubs might be subject to winter rodent damage?

        • Rabbits, mice and voles are attracted to thin, sweet- barked plants when snow cover is deep. Remember that a trunk or branch that has a complete band of bark removed (girdled) is soon-to-be dead. Our experience indicates rodent protection might be needed for: crabapples, fruit trees, burning bush, Fothergilla, Cotoneaster, hornbeam and arborvitae.  

      • When can I do my rose winterization?

        • As soon as any combination of the following three conditions have been met:

          1. 3 cumulative nights at or below 28° F.

          2. Rose foliage is brown and hanging limp (as opposed to green and turgid)

          3. If you put your foot in the rose bed and the soil surface is frozen solid.

      • How late should I continue mowing?

        • The answer to this varies from year to year. Best general rule is to continue mowing as long as you have mow-able new weekly growth. Don’t let your turf go into winter either: with tree leaves stuck to  the ground, or tall enough to mat down under the wet of weight snow. Bare spots or fungal disease could be possible results from ignoring the above warning.

      • After last winter’s polar vortex a significant number of my broadleaf evergreens (the large-leafed rhododendrons and boxwood, in particular) took a beating. What can I do to maximize their winter hardiness?

        • 1. Make sure they’re well watered throughout the fall so the plants are well hydrated before the ground freezes.

          2. Make sure they’re mulched at least 2” deep.

          3. Instead of putting up “fabric“ (burlap) barriers consider using an antitranspirant/antidessicant spray like Wilt-Pruf, a pine resin derivative,  that should be sprayed on the underside only (where water loss occurs) of leaves/needles on a day when temperatures are still above 40°. Dehydration damage occurs when the winter sun/wind team up and pull moisture from leaves  faster than the root system can replace it from frozen, dry soil.

          4. Pay particular attention to large-leafed “rhodies”, evergreen azaleas, boxwood, soft-needled evergreens (like white pine and hemlock) in sunny, windswept northwest or south-facing sites.

      • When can I put winter mulch down on my garden beds?

        • The purpose of winter mulch (shredded hardwood, leaf, cotton bur, pine bark, compost) is to insulate root systems from extreme  temperature fluctuations that can stress plants. If applied before freezing it keeps the soil above 40° F. allowing the formation of additional roots before the ground finally freezes. If applied after the soil is frozen if keeps the soil temps more constant and prevents intermittent freeze/thaw cycles which can be damaging to roots. So, any time before or after freezing is fine.

      • Does the same advice for fountain storage pertain to pots?

        • Yes! Whether they’re cast stone (AKA concrete), glazed or terra cotta it’s imperative they be emptied of soil that can expand and contract (like snow or water) and cause exactly the same damage a water or ice-filled fountain could sustain. Best to empty soil completely and put in a covered  storage area. Otherwise, empty and cover with anything that will exclude snow or water. Turning upside down works, too, but don’t take a chance. Always cover if exposed to the elements outdoors. And, if storing outside, it’s essential to put shims or lath strips under the edges so they don’t draw moisture. This attention to storage details will dramatically increase the life expectancy of your containers.

      • What’s the best way to store fountains over the winter?

        • It’s essential that any fountain components which can collect freezing water be emptied before storage. In a perfect world they would be emptied and stored inside a garage, storage shed or protected breezeway where they can’t gather ice or snow. If a fountain must be left outside, our friends at Campania International suggest the following:

          1. Remove pump, rubber stoppers, drainpipes, finials and any other components. Note that stoppers or drainpipes are removed to allow drainage in the event water accumulates in any basin. Empty completely.

          2. Raise fountain base from ground with wood lath strips so the base will not freeze to the surface it’s resting on- ground or hardscape.

          3. The easiest method is to buy appropriately sized fountain covers that will exclude water from the basin or other fountain components and prevent freezing and subsequent cracking.

      • What’s the best way to store control products (insecticides, fungicides, herbicides) over the winter? Is an unheated garage alright?

        • Liquid products should never be allowed to freeze. The effectiveness of the active ingredient  may be altered. If children or animals have access to the inside storage area make sure the containers are sealed and locked. Dry products generally store safely in colder temperatures as long as they’re sealed to prevent water absorption.

      • I know how important the fall lawn feedings (plural) are. That being said, how late can I put my second fall application down?

        • Any time you can apply fertilizer before the ground freezes will be beneficial.

      • I saw the recent depressing news about the loss of an estimated 3 billion birds in our country’s latest census. I keep my feeder up year around as the birds’ antics give me so much pleasure. Anything I should be considering to make sure I’m doing my best to help them survive?

        • Think about cleaning the feeder every 3-4  weeks (based on intensity of traffic) to reduce the possibility of disease transmission. Purge the feeder by emptying and dislodging any old seed. Then immerse completely in a mixture of 1 part bleach to 9 parts hot water. Let it soak for 3-4 minutes, using a handled brush if necessary.  Rinse very, very thoroughly and let air dry before refilling. Air drying is better than using a cloth which might snag and be left behind in the feeder. Those cloth fibers might absorb bleach and be toxic to feeding birds.

