If you are planting bulbs for next spring, keep in mind that daffodils are one of the hardiest and most adaptable and pest-resistant bulbs for Chicago-area gardeners. They naturalize beautifully and are available in many sizes and bloom times. Proper selection of a range of varieties will provide three to five weeks of constant bloom.
Deer, squirrels, chipmunks and rabbits do not eat daffodils. They also will not eat ornamental onions (alliums). Tulips, on the other hand, are a deer and rabbit favorite. In my garden, squirrels and chipmunks have left winter aconite and snowdrops alone while devouring all the crocuses.
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Proper placement is important for success with spring-flowering bulbs. They prefer to have moist soil in early spring and fall but to be dry in the summer when they are dormant. They do not like wet sites or heavy clay soil. If your soils are on the heavy side with a high clay content, plant bulbs higher than normally recommended. In general, plant each bulb so that the bottom sits at three times as deep as the diameter of the bulb.
Crocuses are ideal bulbs for naturalizing, for rock gardens or for underplanting beneath tall trees. They may be scattered in lawns, but to succeed in the long term, their grasslike foliage must remain intact for at least six weeks before being mowed at a short height.
Crocuses, which are planted shallowly, are easy targets for rabbits and squirrels and might require repellent products or a light chicken wire screen placed directly over them at planting time. Blood meal sprinkled on the ground after planting may help repel squirrels and chipmunks.
Warm fall days are great for installing Christmas lights. It is much easier to wrap branches with strings of lights on warm days in mid- to late October than on cold days in late November or early December. Wrap branches of your trees with strings of lights to accent the tree's form. The Chicago Botanic Garden staff starts installing strings of lights in early October.
Use LED lights to save on power. They also will allow you to use more strings on a circuit. If you want to match the color of the commonly used white incandescent lights, buy warm color white LED lights. Cool color LED white lights have a blue cast to them.
It is best to avoid using gravel with crushed limestone for the base of hardscape features such as walks, driveways and patios. Limestone increases the alkalinity of soils and will make growing some plants more difficult if they are planted near the limestone base. Plants such as witch hazels that are sensitive to alkaline soil conditions will start to become chlorotic, turning yellow, as their roots grow into the limestone base.
Other materials are available for use as the base for hardscape such as Grade 9 crushed gravel or Grade 9 gravel with fines is noncorrosive and can be used as a brick paver base, for driveway stone, or as a compactable base gravel.
• Tim Johnson is director of horticulture at Chicago Botanic Garden, chicagobotanic.org.