After a long Chicago winter, it is easy to let spring fever take over when ordering plants from catalogs or buying plants from garden centers.
But to ensure a successful garden, take the time to select plants that are suited to your garden's growing conditions and fulfill your design criteria. Putting the right plant in the right location will result in a better looking garden that requires less maintenance.
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When turning on your irrigation system for the first time this year, monitor each zone to ensure uniform coverage. Sprinkler heads can become plugged or not rotate properly, leaving dry areas. Soft, excessively wet spots in the lawn can indicate a leak in the system.
Use an electric hand grinder to sharpen your spades. Keeping the spades sharp will make gardening much easier.
New spades do not come with a sharp edge and will need to be sharpened. Wear ear and eye protection while doing this work.
Improve the health of your lawn by core aerating. A core aerator is a machine that pulls plugs of turf from the lawn, spaced a few inches apart, allowing air and water to reach down to the roots of the grass. Aeration greatly improves the health of turf. You can rent a core aerator or hire a lawn service to do this work.
Leave the plugs on the lawn, as they will break down in a short period of time.
Core-aerate before applying any pre-emergent herbicides such as crab grass control. Pre-emergent herbicides form a barrier at the soil surface to prevent weeds from germinating.
Apply crab grass control, if needed, to lawns in early to mid-April before weed seeds germinate. The window is later than usual this year due to the cold spring. Complete this work before lilacs begin to flower.
Since pre-emergent herbicides also will prevent grass seed from germinating, do not apply these controls to areas where you plan to reseed.
Boxwood shrubs may show discolored foliage in spring. This may be due to leaves drying out in the winter, but it also may be due to Volutella blight, which looks similar, with leaves turning orange to bronze and then straw colored.
The volutella fungus infects wounds in a branch's bark that are caused by winter injury. The bark at the base of an infected branch will be loose and readily peel off, showing gray to black discolored wood beneath.
Prune out any infected branches and remove any dead leaves under the plant. Spray pruners with Lysol disinfectant between plants to prevent spreading.
Fungicide applications may be necessary to save plants in some situations.
For recommended fungicides and timing for applications, call the Plant Information Service of the Chicago Botanic Garden at (847) 835-0972.
Fortunately, I have not seen much Volutella blight in boxwood over the last couple of years.
• Tim Johnson is director of horticulture at Chicago Botanic Garden, chicagobotanic.org.