      • What can I do with all my leaves? I’d love to use them as mulch for my perennial beds.

        • First thought would be to compost them if you have a compost pile. Otherwise, if you’re thinking of using them immediately it’s a great idea to run them through the lawn mower and shred them before applying to perennial borders. It’s particularly important to “shred’ if you have large-leaved trees like sycamore, oak and maples that mat and rot the plants if they’re placed directly on top of the crowns (the junction of roots and stems at the soil line). Remember we’re always mulching roots, not stems. So, always be careful to cover roots, but never bury the top of the plants with leaves or you may experience high perennial mortality in the spring. Obviously, annual or vegetable beds can be completely covered and the remaining residue incorporated into the soil before spring planting.

  • Fall

      • Squirrels take great glee in digging through my bulb beds as soon as I finish my planting. Suggestions?

        • Surprisingly, it's the smell of freshly disturbed soil that attracts them. Unearthing bulbs is not their goal, just an unexpected bonus as they're rummaging . Check our repellent selection. Bulbs can be sprayed or dipped before planting. Easier still, spraying repellents directly on the soil surface as you finish works wonders, too.

      • How soon can I plant my tulips and daffodils?

        • Buy ASAP for best selection, but don't be tempted to plant too early, especially if daytime temperatures stay in the 80s. Spring-flowering bulbs are best planted when soil temps are in the mid-50s. Soil thermometers are very inexpensive (handy for spring planting , too), but as a general rule you can start planting safely when deciduous trees and shrubs start showing strong fall color and dropping their leaves. Do fertilize and water bulbs thoroughly at planting time to get the rooting process started before the ground freezes.

      • What should I do about houseplants that have vacationed outdoors?

        • Always err on the side of getting them indoors well before we experience a killing frost. No matter how good they look always suspect the worst. Worst case would be an undiscovered insect infestation (spider mites, mealybug, scale and more). Consider applying systemic insecticide granules as a preventive, or use a curative before they rejoin their (hopefully) insect-free indoor neighbors. Topical controls, such as insecticidal soap, are another alternative. We recommend isolating outdoor returnees in a plant-free room for three weeks to make sure they're really clean before co-mingling and possibly contaminating the rest of your houseplant collection.

      • What can I be doing in my vegetable garden?

        • Beside planting garlic for 2020 harvest consider pinching off the flowers of tomatoes, peppers and eggplants to direct energy to the fruit that have a realistic chance of maturing before a killing frost. You might try (early in the month) to plant radish seeds which can often be harvested in as little as 28 days from planting.

      • How late can I divide perennials in the fall?

        • If you need to divide peonies, Oriental poppies and bearded iris they must be moved late summer into fall. Hostas and daylilies are two other perennials that defy "rules" and can be divided/transplanted well into fall without worry. Most other perennials should be moved as early as possible. Mulching fall planted perennials with leaf mulch or cotton bur compost is a must to reduce the likelihood of frost heaving. Heaving occurs when we have extremes of winter freeze/thaw cycles that literally pull the plants out of the ground.

      • Should I fertilize my trees and shrubs now or wait until spring?

        • Lots of research indicates that spring or fall give equally good results. Earth-friendly fertilizers like Espoma’s Holly-Tone or Tree-Tone applied at label rates can be done safely when deciduous trees and shrubs start to show fall color. 

      • What are the advantages of waiting until next spring to cut my perennial garden back?

        • • Some perennials are evergreen (and must not be cut back)

          • Many perennials have beautiful winter structure and interest. Enjoy!

          • Many provide food and cover for wildlife

          • Leaf & stem debris may act as an insulating mulch, increasing winter hardiness

          • Marks specific location of late-to-emerge perennials so they don't get destroyed in cleanup

      • Is it too late to seed my lawn?

        • Yes, the optimal time for seeding is August 15-September 15. Obviously there is leeway in years where daytime temperatures stay in the 70s after that and you may be successful with later seeding. The goal is to sow the seed (always with a starter fertilizer), have it germinate and hopefully be able to mow at least three times before the ground freezes. The concern with later planting is the root system doesn't have a chance to get established (like late planted perennials) and can sustain cold temperature damage if we have extreme freeze/thaw cycles that "heave" the grass seedlings out of the ground.

      • What's the best way to try and save the mums I just planted?

        • Realistically fall planted bud & bloom mums should be considered annuals. They simply don't have enough time to get rooted into the ground and are subject to "frost heaving" in those years when we have wild swings in winter freeze/thaw cycles. They're so cost effective for the amount and length of bloom you receive it's probably best to enjoy and then discard to the compost pile or landscape waste. If you want to increase your chances of success be sure to mulch heavily with leaf mulch to try to keep them frozen into the ground.