Plants grow fast, so don't wait to stake

Install support for perennials that require staking in early spring as they begin to grow. It is best to install support systems before the plants actually need the support and let them grow up through the support system.

• Improve the health of your lawn by core aerating. Leave the plugs on the lawn as they will break down in a short period of time. Do this before applying any pre-emergent herbicides that form a barrier at the soil surface to prevent weeds from germinating. Pre-emergent herbicides will also prevent grass seed from germinating, so coordinate any seeding with use of a pre-emergent herbicide. Power raking can be helpful when your lawn has excessive thatch to remove, but this is not necessarily an annual maintenance task.

• Volutella blight on boxwood looks similar to winter damage, with leaves turning orange to bronze and then straw-colored. The Volutella fungus infects wounds in the branch bark caused by winter injury. The bark at the base of an infected branch will get loose and readily peel off from the gray to black discolored wood beneath. Prune out 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.

Fortunately, I have not seen much Volutella blight in boxwood over the last couple of years, but I have been observing foliage that is browning/yellowing — likely due to winter damage. Carefully prune off the affected foliage once you are sure it is dead.

Call Plant Information at (847) 835-0972 or email them at for recommended fungicides and timing for applications.

• After a long Chicago winter and slow-starting spring, it is easy to let spring fever take over when ordering plants from catalogs and buying plants from garden centers. Take the time to select plants that are suited to your garden's growing conditions and fulfill your design criteria to ensure a successful garden. Putting the right plant in the right location will result in a better looking garden that requires less maintenance.

• Tim Johnson is director of horticulture at Chicago Botanic Garden,

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